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Interview with Louie Cole

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Cole, Louie ; Wood, Wanda


Louie Cole talks about working on his father's farm in Chenango Forks, attending the Union School, his election to Highway Superintendent for the Town of Chenango, the practices and equipment used during that time, as well as the people he worked with, roads built and various advents of the time, such as 'Get the Farmers Out of the Mud' project and the first power shovel.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

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Broome County Oral History Project


47:28 Minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Louie Cole

Interviewed by: Wanda Wood

Date of interview: 25 July 1978

Wanda: This is Wanda Wood interviewing Mr. Louie Cole, Beers Road, Castle Creek in the Town of Chenango, and the date is the 25th of July, 1978. Mr. Cole, will you tell us where you were born and what year? [Pause] OK. [Pause]. Where were you born? [Pause]. OK.

Louie: Well, I was born in Chenango Forks on June 12th, 1889. (Chuckles).

Wanda: That's—ah, eighty... [89 years].

Louie: My—ah…father and mother, they'd…had built the house the year before, and had moved down from the farm on the hill.

Wanda: So you were born right in Chenango Forks?

Louie: Well…the first farm coming west out of the Forks, it was, it was really right in the village, or on the edge of the village, you know. Ummm—and my father had another farm a mile west of that—ah, where they had moved from, down there.
Wanda: Well, where did you go to school?

Louie: At, ah, Chenango Forks. They had a union school there, Chenango Forks Union School. The—the fire station is right where the school used to be. It was a—a four room school…up to the eleventh grade. If you wanted to high-school-graduate the last year, you have to go somewheres else. Some people, ah, I know—ah, a few went to Whitney's Point…to graduate. My brother, ah, went to Binghamton, and I guess the people from Castle Creek area here, some of 'em went to Binghamton and some of ‘em went to Whitney Point for that last year, ya know.

Wanda: So you were a farmer until when?

Louie: Well, I was a farmer until I was elected Highway Superintendent for—well, I guess I was elected in the election of 1928 and took office in January 1st, 1929.

Wanda: Well you've seen quite a few changes, then, haven't you?

Louie: (Chuckles). Oh yeah. Yeah. I couldn't begin to…name ‘em.

Wanda: Well, one thing that's changed for sure is the equipment for that department, isn't it?

Louie: Oh yes. Yeah. As far as equipment is concerned, ah…what we had and what we, what they have now—we didn't have anything then. (Laughs).

Wanda: Hand tools, eh?

Louie: We had two—we had two old Dodge trucks and one…K.R. Brockway, and they were, they both were old and were all, well, three of them were old and worn out, really. I finally…after…a few years, got, began to get some new equipment or new trucks that we could work with, ya know. And—ah, drivers not only like to take care of a new truck and use it good, where when it got old, they… It couldn't get old fast enough then. Get rid of it.

Wanda: But you probably always had—ah, somebody to maintain them, didn't you? Did you do it yourself?

Louie: Do with what?

Wanda: Did you maintain the trucks yourself?

Louie: Well, mostly, mostly. Yeah, we did, we did all that we could do with them, but the, but the grinding of the valves and if they'd have to have new rings or something like that. Of course now they never change rings in a—in a motor, but—ah, back then that was the proper thing to do many years. And—ah, we didn't have the equipment to do that.

Wanda: You had a, a town garage, did work out of?

Louie: Well, we had a town barn.

Wanda: Umhmm. Where was that?

Louie: Well, right...where it's located now.

Wanda: In Castle Creek, huh?

Louie: The town garage is, yeah. Yeah, there was an old barn with a plank floor...and…and the cracks in the floor. It was colder'n as if it had been outdoors, ya know. (Laughter).

Wanda: You probably didn't have any coffee machines either, did you?

Louie: (Chuckles). No, that's for sure, or instant coffee, we didn't have either... hoo!

Wanda: Well when you started out you had—what, how many men did you have for a crew?

