In the late forties and the early fifties, the area now known as Southpointe was our gang's playground. The gang consisted of me, Eddie (Yabo) Solomon, Jerry (Edge) Helmick, Jim (Zeke) Dellorso, Matt Dellorso, Joe (Jake) Kurnal, Lloyd (Golfball) Gall, John (J.C.) Churney, Mike (Buddy) Panteley, Frank (Butch) Toth, and Bill (Bugs) DePaoli.
At that time the area that now is Southpointe was the Pennsylvania Training School (Morganza), a reform school for wayward boys and girls. When the end of our school year would come around, we would head down to the stream behind Morganza near the old Peanut Mine. There we would to build a dam out of rocks and logs and burlap sacks filled with dirt.
I don't think anyone at Town Park had a better time than we did in our ol' swimming hole. Since we were the only ones to use our dam, bathing suits were optional, and most of us opted not to wear a bathing suit. By today's standards, the contents of the water would have made Al Gore's hair stand up. Upstream, there might be a dead animal in the creek, cows doing what cows do when nature calls, and who knows what else, but how strange, none of us ever got sick, and even when we got cut, no infections.
The gang, photographed on the old Morganza Bridge at the end of Gladden Road.
Left, in summer, front row, Mike Panteley, Lloyd Gall; middle row, Jim Dellorso, John Churney, Eddie Solomon,; back row, Matt Dellorso, Bill DePaoli.
In the photograph on the right, Jerry Helmick, Jake Kurnal, Bill DePaoli, and Jim Dellorso (l. to r.) are ready for the hunt.
When the chill winds of fall and winter rolled around, it was time for hunting and trapping, two of our favorite pastimes. Thanks mostly to the building skills of Jake, we built a cozy little shack with a pot bellied stove and benches all around the sides. On cold winter days and nights we'd have that pot bellied stove glowing cherry red, and what a comfort it was after being out in the cold, checking the trap lines.
Whenever there was a good snowfall, much of our time would be spent sled riding, for in the days of very few cars, our East End streets would be blocked off, and just about every kid, and some adults, would be out sled riding. I should point out that besides very few cars, there was no T.V. to keep us prisoners in our homes.
On almost every corner back then, there would be a fire around which we'd gather between sled rides, and the expression back then was "poods or ten feet," poods being our slang for wood. In other words, if you didn't bring any wood with you, then stand ten feet away from the fire. If you were to hear that expression today, you'd know that you were talking to someone who grew up in the East End of Canonsburg in our era.
Except for the sled riding on our blocked off streets, most of our time was spent running the hills and woods of Morganza. As far as the material needs of the boys and girls in Morganza were concerned, the school was completely self-sufficient. The only thing they lacked was freedom and cigarettes.
This is where we came in. We couldn't give them freedom, but we could and did trade cigarettes with the boys who worked at the dairy barns down by the pig pens. For a few packs of cigarettes we'd leave in a certain prearranged area of the barn, they in turn would leave us jackets, shirts, or corduroy pants. One drawback, however, was that all their clothing, except for the pants, had "P.T.S.," the abbreviation for the Pennsylvania Training School, stenciled on them. When anyone would ask what P.T.S. stood for on our clothes we'd say, "Pete's Tire Shop," but I don't think we fooled anyone.
To explain how we came to be the ones who ruled our "playground," I should point out that before World War II, if any one of us tried to loaf with the "big guys," we'd get a swift kick in the rear and sent on our way. With the outbreak of the war, everyone was either drafted or enlisted in our armed forces, so suddenly we were the big guys, so then we ruled the roost.
Also, contrary to the media hype of today, we all grew up with a gun in our hands, first B.B. guns, then .22s, and on to high-power rifles and pistols. None of us ever got into any trouble with the law, we knew there was a certain line of responsibility and behavior that you didn't cross, and even more important, we all had a mother and father at home, who we all respected (and sometimes, even feared).
Right, the boys pose next to the cabin they built,
complete with porch. Kneeling (l to r), Lloyd Gall and Jerry
Helmick. Behind them, standing, Eddie Solomon, Jim Dellorso,
Jake Kurnal, and on the porch, Bert Churney.
Another view of the cabin. Fran Churney is on the
porch, reading, while Jim Dellorso wields a shovel. In the
background is Bert Churney.
Just about every one of us was a crack shot, because we forever had a gun in our hands. One incident that stands out is the time Edge held a cigarette butt between his thumb and forefinger, and I shot it out of his hand. The thing was, Jerry knew I could do it, and I knew I could do it. It was only about a 20-foot shot, but there's no way in the world I would attempt that shot today, and certainly, no way that Jerry would agree to it today. However, we did it, and when you see Jerry today, you'll notice that he still has eight fingers and two thumbs!
Knives in school? Every one of us attended classes with a knife, because back then, every high-top shoe came equipped with a little pouch on the side that included a knife. If there was ever a rough-and-tumble fight, it was always with fists, no one ever used a knife to settle a dispute.
The boys pose above the spillway of the Pennsylvania
Training School reservoir. The spillway and the reservoir
are still there.
Bill DePaoli and Jake Kurnal, with the reservoir behind
The boys were successful hunters. Above, they crowd on
and around Steve Horwatt's truck with a crow somebody shot.
(Three claimed it was their marksmanship that was
successful.) Nobody would make the claim today, they all
know better. The crow was shot on the wing with a .22.
In the picture below, Jim Dellorso, Jerry Helmick, Bert
Churney, Eddie Solomon, and Bill DePaoli pose with their
game. Bert Churney is not pointing his shotgun at the
pheasant, he's checking the barrels.
Buddies: Jerry Helmick, Eddie Solomon, Bill DePaoli, and
On the old Morganza Bridge (l to r), Francis Cherney,
Jim Dellorso, John Churney, Frank Toth, Eddie Solomon.
As the fifties approached, we started to put these activities behind us. Back then we all had a feeling of patriotism; we felt that we owed our country a few years of our life. That is when the gang started to break up. Jake and I joined the Army, Jerry enlisted in the Air Force, and later Bill DePaoli and Mike Panteley served in the Army. So in spite of our having grown up with guns and knives, all of us became productive citizens.
After our time of service, I worked at the R.C.A., Jerry became an adjuster for State Farm, Mike Panteley became district manager for State Farm, Jake became a maintenance supervisor at Western Center [formerly Morganza], Bugs is now one of the best stonemasons and bricklayers around, Golfball became a boss at R.C.A., Zeke worked at Forbes Steel, Matt drove a tractor-trailer, and J.C. and Butch worked at the Transformer.
In spite of our going our own ways, we still keep in touch (but not as much as we used to), and one thing that I always will feel is that truly, we grew up in the "Best of Times," the times that this country will never see again.