The following story comes to us courtesy of Frank Grosz who is a lifetime resident of Sodus Point. He relates the story of his Uncle Max Grosz and his faithful horse named Dick. Uncle Max was a colorful character who in the 1960s and 70s, lived on Mosely Rd. and could often be seen around town dressed in his hip boots and checkered shirt. One of the reasons Uncle Max always wore hip boots was that if he caught an illegal fish, he would slip it down the boots far from the prying eyes of a game warden. There are rumors that other things (of an alcoholic nature) were also stored in this early version of a man purse.
Uncle Max was a coal trestle worker. Since it seemed to be an occupational requirement on the trestle to have a nickname, Uncle Max was known as “Toggle”.
Uncle Max as a young man working at Alasa Farm (photo courtesy of Frank Grosz)
Not uncommon to many of the blue collar coal trestle workers, Uncle Max was fond of drinking. Unfortunately this fondness meant that Uncle Max no longer could drive a car either to work or to a number of local Sodus Point watering holes. What’s a guy to do? This is where Dick comes in. Dick was every bit as faithful as the Lone Ranger’s horse “Silver” and definitely the equine version of Man’s Best Friend. Uncle Max rode Dick to work at the coal trestle and while at work, kept him at a shanty located near the bunkhouse over by the Malt House.
When the opportunity arose to celebrate life by hoisting a beer or three (as it often did), Dick became both designated driver and drinking buddy for Uncle Max. Ray’s Bar and Grill, which was a drinking establishment on Sentell Street near the Malt House, was favored by railroad and trestle workers alike. While Uncle Max entered Ray’s through the front door, Dick would come into the bar through the back door. Beer bottles were thoughtfully uncapped and placed on the bar. Dick would pick up the bottles with his teeth and tilting his mighty head back, guzzle the entire bottle. Although not much of a conversationist, Dick apparently could hold his beer better than Uncle Max since at the end of the night Dick still had his wits about him. The evening would end with Dick bending down while his friends would hoist Uncle Max onto Dick’s back. Dick would then proceed back home to the barn. Here a simple lift lever allowed Dick to open the barn door with his mouth. Once inside the barn, Dick would bend down once again and deposit Uncle Max in a strategically located mound of hay where Uncle Max’s wife would find him the next morning.
Uncle Max was more than a horse whisperer. He trained his pigs not to eat food until he gave them the signal. He also taught his dog to climb a ladder and accompany him on the roof of his house. Uncle Max also would put a piece of meat on his dog’s nose and trained him only to eat it once Uncle Max gave the signal. Even if he left the room, the dog would wait. Another story about Uncle Max involves his homing pigeons. He would send them over to the Canadian steamship office via steamship baring messages. They would then fly home to Sodus Point with return messages. This was Sodus Point’s first introduction to Air Mail.
Uncle Max and the UFO
It seems that every old timer from Sodus Point has a story about “Uncle Max” . The following story comes from Fred Harrington who grew up in Sodus Point in the 1940s and 50s and was another nephew of Uncle Max and tells the following story:
“ One morning around 3 AM my mother wakes me up and tells me there is a UFO hovering up by Uncle Max’s house and to go investigate it. When I get up there, I can see a light at the top of a big pine tree and I hear Uncle Max’s voice. I yell up to him and say: “Uncle Max what are you doing up there”? Uncle Max is obviously intoxicated with a flashlight and yells down to me that he is teaching Smokey (his dog) to climb trees. Sure enough, I see Smokey half way up the tree slowly climbing the tree branch by branch. Uncle Max could teach animals to do anything.” As far as we know, this UFO sighting was never reported to the Air Force and their project Blue Book.
Another fond memory he has of Uncle Max is that he always carried a pocketful of butterscotch candy to give to any children he met. Remember that Uncle Max worked on the coal trestle and wore the same clothes for extended periods of time so as a result the candy was covered with a thick layer of coal dust. You had to first wipe off the coal dust and then unwrap the candy to eat it.
Glenn Proseus who is another lifetime resident of Sodus Point also has fond memories of Max. He tells how Max would sometime come down to his farm and grab his electric fence and hold onto it while being shocked. Max would then exclaim that he did not need to go to a fancy medical clinic when he could get his shock treatments for free. Glenn also recalls Max and his pet crow who was named Jim. Max would sometime give his crow beer. After a while the crow’s eyes would get glassy, he would get wobbly on his feet and he would then stretch his wings out. Max would then sadly comment that the crow just could not hold his drink very well. One night, Max was driving home in his beat up car, wearing a top hat that someone had given him the day before. His car had no taillights so Max was using railroad lanterns placed in the rear of the vehicle. A cop seeing this proceeded to pull Max over. Recognizing Max, the officer sternly told him that he should have a friend with him to drive him home. Taking off his top hat, out popped his crow to which Max exclaimed to the stunned officer that he indeed did have a friend with him. No ticket was issued.
Jim Gallagher was also a nephew of Uncle Max and has very fond memories of him. He remembers that Uncle Max taught Jim the crow to talk. He did this by splitting the tongue of the crow. Uncle Max’s wife was named Rowena but Uncle Max always called her “Bubby”. He soon had the crow incessantly saying “Bubby…Bubby” over and over again. When Jim Gallagher and Max went hunting, they once took Jim the crow with them but soon found out he would not stop saying “Bubby…Bubby” in a loud voice scaring away any potential game. Jim the Crow was also taught to say another phrase. Max would come out of the house in the morning to go to work and say “Good Morning Jim” and the crow would answer him with a “Good morning Max”.
Uncle Max also had a pet rooster which he tied a string to its leg and trained to sit on his shoulder. One time he went to the Bay Street Bar and was challenging people to clap their hands next to the rooster and see if the rooster would leave his shoulder. Of course he could not because of the string. When he challenged the bartender to do it, the bartender took out a knife and cut the string. The rooster then proceeded to fly all around the bar and he almost became the Friday special.
Bill Huff, Jr. also adds a story to the Uncle Max legend, this time involving a ferret that Uncle Max trained to stay in his jacket. Max and Bill went into the Bay Street Bar one night and noticed almost everyone at the Bar was a woman. Uncle Max instructed Bill and himself would first get their glass of beer and then Bill was to move down to the other end of the bar. When Max gave a nod of his head, Bill whistled and the Ferret came out of the jacket like a shot and ran down the bar towards Bill. The women at the bar shrieked in terror thinking a rat was loose on the bar and many spilled their drinks much to the delight of Max and Bill.