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July 8, 2013

A relaxing Fourth of July weekend was enjoyed locally in 1958

By Mark Simonson
The Daily Star

---- — With a long Fourth of July weekend now in our memories, hopefully you got to relax a bit, have a cookout, or get a few things done, like mowing the lawn between the raindrops. Local residents enjoyed a long Fourth weekend in 1958 as well, getting an interesting month underway in our lives and times.

If you had a cookout this past weekend, I can confidently say that the charcoal you used wasn’t made in Otsego County. Chances were pretty good in 1958 that it was, as the Otsego County Forestry Department resumed the manufacture of charcoal, according to Stewart A. Wheeler, county forester, on Tuesday, July 1.

Charcoal was produced at the department headquarters, about four miles south of Cooperstown, beginning in 1954 and through 1956, but ended after a cinder block kiln had deteriorated. The county had obtained a new steel drum-1type kiln for production. The county, as it performed its annual thinning and improvement cutting of local forests, obtained the hardwood for charcoal manufacture. It was sold to area stores, or you could pick it up on Wednesdays at the Forestry Department office — just in time for cookouts on Friday, July 4.

That picnic or cookout might have been held at Neahwa Park or Wilber Park in Oneonta. The Oneonta Star reminded readers that traffic accidents accounted for 426 deaths nationally in 1957, suggesting that area residents stay close to home and use the city parks for their picnics, cookouts and recreation.

“A weekend at home can be safe and sane and maybe The Star won’t have to print accidents stories this weekend. The staff doesn’t like to write that kind of story,” an article stated on July 1.

Perhaps mowing the lawn was on the to-do list for the long weekend. If the blades of the mower were dull or the engine couldn’t start, many took their mower to “The Fix-It Man,” J. Rex Chamberlain, at his repair shop at 575 Main St., Oneonta.

This was a part-time business for the retired Mr. Chamberlain, and his four little assistant critters in the shop.

“I’m 73,” Chamberlain said, “and just can’t stop working. I closed my machine shop several years ago but got tired of just sitting around, so I have this small fix-it shop, where I can take just as much work as I want to keep as busy as I want.”

“I like to stop and feed my four little chipmunks during the day,” he said. Chamberlain tapped on the side of a door with a shelled peanut he’d taken out of a drawer, and within a minute or two, a small chipmunk climbed down a rain pipe. “They sort of expect me to give them a peanut every now and then.”

Days after the Fourth meant many were still ahead to get out to the Wilber Park swimming pool in the summer of 1958. If you couldn’t be there on the hot July and August afternoons, you could listen to it on the radio, WDOS.

The Oneonta Parks Board approved a request on July 7 by Harold E. Graves, WDOS general manager, to bring a mobile unit for programs at the pool.

“It is our intention,” Graves said, “to provide entertainment to the visitors at the park, conduct interviews, play request records … as a special attraction for our listeners.”

“We will also broadcast description of events adjacent to the pool, such as tennis matches if they take place during our planned broadcast period of probably two hours between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.”

July 1958 meant better sleeping nights for several residents of Goodyear Lake, unlike those in 1957.

“Mr. and Mrs. Clyde F. Bresee, Mr. and Mrs. Dewey Torrey and others were kept awake last year by the booming reverberations that came out of the lake under their docks,” the Star reported on July 12.

The noise, nicknamed “Drums along the Susquehanna” had begun after a colony of beavers had moved in and were apparently fascinated by the oil drums on which the docks floated. “At night they kept up a tom-tom beat” with their powerful paddle tails on the drums, which was highly audible and described as eerie.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Mr. Bresee, “but we haven’t heard or seen a beaver yet. Maybe they took a sabbatical leave.”

This weekend: A new church was dedicated in Oneonta’s West End in 1918.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at