Sunday, October 07, 2007

Allen James Gaines, Rugged Outsdoorsman



Rosemary Nicosia sent this article in after reading my Fields Run Travelogue post from last year. Allen Gaines, pictured on the right at the mouth of Fields Run, was an outdoorsman who lived with his family in the house I called the Fields Run Camp. This article is originally from Come Walk With Me, Volume IV., by Wayne Biddle Harpster.



Allen James Gaines was born at Moore’s Run, Centre County, Pennsylvania, on January 29, 1873. Moore’s Run empties into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, three miles above Field’s Run. When Allen was eighteen months of age, his family moved down river to Field’s Run where Allen spent most of his long life. The Gaines home was located in the northern part of Centre County. The River was the boundary between Centre and Clinton Counties so when the Gaines family crossed the West Branch of the Susquehanna, they were in Clinton County. Today one finds no families living in that isolated area, although there are several hunting camps. The old Gaines home is used now as a camp. To reach these camps, hunters must drive the old Gaines Trail, using four-wheel drive vehicles. Years ago the Gaines had several neighbors within a few miles as several stone foundations are still to be found today.






Allen Gaines had two brothers and a sister Blanche. Brother Warren passed away when young. Brother John Albert Gaines married Rachel Gaines and they raised a family of sixteen children. John was a tall man, standing six feet six inches. He was a foreman on the New Central Railroad and later watched the railroad tunnel at Karthaus.



John had built a house on the small Gaines tract, on the opposite side of Field’s Run from Allen’s small house. One cold winter night, John’s house caught on fire and burned to the ground. Of their meager household furniture, only a rocking chair was saved from the fire. It was placed on the snow in the front yard. There was a slick crust on the snow and there was a grade from the house to the river. In the excitement, no one noticed the rocking chair beginning to slide, and it was near the river when first seen. The family watched helplessly as the chair fell into the water and the river carried it away. John died December 22, 1953.



Allen’s wife’s name was Wickle. Although the couple were childless, they had taken a girl to raise. Betty always referred to them as her parents. Mrs. Gaines was a capable and industrious woman. She was a fine cook, good housekeeper and she plated [sic] rugs and made quilts. She could pole or row a boat very well and was an excellent trout fisher. A scrub board was used for washing, and Allen’s heavy clothes, as well as the clothes of the hunters who lived with the Gaines during deer season, were always clean.



To support Mrs. Gaines and himself during their earlier years, Allen was a logger and worked in the woods. He was one of five men who made up a logging crew. The crew of men to which he belonged was comprised of tall rugged men with perhaps Allen, at six feet two inches in height, the shortest of the lot. The tools used by such a logging crew back in the early nineteen hundreds, comprised of a seven foot, two man crosscut saw, double bited [sic] axe, a spud and a measuring pole. During the early logging of the virgin forests, an ax was used to notch the trunk to determine the direction of the tree’s fall and also used to trim limbs from the tree. Today chain saws are used for notching, trimming out, and cutting down the tree.



In the early days of logging, teams of horses were used for skidding logs. On steep hillsides, logs were rolled into slides that would carry them sliding down grade to the bottom. Later tractors with crawler treads were used for skidding logs and today, four-wheel drive tree harvesters are mostly used.



On the West Branch of the Susquehanna, during the early logging days, the trees were felled and sawed into log lengths. This was known as bucking. There were slides on the river hills and horses were used to skid the logs to the slide. The logs were rolled onto the slide and they would go speeding down the hill to the river. The slide would be used during the winter when the ground was frozen. Logs slide much easier on frozen ground. Certain slides were used so much that even the frozen ground was worn away in places, leaving the slide a yard or more in depth. Log slides were also built and they worked out very well, especially on rocky hill. When the logs got to the river, they were made into rafts, each containing about 7,000 cubic feet and each spring during high water, as many as seventy-five rafts would be floated down the river to Lock Haven or Williamsport to be sawed into boards.



Allen Gaines was a skilled woodsman at felling trees, skidding logs, building rafts and piloting them down the West Branch to the mills down river. When up in years, he was a guest on “The Last Raft” but had gotten off before the raft struck the bridge pier down river. What had been planned as a “commemorating rafting” ended in tragedy with loss of life.



At times Allen Gaines labored as a member of a track crew for the New York Central Railroad, it was not his favorite occupation. Later in life he patrolled the Spruce Run Hunting Club’s lands to help keep trespassers and violators from going onto that private property. When patrolling, Allen wore a large badge that was a bright metal star. The large tract on Spruce Run was owned by the Steven Girard Estate of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The large mansion and care taker’s house on the estate, were enclosed with a fence for privacy. For many years, Mr. and Mrs. Martin Meeker lived in the caretaker’s house within the fenced complex and looked after the mansion and the activities that took place there.



