Oral History Cover Sheet
Interviewee: John Clark
Narrator: Audrey Whitbeck & Charlotte Reid
Place of Interview: 62 Porter Street
Summary of talk: public school at Greenwich, boarding school at Ridgefield, Ct. 1 year University of Virginia at Charlottesville, VA, Mr. & Mrs. Paul Ferris, a Civil War vet, were his adoptive parents, driving a school bus for the DuFours, working on the railroad tearing up the tracks, Air force in Communications for 3 years during World War II, marriage, son’s nickname of Pepper, son’s Army service, start of Jiminy Peak and first T-bar in Massachusetts, ski factory in Lakeville, perhaps for the 10th Mountain Division, flying instructor at Gt. Barrington Airport from 1953-1997, sons’ flying lessons and training. Later both Pepper and Jerry were hired by airlines. 90th birthday gift, Walt Koladza and Gt. Barrington Airport & changes, town changes over time, Grove changes, Dave Timmens, Hurricane of 1938,1955 Flood, start of E. W. Spurr Company, “White Wings”, food and diet, ice from the lake, bats, Gertrude learning to fly, house on Millerton Road, Horseshoe Lane, built his house on Porter Street, cooking and baking.
Property of the oral History Project
The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library
Salisbury, Ct. 06068
This is Audrey Whitbeck & Charlotte Reid interviewing John Clark at his home in Lakeville (on Porter Street) on May 20, 2004.
AW:John, you wereborn where?
JC:New York City
AW:OK and what year?
JC:May 1, 1914
AW: But you came to Salisbury or Lakeville when?
JC:I first came to Lime Rock in about 1930.
AW: And to Lakeville and you lived with?
JC:The Ferrises on Main Street in Lakeville when I moved here.
CR:What was Mr. Ferris’s first name?
JC:Paul Ferris- a Civil War vet. He used to tell stories about theCivilWar.
CR:How did he happen to pick Lakeville?
JC:He had some relatives here. Do you remember Harry ? He was a cousin. I’m glad he did too-nice people.
CR:Where did you go to school?
JC:Public school in Greenwich, boarding school in Ridgefield—during the Depression
AW: Did you spend summers here at all?
JC:Yes, when school was out.
AW:What was Lakeville like in—Can you remember back then?
JC:The main thing was that everybody knew everybody in town. Charlotte can tell you that.
CR:Yes, I certainly can.
JC:The town was—the house down here, the Bissell House with a big porch in front, you could sit
out; it was so quiet. The traffic didn’t bother you. Now you couldn’t possibly do it. Everybody was at the lake, all the kids used to swim everywhere-Hotchkiss and every place.
AW: Now did you use the train to get here, do you remember?
JC:No, the train doesn’t run. We drove up.
|CR:||My first train trip was from Lakeville to Salisbury, and 1 walked home.2.|
|AW:||You said that you went to school.|
JC:Not public school here, I went to public school in Greenwich. Then I went to a boarding school
in Ridgefield, Ct.
|AW:||And then you decided to move back here at that point?|
|JC:||1 didn’t move back; they moved here while 1 was in boarding school.|
|AW:||Oh, the Ferrises did. Now 1 heard that you drove school bus.|
|AW:||Anna Whitbeck said that John Clark drove school bus.|
|JC:||Dufour’s didn’t have any training. If you could make it go, you drove.|
|AW:||How old were you?|
|JC:||Driving school bus, 17 or 18 1 guess. 1 had a license.|
|AW:||Not much older than the kids, though.|
|JC:||Those were the days when if anybody raised the devil on the bus, you threw them off the bus.|
You’d stop. You didn’t have to say anything. I did it too.
|JC:||They’d walk. Keep them off the bus for a week, if you wanted to.|
|AW:||Old Mr. Dufour, which one was he?|
|AW:||He’d scare the daylights right out of you.|
|JC:||Yeah, Ray Dufour. Do you remember the Hub, Charlotte>|
|CR:||Oh, 1 sure do. So after the school in Ridgefield, what did you do after graduated from there?|
JC:Well, the family had a vision that I should be a doctor and went to college at the University of
Virginia. I was down there for about a year and decided that that wasn’t for me at all.