Louie: How many men?

Wanda: Yeah.

Louie: Well there was the...about four regular men that we had all the while. That is...but they only worked when they—ah, when there was work. That is they wasn't—ah, in the summertime they would work right along regular, but in the wintertime, when it come fall, why, then they wasn't any work…

Wanda: Until the snow came, eh?

Louie: ...until, until we got—ah—some snow equipment, removal equipment, ya know. And the, ah…

Wanda: You were telling me you had an old Caterpillar snow plow—way back in those times.

Louie: (Chuckles). Yeah, we got, we got a, a Caterpillar tractor with a snow plow on the front with a wing on each side—all hydraulic. That was, that was s'posed to be the...latest thing goin' then. We, we was pretty proud of it. As I said, it was all hydraulic and we, the summertime we used the tractor to, to haul the grader and the hoe, so we could…we'd disconnect the—ah, hydraulic system and then back the tractor right out and we could use it anywheres. That's what we was doin' one spring, 'n’ I know we had it all ready to come out, and I don't know why, but...Roy Cole was a little anxious or somethin' and he poked his head around the, the door to look just as the operator started the motor and the hydraulic oil come out and hit him right square in the face and—(Laughter). Ayuh.

Wanda: A good story. You had some, some men that stayed with you, probably the—

Louie: All the way through.

Wanda: —many years. All the way through!

Louie: All the way through. Yeah. There was...there was Roy Cole, no relation, and Nelson Ross and—ah, Earl Jones…and then there's some other men that came on in the spring of the year, ya know, and worked during the summer and, and—ah, worked right straight through during the summer. And there was Howard Strickland and—ah, Les Fuller.

Wanda: Umhmm. 'Course you had a lot of mowing to do in the summer, probably, didn't ya?

Louie: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We did most of the...roadside mowing we did...well, I used to hire a farmer to mow what he could with his mowing machine, along the roads, you know, and then we'd come along and finish it up to the fenceline or the bank.

Wanda: With scythes?

Louie: With scythes, yeah. Yeah, and of course in the spring of, of the year, to begin with, we, we cleaned the ditches. We pulled all the stone and the mud and the dirt into the center of the road and—(Laughs)—then we spread it out and waited for it to dry and then we, we had a regular drag—a farmer's heavy-duty drag, spring tooth drag. We went over and broke those sods and stones ‘n’ things up, ya know, ‘n’ then we had more men working for a while in the spring. And after we done that, why, they raked the stone out to the side of the road. And then we, we'd come along with our trucks and they'd shovel those stone into the road—into, into the truck. Well years before, well, you'd see places along the road where they'd just pulled off from the road and dumped those stone right off of the side of the road, or they'd... they'd—ah, maybe some farmer wanted some in his barnyard or something like that. And—ah, well, that was all right to give them to him if he...only I thought, “My gosh, why not drive them, draw them a little farther and put them right in the road where they'd do some good altogether, instead of dumping them on the side of the road?” So that's—ah, what we did, we didn't dump any more on the side of the road after that.

Wanda: You filled in the soft places, you mean, and like that?

Louie: Yeah. Yeah. There was lots of…

Wanda: That makes sense, doesn't it?

Louie: …places where they would—'course we had to sometimes draw 'em quite a little ways, but—ah, they helped out, and the next year when it got spring, you know, and soft and bad…

Wanda: Then you, did you have a steamroller or any kind of roller?

Louie: Yes, we had a...we didn't use it, only on those—ah, 320A roads that we used to build.

Wanda: Oh, what were they?

