Compiled and Edited By: Sebert Toney,Jr.
Wichita Falls, Texas 76306
© 1994 Sebert Toney, Jr.
This book represents several different (and many of the same) viewpoints of life in Berwind during the decades from the `20s onward. Many of the people emphasized love of family, friends, church and schools for their happiness and well being while living in Berwind. As some folks pointed out, there wasn't a lot to do in Berwind (by today's standard), but we made our own fun by use of imagination and making do with what we had.
The Company Store was a favorite subject for a variety of reasons; it was a gathering place for all generations, it provided a lot of folks their first jobs, it supplied many of us with the necessities of life. Most of us have memories of the Drug Store where we could sit in the old booths and share a coke, ice cream, or milk shake with family and friends.
I've gathered from reading all these "Memories of Berwind" that Berwind had a very positive impact on all that lived there. I have the definite impression that we are all proud and happy to write about this place we call "HOME"-Berwind, West Virginia.
Victor Kenwood, a former Berwind High student, wrote the following poem. It was printed in the Berwind High School paper The Dryfork Flyer in May 1928. (Submitted by Wanda Houdashell Bailey.)
HILLS OF WEST VA.
By Eddie Whitt (April 2007)
WELL GROWING UP IN THE HILLS OF WEST VA. WAS ONE OF THE BEST TIMES OF MY LIFE. DID'NT HAVE A CARE OR WORRY ONE. I WENT TO SCHOOL CAME IN AND PLAYED WITH ALL THE KIDS AROUND THE COAL CAMP WE LIVED IN, AND IN THE FALL, WHEN HUNTING SEASON CAME IN, I WOULD HEAD FOR THEM THAR HILLS, (HILLBILLY TALK). SOME OF THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF GROWING UP , WAS HUNTING AROUND THE OLD FIRE TOWER IN BERWIND WEST VA. THERE WAS SEVERAL PLACES THAT YOU COULD GO FROM THE TOWER.
The Way To Berwind
By Victor Kenwood
Down the road and through the trees
Where there's ever a stirring breeze,
There's a turn to the right, below runs a rill,
Then a turn to the left and over the hill,
At the foot of the hill with many a bend,
Runs the railroad to old Berwind.
The train carries me `round the side
Through the trees and over a bridge; of a ridge,
I see the wooded mountains as I pass by,
I even see the birds and hear their cry;
They perch proudly on the limbs of a tree
And scream defiance at creatures like me.
They wonder as they sit in graceful poise,
Why we want such a monster that makes such a noise,
I'm carried `round a turn through a cut in the hill,
Then I'm brought to a short standstill.
Soon I round a nearby bend
On my way to old Berwind.
I'm carried through a tunnel with a leak in the top,
On `round a curve then we come to a stop;
The people are gathered at each little place,
And they look every passenger straight in the face.
Beside the track with a totter and sway
Flowers are blooming on the right-of-way.
On along the track with no great speed
I pass the other towns but hardly take heed.
On, on I'm carried with a bump and a knock
Through a cut in the hill with sides of rock,
The train thunders on and rounds a long bend,
Then I've arrived at old Berwind.
Thus I write of old Berwind
For there happy school days came to an end.
I was happy there at the old high school
Working and studying under the principal's rule.
Though I'll never be there again,
I'll always love the old Berwind.
MEMORIES OF BERWIND, WEST VIRGINIA
SEBERT TONEY, JR.
My earliest memories of Berwind is during 1947, just after my parents, Sebert and Lucille Toney moved there from Valls Creek, a small community just about 6 miles south of Berwind. We moved into a very large boarding house on what was commonly called "Tank Hill" because of the huge water tank that sat a little further up the hill. The big black tank stood prominently upon the hillside and supplied water to the entire town for many years.
As a youngster growing up in Berwind, I felt that I lived in a town full of people that were more like a family than a group of families. It seemed as though everyone cared about their neighbors and their neighborhood. Maybe that feeling came naturally because most of the people worked for the coal mine and we all had that in common.
