|| Memories of Route 40 in New Jersey
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Most Americans know New Jersey only as part of that narrow, densely populated corridor which
connects Boston and New York City with the nation's Capitol. Back in the 30s and 40s, the major
North/South route in NJ was 130, but this soon became congested with businesses and traffic
lights. The Turnpike and then the Garden State Expressway and Interstate 295 were built to
handle the traffic. Back in the mid-50s, ferries could no longer handle the constant flow of
cars and trucks, so the Delaware Memorial Bridge was constructed. I remember my father waging a
verbal war with bridge authorities for making it only four lanes. They should have listened,
because they soon had to build a second bridge across the Delaware.
Long before North/South traffic became a serious issue, however, East/West routes were extremely
important. Development of our vast nation tended to be primarily in a westerly direction. First
there were covered wagon trains and then came the trans-continental railroad. The California and
Alaska gold rushes added urgency to the need for more efficient transportation and roads, but it
was the invention of gasoline-powered vehicles that really caused traffic to explode.
If it was not for the discovery of oil, motor-powered carriages would hardly have become
popular. Steam-power depended on a generous supply of wood or coal, and of course water. Large
locomotives could carry a lot of coal, but it was more complicated with automobiles on dirt
roadways. Early steam-powered vehicles were so heavy, that they could only use steel wheels and
travel on selected roads. In the mid 19th century, whale oil was too expensive to be used as
fuel and the whale was rapidly becoming extinct.
My Father-in-Law was born near Titusville, Pennsylvania, where Edwin Drake drilled the world’s
first oil well in 1859. The oil was much easier to obtain than whale oil, and although refined
by primitive methods, it had a higher quality. The discovery of “black gold” led to a boom that
surpassed the “California Gold rush” of 1849. Almost overnight, 40,000 whalers and 700 whaling
boats were put out of operation and within three years, the price of oil fell to a mere 10 cents
Until 1900, oil was used for light, for medical purposes and for lubrication. A side product of
the refining process, called gasoline, was considered a dangerous nuisance and simply dumped
into the river! The whales were perhaps saved from extinction, but many fish died!
It was not long before gasoline engines were invented and the horseless carriage became a
popular mode of transportation. Contrary to popular opinion, the automobile drastically improved
life in cities, which had been plagued with filth and disease due to the accumulation of horse
For seventy years, America was the world’s leading oil producer. Then large oil reserves were
discovered in Arabia in 1938, transforming poverty stricken nations into the wealthiest in the
world. Today, most means of transportation by land, sea and air are fueled with oil. A great
number of homes and businesses are also heated with oil, but perhaps even more significant are
plastics, medicines and cosmetic products which come from oil. With the oil boom, prices fell
into the cellar and mass production of automobiles brought an urgent need for paved roads. The
first trans-continental highways were soon reality.
Many of the earliest improved highways in America were private toll roads, but the National Road
(also called Cumberland Road) was the first major improved highway in the United States to be
built by the federal government. About 620 miles long, the National Road connected the Potomac
and Ohio Rivers and was a gateway to the West for thousands of settlers. When rebuilt in the
1830s, the Cumberland Road became the first U.S. road surfaced with macadam (layers of crushed
stone). This historic event predates the automobile by nearly a century. Suggested by George
Washington in 1784, planned and urged by Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, and constructed
1811 during Thomas Jefferson's administration, the National Road was the largest construction
project to date. Begun at Cumberland, Maryland, on the Potomac River, it reached the Ohio River
in 1818 and was continued until the bank panic of 1837. The National Road was halted at
Vandalia, Illinois but when federal highways received numbering in 1926, the Cumberland Road was
joined with other highways that led all the way to San Francisco. It received the designation,
Around 1824, several private turnpikes were built from Atlantic coastal cities, connecting into
the National Road. These feeder routes formed what was referred to as eastern extensions of the
National Road. This is significant, because when the government began numbering roads in 1926,
the Atlantic City extension became the beginning of Route 40 and the southern portion of
National Road that led to the Potomac got a different number.
THE EASTERN TERMINUS OF ROUTE 40
The "Jersey shore" has been a favorite vacation spot for much of the East Coast for more than
two centuries. Cape May began hosting vacationers from Philadelphia around 1750 and is
recognized as the country's oldest seaside resort. The eastern end of Route 40 terminates in
Atlantic City, which is perhaps the best known and most visited seashore resort in America.
