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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Valley Forge or Bust- Clif Brown's 1939 Class Trip

Our Blog buddy, Clif Brown from Arizona, sent me a 1939 photo he recently found of his 8th grade New Gretna Grammar School class trip to Valley Forge, Pa. He also enclosed a brief story of his recollections of the trip.

Clif's memory is amazing! Not only does he remember the bus driver's name but, also, the owner of the bus and even the bus manufacturer. I can't even remember to tie my shoes some days.

Time and inflation sure marches on. Clif was able to buy a candy bar for a nickle. I can't think of anything you can buy for a nickle, today? What's the last thing you can remember that you bought for a nickle? And how long ago was that?

1939 New Gretna Grammar School Class Trip

Seventy years ago on June 9, 1939 the 8th grade class of New Gretna Grammar School at 7:30 AM departed for a visit to historic Valley Forge, Pa. Then on to the Franklin Institute and Zoo located in Philadelphia, Pa. As I remember it was a beautiful June day. Departed from home with a brown bag full of goodies to eat and share with my classmates, and in my pocket two dollars to spend as I saw fit. Life couldn't get better. The trip was sponsored by the P.T.A. and included students from the grades 7 & 6.

We didn't have to wait for anyone and departed as scheduled with the school bus being driven by John Bozarth. I believe Milton Cramer (Photo on right as a young man) had the bus contract and the manufacture was REO. Taking Hammonton road passing through Wading River, Green Bank, Basto, turning right on the White Horse Pike, around the Camden airport circle, Admiral Wilson Blvd. across the Ben Franklin bridge up Vine St. got a glimpse of William Penn at top of City Hall and along the Schuykill river to our destination.

Unlike the present time Valley Forge was under the control of the Pennsylvania Parks Department and it was more of a picnic area, but it did have some historic buildings, Washington Headquarters, replica of huts used by revolutionary soldiers, cannons, a tower which you could climb for a view located on a hill surrounded by picnic tables were we ate our lunch. Trying to imagine conditions during that winter was difficult. Sitting on the tables we were approached by a park ranger who inquired where are you from? We replied! New Gretna, NJ. Then he proceeded to inform us that "tables are for glasses not asses" therefore remove yourselves, which we did rapidly. I haven't sat on top of a picnic table since.

Cannon at the picnic grounds at Valley Forge. Elsie Smith (teacher - center), John Bozarth (the bus driver sitting on right wheel). Students: Robert Crompton, Clif Brown, Jackie Clark, and Harold Sears. I'm not sure regarding the order, but I believe it may be from left to right. (June 15, 1939 photo courtesy of Clif Brown.)

Luckily it was time to leave for the Franklin Institute. As we entered a large area was roped off with canvas draped from ceiling to floor. Taking a peek, a large statue of Ben Franklin was inside which was to be dedicated at the coming 4th of July celebration and which is still there today. Many interesting exhibits and experiments were available which were hands on friendly. In the basement were larger exhibits and one that caught my eye was a gigantic Baldwin locomotive. We were allowed to climb in the cab and a attendant garbed as a railroad engineer explained the many gauges, valves and etc. I was standing in front, he spun me around and said to the group "Met Casey Jones" put my hands on the throttle and the locomotive started move. Wow! What an experience.

On to the Zoo. It was my first exposure to captive wild animals, except Frank Bucks Wild Animal Show on the boardwalk pier in Atlantic City. As I remember all the animals were caged and not displayed in open areas as they are today. It wasn't as thrilling as I expected.

Time to head home, all had a full day, stopping only for a rest stop outside of Hammonton and spending my last nickel for a candy bar. We came to life after crossing the Wading River. Someone started singing "Merrily we roll along" and as the bus stopped to discharge a classmate they were serenaded with "Goodbyes".

Clif Brown

I didn't go to school in New Gretna, but Clif's story brought back some fond memories for me. My 7th grade class trip in 1956 (I went to school in North Brunswick, N.J.) was also to Valley Forge. That sure was a popular trip throughout the years. I wonder how many others out in the Blog-O-Sphere also made a class trip to Valley Forge? I also took class trips to the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Zoo, but not all on the same day as in Clif's experience.

The Valley Forge photo also tells you something about the New Gretna School in the 1930's and 1940's . . . Class sizes were small. Cliff's 8th grade graduating class (Students then went to Tuckerton High School) was only four students. We sure don't see that any more.

Pete S

PS- Anyone out there in the Blog-O-Sphere have Elsie Smith as a teacher. If so, you must have an interesting memory or two. Let's hear from you.

PPS- Yesterday was Blog reader, David Altscher's birthday. David wrote an article for the August, 2001 Bass River Gazette about his family moving, in the early 1950's when he was a small boy, from a small basement apartment in New York City to a chicken farm in New Gretna where he grew up. You can read the article on page 4 of the Web Link below:

Happy birthday, David!


  1. Hi Pete: I clicked on the web link for the August 2001 Gazette and read it through. On page 8, lower left corner there is a photo of two boys: Les Robbins and Jack Mathis. I'm curious, is that my Uncle Jack Mathis? Is there any way to find out? I have no pictures of him at that age. Thanks
    Beverly Mathis Robinson

  2. Beverly,

    Sorry, but it's a different Jack Mathis. The Jack Mathis in the photo with Les Robbins is the son of Zeb and Bess Mathis. The Jack Mathis who is related to you is the son of Eugene "Booter" & Stella Mathis.

    Pete S