The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

October 28, 2013

Gathering around the Philco, listening for the magic words

An Editor's Notes

By Jim Raykie

- — Well, it’s here. Maybe not officially. But the snow on my barbecue grill cover last Thursday morning shouted at me, “It’s here.”

“It” being winter, although the calendar says that happens officially at the end of December.

Although I hate winter, I do find the change in seasons a fascinating phenomena. As I sat on my back porch glancing at the pool, closed and covered for the winter, I looked at the dark, gray clouds in the western sky through the barren oak trees, thinking about how I sat in that chair only a few short weeks ago in the sweltering heat wave of summer gazing at the clear blue sky amid the large green oaks.

When Brady (my golden retriever) and I went back indoors, I sat at the computer and stumbled upon a promo for a Cleveland radio station’s website reminding readers to check for school closings in the coming months.

That brought to mind how school children today are missing the thrill of huddling around a radio very early in the morning – barely awake – keeping fingers crossed that their school was on the list being read by the radio announcer.

Back in the 1960’s, my mom and dad sat at the kitchen table every weekday morning with my grandfather at 1025 Emerson in Farrell for morning coffee before my dad left for work. They would tune in to the former WFAR radio station at 1470 AM on the old green Philco (we had one radio in the house) and turn up the volume so I could hear it from my bedroom, when I was too lazy to wander down the steps. Whether it was Lew Russell on the morning shift at WFAR, or Fred Cole, I waited with baited breath to hear those magical words: “All schools in the Farrell Area School District are closed today.” And we didn’t get cheated. School closings were for the full day – no such things as half-day closings when I was growing up.

Somehow, today’s technology, especially smartphones, take all of the suspense and fun out of waiting to hear those magical words. Today we know within seconds as they scroll across a home page on some news outlet’s website.

And the bummer is – it’s usually only a half of a day, or the dreaded two-hour delay – that would have killed my all-day sled riding with Gene and Rick Esmond down the alley between Emerson and Beechwood.

Do I remember coal furnaces?

When Col. Don Jones dropped by The Herald for a recent visit, he talked briefly about coal mining which was once the economic lifeblood in Indiana, Pa., his place of birth.

All of which led to a question that he asked me: “Do you remember coal furnaces, or are you too young.”

I told my friend that I have vivid memories of that spooky large beast in the cellar and the scary rumbling sounds that it created.

Talk about technology: I wonder how today’s children would react to a huge iron beast in their cellar from which the blaze within emanated heat for the house.

What? No 98% energy efficient natural gas furnaces the size of a medium-sized box, or digital thermostats to regulate temperatures with pinpoint accuracy?

The thing I remember most about coal furnaces was the dirty heat they provided. We had to keep layers of cheesecloth wrapped around the registers to filter the coal dust. Even using cheesecloth, cleaning wallpaper with a funky-looking, funky-smelling soft green Play-Doh-like material was a regular chore.

Not to mention the regular deliveries of coal shoveled into the cellar through a chute built into the foundation of the house into the coal cellar -- a separate room in the front of the cellar that became a storage room for canned goods after we went hi-tech and had gas furnace installed and took the cheesecloth off the registers for good and pitched the green wallpaper cleaner.

Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald. His column appears on Mondays.