Tube City Almanac

April 13, 2009

Have You Seen Hammer Chuck?

Category: Another Viewpoint, Commentary/Editorial || By Windy

Editor's Note: Alert Reader "Windy" posted this story in the comments below. I'm promoting it to the front page so that more people read it. -- Jason

. . .

By "Windy"

Have you seen Hammer Chuck?

We ran into him around four miles outside Boston Sunday afternoon on our way back from a 45-mile ride to Van Meter, scene of the great Darr Mine disaster of 1907. You know the one.

Chuck said he hasn't been out much yet because he's been working the fish fries at, what, St. Stephen's, a couple miles off Walnut Street? I think that's what he said.

His wife prefers the sandwiches at St. Stephen's to the ones at Greenock fire hall, even though Greenock breads all their fish by hand, he said. Chuck lives just a couple miles outside Boston and he's a legend among people who use the Yough Trail.

Did I tell you how I met Hammer Chuck? About five years ago, I was biking along the trail just outside Sutersville. From the corner of my eye, I could see a recumbent pulling around me.

I pedaled harder. The recumbent kept right on coming. I pedaled harder still. Pretty soon, my legs ached and I was breaking a sweat as the other bike slid right past me, like ringing a bell. Just that simple.

"Hiya doin'?" the guy on the banana yellow recumbent smiled as he eased past me. I don't remember answering him.

I was so mad, embarrassed, really. This guy was just walked right around me, even though I was pedaling as hard as I could. Never even got his name.

At Sutersville, I pulled off for ice cream and ran into a woman I'd met a few weeks earlier at a poetry reading. Little could I then imagine she would be my wife four years later.

"This old guy just blew me off the trail," I said. "Banana yellow recumbent --- I'm so pissed!"

Overhearing me, another woman in line at the time said, "Oh yeah. That's Hammer Chuck. He's my neighbor. He's 70 years old."

Well, I felt like crawling under one of those picnic tables right there in the back of the soft-serve.

Chuck laughed when I told him the story Sunday afternoon as we pedaled in the cool sun. He was coming from the old Dravo cemetery where he was helping clear a field for future campers. I sure liked to go fast sometimes, he chuckled.

One morning, Chuck said he left Boston at 6:30 a.m., biked to Confluence where he stayed for half an hour, then biked back to Boston by 7:30 p.m. Connellsville, which is an 80-mile round trip, was a regular ride for him on that signature bike.

And everybody knows Chuck. "When you're at work during the week, Hammer Chuck is out biking on the trail," the owner of one bike shop told me. He was probably right. Nobody could beat the guy.

Just that morning, Chuck said he met seven teachers from Connecticut who were on the trail, headed for Washington D.C. The teachers were amazed by the beauty of the trail and couldn't believe Our Fair City didn't do anything to promote it. Not many locals know about the trail, I told Chuck, not even local bloggers.

My first encounter with Chuck was the same day I met my future wife, I told Chuck, who pulled off with us at Boston.

Chuck told us he'd been married 56 years --- as long as I've been alive, I told him. His wife has heart troubles and takes fish oil tablets. My wife suggested that Chuck try the fish oil for its anti-inflammatory properties. It might help his knees and fingers, she said.

"It's great to see you guys so happy," Chuck said. "That makes me feel good."

We said our good-byes, and Hammer Chuck rode off for home. We stowed our bike on our car and beat it home, too, chilled but thrilled to have spent some time with the great Hammer Chuck.

Your Comments are Welcome!

Van Meter? WOW!

I have cousin’s there to this day and spent many hours fishin’ the Yough and hangin’ out in that tiny little “lower coulter” – like hamlet.

I guess the mine tragedy had natioanl publicity in its day. The sign still stands commemorating it.

Good dig!

Paul "Sluggo" Shelly Jr. (URL) - April 15, 2009

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