Louie: Well, they were paid by the...we built 'em for the county. Each town, as a rule, built a mile of road, or if they could they built more, built, say, two miles or something like that, each summer. Well that, that gave more people more work, and of course it helped out the, the towns. It built a better road for the towns. We—what we did—we, we opened up the road and spread the dirt out each way, then we filled it in with field stone... We broke those field stone up, broke 'em up by hand. And—ah, then we—ah, we drew, the dirt that we scraped out of the center we generally used for the shoulder or so on, on each side. And then, we put... We'd draw some finer gravel on top of those field stone, you know, and roll 'em down good. And then we, we—ah, put a layer of crushed...ah, sometimes we had—ah, we had a crusher, too, that we crushed some of those stones for the top and—ah, we'd put those on, 'n’ then put on a coat of oil, and another, another coat of finer stone 'n’ had three, three—ah, three courses of stone on a...they were built, if the base was good—the, the big stone on the bottom—they, they made a good road. They lasted good. They, the asphalt held 'em together, tar, whatever they called it then.

Wanda: There's probably still some of those stretches of road around, aren't there?

Louie: Yeah. Yeah.

Wanda: So that's how a road is built.

Louie: (Chuckles). Ayuh.

Wanda: And that was funded by the state?

Louie: That, that was... they were mostly, mostly built by hand—(chuckles)—you might say.

Wanda: The money came from the state and the county?

Louie: Ayuh. Ayuh. They paid the town for the equipment that—ah, we used, and they also paid the labor.

Wanda: Well I'd say they got a pretty good bargain, wouldn't you?

Louie: Ayuh. Ayuh. It was a was a good deal for the, for the towns, and it was a good deal for the county and state, too, as far as that goes.

Wanda: But it's no longer that way now, is it? We have our own—a separate highway department.

Louie: Oh, I think that went out in the—in '33 or ’34. We had started the Brooks road up here. We'd graded it and got about...on that road we was, for base we was usin' a gravel instead of the field stone because there, there wasn't field stone left enough around that we could get, ya know. And I think we were about...we had the base about half done on the Brooks road, when the county come along and took over themselves. And since then...well, since then there's been a, let's see—ah… Yeah, since then there's been a state project, the—ah, that was similar, was similar to the 320A project, and I still, I think they still have it now. That, that's called the Donovan Act or something like that. That... the—ah, towns can work that way, but it's—ah, the requirements are, are so much higher and they have to have—well, they have to have pretty good equipment 'n’...and, and you're under state supervision and—they are, I think, I think now the state pays the whole shot. The county, I don't think, enters into it.

Wanda: Yeah. But it's all taxpayer's money, isn't it?

Louie: (Chuckles). Ayuh.

Wanda: Well, let's see—ah—you were telling me about some of these men that stayed with you so long and—ah—

Louie: Oh yes, there was—

Wanda: —I was wondering if you had any stories to tell me about any of 'em.

Louie: Pardon?

Wanda: I was wondering if you had any stories to tell me—any things that you remember about working with a crew like that? You must have worked well together to stay that long together.

Louie: Well I don't know any, remember any specific... occasions or actions, particularly...more of 'em. They was these men that stayed with me so long. Well there's Roy Cole and Nelson Ross, 'n’ Earl Jones, 'n’ Clarence Shearer, Howard Strickland, Les Fuller 'n’ Lester Brooks 'n’... Seems as though there's another one that I...shouldn't forget. They were all, all good workers and would work regardless of whether I was there or whether I wasn't.

Wanda: You said something about the wages being 35 to 40 cents an hour way back then?

Louie: Ayuh. They was, they were 35 cents an hour and, and—ah, after a year or two we got it up to 40 cents. And then the Depression of '33 or '32 and '33 or something like that—ah, there was a delegation of farmers came to the town board and complained about their payin' so much to the labor, they couldn't hire anybody on work on their farms.

Wanda: To do the hayin', eh?

Louie: We—ah, ah, we didn't lower the wages.

Wanda: Ah, you told me about working with a...not with a chain gang, not for a chain gang, but with a chain gang, remember?

Louie: Oh. Oh.