In 1785, a man named Jeremiah Leeds was the first white man to build a permanent structure on
this barrier island. His farm was called Leed's Plantation. After Leed's death in 1838, his wife
Millicent opened Aunt Millie's Boarding House and Tavern and the first tourists came. By 1850,
however, there were still only seven permanent dwellings on the island. A physician named Dr.
Pitney and a civil engineer from Philadelphia, Richard Osborne recognized the value of this
island for vacationing, but access to the island was by water only. These men worked to bring
the railroad. The first train arrived on July 5, 1854. Osborne has been given credit with naming
the city, while his friend Dr. Pitney thought up the plan and names of city streets later made
famous by the popular board game Monopoly. Streets running parallel to the ocean were named
after the worlds great bodies of water, Pacific, Atlantic, Baltic, Mediterranean, Adriatic, and
Arctic. Streets running east and west were named after States.
The biggest problem for Atlantic City turned out to be that which also enticed people to
populate the resort -- the fine white sand. Sand got tracked into hotels and homes, made poor
roadbeds and played havoc with railroad tracks, especially in storms. The first official road
and bridge from the mainland to the island was completed in 1870. In the same year, an 8' wide
wooden walkway from the beach into town became the first Boardwalk.
Atlantic City was officially opened as a resort on June 16, 1880 with a celebration seldom seen
in the region. The primary mode of transportation was still the railroad, but this was about to
change. The rising popularity of "motor carriages" gave paved road construction a high priority,
not just in Atlantic City, but all over the nation.
HOW ROUTE 40 GOT ITS NAME
in 1926 the government devised a numbering system for all federal highways. Roads running
east/west were called "decade routes" using numbers in multiples of 10 while north/south
highways use numbers ending in five. National Road, the route carrying transcontinental traffic
at the nation's midsection, was originally to receive the number 1, but this didn't fit the
established highway naming conventions. National Road was therefore named Route 40 and realigned
to run from Atlantic City, NJ to San Francisco, CA. Highways to the north received progressively
smaller numbers in increments of 10 and highways to the South received larger decade route
Although the National Road was the first major improved highway, it's northern neighbor, the
Lincoln Highway (Route 30), dedicated October 31, 1913, was completed before Route 40, earning
it the distinction of being the first coast-to-coast highway. The Lincoln Highway runs from
Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.
Prior to World War II, Route 40 received a concrete surface between Atlantic City and the
Delaware Bay. The macadam base and strong concrete pads are still there, although covered with
layers of asphalt. We lived for several months about 100 yards from Route 40 and could hardly
sleep for the noise and shaking of the house as tires of heavy trucks rumbled and bounced over
the expansion joints in the concrete, which seem to work their way through to the surface. Back
in the fifties, the highway was widened about two feet on each side. Locals know they can limit
bouncing by keeping the right wheel of their vehicle on that apron.
The mid-1950's were a period described by many as the Golden Age of Automobiling. At the time,
Route 40 stretched 3,157 miles from Atlantic City to San Francisco and was the most popular
transcontinental highway. This in spite of the fact that the Lincoln Highway was realigned to
make it 3,142 miles, all of 15 miles shorter than Route 40! Both highways served America well,
but Route 40 carried more traffic and saw less severe winter weather. If you needed to travel
from coast to coast, there simply wasn't a better choice.
When the Interstate Highway system came along, many western sections of Route 40 were
decommissioned. Today, Route 40's official western terminus is at Silver Creek Junction, Utah,
about 50 miles east of Salt Lake City. The Lincoln Highway is also partly incorporated in the
Interstate Highway system, but it has remained largely identifiable.
Although Route 40 is a well-known federal highway, you probably won't find it on your Garmin
GPS. Garmin insists on using street names rather than highway numbers. Perhaps someone has
calculated the number of names for Route 40, but my estimate is at least a hundred. In New
Jersey, Route 40 is generally known as the Harding Highway, but local municipalities have
created their own names.
THE ENVIRONMENT OF ROUTE 40 IN NEW JERSEY
Only 40 miles south of the "Big Apple" (Few New Yorkers, or anyone else for that matter, know
how the city got its nickname) is the "Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge," 7,000 acres of pure
paradise. A little farther south, one comes to a large expanse of virgin forest called the "Pine
Barrens." This is where Route 40 cuts through, enabling millions of vacationers to visit the
Jersey Shore on paved road. Since 1977, the casinos have made Atlantic City the most frequented
tourist attraction in America, with an average ten thousand visitors per day.
