JAMES EDWARD VAILL
Transcript of a taped interview
Narrator: James Edward Vaill
Tape #:56 A&B
Date: November 19, 1986
Place of interview: Mr. Vaill’s home, Woodland Drive, Lakeville, CT Interviewer: Jodie Stone
Mr. Vaill came to Lakeville as an infant when his father purchased a farm on Wells Hill Road. He describes his family’s farm, the location of other properties in the Wells Hill area, and the residential development of Woodland Drive. He reminisces about life on the farm and in the town during the 1920’s and 1930’s, mentioning friends and teachers. Notable in this interview is the story of the beginnings of the Lime Rock race track in which Mr. Vaill was instrumental.
Property of the Oral History Project
Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library
Salisbury, Connecticut 06068
JS: Jim, tell me about your parents. What were their names and where did they come from?
JV: Well, my father and his family were born in Goshen, Connecticut and Litchfield earlier on. My mother’s family was Cornwall, and her name was Marjorie Baldwin Vaill, and she lived in the section known as Great Hill, at the foot of Great Hill, and she was born and raised there until she was married. My father, Benjamin Franklin Vaill is my father – I forgot to mention his name – who was also born in Goshen.
JS: When did they come here? And why?
JV: My father, after he was married, managed and started Torrington Creamery in Torrington, Connecticut, and then two or three years later they moved here after I was a year or two old. I think I was two years old. The reason my father came here, he heard that a farm could be leased here, and so he came and leased a farm from William Perry who owned the Farnam Tavern in Lakeville.
JS: Where was the farm?
JV: The farm is on Wells Hill Road. It started just beyond where Dan Lufkin lives now and extended on both sides, well at that time on the left side of the road as far as Robin Hill Lane and up and around and over to Asylum Road, including the lot, the field, that Emerson’s house is on now. Later on, he purchased the Woodland Drive area which went over to Hotchkiss Road, including the land where Woodland Coffee Shop is, the land that belonged to Mrs. Quaile and Jack Rogers, Sid Cowles, Jack Hawley and the house next to where Bradley used to live. I don’t know who those people are now.
JS: So, it went right up to the Hotchkiss School property?
JS: Big farm.
JV: Yes. He also owned, well it was actually the land adjacent and including the Woodland Drive area over to Race Track Road where Susan Rice has her horse place now, and the field on the Wells Hill side of that.
JS: What houses were there? I know the Rout’s house. Was that the main house?
JV: The Rout’s house was the original farmhouse to our farm, and the original barn was right across the road from Rout’s house. The foundation is still in existence there, and just, below that at the junction of Woodland Drive used to be a very nice stoned-up spring that they used to derive the water from for that farm. I mean, the house and farm, and sometime after that the present farmhouse which, I don’t know who owns it now, it’s next to Lufkin’s, a big white house…
JS: Across from the Lufkin’s?
JV: No, it’s same side of the road as Lufkin’s and adjacent to Lufkin’s property, and the barn, present barn, is still in existence by Foxfire Farm, I guess they call it (It’s a horse farm now.) and the farm buildings included the main cow barn, a tack barn, horse barn, tool shed with grain storage overhead, pig pen and large slaughterhouse with a handmade, wooden windlass arrangement to hoist up the slaughtered animals to be skinned and dressed, and the pig pen was in back of that with a brook running through it so the pigs had plenty of water and mud. There was a smokehouse and a big chicken house, henhouse, chicken coop, two large tool sheds. I guess I mentioned one of them. I guess that’s all the buildings. Oh, an outhouse.
JS: Jim, you said you moved here when you were very young, very young.
JV: When we first moved to Lakeville, we lived in the house that was just sold by Harry and Helen Stanton. I remember living there when I was, I think around two or three.
JS: What year was that?
JV: Well, it had to be 1923 or ’24, and I remember my mother being in the yard. There were the Whalen boys: there was Brick Whalen, Tom Whalen and Buck Whalen who was Joe Whalen, and Babe Whalen – what ‘was his first name? It goes Babe, Buck and Brick. And I remember my mother out there talking with them in the front yard next to Farnam Road, and there was a big pile of leaves that was raked up, and during that period of time Farnam Tavern was, of course, in existence, being run by William Perry, and I used to be able, at the age of two and a half or three to walk to Farnam Tavern and get oatmeal cookies from a big Negro cook that was there, and oatmeal. We used to cook oatmeal once in a while.
JS: Did you go by yourself?
JV: Yeah. There was no traffic in those days- once in a while a car.
JS: Dirt roads?
JV: Oh, yes. Oh, the main road was paved but Farnam Road was, in fact, it was called Muck Alley. And I think the term Muck Alley, not only the fact that it was muddy in spring, but the early workers in the knife factory here were English, and they dug peat out of a swamp down there, and they called it mucking out peat, and I think that’s the association with the name that was termed Muck Alley, and that hole, that was excavation filled in, of course, with water, and we used to skate there as kids.
JS: Where was it?
JV: It was right across from the road to the transpower station on the left, right across the road from that. I think it’s all grown up now, filled in, it used to be a pond, and I remember Walt Fenn catching muskrats in that pond.
JS: Where’d you go to school?
JV: Well, the first three grades I went to school in what was St. Mary’s Hall which is now an apartment, apartments, next to the Mason’s Masonic Hall. And one of my duties, I remember in the first three grades, was going to Paavola’s that had a rooming house where – right across from the Post Office – I used to own it – uh, 1821?
JS: April 56.
JV: April 56. Bonnie Mulville owns it. And Mrs. Paavola had a rooming house there, and, in fact, Skip Wheeler, I mean Skip Smith now, I remember her telling me that she roomed there when she was a girl.
