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Memories of life off Steam Mill Road

(Editor's Note in 2003: The following letters and accounts were sent to me by Elisabeth Appleton Mobbs, a former resident of the Odessa area who moved to Australia 29 years ago. She was alerted to this website by one of her children, who lives near Horseheads.

These accounts tell of life as it was many years ago, when she was raising a family in a home off Steam Mill Road near Odessa. Elisabeth and her late husband Tracy raised six children out there near the Steam Mill Creek. After Tracy died, Elisabeth remarried and had two more children.

We open with a paragraph from her introductory letter. At her request, we refer to her in the bylines here as Betty Appleton -- the name she went by in her Odessa days.)

(Editor's Note December 2006: Word has been received here of the passing of Betty Appleton at her home in Park Ridge, Queensland, Australia. She was 78.)

By Betty Appleton

Charlie: Do you know where Steam Mill Road is? Out near Little Lake? Well, I and my husband, Tracy Appleton, raised 6 children on what is now the Martin Reserve. Then it was a 100 acres of Christmas trees. Elsie and Jack Cole lived just across the dirt road on what is now the Charles Road off Steam Mill Road. Those many years are "meat" for many stories -- good, bad, beautiful, horrible. I would be glad to recount a few to send if you'd care to have me.

(Editor's Note: In a return e-mail, I naturally encouraged her to do so. Then came the following:)

Hi Charlie,

Elisabeth here, thanks for your quick reply. It amazes me how quickly information can cross the world via the www or E-mail.

Five of my kids live in the USA, so E-mail pays for itself in "keeping in touch" with them. The other two are here in Aussie Land with me. The five kids above were raised on the "Tree Farm" at Odessa, so they have warm memories, too. After Tracy died, I remarried and had Judy and Joe.

But let's not go into my personal history past the Valley Days.


Betty Appleton

I was working at Cornell University at this time. My mother had given me a moth-eaten raccoon coat her sister had and I appreciated the wonderful warmth it gave me, despite its appearance. To get to work, I'd wait down at the mailbox on Steam Mill Road for my "ride" to pick me up. This particular morning we'd been blessed with another foot of snow on top of the two feet already there.

I waded down our drive and stood along the track where the snowplow had gone through the day before. Farther up Steam Mill Road, I could hear the snowplow growling, bumbling along as it threw a huge wave of snow over the bank toward the creek. As it got closer, I moved behind some sheltering bushes. Just as the plow came abreast of me, I stepped out. All of a sudden the whole plow swerved and, in slow motion, slipped into the ditch and over on its side!

The face of the driver, Kip Round, appeared with eyes bugging out and mouth wide open. "What In Hell Are You Doin' HERE?" he howled. 'I took you for that BEAR what's been runnin' around!"

My "ride" came along and we took Kip to the depot to get another crew and truck to rescue the one left in the ditch. Apparently he told the boys about the incident, and for ages wore the title of "Bear Killer ... Betty Appleton Bear!"

Betty Appleton

Our house was an old "plank house" with only many layers of newspaper for insulation in the second story. The closet was open faced, and apparently bats -- trying to find their way -- had, by mistake, gotten into the bedroom. The first encounter with them was the afternoon my daughter Barbara Ann went upstairs to go to bed.

Her scream was undiluted horror!!

We all dashed upstairs and stood talking in a cloud burst of words about which would be the best way to get them out.

"How about using the broom, mom," suggested Jim.

"Good idea, lad. Please get one," I replied.

In a few minutes, with kids watching from the door, I stood inside, broom in hand. Each time a stray bat zoomed in my direction, I'd try to hit it with the broom. Soon they were teasing me with: "STRIKE ONE … STRIKE TWO … STRIKE THREE …You're OUT!"

We found that if we left the bedroom windows open and the curtains pulled back, they'd find their own way out without our help. Of course, the kids were pleased as this delayed bedtime by a good hour!

And again with bats in mind.....

Betty Appleton

My kitchen stove was a half-and-half -- wood on one side and bottle gas on the other. In winter, with a cozy fire going, I didn't need the gas. This one winter day, with frost snapping the small branches in trees outside, I built a bigger fire than needed. Hot oatmeal was the menu for breakfast before the kids were to leave on the school bus.

After they'd gone and I'd started dishes, I smelled fire. On instant alert, I followed my nose around the stove, the stove wall, inside and then outside -- into the shed which had been built onto the rear of the house. I found flames spurting from between the bricks of the upper part of the chimney! They began licking toward the rafters of the shed. I envisioned the whole house going up in flames and smoke!

Into the house I skidded and grabbed the phone -- then our phone was operated by a handle we had to wind to ring Ida at the Odessa Exchange. At first she thought I was some prankster trying to upset her and spoil her day. But when I began screaming -- "Ida, Get the firemen up here this instant! The fire is burning my kitchen and shed!" -- she realized I meant business, and within fifteen minutes the trucks, men, and gear were all there and quickly had the fire out.

Two things happened when Ida retired: contact with Emergency Services was quicker, and local "news" got around lots slower!


Well, Charlie, this would make a good start, if you wish. I'll be off to the Post Office shortly getting my book (a paperback titled "The Loo Book") on its way to you. You may use any you need but please quote me as author using the name of Betty Appleton as folks in Odessa would not know me by my current name, Elisabeth Mobbs.

I came to Australia in 1975 under the name of Wellman, but after 20 years Mr. Wellman got so homesick I sent him back. Now I'm remarried to a wonderful Aussie gentleman and have a NEW LIFE.

