Monday, March 31, 2014

Back to the Slopes of Mount Washington

Back to the Slopes of Mt. Washington


by Phil Breidenbach

                Up early, my breakfast cereal was downed and a fresh cup of coffee  had been consumed.  The dog was fed and we were walking around the neighborhood.  A light covering of snow lay on top of the wet grass.  The day before was a day of rain, from morning onto dusk.  The roads were now wet and the wind could be heard whistling through the trees on the hillside above me.


                I tightened up my collar and dug my hands deeper into my pockets.  As I came around the circle that makes up the street where I live, the wind blew into my face, making it seem even colder.  I had left the house without any gloves and my hands quickly chilled as I scooped up what the dog had left behind.  I was reminded of winter camping, laying in my sleeping bag, a bit uncomfortable on the rough ground underneath me, listening to the wind as it rose and fell.  Bending the trees as it whipped in-between their branches.  Enjoying the sounds, but dreading when I'd have to leave my nice warm cocoon.  As the wind beat against my face, I mentally composed a new list of things to wear this morning.


                Today, Ann Marie and I were going down into the city to help the members of the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh clean up the hillsides on top of Mt. Washington.  This was something the club has participated in for years, actually, decades.  The skill sets of the club members made us perfect for doing this task.  We would be climbing over the fences on Grandview Avenue, roping up and going down to collect what the visitors to the overlooks had left behind.  Fast food containers, bottles, cans, cigarette butts and numerous other things that make you wonder about mans concern for their environment.  In previous years, we have found tires, fire extinguishers, a differential to a car, roofing tiles, baby carriages and dolls to name just a couple things.  There was even an engagement ring found by a club member!  You can only wonder what the story was to that. 


                With some warmer clothes on and my coffee cup refilled, I headed towards  AMB's house to pick her up.  We'll see what we can find this year!
Snow hid the trash from first

(Pictures will enlarge when clicked)

                Arriving around 8 we found people had already arrived.  There were a bunch of club members, some  people from the Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group and some from the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, the organization that works so hard to present a nice looking neighborhood to the city's visitors.  With over 1 1/2 million people visiting the top of the hill overlooking the city, they have their hands full.


                The tent was tied down, coffee and donuts appeared and the talk increased as more and more folks arrived and caught up with each other.  At 8:30, the safety meeting started.  Where we would be going, how to remain safe and a few other important thoughts were mentioned and then we were off to find a spot to start our mornings.  Close to 50 people showed up to help out!  A great turn out for a cold morning.
Our pre-climb talk
Ready to start cleaning...a good group of people! 
AMB on the hillside

Matt going over the edge...again

                Ann Marie and I started out near one of the observation decks.  We tied AMB in and she hopped over the fence. ("No pictures now, please!")  As she started picking up trash near the wall, I went over and watched Matt  as he set up, preparing for his rappel over the edge of the platform.   After a quick safety check, he dropped over the edge and started down the ropes to get the trash at the bottom of the deck.  After a few minutes and a few more photos, I put the camera away and tied in myself.  Crossing over the fence and dropping down to the ground below, I joined AMB in cleaning the upper portions of the hillside.
Working on the snow covered slopes
Hard at work..

                The snow was covering most of the trash when we started.  Paper and coffee cup lids just blended in with the snow.  Some stuff stood out, their color making them easy to see, but most of it was found by brushing the snow aside.  As the morning progressed, more and more trash showed up as the snow melted and our feet exposed it. 


                Ann Marie had a great day, she found a $20 bill on the hillside and then after she returned to the top, found another one laying on the sidewalk!  Wow, talk about a lucky streak!  I myself found a quarter.  I slipped it in my pocket, AMB  donated her finds to the club coffers!  Hmm, good Karma there!
Ann Marie's FIRST lucky find
Workers were on both sides of the fence

Just a small amount of the trash collected today 

                Some of the other finds today were, two purses, one of them a Coach!  A woman's wallet was found complete with credit cards and a student ID in it.  (Club members are attempting to contact the owner.)  A cane, a front bumper to someone's car, a pair of panties,  and bags and bags of assorted glass and trash.  Last year, we picked up 19 large bags of trash and 14 bags of recyclables!   This year, we got 24 bags of trash and 16 bags of stuff to be recycled.   Hey, that little bit of snow didn't slow us down at all!

