Stories from David Appleton

Bikes and Jim at Le Mans

A Memory

By David Appleton


On June 11, 1955 a horrific crash occurred during the famous 24-hour automobile endurance race at Le Mans, Sarthe, France. Driver Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes went out of control and crashed into the stands filled with a crowd of spectators in the stands and blew up. The carnage was unspeakable. 82 people were killed and over 180 were injured.

Aftermath of 1955 crash at Le Mans


At the time, I was an 8th grade student in George Inness Jr. High School in Montclair, NJ., and something of a car and auto racing enthusiast, as many young boys were at the time, probably still are. So, I was appalled by this news but allured to it as seems to be human nature… we rubberneck to see the horrendous wreck on the highway while being simultaneously drawn to look and to avert our eyes. And, of course there’s the attraction of NASCAR…. but that’s another story. So, I was drawn to find out all I could about the lurid details of the Le Mans tragedy and read all I could find about this event. But then a few days later I got a letter from brother Jim, who was in the Army and stationed in France. Jim had made it his business to see as much of France as possible while stationed there.


So, whenever he got leave, or a weekend pass, he would hop on his newly purchased Stella, a French touring bike with eight derailleur gears, and peddle off on some new adventure.


His letter described some of his adventures and some of the corny stuff brothers would write to one another. But at the end he announced his destination for his next ride on his personal “Tour de France”: Le Mans and the 24-hour race.


I can’t describe my horror. I was shaken and sickened. My imagination put Jim at the crash.


My brother Jim was my idol. Though 10 years apart in age, we were close. We were our only two siblings. I think I was closer from my point of view since I was probably more of a burden (read “pain in the ass”) to him. When I was born both my parents worked; Dad was a factory worker-machinist-model tool and die maker for Union Carbide Corporation, and Mom was a telephone operator for New Jersey Bell Telephone working mostly nights. So for the first year of my life, my German-speaking Grandmother, Anna Bordt, who lived with us, was my caretaker most of the time. When she passed away the task of “David Watch” fell to Jim. He was about 11 or 12, my age at the time of this Le Mans letter.


When Jim wanted to play baseball with his friends, he’d often have to take me along in my stroller or whatever. We lived on Park Street in Montclair NJ at the time, across from the Watchung Erie Train Station not far from Watchung School where Jim was enrolled. Occasionally Jim would wheel me over to the Watchung School playground to join his friends in a baseball game. I’m told I would sit and watch with something like enthusiasm. Jim’s best friend, Bob Crane, called me “Sheik” for as long as I knew him ... probably because of the attention I seemed to require or that Jim bestowed. So, my bonding to Jim was beyond brotherly love and bordered on adoration, kind of like what a faithful dog feels toward a worthy attentive master.


So, the news of his intention to go to Le Mans to see the race was beyond devastating. I spent a few weeks in abject depression awaiting news. The longer the absence of mail from Jim, the more I mourned.


 But an aside on Jim and Bikes…. In France he bought one of the finest touring bikes available, a Stella.



Stella was a French bicycle manufacturer founded in 1909. The company sponsored Louison Bobet a French professional cyclist. Bobet won the Tour de France in 1953 and 1954 while riding Stella bicycles similar to this. Knowing this, and Jim’s impeccable taste for fine things, predicted his choice in bicycles as well as in many other things. Jim’s Stella looked something like the one pictured here, but it was actually a touring version with fenders and a carrier frame on the back and a few other accoutrements that were not on the lightweight racing version.


Jim’s passion for bicycles continued throughout his life. It seemed genetic, somehow related to our father’s (Charles J. Appleton, Jr.) passion for cars (Dad bought Chryslers regularly every 2 years from Charley Burett at Decozen… soon as ash trays were full).  Jim passed this passion for bicycles on to his kids, Karin, CJ and Gordon, all bicycle enthusiasts; especially CJ whose joy in riding adventures in childhood lured him as a youngster, maybe 8 or 10, to roads well beyond what Jim and Eleanor would have allowed. Based at their home in Bethesda MD, CJ rode his bike throughout the DC area, and in maturity pushed the envelope even further as an Iron Man competitor/winner of his class. Jim too enjoyed competition as in this photo snapped during a “Make-a-Wish” competition 9/21/91 in Maryland.


Here's Big Jim going for it at age 60.


But I digress, back to Le Mans and my fears.… I finally got a letter from Jim relating how he had been there during the race and the horrendous crash and had been watching from directly across the track from where the carnage occurred…. WOW!! Other than that, he never talked about it, at least not in my hearing. And I did not press him on the issue. It must have been a terrible thing to see.


My relief was enormous, as was that of our parents…. and Eleanor. I’m hoping to find Jim’s letter of July or August 1955 but so far no luck. If I do find it, I’ll share it with you.


But back to the Stella; when Jim got back from Europe, finished with active duty and ready to move on to other things  — like pursuing Eleanor (later wife) vigorously, and designing a Monkey House for the Philadelphia Zoo… an Architecture Major thesis project at U Penn which was rejected.  I considered the whole idea a triumph of wit. Anyway he told me he had arranged to have the Army deliver his Stella to our house on Park Street in Montclair, and that he was giving it to me….. Delirious Joy!!!


After many weeks of wondering where the bike was, even suspecting it was lost in chaos of US Army shipping, a large tractor/trailer truck pulled up in front of our house at 190 Park Street in. A couple of guys pulled out an enormous seemingly bulletproof wooden crate with US Army markings… and addressed to me. They wheeled it on a hand truck to near the front door and we attacked the box with crow bars and hammers undressing the package to reveal The STELLA.