Many visitors to the northern part of the state ask if the State's nick name, "The Garden
State," is not a misnomer. Anyone who has traveled Route 40, however, has likely stopped at one
of the numerous roadside markets and bought fresh New Jersey peaches, cantaloupe, tomatoes and
sweet corn. They have no doubts about the validity of the State motto. Beneath the pine barrens
lies an enormous underground reservoir of fresh water called the Cohansey Aquifer. About 17
trillion gallons of clear drinking water flow unused into the ocean each year, enough to supply
all of New Jersey and New York City's needs! South Jersey also has beaver colonies, pheasant,
wild turkeys, painted turtles, deer and a thousand other species of wildlife. You can even find
an occasional bear. At least 850 species of plants and 400 kinds of birds can be found in South
Jersey. I couldn't begin to name the myriads of insects such as colorful dragonflies,
butterflies and mosquitoes.
The mosquitoes drove the first settlers (Swedes) across the river to Delaware. New Jersey
mosquitoes cannot be considered wildlife, however. They are quite tame and will eat right out of
your hand - or any other part of the body for that matter. Many citizens of
New Jersey think the mosquito is the official State Insect, but it is
actually the honey bee that holds that distinction.
The Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians once had this delightful area all to themselves. They
belonged to the Algonquin family which populated the Atlantic Coast from Canada to Florida. The
beginning of the end of their claim to paradise came in 1632 when Sir Edmond Plowdon, of
Ireland, petitioned Charles I for a land grant. His request was at first refused, but
Sir Edmond was
later appointed governor of "New Albion," a large area now known as New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Maryland and Long Island. Maryland had been previously given to Lord Baltimore, but
Charles was forgetful.
The New Jersey Lenni Lenape were placed on a reservation consisting of about three thousand
acres near Brotherton (Indian Mills). Most of them later moved to New York and joined with the
Mohicans in 1802. In 1832, the NJ Legislature purchased the reservation from the Lenapes for two
thousand dollars. Lake Lenape, on Route 40 in Mays Landing is about the only reminder of these
peaceful early Americans.
Today, New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the union. You can fit New Jersey into
Alaska 75 times, yet the city of Hoboken, NJ has more people than all of Alaska! Still,
only about 20 persons populate a square mile of New Jersey.
Except for the northeastern part, New Jersey is a jewel of a State but some would argue that
even the northeastern corner of New Jersey is a wonderful place. I heard of a wealthy
businessman, who, whenever he got near the refineries and heavy industries of North Jersey,
would roll down the windows of his Rolls Royce. After inhaling deeply, he would smile from ear
to ear and say, "Ahhh! That smells like money!"
HOME SWEET HOME!
I grew up in a large family of eleven children just a mile from Route 40. We lived in a large
colonial house with ornamental cast iron railings on the front porch. It was located in Fox's
Mill and our family represented half the population!
There had been a lake across the road from our house, but a storm took it out around 1940 and it
was not restored until 1956. An old mill, from which the name is derived, still exists and has a
functioning paddle wheel that was lovingly restored by Jay Williams, a local farmer. I will have
more to say about this colorful personality later.
Fox's Mill belongs to Daretown, Upper
Pittsgrove Township, but the postal address is Elmer. If this sounds confusing, let me explain.
Daretown is half a mile south of Fox's Mill and nearly a ghost town today. When our family moved
there in 1947, Daretown boasted a public school, two feed mills, a railroad station, post
office, trucking company, blacksmith shop, a new car dealership and even an undertaker. There
were two general stores in Daretown. Egan’s store had a gas pump where farmers tanked up their
tractors at ten cents per gallon. Ice cream cones cost a nickel and a double-thick chocolate
malt milkshake cost twenty cents.
Today, none of that is left. After the Post Office in Daretown closed, Elmer became our mailing
address. A mailman delivered mail with his Model A Ford and usually had time to chat about the
weather and local happenings, so we really didn't miss the post office.
The railroad tracks were removed in 1951 and even the brand names of cars once sold in Daretown
(Hudson, Kaiser, Frazier and Studebaker) have vanished. There are four churches in Daretown, two
are Baptist and two are Presbyterian. Only the "newer" churches are used today. The older
structures are museums surrounded by cemeteries where many American pioneers are buried.