One of the area's litterbugs and Kathryn

                Pizza arrived around noon and the gear was packed away.  After eating and BS'ing a bit, we headed back to our homes.  Even though the weather was cold, we weren't.  The snow hid some trash from us, but as the day progressed, we found more and more of it.  It was obvious from the amount of trash bags piled against the railings that we did what we had come to do.  The hillside looked better than when we first arrived.  Once again, we had fun climbing the hills overlooking the city, getting views that the average visitor never sees, and doing a good deed in the process. 

The Explorers Club of Pittsburgh - We do it all! 

                The sun never showed up until after we left, the clouds stayed prevalent all morning.  The winds blew on and off as the day continued, but we didn't care.
  We were on belay!  We were happy!






Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Climbing the Steps of Fineview

Climbing the Steps of Fineview


by Phil Breidenbach

                Ann Marie and I had an open day and decided that it would be well spent by climbing some stairs.  (huh?)  Sure, we could use the exercise!  Having just read the book, The Steps of Pittsburgh, by Bob Regan, I had a "tour" copied from the book and set aside.  Set aside for a day just like this! 

                We changed out of our Church clothes and put on some comfortable shoes for our climbs.  I got the leash out and loaded Red into the car and we were off.

Rising Main Way Steps (on left)

(Pictures will enlarge when clicked)

Looking back down Rising Main Way

                Starting out on Howard Street which parallels I-279, we parked at the bottom of the Rising Main Way steps and started stepping.  331 steps later we arrived at Warren Street.  Continuing up the street, we came to a another set of stairs, these made out of wood.

Some of the nice (?) houses visible alongside Rising Main Way

                At the top, at Lanark Street, near the Channel 11 antenna, we did  a little zigzag and then continued up a set of sidewalk steps alongside Marsonia St.  These are half sidewalk, half steps, set on top of a high wall above the road below.  These continued on to Osgood Street where they descended  and then continued on to the next cross street.

Down Marsonia (R) and then up Osgood Sts.

                 We hung a right and climbed up the steps on Osgood  to the top of the hill.  Osgood is a nicely paved cobble stone road.  At the next intersection, we turned right and passed  the McNaugher Reservoir.   Just a few steps past the covered pool of water was our next set of steps.  These steps went by the name of Glenrose Street.   These completed a circle, bringing us back down to Lanark St.

Glenrose Street

                We crossed our original path and continued down Lanark, passing the spot where The Channel 11 studios used to be.  Now all that remains is the antenna and its supporting cables.  The walls and barbed wire protect a prime section of hillside! It would be a great place to build a house!

AMB overlooking the city

                 Just a block or two further,  going down another set of sidewalk steps, we came to the small Fineview Park and overlook.  Looking down at the city, we watched some trains go by, took a few photos and then continued on.  We met a couple neighbors here who had heard Red howling and came out to pet him.

Heathside cottage

                Across from the park is the Heathside Cottage, a beautiful house built in 1855.  After a couple minutes of admiring the house, we walked over to the Carrie Street steps. 
Going down the Carrie Street steps

And then back up again...

                This set has a nice long  level section crossing the hillside before it reaches the bottom.  We went down them and then returned to the top.  It was only 106 steps, 212 round trip...   Our next set was down the street a bit from this set, just a couple blocks away.
Going down to Graib St.

                Starting on Henderson street, this set of steps took us down to Graib Street, a street we would come back to later in our journey.   This street is cobblestoned also, but not the section we crossed.  The road continued on to the right as a path, with grass and weeds covering its surface.   Going in that direction,  we came to our next set in just a few yards.  This set took us down to Fountain Street.  Crossing Fountain brought us to the James Street stairs.

The top of the James Street Steps

                This staircase brought us down to James Street, beside Allegheny General Hospital.  As we neared the front of the hospital, on our left appeared our next climb, situated between two close houses.
All most to the top...