It was truly a marvel! … a beautiful red Stella Touring Bike (similar to the one pictured above) featuring 8 speed derailleur gears, an innovation of French cyclery engineering advanced for the time, which turned many scratching heads in Montclair in 1956. My previous bike was a Rudge English touring bike with 3 speeds internal gears encased in the hub of the rear wheel hub. These English bikes were especially popular with the kids and adult riding enthusiasts of Montclair, and I dare say most of America at the time.


They paled in comparison with The Stella. There was nothing like this marvel of French innovation. I rode it with pride for many years, in town from the Montclair High/George Inness JHS complex to Woodman Field, to the Watchung Plaza flagpole, to Bonds ice cream parlor in Upper Montclair where folks rode bikes and cars to boast about their rides in the parking lot, to all over Essex County. My Stella with the derailleur gears never failed to draw attention, even awe mostly. Heads turned when I rode by. I smiled with pride as I explained the derailleur concept.


Jim, now gone, bequeathed his last bike to his Grandson-in-Law, my Great Nephew-in-Law Jon Conlon a few years ago…. I was there, a quiet witness to the transaction. I hope Jon is enjoying it exploring mountain roads of Colorado and that he and CJ’s daughter Ariana will pass on their bicycle passion to sons Bear and Rex.


And I’m confident CJ’s older daughter Jessica and husband USN Aviator Cmdr. Erik Smith will pass on Jim’s love of bikes and boats and adventure to sons Levy, Colton and Wyatt. Jim got to sail his own boat with his great grandson, Levy, at the helm a few years ago…. Jim radiated pride.


Levy & Big Jim cruisin’ Rehoboth Bay, circa Summer 2011

Our Family has enjoyed vignettes like this for years. I put pen to paper here to codify them into something like the germ of a Saga. Perhaps you’d like to contribute your own memories. Memories are flawed and subjective so I’ll not argue the pristine validity of what I recount here. These are my memories. I own them with dubious accuracy. I’d welcome the chance to read yours.

Love, David



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Navy Racks

David writes:

As those of us MHS 60 classmates remaining prepare for Life’s Ultimate Reward, such as has already reaped by many of us, I know we look back on our well-worn paths with joy and sorrow for our deeds and shortcomings. I wish to inject a note of levity into our memories from mine.

Avoiding the draft during a lapse in my academic achievements in 1964, I joined the US Navy on July 27th, two weeks before the Tonkin Gulf Resolution…. Talk about timing. A couple of months later, I found myself at sea in the North Atlantic. Here’s one of my recollections:


I saw my first USN sea duty in the fall of 1964 on USS Courtney  (DE1021) as a FTSN (Fire Control Tech) striker. Fox Division (guns, my division) and First division (deck apes, Bosn’s Mates) bunked in the forward end of this relatively small (at 300’ LOA, almost  tiny by USN standards), which offered remarkable challenges to just walking around (to say nothing about eating and sleeping and doing your job) when at sea in rough weather.

The USS Courtney


Our racks were stacked 3 high throughout our berthing compartment situated (under the forward duel 3”50 gun mount in the picture above) just aft of the peak locker serving as Bosn’s Locker. My rack was the top rack near the ship’s centerline, so it was relatively comfortable when the ship rolled. But when she pitched it was a different story. Being so far forward we enjoyed the full benefit of the violent pitching motion of a small ship when steaming into heavy seas. 


I was a high jumper (though not a very good one) on the MHS track team in the late 50s. So when assigned that top centerline bunk when I reported aboard Courtney, I decided to use my developed high jumping skills, employing the Texas Roll technique (I think it was called - predecessor to the Fosbury Flop) to launch myself from the deck into my berth, rather than the usual mundane and accepted climbing technique employed by my shipmates. I thought myself innovative.


This practice served me well when in port or in mildly pitching situations. In fact I soon learned I could use the ship’s pitching motion to assist my sack time leap. The upward thrust supercharged my jump, taking advantage of upward inertia for assistance. I’d carefully time my leap for moments just before when Courtney crested on a wave and began to sink into the trough behind the wave. As the deck went down, inertia would take over and I’d gracefully (or so I thought) land in my rack. This worked well in the gentle motion of the ship in moderate seas. I even bragged about my technique to my shipmates and gave demonstrations.


But not so much in heavy seas. One day at sea in November of ‘64 off the coast of the Carolinas, Courtney found herself weathering a tropical storm in the Gulf Stream, bouncing about somewhat erratically. I came off my 4 to 8 lookout watch topside pleased to get below out of the weather. I prepared myself for bedtime and positioned myself for my berthing leap.


I timed my jump up perfectly with the rising motion and sailed up to my rack on the wings of inertia, but then she crested and the ships bow went down and I continued soaring, crashing into the overhead (the ceiling on a ship) and started to descend just as the bow started up again and I smashed violently into the deck. Bruised but nothing broken I climbed gingerly into my rack.


This was the last time I employed my famous Bunk Leap technique. From this time forward I used accepted customary techniques for mounting my bunk throughout my Navy career. 


There’s a lesson in here somewhere, even a wise saying or aphorism…… something like, “The tried and true, is well tried and so true.”

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

David Appleton



Here's a terrific (!) story about the youthful adventures and indiscretions of our master storyteller, David Appleton and his band of co-conspirators. Don't miss it!


by David Appleton

It was sometime around 1950-51 when a bunch of us kids found a pile of dry ice in the street in front of the Watchung Plaza Delicatessen in Montclair, NJ.  We were generally ok kids, but ne’re do wells in the eyes of Lieutenant McHugh (?) of Montclair’s Juvenile Squad based on Chestnut Street (some of us were repeat offenders).  We were quite mischievous and thoroughly enjoyed all things explosive.