During colonial times, a busy road connecting Philadelphia with the Port of Greenwich, ran
through Daretown and Pole Tavern. Most Americans have heard of the Boston Tea Party, but
patriots also staged a tea party in Greenwich. A boatload of tea destined for Philadelphia was
burned in the town square.
Daretown's relationship with Philadelphia is still quite "strong". That strength, however, has
more to do with smells than with friendly relationships. Sludge from Philadelphia sewage plants
is trucked to Daretown and converted to mulch that people spread on their lawns, gardens and
fields. The owners of this industry, located near Route 40, have planted trees along the road in
an attempt to hide the unsightly mountains of sludge. Daretown was previously known as
Pilesgrove and Pittsgrove. Both of these names would be appropriate today. When the wind is
right, the piles of sludge smell like the pits!
Philadelphia is the nearest major city, so residents of South Jersey generally support the
76ers, Flyers, Phillies and Eagles. Philadelphia served as the nation's Capitol twice. Trenton
and Princeton, New Jersey also served as the nation’s Capitol for a short time. Few Americans
realize that our Capitol relocated eight times before finding a permanent home in Washington DC.
Elmer, Daretown, Pole Tavern and Fox's Mill are all located in Upper Pittsgrove Township . This
15-mile stretch along Route 40 is one of few areas in the non-Muslim world where alcoholic
beverages may not be sold. There is neither a pole nor a tavern at the Pole Tavern traffic
circle on Route 40. A tavern was built there around 1740 and was one of the first licensed
hotels in America. During the Revolutionary War, "Minute Men" gathered at the flag pole in front
of the tavern, thus the name "Pole Tavern". The tavern and pole were destroyed by fire in 1918.
It is rumored that the fire was the work of local prohibitionists. The Prohibition Act was
signed two years later.
There is an 800-pound bronze cannon in front of the Pole Tavern Township Hall just across the
road from the Point 40 Diner. It has been there for as long as anyone can remember, but is now
encased in a Plexiglass showcase. The cannon was forged in Naples, Italy and named “Il Lugano”
(The Wolf) in 1763, and has a colorful history. It was used during the Napoleonic wars in
Austria, transported to France and then presented to Napoleon's brother, Joseph, who was the
ruler of Spain. The Duke of Wellington acquired the cannon for use in the War of 1812 after
which it was exported to Canada. Americans captured it in the Battle of Plattsburg, NY in 1814.
After the war, the United States Government sold Il Lugano and two other Napoleonic cannons,
along with 287 muskets, to Salem County. The cannons were used for training militia during the
Civil War and then put to rest in Salem, Woodstown and Pole Tavern. In 1889, the Pole Tavern
cannon was borrowed for a parade in nearby Bridgeton. For some yet unknown reason, it was
afterwards sent to Trenton and spent the next 24 years in the State Arsenal. Local citizens held
a celebration when the cannon was finally discovered and returned to Pole Tavern. Il Lugano was
twice stolen and once damaged, but it always returned home.
My father and the local farmer I already mentioned, Jay Williams, restored the cannon in 1986.
Their names are engraved onto a brass plate fastened to its wood frame. According to a newspaper
account, the cannon was "fired for the first time since Civil War days" during the July Fourth
celebration of that year. I put this in quotes, because I know better. As a teenager, I fired
the old cannon several times myself. On one occasion, I used carbide to fire it, but usually,
firecrackers served as powder and tangerines as cannon balls.
That takes us to the town of Elmer, also located on Route 40. If you are one of the many who
never heard of Elmer, don't be embarrassed. Unless you get caught in the infamous Elmer speed
trap, you could miss this sleepy town entirely. Since my generation terrorized Elmer's
inhabitants with hot rods and loud mufflers, the town has gotten quieter. A barber shop stands
where the smoke-filled pool hall was located. The barber who cut my hair in
the fifties still cuts hair there in 2020. A news store which sold questionable magazines
and lottery tickets, burned down years ago. Some claim that it was in answer to the prayers of
concerned church members.
