In 1942, we moved from the city to the rural countryside located west of the township of Manasquan. It was then a small beach front town of about 4000 residents, on the Jersey coast about 7 miles south of Asbury Park. In the summer the population would increase to about 12,000. We were about 60 miles from New York City which we could get to easily via the Jersey Central RR which went right through town.
The house my parents bought was just outside the city limits of Manasquan in Wall Township. Accordingly we boys went to Allenwood Grammar School rather than to a grammar school in Manasquan. Beyond our house, to the west, were woods and farms, the main north-south highway and many small villages. The house faced an unpaved road, Tecumseh Place. Many of the nearby roads had Indian names.
The grammar school that we had transferred to was a four-room affair located out in the farming area of the county. The 7th and 8th grades shared one room. I will never forget my first day of school in that little country school house. We three Drake boys dressed in our Sunday School best for that event which meant we wore knickers. We were subjected to merciless ridicule and informed our mother we would never again wear those knickers. As I recall there were 15 of us in the 7th grade and 10 in the 8th grade.
One of the teachers in our little grammar school has an immense fossilized shark’s tooth on her desk which she said she found in a farm field that in the early days of settlement in the area had been fertilized with marl. I found out that marl pits in Monmouth County had produced over 15,000 tons of marl in 1880 that was spread over the farm fields. I started looking for fossils in earnest.
Of special interest to me was that the marl contained fossilized remains of prehistoric sharks and other sea life. So what did this new ‘country bumpkin’ do to find the sharks teeth? After the first heavy rain following the fall plowing of the old farm fields in the area I would spend days on end walking the newly turned furrows looking for fossils. And find them I did. But I found something more. Some of the fields were former Native American village sites and therein I would find arrow heads. Wow!
My collection of arrowheads, fossils and other ‘finds’ was steadily growing. Somehow, but I can not recall how or where, I located a place where streams would flow through a meadow and along the edge of these streams I would find bits of fossilized squid parts called belemnites. While still in grammar school, I would hitch-hike to New York City from our town or take the Jersey Central train and spend the day in the museums of NYC. I was hounded the staff of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, getting them to identify my finds. I ended up selling belemnites to the visitor’s store in the museum.
One day when I was telling my classmates about my expeditions to NYC and several asked if they could go with me. I organized a field trip for six or so of the class. Without telling our teacher or parents, one Friday we took the early train to NYC for a day of adventure. We failed to anticipate the commotion this caused that day in school or in our homes when our teacher called the parents of the students missing from class. Classmates told the principal (teacher of the 7th and 8th grades) where we had gone so the families were at the Manasquan railroad station late that afternoon when our train arrived. Good, that gave us a ride home for individualized reprimands from the parents.
Patty Worster, a classmate who lived near us told me that we would be in deep trouble on Monday as Dick Wilson, Principal/teacher, had introduced square root to the class and there would be an exam on Monday. To prepare for the exam I asked my dad to teach me and my brothers how to calculate the square root of a number, which he did. Come Monday Dick Wilson said “Ducks to the board” which meant that the three Drake brothers were to go to the blackboard. Once there, he gave us a number and instructed us to take the square root of it, which we proceeded to do. “Stop.” He called. “What are you doing?” “Taking the square root as you asked” we responded. It turned out that the method we were using was not the way he taught the rest of the class to do it. He told us to erase what we had written and sit down and learn to do it his way. As I recall the only reaction to our field trip was that we had to ask permission if we ever planned to do it again.
While attending the Allenwood Grammar School, the local farmers would come to the school at 1 p.m. to hire farm workers if they had a crop that needed picking. Boys in the 7th and 8th grades would be let out at that time to help “in the war effort” as most young men were in the military, leaving a real need for farm workers. Since my brothers and I were a full head taller than any other kids in the school, we always were among the first hired.
The best money I ever made was following the potato picker who unearthed the potatoes and left them atop the row. We would follow with a gunny sack and for every hundred pound gunny sack we filled we got ten cents. I was able to pick and take to the end of the row at least ten gunny sack per hour, i.e., half a ton of potatoes per hour and earned a dollar per hour. This is when clerks in stores in town earned at most 35 cents per hour. I was rolling in money but it never lasted long as my father had announced the year prior that he and our mother would provide food on the table and a roof over our heads but everything else we would have to buy with our own money – hobby equipment, books, bicycle, clothing, etc.
I owe a lot to Dick Wilson, my 7th and 8th grade teacher. One day in 1943 as I stared out the classroom window a blur appeared in my vision and as I focused, there was Dick Wilson looking at me. “You look bored” he said. I agreed I was. “Go out and catch a frog” he said which I easily did as the school was adjacent to the Manasquan River and lots of frogs lived along the edge. When I got back to the classroom he had a dissecting pan and a college work book on dissecting a frog. He chloroformed the frog and set me to work dissecting it and filling out the work book.
Later he got me involved in making a beam balance and a jolly balance for determining the specific gravity of rocks and minerals which I was then collecting. He also taught me the use of a Bunsen burner for determining the chemical content of rocks. A number of my classmates had trap lines so he helped me put together a collection of skulls of local animals leading to an interest in osteology. I made plaster-of-Paris casts of foot prints of animals that I found impressed in the mud.
The attic of our house was unfinished and there I kept my collections of skulls, fossils, arrow heads, wood samples of all trees in the region, sea shells, minerals and many other things. I was a budding naturalist and collector. I literally knew all of the wild flowers within 12 miles of my home and had extensive pressed flower collections of all those varieties. The same with moths, butterflies, bugs and insects of all varieties. I literally had a natural science museum in the attic of our house there in Manasquan.
It didn’t stop there. One day Dick Wilson saw me reading a book from the Hardy Boys series and suggested that I could spend my time reading better works than that. He brought me a copy of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens and then led me through many of the modern classics. Dick Wilson helped me challenge my potential in many fields for which I shall be eternally grateful. When I graduated from the 8th grade my report card had 71 “A” grades and 5 “B” grades (in music).