So we viewed this mound of dry ice a valuable find with some worthy potential.  We weren’t sure what, but gathered it up, carefully, avoiding touching it with our bare hands (I’d already suffered a blister on my left hand due to careless touching of this stuff). Bagging it carefully in a paper bag, we took it home to my house a block or so away on Park Street.


Once there, we explored its potential near Tony’s Brook, a minor Montclair waterway that originates near Edgemont Pond and passed my Park Street backyard near Essex Way on its way downstream to the Montclair High School Amphitheatre then south on Park Street and beyond. 


One test involved immersing a chunk in water and watching it: It smoked with a weird smoke that went down instead of up, the way most smoke from fire entered the atmosphere. It seemed to expand.


Next we took a chunk and confined it in a capped bottle with water. It did expand indeed and pushed the cap off the bottle. EUREKA!  We had discovered the veiled potential in our find. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide and turns directly back into a gas as it heats up. When you submerge dry ice in water, it heats up quickly and produces a thick smoke…and as a gas, it expands! In later life as a theatrical producer and director I used this characteristic as a dramaturgical special effect.


A plan ensued quickly. We agreed on a worthy method to create an explosion, a large bottle 25% filled with water and dry ice, using the remainder of our “mother lode” gathered on Watchung Avenue. This brew would fill the remaining 75% of the bottle with expanding gas eventually blowing it apart. 


So we found a large glass jug, perhaps two gallons or so. It had a screw-on cap, so it had explosive potential. We began chunking up our dry ice treasure and feeding it all into the jug. It was ready for priming.


Next we thought about a worthy POE (Point of Explosion). Someone came up with the idea of the High School. Several of us had enjoyed exploring sewer pipes throughout the town for years. Montclair High School had several large sewer pipes running under the gyms on the north side. We knew these underground pipes well, having ventured into them several times, using various vocal and other sound sources to explore the ambient echoes, and thought them an ideal POE since they would further confine the explosion and perhaps maximize the impact.


We were confident the explosion would provide minimal damage but maximum auditory impact since these sewer pipes ran all over town.


We were not disappointed.


We prepared the bomb and worked our way down Tony’s Creek through the backyards along Park Street and Midland Avenue, suffering a few “soakers” (slipping a foot into the water) along the way. 


Once at the mouth of the sewer pipes at the High School’s north end, we added water and sealed the bottle using waxed paper under the tightened screw cap. We then made our way quickly into the largest pipe and carried the bottle deep as we dared into the depths of the sewer. We got pretty deep into the network, deepest I remember going, and deposited our burden there. We then ran as quickly as we could toward the mouth of our tunnel.


We had no idea how long our explosive bottle would take to blow, nor how loud or violent the explosion would be…. So we ran through the tunnel (a 6’ diameter pipe) as quickly as we could with flashlights ablaze. Once emerging into daylight, we continued running north on Tony’s Brook, soakers bedamned, to get far from the expected explosion, and probable blame.


We were almost to my house some 15 or so houses upstream from the High School when the “EVENT” happened……  VARROOOOMMMMM!!!!!


It echoed through the sewer system all over town with remarkable volume and auditory definition and geographical resonance. We were awed/shocked at first then vastly amused. We started laughing uncontrollably.


Then, less than 5 minutes later, the sirens started all over town. This only enhanced our amusement, rolling on the ground laughing…. But then we thought of our potential jeopardy. So we continued running to my house and hid in the basement for a couple of hours. The sirens continued. We muffled our laughter.


I don’t recall any news reporting on this event in The Montclair Times,… but then again I didn’t read it regularly at that age, and I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to my potential implication in this explosion by asking about it. So I kept mum as did my fellow conspirators.


Such was our Dry Ice Bomb Event. Thankfully no one was injured and the only damage was a bunch of shards of glass in the sewer under Montclair High School, & perhaps Montclair Police Force’s mystification and embarrassment.


But those of us involved in the formulation and execution of this event still enjoy a hearty laugh as we recall the sound of the explosion and the sirens that followed, even 60+ years later. 


David Appleton, 9/13/2022


My Insurance Imbroglio

By David Appleton


On Thursday January 5, 2023 at about 9:30 pm I hit a deer with my 2019 Toyota Highlander on Route 179 about 2 miles North of Lambertvile, NJ while driving a paying passenger from Newark Airport to Lambertville.  I wasn’t going very fast, no one was hurt, the car remained drivable so I continued on and delivered my client to her home.  The damage was minimal but proved expensive, in excess of $3000.  I had the damage appraised by several body shops and learned deer strikes will not affect premiums.  So I made a claim to my provider, USAA.


After several exchanges with USAA they denied my claim because I was driving with a paying passenger.  I was flabbergasted.  I had told USAA I was driving for pay with LYFT and for myself when we initiated our policy for this car, two others and our home.  I paid extra for the rideshare coverage…. BUT I misread or misunderstood the coverage.


After much phone time with USAA my wife, Wendy (far superior to me at this sort of thing), was guided to understand the nature of our coverage, which was considerably less than I had assumed.  It seems our USAA insurance covered something called a “gap” which covered me when “on line and driving for LYFT on the way to pick up a LYFT passenger.”  Once I had that passenger on board LYFT insurance covered me. Once I dropped off the LYFT passenger, insurance coverage reverted to my private coverage with USAA.  That’s my understanding (perhaps not totally accurate, Insurance can be mystifying) of the USAA coverage.


