We Were Tough in the Village
Back-in-the-day sports in Furnace Village
Sometimes we played touch football, but the old fashioned tackle variety was more popular. Equipment was unheard of. Some games were played in the field behind the Furnace Village Grammar School. Players in the line were matched off by size; we never had enough to fill anywhere near the eleven man complement. There were no referees, of course, and bloody noses and serious bruises were common to say the least.
One day Billy Moreshead broke his right arm. Small of stature, Billy was as tough a nut as one could find anywhere. It was a compound fracture with his forearm bone protruding through the flesh with nary a drop of blood to be seen. Bill at 12 years of ago or so, refused to cry. Someone ran across the street to use the Hanscom’s phone to call the Easton Police, who promptly arrived with the station wagon cruiser and hauled poor Bill to the hospital. We all signed his cast over the next few days.
Baseball provided similar challenges. We played in Sam Wright’s field and could never get close to 18 people to play at one time. The Wright field at that time was on Foundry Street where the condominium complex named Grey Gables is now located. The terrain undulated and was marked with stones and cow “flaps”. The bases were flat stone, if we could find them, or round ones, if not. There were two sets of bases – one for those under say age ten and set farther was out another set of stone bases for the bigger players.
Two older and better players would “buck up” to choose team members. Our games were always of the “pick up” genre. The bat was tossed from one to the other of the captains and the “three finger rule” prevailed. Fist over fist the hands were wrapped around the barrel of the bat until the top was reached. If one could place at least three fingers under the bulge at the bat’s top, he had first pick of teammate. The leaders then took turns choosing players. I was seldom chosen very early in this process, being the less than average athlete that I was.
Now the smaller players had the advantage of underhand tosses to them. The pitching “mound” was closer for the little guys. No balls or strikes were called for anyone and leads and stealing were not allowed. We made up other rules as we went along to accommodate the playing conditions of the moment. The better players had to bat “wrong handed” – i.e. a natural right handed batter had to hit from the left side of home plate. Once the ball was hit by the more able player he had to run backwards to the first base that was set at the greater distance from home plate. Not everyone had a baseball glove, so we shared those on hand. In retrospect the games were a real hoot, but nothing stopped us from participating in America’s favorite sport. We played right up to November and ended each game at dusk at which time we all jumped on our bikes and pedaled furiously for home.
Now and then we would be challenged to a game by the boys in South Easton. Having no real field of our own, we had to bike to the South Easton Grammar School and played at the field out back. I don’t think we ever won a game, but we enjoyed the chance to play.
Always the organizer, at age about 11 or 12 years, I started a gym in our back woods. It was a pretty crude set up with only discards to work with. We had a sapling nailed between two trees for our chin ups and odd pieces of carpet and canvas were laid on the ground for a semblance of padding. The boxing ring was not quite rectangular, as no four trees of equidistance could be found. Roots of the four corner trees made for uneven terrain and caused plenty of stumbling.The gloves were of the big 16 ounce variety. They seemed like pillows until Bobby Russell would land a blow on my unguarded noggin. We were matched off by weight, but Bobby was too strong for me to handle and I took some pretty good beatings. His brother, Oakie, was one tough cookie. Luckily I did not have to fight him, as he was well under my weight. Bobby Russell later became a Captain in the Pennsylvania State Troopers. Oakie died a few years back. They are (were) brothers of the well known Althea (Russell) Thornton.
Skinny kid that I was, I managed to master kips and hand springs. Up to age 30 I was able to do ten hand springs in a row. One time we set up a gymnastics show and charged ten cents per person admission. We did not draw a big crowd, but we raised enough to treat ourselves to a few candy bars – the choice of all real athletes.