View across the Northside into the city

                 The Hemlock steps climb up the hill.  We saw off to the side, a stone wall built out of huge stones, holding the yard above in place.  It was built on top of an older wall.  That wall was built on top of a stone cliff.  Interesting!  

                This set of steps goes both up and down.   There is a level section at the top where it crosses the hill before going back down again, providing another nice view of the city.  At the end, we were on Compromise street.   A short walk on this street brought us to the top of the  Middle Street steps.

View of the Middle Street steps from below

                 101 steps later, we were at the bottom.   We circled around the block to where Howard Street started.  Walking along this street would take us back to where we parked the car. 


One more time up
                But, we weren't finished yet!  There were two more sets to do on our tour.  We headed back uphill, back to Graib Street.  Turning right, we went along Compromise Street for a block or two, to where we found our last set of stairs.  The Habit Steps.
Top of Habit Steps
                The  Habit steps  were closed, a couple pipes were welded across the railings to keep pedestrians from going up or down them.  Ignoring their purpose, we climbed between them and started down. 
This is why they were blocked off
                 Broken glass littered the steps, the treads shook as we stepped on them.   We came to a couple spots where the steps had broken completely through, we used the side supports to get around these spots. 
Just one of our obstacles on this set
                The railing was missing in places and half way down, we had to crawl over a  tree that had collapsed across the steps.   This was the worst set of steps we encountered today, good thing we saved them for last!  With our adrenaline pumping, we safely made it down and then finished our walk with a leisurely stroll back to the car with another fine jaunt around the town under our belts!

We did not climb this set


Our route taken from the book The Steps of Pittsburgh


                We had climbed or descended 14 sets of steps, one pair both ways.  We had seen lots of nice views of the city, some nice houses and some "not so nice" houses  and we had gotten some good exercise.  How many individual steps we made or how high we climbed I don't know.  
Just like life, it isn't how far or how high we climb, it is the trip itself that was important! 


Another of my blogs about the steps of Pittsburgh can be read here.











Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Orbits Cross

When Orbits Cross


by Phil Breidenbach


                Fate, kismet, chance, whatever you call it, I can't help but wonder what it is that controls this wonderful world we live in.  Let me tell you a little story about two people whose lives crossed paths this last weekend.


                My daughter and her husband (Chelsey and Jaime) recently bought a house in Harleysville, on the eastern side of Pennsylvania.  I hadn't had a chance to visit to see it yet and was anxiously looking forward to visiting with them.  Finally, dates lined up and we scheduled a trip. 


                The weekend was looking good, Philadelphia wasn't expecting any rain or snow and the temperatures could be in the 40's or higher!


                Ann Marie and I left before dawn and were near Harrisburg by 9.  Being well ahead of schedule, we decided to take a detour  to Reading and see the pagoda.  After that bit of sightseeing, we continued on to King of Prussia where we met up with Chelsey where she works.  After a tour of the facility and meeting a few of her co-workers, we went off to see her house.


                I get such a good feeling seeing how Chelsey and Jaime's lives are progressing.  Their accomplishments make me so proud!  Who am I kidding?  Everything they do makes me proud!


                We decided to take a trip to Boyertown on Saturday.  This town is about 20 miles to the west of their home.  It is where my father is from.  It is also the site of a terrible fire in 1908.  170 people perished when a stage light was tipped over and started the inferno.  It happened in a hall on the second floor of the Rhoads Opera House.  The single exit was a narrow set of steps, blocked on one side by a ticket booth.  The doors in the hall opened inward and the rush of people trying to escape prevented the doors from opening.  It was a terrible tragedy which put the town into a state of shock, along with the rest of the country.


                My father's father and his sister, Charles and Gwendolyn Mayer, my grandfather and my aunt, perished in the blaze.


                I had heard this story numerous times as I was growing up and I have told it more times than I can remember.   I remember looking it up in the World Almanac when I was in grade school and showing friends, telling them the tale.


                Recently, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, a local TV station did a special about it.  I purchased a DVD of the show and was surprised to see my grandfather and his daughter's pictures shown on it.  I was surprised because of how much he looked like my own father!


