Every so often The Times-Gazette offices are visited by George Foltz, an old buddy from my days at the Greenfield Daily Times. George has hooked me up with interviews of several Greenfield icons over the years, mostly people with a link to the town’s storied past. George likes history, and on one of his recent visits he brought us several copies of old advertisements. Mixed among them was a blown-up postcard picture of a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad train crossing a trestle in Greenfield with the former Rucker’s Quarry sight in the foreground.
I still haven’t figured out what to do with the old ads, but the picture sparked some memories.
I visited Greenfield a lot during my younger years, mostly for athletic contests as a competitor, fan or reporter. In 1990, my trips to Greenfield became more frequent when I started working for the Schluep family, who owned the Greenfield Daily Times.
So while most of my visits to Greenfield have involved sports or work, that was not always the case. Specifically, a couple excursions were for the sole purpose of visiting old Rucker’s Quarry.
In the early summer of 1980, a couple buddies and I were heading back from a weekend fishing trip to Sidney, Ohio, where we celebrated the end of our first year in college. The trip did not go like planned, especially when a tornado passed a short distance from where we were staying and the storm that came with it completely soaked our tent and most of our belongings.
But we awoke Sunday to a glorious day, and although we knew we had to pack our wet gear and head home, we were in no big hurry. Somehow or other, on our way home a conversation about Rucker’s Quarry broke out. I don’t think I‘d ever heard about the place, but one of my buddies said it was a really good place to swim and jump from cliffs.
So since it was a hot day, Greenfield was on our way home, and we weren’t quite ready to end the trip yet, a dip in some cool water sounded like a perfect way to cap our waterlogged celebration — even if my buddies might have hinted that it was illegal to swim there.
We found the place easily, and one end of the quarry seemed like it was almost made for swimming and jumping. You could jump from almost any height desired, swim over to a rock that rose gradually out of the water, then decide where to jump from next.
We were all alone, having a good ole time, when some guy with a Mason jar and a can of spray paint appeared. He was a bit sketchy looking, to say the least, but seemed OK until he strode in our direction and asked if we wanted to share his jar and paint. We declined the offer, then watched in amazement the next few minutes.
After the guy took another “huff” or two from his jar, he proceeded to the cliffs and started diving, performing all kinds of acrobatics before he hit the water. Sometimes, he’d take another “huff” then jump some more. What was amazing was that while we waited on him to splatter his body on the cliffs, the guy kept perfectly pulling off one crazy dive after another.
When it became obvious the guy was not leaving any time soon, we decided it was a good time to head home.
Upon our return home, I told some other buddies about the quarry. They seemed intrigued by my description, so sometime not long after that first trip a carload of us made the trip again.
It was another beautiful day, but this group of friends was a little more adventurous. On that first trip to the quarry we jumped from lesser heights, probably 20 feet or so and on down. But there were much larger cliffs, including one we had all heard was 60 feet tall. I’m not sure how tall it was, but looking down at the water from the top of it and contemplating a jump, it looked like all of 60 feet and more.
While most of us were contemplating the risk, one buddy was more than happy to be the guinea pig. He was so ready that instead of just jumping, he dove off the cliff head first. He was a good swimmer and diver but not real accustomed to dives from 60-foot cliffs. With all that distance to the water, he over-rotated a bit and landed awkwardly. Not long thereafter someone else jumped. But after seeing that first jump, the rest of us — or maybe it was just me — were a little leery.
As we stood there debating what to do, someone saw another nice platform on top of a cliff that was a few feet shorter. So we eventually moseyed over that direction and eventually jumped. The only issue then was that now we had to swim the length of the quarry, and it was not a short swim.
Somewhere a little more than halfway to the other end, my arms started to cramp, we were in really deep water, and my buddies were a bit ahead of me.
Thank goodness one of them noticed I was struggling.
Now, I’d like to think I could have made it the side of the quarry by myself. But the truth is I have no idea whether I could have or not. But by the time Sean Mahorney got to me, it was getting hard to move my arms. He told me to relax, grabbed a hold of me somehow or other, and kindly escorted me to the side of the quarry.
If Sean had not noticed I was struggling, it is quite possible that you would not be reading this column.
Years later, when I was working in Greenfield, I wrote lots of stories about Rucker’s Quarry — kids getting in trouble for swimming there, rescue divers pulling various objects from it, and even ones about a local guy or two that wanted to building a religious-themed park there.
I think about Rucker’s Quarry from time to time and about how a boy I barely knew likely saved my life. George Foltz reminded me again the other day when he brought me a stack of old pictures.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.