During this time period, New River and Pocahontas Coal Company owned the mine. The mine was located in the hill on the south side of the creek that flowed through Berwind on the upper end of town. The coal from the mine was washed at the tipple before it was loaded into the railroad cars. The dirty, filthy polluted water was then returned to the creek to kill off the fish that might be in there. Across the creek from our house was a pump house that was used to pump water from the mines. Sometimes they would turn the pump off for several days then start it back up. The stench from that water was terrible. It smelled a lot like rotten eggs or sulfur water. After a while we would get used to the smell and it didn't bother those of us who lived near it. But for the folks passing through, it was a real jolt to their olfactory senses.
I could stand on our front porch and see the men come and go from the mines. In the `50's when the men got off work, there would be a steady stream of dirty, sooty men trudging up the little dirt road that led from the mine to the main road. It seemed as if they stretched out forever. It sometimes reminded me of ants, how they would follow each other up the hill.
I could hear the siren that sounded each day at noon. It also sounded when a miner had been injured at the mine. There were many incidents, ranging from a miner being crushed, to someone smashing a finger or a foot. Each time the siren would wail for an emergency everyone would pray that it would not be for their loved one, but at the same time their hearts would go out to the injured miner and his family. Seeing a person missing an arm, leg, or any number of fingers was a common sight during those days. I guess safety wasn't high on the list of priorities for the coal company.
As in most "coal camps" the whole town was built and owned by the coal company. They rented the houses to the miners for about $20 a month. They also owned the "Company Store" which was the only store for miles around. In the 1930s up until the `50s there was a company store in each town around the area. Valls Creek, Canebrake, Newhall, and Cucumber all had company stores.
LIFE IN BERWIND
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
Now that I'm older and have had time to reflect on my life at Berwind, I realize that times were really tough on the folks there and the surrounding communities. I didn't realize it at the time of my youth, probably because I didn't know anything different and hadn't thought about it all that much. I guess that may have been the way that most of the people felt. We were all in about the same fix financially, emotionally and environmentally.
Although times were tough, people came together in times of need and hardships to help one another and tried to make things easier on their neighbors. It seems that people were always sharing produce from their gardens. (Most yards had a garden spot or two in them.) When women were pregnant the others got together and gave her a baby shower. When someone passed away, the whole neighborhood would get together at the "Wake" and bring food and drinks for the bereaved family.
When the neighborhood kids went over to someone's home to play, they were treated just like one of the family and were taken care of. If someone needed a baby-sitter, there was always an ample supply of young girls willing to earn a dollar or two.
Something that was very different then from now, is how hardly anyone locked their doors to their home. I don't remember anyone complaining about a break-in or someone stealing something from a home. I'm sure it must have happened once in a while, but I wasn't aware of it.
One way that the town girls helped their families economically was how they would borrow clothes from one another. I remember my sisters and their friends borrowing everything from neckerchiefs to shoes, from sweaters to skirts and dresses. A conversation might go something like this. "Mary, may I borrow the blue sweater with the butterflies on it?" "Oh", Mary would say, "that was borrowed from Jean and I let Brenda borrow it last night. But may I borrow Gail's yellow blouse that you wore last week?"
I don't know how they ever kept up with what belonged to whom or if it ever got back to the original owner.
During the summer, the choir from the African-American Church would gather at a home on Tank Hill behind us. They would start singing along with a piano and a tambourine. The sounds would carry on the summer breezes to my bedroom and I would lie there and listen to some of the best Gospel singing I've ever heard. Although it was quite loud, it was at the same time very soothing and reassuring. After a while, I would fall asleep with the feeling that all was well with the world.
As youngsters growing up in Berwind, we all had to walk wherever we were going. We didn't have access to a car until we got our driver's license, usually at the age of 16. Even then, it was like pulling teeth trying to get the car keys from our dads' hands.
