Monday, March 26, 2012

Dannemora Mountain and a Truckload of Carrots:Hills, Speed, and Pioneer Motorcycle, Indy Racer Ralph Hepburn

On a recent drive in Clinton County, I was reminded of a story told to me by my grandfather, James Lagree. Jim was a Churubusco farmer, but he also worked other jobs, including road construction. We both loved fishing, and in my pre-teen years, he took me to all his secret places, including Bradley Pond near Lyon Mountain. As it turned out, he had worked on construction of the Bradley Pond Road.

The conversation that day drifted to other roads, and that’s when he told me the story of a truck losing its brakes on Dannemora Mountain. It was hilarious the way he told it (he was great with jokes and embellishments), but I recently learned just how true the story was.

If you’ve ever driven east over the mountain, you’re familiar with one of the steepest roads and most dramatic speed changes in the Adirondacks. For the sake of all the strictly law-abiding drivers out there, yes, the change is technically no different from many others: a main highway (in this case, Rt. 374) enters a village, where the speed limit drops immediately to 30 mph.

But the difference is this: after a couple of curves during the brisk, mile-and-a-half descent, a final, steep, straight incline ends abruptly at the village limits. The road suddenly flattens, and perhaps not everyone has decelerated to 30 mph by that point. Add snow or ice, and you’ve got hellish road conditions.

But weather wasn’t a factor in two of the most famous incidents linked to that section of highway. One of them occurred in September 1930, when nationally renowned driver Ralph Hepburn visited the region.

Inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998, Hepburn won motorcycling championships and set records during a superb career, and then turned to automobiles. Many more records fell to his skills, and fifteen times he competed in the Indianapolis 500, never winning, but finishing second twice.

As the automobile industry flourished, racing champions were hired to promote and demonstrate the capabilities of different brands. Hepburn was employed by Studebaker in that capacity, and while touring New York State in 1930, he briefly set up headquarters at the dealership in Plattsburgh.

His highest-profile publicity stunt locally was a speedy climb up Dannemora Mountain, accompanied by two newspapermen. Despite the curves, he reached the summit while maintaining the astonishing speed of 50 mph. That was more than eighty years ago, when cars were in their infancy, and I can guarantee, I’ve been stuck going up that grade behind cars that were going much slower.

And consider this: when Hepburn did it, the road surface was composed of dirt and gravel, hardly conducive to high speeds and good traction.

Hepburn made a second run that day, carrying six passengers (some of them on the running boards, which must have been quite the rush). Carrying nearly 1300 pounds, the Studebaker crested the mountain at 41 mph. It was typical of Hepburn’s flare for the dramatic.

After the Dannemora exhibition, he continued promoting and racing for many years. Hepburn died doing what he loved (he was killed during qualifying practice for the 1948 Indy 500, a race he is famed for having led in three different decades―1925, 1937, and 1946).

The second famous incident on that notorious section of Dannemora highway occurred in October 1939. It began when a produce truck, driven by William Coryea of Malone, suffered brake failure while heading down the mountain. The road had been rebuilt with concrete several years earlier, which meant better tire grip and a smoother ride. To a freewheeling vehicle without brakes, it also meant greater velocity.

When Coryea reached the base of the mountain road, his speed was estimated at 60 mph. With the weight of 150 bushels of carrots on board, the truck was sure to coast for some distance. Stopping it would not be easy.

Racing through the village could have been disastrous, and Coryea had little time to think. After about three-tenths of a mile, near the gates of Dannemora Prison, he solidly sideswiped a moving car, and then another, sending carrots flying into the streets.

But the truck slowed only a little, and people were in danger. Coryea then hit a bread truck and two more parked cars. Bread products and carrots scattered everywhere while vehicles bounced aside, but still the truck kept rolling.

Finally, it slowed enough for Coryea to whip sharply onto a side street, where he drove the truck into a brick wall at the back of Lafountain’s store. The reason, as he later told police, was to avoid hitting any more vehicles. It’s amazing that through it all, there were no injuries.