Achieving this understanding I remained flabbergasted….and saddled with a $3K+ repair bill. But now I waxed TERRIFIED!  I realized that for 6 years of driving folks in around my neighborhood to meet their trains and planes or Hospital appointments and to get them home from their adventures I HAD BEEN DRIVING FISCALLY NAKED-----UNINSURED!!!!  One bad accident could possibly bankrupt me and my family.  We could loose everything.


This deer strike proved fortunate.  I returned to the scene of the encounter on route 179 to see this deer again to thank him for providing this new understanding while causing minimal damage.  He was unavailable.  No carcass at the point of impact; he must have escaped.  I hope he’s doing well.


So I scrambled to get insurance to get myself covered for doing what a truly like doing,… helping folks get to where they need to be and enjoying their company and conversation  on the way while earning a few bucks to fuel this enterprise.  USAA was unable to provide what I needed and sent me to Progressive, who provided adequate commercial coverage for only $5,000.00 a year.


YIKES!  This is around 20 to 23% of my gross for the year.  But I guess it’s a reasonable price to pay for doing what I enjoy and keeping busy in my retirement while serving my neighbors.  I enjoy life, both my own and others!





David Appleton remembers two women with great affection:

Aunt Elsie Reed and Miss Ardella Watts Bondurant


Aunt Elsie Reed

A personal Favorite


In the fall of about of 1957 or 1958 I got thrown out of Montclair High School for some long forgotten infraction. I experienced expellation (a word?) from school countless times for many reasons during my thoroughly tarnished academic career at Watchung through GI and MHS. This time I was expelled and told not to come back until I brought my parents with me. 


This was a problem since my parents were off in Canada or Florida on a well deserved 2 week vacation, leaving me and our elderly Park Street roomers in the care of our housekeeper, Ardella Bondurant. My parents had just left, so I could not expect to return to school for at least 2 weeks!  I couldn’t bring Ardella to school as my advocate since she was black and I didn’t think Mr. Boyd, Assistant Principal, ICD (In Charge of Discipline), would consider her a reliable executioner of punishment. He would have been correct since Ardella was a wonderful friend as well as my surrogate parent in this situation. She would prove a magnificent defense attorney.


So I thought about this dilemma a bit and came up with a plan to ask Aunt Elsie Reed to act as my surrogate parent for this situation. This was not an easy decision since I knew Aunt Elsie to be fierce in her belief in justice and unlikely to spare the rod.


We were a close family in those days. Aunt Elsie was the youngest of 4 Appleton siblings living in close proximity in Montclair, NJ between South Mountain Avenue and Park Street in the 40’s and 50’s. there were three sisters: Anita Baker, Marion Volz and Elsie Reed.  My father, Charles J. Appleton Jr. was third in this sibling parade.  Elsie, the youngest, was, I thought, the most likely candidate to pry me off the horns of this dilemma, even though I knew she was tough and it would cost me dearly in some way.


I screwed up my courage, picked up the phone and called her. She was furious and directed her ire at me for bringing such shame on the family. Nevertheless, appreciating the value of my education, she accompanied me to school and into Mr. Boyd’s office to get me reinstated. There she was acquainted with the compendium of my infractions, which were many. The latest of these, the cause for my dismissal, was extremely petty.


Thus Aunt Elsie perceived it and was appropriately (I think) outraged by the audacity of Mr. Boyd and the school for throwing me out for such a minor offense.


Aunt Elsie, enraged, was up off her chair swiftly and laying into the astonished Mr. Boyd with a spirited diatribe, the content of which I wish I could remember. But the fierceness of her finger pointing lecture and Mr. Boyd’s wide-eyed shock was unforgettable. I watched with jaw dropped in amazement, followed by a rush of familial pride. Ate that moment Aunt Elsie Reed became my “Most Favored Aunt.” I wished I had a medal to pin on her.


I was allowed back into school. Elsie told my parents of the event, coloring me in a more favorable light than I deserved. And Ardella and I shared laughs and beers over this memory years later.

Fun times!



A Rememberance

This narrative was the mini-eulogy for Ardella I delivered in person at her funeral.  I traveled to Chase City, VA with my niece, Karen Magness and her husband David Magness to attend “Miss Ardella’s” funeral at the House of Prayer where she had distinguished herself as a Matriarch of the Congregation.  It was an inspiring event.



As a child I was fond of admonishing folks speaking to or of Ardella, saying, "She's 'Our' Della, not 'Your' Della!!!"….. a nice distinction.


Miss Ardella traveled north to New Jersey from Henderson, NC as a teenager in the early '30s to work as a domestic for several families including mine. Her life was not easy in the South and wasn't that much better in the North. But she persevered, working hard with characteristic Faith and good humor as best I could tell. And she helped her family find better prospects there.


She came to work as housekeeper for my parents, Anna Winter Appleton and Charles J. Appleton Jr, in the '40s, just after WW II when they started a boarding house for older women in Montclair, NJ.  Among her duties was riding herd on me, a particularly cantankerous 4-year-old child through teens, and organizing what my father called "the wrecking crew" consisting of Ardella with sisters Edna and Bunch and others to storm through the house each spring and fall leaving the place spotless.


She remained with our family, actually a part of it, through the 60's until my mother retired and sold that house and business in 1968. Ardella found work elsewhere but always remained in contact with our family, even after she retired and moved to Chase City, VA.