JS: This is Ed’s mother, Ed Paavola’s mother?
JV: This is Jim Smith’s widow. He has since died. He was the chauffeur for John McChesney for years and years and years. And John McChesney used to store his cars in two garages in back of Dufour’s Garage, and when he wanted Jim to appear he called him on the phone and Jim jumped in the car and went up to Hotchkiss and picked up Mr. McChesney.
Childhood, let’s see now. Then we moved to the farm. I think I was about five years old. That was when the farm was strictly non-mechanical as we know it today. Everything was done with horses. There was no electricity. In the barns, the cow barns, they milked the cows and even threw down hay by lantern light. They used to plow by horses. We did have one tractor that we used primarily for belt power to run the wood saw and to fill the silo. On the farm there was two icehouses, too. The big icehouse is now a two-car garage just at an angle to our old farmhouse.
I remember going to Lakeville Lake with my father with horse and sleigh, and Pete Lorenzo’s father used to cut ice off of Lakeville Lake for so much a cake for any farmers or anybody that stored ice. All the hotels did too, at those times. In fact, Bill Perry would never drink a Scotch and water without natural ice. This ice-cutting machine was quite an ingenious invention. There was a Model T Ford motor hooked up on sled runners with a big circular saw like you use to cut cord wood with, and he would lower the saw that was burring at great speed, and somehow, I’ve forgotten whether he had a horse or something pulling that sled, maybe it. was manpower, ’cause it had to be inched forward just slightly, and he’d saw down through, say if the ice was a foot thick, he would saw down to about eight inches of the ice in a gridlock formation about two feet by four feet, and then he’d go along with a pointed pike, I think they called ’em, and jabbed it down in the saw cut, and break off enormous slabs of ice and then they’d be broken up in four-foot lengths; They were then hauled up a chute onto a platform and slid onto the horse drawn sleighs and transported to where they were going. And then once the sleigh load of ice got to the farm, there was a chute that went down from the ice house, and as the layers of ice were built up, they were packed in sawdust, a big layer on the bottom, and then a layer of ice would be put on with sawdust spread over the top of that layer of ice and into the cracks in
between the ice and around the edges, at least six or eight inches thick, and the icehouse itself was insulated with sawdust, and as the layers built up the chute was raised up to the next layer, and the ice was hauled up the chute by ice tong arrangement with a pulley and a rope, and a horse pulling the rope. They’d hook a tongs onto a cake of ice and then the horse would go up, go along the road, and pulled the ice up the chute, and then two rnen would be up in the icehouse and slide it around to where they wanted it. It was quite a long period of time that that took.
JS: How much ice would a farm that size store?
JV: In tonnage I have no idea, but it could be figured out. The icehouse was probably thirty feet wide and at least forty feet deep and maybe twenty feet high. And it’s seven gallons to the cubic foot, if you want to figure it out.
JS: Who were the people who worked on the farm?
JV: There were a number of permanent families that worked for my father. One was the [unclear] family, and Sarah Jones. Sarah Jones’s mother was one of the Merrill daughters, and that’s another family. We always had a live-in hired man in addition to…. My father owned the house that is now, let’s see, from the Catholic Church parking lot, it’s the first, second, third house on the left that was one of the tenant houses. It’s across where they’re rebuilding that house now.
JS: Jack Rogers is rebuilding.
JV: Oh, he is?
JS: His son is.
JV: The Gloades used to have it. And the other house is where Routs live now, and that was where the Merrills lived. They lived in part of the house and in where Routs’ side door, by their driveway is, was the entrance to another so-called apartment where there used to be a cigar maker. He used to sit there and make handmade cigars. He later moved to Lakeville. And a shoemaker that lived in that section of the house, plus the Merrill family.
JS: And where was your house?
JV: The old farmhouse, next to Lufkin’s.
JS: Who lived in the Gevalt house? That was part of the farm?
JV: No, that wasn’t part of our farm. That was separate. It was owned by Ernest Elmo Calkins, and he was quite a nice old gentleman. Very dignified, had a chauffeur, housekeeper and a maid, and he lived there until Gevalts bought it. In fact, Dr. Gevalt went in to see Mr. Calkins and said, “When and if you decide to sell, may I buy your house?” And he said, “Certainly.” And so that’s how Gevalt bought it.
JS: So that was not, in your time, a farm?
JV: No. That was a little section.
JS: I was going to say, it’s a cut-out section of your farm.
JV: See, where Charley Hines used to live, the veterinarian shop across from where Flynns used to live, Jack Flynn was a part of that old farm, and it was that house, where Charley Hines, the vet, used to live…
JS: Before he bought Grasslands.
JV: Yes. And then, there’s Gevalt’s. And up Asylum Road on that road goes Dr. Casper and his family, two beautiful twin blond daughters that I fell desperately in love with in my teen-age days. One of them married John Bianchi, who died. Beyond that Jack Brooks lived. And then there was the big Thorne house Dick Emerson bought and has since demolished, and that was the original Wells house, and across from that house was where Peter – the building inspector – Oliver … that used to be a horse barn for the original Wells stables, and down below was a cow barn, and at one side upstairs was a fancy, paneled tack room with all the blue ribbons from his horses, his saddles and all that, and the harnesses. On Race Track Road, of course, was a race track that Dr. Noble and Bill Ford and Paul Cleaveland resurrected.
Oh, before I forget it, when I was very young, the grandstand for that race track was still standing, and I vaguely remember it was fairly small, it probably wasn’t over twelve feet deep and may have held thirty people at the most. Something happened, I think it burned down.