If we were lucky enough to have a bicycle, then things were a little easier. Of course, there was quite a bit of upkeep on the bikes. We had to have the latest in headlights and taillights, reflectors, and horns and bells. Riding up and down the hillsides sure made your leg muscles strong, but it played havoc on the brakes and sprocket chains. Not to mention the tires.
The coal trains also made things tough on people in Berwind. Especially on wash days. If a steam locomotive came chugging by while the clothes were hung on the line to dry, the cinders that were sent up and out of its smokestack found their way to the clothes. On white things such as sheets, pillowcases, T-shirts and shorts, the black soot showed up real well and they would have to be washed again. Also, if the cinders happened to be particularly hot when they hit the clothes, there would be small pinhole size holes in them.
Of course, coal dust was everywhere. When you walked down the road, the dust would be blown in your face and on your clothes as the cars passed. It was next to impossible to stay "cleaned up" for any length of time. It’s a wonder that we all didn't get "Black Lung" just by living there.
But the train situation wasn't all bad. I got used to the late night coal train that came through almost every night. I found that I had a hard time getting to sleep until that train came by. Usually, it was about 100-150 cars long. I would fall asleep listening to the soothing sound of the clickity-clack as the wheels ran over the cracks where the rails were spliced together. Sometimes a car would have a flat spot on a wheel. It could be heard for quite a distance. First faintly, then getting louder as it neared the house. Then growing fainter as it headed on down the tracks and out of town. In those days it was comforting and soothing. Today, it would probably just be a nuisance to me.
TRADING COMIC BOOKS, BASEBALL CARDS, AND SCHOOL BOOKS
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
During the `50s there was a lot of good "funny books" (comic books) printed every month. Seems as though all the kids had their own personal stack of them. All of the popular cowboys of the day had a comic book written about them. As well as everything from Donald Duck to The Ghoul. We read them all. We would gather up the ones we had read and go house to house trading them with our friends.
The cost of the regular comic book was 10 cents. For the larger volume, we paid 25 cents. We traded one for one of the regular size and sometimes we could get 3 regulars for one of the larger volumes.
A lot of the guys would save and swap baseball cards. We got them from packages of bubble gum. It only cost a penny for the gum and the card. The card had a color picture of the ball player on the front with his signature. On the back were all of his statistics. In those days it was mostly young boys who collected and saved them. It wasn't for money (as it is today) but just for the love of a game where the players were heroes. My brother, Bart, had a couple of shoeboxes full of the cards. He knew all the players, who they played for, their batting averages, etc. He let a friend keep them for a while and the friend's house burned along with a collection of baseball cards that could very well be worth thousands of dollars today.
At the beginning of the school year we would get a list of the text books that we would need to have for that year. There was always a mad scramble trying to locate the books. Sometimes we could trade books that another family would need for some that they might have that we needed. After a few years, the books became battered, tattered, and worn. But you could sure learn a lot from them. Maybe not what the school board or the teacher wanted you to learn but what was written in the margins and front and back pages. You learned who loved who, who hated which boy or girl or teacher. Some of the girls blotted their lipstick on the pages. I'll have to admit some of the lip prints looked pretty kissable to me.
BERWIND BANK, DOCTOR'S OFFICE AND PARK AREA
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
The bank was a large, rock building and stood across the roadway from the Doctor's office at the lower end of town. During the `40's and `50's it was a very busy place. During that time there was thousands of men working day and night at the mine at Berwind and the other mines around the area. They weren't paid a lot of money in those days but they managed to get by and some even managed to save a little now and then.
In front of and behind the bank was the park area. It had turnstiles at both ends for pedestrians to travel from the Company store to the Doctor's office side. Around the entire complex which covered about two acres was a fence about 3½ feet high made of 4" x 4" lumber for a top rail and a 2" x 6" mid-rail. Since the top rail was set up in a diamond shape it was very hard to sit on. After years and years of people sitting and whittling on it, one could find a somewhat comfortable spot to sit for a while.