CR:Was that at Charlottesville?
JC:Yeah Charlottesville. I got out of there; that was enough for me. That was before the war. In
that time, in the meantime, they were picking up the old railroad. I worked for that outfit taking up rails. Toughest job I ever had in my life.
JC:The outfit was from Taunton, Mass; they were a tough group. I got the job-1 was one of the first
to apply for work. They put me to work with a spike probe, pulling spikes with a 55 pound tool. They wouldn’t help you. They wouldn’t even speak to you. You’d sit down near them, and they would move away from you. In about three weeks they found out that you could carry your load; you couldn’t ask for a better bunch. They’d do anything for you, but you had to produce.
AW: That’s a good way. Your peers are the ones who set the limits.
JC:Then the war came along. I was in the service 2 % to 3 years.
CR:You were in the Air Force?
JC:Yeah, the Air force, not flying-communications. They put me-l was recommended for pilot, but
they didn’t need it then. They put you where you were needed.
AW: Were you already a pilot when you went into the service?
JC:Yeah, I started flying in 1936.
AW: There was no age limit then for flying, in other words…
JC:Oh yes, you had to be, before you could fly alone, you had to be 16 years old. You had to pass a
physical; that was about it. At the time there were a couple of physicals if you passed the first, Dr. Holtz I remember up in Hartford, he passed me the first year. The next year I had to go up for a physical. He said, “How are you/” I said, “Fine.” “Sick last year?” “No.” “Any accidents?” “No.” “OK you go ahead.”
CR:That is great.
AW: Did you learn to fly at Great Barrington?
JC:yeah, all kinds of airplanes.
AW: It seems strange going into the service that they wouldn’t use you as a pilot because…
JC:I guess they had all they needed at that point.
AW: At that point.
JC:Well, you see when my son Pepper went into the service, when his name came up; he had been
flying for the airlines, DC3’s for Northwest Airlines at the time. They took him in and made an MP out of him. All he had to do was change his clothes to come to work, but no. He lost a couple of thousand dollars being a pilot. It doesn’t make sense. There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.
CR:How did pepper get that nickname? I never knew.
JC:Well, he was such a little kid in his crib, slamming and banging things around, that he was full of
pepperand that’s all.
AW:And in the meantime you got married?
JC:Yeah Gertrude Fenn.
JC:We were married in 1935, December 7, 1935.
CR:You picked wintertime to get married. I did too. I didn’t want the summer.
AW: Now, when did you get out of the service?
JC:1945, 1 think. That’s when we got together Fisher, John Gilman and I. We’d been second hand-
—This land was available to build a ski area on, and we got started on that.
JC:Yeah, Jiminy Peak.
CR:That was Jack Fisher, and who did you say the third one was?
CR:Oh, John Gilman. I remember as a little kid being so impressed because John Christopher was
going to New York on the same train mother and I were going on. His suitcases were stacked on the platform with his initials on them.
JC:Oh he did.
AW: Now at Jiminy peak did you start out with rope tows?
JC:Well, we put in the first T-bar in Massachusetts. We had a couple of rope tows there, too but
that was the first T-bar, not a chair lift, but a T-bar up the mountain. We had trouble getting the steel for that. It took pretty nearly a year to put it in, but we got the thing running. The winter of 1948 was the first year we operated, and very limited operations because it depended on snow then which there wasn’t much of.
How many acres did you buy in Hancock?
JC:Oh we didn’t buy it. We rented it from a fellow who lived in Pittsfield. I don’t know how many
acres it was; many acres on the whole side of the mountain.
AW: So how long were you involved with Jiminy Peak?
JC:I was there for about 8 years
AW: To back track a little bit, you mentioned once when we were talking about the factory in Lakeville that produced skis.
JC:That was in the first part of the war, before I went into the service. That was when they made
skis under government contract. They were made right from raw wood. It came on the train in bundles. It had to be cured, cut, laminated, built and made a ski out of it. That’s the way it was.