But, to get back to the buildings on Asylum Road at that time, that was all the buildings that were there. Peter Oliver’s mother-in-law’s house was originally the farmer for Thornes used to live there. His name was Harry Frink. How do you like that, a name out of the past? And then Mrs. Ladd bought it and completely remodeled it, tore down the Thorne barn and built the existing house on there now.
JS: The farm, your farm, the family farm, that was commercial?
JV: Yes, primarily a dairy farm. At first we just sold milk to Mitchell Dairy in Bridgeport, and all the farmers used to bring the milk, cans of milk down to Community Service’s yard, about where their yard office is now. There was a big wooden platform where all the milk cans were piled upon, sat upon, and once a day, in the morning, early morning or after milking all the farmers, and the day before, because it had to be cool. In those days no refrigeration, so forty-quart cans of milk were put into a, after the milk was strained, it was put into a vat with cakes of ice to cool the milk, and periodically was stirred to circulate the milk, and the day’s-before milk would be put on a wagon and brought to Community Service and brought to Bridgeport by truck.
JS: By truck, not train?
JV: By truck. The trains were running, passenger trains and freight trains, of course. In fact, I remember going to Hartford on the, getting on the train at the Lakeville station and going to visit my grandmother in Hartford. I was about six or seven.
JS: Long trip? Lots of stops?
JV: I don’t remember entirely how long it took. We went through, of course, Canaan, Norfolk, Winsted, New Hartford, Satan’s Kingdom..
JS: Right along 44.
JV: Yeah, but then it went up into Simsbury around the mountain, I think. Maybe it went to Farmington. I’ve forgotten. At that age….
You said commercial farm. We also grew potatoes even in those days about where Robin Hill Lane is now, and the primary market was Hotchkiss School, and the potatoes were stored in the cellar of our old farmhouse. It was a dirt cellar with wooden bins in there, and they’d be piled in there in the fall and periodically during the winter as Hotchkiss needed ’em we’d bag ’em and haul ’em up there with horse and wagon, and it seemed like it had to be carried about half a mile through corridors to be dumped into a bin, I think. Of course, later on we ‘went into real commercial potato farming. That’s when we bought the race track.
JS: But that road was always there, Race Track Road?
JV: That was, one time, quite a main road. It started in Salisbury in among the base of the mountain down by Indian Cave and where Ingersolls used to live, by Miner’s farm, and then it went up into Dark Hollow to Mr. Cannon’s dooryard – that was the town farm – right next to his front door and across the road and up Asylum Road, across by where the watering kettle is by Gevalts, Race Track Road and to Miner’s farm, George Miner’s, over the hill and into Seymour’s property, I don’t know who owns it now. [Mr. and Mrs. John Blum. Ed.] At one point that branched off and came out on Stonehouse Road in Sharon.
JS: Way down that far?
JV: It branched off that one road….
JS: Hosier Road.
JV: Is that where?
JS: That dead-end road. – When was this area, this Woodland Drive, Rockledge, when was that developed? Did your father do it?
JV: He bought the property, I think, in about 1934, and this was virgin pine timber in those days, and we cut, by hand, cross-cut saws, we cut over a million board feet of lumber out of these woods. And that’s a lot of cross
JS: To sell, not to build with?
JV: Actually, my uncle was with Watertown Building Supply Company, and he did a lot of building. He used most of the lumber. This was just before World War II and during World War II.
JS: What was his name?
JV: Bob, Robert Vaill. Lumber was hard to get then, so he used a lot of this native lumber to do his building, and developing. Woodland Drive, road probably was put in about 1947, ’48.
JS: Just partway. It didn’t make the complete circle, did it?
JV: Wait, I take that back. It was later than that. I think it was in the fifties.
JS: Well, our house was built in ’50.
JV: Well, it was just before that, so it must have been late forties.
JS: But it didn’t come all the way around then, did it? Made a circle?
JV: Yes. Later on, where Adams lives now, we put that in later, but the original Woodland Drive is as it is now.
JS: Was there not, at one point, a plan to connect it through to Route 41?
JV: Never. No, I made sort of a trail, down there.
JS: Yes, I know, people still…. Hotchkiss kids use it all the time.
JV: We always had a right-of-way by Woodland Coffee Shop. My father built that, too.
JS: Did he build all these houses in the circle?
JV: No, he just built where Chris Dakin used to live right up here on the corner across from Paul Rebillard, and across the road down in back….
JS: Let’s see, it goes Soper, Moore…
JV: Right past Soper.
JS: Moore. Tucked way in. Now, your sister is Janet Maus.
JV: She and Paul got married in Florida and came up here, I think about 1955 or so. And Janet actually, Janet and Paul built the house that Bob Fails is living in new, and the house that you’re living in, and then they built their
JS: Now, you were saying the other day, when we were sitting here talking, about a cabin that you had in the woods, that you built when you were a young boy?
JV: Oh, yes, yes indeed.
JS: Where was that?
JV: That was when I was about fourteen which would have been 1935 or so. George Cleaveland, of course the Cleavelands and the Vaills had their farms up here. Oh, up further, before I forget it, the farm where Fran Gomez….
JS: Quality Farm?
JV: That was owned by Otho Sabin, a real old-time farmer, and then Dewees Dilworth bought it from him, or his estate, and created what is there now. My uncle built that barn, by the way, out of lumber that came out of these woods. In fact, all those buildings…. In fact, Bellini’s house up here was built out of this lumber, and Remington’s house.
JS: So you and Paul built this cabin?
