THE VILLAGES — When Howard Blanding first hit the road as a New York state trooper in 1936, he did it on a motorcycle.
It was only a few years earlier that Model T Fords or horses were the staples of the force’s transportation.
Blanding, 95, was recently honored by the Police Benevolent Association as the oldest of more than 2,500 retired New York state troopers. And on Wednesday, the Retired New York State Police Breakfast Club toasted him at El Santiago restaurant.
Blanding, who lives in Eustis, has been joining the retired troopers group for years. He enjoys swapping stories with them, as well as reminding them what it was like when he was on patrol from 1936 to 1946.
“Back in the old days, troopers made $900 a year. You’d get a $200 increase every five years, and you maxed out at $1,900,” he said. “Things were real tight; you’re talking about the days right after the Depression.”
The hours were extreme, as well, as Blanding and the other troopers worked
24 hours a day, 27 days a month.
“When you were young and single, it was great — you didn’t mind living out of a suitcase,” Blanding said.
But after serving in the Navy during World War II from 1942 to 1945, Blanding said he wanted a more comfortable life and started his own photography business.
People like Blanding make it easy to take pride in being a New York state trooper, Marty Hockey said. The Village of Glenbrook resident formed the group six years ago as a way to provide camaraderie for retired New York state troopers living in or near The Villages. There are now 32 members, 16 of them Villagers.
“We come from all different ranks from all different areas of (New York). We get together to tell old war stories,” said Hockey, who served 38 years as a New York state trooper. “There are no dues, just breakfast.”
Edward Brouse of the Village of Country Club Hills said the group is an easy sell.
“You say ‘coffee’ and you’ll get troopers from all over the world to come here,” he joked. Brouse, who comes from a law enforcement family, served 30 years as a New York state trooper.
“I couldn’t think of anything else I would have done in my life,” Brouse said. “There was no happy medium being a trooper; you were either in or you quickly discovered that you wanted to get out.”
“I don’t think anyone here wouldn’t do it all over again,” he said.
In addition to the local organization of retired New York state troopers, there is a club on the state level.
Village of Winifred resident Fred Goldman is president of the Florida Association of Retired Troopers, which has 325 members and meets for a reunion every March in Maitland.
“We call ourselves old FARTs,” he laughed about the group’s acronym. But the connection the troopers have with one another is more serious.
“It’s something you can’t explain — it’s like your brothers, like your family,” Goldman said.
The retired New York State Police Breakfast Club meets at 8 a.m. the first Thursday of every month at El Santiago Club.