OBERNBERG, NY — “I thought this was going to be a goldmine,” said 86-year-old Jim Greier, who at the age of 19 approaching 20, decided he was going to strike it rich by setting up a …
OBERNBERG, NY — “I thought this was going to be a goldmine,” said 86-year-old Jim Greier, who at the age of 19 approaching 20, decided he was going to strike it rich by setting up a hotdog stand along the racecourse of the June 26 to 28, 1953 Sullivan County Races.
The Greier’s farm in Obernberg, NY was located a stone’s throw from the road leading to Fremont Center, just after the cars made a sharp righthand turn from Schaferzek Corners on the 8.5-mile circuit. So, they got up early on the morning of the races to mow a hayfield into a parking lot before erecting a homebuilt hotdog concession.
This sports scribbler recently sat down with Jim Greier and his wife, Rita, and he recalled that his hotdogs were priced at “25 cents or so... hamburgers were 50 cents, maybe... and a dollar to park.” They also sold ice-cold sodas, but beer wasn’t on the menu.
“Everything was cheap back then,” he added of the roadside enterprise, noting that business wasn’t exactly the greatest as most of the spectators were down in Fremont Center.
Asked what it was like to watch the race, Greier replied, “It was a real thrill to see it, especially the cars coming around the bends, cars bumper to bumper on the road here. They were whizzing by.”
While Greier was busy selling dogs and burgers, his father, Charles F. , was pursuing his passion for documenting just about everything in sight with his movie camera, including shots of what would become known in local lore as the Great Sullivan County Sport Car Race of 1953.
Fast forward a few years—decades, actually—and Rita Greier decided it was high time to convert her father-in-law’s movies into digitized clips for the enjoyment of future generations of the Greier clan.
“Dad made many, many films and they were in a box, so we sent them to Paul Gerry (a noted area photographer) to put them on a videotape as a surprise Christmas gift to Jim. There were rolls and rolls of film in a box, and he didn’t try to organize them... just kept feeding them in so you’d be looking at a picture of going into the Army, and the next would be of him in his crib,” said Rita, adding that several of the film shorts were of the local road race.
“I took the videotapes and started editing them, and became a Frankenstein computer monster,” she said of the daunting task of putting all the clips into chronological order. “[I] edited out the upside-down ones and the impossible to see ones and came up with two DVDs titled “July & Winter” and “July & Winter II.”
One of the highlights of these discs is moving pictures of the sports cars preserved for all time, as images of Jaguars, MGs, Porsches and a few rarer marques flicker from one frame to the next.
According to Rita, when she and her husband read a previous article published in the River Reporter about the Sullivan County Sport Car Races, she said to herself, “I know I have clips of the race in all mish-mosh,” and decided to call the local newspaper with the tip of the day.
As we talked about the sports car race, the Greiers took a few roads less traveled in time to share a lot of personal history and insights about living in a history-rich corner of rural America, the tiny hamlets of Obernberg and Fremont Center, NY.
Jim Greier was born in Queens, NY as the son of a cop stationed in Bayside, back when a lot of the side streets in their neighborhood were still dirt. He recalled coming upstate with his mom, who helped his grandmother run Broadway Cottage, a local boarding house in Fremont Center.
Greier’s grandmother came over to New York City on a sailing ship by herself, and as an adventuresome, non-English-speaking 14-year-old in search of a future in America, took a train to Callicoon, and later a stagecoach all way out to Roscoe, NY.
Reflecting on the passage of time and the evolution of generations, Greier said, “Kids today couldn’t visualize anything like that.”
All through high school, Greier lived with his grandparents on a farm in Obernberg, “I was accepted to farm life, being up here in the summer... growing up on a farm without electricity. And when they finally put electricity in, we had one outlet, and that was in the kitchen to run the washing machine.”
“He came from what she’d call a divided family, part in the city and part up here,” said Rita of Jim’s early upbringing, to which Jim added, “When I was 8 or 9 years old, my uncle would put us on a train in Callicoon with a tag around my neck, and my father would meet me in the city.”
Coming back upstate, the conductor got used to coming down the aisle of the passenger car and telling the youngster, “You’ve got to get off at the next stop after Cochecton.”