JV: No, George. George and I built the cabin at one of the sawmill sites about where the trail is now. We built it out of, of course, native lumber out of the sawmill, and the siding was slabs with the edges squared off, and the building was about sixteen by twenty, I would think, with a big front porch, a kitchen, a bedroom and two built-in beds in the living room, with a big, ornate woodstove and a beautiful Victrola, a hand wind-up Victrola cabinet record player.
JS: What’d you use it for, Jim?
JV: Ah, mainly for parties, to entertain and during hunting season, George and Edward Kipp, Merrill Fenn and I, primarily, would stay down there hunting season, and camp out and go bunting, drinking, etc. Walt Fenn and Jack Fisher used to be in the group, too.
JS: What happened to it?
JV: It finally got vandalized tremendously by Hotchkiss boys, and to avoid any complications my father finally demolished it, tore down my cabin, and part of the paneling is still in our old office. Sand and Gravel, in Lime Rock Station. I’m going to resurrect the paneling one of these days.
JS: Is that when you started to realize you were so good with building?
JV: Oh, no. We always built things and did things on the farm. You had to learn how to do everything.
JS: But this house. I mean, look at it.
JV: Well, this was maybe a culmination of living as long as I have and doing what I’ve done all my life. I did all the planning, the plumbing, heating, finish work, cabinets, everything. I didn’t do the wiring.
JS: You did the chestnut staircase, right? Isn’t that chestnut?
JV: Bill Washburn built the staircase. I didn’t do that.
JS: But you salvaged the wood?
JV: Oh, yes. The chestnut came out of an old vegetable bin in the basement of the old Perkins house that I turned into apartments.
JS: Where’s that?
JV: Next to the Ironmaster’s Motel and my wife has the antique shop, Bad Corner Antiques.
JS: I didn’t know those were apartments. I thought the motel used those for extra accommodations.
JV: Never. And where John Mongeau lives now down there (diverging a little bit from the subject) that used to be one of the miner’s cottages for the Davis Ore Bed, and I moved that up there and rebuilt it into what the Mongeau’s have now. And where the Chez Riette restaurant is, is another miner’s cottage. In fact, they called it Miner’s Cottage, didn’t they? When they built the motel they bulldozed down, I think, two other houses that were there. They were in the way.
JS: If you go past the Miner’s Cottage, Chez Riette, no I’m wrong. I’m thinking of that road, if you’re coming through Lakeville toward Salisbury and you pass, is it Bob Noble’s old house and there’s a road…. what am I thinking of? Is there an ore bed behind the motel and a house back in there that you can never see?
JV: Oh yes, it’s owned by Rosenthal.
JS: That’s what I’m thinking of. Is the ore bed back there?
JV: Yes. I still own five acres up in back there.
JS: Around the bed?
JV: Not around the bed. Adjacent to it. Back of the motel. That whole hill. Yes, there used to be a railroad going up through there, to the ore bed and went down and tied in with the railroad that went through Lakeville. The ore was taken to Canaan, I believe, to be smelted.
JS: Tell me about the track. When I moved here in ’49, the race track, that
was an ore bed. What was it? Gravel? It was something.
JV: Well, originally my father bought that to grow potatoes and later sweet corn in it, and we used to grow in excess of a hundred thousand bushels, and at one time I’m sure it was a hundred and fifty, because we also used to grow potatoes up in Sheffield in back of what used to be the Blue Belton Inn, owned now by trailer trucks. And there was a potato storage building on the infield about where the uphill turn is now, a large underground potato storage building that we built to store potatoes in winter. But that was strictly a big commercial operation. Also, when we grew sweet corn, we used to pick 20,000 ears of sweet corn a day.
JS: Not by hand?
JV: Well, there again, George Cleaveland was one of the most brilliant guys I’ve ever known in my life, and George and I designed, he did most of the designing
I think, of a sweet corn picking machine that would pick six rows, I mean
they were snapped out by hand, but this was a tripod, looked like a big grasshopper going down through the field of corn. It was six feet above the ground, and drive by two big wheels spaced apart twelve feet, and then a front wheel.
like a farm tractor, double front wheel. It was a tricycle-type
arrangement, and there was four elevators that fit down in between the rows that went up to a platform and hopper on the bottom of each elevator and, we used to get high school kids to snap off the ears of corn and drop ’em in this bin at the bottom of the elevator, and they’d be carried up the elevator to the table where four ladies would sit and shove ’em into a hole and bag a hundred ears to a bag, and somebody’d be there and pile the bags on the back end of this contraption that it looked like, to the end of the row, they were put in the shade, and then we’d pick six more rows. We used to pick, as I said, 20,000 ears a day. At midnight we’d go back to town and load a trailer truck full of sweet corn, after picking the things all day, and this went on day after day for about a month or six weeks.
Let me start at the beginning of the race track. Jack Fisher in his younger and more frisky days, as we all were in those days, bought an MGTC just like what Gail has, and every Sunday we used to go down to what the infield is now, and we used to grow sweet corn there at the time. I had bulldozed around the perimeter of what is the infield now, the perimeter of the whole infield, and we used to take turns running that poor MG around that cornfield, raising huge clouds of dust, and we’d just beat that poor MG to death every Sunday. It’s a wonder it’s still around.