I remember "Peg" Branson used to sit in the same spot on the fence for many years. He was called "Peg" because he had lost one of his legs above the knee and he had a wooden peg leg.
When I got to an age when I could stay out a little past dark, I started playing "kick the can", "red rover" and "capture the flag "with the other guys at the park. I’m sure we made a lot of noise at those times, but not once did any of the people who lived in that area call for us to be quiet or threaten us in any way.
In those days, we had never heard of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, etc. Some of the guys smoked cigarettes or chewed tobacco and a couple drank beer, but that was all. The foul language that is heard everywhere now a day was not used by us when we played there. So all in all we had a pretty good time with each other just playing games and passing the time waiting to get out of that "nowhere town".
The Doctor's office was a large white building situated at the bend in the creek on the lower end of town about 1/8 mile from the school. The building was a combination home and office for the Doctor who was an employee of the coal company. When we went to see the doctor we had to enter through a door on the left front side of the house. It led into a waiting area that had a red tiled floor and a very high ceiling. I remember it being very chilly in there but I'm sure that it wasn't air-conditioned. The only doctor I remember being there was Dr. Emory E. Lovas. He probably delivered 90% of the babies born at Berwind and surrounding communities during the `40's and early `50's. He was the attending physician at my birth on 16 March 1943. He always seemed to have a cigar in his mouth.
Since Dad was an employee of the Coal Company and a member of the United Mine Workers of America, he had benefits, which included hospitalization and doctor's visits. He had a benefits card which he referred to as his "welfare card" and all we had to do was show it to the nurse and she'd take the information from it and our shots, broken bones, baby deliveries, etc. were all taken care of. In those days, the Doctor also made house calls. I remember him coming to our house for at least three of my younger brothers' births.
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
A very sad day of my youth was the day my brother, Dranan, lost the sight of his right eye. It started off just as any other day. The neighborhood kids had gathered for a day of play at our house.
They had gathered a bunch of `stick weeds' to use as arrows in their game of "Cowboys and Indians". The weeds grew all around the area. They would grow dense, straight, and tall during the summer then lose their leaves in the fall leaving a pretty good shaft to use as arrows. Caps from soda bottles were bent over one end as an arrowhead leaving a very sharp point on the stick.
Dranan had his `hide-out' in our bathhouse. He was hiding behind the stove when another brother, Charles, came in looking for him. Dranan peeped from behind the stove just as Charles let fly an arrow from his bow. The arrow struck Dranan straight in the eye, blinding him instantly.
Doctors at Richlands Clinic tried all they could to save Dranan's sight but to no avail. Eventually he lost sight in his left eye also. Mom and Dad clutched at all straws, hoping to find something to help him regain his sight but as the months turned to years, Dranan's vision kept deteriorating. He was taken to eye specialists at Bluefield, WV and Johnson City, TN as well as Richlands, VA. but none could prevent the inevitable.
Dranan was in the first grade at Berwind when the accident occurred. He lost a couple of years education during the time he was undergoing treatment. He finally started going to school at the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind at Romney, WV. He graduated from there in 1970.
If anything good ever came from this incident, it would be that from that day on there was never another `bow and arrow' made by the kids there. Possibly saving another child and family the heartache and tears of watching a loved one suffer the loss of sight-or worse.
SETTLING AND LIVING IN BERWIND
By Esther (Gall) Sebastian
I want to reminisce a little about my mom and dad, John and Elizabeth Gall. The came from Hungary about 1912. They settled in Perth Amboy, New Jersey where John, Jr., Alex, and I were born. My dad decided to move on to Toledo, Ohio where I started kindergarten. All I remember about that school is the big door that I could hardly open. Also, the pretty drawings we pasted on the windows in the classroom.
