The Sounds Of Easton
Crickets, Bullfrogs, Metal Tipped Cleats, Air Horns, and More
A light-hearted moment. Back on a summer evening in 2001, I was at a fundraiser for State Sen. Stephen Lynch (D-Boston) that my brother and his wife were hosting outdoors on the patio behind their home on Partridge Way down in North Easton Village. It was an event to raise money for
Lynch’s campaign in a special election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
(It has to be noted that the seat for which Sen. Lynch was running had been held for close to 30 years by Joe Moakley, a saint of a man, who had served with extraordinary passion and hard work for the people of Massachusetts, and our nation. Rep. Moakley passed away on May 28, 2001 from a blood disease; he was 74 years old.)
Now, for sure, this section of town where my brother and his wife and their family live is not heavily wooded like other areas in Easton, but the homes down there do have strips of woods and trees and streams and marshy patches and other untouched nature behind and along them.
So, that night, there is Sen. Lynch about to address the attendees of the fundraiser, and he smiles, takes note of the loud cacophony of natural sound all around him – the chattering of crickets and belching of bullfrogs and maybe the tweeting of some birds, and who knows what else. It was loud.
Yes, Sen. Lynch took all the noise in and then told the assembled that earlier in the night he had been in Boston, and out here in the sticks in Easton it was louder than in the city.
Sounds and Easton. Yep, that is the subject of this column.
How about ringing bells?
Check out Ben Paulin’s wonderful Easton Patch article, “When The Bell Rang Over Ames Shovel Works: Easton’s David Varella recalls memories of his father and other workers,” which was published on Oct. 5, 2010.
A passenger train ran through Easton until 1959, with stops at the North Easton Railroad Station – and a freight train ran through town into the mid 1970s. Those rolling trains emitted a clatter and metallic hum of steel wheels spinning over rails, and the loud and shrill and intermittent screech of a warning whistle.
Let’s go back to those Saturday afternoon Oliver Ames High School football games when they were still played at Frothingham Park. Tiger football players walked from OAHS to the park, and as they walked their metal tipped cleats cracked and ground against the pavement emitting a distinctive sound that stays solidly with anyone who ever heard it.
If you were inside Frothingham Park, or anywhere along the route the players walked, you heard the cleats. You also heard the OA players whooping and hollering and bellowing and getting psyched for the impending gridiron strife.
A sound that carried even further, and this was all a component of the pageantry and ceremony of the OA football games at the park, was the music that the Tiger marching band made while en route to the park, when inside of the park, and en route back to the high school after the game.
Now you don’t think, not for a second, that I am going to neglect to mention the voice of OA football announcer, Putt Santos, which he sent forth from the public address speakers affixed to the big green press box at Frothingham Park. Putt’s voice would carry over and throughout North Easton Village.
Among Putt Santo’s signature lines was one he uttered when there was a break in the action because a penalty had been called on the field. So as to help the fans get a sense of what was going on with the call, he would say into the microphone, “Watch the gentleman in the white hat,” and your gaze would be directed to the official with the white hat.
Also, when a swarm of OA defenders had tackled a ball carrier, Putt would exclaim, “Stopped by a host of Tigers.”
It is only right and appropriate that the press box at the stadium at OA is named for Putt Santos.
We haven’t heard any of those cosmic and sonorous fire station air horns since the practice stopped in the mid 1980s. But for decades prior – it all started in the late 1940s – when there was a fire in town, the air horns at the Sullivan Avenue fire station (built in 1905) and at the Depot Street fire station (built in 1934) would emit coded honks so loud that they could be heard across Easton, and the volunteer firefighters would know where to go.
A little explanation. The codes of honks corresponded with the number on the fire alarm boxes, the handles on which a person would pull to sound a fire alarm.
For example - and Easton town historian, Ed Hands, former chair of the OA history department, explained this to me the other night - a fire alarm box on Pond Street had the number 42, and if that box was pulled then the horns would sound four honks, then there would be a break, and then two honks would sound. This series would be repeated a few times.
In 1956, a small fire station was built up on Foundry Street/Rte. 106 on the same side of the road and not far from Belcher Malleable Iron. When that station was up and running, Easton had three fire stations with horns – although for several years the Foundry Street station horn was an air raid siren that couldn’t be coordinated to sound the codes. This station eventually became equipped with the right air horns.
In 1969, when the “new” fire station opened on Lothrop Street, and the Sullivan Ave. station was converted to a civil defense post, horns ceased honking down in North Easton Village, and they started up in the new spot.
I was on the phone on Tuesday night with former Easton fire chief, Tom Stone, who retired in January following 33 years of dedicated service to our community. Chief Stone was filling me on the history of the horns and fire stations.
As Chief Stone explained, and I was a bit surprised that the technology he described was so sophisticated, when the fire alarm handle was pulled and activated, a connection of electricity and air synched with the horn at the fire station and automatically the horn sounded the proper series of honks.
Or, at least that is how I understood what was told to me.
If what I described is not accurate, then it is my fault not Chief Stone’s.
Also, for years – and this too ended in the mid 1980s – when classes at the junior high school and high school were cancelled because of snow or something other reason, at 6:30 in the morning the horns at the fire station would let out two honks … and there would be then a break … and then the two honks would be repeated. If school had been called off for the elementary grades, the same honks would sound at 7:30.
Talking about a sound that made you smile, makes you smile, and which never leaves you – that is the sound of the banging of the cow bell by a member of “The Section” at an OA basketball game during the mid to late 1970s.
Memorial Day and Veterans Day, every year, the solemn and most special and most noble and most important ceremonies in Easton. Veterans firing the parade rifles – the unsettling bang, and the clang of the cartridges being discharged. I remember the sound.
There are more sounds I will discuss in a future column. Please weigh in with your memories and thoughts on sounds from Easton’s past and present.