Greencastle Mayor's Report: Distracted driving, snowstorm memories and Joel Wenger

Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.

So, you know I enjoy reading, researching and writing about history, especially the local stuff. I especially enjoy the local seniors who lived it. I really enjoyed reading Sharon Baumbaugh’s recent Echo Pilot articles regarding local roads. More in just a minute.

Do you have time to join me with some hot tea or coffee as it’s another c-c-cold Sunday afternoon in G-A? The family room is nice and warm with the fireplace working just fine. The playoffs are today in the NFL. What will Brady do? That was quite a sports circus yesterday regarding his retirement with a question mark?    

Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.

Did you know those old trucks with big plows on the front had to have two operators? The driver drove while the passenger would manually lift the front plow up and down. There were no hydraulics back then. In rural areas farmers were the ones who would open the roads. After all, they had to get their milk and products to market. Citizens would hand-shovel the roads for vehicular access. I clearly remember circa 1964 when our public school bus was taking us home in the afternoon during a heavy winter storm. The north-south back roads were drifting heavily. The bus slid into a slight embankment near Upton and we were stuck. The students who lived on near-by farms got off the bus and walked home. We waited about 30 minutes and then came the farmers on their open cab tractors. We all got a ride home via the tractors’ fender wells. Mom was glad to see us. No big deal. Could you imagine today!

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OK … so what do you see when you’re driving or walking virtually anywhere? Do you ever see distracted drivers? Oh my! I observe it all the time. I guess it’s the old cop in me. When I first began patrolling over 40 years ago, here’s what was distracting drivers: Looking down at the AM radio to see what station it was on; picking up a dropped cigarette; changing an eight-track or cassette tape. The biggest one was a DUI (drunk) driver. Especially on weekends, the taverns would be packed until 2 a.m. Marylanders would come to Greencastle when their taverns closed at 1 a.m. The outcomes would not be good. Check out the book Greencastle-Antrim Revisited, page 110, and you’ll see a black and white picture of a 1938 Cadillac straddling the former five arch stone bridge just west of Greencastle over the Conococheague Creek. I wonder what distracted that driver.

Children board a bus on the first day of school in the Greencastle-Antrim School District. Distracted driving is a big problem and Greencastle police recently cited a driver who traveled through Center Square without stopping for a school bus with lights activated.

Then the cell phones came along. Greencastle Police got those “bag phones” in the early 1990s. The policy was do not drive and talk. We had to pull over to make a quick phone call as you had limited free minutes. Oh, how times have changed. Thirty-six states have hand-held cell phone use restriction or prohibition laws. Pennsylvania only has a texting while driving prohibition unless the phone is physically integrated with the vehicle. In other words, it’s very difficult for police to enforce.

I’m sure bus drivers see this a lot as they are elevated in their driver’s positions looking down on motorists. Greencastle Police recently cited a driver who traveled through Center Square without stopping for a school bus with lights activated.

About 3,200 fatalities occur annually in the United States from distracted driving. Many minor accidents involving vehicle damage and injuries occur. Annual costs for medical treatment, vehicle repairs/replacements, and time off work was around $463 billion. We all pay for this through our insurance premiums. Teenage drivers experience higher percentages of cell phone use. Parents and grandparents, talk to your teenage drivers about cell phone use. Put the phone away while driving. The call or text can certainly wait. That brief discussion may save a life. With the federal investment in infrastructure, Pennsylvania will receive $11.3 billion for highway apportioned programs and $1.6 billion for bridge replacement and repairs. It is my hope that our Pa. legislators will enact much stricter, enforceable laws regarding the use of hand-held communications devices because traffic safety begins with the driver.

Joel Wenger, pictured at his Hades Church Road farm, has retired after 42 years on the Antrim Township Planning Commission.

So do you know Joel Wenger? Antrim Township, Sen. Judy Ward and Pa. state Rep. Paul Schemel recently recognized Mr. Wenger for his 42 years of service on the Antrim Township Planning Commission. He’s been farming all of his life and continues doing so today. Thanks, Joel, for your many years of service and for promoting the importance of agriculture. It’s because of Joel and many like him that we are blessed. Stay safe and warm.