JC:Then they had inspectors along to inspect all the skis. They were shipped out if they were
acceptable. You see you don’t have 500 at all. Man, many people worked there; people just lined up to work there. Well, the Satre girls worked there with them. The Warner sisters worked up there. They had different men from all over who worked there, and of course the Satre brothers all worked there, all but Magnum, he didn’t. Olaf worked there and two of his brothers and Chet Patchum.
JC:Earl Dean sure, he was there. Norm Holtz was another one. They are all gone now.
AW: That was called “Local Industry”?
JC:It was started by Syd Cowles. He was the one who hired me. I was the first one he hired in that
old building repairing the windows that were all broken up. I worked there for a long time all by myself.
AW: Was that where the fitness center is now? (The brick building, opposite the shops on Pocket Knife Square where Lakeville Interiors is located, used to be the Journal office, then a series of restaurants.)
JC:The old machinery in there was from the knife making days. In fact down on the bottom floor
where the turbine is, it is still beneath the deck. Chet Patchum and I rigged up a belt to drive the old machinery, hooked it up and turned on the water and away it went. Everything clanging and banging away the way it used to.
JC:It was amazing, and the number of knives, barrels of knives, just dumped.
AW: Oh dear. Now you said they produced them (skis) for the Tenth Mountain division? 6.
JC:I don’t know where they went. They just took them over. I suppose it was the 10th Mountain
AW: Oh, they would have the use for them.
JC:They were a big ski. They were measured, if I am not wrong, 7’6″ and were wider than normal, a
CR:So this was- you went to work for them in ’45 when you got out?
JC:Well, 1945 was more or less the Jiminy Peak days.
CR: That was the Jiminy Peak thing 45 tooooooooooo
AW: 8 years
AW: It was in the early 40’s when you were doing the skis.
JC:Yeah, the war just kept going on.
CR:You didn’t get out of the…
JC:I got out of the service in ’45 the latter part of ’45.
CR:You left Jiminy Peak in the early 50’s? (53?)
JC:Yeah the early 50’s.
CR:OK then you were working for Local Industries and flying out of Gt. Barrington at the same time?
Or did they overlap?
JC:They didn’t overlap as much as Jiminy peak and Gt. Barrington. I was flying out of Great
Barrington and instructing and teaching flying.
CR:You got your instructor’s—
JC:Oh yes, you had to. You had to have a commercial license and an instructor’s license to teach
flying. You just can’t take someone up and immediately do it.
CR:yeah, so you got your instructor’s rating and your license.
CR:Commercial license, that’s what I was reaching for. So then you were teaching flying, starting
what year, more or less?7.
JC:About 1953-54. We did fly Gt. Barrington, too, the old Gt. Barrington Airport.
CR:What about Canaan?
JC:That’s what 1 am talking about-Canaan Airport, the North Canaan Airport. Gert learned to fly
there. Gert learned to fly, too.
CR:Did she really? She learned to fly at Canaan.
JC:Yes, she learned to fly in Canaan. Both my sons learned to fly at Gt. Barrington. In fact they
worked for Walt (Koladza) up there as they grew up. That’s how they got where they are. Of coursenow they are both retired.
AW: Let’s see if I have got this straight. In the early 1930’s you were driving school bus, because youwould have been 17 or 18, around that age.
AW: Then in the late 30’s you would have been working in the local industries like 1939-40.
JC:Early 40’s, yeah.
AW:Then you wentinto the service.
AW: Then after the service in 35, after a few years you started Jiminy Peak.
AW: But what was the period when you would have been working on the railway taking up spikes?
JC:Just before thewar started.
AW:Oh really, theystartedtaking up the rails by then? OK that would have been around 1939-OK.
JC:I suppose so.
JC:Both sons learned to fly at Gt. Barrington. They got all their licenses there. They flew
commercial as well. They flew charter and everything else. It all stuck with both of them. Then theytook a professional pilot’s training course when they went to Perdue and graduated. As soon as that,they were hired by the airlines. In those days they took only the top 10% of the whole country.
Really! About what year did they…?
JC:Well, let’s go back. I don’t know. I can’t put a figure on that right now.8.
JC:I’ll figure it out on paper sometime.
CR:So both boys eventually went to work for the airlines.
JC:Yeah. They worked flying for the airlines. They were pilots for the airlines.
