The day I set Hi-Tor on fire

Recently the Significant Other came in one Sunday morning and asked, What are the two most memorable things that happened to you when you were a kid? It didnt take me long to remember. . .

When I was still quite young, the family moved north from New York City to Rockland County, on the west side of the Hudson River, just north of New Jersey. At that time, Rockland was "the country" -- it was nowhere near as built-up as it is now. We had some friends in Spring Valley that had a farm, and I used to go riding there.

Our first place in Rockland County was in Garnerville a small town about 10 minutes west of Haverstraw, known in older times for its brickyards. Stony Point is a few miles north, famous for the Battle of Stony Point during the Revolutionary War, and home of the late composer John Cage. Further north is Bear Mountain, where there is pretty good skiing in winter and a popular ski-jump competition. Even further north is the famous West Point military academy campus. It was here I made friends, went to elementary school, and later to Spring Valley, NY for high school.

I remember the day clearly. It was a hot summer Saturday. Tommy Lockhart and I had agreed to take a hiking trip to Hi-Tor, a high mountain that overlooks the town of Haverstraw and the Hudson River. You start out in Garnerville near Lo-Tor, a smaller mountain, and you hike a trail along the mountain ridge for about 2 hours to get to the bigger mountain.

We brought some hot dogs, matches, a couple of canteens of water, and other stuff like knives, cookies and general hiking gear that 14 year old kids would take on a hiking trip. After a long hike, we arrived at the peak of Hi-Tor, which is a grassy rocky area at the top of the mountain. In its center was a large metal radio beacon tower to warn planes.

Of course, if youve made the trip that far, there are two things to do: you sit in the Indian Chair, a rocky outgrowth that juts right out over a steep precipice on the side of the top of the mountain, and you climb up the tower to stand on the deck about 150 steps up the ladder, and enjoy the incredible view of Haverstraw and the Hudson River below.

the day I set Hi-Tor on fire

Town of Haverstraw and Hudson River as seen from the peak of Hi-Tor mountain

It had been a hot summer, and all the high grass on the mountain top was dry. We got our little fire going for our hot dogs, and decided to climb up the narrow metal stairway to the top of the radio tower. The day was clear and there were no clouds in the sky. It's an eery feeling, being at the top of a tower on a mountain top, with no sound at all except the faint bustle of the town far below. I remember there was considerable wind, which is unusual for such a hot sunny day.

Suddenly Tommy pointed to the ground far below and said "Look! The Fire!" I looked down and saw that our fire had blown onto some of the high dry grass nearby and was already out of control! My first thought was, "Holy Shit. We're gonna go to jail!"

We scrambled down the nasty metal ladder steps like greased lightning, jumped onto the ground, grabbed whatever we could, and tried to put out the fire. It was too late. The whole top of the mountain was on fire, and the flames were already 10 feet high! I said to Tommy, "We gotta get out of here!" Tommy decided to try to go down the face of the mountain and make it into town to get help. I hiked back to Garnerville as fast as I could.

When I arrived home, tired and scared, I resolved not to say anything to my parents. That night, in my room, I finished soldering in an illegal 40 watt power tube into my CB set and got on the horn to some older men in Peekskill across the river. They were already talking about the fire on Hi-Tor. Apparently, Tommy made it into Haverstraw and they sent up a helicopter with a bunch of water and were able to put it out. The guys in Peekskill were amazed at how loud I was. They said I was crossing over 3 CB channels. I just told them I had a new CB antenna I was experimenting with. (Actually, that's mostly true; thanks to me, we had more wire in our back yard than Barnum and Bailey have under the Big Tent).

I was one relieved 14 year old geek with a CB set that had a 40 Watt power tube. Now that I think about it, history does repeat itself. Blogs,  IM and social media are just the "new" CB! One thing is for sure. I'm never gonna grow up, man. Being a kid is just too much fun!