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Hempfield man puts memories in book

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2002

Jim Harrold had no intention of writing a book, and even after it was published, his friends said that it didn't read like a book anyway. They said that it sounded just like him talking.

That's why Harrold decided to put his stories on paper in the first place.

"I always enjoyed talking, and all I am doing is putting my talks into writing," he said.

"Memories" is Harrold's recollections of his childhood on a farm in Cook Township and his more recent travels. Now 80 and living in Hempfield Township, he enjoys people, history and seeing the world. His book is filled with his own experiences, family tales and local lore.

"When I grew up, there was no radio or TV and you learned (about the past) by listening to older people tell their stories," he said.

Harrold had 1,130 hardcover books printed by Becken Printing of Greensburg. So far he has sold 400 and is donating the profits to Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church in Cook Township and the Greensburg chapters of the American Red Cross, Rotary Club and Salvation Army.

"Some people bought five or 10 books at a time because their names are in it," Harrold said. Or there are stories about their relatives, familiar incidents or places they know.

Harrold retired in 1985 after 49 years as a Nationwide Insurance agent in Greensburg. Before that, he worked at the Westmoreland Farm Bureau. Most of his early "Memories" take place on the 208-acre farm that his family purchased in 1892.

The warm and colorful narrative starts with chapters about Harrold's father, Peter C. Harrold, who was born in 1874, and his parents, Jesse and Mary Elizabeth Binkey Harrold. Jesse Harrold told his grandson that when he was 15 and living on top of Dry Ridge east of Greensburg, he heard gunfire from the battle of Gettysburg.

"We didn't believe the story when we were kids," Harrold wrote. "We felt the 168 miles and all the mountains would stop the sound waves. Granddad was correct and we were wrong. We later learned it was heard in Pittsburgh, which is a longer distance and lower elevation."

Jesse Harrold also said that his brother was a Union soldier camped in Maryland when orders came to march to Gettysburg. The young soldiers figured that if they were going to die, they "had better get rid of their tools of sin." So along the way they discarded whiskey and playing cards that were decorated with women in their underwear. The battle was over by the time they arrived. "On the way back," Jim Harrold wrote, "they hunted for all the things they had thrown away."

There are chapters about sitting on the front porch and playing in the barn. Workhorses named Ned and Nell, a cat named Sassafras and an amorous bull that turned mean are the focus of other chapters. Harrold also writes about Indian raids in the Ligonier Valley, a charming hired hand who turned out to be a thief, and mysterious neighbors who kept to themselves.

In "The Saga of Sam Howard," he tells of a young man who lived with the Harrolds in the late 19th century and fell in love with a girl from Latrobe. When she ended their engagement, he tried to commit suicide with strychnine (the wind blew it away), by eating poison leaves (he threw up) and by hanging (the tree limb broke). He gave up, went out west and wrote back that he was carrying a gun and "riding with a wild bunch." When the letters stopped, the family figured that Sam Howard was either shot dead or in prison. But he showed up 40 years later.

"He was alive and on our front porch, but even though he was in his eighties, looked healthy and happy," Harrold wrote. Sam Howard soon left on a train and was never heard from again.

In the second half of the book, Harrold takes readers to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, the Soviet Union, the Alps, Australia and more. He has stories about the "pink palace gauchos," exploring the Great Lakes and singing "Jingle Bells" in China.

He had a lot of fun writing his memories in long hand.

"My wife, Jean, did the proofreading and corrected my English," he said.

Harrold is currently working on another book of unrelated stories. One is about Gen. Arthur St. Clair, whom he calls "the most maligned and unappreciated man in the Revolutionary War." Another is about Andy Weaver, an Amish man in Smicksburg who has 14 children, 106 grandchildren and 120 great-grandchildren and who has "spent a lifetime helping people."

There's also a tale from the point of view of a cat.

Harrold doesn't know what else the yet-untitled book will cover, nor how long it will be.

"When I get tired of writing it, I'll get it published," he said.

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