Elmer was once a boom town with a dozen factories, a busy railroad station and
the largest potato market in the East. As recently as 2005, there were still three car
dealerships, but these are now closed and the vacant buildings, like many homes, are for sale or
rent. Two notable employers in Elmer belonged to the Harz family. Carl Harz Furniture boasted
the largest selection of La-Z Boy furniture in the East, but Carl retired and the renowned
establishment closed its doors forever in 2010. Fred Harz Tires still exists, but the fuel
delivery business was discontinued several years ago. A pyramid-shaped stack of tires ranging
from those of giant earth-moving machines to wheelbarrows has become a landmark on Route 40
Elmer's largest remaining business thrives on sickness and injuries. The modern hospital and
medical clinics are well known in Southern New Jersey. Unfortunately for the town, the hospital,
like the four borough churches, is a non-profit institution and therefore pays no taxes. Make
that three churches. The Roman Catholic Church closed in 2009.
Elmer Lake once provided ice for the region's refrigerators and had a nice swimming area with
picnic pavilions and boats to rent. Today, it is so clogged with algae that even
some fishermen avoid
Most community affairs center around the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, the Fire
Company, Masonic Lodge or Hospital Auxiliary. Other noteworthy places in Elmer include four
banks, four pizzerias, Kountry Kitchen (closed in 2019) and Dodge's Market.
Dodge's market is worth special mention. My wife and I served 38 years as missionaries. While
speaking in Pittsgrove Baptist Church once, someone asked what we missed most in Austria. With
no hesitation, Verna replied, "Dodge's Market!"
The market is located on the corner of Main Street and Route 40 and you could buy any fresh
vegetable or fruit that happened to be in season. To erase all doubts about the quality of their
products, Raymond and Aldi Dodge were always passing out free samples. Groceries, seafood and
candy were also sold, but the market was best known for its sharp cheese.
As a mere coincidence, Dodge’s Market was located next door to the Dodge car dealership and both
businesses were founded by Dodge Brothers.
I could never understand why some Elmer residents traveled 20 or 30 miles to do their grocery
shopping. Dodge's Market had everything locally, plus friendly service. The most one can expect
at a supermarket, is the mandatory "Have a good day" when checking out. I have even seen signs
taped to the register, promising a free purchase, should the cashier forget to repeat these
magic words. Once, after the cashier repeated her "Have a good day," a friend responded with,
"Thank you, but I have other plans." Without looking up, the cashier said, "Well, whatever they
are, have a good day!"
Three decades ago, Aldi Dodge purchased a snow blower, but it never snowed that winter. The
Dodges were joking about this one day, when the town gossip entered the store. She began to
share all the news that the Elmer Times newspaper deemed unfit to print. The wife of one of the
brothers had heard enough and began to talk about the snow blower again. After the customer
departed, the Dodges had a good laugh and decided to "get out the snow blower" whenever someone
started to swear, tell shady stories or gossip.
The snow blower worked fantastically well. Soon the Methodist minister got wind of it and asked
permission to use the Dodge's snow blower when needed. In time, half the town was familiar with
the snow blower which was often used in summer. When the minister's son left for missionary
service in Japan, he requested and was granted permission to "export" Aldi's snow blower. When
we went to Europe, we were granted the same privilege. Aldi's international snow blower has come
in handy on many occasions!
After the Atlantic City casinos opened in 1978, Route 40 became more heavily traveled than ever.
Tourists often stopped at Dodge's Market for a watermelon or cantaloupe. Raymond would ask if
they were headed for the casinos. If they replied affirmatively, he told them that he had a
sure-fire system for winning at the slot machines. He said, "Every time I play the slots, I
double my money!" Raymond would then lower his voice and say, "For a dollar, I'll tell you my
secret." Few customers could resist such an offer. After pocketing the Dollar, Raymond would
say: "I only went to the casino once in my life, put a quarter in the slot machine and two
quarters fell out. I haven't played since, but I just won another Dollar!"
The Dodge brothers, Aldi and Raymond, have passed away but the market still exists. The new
owners have remodeled and added a restaurant, but the place is just not the same without them.
As a child, Route 40 meant only one thing to me. It led to the beach. We normally turned off
Route 40 at May's Landing and drove to Ocean City. My parents said that Atlantic City was too
commercial and evil for children. When the casinos opened in 1977, the matter was settled
forever. Ocean City, like Elmer, is "dry" and prides itself as a family resort.