The Gaines family lived mostly off the land. Allen planted a large garden each spring, doing all the work by hand. He grew beans, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beets, carrots, rhubarb, artichokes and horseradish. There were apple trees and in the fall, cider was boiled down and apple butter was made. In February, Allen would tap sugar maple trees and collect the sap. The sap was then boiled down into maple syrup. Wild berries such as strawberries, huckleberries, black and red raspberries, blackberries, dewberries and cranberries were canned and often without sugar. Bill Hall told me of a time, when as boys, he and two friends had walked from the Fields Ridge Road, down the Gaines Trail to the Allen Gaines place. No one was living there at the time. The boys looked about, and being hungry, they entered the cave, and each took a quart jar of canned blackberries which they ate as they climbed the trail back to their car parked on the Ridge road. The berries had been canned without sugar and proved to be quite sour. The boys had been so hungry, they enjoyed the berries nevertheless.



Some garden vegetables were canned for winter use, while other vegetables such as beans and corn were dried. Peaches and apples were also dried. Teas were gathered and dried for winter use. They included peppermint, pennyroyal, catnip and sassafras. Allen had planted black walnut trees about his house years before, so he was able to gather walnuts and wild hickory nuts for winter use. He dug ginseng in late summer after their berries were mature and red. The berries were planted in hope that the ginseng patch would be enlarged, for the roots were dried and sold as a source of income.



Wild game was the meat for the family throughout the year. It usually didn’t matter whether the hunting season was open or closed. The following story was also narrated to me by Bill Hall of Snow Shoe, Pennsylvania. On July 5, 1924, he and his father with others, were fishing Field’s run for native brook trout. Before noon the bait ran out, so Mr. Hall (Beany) took Bill and they walked down to the Gaines Place to dig more worms. The day was warm and the kitchen door stood open without a screen door. Mr. Hall knew Mr. and Mrs. Gaines well, and he just walked into the kitchen followed by Bill and surprised Mrs. Gaines as she fried a pan of venison for dinner, using a large, long handled, thin steel skillet. Mrs. Gaines didn’t recognize Beany at once, so she took hold of the skillet’s handle and threw it under the stove with the venison. She then recognized Mr. Hall and cried out, “Beany, you s----“ in a most unladylike fashion. Her fright was soon past and Bill and Beany were invited to stay to have dinner with them. The Halls helped eat the venison and were also served ice cream. It seemed that a party planned for the previous day, had failed to materialize and that ice cream had been held over.



Allen Gaines had been an admirer of both Lincoln and Washington, and he enjoyed dwelling on their merits. Bill considered him very knowledgeable on both great men. Bill told me Allen was much better informed than was Mr. Hall.



Field’s Run was an excellent creek to fish for native brook trout, and both Mr. and Mrs. Gaines enjoyed the sport. The stream ran through their property so they found it most convenient to spend a few hours fishing there in the evenings. Both were very successful in fishing. Allen handmade the rods used by the family. The wood used was principally aspen although their two most valued rods were made, one of mountain laurel, and the other of white oak.



The woods used were split into near the desired diameters and then clamped down to dry, to keep each section straight. When dry, a draw knife was used to cut the sections down to near size, and then with glass, the sections were scraped round, and smoothed to fit the brass ferrules used on jointed rods. Jointed rods were usually made with three sections plus the handle with the reel mount. Each section was tapered and when put together, the rod became balanced and responsive to the fisherman’s demands. Allen used his wife’s wire hairpins to make the rod guides and he used red and green silk thread for the wrapping of them. The finished rods were beautiful to see and to use. Allen purchased the ferrules from some supply house that handled such items.



Allen Gaines passed away on May 14, 1955, sixteen years before I became interested in learning something about him and his family. The first person I interviewed concerning Allen Gaines, his family and their way of life, was Mr. John Heichel who lived alone in a house trailer. At my knock on his door, he invited me in and I introduced myself. I, then, told him of my interest in learning of Allen Gaines and some of the happenings that took place in his life. I asked if he would be willing to talk with me. When he answered in the affirmative, I asked him, “What kind of a man was Allen Gaines?” Mr. Heichel was leaning over his kitchen sink as I asked that question. He stood in that position, looking down into the sink for some time as if he hadn’t heard my question, and then, still bent over, he turned his face toward me and a smile broke out as he answered, “He was a rugged outdoorsman.” I learned this was the general opinion of most folks I interviewed.



