Friday, June 11, 2010

Mary Hutchinson: Farr's Hill


I was among the last batch of Randolph kids to master the stem Christie on Mr. Farr's hill, and Mary Hutchinson was my instructor. She also taught me to blow bubbles at the old Randolph playground, which she wrote about for an earlier post. It was an era when playgrounds and ballparks and ski lifts were built not by federal stimulus money or state aid but by volunteer armies of dads with shovels and hammers. Here's a glimpse of what it was like:

Mr. Farr was a farmer who gave up his weekends after chores to operate a ski lift. He also ran it during holiday vacations. Farr’s Hill was one of the first ski tows in Vermont. It opened in about 1936, just two years after the tow in Woodstock, the first in North America. Mr. Farr operated this rope tow for about thirty years. He would stand there all afternoon and many mornings in his visor cap, denim barn coat, and barn boots, and look upward, ready to stop the lift if someone fell off. He would climb partway up to help a child up if necessary. He was always jolly with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. “As I say” was how he often began a sentence. He would stand there all day when the day was sunny and bright, all day when it was blustery cold, all for no charge for thirty years.
A neighbor, Helen Frink, was often on hand to help one learn to ride the lift. She would hitch up her horse and tie on a rope so you could get the feel of the rope. This helped eliminate many falls off the rope tow.
Before the ski tow opened, Mr. Farr had a skating rink and a toboggan chute. I only ventured on the toboggan chute once. It was too scary for me.
Our ski clothes were quite different in the early days. We wore woolen pants, a woolen shirt of some kind, and often woolen mittens. Those of us who were fortunate had leather mittens to go over the woolen ones. Mittens didn’t last long on a rope tow. At the end of the day our woolen pants were covered with tiny snowballs from falling down.
To get to Farr’s from our home we walked, wearing our ski boots and carrying our long skis and poles over our shoulder. Up School Street, onto North Main Street, across the bridge, and up the steep stairs behind the present firehouse, across a field and up the road where the Herrins now live, and there we put on our skis and skied diagonally to the tow. Once there, everyone lined up horizontally across the hill and sidestepped up the hill and then back down to pack the snow. This helped to prevent ruts and big piles of snow from building up where people turned. It also helped to preserve the snow longer. Once this was done, there would be a line of about twenty-five kids waiting and shouldering and edging each other to see who could get through the line first. The tow stopped often as a kid would fall down and have to get out of the way before you were on your way again. If you happened to be on a steep section of the hill it was mighty hard to hang on and be ready when the rope started again with a jerk. For thirty years Randolph kids spent many weekends skiing and trying to bump each other off the rope by thumping the rope. At times we went in a corrugated warming hut to huddling around a cast-iron stove, which stood without a warning label and could burn your mittens brown if you got too near it.
Often money was given to Mr. Farr to help defray expenses, and a small calf was given to him at the dedication ceremony of the new Pinnacle Skiways. The beginners’ slope at Pinnacle was named Farr’s Trail.

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