Sunday, April 28, 2024

A Childhood in Randall: Fishing, penny candy & playing in Grandpa’s barn

A couple pose at their home

During the 1970s-80s my family lived in Randall. When my siblings and I weren’t building forts in the woods behind our house, we were riding our bicycles through a tunnel which went under the thruway and led to Lock 13. If I was alone, I would bring a book to read next to the Mohawk River. With friends, we would bring fishing poles in hopes of catching a perch. Sometimes we hit the jackpot when a big boat would pass through the locks and the people would give us a dollar. We would pedal to Joe’s gas station and spend it all on penny candy. Sadly, the tunnel is now blocked off, but there is a fairly new welcome center.

Randall used to have its own post office and a store that sold BP gas. After a while, there was no more post office, so we had to use Fultonville’s ZIP code. My grandfather, a quiet man of Norwegian descent, who hardly ever uttered two words, used to refer to Randall as “stick ‘n’ plum town.” You stick your head out the window and you’re plum out of town!

Speaking of Grandpa Nilsen, he ran a dairy farm with his cousin Knut, who had a heavy Norwegian accent. We liked staying at the farmhouse with him because he loved children and always had birch beer in the refrigerator. The farm was located where Fox Run Golf Course is now just outside of Johnstown. I grew up playing in the huge Dutch barn and riding my cousin’s horse.

Photo of a girl riding a horsse

Me riding my cousin’s horse at the Nilsen farm.

The barn was rescued by the Schenectady County Historical Society and relocated to the Mabee Farm. It’s estimated the barn was built ca. 1765-1780. The barn avoided the fate of so many other buildings by not being burned during the Revolutionary War. The Nilsen barn is the only barn that is featured twice in the New World Dutch Barn Calendar 2004.

At some point, Grandpa Nilsen also worked at Knox Gelatine in Johnstown. During a tour of Knox Mansion, my mother and I sifted through some old black and white photos and actually found one of him. (Interesting note: we were told that a favorite Knox racehorse is buried in the mansion’s backyard).

page from the Dutch barn calendar

A page from the Dutch barn calendar.

Page from a Dutch Farm calendar

Another photo from the Dutch barn calendar.

When I was teaching an entrepreneurship class, I was so excited to see Rose Knox’s story featured in one of the chapters! When her husband died, the all male board of directors thought they would continue running the company. However, Rose took over. In 1913, Rose was one of the first employers to institute the five-day-workweek, sick leave, and paid vacation for all staff members.

So, if you have some time to travel on a nice day, consider touring historic Johnstown, check out an event at the Mabee Farm, and, if you travel through Randall, make sure you “stick your head out the window till you’re plum out of town!”

Photo at top: My grandparents, Henry & Elizabeth Nilsen, at their home just down the road from the Nilsen farm, just outside Johnstown in an area called Albany Bush. Photo provided by Laura Bellinger.

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I am a retired teacher who enjoys the outdoors, especially the Adirondacks. My parents took us camping when we were kids, then we attended 4-H Camp in Speculator (a former CCC camp). As an adult, I served on the Camp board for 8 years. I went to my friend's camp in Bloomingdale (Saranac) for 10 years. We enjoyed cross country skiing, canoeing, fishing, snowshoeing, etc. I still hike, cross country and downhill ski, snowshoe. I bicycle and ride a Harley. I play the organ at a 300 year old church.

One Response

  1. Paul Antes says:

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful
    memories. You have brought back my memories of growing up in rural east Duchess Cty in the 40 – 60’s.

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