As we talked, Greier nodded towards in the direction of the Obernberg Road, just down their driveway past the old farmhouse, and said, “I remember, one year, this road was closed all winter... a horse and sleigh all the milk from the farmers down to Fremont Center to meet the truck, because nobody could get through.
“Now, if the road isn’t plowed by eight in the morning, they’ll get a lot of calls,” added the former town supervisor.
These days, Jim and Rita live on what started out as a 160-acre farm bought in 1901 by his grandfather, Anthony A. Temple, to which, over the years, Greier has added more landholdings.
As a youngster, he attended church at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, and today, the couple lives in the old church’s schoolhouse annex, which was built next to the house of worship in 1861.
In 1951, Jim Greier graduated from Delaware Valley Central School as part of the last class to attend the 1908 school in Callicoon.
“The principal was Charles Lewis, and he was at the top of the stairs every morning, watching every kid come in, and didn’t take any nonsense,” he recalled.
After high school, he was hired at Otto Bowers machine shop, where he quickly advanced to the position of foreman of the day shift, making parts for rifles used during the Korean War.
A bit later in time, Jim and Rita opened up the famous Little Texas Ranch on the property, operating it from 1961 to 1987. It featured more than a few frothy brews; the Haylofters, a locally renowned country and western band; and a group called Denver Don and the Trail Dusters, made up of Don Knapp, his brother, Karl, and Jake Turner, who worked as technicians for Cablevision pioneer, Allen Gerry.
“Allen used to come over to the ranch every Saturday night, his brother Paul, along with a whole crew of workers, and Paul used to get up on the stage as a guest and play his banjo and sing,” recalled Rita Greier
Obernberg has a long history in the area: the Beyern Brew Company, run by J. Mueller as the first brewery in the county, and what was called the Obernberg Picnic, “Also known as the Dutchtown Picnic, was shut down when Prohibition came into effect.”
Speaking of the picnic, Greier said, “It was the biggest event in all Sullivan County at that time. My grandfather told me there were wagons, horses and people all over the place... came to the Obernberg Picnic. It lasted a couple of days.”
“My grandfather lived until he was 94,” said Greier. “He was a rugged man, and his father was one of the first settles up in Shandelee. He was the second oldest in the family and lived in a log cabin.”
Thinking back on his ancestral linage, Greier said of his forebearers, “If it wasn’t for the mountain men and a few Indians, they would have starved to death, because they came from civilization in Bavaria.”
As we sat at that table, with sun-dappled rays of light filtering past the porch windows, talking with the Greiers about the Great Sullivan County Sport Car Races, our discussion down the sideroads of memory made a sharp turn into the joys of street racing.
The Year of 1953 also marked the time when a couple of local lads bought their first new set of wheels, ‘53 Chevrolets.
“Ronny Gorr and I each bought [a] new 1953 Chevy on the same day for $1,650 each,” recollected Greier. “Mine was a light blue two-door, and I later traded it at Roches’ for a ‘55 Pontiac.”
Now that that the statute of limitations is hopefully long past images in the rearview mirror, Greier said, “We used to race from Wayne’s Ice Cream Parlor in Callicoon [a sponsor of the sports car races] to Main Street in Honesdale [PA] and back, and then sometimes along the first straight on Route 52 from Woodbourne to Ellenville, which used to be the ‘race track’ in the county.”
“Then when they started building the bypass on Route 17 at Liberty in Parksville, that was a good spot, too. We raced whatever we drove, including a ‘59 Chevy, the last new car I ever bought.”
As Greier reminisced about racing on local roads, this sports scribbler just couldn’t help himself: driving at speed in his first ride, a 1959 Jaguar XK-150 roadster, then his first new car, a 1964 Plymouth Sport Fury 426S with a factory four-speed Hurst, and later a series of Corvettes, and, painfully, a couple of speeding tickets.
That’s the stuff memories are made of, good stories to share. Not quite Route 66, but they’ll have to do.
This idea for this series started years ago, when the late Jack Niflot, a close friend, long-time newspaperman and founder of the Basket Creek Historical Society loaned me an original copy of the souvenir program of the Sullivan County Sport Car Races of June 26 to 28, 1953.
A word of thanks and acknowledgment to those folks who shared their recollections of the Sullivan County Sport Car Races of 1953, and to the wordsmiths who previously recorded the event for future generations.
So in conclusion, this one’s for you Jack. At bit past deadline, but I think you’ll understand.