Then, at an invitation by a friend, my dad decided to try the coal mines. He moved us to Lynch, Kentucky where Steve and Helen were born. Then in 1926 we came to Berwind. He was satisfied and stayed. I really think Dad was looking for home because Mom told me they had lived in the hills in Hungary but they weren’t as high as the Berwind hills. Mom had a beautiful singing voice, she sang some ballads of her country.
I had a lot of fun growing up on Tank Hill with the Bransons. Madge was my best buddy. We went to Hazel Elswick’s parties at her house. Madge and I always danced—we enjoyed that more than playing "post office" and "spinning the bottle"—Really!! We knew all the big band songs. John, my brother, tells this story about Madge and me. We were in the porch swing singing "Darling I am growing old, silver threads among the gold" and we would snicker and giggle. Madge and I would wrap up in a blanket on a chilly day and sing a lot of the oldie songs—"Once in a While", "Please", "You were meant for Me", "Tiptoe through the Tulips", "Just One more Chance"—just to name a few. Nina Gravely and Louise Bailey would remember these songs.
I will always remember my Irish and English friends—the O’Hanlons and the Clarks. We went on picnics with them to Burkes Garden. Molly O’Hanlon taught us to dance the "Highland Fling". Madge, Keena Dell’Orso, and I enjoyed them very much.
My goodness, where have the years gone—all these good memories are coming back to me!
I remember the PTA dances that Steve and I had for the kids at the gym. What fun we had with them!—Tommy Branson, Lester and Leslie Beavers, Jack Null, Carmelita Gillespie, Nancy Davis, Mary Seward, Velma Price, and many, many more. Ed Johnson came with his good recordings. I will always remember Harry Glenn, he was always there with us.
We pitched horseshoes in the alley behind my house. Bea and Fred Wyatt were always so good to us. We had a lot of fun at their house. Bea said she would get up in the morning after the party and she would not have anything to put in Fred’s lunch to take to work. All the food was gone. Sorry about that, Bea! You can put the blame on Tommy Branson, Mary Sue and the others!!
I want to tell you about Steve, my husband. His mom and dad settled in New Jersey the same year as my mom and dad. They lived in Passaic, NJ, which was not anywhere near Perth Amboy. Steve and I met here in Berwind. How about that!
I remember Steve working with the engineers—Mr. Boisture, Mr. Bailey, Robert Branson, Luther Lawson, Jim Wade, Jim Kulchar, and Lewis Staten. He really liked his work and being with these men. One time they were working up in the woods and they decided to build a fire and have some good hot coffee. When they left, they didn’t put the fire out completely so they had to pay a fine. That was an expensive cup of coffee!
I remember Mr. Kinzer. I was walking to the store one day and Mr. Kinzer was sitting on his porch having his coffee. I asked him if he was having his breakfast. He said, "Esther, have you ever had coffee soup?" I said, "No." He said, "This is coffee with a biscuit in it." I said, "Mr. Kinzer, I guess I have coffee soup every morning too. Only difference is I put bread in mine." I sure didn’t know I was having coffee soup. But it was good.
I enjoyed working with Bud Walker and Jewell Linkous at the post office. Also with Joe Murinsky in English (WV). Good memories!
I do have a lot of good memories of Berwind. Sure had some good friends and enjoyed being with them.
FRIED FISH, ICE CREAM AND A COOKIE: AIN’T A BAD SNACK
By Tommy Branson
At most she was maybe four feet, nine inches tall, she spoke with a decided Hungarian accent, she always had a twinkle in her eye and her voice smiled when she spoke!!!! As a child, a pat on the shoulder from her was better than being Knighted by the Queen of England. As an adult, a hug from her was better than a hug would have been from the whole Gabor family—when Zsa Zsa and Ava were in their prime. If you knew her, just the mention of her name automatically evoked such adjectives as; kind, considerate, caring and loving, to mention a few. If you ever needed a second mother, you could not have made a better choice if you had picked her! To those who didn’t know her, she may have appeared to have a short stocky body. And if you thought she could’ve had a weight problem it was because you didn’t know her. Believe me, what might have been perceived to be extra weight was simply a body not tall enough to handle the large heart that she had. Her love and concern for her family and friends was unmatched. She truly had as big a heart as anyone could have ever had. I really believe Mrs. Gall was as well qualified to become a Saint as any woman the Catholic Church, her church, has ever bestowed that honor on. Did I like her? "Just a little." Was she my friend? "You bet your life!!!!!!!"
