Richmond Hill
Richmond Furnace, PA
c1962-1990

Thanks to Michael Hicks, whose parents worked at Richmond Hill, for sharing its story with NELSAP! Read all about the area below. All images are courtesy of Michael.

The Ski Area known as Richmond Hill, located along Rt. 75 in Path Valley, opened around 1962. Ray and Evelyn started the ski area with just a warming hut and a rope tow. The rope tow was originally powered by a tractor's PTO unit and later changed to run on electric (using a motor from a snow maker)  I remember the afternoon when Dad was working on the conversion of the rope tow to run on electric. He had no plans to go by, he just started cutting and bolting pieces together and in a short time it was finished. He knew in his mind how it was to fit together and I was  there to hand him tools and materials and I was the graduate engineer!

They added the A-frame in 1963 which Ray built in Greencastle and hauled to the Ski Area. In January 1967,when I returned permanently from California, the logs were in place . The remaining items to do were, the roof, pour and grind the floor, do the chinking between the logs, build the front porch and add the fireplace and of course build the rooms upstairs.  I donít recall when the septic tanks were installed or the well drilled.

Over the next few years they added the T-bar lift, tennis court, pool and then snowmaking equipment.

(Right - a children's lift ticket for only $1.00)

 

Ray tried several methods to make snow. He first tried to modify an orchard sprayer to make snow but it didn't work ,. Then he used a diesel powered air compressor with snow nozzles, with some success. He finally bought used SMI (Snow Maker International) electric snow machines from a ski area in Virginia that went bankrupt. He went to Virginia, somewhere near Winchester, with a flatbed tractor and trailer and brought all the snow machine back in pieces. Most of them needed repaired, i.e. rewind three phases electric motors ,fix flat tires ,straighten bent members, etc. He wired the hillunder ground with three phase aluminum wiring and made hookup stations (electric outlets) so he could move the snow makers that were on wheels or skids, around. He set up permanent pole locations for some of the snow makers on the slope. The water lines were irrigation pipes also buried in the ground. Water was pumped out of the pond with a large electric driven water pump located in a room next to the pool.

The T-bar power unit was made from an old truck which had the bed removed and a fabricated steel cage erected on the frame to support the driving bull wheel. This also was fabricated in the shop in Greencastle and driven to the ski area. Power was supplied to the bull wheel by having the truck's differential rotated 90 degrees with universal joints and a drive shaft connected to the bull wheel. The gear shift in the truck cab, along with a governor, controlled the speed of the lift. A manual clutch lever was installed at the loading site and was used by the operator to start and stop the lift. The clutch was used many times as break down occurred . Break downs were mostly due to t-bars slipping on the cable or having the cable jump out of a pulley at one of the towers. These break downs were easily fix with minimum delays to the skiing.

(Left - an adult ticket for $7.00)

Tension in the lift cable was maintained by a weight (an old ore car filled with rocks) hung on a steel frame in front of the truck. The truck was run at idle speed and used about 10 gallons of fuel a day. It was very inexpensive to operate. We were only open on weekends so he made snow  when it was cold enough during the week to have snow on the weekends  He and a helper often worked all night since that's when the temperature was right for making snow. He would often make snow only to have it melt before the weekend. Rain and fog were snows worst enemy.

(Right - cover and back of the brochure. For a larger version, click on it)

The gathering of materials and erecting the lodge is a story in itself! The poles were obtained by bidding on them at a sale at Site A ,a military communication site south of town.  The poles were 90 feet long and had to be moved from the site to Path Valley. He had trouble making the turn at Upton on Rt. 16 because of the length of the load. The windows were purchased at least a year before they were needed. He had a vision of what he wanted to build . There were no plans on paper, it was all in his head. The plans needed to get approval from the state to operate as a ski area, were drawn up by Jim Oliver, a local draftsman, AFTER it was built.

(Left, inside of the brochure, click for the larger version)

The flooring on the second floor was made of rejected oak planks from a farm wagon manufacturer. He notched them lengthwise so they would lap over and because they were so twisted , he would jack them into place and nail them to the logs! The erection process used a gin pole with an arm and an electric winch (which he built) which was located in the center of the 40 x 80 building. He would lift the poles from the pile and position them with the wench, notch them with the chain saw and lower them into place. Of course he didn't do all this by himself, his wife Evelyn operated the winch!  The fire place was made from stone from a barn foundation located about a mile away. The opening in the building for the fire place was left open until last as the concrete trucks had to back thru the opening to pour the floor. The floor was poured in four foot square units and tamped on top with different colored stone. After the concrete hardened the floor was ground smooth to give it a terrazzo effect. The fireplace was layed up stone by stone by Ray with Evelyn mixing the mortar by hand. The opening for the actual fire chamber was large enough to burn half of a railroad tie. When they removed one of the railroad tracks going past Greencastle, they cut the ties in half and stacked them along the right of way, Ray got permission to haul them away free of charge to burn in the fire place. He accumulated truck after truck load of ties outside the lodge as fuel for the huge fireplace. The roof trusses were fabricated on the ground and lifted into place with the winch ,used lumber and some boards made from unused poles and used sheets of galvanized roofing completed the roof. Over the years many coats of asphalt paint were applied to keep the roof from leaking. The final operation was the chinking between the logs. both inside and out .Fiber glass sheet were cut and secured with expanded metal mesh where the logs came together. A grey mortar was used on the mesh  to seal the cracks. and finally a white coat of mortar was used on top of the grey. These operations would take weeks and weeks to do as Ray and Evelyn with the help from a laborer, worked by themselves at their own pace.

One of the last items to be completed was the connection of the original A-frame ski shop to the main lodge. It was always in the plan to connect the two buildings as doors which were the glass and aluminum doors from a bank in Greencastle, were installed early in the building sequence. It only took an afternoon for my dad and I to cut an opening in the roof of the A-frame ,build a ramp, and complete the connection.

(Right - a 1986 article on Richmond Hill. Click on it to view the larger version)

I don't know exactly how long it took complete the building but I would guess five years. The  11 room upstairs were last to be completed. I believe the Ski Area operated for nearly 30 years. I can recall that the children who learned to ski there grew up and brought their children to learn to ski. The price to rent and ski were very low. Insurance was so expensive that after a few years we carried no insurance. They didn't make a whole lot of money from the ski operation, but the rental of the building for parties ,reunions, and ski groups kept them from losing money. It was a family run operation with the help a several couples who took turns working on the weekends. During the ski season people would drop off their children, let them run up a tab on food ,then pick them up at the end of the day. We never had any serious accidents. A few broken legs and arms .The daughter-in-law who worked in the kitchen ,was a nurse and provided first aid as necessary.

When the area closed in 1990, the snow makers were sold to the operators of Ski Liberty and Round Top and some of the makers are still in operation today. In order to sell the property ,the lift and rope tow were removed and sold for junk.   The whole operation from the beginnings of a rustic shed warming hut to the final magnificent lodge ,a life's work, a labor of love.

(Left - a more recent aerial view shows the area quite clearly)

 

If any reader remembers this area or has more information, please let us know.

Last Updated September 24, 2008

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