One Sunday, as we were there having our onion sandwiches and drinking a can of beer, who arrived but two carloads of people from the Sports Car Club of America who had heard that I was building a sports car track. It never entered my mind before then. Well, it sort of started a germ of thought for me, and I decided it might be a good idea. So, I looked into it and decided first of all to see how the town felt about it, so I called a town meeting. I borrowed a sound movie from the Sports Car Club of America with projectors and speakers that I borrowed from Dutchess Auto. I had Bill Conklin running the machine, and I showed a two hour film of the race at Le Mans, France, and the town says they did not know what was going on. They saw every action, every sound, every speech, every roar of that undiluted, noisy film. I started from there, and I really did an awful lot trying to raise money, selling money in a nonexistent corporation on an idea. I managed to raise a hundred thousand dollars, and I built that whole race track with a hundred thousand dollars, less than that, actually. And we started building the track in the spring of 1955. We had all the lower part cleared. Where the straightaway is now was an impenetrable jungle. In fact, when I started clearing the land, I went down to the end of the land right next to Bergdahl’s and started with a D-8 bulldozer, and I couldn’t tell where I was. I had to follow the brook, winding brook back up to, to find my way back to the existing sand and gravel building at that point, and that’s how thick it was with enormous elms, maples that you just couldn’t get through. And we had just started clearing that land when the August flood of 1955 came along. Both the D-7 bulldozer, a D-4 bulldozer, a D-8 bulldozer, six dump trucks, the whole screening plant, crushing plant, the shop – it was all wiped out by that flood. There were headlines in the Journal showing the valley of Lime Rock that looked just like the Mississippi River. And it said, “The end of a dream.”
JS: Was that from the mill brook?
JV: That was the whole watershed from Mt. Riga all the way down. So, we didn’t start working on the track ’til the next six months, ’til that spring. We managed to exist, of course we weren’t insured against any floods. But by sheer perseverance and a lot of help from a lot of people, I managed to get going. I designed it by an aerial photograph of the whole property, a Fairchild aerial photograph. I got a call from Cornell University wanted to know who designed the track and how they divided the radii of the corners. I said by setting on a bulldozer and seeing which way I wanted to do it.
END OF SIDE A
After this episode, after the track was built, they wanted the radii of the corners so I went out with a transit and tried the best of my ability to get the radii and put it down on paper, and they sent down a team and redid what I did and went back, and with their calculations they said that never would anybody beat a one-minute mile on that mile and half-track. Since then they’re down to 45 seconds or some horrible time.
The opening day of the race track, of course, was April 27th, 1957.
Bill Barnett started the first race. We had Dr. Noble and Dr. Gevalt were track physicians for that race. We had free passes for any nurse in Sharon Hospital that wanted ’em, and it was quite a grand opening, a beautiful day. For the opening race the only spectator area was the outfield on 112, and Bill Kimberley had a race team then of Kimberley-Clark. After the race Bill came up to me and said, “Jim, would you sell your shares of track here for $150,000?” I said, “Bill, you’re crazy. Look at that crowd. It’s beautiful. I just wouldn’t sell for anything.” I should’ve sold it to him. But that was when sports car racing was fun. Briggs Cunningham was there with his two or three trailers full of cars, and the Maserati team, a Ferrari team with their complement of blond, beautiful, shapely pit crews, and there was none of the high pressure racing that it is now. It was almost “after you, Gaston” type of thing into the corner. But now they’ll shoot anybody or run ’em over or do anything to beat.
JS: .How much opposition was there in town to the track?
JV: Well, there was no…. We ran a town vote after that town meeting to see, you know, what the feeling was, and the complete town voted on it, and the pro-track people beat the anti-track people two to one. Whether it was representative, I don’t know. But after it was built and running, the Lime Rock Protective Association was financed by, I hear, I assume, Bertie Tilt. An active organization was, of course. Lime Rock Protective Association, it was, should I put it, energized by Herb Bergdahl, Sr. who was the spokesman for the group, and I’d like to call it, rabble rousing. And through the efforts of the Lime Rock Association I spent most of my time, it seems, in law suit cases in Litchfield. The sheriff and I became close friends, him serving summonses on me.
JS: For what?
JV: Oh, they would pick up any instance to sue me, for anything. Primarily, it was a big, long law suit when they tried to close the track down, and they did have it curtailed quite a while [unclear] and, you know, the thing that is, that most of the people that were against the track didn’t live in Lime Rock. The people that lived in Lime Rock were all in favor of it. They testified for it en masse during the trial, and what really amuses me now is the people that move into this area just recently, knowing full well the track is there, they’re the ones that scream the loudest about the noise of the track. And I cannot understand the thinking of people like that.
JS: That’s ridiculous.
JV: It certainly is.
JS: It’s there for all -to see. We all know it’s there.
JV: You should. If you don’t, it’s your own fault.
JS: And you sold out, did you not?
JV: More or less. I sold out because I mainly got sick o£ being hassled so much. And one of our Local residents also instituted a minority stockholders’ suit, and he wouldn’t even have been in the stock as a stockholder unless I had arranged for him to get the stock. I wanted him to be a director because he was knowledgeable in racing, and I didn’t know anything about racing. And at that time, you couldn’t be a director unless you were a stockholder. So, I engineered the sale of stock to this gentleman, and he had delusions of grandeur or whatever you want to call it, and he instituted a minority stockholders’ suit to try to kick me off. He lost. But then, after that it was another, I forget what instance it was, but Jim Haynes came into the picture and offered to buy out all the stockholders, so at that time I sold.
JS: You’re glad you’re out of it?
JV: Yes. I think I am. It was quite an education, of course. Especially in human nature. I’ve learned an awful lot about that.
JS: Do you go to the races?
JV: Very seldom. Mainly I think because racing, it’s a different type of racing than what I knew and also most of the people that I knew during that period of time have either died, moved away, retired or stopped coming, and so I guess I’m glad I’m not running it anymore.