Mr. and Mrs. Gall immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1912. After a long and arduous boat trip that lasted a month, they finally arrived at New York’s Ellis Island where they completed the process of becoming American citizens. I’ve tried to imagine how difficult this would’ve been for a young couple, in their mid twenties to do and I must admit that I don’t have the slightest clue! Try to picture yourself in their position and it would almost seem like an impossible task. Anew country, a new language, strange customs, no job and on and on and on. It would have scared me to death. As tough as it all must have been, never once did the Galls ever question or waver on their decision to come to America. Someone once asked Mrs. Gall if she would ever like to go back to Hungary for a visit. Without a moment’s hesitation she responded, "I’ll go back when they build a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean so you can drive over there. I don’t want to fly and I remember the long boat ride too well."
I’m told that Mr. Gall had a brother living in Perth Amboy, NJ and Mr. and Mrs. Gall went there to live. Here they started their new life, in a new country where they started a new family. I found out that the three oldest Gall children were all born in New Jersey and not in Berwind as most of us had thought. We also learned that Mr. and Mrs. Gall were not real happy living in New Jersey, so close to New York City. They came to America from a small rural town in Hungary named Resck that is situated in the mountains and is located in the county of Heves Megye. After about 5 or six years they decide to move to Lynch, KY where they had some friends that realized that they were unhappy living in New Jersey. While Lynch proved to be much more to their liking, they still were not completely satisfied. Through their friends they heard of Berwind and they wanted to take a look at this coal mining town over in southern West Virginia. Once they got to Berwind they found it to be so similar to their home in Resck, Hungary they decided that Berwind was the place to make their home. The mountains, the coal mines and the small town was exactly what they were looking for. And like they say, "The rest is history."
I’ll always remember, as a kid growing up, what a special treat it was to go see Mrs. Gall and it was a little better in the summertime when she would be working in her garden. If you never saw her garden, you won’t understand what I’m talking about. She always had the neatest garden anyone could ever have. To me it looked like she had taken a broom and swept the ground between the rows of vegetables that she had planted. In fact, her whole yard seemed to be like that. I always thought that it would be neat to play in her yard—you would never get dirty!! Even her dirt was not dirty.
Another reason I enjoyed visiting Mrs. Gall was that she cooked a lot and her kitchen was the best smelling place you can ever imagine. Her kitchen smelled like a kitchen ought to smell!!! To those of you in your mid fifties or older I’m sure you will remember how good the Kern’s Bakery in Bluefield smelled when you passed by and smelled the bread baking. Well. Mrs. Gall’s house smelled better than the bakery. I’m not sure what heaven will look like, but I’m sure it will smell just like Mrs. Gall’s kitchen.
Anytime we went back to Berwind for a visit, we always made a point to visit Mrs. Gall. Not only us, but other members of my family did the same. Let me relate an incident that happened to my brother, Edward and his three children on one of their visits to Mrs. Gall’s. Her house was always immaculate, very neat, and a home that you would feel uncomfortable letting your youngsters have too much freedom. For fear that they might break something. Edward’s oldest daughter was about eight and his twins, a boy and a girl, were about five at the time of this visit. Edward, a good father, was making sure that the children did not misbehave and was constantly telling them to not do this or don’t do that. Of course, Mrs. Gall was on Edward, telling him to leave the children alone and let them enjoy themselves. At one point during the visit Edward scolded one of the children and Mrs. Gall, all four feet nine inches of her and in her broken English said, "Shut up, Ed….Ward." (It rhymed with yard and Edward sounded like two names.) Of course she said it with an infectious grin and Edward and the children knew she was kidding. But the children thought that it was great to see this little woman almost two feet shorter than their dad taking up for them and telling him to "shut up Ed….Ward." To this day, twenty-five years later, they still remember Mrs. Gall and talk of this incident.