Living back in the isolated “River Country” required rugged and creative people. They had to do without certain things that town folks considered absolutely necessary. The little Gaines house did not have indoor plumbing. Water was carried from the spring located between the house and the river. Each family member learned to make fire with flint and steel as matches were not always available. It was inconvenient to get to a doctor or dentist as all towns were great distances away, and walking was their means of getting about. To aid the few distant neighbors with their problems, Allen made a pair of forceps for pulling teeth, but a sedative was not available. He learned to set broken bones and to apply splints. He was very wise in the use of medicinal plants also and prescribed remedies for a number of ailments.



The Gaines family had two accesses to the outside world and both required walking. The one was to walk to route 144, a distance of six miles and then many more miles to Pine Glen, or to cross the river by boat, and walk the New York Central Railroad track to New Garden, a distance of ten miles. The school Betty attended was in New Garden. During the school terms, either Mr. or Mrs. Gaines rowed or poled the boat across the river on Sunday afternoon, then she would walk to New Garden and attend school during the week, staying overnights with friends, and Saturdays she would walk the ten miles of track to be picked up and taken across the river by boat to the home. The next day, the boat ride and the ten mile walk would be repeated as she would prepare for another week of school.



The railroad proved to be a great convenience to the Gaines family over the years. A small motorized car, similar to a Volkswagen (called the “Hoodlebug”), operated a scheduled run on the New York Central tracks. The railroad ran on the opposite side of the river from the Gaines home. As we mentioned previously, the family lived mostly off the land, but certain supplies had to be purchased, such as bacon by the side, flour and sugar in one hundred pound lots, kerosene, salt and pepper. At such times a shopping list was made out and either Allen or Mrs. Gaines would take the list across the river by boat at about the time the Hoodlebug was scheduled to go by. When the one who operated the little car would see either standing by the track, he would stop, take the shopping list and purchase the listed items at either Keating or Clearfield, depending on the direction the little car was traveling at the time. On the car’s return trip, it would stop opposite the Gaines home as one of the family would have again rowed or poled one of their boats across the river and be waiting to pick up and pay for the items purchased for them. The trip would again be made back across the river with the heavy load and then carried to the house, a distance of perhaps ninety yards. A large enough supply of each item was purchased at one time that shopping needed to be done only every two months.



Chickens supplied eggs and meat for the table, so a flock of these birds was kept by the Gaines family. Each spring a number of broody hens was set on a clutch of eggs and after the eggs hatched, a number of hens with their peeps, could be seen scratching about as they sought food for the chicks.



One year Allen bought a cow from a party quite some distance away. Being the only bovine in that isolated area, she apparently became lonesome, for the [sic] left the Gaines place and returned to her former home. Allen walked the great distance back to get the cow and again led her to the Gaines place. Twice more she returned to her former home, only to have Allen walk the long distance and bring her back. The fourth time the cow left the river country to return to her old home, Allen decided he would be better off without such a beast. Never again did he consider acquiring a milk cow.



When Allen Gaines was eighteen years old in 1891, he killed his first deer, a nice ten point buck. He had the head mounted and in 1971, I was shown the mounted head as it hung in the Bill Hahn home, and Bill permitted me to photograph it. In 1891 deer were extremely scarce in Pennsylvania. In 1895, [deer were extremely scarce in Pennsylvania, and in 1895] the Pennsylvania Game Commission was established. Prior to that date there was no protection of any kind for wildlife. I well remember the scarcity of deer during the early nineteen hundreds.



Years ago shooting matches were very popular in the country, and so it was in the Pottersdale area. Mr. Dan Heichel, the father of John Heichel, held shooting matches regularly. A log building stood on the grounds of the shooting range and there was a wood stove to warm the building so the shooters were able to get warm between matches. Chickens, ducks and turkeys were furnished for the prizes to the shooter whose shot was closest to the + on the target. Each shot cost twenty-five or fifty cents, depending on the number of shooters entered in that particular round.



Some men walked great distances, carrying their rifles, to be contestants in these matches. Allen Gaines took part in these shoots regularly, and Job McGonigle told me Allen took home his share of the winning. Allen shot a Model 92 Winchester rifle in 30-06 caliber.