Wanda: That was before you were—

Louie: I don't know… This was a state project and...somethin' and they—ah, they brought a bunch of Negro convicts up from…somewheres in the South, and worked on the road, the old—whatcha call it? The old dug road between Chenango Forks and, and—ah, well, Itasca or Whitney Point—on that road. It run up along the Tioughnioga River.

Wanda: It was dug right out of the side of the mountain, eh?

Louie: They—ah, I worked there with a team of horses with a dump truck. They had a steam shovel and they'd load the…and they had some, they had a couple of trucks. The, they’d load the trucks and my wagon, and we'd drive out where they wanted the dirt and we'd dump it and the Negroes would—ah, would level it off, or maybe'd push it over the bank or widen it out or something and—ah, it was—ah... I don't remember where they, where they housed those Negroes at night. I, I don't seem to remember that. I don't know whether they had—a, a tent compound or not. I…

Wanda: Probably wasn't the best of quarters, anyway.

Louie: They—ah, I know the shovel operator, when he was swinging around with the bucket and he didn't pay any attention to whether there was a Negro in the way or not, he just kept right on goin', but I didn't see any Negro that got hit or anything, but—

Wanda: That's a terrible thing.

Louie: —it wasn't his fault that he didn't hit some of 'em. Yeah, that was, that was years before I was Superintendent.

Wanda: Yeah. You were—just a real young man then, huh?

Louie: Yeah. And I needed a little money and a little squanderin', spendin' money, and my father let me have the horses.

Wanda: So you went back to the farm.

Louie: Yeah.

Wanda: You've always, always kept a farm, have you, so that—

Louie: No, no, after I was, after I was elected I kept it one year 'n rented it, and then I traded it off for property in Castle Creek. And we lived, we lived there in Castle Creek until, until ’47. I bought this property here in...I don't know, ’44 or '45 or something like that, with the idea of building, ya know. In '47 we came down 'n’...and built it. Built the new house in…we built the new house in ’49 and we've been here…well... We haven't had, the wife and I only had one son. We had three children and only one survived.

Wanda: You were telling me that you went to school in Chenango Forks?

Louie: Yeah, I went to school at Chenango Forks.

Wanda: What was the old school like?

Louie: It was a, it was a union school. I don't…they don't have 'em anymore, I guess. They don't because they're all consolidated, but was four rooms. They went from, went up to the eleventh grade, and if you wanted to graduate from high school you had to go to...some other school. Some went to Whitney's Point, some to Binghamton. My brother, I know, went to Binghamton.

Wanda: Well, you didn't—ah, have any special education that helped you out in this job as Highway Superintendent, did you? You just…

Louie: No. No. No. There was no, there was no, no school, only hard work and…

Wanda: Common sense, eh?

Louie: —and a little head work along with it, ayuh. No, it was, ah, I don't know of a superintendent that ever—ah, back then, anyway, that ever had any special construction knowledge.

Wanda: Yeah, but you had to know a lot about engines and machinery 'n’...

Louie: Well—ah, you say a lot. had to have a lot of common sense 'n’ a little good judgement along with it.

Wanda: And good health, I would think, too. Long hard hours, right?

Louie: Ayuh. Long hard hours.

Wanda: You remember any special problems you had from storms? From snowstorms or washouts and rain and all that?

Louie: Well...just—ah—I don't remember any...real special washouts or anything. I know one year we had a terrible—it'd been hot a long time like it has this year, ya know?

Wanda: Yeah.

Louie: And I expected maybe we'd get a hard thundershower—gully-washers, as they call 'em—that washed, filled the ditches 'n’ washed the roads and filled the sluices, ya know. And, but that was just one of those things, it wasn't anything special. We had one one year, and in just about a week and ten days afterward, we'd just got cleaned up 'n’ we had the same thing right over again. That was a little bit discouraging.

Wanda: Ohhh. Then snow, you've probably had some, some snowstorms to get through, haven't you?

