If you lived in Beech Bottom in the 80’s and early 90’s – you know what I’m talking about.
The playground of fearless equipment
Sure, there were simple swings or a concrete dolphin to lay on, but you know why you begged your mom to take the wax paper to the park. You may have waxed that slide enough to think you were going to go up over the sides, and you may have.
But the bravest, by far, road the giant stride. And if you were really brave, you let the older kids see how fast and high they could make you fly. Lock your arms in, and make sure you have a safe word.
If you cut through the yards of 1st street homes, through the little trail across the tree line, you came out on the other side of what was paradise. Mrs. Dodd’s field. She had a cute ranch home with a back yard of acres. No one in Beech Bottom had that. It was a village with 30 feet of yard at best.
She welcomed the kids and always waved and smiled through her windows. And we played baseball, stickball, kickball and whatever other ball we wanted. It was a glorious secret and always available for us.
Pap Pap’s Place
For what I think may have been a year or so, a an older man who said to call him Pap Pap opened the old post office into a general store.
He had spy hunter arcade game and tables to sit and hang out. It’s where my brother busted out his already fake front tooth with a sugar daddy and won a bet that he could chug ketchup for a whole dollar.
During that sweet short period of time, we became spoiled with the new conveniences so once he closed, we decided we’d walk up the hill to score a treat beyond the pop machine by the fire station. Yes, we only had a pop machine before and after Pap Pap’s Place and Wellsburg was too far.
Walking up 49 Hill
I can’t believe we did that, by the way. If you drive up and down 49 Hill today, imagine a group of kids walking up or down it as you snake around all those curves. Especially dead man’s curve!
But alas, if you reach the top of that curvaceous hill, always-solid-line two-lane road, you could see the general store and hello Charleston Chews! Might as well grab a Dr. Pepper, too. It’s a long way back down.
We also didn’t litter. We carried wrappers all the way down. Probably why I still don’t litter today. It feels so wrong.
You might’ve gone on a side hike afterwards, too. The overgrown road that used to lead to the strip mines and became an appliance drop off wasteland. It was a great place to take the four wheelers, too.
One Christmas I believe 70% of all male kids got one for Christmas. That’s my math. I’m not sure. But you had to check stickers or license plates to figure out who’s was who’s.
Riding roller racers
We all had them, and we’d start at my house, which was the highest edge of the village and take sidewalks and jump across one street, then jump Otto’s drive way to get up on the sidewalk, make the turn and go straight down hill to the park. The first lap, you’d be cool and ride hands free and have a chalk in each hand to draw the track. Then you’d do it again, and again, and again.
Pretty great exercise when you think about it.
When a couple guys picked the letters off the post office so it said Po t Office We t Virgin. I don’t have a picture for that.
Carrying your boom box to the school court or the park court and jam all the way there and back. Usually with tapes of songs you were able to capture from the live radio station. Sure, you cut off the DJ right before they sing, but it was a legit grab of the song and played in the entirety.
Four wheeling across the slates
If you wanted to hang out on the river bank, you faced crawling under the gaping space between the road dip and the fence door to go into the culvert plant across the road. Carrying a small culvert down to the river bank so you had something to sit on while you fished. Hopping in the big culverts and walking them out into the open fields to be pranksters
Is it still true that there are catfish the size of Cadillacs hanging out around Pike’s lock and dam?
Playing in the woods.
The fun hiking path to get from Valley haven nursing home area through to Beech Bottom and further past to the Anchor room.
The woods were everywhere, so it just was part of the landscape. We always seemed to find something to do from building cabins or forts, finding salamanders or even weird games of survival. The boys played those. I did once and found it to stressful. One time Mike found me and his ball hat was stuff with long green leaves and he was hidden and jumped and chased me yelling “Gooker on the wire” as if we were in Vietnam and I was the enemy. A lot of our Dads were there and told us stories.
My dad built a nice cabin for us a few times. He always made them with a secret escape exit. So you can always get out. Perhaps a toy box without a bottom so it becomes a secret hatch to exit through an underground tunnel. He made an entire cabin with tunnels under a large clearing. To this day he says he worries it will cave in. It’s been 20 years and he reinforced it with lumber only.
Lots of four wheeling trails right there on the edges of the village.
Mrs. Music. Mr. Folio. Mr. Hubbard.
There weren’t many kids in Beech Bottom, we all banded together with age and gender and social gaps. We didn’t care. If any of us got mad at another we usually had to work it out or not have anyone else to hang out with.
The senior citizens were more of the neighbors. Most were so nice. Like Mr. Folio who was always outside working on his little yard saying hi and wondering what we were all up to.
Mr. Hubbard had the biggest house ever and was always waving at us.
Mrs. Music… well, let’s just say she did not like it when you stepped foot in her grass and sat on the sunporch to supervise and make sure we never did. Or you’d get the glare and the finger shake and the yell out the window.
Sledding at the school in the hills
I remember we’d hike un into the woods and then past the swings, hit a dip, launch into the air, try you darndest to hold the handles and not lose your sled, and slide across the playground and not hit the flag pole. You also had to stop soon enough so you didn’t go down the hill on the edge of the grounds and end up in the road.
Poor kids today. They fenced the whole thing – from the top of the hill all around the whole park. No one will break their coccyx these days.
The great tire cap theft of 1987
I can’t remember the details but there was something about all the cars losing their tire caps. I don’t know. Was this a thing?
Trick or Treating
We didn’t trick or treat. We walked in a parade style on all the streets and then gathered at the fire hall. We walked in a big circle based on age group while the village adults voted and you got $5 if you won a category. Then the firemen gave you full paper flour sacks of decent candy to take home and veg on.
Getting to go to Kennywood. Enough said.
Hammond Middle School
From the long, winding bus ride up the hill and all the pickup stops in all the pockets of houses where it had been flat enough to put some houses.
Mrs. Mendel’s silly antics. I think her plays, dancing and poetry is what triggered my passion for writing and excellent screenplays, novels and advertising.
Best lunch room ever. No one ever went hungry either. Even if they didn’t have a punch card.
Science class – dissecting frogs. Literally used a foam plate, ball point pen to write on the plate, second grade level metal scissors and a bucket full of frogs in Formaldehyde. It worked. It was gross. And Moose skinned his and chased everyone around the room. And Amy took the eyeballs with her and put them in her peas for a joke. Many laughed. Hmm.
The best memory of Beech Bottom?
Feeling safe to be a kid without knowing there was such a thing as not safe.
Thanks for reading,
Side story – did you know Beech Bottom was a manufacturer town built from a Sears catalog? It’s true. Five whole streets of homes, each half going up its side of the hill. The center road going up 49 Hill was like a division line in a valley. Up one side of a hill were 2 streets of modest, single-family ranch or two stories and crossing over and heading up the other side were three and four duplex home units where the worker families lived. Across the Rt. 2 highway, west of the village entrance was a culvert plant, and the east of the village was a backdrop of Appalachian mountainside thick with dense woods. You could hike up the hill of woods if you wanted, even finding a junkyard of abandoned appliances in what used to be the entrance to the strip mines. Copper stream was accessible that way too, but who wanted to touch rusty water?