One hot sunny day, my parents packed all 11 children into their 9-passenger 1950 Ford "woody"
station wagon and headed for the beach. When we stopped for gasoline, the attendant asked, "Are
these all yours, or is this a picnic?" Pop Harvey was never lacking for a good answer. He
replied, "Yes, they are all mine, and it's no picnic!"
It was certainly no picnic the time my parents left my brother at the beach. We had traveled
half an hour, when one of us asked, "Where's David?" Pop stopped and counted heads. Sure enough,
David was missing. He had no recourse other than driving back to Ocean City. We finally found
David at the police station enjoying an ice cream cone which a nice policeman had bought him. He
probably would have been content to stay!
On another occasion, Pop stopped at a red-light with his heavily populated station wagon. The
decorated car of a newly wed couple pulled up next to us followed by a dozen cars honking their
horns. The new bride was obviously amused at the packed station wagon in the next lane and
motioned for her groom to look. Pop stuck his head out of the window and shouted over the din of
car horns, "See what you're getting yourself in for, young lady?"
My brother, Bob Harvey, made his hobby of bee keeping into a career. The Harvey's Honey Bee Farm
is located on Route 40 between Woodstown and Pole Tavern, not far from the Slabtown Road
intersection. Harvey's Honey is well known on the east coast for honey, wax, manufactured
beehives and more. The slogan, "We pollinate the East Coast from Maine to Florida" is not
exaggerated. In recent years Harvey's Honey has been sending tractor trailers loaded with bees
to pollinate nut groves in California! The last I heard, Harvey's Honey maintains over 5,000
hives that produce about 300 tons of honey annually.
While reading the daily newspaper in Austria one Saturday morning, I was startled to see a
picture of my sister, Ann, kissing some kind of monster! Upon reading the caption, I discovered
that the "monster" was Ann's son and my nephew, Max, covered from head to foot with millions of
honey bees! The feat netted him a place in the 1989 "Guinness Book of Records" -- and one sting.
Later that day, I showed the article to a friend who responded, "Is your entire family
My sister, Margie, came close to being born on Route 40. Between Christmas and New Years, Mom
told Pop that he had better take her to the hospital if he didn't want to deliver a baby. His
pickup truck had a flat tire on the way to Elmer Hospital and there was no air in the spare! Not
desirous of giving birth to her baby on a busy highway, Mom got out of the car and tried her
luck at hitch hiking. Alf Wentzell was making deliveries with his fuel oil
truck and stopped to ask if he could be of any help. He agreed to make a detour to the hospital.
Pop and Mom had to watch their pennies raising eleven kids, so most of our clothes were of the
cheap "Cowtown" variety. Cowtown is the invention of Howard Harris, who started out selling
cattle at auction in Woodstown. Eventually, peddlers of fruit and vegetables began to rent
space, and it soon became a popular bazaar-type market. There was little room for expansion in
town, so the Harris family moved its operation to Sharptown on Route 40. Motorists can see
Cowtown's huge statue of a cowboy a mile away. Vendors come from Philadelphia, New York and
other states to sell their wares at Cowtown on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It has became one of the
most popular shopping places in South Jersey, earning the nickname, "Sharptown Mall."
I wanted to wear genuine Levi jeans, but they were too expensive. Pop told me, "When you earn
your own money, you can buy whatever clothes you want, but if I am paying, you get what we can
I took the hint and decided that getting paid to work certainly beat working at home without
pay. I got a job working for a neighboring farmer, named Stephen J. Williams. Most people called
him "Jay" or simply "Governor."
After the State of New Jersey allowed casino gambling in Atlantic City, taxes were supposed to
drop and the economy to flourish. Thousands of tourist busses loaded with gamblers converged
daily upon this resort city, which until then had been known mainly for its sandy beaches and
the annual Miss America Pageant. Money began to roll into the casinos but New Jersey residents
saw no benefits whatsoever. They were and are still convinced that the only real winners are the
Mafia and crooked politicians. Taxes and insurance rates continued to escalate even faster than
before the casinos opened. South Jersey farmers, whose hard work gave the "Garden State" its
nickname, complained loudly about high taxation, but their complaints went unheeded by New
Being an educated farmer, Jay asked in a 1974 Township Meeting at Pole Tavern, what the legal
procedure for succession would be. The following day, a brief article in the local newspaper,
Salem Sunbeam, was titled, "How to Secede from North Jersey". By the end of the week, Jay was
entertaining reporters from all over and soon became South Jersey's most celebrated resident. He
correctly predicted that the proposal of secession would get nearly 100% support from the
residents of Southern New Jersey. Jay argued, "We have agriculture, atomic energy, tourist trade
and the casinos. We can cut taxes and surely, farmers can do a better job of running the State!"
