By Richard Prunty
Burton Station in the last half of the 50s was a great place to grow up. The City of Akron had purchased hundreds of acres of land surrounding the town. The land was leased to Mr. McNish who owned a farm down the road half way to Burton and let his beef cattle roam the land. All that land was available to us to roam, too, and we took full advantage of the freedom it offered. Small hills would rise above the low marshy land and those hills contained apple trees planted, we hoped, by Johnny Appleseed. They were great apples if you watched to make sure you did not have half of a worm in the fruit. There were other fruit bearing trees and areas with blackberries begging to be eaten. The land contained muskrats and rabbits to trap or hunt as we grew into our teens. It was an exciting places to explore at the age of 10.
Along the banks of the railroad tracks there were wild strawberries that ripened in early June and we would hike down the tracks to pick berries to make jam. I will admit that we ate more berries then we picked but we still had enough strawberry jam to eat every winter. There were plenty of elderberries growing wild that also found their way into baskets and then into jam. Those of us who lived in the Station could disappear and roam the land for hours and, if we got hungry, find something growing wild to tide us over.
The Station back then had a railroad going right through the center. The trains ran north and south and belonged to the Baltimore and Ohio Rail system. When we first moved into the Station, the trains were coal-fired steam locomotives. In the middle of the night their lights would shine brightly into my bedroom. The tracks curved just before they got to the station. On the first night in my new home, I woke up to that bright light and thundering sound of a steam locomotive coming from Middlefield. It looked like the train was heading straight for our house. Of course it turned, but it was a scary sight that first night. The tracks had a siding where the trains would stop from time to time and drop off a box car or a hopper car full of gravel or coal. The box cars were parked on the siding and trucks would come to load up whatever was inside those cars. The hopper cars were parked over a chamber under the tracks. A conveyor was slipped into the chamber and the gravel or coal emptied from the bottom of the car on to that conveyor and then dumped into these large dump trucks. Periodically another train would stop and the empty cars would be picked up.
In the 50s, Mr. Ronyak had a tar plant next to those tracks and that plant would have trucks going into and out of the plant loaded up with tar. In the summer, you stayed away from the plant even if it was not working that day because the sun’s heat would soften that tar and you would sink into it and really mess up your shoes. If you were barefoot, and most of the time we were, it would take days to get your feet totally clean.
Near the river down the road towards Burton was the Mapleview Conservative Mennonite Church. As kids we would walk down to that church and then hike up into the woods that were behind it. We’d follow a stream that flowed through the woods on its way to the Cuyahoga River and end up at Walton’s Gully. The gully was a small canyon where the stream had cut its way through sandstone cliffs. The walls were quite high and there were vines hanging from trees. Vines were just waiting for us to grasp and swing out into space over the gully and back. No matter how hot the day was, the gully was always cool and quiet. A small waterfall in the gully emptied into a pool of cold spring water that was guaranteed to cool you off no matter what the day’s temperature. The gully was a special place where even a young kid could appreciate what nature had accomplished after centuries of work.
Back in the 50s there was an old abandoned feed mill standing beside the tracks. The mill had no doors or windows and was wide open for all of us to explore. Robin Hood was a popular television show back at that time and that feed mill became our castle. We were able to take long narrow boards and whittle wooden swords and make shields. We would engage in sword fights and storm the castle. Of course our parents did not want any of us around that building but somehow we all managed to get out of sight, out of mind and sneak over to the mill. My favorite part of the mill was the feed chute. It started on the third floor and went all the way down to the basement. The wood had been worn smooth from tons of grain sliding over it and that made it the most unbelievable slide.
The author, Richard Prunty, and his siblings grew up in Burton Station during the 50s and 60s. The Prunty veterans were featured in the Aug. 2 issue on page 8 of the Middlefield Post Plus. This is the first of a four-part story that Richard has given us permission to share with our readers. We hope it will bring back some “growing up” memories for you.