Back years ago when shooting matches were so popular, Job McGonigle decided to purchase an expensive rifle and become one of the better shooters of the Pottersdale area. He bought a fine Winchester rifle with set triggers in 38 caliber. He and a friend took the rifle and sighted it in. They were both pleased with the accuracy of the new rifle and believed the other shooters, with their older inaccurate rifles, would have little opportunity to do any winning. Not long after Mr. McGonigle had his new rifle sighted in and his hopes had climbed to full assurance, a man who lived in the Pottersdale area found himself in need of some funds, so he advertised a shooting match with fifteen turkeys as prizes. A number of shooters turned out to take part in the match, but no man bore the thrill and the expectancy as did Job McGonigle. When the shooting match was over, so was Job’s thrill and expectancy. Although some of the winning shots had been as far as four inches from the target’s +, Mr. McGonigle failed to win one turkey. An old 38-55 caliber Winchester had won most of the turkeys. Job learned a lesson that day. It takes a good rifle to win turkeys at shooting matches and good man back of the rifle is necessary also.



In the middle 1920’s, the deer herd began to increase in the river country and hunters would travel long distances as they sought to kill a trophy buck. Allen Gaines saw the financial opportunity one might have by keeping and guiding hunters during the two weeks of Antlered Deer Season. He decided to enlarge his house by adding a large addition to the southwest end. The new part measured 13 feet by 18 feet on the outside and it had a room on the second floor with very low head room under the eaves. The room above had but one single sash window in the gable end. The room below had an outside door and two single sash windows, one on either side of the door. These two windows and the door faced the river. The log addition was chinked and whitewashed. The little old house was covered with tar paper.



The deer hunters that stayed with the Gaines had some successful seasons hunting that area. After a few years some of the hunters became very careless and did some illegal killing that Allen didn’t approve of being done. Prior to the opening of the following year’s deer season, Allen got in touch with Tom Moser of Bellefonte, the game warden of Centre County, who agreed to send two deputies to Allen’s home the Sunday evening before deer season opened. The deputies were to pose as hunters, staying with Allen and were to watch what took place as the men hunted.



One of the deputies sent to the Gaines’ home was David Dahlgren, Centre County Fish Warden at the time. The two deputies parked their car at the side of the Fields Ridge Road and walked the Gaines Trail, carrying their suitcases and rifles. They got to the Gaines home just at supper time and the women were beginning to place the food on the table. Some of the hunters began to eat immediately. Allen then stood up and said, “Men we say grace before we eat here, and while I’m at it, I will tell you some other things we don’t do here. We don’t swear, we don’t play cards, we don’t gamble, and I don’t want to catch one of you men in the kitchen with the women.” Allen Gaines was large enough and rugged enough to enforce those don’ts if necessary.



Allen apparently had many chickens killed and dressed as he had prepared for the hunters to be with him that season. For supper the Sunday evening, the women served a meal of roast chicken and all the trimmings and David reported it was an excellent meal. For breakfast the next morning, the women served a fried chicken meal. When the hunters opened their noon lunches in the deer woods that day, they discovered cold fried chicken. After the days hunt, the men sat down to a meal of chicken and waffles. The men came to the breakfast table the next morning, fearing that chicken might be served for the fifth consecutive meal. I’m glad to report buckwheat cakes and sausage were a most welcome change of diet for all the hunters as well as deputies.



The Gaines family heated and cooked with wood. When wood was needed, Allen acquired a permit from the State’s District Forester that specified a certain number of cords of dead wood to be cut from the State Forest located just behind the Gaines plot. The permit issued to Allen Gaines on December 18, 1933, gave the following information.



Commonwealth of Pennsylvania No. 1461

Department of Forests and Waters

Keating Division
Sproul #10 Forest

Timber Permit

Dec. 18, 1933 permission granted to Allen Gaines

To obtain 4 cords dead wood at or near Fields

Run, on or before Jan. 10, 1934

Subject to rules on back hereof

25 cents each cord

Chas. Hozelad

Between 7 A.M. and 6 P.M.



To get the firewood to the house from the State Forest, Allen believed he needed a truck. The problem was how to get such a vehicle into that isolated area. On the Centre County side of the river, there was a woods road that led to the Gaines’ Trail. It was five miles long and had not been made for automobile travel. The Gaines Trail led from the woods road, to the Gaines home, down the steep river hill. The Trail was a rough, rocky mile in length and unfit for truck travel.



The new York Central Railroad tracks followed the river closely on the Clinton County side. There was a narrow dirt road along the railroad tracks that was used by the New York Central in keeping the tracks in repair. To use this road would still require the railroad tracks to be crossed and the truck to be taken down a very steep grade to the river. Allen waited for a long dry period when the water in the river would be very low. On July 28, 1971, I waded the West Branch of the Susquehanna during a dry season and learned it required 283 steps to cross, so the river is quite wide at the Gaines Place. I found the bed of the river quite stony and the deepest water was slightly above my knees. I did not venture into the deepest areas.