                Naturally, what would a trip to Boyertown be without a visit to the building where this happened so long ago.  The brick outsides remained standing and the insides were rebuilt.  Other than the roof above the sidewalk which is now gone, it looks pretty much the same as it did back then.


                We strolled around town a bit and while Chelsey and Jaime were petting some puppies in the pet store, Ann Marie and I stopped at the local library to "visit the facilities".  Not only are libraries great places to learn and spots where you can access a computer, they almost always have a bathroom!  Not only that, but you can't beat the price. Free! (I love libraries!)  Ann Marie and I have visited many libraries in our travels.


                While I was "indisposed", Ann Marie had found a book of local history dealing with the fire.  She found the names of my relatives and was reading about them.  When I returned, she told me, "I found Charles and Gwendolyn's names in this book!".  A woman passing by looked up and said "Gwendolyn?  That is my aunt!".   Ann Marie replied, "She is his aunt also!".  WOW!


                I was a bit stymied.  She turned out to be Gretchen, a daughter of my half sister Patsy.  I hadn't seen her since 1976. 


                After the shock wore off, she told me that she worked at the library.  We exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers thinking ahead to future communications.  After introducing her to Chelsey and Jaime, as we left the building, I was still a bit dazed.


                What are the chances?  I found it amazing that she would be walking past just as Ann Marie mentioned Gwendolyn's name, the only Gwendolyn in the book.  What are the chances that Gretchen was working that day? That she would walk by at the precise moment?  If she had passed by a half minute earlier, we probably would have missed each other.  Our paths might have crossed, but we would have continued on, never knowing how close we had come to this chance encounter.


                How many other opportunities do we get, chances to meet relatives, old friends, that lucky lottery ticket or the perfect job?   We never know, we can just live our lives and rejoice when ever these occasions present themselves.  Sometimes the nicest things happen when we least expect them!


                Now, I am going to start actively searching through the back room and the attic for my fathers old photo album.  I remember looking at the old B&W photos (well, actually they were closer to yellow than white) I just have to figure out where they are "safely" stored.  Looks like another trip to the attic in my near future.  I know Gretchen will appreciate these pictures.  I'm looking forward to our future correspondence with her!

Gretchen, Chelsey and myself, at the library
(pictures will enlarge when clicked)

                In the meanwhile, I'll continue living my life, just waiting to see what wonderful things might be dropped into my world next!



Addendum:   I went up to the attic this morning and found the albums I had in mind.  They were in a box, under framed pictures and a couple bags of cassette tapes.  That and lots of dust!  The albums are old and the paper is cracked and deteriorating.  I can see that a  copier will be on my list of "things to get"!  Here are a couple shots of what is in them!

The albums, they need saved!

Patsy and Audrey 3/27/37

Irene? Dad's first wife?

Irene Stauffer Funk
Aunt Ena and ?

In Boyertown?

Frances and Patsy

Frances and Royden July 1931

Great shot, I love pictures with toys in them

My favorite shot, from NYC Chinatown! (date unknown)











Thursday, March 6, 2014

A City of Steps

A City of Steps


by Phil Breidenbach
(pictures will enlarge when clicked)
                I have said it before, Pittsburgh is a city of steps!   Situated at the junction of three large rivers, its surrounding areas are filled with hills and valleys.  Creeks and streams  have done a marvelous job of cutting into the topography.
                Since there are so many hills in the area, one of the places that the population had to build their houses was on those very hills.  Starting on the flat lands near the rivers and then moving out and up.  As the steel mills were built, the population moved as close to them as possible, onto the hills surrounding the jobs.  Where the houses were built, so were the steps.  Workers used them for their daily commute to work and back.  Cars didn't show up until later and even then, the steps were still used.
Gone and nearly forgotten

                Later as the mills were shut down and the jobs moved away, some neighborhoods became less and less populated.  Entire streets were abandoned, eventually the houses were torn down and before long, all that was left was the foundations, hidden in the weeds.  That and the steps that came up the hillsides, existing long after their intended purpose was gone.


