I grew up in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia and we would lower the liitlest guy by his feet to scoop up all the pimple balls. Took great courage and faith in those at the ankles to come back up with a coupla’ balls we could cut in half to play Halfsies. I guess our sewers weren’t as deep as yours; about 5 feet to the water line. Well we were close to the Delaware River too!
I grew up in Brooklyn on McDonald Ave. The F train ran in front of my house. To get change (or the key you dropped) from the gratings, we would use something like a small lock (for weight) and some bubblegum (the kind with Bazooka Joe). This worked pretty well-that gum was sticky.
We used to fish the lost spauldeens out of the sewers in astoria projects where I grew up by fashioning a metal coat hanger with a little loop at the bottom enough to lift the ball out of the muck. Someone called “chips” on the ball, 15 cents was couple days of bottle hunting…Yuk…here’s your ball kid.
I lived on Steinway St in Astoria and we went fishing too. Since it was a busy street we had meters and boy that was good for fishing. People were constantly dropping coins down the gratings. It was like hitting lotto when you got 25 cents. After all look what it could buy.
I went down one of those infamous ladders of an opened grate – growing up in Brooklyn, I was trying to get my Spaldeen. A huge “Ben” clone sewer rat was on his way up. Needless to say I gave the monster the right-of-way and haven’t touched a grating since.
I grew up on 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The R Train (4th Avenue Local -The “RR” or Ridge Runner back then) traveled the length of 4th Avenue to 95th Street. Every other block had subway ventilation grates (known as the “subway gratings”) on the sidewalk near the curb. People would drop coins and other “stuff” down there. To get them out, you assembled a “fishing” kit: A 3 ounce lead fishing sinker A ball of string (kite string was good) A jar of Vaseline Take the lead sinker, and scrape and smash the pointed bottom on the sidewalk until it is flattened. Our string used to be wrapped around a small stick. Tie the string on the sinker, and dab Vaseline on the flattened end of it. Walk along the gratings until you see a coin. Lower the sinker, and moving carefully, hover just above the coin. When the sinker steadies, drop it on the coin. (Here you have to be careful… if you miss, the sinker will hit the bottom of the air shaft and the Vaseline gets full of dirt and loses its stickiness). After “catching” the coin, pull it up slowly… if you go too fast, the coin will fall off. Many times you would get a coin all the way to the top, but when maneuvering the sinker and coin through the grating, it would hit the side and the coin would fall off. There always seemed to be lots of coins nearer to Bay Ridge Avenue (69th Street). The local lore had it that people rushing for the train would drop their change.