CR:Pepper flew for?
JC:He started with North Central Airlines. That changed to Republic. Then it is North West Airlines
AW:He never flew commercially?
AW:No desire to do that?
JC:No, he didn’t have the time. The airline pilots also taught the Perdue course.
CR:Your other son; that takes care of pepper. What about…
JC:Jerry? Jerry went through Perdue. When he got out of Perdue, he was hired by the airlines. He
Was hired by Mohawk which turned into Allegheny which was taken over by U.S. Air. He spent his career with U.S. Airways, 40 years or so.
AW: So you taught for how long?
JC:Until I had that heart attack in 1997. (1953-1997)
AW: Really? That was pretty good.
CR:Your teaching offlying was all at Great Barrington>
AW: Were you still skiing? Were you at Catamount or any of those?
JC:Yeah, I ski.
AW:On the Ski Patrolor?
JC:No I just ski for pleasure.
CR:Such fun, isn’t it? So you retired in 1997?
JC:When I had that first heart attack, that did away with the flying right then.
CR:What is this Pepper was telling me about being a pilot for one hour?9.
JC:Oh, for my (90th) birthday they gave me an hour’s flying time up at Great Barrington, but I had to
have somebody with me, a flight instructor with me to be legal. I couldn’t go flying by myself.
CR:They wouldn’t let you?
CR:But your sons gave you that for your birthday?
CR:That’s nice.Has the Great Barrington Airport changed a lot? ‘
JC:Oh, tremendously. When I first started there, we had 2 bi-planes, with old tail fins and no
brakes, an open cockpit as we flew then, and grass runways. Then Walt Koladza after the war put in a paved runway, a big workshop with good mechanics. We had a bunch of airplanes plus a lot of charter work. He was one of the few FBO Fixed Base Operators that I ever heard of that really made out very well in the business. He did a great job up there. He made out very well. (The Gt. Barrington Airport is now named the Walter j. Koladza Airport.)
AW: Is it still under the same management now?
CR:I remember doing a story on him and not having the vaguest idea about how to spell his last
JC:K-O-L-A-D-Z-A, Walter J.
CR:Walter. When did he take over in Gt. Barrington, more or less?
JC:Oh I can’t be positive, but probably ’45 or ’46.
CR:Really! Which is the older of your two sons?
JC:Pepper, he’s 74!
CR:Hard to believe isn’t it?
JC:He’s catching up with me.
CR:He hasn’t been here in quite a while, has he?
JC:Oh yes, about twice a year.
CR:Has he? But Jerry comes down more.
JC:Jerry comes down about every couple of weeks to get caught up, and see how I am feeling.
That’s all. That type of thing.
JC:Check out the old man to see if he is still alive.
CR:You and Gert were married how many years?
JC:A long time
AW: And all your married life was spent in Lakeville?
JC:Yeah, of course she was born here. She used to live where you are now.
CR:What about-talk about some of the changes in the town in your long life here.
JC:I think one of the big changes in the town is; the town is nothing but a garage and gift shops,
stuff like that. We have no grocery store; the gas station is gone that Phil Allen started in 1935 because I went to work for him when he opened. He’s now in New Preston. Gas was 7 gallons for $1,1 remember that distinctly. We had the first computing pumps around. We had grocery stores, we had Barnett’s; there were 3 barbershops in town.
CR:And what 7 garages?
JC:Yeah, we had a First National, it was a grocery store before that, but it gradually wound down.
AW: I always remember the baseball games-the town baseball games.
JC:Crowded down there.
AW:Mobs of people.
JC:Maybe it’s changedfor the better, 1 don’t know.
AW: There used to be a lot more interaction between the towns.
JC:It seems to me that the influx started when Al Borden put the first ad in the New York Times for
real estate up here.
AW: Well, I think there is a difference now too; the prep schools are more isolated. You don’t have that interaction.
CR:They don’t come down to the Jigger Shop.
JC:Oh no. Remember when they used to have what they called drummers who set up places to sell
in the Jigger Shop; places like that?
AW: Really they came around with clothing to sell?
JC:Yeah they used to have Hotchkiss people in town all the time. They used to have to go by train.