To get back to the farm living in my childhood, I’d say about the age of five to ten or twelve, we had town water but no active bathroom outside of a sink and bathtub. There was no toilet in the house. There was a chemical toilet that was emptied once a day, and outside of that there was a bathhouse that was activated daily during daylight hours, needless to say. As a child, I remember the woodstove in the kitchen, a big kitchen range, my mother and various relatives doing a lot of canning during the summer. We grew our own vegetables, our own pigs, of course our own chickens and eggs, milk, butter, beef, occasional turkey or two. We used to cure our own meat, salt pork, sausage, bacon, hams. Of course my mother used to preserve all the vegetables. It was almost a self-sufficient operation. In the fall, my father used to buy a barrel of flour, a barrel of sugar, a barrel of salt, huge cartons of salt codfish and I would guess, about twenty pound cardboard boxes of Oneida Biscuit milk crackers that are still made in the (unclear]. My mother made a lot of dishes out of milk crackers.
JS: Like what?
’JV: “Uh; scalloped oysters”. Of course, crackers and milk and cheese. That was a staple. And scalloped tomatoes with milk crackers. Corn and sausage.
You’d brown the sausage patties and make the gravy and put a layer of sausage and corn in, a layer of crumpled up milk crackers and build up the casserole layer after layer, pour the sausage gravy in and fill it all up with milk and bake it. Delicious.
JS: Greasy and cholesterol and everything.
JV: And there was dried beef up in the attic, and the word chipped beef came by it naturally because this would be petrified. You couldn’t slice it; you chipped off little chips. And that was reconstituted a little bit in the frying. You had to soak it to get some of the salt out, and that, of course, reconstituted it, and chipped beef and gravy on toast and mashed potatoes was another frequent meal. Mainly it was what we grew and raised on the farm. Once in a while there used to be fish peddlers, used to come around with wagons or Model T trucks with boxes full of fish with ice all over ’em. Once in a while my mother used to buy one of those.
JS: Did you have brother and sisters?
JV: I have a brother, Dick, who is now in Oklahoma. My sister, of course, lives here. I have a son and daughter. My son lives in Pittsburgh, with Westinghouse. My daughter is in Long Island. She’s married to an anesthesiologist. She has four children; my son has three. The oldest son of my daughter is now going to medical school. Doesn’t seem possible.
Going back to the farm, as a child my basic chores when I was say, six to twelve, was feeding the chickens, filling the woodbox which seemed to be a continuous job, and when I was a little older carrying the milk pails from the guys who were milking the cows up to the milkhouse, and during the summer used to drive the hay wagon while they loaded hay. Just prior to that, I mean earlier than that, as I mentioned before, all the machinery was horse drawn, the mowing machine, of course, was a mower, horse drawn. The hay was raked with a horse drawn dump rake that gathered up the hay in the tines and then dumped it when it got full, and then the guys would go along and pile it up into cocks, pile it up toward the center and into a haycock, and then after it cured a day or so, they’d go along with a hay wagon and two or three men would take a pitchfork and go down to the haycock and throw it onto a wagon. Another man was placing it on the wagon so it didn’t fall off, and one of my jobs when I was older was driving the horses for my Dad.
While in the same period of time when I was five or six, I was out playing in the hay field, and I thought it would be great fun to hide under one of these haycocks. My father came along with a pitchfork and put it through the haycock and through me. Went through my lung, my shoulder and the third tine missed me. He carried me from the hay field. At that time we had an Overland car, and we drove to Sharon Hospital and at the rate of speed burned the bearings out. So, the poor fellow got out of the car with me unconscious, and some fellow came along and gave me a ride to the hospital. It was John Carley, Don Carley’s father. I was in the hospital and they told me I died at one period of time one night, and there was a nurse on twenty- four hour duty, and she quickly pumped some adrenalin in my heart and got it going again. But of course, I don’t remember much about that. I do remember the wound being cauterized by putting a probe, a wire probe with an iodine- soaked swab through my chest. That brought me conscious. And while I was recuperating in the hospital I remember Bill Barnett sending down a little glass ball, snowflake ball, you’d turn it upside down and snowflakes would
I also broke my arm when I was about seven jumping out the back end of a Model T Ford and catching my arm in the tailgate. And in the hospital I fell out of bed and they didn’t dare reset the elbow so it’s slightly crooked!
As I was saying, we went to school the first three grades where St. Mary’s Hall was. I remember one time on some occasion my father gave me fifty cents to put in the bank. Well, instead of going as far as the bank, at the top of Holley Street at the time, I had to go by the Jigger Shop which was where the laundromat is now. A candy and ice cream place. So I went into the Jigger Shop and I spent fifty cents on penny candy. At that time for fifty cents you could buy half a bushel almost of penny candy. I was the most popular kid in school. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hamm who was the woman who ran the Jigger Shop, she and Mr. Hamm, called my father and wanted to know if he knew that I was spending fifty cents on penny candy. He didn’t know, but I found out he knew when I got home from school that day. It was one of the few times I got solidly spanked by my father.
JS: Was that a lot of money to put in the bank? Fifty cents? I mean, why would he do that?
JV: Well, at that time, yes, for a farm family.
JS: That was worth putting in the bank.
JV: I suppose it was partly to institute a sense of saving in his errant son.
JS: Where’d you go to school when you left there?