Miss Ardella visited us on several occasions over the years… Perhaps the most memorable was at the 1991 wedding of my brother Jim's oldest daughter Karin to David Magness which featured a reception at the prestigious Congressional Country Club in Potomac, Maryland. Ardella was an honored guest and I enjoyed dancing with her and observing her telling fortunes. She was in her glory with her other family.


In recent  years our visits have been by phone,… though not perfect, somewhat satisfying.  She enjoyed talking about her friends in Chase City, and especially her Church, The House of Prayer, and the close ties she made with that congregation.


My big brother Jim passed away at 80 last February which saddened Ardella along with the rest of us. My nephew David Magness delivered the eulogy for Jim, mentioning prominent figures in his life. Ardella  was chief among these.


Miss Ardella has been a major influence in my life, from my formative years into adulthood as a caretaker, then friend and confidant. I'm most grateful for her abundant wisdom and good humor which she offered most generously. I know all her friends and family in VA and elsewhere share in this.


So she really is All of Ours, "Our Della."  And we are all blessed for having known and enjoyed her love.


David sent this photo from our last reunion.  He is seen here with his "best friend through school, 2nd grade and cub scouts and on, Barry Hampton."

David R. Appleton

2469 North River Road

New Hope, PA  18938






More recollections from David Appleton

"As the holidays approach my thoughts, like all of ours, yearn to the days of our youth and growing up in Montclair. I find it extraordinarily satisfying, even comforting, to be able to reach out (hate that term) and touch friends over vast distances and time, to remember our time together growing up in an idyllic time and place.  We were miraculously shielded and innocent.  
Today’s technology is both wonderful as well as terrifying. Our innocence was eroded quickly in the turbulent 60’s, but it’s soothing to recollect those days of gentle grace and affection.  This makes me happy."


In this newsletter, David posts his recollections of Gordon Lightfoot's 1976 ballad Wreck of the Edmund Fitizgerald which tells the story of a shipwreck on Lake Superior.  The   references to the "gales of November" may make you glad that you're warm inside.  Thank you, David.


Edmund Fitzgerald’s Grave

By David Appleton

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy


To read the entire 14-verse ballad, scroll down to the end of David's article.

To hear the song, go to:


Gordon Lightfoot’s  “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” ranks high among my favorite ballads. So in September of 2011, when I found myself traversing Michigan’s “UP” [Upper Peninsula] from Marquette to Mackinaw once again after many years’ absence, and as a former sailor on big waters, I was irresistibly drawn to Whitefish Bay, the scene of the wreck. There I visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum dedicated to the Fitzgerald tragedy along with many others. 

An aerial view of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum compound built around Whitefish Point’s critical light house.


Whitefish Point




Whitefish Point is a legendary dangerous piece of water, like Cape Hatteras on North Carolina’s Coast, the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Both have a confluence of currents, winds, shallows, narrows, weather and traffic that conspire to create Neptune’s Witch’s Brew of boiling seas and general nautical mayhem. More than 260 wrecks occurred in the Whitefish Bay and Point area costing many lives, including the 29 crew on the Fitzgerald.


I’ve not sailed off Whitefish Point but I have sailed many times off Cape Hatteras, even daringly in November. Often while there, I felt something from foolish, to cautious and terrified.  All sailors will empathize.


I lived on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a couple of winters in the early 70’s where I saw ice chunks piled high on Lake Superior’s southern shore, hurled there by fierce North winds. These ice piles, sometimes reaching over 20 feet high, attested to the power of winds blowing unchecked across many miles of Lake Superior, from Thunder Bay to the UP.  Such winds contributed to the demise of Edmund Fitzgerald and many more unfortunate “Lakers.”


The carefully encased display of Fitzgerald’s ship’s bell summoned my tears. The effort to recover it from the wreck was heroic. This too is documented in the museum.



My wife, Wendy, contemplates the display depicting the July 4, 1995 recovery of Fitzgerald’s Ship’s Bell. The display features the atmosphere diving suit used in the recovery, a model of Fitzgerald, and a painting depicting how she lies broken in half like the hearts of her crew’s families and Lightfoot’s listeners.




Here I’m standing on the Whitefish Point beach with the Bay in the background.  Over my right shoulder looking NNW is an ore boat “Laker” similar to the Fitzgerald sailing East toward Sault Ste. Marie.  She’s near the area where the Fitzgerald went down on November 10, 1975. Fitzgerald lies there broken in half on the bottom in 530 feet of water -- her grave and that of her crew. Maritime authorities in Canada and the US have restricted diving on the wreck out of respect for the sailors aboard and entombed within the Fitzgerald wreck.


Wikipedia has an extensively thorough entry on the Fitzgerald covering all aspects of the ship and the wreck. But my interest in this event, like many, was poet Gordon Lightfoot’s searingly poignant ballad that captures the emotion of the wreck, sharing it with all who listen and feel the peril of those who sailed on Fitzgerald’s last voyage and all who sail on troubled waters.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T'was the witch of November come stealin'

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin'
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'
Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya
At seven p.m., a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it's been good to know ya

The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when 'is lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er

They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters
Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the maritime sailors' cathedral
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early


By Gordon Lightfoot


Spit Valve Humiliation

By David Appleton

David says, "We all have suffered failed hopes and ambitions, beautiful but unrealistic, but nonetheless helpful in forming our lives. Reflecting on them helps us understand who we are.  So I share this one with you....