People who knew Jay laughed at his newest practical joke, but lawyers began to earnestly study
their law books to see if such a thing was feasible. Word has it, that concerned State
politicians were making long distance phone calls to Washington. It never happened of course,
but Jay became a celebrity whose reputation as a practical joker was only surpassed by his fame
as "Governor of South Jersey."
I grew up within earshot of Route 40. "Smokey" Wentzell, the brother of Alf, named above, owned a 40's style diner at
the Pole Tavern traffic circle. He also loved his cars, a sleek red Jaguar XK 120 and a
restored Indy race car. When he closed the diner after midnight, I could hear him wind them
through the gears for three miles to his home in Elmer. Several decades ago, the diner was
replaced with a modern diner-restaurant which is now named "Point 40 Diner". The old diner
was moved to a nearby field and left to rot. A Cleveland Ohio company that restores old
diners discovered it years later with trees growing in and through it. They trucked it to
Ohio, where it received a frame-off restoration. It found a new owner in New Hampshire. You
can see pictures of it here:
Elmer is also located on Route 40, where Dodge's Market and the Kountry Kitchen Restaurant are
located. I need to say more about the Kountry Kitchen because it is closely related to Smokey's
diner. Smokey divorced his first wife and married one of his waitresses. She later left him and
opened the Kountry Kitchen in partnership with Smokey's first wife. You see what I mean by
"closely related." There is a large billboard in the parking lot of the Kountry Kitchen that
shares pertinent historical information about Route 40.
As I stated earlier, Upper Pittsgrove Township is one of the few "dry" areas in America. For a
while I earned easy money on weekend nights, driving people to "Red Tavern," which was located
on Route 40 in the next county. Passengers would pay me $5 to taxi them the round trip of about
twenty miles. In those days, gasoline cost 15 cents per gallon and $2 worth filled the tank! If
I taxied several people at a time, I could earn more in half an hour than in two days at work! I
quit transporting drunks, however, after a drunk threw up in my car.
One of my classmates was killed on Route 40 when his car flew out of a curve and wrapped itself around a
tree. Another classmate lost his arm in the same accident. They had been drinking. Another
tragic incident involving alcohol was even more of a shock. A normally docile teenager murdered
my former Sunday School teacher. She operated a small cafe on Route 40 and was well liked by everyone. After
consuming several beers, a 19-year-old entered her store and demanded money. My guess is that
she probably tried to tell him about Jesus, but he pulled a knife and stabbed her a total of 19
times! After these experiences, I vowed that I would never touch alcohol.
Some of the stunts I pulled as a young person were not much different from those of any normal
youth. Like the time I "borrowed" a large sign from a junkyard in Vineland and placed it in
front of the Elmer funeral parlor. The sign read, "Good used Body Parts,
Many of the pranks we pulled as youth were somehow associated with Route 40 and the traffic
circle. In the little town of Elmer, there was a dangerous curve on Route 40
and homes located in
the curve were often mistaken for "drive-ins" by sleepy, drunk or careless drivers. Once,
several of us posted ourselves under a street light in the curve, standing on both sides of the
highway. Whenever a car approached too rapidly, we bent over and pretended to pick up a rope,
bracing ourselves in a fixed pose as though we were stretching the rope across the street. The
reaction of drivers varied. Nearly all stopped or slowed to a crawl. Some became angry and
threatened us but others simply laughed. In any case, we remained in our position without
smiling or speaking until the car passed out of sight.
I wasn't always that safety conscious. Some things I did were downright dangerous. Like the time
I tied the steering wheel of my car and let it idle around the Pole Tavern circle all by itself.
The circle was perfectly round in those days. Every few minutes, I had to run along side of the
slowly moving vehicle and jump on the running board to make a course correction. This took place
during the wee hours of the morning when few cars were on the road. Still, it was a risky thing
On another occasion, a friend and I taped two sealed beam headlights to a
broom handle and wired them to a car battery. We took this contraption out to a long, straight stretch of Route 40,
where I stood with the lights turned on until a car appeared in the distance. As the car
approached, I ran off the road with the headlights bouncing. After rolling the broomstick end
for end, I turned off the lights and joined my friend in a corn field. The drivers inevitably
stopped to look for tire tracks. Someone apparently reported the incident to the police, for
they came and searched the area with spotlights. Fortunately, they were not looking for
Several of us worked nights in the two Pole Tavern service stations, pumping gas. It didn't pay
much, but on summer weekends, there was always something going on at Circle City. Whoever pumped
gas was certain to have plenty of company.
