Berne Local

Milton Hart Jr.

I was born Feb. 6, 1926 in the Albany City Hospital. On the Hart side of the family, my great grandparents built the first hotel on Thompson’s Lake, in 1876; it was called the Lakeview Hotel. My grandfather was a young guy helping to run the place. I have heard a lot of great stories about the New York crowd coming up to spend the summer. One I can recall is about the Bob Cat. My grandfather and a friend darn near ended up getting shot. They had a tin can they put rosin on and ran a string thru it and when you pulled the string it would howl. The people around the lake thought it was a Bob Cat. They would use this in different locations and then run and hide in the woods. After about two or three weeks, half the guys were toting their shotguns around, but they never did see any cats. It wasn’t until years later that the true story got told. My grandparents sold the hotel in 1906. My grandfather and father then moved to Berne and ran the Mill.

We had a furnace in the basement and a wood stove in the kitchen. My job after school was to empty the ashes and make sure the coal bin was full. I used to stay at school in the wintertime and play ping-pong as long as I could. In the summertime my favorite sport was baseball. All the kids within walking or biking distance would hang out at the ball field at school. In the winter they let us stay around school and play in the gym until Ivan Mattice, the janitor showed up and put us out. We had two ping-pong tables set up in the lower corridor all winter.
The bus companies used to bring their busses out for a demonstration and take people around for a ride. Insurance wasn’t such a big factor back then, so we kids would stand around and ask for a ride whenever there was a demonstration. We would hop on and they would take us up around Warner’s or Thompson’s Lake or over to South Berne and back.
I can remember being out on the front lawn of our house on Rte 43, with Bobby Hill and Johnny Herrick, watching the road crews bring the crushed stone in and mix it with the amasite and lay it down. That was a big deal to a bunch of little kids, watching them pave the road.
As a kid, I usually hung out at the old mill, my folks place, or at Fred Hochstrasser's Store. We would hang out at one place or the other until we became a nuisance and then either Fred or my grandfather would throw us out. I remember the year Frank Buck became quite famous, he went to Africa and other places. He would wear a pith helmet in his adventures. Well Shultes store saw an opportunity and got a whole bunch of pith helmets. I think every kid in town wore one that summer. Percy Law had a store by the bridge in town, and he sold Fro-Joy ice cream. The Popsicles used to come in a box and there were a few that had a stick that said free on it. When you got one of those, you could trade it in for another pop, Percy would turn those in to the company for credit. All us kids used to save up our free sticks and wait for a good hot day and all of us would go down to Percy’s store. We would go in one at a time and get our Popsicle and then go right back in with the free stick we had been saving. After about three or four kids, we were driving him crazy and he would shove that box aside and open another one, of course it wasn’t costing him any money. I don’t think anyone has ever lived or is alive today that could top old Percy at dipping a cone. That man could dip ice cream with that scoop he had and when he got done and placed it on top of the cone it looked the size of softball and it only cost $.05. When you got outside and took the first bite you found out that the entire middle was nothing but air. He was notorious for this, so we would wait until he went up to the house and then we would go in for our ice cream. Usually it was his daughter Irene who took over, and she would give you a real good cone.When I was younger, my grandfather would make up some excuse to leave the mill and he would slip out the side door and go across the street to Clint Farrell’s Berne Hotel [Charles Clinton Farwell (1874-1950)]. He would meet some of his other buddies there like old Percy Law and Doug Hinman the attorney. They would all have a couple of $.05 short ones and then he would come back to the mill. If it were a good hot summer day the process would repeat itself every couple of hours. I think he made up excuses so I wouldn’t know he was drinking. That group kind of kept old Clint in business. Clint always liked kids, but we were never allowed in the bar room, we had to stay out front in the lobby. We used to go in there because we liked his soda. I believe it came from J. Fairlee in Altamont. I can still taste it now; he made the best ginger ale, man that had some bite.
Sanford Shultes ran the store right at the intersection [ Shultes and Adams Store ] and his son Franklin ran it for a while after him. Sanford who we all called Sant, sold mostly groceries and a little bit of hardware but not too much. At that time the mill was strictly a farm store where you went to get feed or get grain ground. When the ice would go out of the old milldam in April, Bobby Hill, Johnny Herrick, Joe Jaycox and I would start to build a dock behind Pete Bassler’s house. There was a nice deep hole there and we would have our dock and a rope swing in one of the old elm trees. We used to go into Sant’s store and try to wrangle him out of some nails because we didn’t have any money. We only needed two or three handsful to put our dock together and he usually came across. When I was in about the second grade I used to walk down to the corner and get the bus coming from Knox. One morning it must have been -30 and the wind was blowing very hard. My Mother bundled me all up including a scarf and sent me down to the corner. Sant never did show much emotion, but when I showed up at his door that morning, he put his arm around me and brought me in.
“ My gosh, my gosh, Jr. why would anybody have school on a day like today.” He went over to the telephone and called the principal of the school Mr. McKean. Sant was treasurer of the school at that time. He gave him hell over the phone about having these kids stand out in weather like this. Just about that time the bus from Knox rolled up and I got on. Well the heaters on the bus back then were not very good and old Philo LaGrange who was driving had about a 6 inch hole too see out of the windshield. Old Sant’s message must have gotten thru because when we got to school, old McKean the principal met us in the yard. When Philo opened the door, he told him to bring us all back home, school had been closed down for the day.