Louie: Oh yes, we always had snow, once in a while. I can remember one winter that—ah, I think it was '55 or '54, we were workin' over on Poplar Hill Road over there, cuttin' brush, widening it out and, and along in February, and you could work all day long without your jacket on, even. It was that...warm enough so if you were workin' a little you didn't get cold.

Wanda: You were tellin' me how you, when you first, or way back after you were Superintendent of Highways, you shoveled the roads out by hand and in layers or something?

Louie: Oh yes. See, where they…might be in a...a cut, or even in a...right in the open, where they'd drifted so deep that we'd have to shovel a layer off of the top and throw it over and then some men would stay up on top and the men down below would throw it up to them and they would throw it out. That was...that was back-breakin'

Wanda: And you had a, a shovel. You said something about having a shovel that was made of, ah—

Louie: Yeah. It was a, there was a state project, ah—ah, “Get the Farmers Out of the Mud” was the, um…

Wanda: That was the actual slogan?

Louie: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that was the, that was the slogan. So we, we had been, of course, putting gravel in the road where we, when we could and where we could, but we had to shovel it on by hand and, and dump it and work it over again by hand and, and I convinced the Board that we more if we didn't have to do so much of it by hand—if we had a, a power shovel, and we got one. It had a, ah...all it was, was a farm tractor on caterpillar treads and the—ah—circle that let it swing had a boom and a, and a bucket and cables and shivs and—ah, it was a 3/4 yard—no, no, a 1/4 yard bucket. Yeah. And we could load the trucks even, even with that, with…three times as quick as you could by shoveling it on by hand, you know. And…we got, we drew a lot of gravel that fall after that. I remember we started it right in that little, that little creek down on Front Street—ah, that comes down off of the Dorman Road and goes up in the hills there off from…

Wanda: Oh yes, Cooley's Falls Road?

Louie: Hmm?

Wanda: Cooley's Falls Road, you mean? Yeah, Dorman Road.

Louie: Dorman Road. Yeah. It comes down...years ago it used to be called the McKinney Hill Road. Yeah, Dorman Road.

Wanda: And you dug the gravel out of there?

Louie: Ayuh. Right down where the state highway is now. Ayeah.

Wanda: You never had to buy gravel, did you?

Louie: No. No. Not then. It wasn't...not many years before you had to.

Wanda: Yeah. Do you remember what Castle Creek was like when you first came over here? Has it changed very much?

Louie: Just about like it is now, only... only there was a good, good grocery store there then. They, what's the, what the fire station is now, was the school house. That was open at that time when we came over here 'n’ I think my boy went to school there the first...first year he went to school.

Wanda: 'Course there weren't so many gas stations around. I thought—that was one of the first gas stations, wasn't it, on Route 11, up there at Castle Creek school—or store?

Louie: Well there was two gas stations. There was one at, where the store is and there was one just down this way a little ways. And then there was another one…up above…well up above where the state...garage is now.

Wanda: Oh yes. Right in the woods there, right?

Louie: Hmm?

Wanda: Right along in the woods there?

Louie: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Terrell. Terrells run it. And they'd—ah, Mrs. Terrell was an awful nice lady and, and a good cook, and she had a little restaurant there too, at one time.

Wanda: Well, gas stations were kinda friendly places in those days, weren't they?

Louie: Yeah.

Wanda: My dad had a country store with a gas station, at one time. Well, can you think of anything else you want to put on here? I hope you aren't getting tired.

Louie: Oh, probably after you're gone! (Laughter).

Wanda: Well if you...think of anything you want to add, you could call me up and we'll do it again.

Louie: OK. (Laughs).

Wanda: I want to thank you very much, Mr. Cole. You've been patient and good. Thank you.

Streaming Audio

Date of Interview



Wood, Wanda


Cole, Louie


47:28 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Cole, Louie -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Farmers--Interviews; Highway engineering; Chenango (N.Y.) -- Officials and employees; Castle Creek (N.Y.); Highway Superintendent; Chenango Forks School

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This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.



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