Sure It's Quiet, But It's No Ghost Town

POSTMARK: HARNEY

December 12, 1993|By WAYNE HARDIN

The vacant old elementary school comes first as you enter Harney from the south on Harney Road. Then comes the closed-up United Brethren church with holes in the slate roof. A few "For Rent" signs on houses and other buildings. Some "For Sale" signs. A place or two boarded up. Peeling paint. Nobody around. The last thing in Harney before the "Welcome to Pennsylvania" sign is a cemetery. Maybe this is a ghost town.

A casual visitor to this Carroll County hamlet of 50 or 60 homes might get that impression, especially at midday when many working people are away, says 15-year resident Charles Cole.

"There's no industry here," he says, but there are entrepreneurs. There's more to life here than one might think.

Mr. Cole, 37, is the employer in town. His Harney Woodworking Co., noted for custom architectural millwork and restoration, employs 18 people on two shifts and has clients in Baltimore, Washington, New York and Chicago. But the large shop is set back against the woods, accessible only by a narrow dirt and stone lane. Two large and loud black Rottweilers occupy a pen out front. You have to look for the place to find it, much as you have to go beyond Harney Road appearances to find the real Harney, a town of many freshly painted houses and neat lawns and people who have no great desire for a more hectic pace of living.

"This has been a fine place to raise my three daughters," Mr. Cole says of the town of about 200.

He and others see community strength in Harney institutions such as the civic association; a volunteer fire company noted for its expertise in fighting silo fires; a weeklong carnival in July; St. Paul's Lutheran Church, with its giant stained-glass window and wooden bell tower; an active Lions Club; a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall and a town softball-baseball field.

There are other businesses in the town besides Mr. Cole's woodworking company, but they are one-man operations -- literally.

Tom Sink, 26, operates Fluorescents & More on one corner of "the square," where Harney and Conover roads meet. Stacks of fluorescent lights (some plugged in and blinking), wall clocks and school desks sit along the road in front of the two-story

white frame building.

Since age 16, Mr. Sink has dealt in salvage and surplus materials removed from schools during remodeling or demolition in towns between Richmond, Va., and Harrisburg, Pa.

Step right in and pick out a couple of school lockers, ceiling tiles or maybe a few headsets from a school language lab. If you can't make it to Harney, you might catch Mr. Sink along a road in Montgomery County or some other more populated suburban area and buy yourself something from one of his yellow school buses. He has nine of them and they are loaded with goods.

"I usually put an ad in a local newspaper wherever I go saying I'll be at such and such a vacant lot or parking lot on Saturday and Sunday and give the hours," he says. "I sell a lot to home schools, private schools, Christian schools, auto body shops."

Mr. Sink rents an apartment across the road from his shop in the old hotel, where landlord Bob Hall sells some antiques.

"This building has had lots of different uses," says Mr. Hall, 80. "When I got it 15 years ago, there were 19 rooms."

He rests on a chair in a first-floor apartment, holding a leash attached to a gray-muzzled Chihuahua. The people who last rented the apartment had skipped, leaving it in a mess. A man who works for him tosses plastic bottles and other junk into a green plastic garbage bag.

The dog tugs at the leash but Mr. Hall stays put. Outside, the sky turns black and rain starts to fall.

Over on Bowers Road beyond the ballfield, Wesley and Thelma Mummert, both 68, remember a Harney with a few more amenities.

"We used to have two very nice stores, all the necessities," says Mr. Mummert, who once raised chickens and had a door-to-door egg route in Baltimore.

Around the corner on Conover Road, Norma Chipley, 78, and her husband, Erman, 81, keep up with goings-on in the world by watching television and monitoring a fire and police scanner in the kitchen of the house where they've lived for 45 years. They recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at a surprise party organized at Harney Fire Hall, where Mr. Chipley used to volunteer. About 100 people attended, a big event in Harney where, says Mrs. Chipley cheerfully, "not much happens."

In fact, events in Harney rarely make the news. Failing septic systems and contaminated wells, eventually remedied with a federal grant, were a big deal in the late 1970s and early '80s, giving the town brief media attention. And stories last year raised hopes the general store would reopen. It never did, says Theresa Sigmon, who ran the store with her husband, Conrad, for five years before they made a "personal decision" to close. They still live above the store, which is for sale.

"We didn't just serve Harney," Ms. Sigmon says. "It was the only general store in five miles. We had a lot of traffic."

The traffic still goes through town, but it's hard to get a sense of any hubbub here.

"Harney really is sort of dull," says Mary Weant, a resident for 52 years.

But it's not a ghost town.

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