The Cabin John Gardens truck

The blankety-blank computer crashed when I was nearly finished writing this tale.  Everything was gone.  The entire post, all three witticisms, and a glimmer of insight.  Gone.  Created a mental block.  Soon, though, I will retell the tale and perhaps uncork the flow.  I even checked the version history–no joy.

Two years later (so much for “soon”!)…

So: I grew up in a community called Cabin John Gardens in Cabin John, Maryland.  The Gardens was a cooperative that my Dad helped organize.  The history was that the Gardens–100 houses on some 18 acres–had been government-owned worker housing, built during WW II for the Navy’s David Taylor Model Basin up the road at Carderock, MD.  In the early Fifties Dad had a job at the Model Basin when the government decided to sell the property to a developer who would tear down the houses and build apartments.  Dad worked with many of the workers living in those houses, and became one of the leaders of a Co-op formed to bid on the property  (Dad, with a Master’s degree in Naval Architecture, was probably the best-educated person in the mostly blue-collar workforce affected).  The Co-op was successful; each of 100 members owned one share, and the right to live in one house.  There was a monthly Co-op fee to cover debt service and operations; I think it was around $130/month when I was little).

The neighborhood, just south of MacArthur Blvd (formerly Conduit Rd) and just west of the Cabin John Union Arch bridge over Cabin John Creek, was on the site of what had been a classy hotel back in the day (starting in the 1850s).  The resort had some well-known Gardens–hence the name of the Co-op.  The Gardens was a little cut off from the rest of Cabin John (the township); most of the town was north of MacArthur and closer to the Model Basic.  There was a Community Center in the Gardens and a lot of community spirit.  People helped each other out, watched each others’ houses and kids, did things together (singing carols, shoveling snow, celebrating the Fourth, and so on).  The community center had a social hall, a kitchen, and a workshop with some power tools and workbenches.  The houses were tiny: 2- and 3-bedroom ramblers, no garages: so the workshop provided a place for activities that basements and garages support in other communities.  (One Christmas season we helped a neighbor construct a model train layout on some 4×8 sheets of plywood.)

There was one resident with a truck that was available for community use.  (I speculate that the Co-op either bought  the truck, or provided the owner with rent relief; but I don’t know.)  It was an old black pickup and it served many uses.

My brother Guy and I were paperboys in the Sixties, Guy delivering the Washington Post while I carried the Evening Star.  So we knew how newspapers got into the Gardens.  The truck was involved in getting them out.  During the Sixties Gardens families saved paper for recycling.  (The Co-op contracted for trash removal and probably paid by the ton.)  There was a place in Washington DC (in Georgetown, I think) that bought newspapers, and the Co-op figured it was better to make money than to pay money to discard it.  Every so often, on Saturdays, some adult drove the truck with 3-5 boys around the Gardens to pick up used newspapers.  (Guy and I were often in that crew–we lived across the street from the truck’s usual parking spot.)  We’d start off riding in the truck-bed, and ride on top of the cargo as the truck filled up.

This was long before bungee cords; we boys served as the restraints holding the paper from blowing in the wind.  Once the truck neared full, we’d hold the truck sides and each other to stay on top of the job (so to speak).  When the pickup was complete (not long; just a hundred houses) the truck would head for the dropoff–with boys still holding the paper down in the pickup bed.  I still don’t know why that seemed like a good idea, but it made sense at the time.  Thrilling and a bit scary; the drivers did not always know the way and there were occasional U-turns to get to missed turnoffs.  We’d ride to the collection point; the truck would be weighed (with crew) and we’d unload the paper; a second weighing provided the net weight and the driver collected the cash for the load.  We’d head home; I think we usually stopped at High’s in Glen Echo for ice cream cones on the way back.

The truck was often used for hauling building materials to families doing renovations.  And Dad used it to haul dirt.

We lived on a corner lot (Ericsson Rd and Froude Circle) and, on the Froude Circle side, the land sloped down from the house to the street.  Dad decided to level the yard, which required a retaining wall about three feet high at the lowest point.  And it required a lot of dirt to fill in the slope.  As it happened, the Navy owned some land on Brickyard Road near the Model Basin and were clearing it for construction–and they invited workers to haul away the fill.  So Guy and I, perhaps my brother Lou as well, would get shovels, climb in the truck, and head out to the site.  There we’d fill up the truck bed, Dad would check that we weren’t overloading the suspension, and we’d head home.

We kids were a little sorry to see that property cleared; up till then we’d used it as our Christmas tree hunting ground.  The trees were all scraggly, so we’d bring home two or three and let Mom pick the best-looking one.  But that’s another story.

We gradually got the yard leveled.  Dad showed us how to use a string-level to measure the surface and maintain a reliable slope for drainage.    Even left a trench for a pipe to carry downspout runoff to the street.  I don’t recall how Dad made sure the retaining wall was sturdy, but when I drove past decades later it was still in place.  (Dad’s father was a self-employed building contractor working throughout the mid-West, and Dad said he learned his construction skills from accompanying his dad.)

That community truck made a lot of trips–and a lot of memories.

One thought on “The Cabin John Gardens truck

  1. Thanks for the comment. I have a number of other items (previous ramblings) to add before I start trying to publicize it, but I plan for that time to come.

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