I was in about 3rd or 4th grade in Watchung School on Fullerton Avenue in Montclair and I aspired to be a trumpeter like Louis Armstrong.  Thinking about it now in 2019, I’m amazed at the heroes I worshipped as a kid.  Many were black, and this was during the intensely racist 40’s and 50’s and I was a white kid.  In baseball it was Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodger legend, so I aspired to be catcher; in music it was Louis Armstrong and later Harry Belafonte.  Louis prompted my desire to play the trumpet, and Harry led me into the world of folk music which I enjoyed and practiced into my college years and beyond, even to today.


But my efforts to follow Louis Armstrong into cornet and/or trumpet fame proved most humiliating.  At the tender age of 7 or so, inspired by Louis, I took trumpet lessons on Saturday mornings in George Inness Jr. High School on Park St. in Montclair, NJ.  After achieving a smattering of competence I approached Miss Ellis, 6th grade teacher and music director of the Watchung School Band, a group of maybe 8 or 10  kids of varying degrees of musical ability, seeking membership in this elite group of  fledgling musicians.


Miss Ellis granted me an audition.  I was scheduled to appear before the band during an after school rehearsal and play a short piece, solo, this in front of this group of my peers all of whom had achieved membership in this band enthusiastically flaunting their accomplishment.


To say I was nervous would be a gross understatement.  I was damn near peeing my pants.  I got my “axe” and practiced the piece in a vacant classroom, “ My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” (or ‘Tis a V as the case may be) several times before going to the audition.  I had it down pat thus my nervousness subsided.


So I marched down the stairs and on through the hallways to the Watchung School Auditorium just across from the gym at the appointed hour with a measure of confidence and found there the band seated quietly with defiant smirks plastered on their faces awaiting the events.  Miss Ellis introduced me, I smiled at the group as they smirked back, and I confidently began to play my audition piece….


Out of the bell end of my horn came the most Godawful  sound imaginable.  It was like an ill-formed fart, full of airiness but lacking proper timber or tone.  I blew harder as if to banish this hateful noise but this only made it worse.  My face reddened with the added effort and associated embarrassment.  The audience’s smirks morphed into suppressed giggles.  This went on for a minute or so before Miss Ellis put a merciful end to my humiliation, suggesting  I should, “Practice some more and come back in a week or two..”


I slunked out of the auditorium in tearful despair.  Behind me I heard Miss Ellis admonish the band, whose giggles had now become near belly laughter, telling them they were being impolite to “our guest.”  My despair now grew into anger and visions of revenge danced in my brain as I returned to the classroom to put my horn back in its case.


“What happened??” I thought.  I tried playing the instrument again….. same fartlike sound.  I investigated, carefully surveying the rented trumpet.  Then I discovered the culprit.  The spit valve was operating properly, but missing the pad that keeps it sealed when not in use.  Air leaked out with each blow into the mouthpiece thereby creating the hated fart sound.


Apparently during my practice sessions I had operated the spit valve too vigorously and the pad had come loose and ejected just before my audition.  God knows my salivary glands worked overtime as my apprehension grew.


I frantically looked around the room scouring the floor looking for the errant pad.  Not finding it I explored the notion of a substitute.  The image of a rubber band insinuated itself and I found one.  I balled it up and stuffed it into the spit valve hole with the valve lever sprung closed holding in place.  It worked.


Thus repaired I played my audition piece again.  The sound left the horn with something less than graceful beauty I might have wished for but at least without the vile fartlike sound of my audition.


I was overjoyed at discovering the flaw in my audition was not my fault.  I thought of racing back to the auditorium to explain and retry my audition piece with my spit valve repair in place.


But then I thought of the smirks, the giggles and laughter and Miss Ellis’s condescending remarks.  I put my rented horn in its case and walked home.


I did not reapply to join the Watchung School Band.  I gave up the trumpet and dreams of becoming the next Louis Armstrong.


June 30, 2019



Patsy’s and the Allure of New York:

Bringing in the ‘60s

by David Appleton - 12-31-2018


Growing up in Montclair in the 1950s meant looking forward to the time we could drink with impunity as “grown ups.”  This was not a good goal, nevertheless many of us aspired to it.  This was much like the appeal of drugs to our current youth, seeking oblivion or escape from the pain of adolescence.  For us drinking looked like being an adult, so we emulated maturity with booze.  Drinking age in New Jersey in the 50s was 21, while in New York it was 18. Montclair was situated conveniently about 17 miles from New York City and about the same distance from Greenwood Lake, New York.


Starting at about 14 many of us thought drinking to intoxication would be a good thing to do, a short course to oblivion, pain relief and/or our perception of adult behavior, a rite of passage of sorts.  Some of us started raiding our parents liquor cabinets for a quick buzz or high.  I did this before winter ice skating evenings on Edgemont Pond, thinking a short snort would fortify me against the cold, and loosen my inhibitions regarding talking to girls.  As for the former it had the opposite effect; and I don’t think it helped with the latter either. We also looked east or north to the less restrictive laws of NY State.  I was in both groups, regrettably.  New York City was an urban prize for aspiring drunks.  Greenwood Lake offered a more rustic setting.  Both were frequented with enthusiasm by me and many of my cohorts. 


Patsy’s, actually The Coliseum Bar and Grill situated directly across West 58th street from the Coliseum, somehow became the watering hole of choice for generations of Montclair High School imbibers. Perhaps this was because the duty barkeeper seldom asked for proof of age.  I remember being taken there by some upper classmen when I was maybe 15 or 16.  I was promised there would be a floor show at midnight.  I was eager to see this, imagining scantily clad girls with alluring smiles and loose morals.  I was disappointed.  The “floor show” turned out to be a couple of smelly trash collectors dragging garbage cans filled with even more smelly contents noisily through the bar and out the front door to their truck.  They were on time.  It was midnight.  We drank the drink of choice at Patsy’s, 7&7s, to drown our disappointment.


