A Patchwork of Memories

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LAWRENCE DEAN HAAG

I was born March 2, 1907, at Punxsutawney, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, the second son of Lawrence and Minta Haag. My brother, Gerald, was two years older. I graduated from Punxsutawney High School going on to Pennsylvania State College where I graduated in 1927 with a B.S. Degree in Agronomy and in 1931 an M.S. Degree in Agricultural Education. In 1976 I published a book titled Simple Country Tales of Bygone Days.

I had quite a varied career thru the depression days of the thirties. I was a Grain Sampler and Grader for the Corn Exchange of Buffalo, New York, a filling station Manager at DuBois, Pa., a Deputy Sheriff in Indiana County, Pa., a fertilizer salesman, a Sanitary Inspector of dairy farms, a teacher of Vocational Agriculture, and a SecretaryTreasurer and Field Man for the Butler Production Credit Association. I began my career in 1935 as a Soil Conservationist for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in Penn. for 22 years. In 1957 I transferred to the U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers, as an Agricultural Economist helping with a special survey of the Delaware River Basin. When that survey was completed in 1960 I transferred to the Tulsa Dist. of the Corps of Engineers, where I worked as an Economist and Technical Report Writer until I retired in 1972.

I was married December 30, 1942 to Helen Irene Risser in her home town of Ephrata, Lancaster County, Pa. Helen died January 24, 1980. We have one daughter, <names withheld>

A HIGH - LONESOME CHRISTMAS

By: Lawrence Dean Haag

As a few little snow flakes sift slowly down this early March day in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1983, my mind drifts back to a couple of cold Christmas vacation weeks I spent in State College, Pennsylvania, in 1926.

The Christmas season of 1926 was a very lonesome one for me. However, I was too busy to have much time to brood about that. It was my Senior year at Penn State College and the town of State College was practically deserted. With very minor exceptions, all of the student body and many others not permanently located in the town had gone home for the Christmas holidays. The student population was about 5000 at that time and the town population was about the same.

State College is located in the central part of Penn. at an altitude of 1154 feet in the Allegheny Mountains. The winters there are not what anyone but an Eskimo would call mild. There is snow on the ground and temperatures are below freezing for much of the winter. Sometimes the temperature hangs around zero for days at a time. I mention these facts as a background for the rest of this story.

My funds were running low that year and I was not sure I would have enough money to start and complete the second semester. Somehow I learned that some of the big fraternity houses would need someone to keep their coal furnace fires going over Christmas so the water pipes would not freeze.

So I got busy and canvassed a number of the fraternities for the job of fireman. I managed to line up five fraternities that would pay me $15.00 each to keep their fires going over Christmas. They were located in various sections of the town and I would have a lot of walking to do to take care of all of them. But I was used to that, hot or cold, and didn't worry about it. However, that meant I would not be going home for Christmas. That would be the first one I would not spend with my family on the farm. The thought of getting $75.00 and being able to finish my last semester in college overshadowed the thought of being away from home for Christmas. That is, until December 25th rolled around, a cold and snowy day, and I was trudging around to keep the five fraternity fires going. Sometimes I had to make several trips a day to keep the soft coal fires going properly to heat the houses. Although I wore a high collar to keep my ears warm, the thought that it was Christmas day and I was alone finally got to me. My spirits began to sink to match the temperature as I walked along in the cold air and the water from my eyes was not all due to the chilly wind. There was practically no one else out on the streets as I walked from fraternity to fraternity and the snow made a squeaking sound beneath my galoshes. Many of the stores and other business places were closed and the place seemed like a ghost town. The boarding house where I normally worked for my meals was closed for the holidays.

There were very few restaurants in the town and only one hotel. I don't remember if the hotel dining room was kept open or not but I couldn't afford to eat there even if it had been. But there was one hole-in-the wall restaurant open, manned by one lone Negro cook serving behind the counter and doing everything else to be done around the place. The one waitress that was usually there also had deserted the town along with many others. There were not other Negroes in State College at that time and few customers coming to the restaurant. So the cook was glad me when I came in and we chatted while I ate my Christmas dinner there. I'm sure he was lonesome, he lived alone.

During the Christmas season in 1926 a very cold spell hit State College and the temperature hovered around zero for several days. I had a hard time keeping all five big old, three-story fraternity houses warm. Most of them had hot water or steam furnaces with pipes going to big radiators in each room. Some of the pipes were close to the outside walls and I had to stir up the coal fires at least once a day to provide enough heat to keep the pipes from freezing. Consequently I was kept busy most of the days and into the evenings keeping all five furnaces going. One cold morning I went into one of the houses during the cold spell and the place felt colder than usual to me. I looked into the furnace and it was only smoldering and not putting out much heat. So I stirred it up and opened up the draft to get the fire going good and went back upstairs to wait for the place to warm up. In a little while I heard water dripping somewhere and walked into the dining room where the sound seemed to be coming from. I switched on the light in the big chandelier over the main table but the light seemed to be unusually dim to me. I walked over to the chandelier and reached up and gave it a little push. A big sheet of water cascaded down over the table. It was a wonder there was not an explosion when I switched on the light. I quickly turned the light off and dashed upstairs to see where the water was coming from. I discovered the pipes in the third floor bathroom had frozen and cracked. As the increased heat from the furnace thawed them out, the water began to squirt out and leaked down thru the floors and ceilings to the first floor. I hurried down to the basement and found the main water shut-off valve and turned it off to stop the water. Then I started to worry about the reaction of the fraternity folks when they returned and found that the pipes had frozen, cracked and allowed water to cause considerable other damage. I had visions of having to pay a big repair bill for I had been hired to prevent something like that happening.

When the fraternity folks returned after their vacation, I explained that I had kept the fire going all the time and that the prolonged zero temperature had been the cause of the trouble. Many other pipes had frozen all over town we discovered. They took the news quite well and paid me my $15.00. I sure was relieved at that. Now whenever I hear the snow squeaking beneath my feet as walk, I think back to that cold and lonesome Christmas in State College and the Winter of 1926.

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