JV: The fourth through sixth grade was down where the Post Office is now. It used to be the high school, and I had a fourth and fifth grade there. I skipped the sixth grade, and I’m convinced the reason I skipped was the fact that the teacher couldn’t stand me, so I went directly to the seventh grade, and Mrs. Miner who has since died – she was Maude Holcomb at the time. Bill Holcomb’s sister – Bill still lives in South Canaan – she was the seventh grade teacher, and she was one strict teacher. If we whispered or did anything out of hand, she had a ruler that was about sixteen inches long, and she’d come out and whop a kid right over the head with the ruler. In this day and age she’d be sued. And then the eighth grade was taught by Miss Taylor, who had to resign for having dates with a few of the senior boys. Miss Crofton was freshman in high school. Seventh and eighth grades and high school. Miss Crofton was the ’’teacher ‘in the freshman class and homeroom teacher. Leon Bohlman who is Louise Solan’s, or was Louise Solan’s brother- in-law, taught algebra. He was homeroom teacher of the sophomore class. Harold Smith: was homeroom teacher of the junior class, and he taught stenography and typing. Mrs. Fitts, who was then Miss Gordon, was senior homeroom teacher, and she taught history and social studies. She was a wonderful teacher. And Mr. Loring was principal. Mr. Loring was quite a character. He taught chemistry and physics. I understand he was shell shocked or something in World War I and periodically he’d have a relapse or
something and go slightly off his rocker. I remember one time in chemistry class he got in front of the class and said, “I’ll show you how we went through football teams when I was in college.” He crouched down and crashed through all the desks and chairs in class. Right up through ‘ em.
I graduated in 1937.class.
There were twenty-one graduating students in that
JS: Then the war came pretty soon.
JV: That started ’39. I got out of high school and at that time, or prior to that, my father had bought a milk route from the Field family where the Tilts live now, and we were in the milk delivery business along with Paul Cleaveland who was Oakwood Farm and we were Rosehill Farm, and later on they started up Wells Hill Dairy which turned into Salisbury Farms which was bought out by Tollgate.
I forgot where I am. I was still in school – just graduated.
Oh, one time, I think I was about a sophomore in high school when Salisbury High School as small and unknown as it was, almost became state champs in basketball. They got beat two out of three games by Hillhouse in Hartford. Weaver High School. Wilbur Hemmerley was the coach. And the team was the Whalen boys, Buck, Brick and Babe Whalen, Kelly boys, Tom Kelly, Herbie Atkins who was the greatest basketball dribbler in the world. He could dribble under his legs – he looked like the Harlem Globe Trotters, and Garwood Belter, Jr.
JS: And you?
JV: Oh, no. I was too young and I wore glasses, to play basketball. But they almost won the state championship. I think they got psyched out in that third game. Anyway, the whole town went to Hartford to watch that game. One of the basketball games they were playing in Pine Plains and that was a crucial game, too, and being played in Pine Plains, and that was when Roberts Hall burned down. We got the word at the basketball game that the whole town was on fire.
We used to play baseball when I was growing up. We used to have impromptu games on the farm, out in back, right next to Rout’s. They just put a porch on. Right back there used to be our baseball field. We used to play impromptu teams from Salisbury. There was great rivalry between the towns, even between the Lakeville -team and Salisbury town team. Used to play-the – Raggies and used to play the Wells Hill Raggies.
Things were a lot easier in those days, it seems. I remember when we were decorating for the big junior prom and needed a lot of material for the decorations, and Jim Hines had a shop on Walton Street, and he let us take his truck and go out and collect all this material. None of us had licenses. I was about fifteen or fourteen at the time. Probably could drive. And about from the age of twelve on, I used to’ buy Model T’s for five dollars apiece.
and George Cleaveland had an old Star car, and Bob Dufour had a Buick that he got from Judd – I think he’s related to the Judds. I don’t know if it was Bill Judd, the barber or not. He had an old four cylinder Buick touring car, and we used to run all over the farm in these cars, both our farm and the Cleaveland’s farm, and at one time we used to go all over the town on back roads. We went up Mt. Riga one time in my Model T, boiling all the way, got up to the watering trough halfway up, and the only thing we could find to fill up the radiator was a half pint whiskey bottle lying in the gutter. I used to run these Model T’s until they dropped dead, or something horrible happened to them, then put ’em in the farm dump and go buy another one for five dollars. Wish I had ‘ ern now.
I bought a 1928 Model T which is a pretty rare thing. Wire wheels, closed coupe with a back seat and with flower holders on the sides of the car. I got her home and immediately I took the body off, just put a seat across the frame and that was my runabout. John Martin was riding with me one time – John and Nancy lived next door where the Lufkins live now. We were over in the corn lot which is where
the Emerson place is now. There was a pile of hay at the foot of this hill.
I thought it would be great sport to run into that hill and see the hay explode and fly. Unfortunately, the hay was frozen solid
The Model T hit it, and the frontend went up in theair and the hind end
went up in the air, John Martin went up in the air. When he came down, the Model T wasn’t there. He rolled about fifty feet, it seems, and I cautiously went up to him to see if he was all right. I thought he was killed, at least, but he was just slightly groggy, and got up and shook himself. He was fine. George and I used to run down through these woods with our cars, and one time Lee Dufour rode down with me to see, you know, all his son was associating with, and he got down to where our cabin was. Lee got out of the Model T Ford, and he said, “I’ll never ride with you again.”
Lee was quite a guy. I remember he and Bert Roberts who had Roberts Store. I think there was a clash of personality between those two men. They were just like two kids fighting in the school yard. One Halloween, Lee Dufour was over his garage across from Roberts Hall throwing rotten eggs at Bert Roberts standing in front of his store throwing potatoes or something at Lee Dufour.