Despite my disappointment I frequented Patsy’s many times over the next couple of years.  Rides back to Montclair were often scary to terrifying.  I remember one such with Alan Jacobus when I found myself trembling on the floor of the back seat of his car as he meandered through the Lincoln Tunnel, bashing wall to wall at 3 am.  I lay on the floor petrified, scared sober as we sped along route 3 passed the Rizzuto/Bara bowling alley.  We got home somehow and I found myself miraculously unscathed but in need of another pair of shorts. I prayed giving thanks.


So as December 31, 1959 drew near a bunch of us scheduled to graduate Montclair HS next June thought, “wouldn’t it be a great idea to watch the ball drop at Times Square IN Times Square?!”  Alternative destinations included Patsy’s and nearby Ames Billiard Parlor but we focused on Times Square and the traditional ball drop into the next decade, the ‘60s.


We hopped on a DeCamp bus in Upper Montclair and headed to NYC early that evening.  I can’t recall the entire entourage, but I know John Wharton, Bob Mills, Jack Hook and others were in attendance.  We were the somewhat less desirable members of the MHS graduating class social hierarchy.  But we were proud of our ability to consume liquor and beer in respectable quantities.  Once in the city we found a liquor store and bought some booze, no doubt of the rotgut variety since our taste was inadequate to poor.


Proceeding to Times Square we soon found the crowd oppressive and the whole situation not to our liking.  We resolved to leave.  By 11 pm 12/31/1959 we worked our way back to Port Authority Bus Terminal and boarded the next DeCamp 66 bound for Montclair.  As the ‘60s rolled in on the East Coast of the United States and New Jersey, we celebrated in the back of that DeCamp bus, while crossing the fragrant meadows of Secaucus, swilling communally from bottles of rotgut whiskey and behaving badly.


Once home in Montclair Hook offered his mom’s apartment as a place to continue the party.  His mom was gone for the Holidays so the venue was available free of parental restraint.  We staggered there and spent the rest of the night drinking boastfully  …. and barfing furiously,  then resolving never again to pursue such destructive behavior.  These resolutions were not honored.


That Friday morning, 1/1/1960, we found ourselves severely hung-over, seeking remedies, finding none.  Thus began for me, perhaps for many of us, the most tempestuous decade of our lives, the ‘60s.  Was there a message, a meaning in this event?   …. I wonder.


David Appleton







David Appleton's story of how he became a Good Humor Man.

David first posted this story on Facebook's "Growin' Up in Montclair" site. It is a closed Group which you can join by going to:'+up+in+montclair+nj/keywords_search

David says, "This is a great place for us codgers to browse and reminisce."



Good Humor Man Career, May to July 1964

by David Appleton

My Good Humor Man Career was short but it provided some enjoyable and/or memorable mini adventures.  

I was inspired to become a Good Humor man by Horace, a black fellow from Newark, NJ who drove a Good Humor route in Montclair, NJ. He drove one of those classic Ford trucks with a four-speed stick transmission that made a lot of gear grinding noise going down the street, especially in first gear. 

There was no roof over the cab of these white trucks which featured a large freezer on the back with two refrigerator-like doors, one in the back and one on the right side. We filled this cold box with various Good Humor popsicles and ice cream treats. As a kid, I loved Good Humor …. toasted almond was my favorite. I remember Horace visiting Woodman Field after football practice 1957-60 when I pretended to play both offensive defensive end and sometimes linebacker for Montclair High School. Mostly I warmed the bench. I devoured toasted almond ice cream popsicles on my walk home from practice.

These Good Humor trucks also featured a set of bells on the front which the driver would ring with a rope lead to the driver position. These bells provoked a Pavlovian response from  neighborhood kids as Horace cruised by slowly, bells a-ringing, stopping at regular spots so the kids could purchase Horace’s GH treats. Kids flocked to the street like ducks chasing bread crumbs on Edgemont Pond!

Horace became something of a local hero in Montclair. He often visited Zeevalk’s Sunoco on Valley Road in Upper Montclair, about a half block down the street from Bond's famous ice cream parlor. He’d come in, bells a-ringing, about 7:00 or 7:30 on spring and summer evenings in ’60 through ‘64. I often would be working the pumps at Zeevalk’s when Horace stopped by. I worked there evenings for a couple of years. And usually we had a bunch of my friends or other Zeevalk aficionados hanging around working on their cars and tellin’ lies. We occasionally bought a popsicle but we were more interested in the freezer on the back his truck.

Since Horace was in his twenties, and he could legally buy beer and other goodies in New Jersey, we enlisted his aid. We (all 18 or less seeking suds) recruited him, giving him some money, enough for a case of beer or two plus an extra few bucks for a “runner” fee. Horace would drive off to the nearby liquor store, buy our order and return with this contraband cooling in his freezer which we denizens of Zeevalk's promptly transferred to the soda vending machine. This routine was limited to Friday nights and weekends mostly.

This went on for several years. Horace was exceptionally reliable, and well rewarded. I left college in June 1961 and worked at Zeevalk’s on and off  from then through July 1964 part time, mostly evenings and weekends. During Fall ’61 I worked for Union Carbide in New York during the day. And at night I got off the 66 DeCamp bus in Upper Montclair near Zeevalk’s at about 6:00 and ran down Valley Road exchanging my white shirt and tie for a Sunoco shirt to work the evening shift at Zeevalk’s pumps until about 10 pm. Horace was always a welcome visitor during the summer months.

