Originally published on the Money & More page of the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Tuesday, December 27, 2011.
By LAUREN BOYER
Daily Record/Sunday News
In the midst of the Christmas rush, I found myself face-to-face with the opposite as I traveled down Route 616 toward Seven Valleys with just the radio, my iPad and a travel mug full of hot chocolate.
It was Wednesday. A week earlier, I’d gotten a call from 81-year-old William Garman. He remembered a column I wrote in October about a meet-and-greet with bluegrass legend Del McCoury’s brother and other characters who frequent the Papertown Restaurant and Dairy Bar in his town of Spring Grove.
Garman, a P.H. Glatfelter Company retiree, invited me to his Codorus Township hangout – though he hinted at its unconventional appearance.
By the time I got to Shaffers Church Road, the sparse signs of civilization began to speak for themselves.
No strip malls.
Not even a gas station.
It’s a dying species of Americana with a 91-year-old’s woodworking shop nestled in the middle. And it didn’t look like much – Earl Thoman’s white and green shed at the corner of Cherry Run Road surrounded by cars and pickups parked in the grass.
Inside, a sheet of tan carpet partially masked the concrete floor where 16 men sat in a circle of mismatched couches and recliners around a double-barrel woodstove. It reminded me a bit of the fraternities I used to hang out at in college – minus the beer and the arrogant idiots.
I introduced myself to this aging brotherhood of baseball caps, gray hair and flannel as the man of the hour was making a slow entrance, his cane tapping against the unfinished floor.
“I look forward to this every week,” said Earl, taking a seat in the corner. “This is a regular Wednesday meeting if the snow isn’t too deep.”
The tradition started in 1986, after he retired from farming. Over time, members have come and gone.
Earl lives next to the shop with his wife Evelyn, who has dementia. The two will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary next year.
Like the others, Earl is a lifelong York County resident, aside from a stint with the U.S. Army’s 104th Infantry Division in World War II.
And that’s a story he eagerly told. Originally, his 160-pound frame was assigned to fly as a tailgunner in a B-29 bomber, he said.
“I told them to kiss my behind,” he added. “My feet feel better on the ground.”
After the war, Earl safely re´ turned to Codorus Township and bought 73 acres of farmland from his father near where Clyde Bolen would later build the Bowling Green Speedway stock-car race´ track.
The track was in operation from 1952-56.
Earl purchased the bankrupt track in 1973 and farmed the infield with soybeans, wheat and corn.
This is what I didn’t understand. A racetrack? In the middle of this rural paradise?
J.D. “John Deere” Martin could sense my interest. He took me for a spin down Shaffers Church Road. “See that farm right there?” the 67-year-old pointed out. “That’s where I got my wife.” Just beyond Bowling Green’s commemorative marker was a barely visible half-mile clay oval, a shadow of the former track that’s still very much alive in the mem´ ories of people like Eugene Good´ ling.
I watched as the 75-year-old pulled a vintage baseball-style card of himself from his wallet. Goodling competed at Bowling Green before a 1964 crash at Sus´ quehanna Speedway that knocked him out of racing for good.
Mike Thoman, Earl’s nephew, ran back to his house to get some photos of the old track. At 57, he barely qualifies as a social member of the Wednesday morning gang.
“That’s why I come here,” he said, pointing to a photo of a twisted guardrail. “For the history.”
For others, it’s the community. The conversation. The homemade cookies and coffee that stays hot until noon.
I stayed just long enough in that plain old shed to realize that – even in this season of materialism – frills don’t make a community.
It’s about friends, food and the four walls you put them in.