I don’t know if my grandfather actually witnessed the aftermath, and although he was quite the storyteller, it doesn’t seem like he embellished it much after all. The crushed cars, with food scattered everywhere, and nobody hurt, were actually elements of the true story. Unlike many other Dannemora accidents on that stretch of highway, it thankfully lacked tragedy, and has been looked back upon with at least some amusement.

Photos: Ralph Hepburn (courtesy wikipedia); the maps shows Rt. 374 entering at the upper right and plunging into the village on the far left. Clinton Prison is at the bottom left.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Experts to Discuss Climate Change Responses

The Wild Center will host climate experts and authors of a recent New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) report on the State’s adaptation recommendations regarding “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” or “ClimAID” on Thursday, March 29, 2012.

Scientists will highlight pertinent findings of the ClimAID report and then Adirondack region scientists and members of the Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan (ADKCAP) network will discuss local efforts to prepare for and slow the changing climate.

The event coincides with the Association of Science and Technology Center’s (ASTC) participation in the international “Planet under Pressure” conference in London, where The Wild Center’s Executive Director, Stephanie Ratcliffe, a member of the ASTC board, will join the ClimAID event by Skype or phone to share the international perspective. The event will be streamed live on the Internet and light refreshments will be provided by The Wild Center.

NYSERDA’s new ClimAID report on responding to climate change in New York State says we’re likely to see more intense rainstorms that could flood roads and wastewater treatment plants, cause power outages, and disrupt telecommunications, inflicting the kinds of severe damage that Irene did last year. Repairs could be costly. So could business interruptions.

Protecting key features of the environment that contribute to flood control can help build resilience to future floods.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

You can learn more about how climate change may affect our region at The Wild Center’s March 29 ClimAID presentation on Thursday, March 29, 2012 from 10:00 am to noon and other upcoming ADKCAP/NYSERDA ClimAID discussions.

The ClimAID presentation will be held in the Flammer Theater, The Wild Center, 45 Museum Drive, in Tupper Lake.

The presentation will be streamed live here.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Interpreter: A Story of Two Worlds

When it was first published The Interpreter: A Story of Two Worlds (SUNY Press, 1997) was called, “a vibrant tale of courage and adventure” by Booklist and, “rich in historical detail and meticulously researched” by Publishers Weekly. Written by Robert Moss, the book is the third in the Cycle of the Iroquois trilogy and will become the final book to be available in paperback from SUNY Press.

The book is a journey into the crucible in which America was born and a tale of love and war that shares the story of a master shaman and his twin apprentices — the Mohawk dreamer called Island Woman and the young immigrant Conrad Weise – who become critical players in their peoples’ struggle for survival. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cabin Life: An Experiment in Self-Reliance

Pico and I went snowshoeing for probably the last time today. I wanted to get out before all the snow is gone, and I think there’ll be enough left to ski on tomorrow. But the snow is going fast, almost as fast as it came. In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten about two feet of snow out at the cabin. The plow guy had to come three times in four days, after having been out here only three times in the last three months. But now it’s about fifty degrees, and the forecast calls for warm for the rest of the week. It’s starting to look like winter might really be over.

I missed this part of the Adirondack spring last year, as I was still living in Florida. I missed opening the windows and letting that clean-smelling breeze roll through the house. I missed seeing people’s super white arms emerging from t-shirts for the first time in months. I just plain missed the change in the seasons.

Jacksonville, FL is far enough north that there is kind of a “winter,” where it does get cold for a couple of months. The palm trees stay green and you might need a hat and gloves in the morning, but that’s about all you get out of the change of seasons. There’s really only two seasons: Hot, and not as hot. The lady bugs have been proliferating around and on the big window. I keep catching glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye, and thinking that someone is coming up the driveway, but that’s not really all that likely. Now that it’s warm, the snow is melting, and there are brown patches of dead grass peeking out, I can’t help but feel some sort of satisfaction. Back in October, I thought that living off the grid for the winter would be a huge challenge.