Allen decided the river was low enough to be forded. He purchased a 1923 Chevrolet truck and drove it up the narrow dirt road located close to the railroad tracks. When he got to the place selected to ford the river, blocking was placed on either side of the rails, so the truck could cross over the track. A stout rope was tied at the back of the truck and then snubbed to a tree on top of the steep grade down to the river. Slowly the little truck was eased down until it stood at the edge of the river. Allen started the engine and slowly and carefully forded the river, following the course he had prepared beforehand.



After using the truck for some time, he decided the truck could be maneuvered better between the trees, if the fenders were removed. This he did and for a number of years Allen trucked firewood to the house. Being unable to get his vehicle to a filling or service station, gasoline and oil had to be carried in for the truck. A hand pump was used to inflate the tires and Allen learned to do many of the repairs required for the truck.



Many years ago, Paul Harper and his son-in-law, John Fleckenstein, were hunting on a hill above the Gaines Place. They heard a motor running down in the hollow below them, and being curious about the sound in such isolated country, walked down to investigate. They found Allen hauling out his winters wood. He was delighted to see Paul as Allen was out of pipe tobacco and Paul, being a smoker, could help him out.



The barn on the Gaines plot was made of logs. The logs were round and quite large. The notching had been done expertly but there was no chinking between the logs. Two forked poles had been cut, one oak and the other dogwood. They had been spiked, each to the logs in the barn ends and they extended vertically above the barn’s square. These supported the ridge pole that had been cut on each end to fit the forks perfectly. Round poles made up the rafters, and boards were nailed across the poles to support the forty-two inch long, white pine shakes that roofed the building. The shakes had been smoothed with a draw knife but were not tapered. There were no doors or windows installed in the barns openings. A stairway climbed to the hay mow, and in 1971, rotting hay covered the mows floor. Railroad spikes had been driven into a few logs on the inside of the barn, and from one of the spikes, hung two old style, worn-out truck tires. The barn faced the river. The front half of the roof was completely gone, shakes and rafters.



The Saint Patrick’s Day flood of March 17, 1936, saw the river at flood stage. Allen Gaines had watched the river rise and was concerned for the safety of his two boats. He dragged each boat up to the front porch and tied them fast to the porch posts. The swirling flood waters did not quite reach them. Where the flood waters peaked, there Allen set a native stone marker upon which he cut the date, March 17, 1936, with a hammer and chisel. On May 24, 1971, the river was running full and on that day, the stone marker stood fifty-three yards from the water’s edge.



Two of Allen Gaines’ favorite books were the “Bible” and “The Pilot and Compass of Character Building.” Each Sunday the Gaines held services in their home and devotions were read in their home each morning. Allen kept a paper in his Bible on which he made a mark for each time he read the Bible through. The paper bore nine marks.



Allen Gaines was a staunch Republican and voted regularly, walking the long distance to the polls. At such times he stayed overnight with friends or relatives. One night he stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Martin Meeker. The next day Martin drove Allen out Route 144 and dropped him off at the nearest point to his home. Allen had a six mile walk to his home. More often Allen stayed overnight in Karthaus with the Bill Hahns. Mrs. Hahn was a niece of Allen Gaines, being a daughter of John A. Gaines.



Allen enjoyed hunting rabbits and raccoons. He kept two hounds, one for each sport. Two friends enjoyed hunting coon with Allen. They were Andy Soltis and Fred Jackson. Fred Jackson lived in Renovo and would make the long trip to the Gaines home to hunt with Allen.



Allen Gaines passed away in Driftwood on May 14, 1955 at the age of 82 years, 4 months and 14 days. He was buried in the Driftwood cemetery. I was directed to contact Nettie Teats of Driftwood, PA, who would be able to tell me the location of Allen Gaines’ grave.



In 1971 Bill Meeker logged off the small Allen Gaines plot near the river. He told me it was the finest timber he had ever cut. Bill showed me a tulip poplar he had cut down the previous day. The tree had yielded four logs up the first limb. The first log was 14 feet long, the second log was 12 feet long and the third and fourth logs were each 10 feet long. Much of the timber cut was tulip poplar. Bill showed me a red oak log from the tract that was 34” in diameter. Bill owned two large four-wheel drive trucks with which the logs were taken the five miles up Field Hollow and then to his sawmill. Bill had built two bridges across Field’s Run in the lower part of the hollow. The trucks forded the creek elsewhere. Shortly after starting the logging of the Gaines tract, Bill Meeker reported they had killed eight rattlesnakes on that logging job.


1 comment:

  1. I recently purchased a large lot of 35mm slides of the Gaines homestead likely taken by Bill Meeker in 1971. It is wonderful to see the provenance of this place in history!

    ReplyDelete