Everybody who had a car would go over there and ferry them over to Millerton for a $1 a head or something like that. They’d make an extra buck. I don’t know how they get around now. What do they do? Have buses take them out, they must.
CR:The Grove was different.
JC:Oh yeah, Dave Timmens was there-bi-colored top.
CR Dave Timmens was quite a character.
JC:That was when the lake was great. The water was crystal clear; of course you remember that
having grown up here. Now there is so much pumped into the lake that you get tangled up in the weeds.
AW: Did they have motors on boat in that era, or didn’t they allow motor boats?
JC:They have always hadmotor boats as far as I know.Maybe way backthey didn’t.
CR:No, I don’t remembera time when they didn’t havemotor boats.
JC:They used to have a thing that took people for ridesaround the lake,too.
CR:Did Timmons do it?
CR:Finlay had that boat.
JC:I know what that was, but this was before that.
CR:Before that; I don’t remember that so much. It was very much simpler wasn’t it?
JC:Yes, much simpler. I remember the hurricane of ’38, I’ve got pictures, but I can’t find it. The
whole Main Street of Lakeville was under water.
CR: Actually there was 24 hours when you couldn’t get out of Lakeville.
No, you couldn’t.
CR:Because it flooded the buildings; the Main Street of Salisbury was flooded. It flooded by
Milmines, it flooded Ore Hill, so you just couldn’t get out.
AW: Now the 1955 flood wasn’t so bad, though.
JC:Pauly Athoe, remember Pauly Athoe who worked for Dufour? Lee wanted us to take a load of
telephone poles for the power company to Hartford. So we had a trailer, hooked it up, loaded it up and left. By Norfolk one half the road was washed away; we were just on a narrow ledge coming through there. The trees on the top of the mountain and everything were laid right out flat. Hartford was a complete mess. Telephone lines down; trolley lines down. I was never one to pay particular, but apparently some of the houses with tin roofs; they just rolled up into a ball and fell across the street.
CR:’55because you were…
CR:Oh,that was ’38, but Audrey andBamwerein pharmacyschool at UConn and Gordon was
Acting Dean of Men for a year, and that was right after the flood of’ 55.Trying to go back and forth
through Norfolk and Winsted was miserable.
JC:The worst thing to happen to Winsted was the flood of ’55 (one side of the whole of Main Street
was washed away.)
AW: In 1938 why would Lakeville be flooded because of the brook coming down?
JC:What was the name of that brook? I always called it Porter Brook, but you know…
AW: Burton Brook
JC:Burton Brook that was just gushing out over the road.
CR:Yeah, down by the law office and everything.
AW: Oh that’s true. I forgot that. WOW!
CR:It was a mess.
AW: Now Community Service, was it Community Service back then?
CR:No, it started as E. W. Spurr Company.
JC:Yes, that’s right.
CR:My grandfather started it in Falls Village, and then put a store in Lakeville. He used to come over
Falls Mountain every day with his horse and buggy. He’d check here; then he started a store in Sharon.Eventually in 1927 I think Syd cowls and Gus Hotchkiss bought it. It became community Service and howit’s Herrington’s.
AW: That must have been flooded out, too down through there.
CR:I don’t remember but it probably was because that book must have flooded.
JC:My family used to tell me, way before my time—up here, the Edison’s you know, horse and
team, a team of houses,—I think they said Dr. Brewster was the first man to get here.
AW: It’s amazing reading the letters, the Holley-Williams letters, these people went everywhere.They took their horses, and they went to Millerton. They took the ferry from Poughkeepsie, down tonew haven, Goshen. We don’t even go as far as they went.
JC:Who was I asking the other day Charlie-.He was around New York State a lot. Do you know
about “White Wings”?” White Wings”, what are “White Wings”?
JC:They’re the guys with a little trailer on wheels that went along after the horses, picking up
manure. There were so many horses in New York State. I always remembered that when I was a littlekid.
JC:They used to park down by the traffic light on a big tower on Forest Avenue. They had 2 towers
in the middle of the street, weird.
CR:Yeah well, the changes are amazing.
AW: It is nice to compare. It really is. I think that the generation, your generation, is probably thehealthiest because it was before all the substances, the toxins…
AW: Your diet was probably very good.