In January of ’62, I had enrolled in college again locally but still worked at Zeevalk’s to help pay tuition while living at home. I bought a ’49 Willy’s Jeep and plowed snow to augment my income. But my 2nd attempt at college did not work out well. I was asked to leave after spring semester of ’64 due to academic underperformance.

At this point, I was at 6’s and 7’s not knowing what to do next. I thought of Horace.

So I asked Horace about becoming a Good Humor man and he gave me some advice, which I followed. I went to the Newark office on my ’63 Honda 305 SuperHawk motorcycle and filled out the application. And in May of 1964, I became a Good Humor driver/vender, shortly after being asked to terminate my college career by the Administration. I went through the training and soon had my own classic Good Humor truck and route.

Actually I had several routes, mostly in Weehawken and Jersey City. I liked the Jersey City route best because it was the most lucrative. But mostly I was assigned to the Weehawken territory, which covered some of West New York as well. This soon became My Route on the Palisades overlooking the Hudson.

While Weehawken didn’t pay as well as Jersey City (which actually belonged to a GH perennial, Jake, who lived in Florida during the winter but returned to Newark every year for the Good Humor Season) I was just a sub for his days off. So I settled for Weehawken which offered Hamilton Park (named for Alexander Hamilton and the famous duel) on the NJ Palisades directly above the Lincoln Tunnel. What a marvelous view of the Hudson River and New York City this site offered. This was a great place to park my truck and enjoy the view while peddling my wares.

I spent most of my time in Weehawken stationed in or near this park, high on the Palisades over the river. I loved the view of the New York Harbor and enjoyed working the park every day. I watched the ships come and go, even seeing the Queen Mary arrive and dock and depart. I have always been enamored of the sea and the vessels that sail thereon. Watching these ships stirred my soul.

On the weekend celebration of the 4th of July in 1964, I watched the annual arrival of the US Navy ships for Fleet Week. This spectacle was really impressive; the USS Forrestal (?), a couple of cruisers and a bunch of destroyers arrived and docked. I was stirred. I determined to join the Navy which I did 7/27/1964.  But that’s another story.

Often in Weehawkin I’d do the Horace trick and stop by a liquor store to pick up a six pack of Bud or Schaefer and a sub for lunch and throw them in the fridge of my truck and enjoy a nice lunch and brew in the park while contemplating the NYC skyline.  Looking back, these seem truly halcyon days.

But it wasn’t all pleasant. The drive from the Good Humor base in Newark to Weehawken and back was long and stressful. And the ride to Newark from my home in Montclair on my Honda 305 Super Hawk motorcycle was not without challenge. I rode to work for about an hour in the morning ending up in the bowels of Newark at 9:30 am.  Then I’d get to my truck, check out my Good Humors and load up. Then I’d head out to Weehawken. 

At the end of the day, say 7 or 9 pm, I’d head back to the Newark base to check in, count up my receipts, then head home at about 11 pm and to bed sometime after midnight. It was a long tiring day. 

My Good Humor career was not lucrative. We Humor sales folk had to buy all we carried on the truck. So we had to account for all the items we signed for at the Newark GH headquarters. Well, when I ended my career in July of 1964, I found I was something like $40 short, meaning I owed Good Humor $40 because I had not accounted for all the popsicles I had drawn.

I attribute this shortage to the excessive number of  “Nickel Whammy Sticks” I gave away. Whammy Sticks were a half a double stick popsicle which a kid could buy for 5 or 10 cents. I had a lot of kids answer my GH bells with no money but wearing a cute smile on a dirty face and I’d say, “OK kid. Here’s a Whammy Stick!”  Apparently I did this far too often. And I probably enjoyed more than several toasted almond Good Humors for dessert during this time. This combined with my lack of math skills accounted for the money I had to pay Good Humor on my severance in late July.

The drive from the Good Humor base in Newark to Weehawken was long and stressful.  So was the drive back to Newark. But the drive home on my motorcycle was the most stressful. Usually this happened around after 11 p.m. or so.

My most memorable home-bound ride on my Honda 305 Superhawk happened mid-July when I collided with a car deep in Newark, not far from the Good Humor base. Riding slowly through the city streets I heard a horn barking frantically as I approached a green light (mine) intersection at under 20 mph. A car flashed through the crossing in front of me.  

I swerved left to avoid a collision but failed. My bike struck the rear quarter of the car and stopped dead… I continued flight over the trunk of the car somersaulting onto the street head first, fortunately helmeted, and found myself seated in the middle of the intersection bewildered. The car continued on with no thought of stopping until a bunch of residents taking the evening air on their stoops jumped out in the street to stop the car. The horn continued to beep.

This happened in a predominantly unsavory neighborhood at midnight and I was scared. But the cops arrived and took information, most of which I forget, but my street had the green light so I was not at fault.

But there I was in Newark at midnight with my ride broken. Just then a big black guy rode up on a huge rumbling Harley Hog sayin’,  “What’s happenin,’ Bro?”  I pointed at my Honda’s twisted fork in despair. He dismounted, put the front wheel of my bike between his knees, grabbed the handle bars … and wrestled the fork back into line.  “There!” he said, remounted, and rode off.

My faith in human decency and brotherhood enjoyed a strong boost. I was able to ride home and shortly thereafter, threated with the draft, I quit Good Humor to join the Navy.

At the end of the month I found myself in USN Boot Camp in North Chicago, IL where I learned of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution passed on August 7, 1964. I was in for the duration and not in good humor.

David Appleton, June 2018