Dufour’s Garage was quite a hangout for all of us boys. It was a place to watch the world go by, talk about various and sundry important things. One time a car drove up in front of Dufour’s Garage, a very self-important, newly rich fellow with a big cigar in his mouth, driving a big Cadillac, rolled his window down, “Hey, Mac, I’m going to New York.” Lee looked up at him, and says, “Go ahead.” He was not unknown to be a little unscrupulous. His favorite trick was somebody come up to have their gas and oil checked, and Lee would pull the dipstick out, wipe it off and carefully put it back in the motor but not all the way. down, show it to the customer and say, “You need a quart of oil.” So, the guy would say, “Okay,” and so Lee would go and make a big pretense of putting the spout into an empty can and coming out and pouring it into the motor. Bob will never forgive me if he hears this.
Ray Dufour, of course, was the town policeman. Directed traffic where the traffic light is now. His favorite trick when anybody came through town
who was driving too fast or doing something wrong, he’d take the keys out of the car and lock up and start directing traffic again, and after an hour or so the people would start getting a little irate, and after maybe an hour and a half or two hours Lee would give ’em back the keys – “Next time don’t drive so fast through here. You’ll get there quicker.” Very effective. Much easier than giving ’em a ticket.
JS: Now, we had a Dufour at Hotchkiss who was the postmaster for years. It was Ray, wasn’t it?
JV: It was Ray Dufour. There was Ray, Les and Lee.
JS: He lived in the building – that used to be the teen center or something. He lived upstairs.
JV: That used to be the Hub. Like the Jigger Shop. Ice cream, soda pop, big marble counter and stools and fancy ice cream tables with chairs. Ma Dufour and Pa Dufour, Lee’s mother and father ran that. They lived upstairs where Ray lived.
Right between the garage and the Hub was an old wedge-shaped building that used to have a number of various little businesses in there. One time Roily Beers had a hunting and fishing and tackle place there. In fact, he was the one who got me trout fishing when I was in my early teens. And after that it was Bill Charnley, an old radio shop. He then moved across the street in the basement part of the present apartment house, torn down. Between Fern Campbell’s place and the present Lakeville Cafe which was the First National which was Roberts Store, in between that and Fern Campbell’s used to be a building that housed the Lakeville Men’s Club on the second floor with card tables, pool tables and all the necessary paraphernalia. On the first floor was a barbershop, Bill Judd’s barbershop where Paul Argali apprenticed. It was a three chair- barbershop, and Paul manned one and Mr. Judd manned the other until Paul had his own barbershop in what used to be the Western Union building which is now torn down. Next to the Western Union building used to be a meat market which was Eggleston’s meat market, and then Rudman’s meat market before Rudman moved to where the Apothecary Shop is now.
I bought a shotgun, a ten gauge double barreled shotgun when I was about fourteen [unclear] ten gauge shotgun shells. The only trouble is, at that age every time I shot, it would knock me off my feet, so I think I traded it with George Sherwood for another gun•
Oh, the Stuart Theater was in existence where the pizza house is now, and the A&P was underneath the theater at that time before they moved down to where the A&P liquor store used to be next to where the A&P store was, that’s where the gas station is now. Where the gas station is now used to be a park where the band used to give concerts.
JS: The Gulf Station.
JV: That’s right. Bud McKone and I played trumpet in the band about the
age of ten, I guess, and it was our job to pass the hat during intermissions for collections from the spectators. We used to practice band practice up over the old firehouse. When that was torn down we had band practice where the town offices are now, the Court House, the Academy.
Used to go swimming when I was allowed off my chores on the farm. I used to envy the kids in town, the townies, ’cause they’d go to the lake all the time. I couldn’t go except on rare occasions. On Saturday afternoons and Mr. Stuart, who owned the Stuart Theater, used to let the kids in free of charge to clean up the theater after the movies. We used to see Tom Mix, Hoppalong Cassidy. Before the sound movies came in, piano player left of the stage creating music to suit the scene, and during the Depression 1 remember to lure people to come to the theater, they used to have door prizes at the theater, sets of dishes and things like that.
We used to go skating on Lakeville Lake. Lakeville Lake used to freeze over more often than it does now.
JS: What part did they set aside for ice?
JV: The whole lake.
JS: And you were skating on it?
JV: Oh, you mean cutting ice. That was only later on in the winter when the ice got really thick, but we used to skate all over. In fact, George and I used to drive our cars out there just for the fun of it, slither and slide around. Guys would be arrested now if they ever did it.
Skates get dull every now and then, so to get our skates sharpened we used to go to the old knife factory and the caretaker, the overseer gf the shutdown factory was Joe Carroll, and he’d sharpen skates for all of us Kids, and to sharpen the skates he’d go down and turn on the water turbine and the whole factory would come to life, all the countershafts, all three floors just started whirring, clanking and banging away.
JS: Just to do your skates?
JV: Uh huh. You’d be absolutely amazed to see everything turning just by turning one valve and all those things started working. Amazing for anybody twelve years old.
*»WWM■ v •*•”‘*4*
The remainder of the interview is Mr. Vaill is speaking of the buildings Street and Holley Street part of town, which are difficult to understand. We locations that are mentioned. [Ed.)
brief. In this part of the interview, and businesses that were in the Allen
It contains many words and phrases feel feel it best to merely list names and
Goderis brothers; meat market next to the Jigger Shop on Allen Street; Plymouth paneled truck used for deliveries. Johnny Curtis worked for them.
Holley Block contained Boardman store, one of three department stores in town. Leverty’s Drug Store; Peter Everts stationery store.
Next to Holley Block was O’Loughlin’s meat market.
Behind these buildings was the Beehive. Possibly living quarters for the knife factory; “bunch of real cruddy apartments.”
Across from the knife factory was a Chinese Laundry. “I’m sorry to say us kids used to make life miserable for that poor Chinaman.”