It has been. But not one that has broken or defeated me.

If anything, I am stronger, both mentally and physically, than when I moved out here. This winter was an experiment in self-reliance. Not that I haven’t gotten help along the way, but being way out here is something that you have to experience to truly understand. And really, isn’t life all about the experience?

Justin Levine is living off the grid in a cabin in the Adirondacks with his dog Pico and blogging at Middle of the Trail.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Mindful Carnivore: Veganism to Hunting

In The Mindful Carnivore (Pegasus Books, 2012), Tovar Cerulli traces the evolution of his dietary philosophy from veganism to hunting. As a boy, Cerulli spent his summers fishing for trout and hunting bullfrogs. While still in high school, he began to experiment with vegetarianism. By the age of twenty he was a vegan. A decade later, in the face of declining health, he returned to omnivory and within a few years found himself heading into the woods, rifle in hand.

Through his personal quest, Cerulli bridges these disparate worldviews and questions moral certainties. Are fishing and hunting barbaric, murderous anachronisms? Or can they be respectful ways for humans to connect with nature (and their food)? How harmless is vegetarianism? Can hunters and vegetarians be motivated by similar values and instincts? » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: Lost Brook in March

I just returned from an impromptu March visit to Lost Brook Tract, having had a reason to come to New York State on business. Short but sweet, the visit began in winter and ended in spring. Given the winter weather the Adirondacks have had I was happy to encounter any significant snow at all.

Accompanying me was my brother Michael. Michael is roughly my age and is actually my nephew but we call each other brothers; that’s the kind of relationship we have. .. and despite the tough slog in, still have, thankfully.

We began the trip on a property owned by a friend where we are allowed to park our cars. We strapped our snowshoes to our packs as there was little more than a dusting. It was sunny and crystal clear but cool and crisp; the forecast had promised winter temperatures that day and night. » Continue Reading.


Friday, March 23, 2012

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights

On Friday afternoons Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers a collection of the week’s top weblinks. You can find all our weekly web round-ups here.

Subscribe! More than 7,500 people get Adirondack Almanack each day via RSS, E-Mail, or Twitter or Facebook updates. You can also now follow us on Tumblr. It’s a convenient way to get the latest news and information about the Adirondacks.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Adirondack Events This Weekend (March 23)

We’ve gathered the best links to regional events calendars all in one place. Visit the Adirondack Almanack every Friday to find out everything that’s happening around the Adirondacks.

The Almanack also provides weekly back-country conditions and hunting and fishing reports for those headed into the woods or onto the waters this weekend.

Region-wide Events This Weekend

Lake George Region Events

Lake Placid Region Events This Weekend

Old Forge Area Events This Weekend

Tupper Lake Region Events This Weekend


Friday, March 23, 2012

Phil Brown: Bobcat Plan Stirs Public Ire

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has received about 1,200 letters, e-mails, and online comments from people who object to a plan to permit more hunting and trapping of bobcats. Only about 300 people wrote to support the plan.

That works out to 80 percent in opposition, 20 percent in favor.

If this were an election, it would be a landslide. But when it comes to public policy, the majority does not always win. DEC will review the comments and may make some changes, but I doubt it will abandon the plan altogether, despite the pleas of animal-rights advocates. The department is expected to finalize the plan later this spring or in the summer. » Continue Reading.


Friday, March 23, 2012

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories

Each Friday morning Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers the previous week’s top stories. You can find all our weekly news round-ups here.

Subscribe! More than 7,500 people get Adirondack Almanack each day via RSS, E-Mail, or Twitter or Facebook updates. You can also now follow us on Tumblr. It’s a convenient way to get the latest news and information about the Adirondacks.


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