Once, a friend named Norman, who stuttered, was manning the pumps. A big black Chrysler pulled
in to get gas. The driver rolled down his window and said, "F-f-f-fi-fi-fi-fill er up!" Norm
dutifully placed the nozzle in the tank and turned it on. He then returned to the driver's
window and asked, "Sh-sh-sh-sh-shall I ch-ch-ch-ch-check the oil?" The driver thought Norm was
mocking him and became angry. He shouted, "W-w-w-w-w-wise guy!", threw his car into drive, hit
the gas and disappeared into the night. The gas hose was ripped from the pump and dragged
several yards before it fell onto the road. Norm just stood there totally confused holding the
gas cap in his hand. He asked, "Wha-wha-what was e-e-eating hi-hi-him?" The rest of us were
laughing so hard, our stomachs hurt!
When things got dull at Circle City, we could usually think of crazy things to do. Tomato
farmers used to park their trucks and wagons loaded with tomatoes at the circle. There was a
weigh station there, and the farmers could get an early start to the cannery by lining up for
weighing the night before. One summer night, neither station was pumping much gas. One of us
walked over to a truck and fetched a basket of tomatoes. At first, we just ate them, but then
one of us threw a tomato at the guys in the station across the circle. Within seconds, an
all-out tomato war was raging. After several baskets of ammunition had been expended and we were
all dripping red, a customer drove into our station. He took one look at us and was ready to
notify the ambulance and police. We were able to convince him that there was no need for
concern. We spent the next hour hosing down the stations and each other.
I graduated from Woodstown High School, which is located on Route 40. The ceremony was
on June 8th, 1955 and uneventful compared
to that of my brother David. His graduation took place in the football stadium.
Brothers John and Dan
were on hand for the occasion, but they were not in the grandstand with the rest of us. They
were hiding in the bushes on the opposite side of the stadium. They had set off a couple of
sky-rockets the previous day, to determine exactly how much time elapsed between igniting the
fuse and detonation. Now, they were calculating the time it took for each student to approach
and ascend the platform before receiving the diploma. The rocket was scheduled to explode at the
precise moment David received his diploma, but something went wrong. Having received insider
information, I was sitting in great anticipation. David too, walked slowly to the center of the
platform, waiting for the rocket to take off, but nothing happened. We wondered if the boys had
gotten caught or perhaps "chickened out".
The last student received his diploma and a local minister began to read his prayer, when an
ear-shattering blast filled the air above the stadium! The befuddled minister lost his place,
paused and only after muffled laughter and murmuring in the grandstand had ceased, was he able
to finish his prayer. Few people were listening, least of all my younger brothers. They had left
the scene after lighting the fuse and were quite disappointed that the rocket seemed to be a
dud. No one was more surprised than they, when it finally exploded.
My graduation took place in the school gymnasium. After receiving my diploma, I ripped off the
ribbon and found myself holding a blank piece of paper! All the male graduates found the same.
The school Principal soon explained the reason. It seems that in previous years, many boys had
not turned in their graduation caps and gowns. He said that we could keep the tassels, but would
not get our diplomas until we turned in our garments. After the graduation, a couple of friends
and I had planned to drive to Atlantic City and parade the Boardwalk in our caps and gowns. It
was raining and this news almost caused us to change plans. After some discussion, we decided to
go ahead with plans. We still had until the following day to turn in the robes and "mortar
I was probably the only person in our class who got to keep his graduation cap as a souvenir. I
wrapped a square piece of cardboard in my robe before turning it in and no one noticed
After all these things occurred, we lived 38 years in Europe, but when we retired in 2002, we
chose to buy a house along Route 40. It is a block away and surrounded by trees, so the noise of
traffic doesn't bother us. But we live where three major highways converge
and are less than an hour's drive to the Jersey Shore and Philadelphia Airport.
We love our home and the location!
You can read more here, Car
Ralph V. Harvey