Workin’ at the Bob Run

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been reminiscing again, and remembers some of the coldest winters of his youth as among the happiest.

(Lange) The cold days of January always bring back hundreds of memories of the winters I spent working on Mt. van Hoevenberg, about 45 years ago now. A few days ago I dug out my old color slides of the place, and on my computer searched the mountain’s web site

I found over a thousand sites and a galaxy of winter sports – biathlon, cross country skiing, luge, skeleton, snowshoeing. I could understand how Rip van Winkle felt after his long sleep. Clearly, the mountain (or “the venue,” as it’s now called) has entered the 21st century. There are probably very few of us left who remember it as it was: one of the last living links between the man- and animal-powered technology of the old logging camps and the internal combustion revolution.

Even getting a job there was an exercise in old-fashioned politics. As an unmarried registered Independent, I was the last in the political pecking order. But I had a typewriter. I wrote an angry letter to Governor Rockefeller, and three days later I was working.

And what a job! The bob run was built of dry-laid stone, beautiful parabolas steepening to vertical at the top. For weeks, crews of men mixed slush and plastered it over the stone with shovels, slowly forming smooth, curving sheets of ice. Others sawed ice from a nearby pond, hauled it up the mountain, and laid up walls on both sides of the straightaways. After we quit in the evening, another crew sprayed the great curves all night and built successive layers of ice. Finally we were ready for the first sled of the year. And I discovered I was the public address announcer.

What I didn’t appreciate then was how pleasant it is to function as a member of a crew. Some of the old guys had lived with horses, and worked in the logging camps. Collectively they could do anything – mend a chain or make an ice chisel in the forge; dismantle a Ford V-8 and put it back together by quitting time; move huge, heavy objects with levers, tackle, and gravity; and most of all, work together, with a certain stoic irony, in all kinds of winter weather.

It was a great job. All day long I called the sleds down the mountain and urged nervous spectators to take a ride. At dusk I got my long-handled shovel and worked on the run till the night crew shuffled in. Most of all, I just listened to those wonderful old guys swapping stories, recalling incredible events or weather, and speaking in that dry, Irish Adirondack accent. I’d love to go back and visit, but I don’t think I will. I would miss them so!

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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