Doug Stark (50s – 60s)

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The following memories of Sodus Point are from Doug Stark who visited Sodus Point many years ago. He now lives in Niceville on the  Florida Panhandle by Choctawhatchee Bay.


My first memory of Sodus was traveling in springtime with my Grandfather and the entire family out to Sodus from Penfield for a day in his two-tone Hudson Hornet. We went out to Sand Point to drive the loop, but the road was closed because the lake was high and the road was flooded. We then went to eat at the Normandy Inn that I believe was on old route 104 on the south side of the bay. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was totally impressed by how fancy the place was because there was a harp player entertaining the diners.


I also recall my dad renting a skiff from Arney’s in 1952 and mounting our 51/2 HP Johnson outboard on the stern as we went fishing on a chilly, windy, and overcast fall day. The usual prevailing westerly wind was kicking up small white caps as the freighter at the coal trestle had smoke billowing from its stack as it got ready to get underway. It was a long, cold and wet trip back to Arney’s from Newark and Eagle Islands.


In the early 1960s my dad had a cabin cruiser that he kept at Sills. For me, a real highlight of our weekend overnight stays on the boat was my getting an invitation from old Captain Sill to go out on the tugboat Agnes H. and turn a big freighter around the trestle. Mr. Sill and his engineer down below in the engine room were the only two on board except for me. I could roam the deck after the initial approach when the big tug would actually bounce off the freighter before settling in to push. If I got on the rear deck when Captain Sill rang for full power to turn the freighter in the often high winds, I could hear stones picked up off the bottom of the bay hitting the hull as the huge prop dug in and created a massive wash behind us. It was slow pushing, the entire tug shuddered, the big diesel roared and we went virtually nowhere for minutes before the freighter began to be winched around the trestle. The coal dust would sting exposed flesh like needles if the wind was high and it was raining. The big brass spotlight on the wheelhouse roof would light the operation since I only got to go out at night when our boat was at the dock. Getting out of my berth to go in the middle of the night was not a problem because few people could sleep through the coal loading process. The coal being dumped from the railroad cars made a clatter and rumble that could wake the dead. Of course all the canvas and decks on all the boats in the marina were covered in coal dust if the wind was out of the south.


Another vivid memory was walking up past the malthouse and customs house to the rail yard’s restaurant (This restaurant was called the “Railroad Y”). It was in an unmarked and unpainted two story building that was pretty much the color of coal dust.

If you were not local, you would never know that it was there because the trade was mostly walk-in from the train crews, Inside it had green and somewhat white/gray linoleum flooring that had seen better days. The lunch and dinner counter could handle the train crews that worked around the clock. The crews would come in literally covered in dust to grab some of the great wholesome homemade food that was prepared by local ladies who worked as the cooks. It was the best and the prices were dirt cheap. The seasonal apple and berry pies could not be beat anywhere. Some of the ladies who cooked even sold custom embroidered pillow cases for $1 or $2 depending upon how fancy you wanted the design. When you walked in regardless of the hour, it always felt like going home.


When I got older I had a job doing the external audit of the Genessee Brewing Company. One year I got to take inventory at the malthouse grain elevators. It was another Sodus Point experience that I will never forget. To find out how much grain is in the elevator, someone had to ride to the top on what was called a “man lift”. It was essentially a vertical conveyor belt with rungs to hold on to and stand on. It was tricky because I had to carry a clipboard and it was necessary for someone to pull a rope that was next to the belt when you wanted to stop the belt at the top. If the belt failed to stop to allow jumping off, a person could go over the top and start descending upside-down. OSHA had not approved this very tall and very old lift. It was pretty scary if you were not used to it. At the top there was a hatch where you could get on the roof and get a spectacular but windy view of the entire bay. To measure the grain level in the elevator a lead line was gently lowered to see how full the silo was. If the lead was lowered too fast, it would just sink right into the grain giving a false reading. A volume calculation was then computed to check the calculation of what should have been in the silo from the net in and out truck deliveries since the last time it was empty.


Hope you are enjoying, or soon will be enjoy iceboating on the bay. As I recall those were really fast and exciting trips down the bay if the conditions were right.


Thanks for triggering my recollections of one of the greatest places to live and visit.