I'm hoping that this next July/August - if President Bush doesn't set the world on fire and Kevin is able -- I can make a trip back to show him MY home town and country. It will be a belated 75th birthday for me, and lots of memories to renew. Kevin is having a knee replacement the 18th of February, and when he's mobile again it will be major work on his ankle. So time will tell if he's able to fly so far. IF we do come -- it will be an important visit to Odessa and your office.

(Editor's Note: Later, Betty wrote me the following:)

Hope you can get up Steam Mill Road and Charles Road some day. It's so strange now with the house, chicken coop, and big maple in the side yard gone. Like going to the cemetery and seeing just a marker, but memory replaces everything. I'm so glad school kids can go up there and study nature! AND pick the wild strawberries, raspberries, elderberries and wild wintergreen as I taught my kids to do.

Often I'd take a basket and scissors and spend an hour or so walking along Steam Mill Road cutting bunches of elderberries from the bushes. Then making a huge, delicious elderberry pie for dinner. We tried making a garden, but the opposition from rabbits, woodchuck, deer and other critters brought about defeat every year. We tried to raise rabbits and chickens, but it was not a winning situation.

My mother gave us her old washing machine, and after many more years of service, it went well past its "use-by date" and then quit. Son Jim requested the lid. He promptly turned it into a toboggan and came careening down Charles Road hill -- often veering off into the ditch, bushes, and trees because there was no way to steer it. Then his grandparents felt sorry for him and had Santa leave an extra-long sled. This was what we used to bring our fresh-cut Christmas tree down from the hill.

One day after lunch, Dale left the table to go out and play. While the rest of us were still at the table we heard a terrible sharp CRACK!! When we dashed out to find the cause, we found Dale, our long tree-pruning clippers in hand, staring at the incoming electric wires. The fact that he was still alive was due to the insulation wrapping on the handles. The fright in itself was enough to deter him ever touching them again!


Now let me take you into "ancient history." When I was a young teenager, my dad used to take me up to Little Lake for a day of fishing. We lived in Elmira. He'd leave the car over at the boat-hiring place near the Inlet (don't recall the name), rent a boat and motor and off. We'd go hoping to catch a basket of hungry perch, "sunnies" or a bass or two. This one day, as we slowly putted through the weed-grown channel, I watched a beaver from my seat as he coursed along next to us. Unusual to see a beaver so close up, and I was in awe.


Once in a while when we lived in "The Valley" house, as we called it, I'd go over to the big restaurant, "'Fontainebleau," and pick up the little girl there, and bring her to our house for a day of fun and games with our kids.


If you want to do some old-time research, ask around about the winter when one family lost three of their children in an accident when the sled they were riding on broke through the ice at Little Lake, and they fell in and drowned. It was some time before 1950.

Then there was the year Hurricane Hazel howled and roared through the Valley. Again, I was alone with my four children, so for safety's sake, I opened the day bed, brought down pillows and blankets and we all curled up there. The electric was out, so we enjoyed the flickering lights of several kerosene lamps. The wind howling, trees snapping, flames flickering made it very eerie -- then when the wind reached its peak, it blew under the house, lifting the linoleum up in waves about four to five inches on the floor! The only damage done to the house was to rip off the screening on the front porch.


We learned about weather up there in the Valley. We could hear a big wind coming down through the woods, growing in strength till it almost blew us away. Lightning and thunder were watched from the front porch, and we gained great respect for the power of it.

Many winter nights when it was still and crispy outside, I'd get the kids up, dressed warm, and stand in the back yard and admire one of God's most wonderful beauties -- The Northern Lights.
Or on a hot August evening, we'd take blankets out and watch for "falling stars."


But the greatest thing they remember was the visit of Grey Wolf -- the resident Game Warden. He'd be sitting at my kitchen table when I came in to fix dinner on a cold winter night.

Tall, slender, quiet like the woods he tended. A broad-brimmed hat with a pheasant feather proudly prancing from the snakeskin hat band. He was a remnant of the old Seneca Tribe of Iroquois Nation people. For a hot supper, and warmth from fire and friends, he'd pull my children to his lap and tell them Indian legends, laying their hands on the backs of his so they could see the difference in color tone.

My children grew up acknowledging that God made people of many colors because He likes colors. No matter what color our skin, we all bleed the same color, showing we are children of God. Grey Wolf spoke of our God as Creator to the Seneca People; told us of the visit of the great Peacemaker two thousand years ago. Great sadness filled his voice when he spoke of those times. His people were Monotheistic in their belief. Their Three Sisters -- corn, squash and beans - were the staples of their life.

Since those days I have made a personal study of the Iroquois Nation and found it as Grey Wolf said. I, too speak with sadness of the end of their Nation at the hands of the white men.


What do you do when four of your six kids all come down with chicken pox and measles AT THE SAME TIME!? I turned the large dining room into a hospital ward by bringing down twin beds and baby cots! I was not working, so was full-time nurse, cook, laundry lady, medicine giver, comforter, storyteller. Barbara Ann was the eldest daughter, so she became my "gopher" and ran the endless errands which had to be done.


Before Carol was born, I had to find some way to get Dale upstairs for his nap. The steps were what are called "cupboard stairs." -- closed-in and almost vertical. The only way I could get him up was for me to sit on the steps, put him on my lap and scootch myself up one step at a time.

Coming down was just the opposite. Dale and Carol were just 13 months apart, so it was like raising twins after she was born.


Well, my friend, I think this is about enough for this mailing. You'll be all night reading. Somewhere among my writings, I have the outline for my book "Up Steam Mill!" and I'll check it to see if there are any more anecdotes for you.

You should receive another book of mine -- "The Loo Book" -- shortly, and then you can read about Carol and Dale. I've had it published in a quarterly magazine for "Mums to be and New Mums" at Perth, Western Australia.




© The Odessa File 2005
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869