JC:Well, so much was grown out of your own garden, you see. It saved money too.
CR & AW: Yeah
JC:The Ferrises, when I lived here, Mr. Ferris had a big garden out in back, fruit patch and always
vegetables. When they lived on the farm they had their own slaughter house, their own cattle, theirown ham and bacon—beautiful.
AW: Everyone had a garden.14.
JC:There wasn’t any refrigeration then either. I mean a chunk of ice in the refrigerator or ice box.
You know what that was worth—keep a quart of milk for a day.
CR:We had an ice house. The ice out of the lake would last until August, and then we’d have to
JC:Hotchkiss—put more in—-sawdust. I remember when they got ice from the lake.
CR:I do too; it was fun.
AW: Couldn’t do it now, though. I don’t think they get enough ice, do they?
CR:They don’t get it thick enough.
JC:I don’t know how thick it was. We’ve had some good zero nights.
CR:No, but it didn’t…I forget…Doug, I asked him to go and measure it for me, he did, but I forget
how many inches, but it wasn’t anywhere near what it was.
AW: Like in the summer, I keep thinking of sitting on the porch. I remember reading an article somewhere that people don’t sit on the porch any more. They really don’t.
CR:Don does; he sits out there.
JC:Yes, he does. You know what I like about that? It is high enough that I can be down below the
gnats which can drive you crazy.
CR:I had a bat in the house this morning.
CR:I called Audrey to make sure it was a bat which I agreed that it was. I had to get it out of the
JC:How did you get rid of it?
CR:I just took a hand towel…
CR:threw it over it. It tried to cling to the screen. I could hear its toes.
JC:They’re quite an animal.
CR:I don’t like them as Audreyknows.
JC:They are good for eatingmosquitoes, you know
AW Yes, they are.
CR: I don’t have any more questions, do You?
AW: Not right at the moment, but let’s stop and think about it a minute.
JC:She started flying.
CR:She got bored being home alone.
JC:Most of the time when the kids got old enough to go up, so she decided to learn to fly. I said go
ahead. So she did, but I had to laugh at her. The first time she took off alone, the flight instructor was across the field with a biplane, a biplane with an open cockpit. I saw him get out. He saw what was going to happen. I saw that she didn’t bother to…Finally, he just came walking back. I was standing talking to Cory Miles. He said to Cory, “Well, it’s your airplane and it’s your wife, what the hell do I care?” The way Gertrude went, she got up over Ashley Falls and turned around, made 2 or 3 take offs and landings. She did alright.
CR:Good for her.
JC:She said her knees were shaking so before she got up in the air that after she got air born she
calmed down. But I have always told the students, when they first solo and get back down, it’s the first time you are absolutely on your own; once the wheels are off the ground, you’re it. You’re in charge.
CR:You lived on Millerton Road for how many years?
CR:Then you didn’t sell directly to the Yoakums, did you?
JC:Yes, we did.
CR:Oh, you did.
AW: When did you build this house on Porter Street (#62)?
JC:1974.1 taught Rob Yoakum to fly, the son, the one who died. He was a nice kid. He went
through hell when he got cancer.
CR:He had cancer; it was a terrible thing.
JC:He was something else—a lot of stuff, that boy. I got along well with B, very intelligent, a
CR:Where did you live between 1962 and 1974?16.
JC:Up on Wells Hill, the first house as you turn onto Horseshoe Lane. So I’m here. I guess I’m not
moving out of here.
CR:Not moving out of here, very comfortable, isn’t it? Are you a good cook?
JC:I eat pretty well, thank you. I like it. I like to cook. My sons cook. Alexander can read and cook.
AW:Bam always said if he could fill a prescription, he could cook, but he hasn’t proved it yet.
CR:I have four sons; two like to cook and two couldn’t care less.
JC:Really? I used to like to bake. Before it got a little bit too hard for me, I used to make bread all
CR:I remember, I’ve had some of your bread.
JC:I’ve got an awful good recipe for brownies, too. I am proud of that.
CR:I’ve had some of those too.
AW: I think that’s about it. It’s been fun.
JC : I like to talk to people.