Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017

Seventy Nine North
August 24, 2017

Most of the time I have to put a lot of effort into writing this column, but sometimes the columns write themselves. This was the case today. I had to drive up to Conneaut Lake and meet with a handyman who is doing some much needed work on our cottage. I haven't spent much time there since my wife died, and the place desperately needs a caretaker; fortunately my neighbor there found just the right person for me.

Consequently I found myself heading north on I-79, a trip I have made many times in the past. It was strange this time not having, at least, a dog and my wife as companions. When we were first married, my wife's mother and Aunt Gladys were living in Grove City, and both of her sisters and their families were in Meadville.

Our route in those days was up Route 8 to Harrisville, then west on 58 to Grove City. To proceed on to Meadville we took 173 north through Sandy Lake to Cochranton, where we picked up 322 on to our destination. When construction of I-79 began, we switched to Route 19, taking advantage of each portion of the new highway as it was completed. By 1980 when we purchased our cottage, I-79 was done, providing us an easy route to Conneaut Lake.

It takes me about twenty minutes to get across the Ohio River; this part of the trip is close enough to home to be completely routine, especially since my daughter Elizabeth and her family are living in Sewickley. The drive up to the intersection with 279, which is the one quarter point of my trip, is also without incident.

I have given up trying to find acceptable music on the radio when I drive north, so I reverted to CD's. First was Mozart – "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", the "Haffner" Symphony, and "Serenata Notturna". Then a collection of Baroque – Pachelbel, Vivaldi, and Corelli – which suddenly sounded trite when Bach's "Air on a G String" raised the bar abruptly.

Suddenly I realize that I am not alone in the car; as we pass the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex I imagine my wife commenting on the probability that this has forced the Penguin hockey players to all move to the North Hills. She also has something to say when we pass the rest area that was never completed.

"License Plate" is a popular Oyler family car game. In our version you attempt to make the shortest possible word out of the three letters on the Pennsylvania plate. The letters must appear in sequence. "GRN" yields grin, for example. The recent plates all begin with "J", which is particularly difficult.

Soon we pass the large auto storage area where radio controlled model plane enthusiasts used to be evident whenever we passed. Then we come over the crest of a hill and see the lazy "S" curve the highway takes as it crosses the Conoquenessing Creek valley before ascending the next hill.

Past the Portersville interchange is a spot where we broke down on the way home one Sunday, losing the transmission in our Dodge Caravan. We had just celebrated passing 100,000 miles on the odometer, which unfortunately was the mileage for which the transmission was covered by the warranty. We were rescued by AAA and had a nice ride home in the tow truck. The bad news was that our dog had to ride alone in the towed van, an experience she didn't enjoy.

A short distance north of there we pass a lovely farmhouse/barn combination to the east. Years ago we stopped to photograph it and make it a subject of a pen-and-ink sketch. It still is picturesque.

Beyond the 422 interchange we pass Cooper's Lake Campground. It is late enough in the month that all the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) folks are gone. This is a group of people re-enacting the Middle Ages "as they ought to have been", who congregate at Cooper's Lake early in August each year and dress up in Renaissance costumes. They are from the kingdom of Aethelmearc, which encompasses western New York, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Just north of Cooper's Lake is the summit of a large terminal moraine which marks the southern edge of the area covered by glaciers in the last Ice Age. Consequently it is the boundary between two geological regimes, and indeed the terrain is dramatically different. North of here the hill tops are a little lower, the valleys a little shallower, and the highway grades are much flatter.

"JDI"! "Twelve!" "Jurisdiction!"

Next we pass a large pond completely covered with algae and my companion makes her obligatory comment about people who don't take care of such things.

At the Grove City interchange she shouts "Turn on the rice, Aunt Gladys" in tribute to the many Sundays we stopped at her house with a car full of kids for supper on our way home from the cottage.

Passing an old barn we have sketched in the past, now covered with vines and in late stages of deterioration, we get another complaint about "those people". Nearby is the site of another sketch subject, a wonderful old coal tipple that was torn down years ago. Fortunately we had photographed it extensively and were able to produce one of our all-time favorite sketches to record it.

"I wonder whatever happened to Peggy Baldwin" signals our reaching the I-80 interchange. Bob and Peggy Baldwin were great friends of ours who eventually moved to Clarion. When we visited them, we left I-79 here and took I-80 east to their home. After Bob died, much too young, we lost track of Peggy and their children. That suggests another Internet search for me.

I-80 is, of course, another well-known boundary. How many times have we heard the weatherman say "Look for heavy rain, changing to snow north of I-80"? Sure enough just as I passed through that interchange on this trip, the clouds broke up and the sun came out.

Next we cross the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad and I look in vain for a train. Another picturesque vista that needs a locomotive and string of cars to be complete. We are now into an area of what appear to be very prosperous farms, with big barns and tall silos, another area that has produced a number of sketch subjects.

As we cross Lake Wilhelm, "I wonder if Paul has fished here recently?" My brother and his son Paul enjoy fishing in this area. Paul likes Conneaut Lake because there are more fish there; Joe likes Wilhelm because it is so natural, with no buildings in sight.

"DJB!" "Ten!" "Adjustable!"

As we get close to the Geneva interchange I slow down and start looking for state troopers. In 1980 as we were hurrying to Conneaut Lake for the closing on our cottage, I got a ticket right there from a trooper sitting in a car hidden behind a small ridge in the median strip. I cannot pass that spot without inspecting it carefully.

The Geneva exit features Aunt Bee's restaurant and truck stop; someday I will investigate it. There is a gas station where we cross Route 19; my imaginary companion announces "$2.59", laying the groundwork for our comparing the price of gas there with that at the Sheetz super complex in Conneaut Lake.

Many years ago an enterprising farmer tried to make a go of raising sunflowers along the Geneva Road. We took a beautiful photograph of a large field of sunflowers against a threatening sky; I saw a copy of it in Sara's home a few weeks ago.

Next comes "Worms Last House", a roadside sign that immediately suggested to me something from one of Tolkein's novels. Of course we eventually realized that it marked the place where a fisherman seeking live bait could turn down Marsh Road and stop at the last house to make a purchase.

"JCT!" "Seven!" "Adjunct!"

Another memorable barn was located where Town Line Road intersects the Geneva Road. We sketched it years ago when it was in its prime and several times more recently in decrepit shape. It was finally torn down last summer, leaving its silo as a monument.

It appears that this has been a good year for corn; all the fields look quite healthy. A few years ago one farmer on the Geneva Road converted his corn field into a Corn Maze (maize maze?). We went through it with Jonathan and Marsha Maddy and would probably still be trying to find our way out had Jonathan not advised us to keep our left hands on the left wall – a strategy that enables one to exit a dead end successfully. Apparently his entrepreneurial effort was no more successful than his neighbor with the sunflowers; there is no sign of a maze this year.

It is fascinating that a simple two hour drive can be embedded with so many memories. There seems to be a story around every curve and at the top of every hill.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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