                As roads got larger, this caused the removal of more houses.  People moved into the suburbs.  Entire communities disappeared as highways cut through the valleys , roads to allow the workers to come and go to the city.  Instead of steps and legs to get them there, it is now cars and roads.  It is amazing how an eight lane highway can destroy a neighborhood seven or eight blocks wide.  Everything was torn down, bulldozed over, cemeteries were moved, Churches decommissioned, dirt piled up and graded and then a new an asphalt highway appeared.  The neighborhoods were gone, forgotten by everyone except those who once lived there.


                But while some of the neighborhoods in the valleys disappeared, the communities on the tops of the hills remained, and so did lots of the steps!   Not quite as many and not used quite as much as before, but still trod by the occasional person.
Climbing the hillsides
                Some of the stairs have fallen into disrepair, with steps cracked and chipped, some with large gaps in them from where broken steps used to be.  Some have been closed off, pipes welded across the banisters to keep the public from hurting themselves.  Some have been victims of landslides, their cement forms laying on their sides, covered with dirt and weeds.  Some of the older steps, made out of wood have simply rotted away, leaving only a few posts to mark their path.
                But, for every set that has been abandoned, there are others that are used daily.  The communities takes care of them, fixing the chipped concrete and painting the handrails.  Some places even have events celebrating their steps, such as the yearly Step Trek, on the South Side slopes.  On this day, usually sometime in October, different routes are offered to participants.  Maps are drawn up and handed out, showing climbs of different lengths.  It is your choice, from short routes to some that end up going for miles before you return to where you started.
                Climbing steps can be great exercise, a great cardiovascular workout.  While they are good for your health, they are also good for your mind.  The view at the top of most steps make it all worthwhile.
                The set I climbed this afternoon, in the West End of the city, while not having a great vista at the top, showed me the long, long, straight set of steps which I had climbed.  Covered in snow, lacking any handrails, missing steps in a few places, they showed me why my breath was a bit labored and why my heart was beating a little faster, and why I felt so good!  That is a "good view" as far as I'm concerned!
                These particular steps led to a set of RR tracks that at one time went under the steps.  The bridge crossing the tracks had been removed years, if not decades ago.  The two ends are now separated by steep hillsides, woods and the rails of the tracks.
Looking back up, no handrails, no steps, a good challenge!
                Climbing up the steps, I came to a couple sections where a whole batch of steps had broken away and I had to balance on the end pieces as I worked my way up.  Carefully placing my foot on the inch or two of snow sitting on these eight inch wide supports, I moved my foot back and forth to make sure there wasn't any ice beneath the snow and then stepped up, doing the same thing over and over.  All the while, trying not to think of the fall or the steep hillside on either side of the skinny supports.  Trying not to think about my balance!  Reaching the solid steps always is accompanied with a sense of relief.  Still, even on the solid steps, I stayed near the sides to avoid breaking through any others that might be cracked, just waiting for that extra weight to snap it in half.
                I stopped climbing at the tracks and rather than returning to the car immediately, I strolled down the tracks for a bit, just to see if a nice view was near-by.  Around a curve I was treated to a view of a major highway, the traffic passing far beneath me.  Happy, I took a few pictures and then returned for my journey back down the steps. 
The view from above
                Going down was a little easier, but the narrow sections now had compacted snow where I had stepped before.  I had to be careful not to slip on them.   It didn't take long before I was back at my car, warm once again, away from the cold wind.  The only thing that would have made it better was if a train would have passed me.
                Pittsburgh has over 700 sets of steps in its boundaries, some are actually classified as streets and are on maps.   There are plenty of steps for you to explore if the desire should strike you.  There is a good book detailing a lot of them called The Steps of Pittsburgh, Portrait of a City, written by Bob Regan.  I believe it is currently out of print, but it is in the Pittsburgh Library system if you should want to read it.
                Yes, steps are a part of this city.  They always were and always will be.  From the small steps in our yards, to the steps cutting through neighborhoods, they all help make Pittsburgh what it is.  They are one of the numerous things that put us.......
just a step above the others!