A well-earned hide-tanning
When Steve was about eight or ten years old, sometime in the early 1950s, he and a friend found a ring of keys someone had lost. Based on the size of the ring and the number of keys attached, it was obvious to them that these were keys to locks in and around Cliffside Mill, and the two saw them as the means to great adventures. These keys would gain them entry to places they had never been allowed to go before. Of course, neither of them mentioned their find to their parents.
Normally one looks for keys to fit a lock, but the boys spent the next several days looking for locks to fit their keys. They tried the keys on every lock they could find, and discovered quite a few that fit. They explored offices, warehouses, storage areas, stores, and doors under the Memorial Building. They were careful not to damage anything or to leave evidence of their entry, and might have escaped detection had they not discovered that one of the keys fit the box containing the mechanism used to switch the tracks used by the Cliffside Railroad.
Since the railroad had no roundhouse, and had to back up rather than turning around, cars not in current use were shunted off the main line and parked on a stub or spur track out of the way of the engine and other cars that used the main line. When the boys discovered that one of the keys opened the box, and realized that the levers inside must move the track to allow a car to switch from the main track to the spur track, they decided it would be fun to switch the track back and forth.
They were pleased when they succeeded in switching the track, but when they attempted to move it back into its original position, it refused to budge. No lever in the box moved the track an inch. Envisioning a train wreck or some other dire result if they left the track as it was, they knew they would be in deep trouble and had to do something quickly. They breathed a sigh of relief when they saw, up the tracks some distance away, a black man who worked for the Mill on an outside crew and also on the railroad. They ran to him, explained that they had moved the track but could not put it back the way it was, and asked him to help them. After lifting the track back in place, the man eyed them suspiciously and asked how they had gained access to the box to move the track in the first place.
The boys confessed to finding and using the keys, which the man took from them. They were then scolded for not having turned them in, lectured about what trouble they could have caused, told that they deserved a whipping for it, and advised that their parents would be told what they had done. The man, who had recognized Steve and knew Jay, proceeded to apply a heavy hand to the seat of Steve’s pants then and there. He then marched Steve home and gave Jay a recap of the boys’ misadventures. Perhaps in an effort to ease Steve’s future punishment, the man advised that he had already given Steve a whipping. Jay responded, “That’s all right. Just stick around a few minutes and you will see him get another one.” Which he did.
Entrusted with a key
Apparently the lectures and double hide tannings taught Steve a lesson about the responsible handling of keys that he did not forget. Steve recalled that when he was a little older, he and some of the other members of the basketball team were allowed to have a key to the school so that they could go in and play or practice in the gym. The key also came in handy on windy days when the boys were across the road from the school, just out highway 120, flying kites from the hill there. The top of the hill, not then covered in pine trees as it now is, was the perfect place from which to launch their kites. They would fly them for hours, and having a key to the school and access to the school rest room allowed them to continue flying without having to trek home and back. In today’s moral climate, one would hesitate to place the key to a school loose in the hands of a group of unsupervised boys.