One thing you had to do when you went for one of these visits was you had to eat something. There was no getting out of it. She insisted that you eat and you always ate something. It may not be more than a couple of cookies or some small snack, but you ate something!!!!!! It was one of these visits that my wife and I stopped to see Mrs. Gall. Her son John had just returned from a fishing trip and she was frying some of the fish. Of course, Mrs. Gall said we should eat something and we did….a fried fish, a dish of ice cream, and a cookie!!!! You know what….it tasted pretty darn good too!!
Mrs. Gall was one of the most jovial people I’ve ever known and despite all the hardships that she endured, not once did I ever see her when she wasn’t more concerned about your problems than her own. All of the problems involved when they first came to America, the great depression, losing both Mr. Gall and her son, Alex in World War II, makes one wonder how she and her family were ever able to cope with it. Knowing all this now, I’m sure you also feel like Mrs. Gall truly was a Saint!!!
Mrs. Gall passed away in 1972 at age 86, and like so many other women of her generation in Berwind, it was hard to give her up! But I saw a quote the other day by Virginia Taylor, and I think about it a lot as I reminisce about Berwind and think of Mrs. Gall and the others. It makes it easier for me to accept these great loses when they do occur. The quote is—"Now that she is dead, she greets Christ with a nod."
KILLER VS. STEAMBOAT
By Tommy Branson
In the late ‘40s when all the men returned home after the war, things were really booming in the coalfields. All the mines around Berwind were working full blast. At least two and sometimes three shifts a day. There was a lot of overtime being worked and occasionally tempers would flare. If it looked like a disagreement might turn into a fight between two people, the other workers would get involved and generally cooler heads would prevail and the parties involved would usually cool off and forget all about the disagreement.
On this occasion, Calvin Waldron and Arthur Boyd were having a problem over something and were about to get into a fight. Some of the other men tried to get it straightened out but both Calvin and Arthur were still wanting to "get it on". Someone suggested that rather than having a fight at work and possibly losing their jobs why not have a boxing match. This was agreeable to both of them so they decided to have a boxing match a week or so later down at the croquet lot in the playground.
As word spread of the fight, we kids put up posters advertising the fight and all the particulars. Each fighter needed a nickname so we called Arthur, "Killer Boyd" and Calvin became "Steamboat Waldron". We tacked up posters all over town and I can still see them today. The posters read, "Killer Boyd vs Steamboat Waldron—Friday Night 10:30 PM—Playground Croquet Lot—Free Admission". (The free admission was well received.) If you remember, the Croquet Lot had lights and since both "Killer" and "Steamboat" worked the second shift, this necessitated the 10:30PM start time.
A ring was marked off on the Croquet Lot and John Gall was selected as the referee for the big event. The rules were gone over with each boxer and nothing was left to chance. Let the fight begin.
Now, Calvin was a pretty good boxer, so all the big money was being bet on him—milk shakes, triple dip ice cream cones, and an occasional quarter or fifty cents for the more affluent, This was big time stuff and it just don’t get any better than this.
When "Steamboat" and "Killer" made their appearance, the crowd went wild. The whole town was there. Nobody wanted to miss this. "Steamboat" had on a new pair of boxer’s shoes, boxing trunks, a nice robe (with a towel around his neck), a stool in his corner to sit on, and water to rinse his mouth out between rounds—he was sharp!!
Now, "Killer" had on combat boots, blue jeans rolled up to the top of his boots, a plaid flannel shirt with a white undershirt. "Killer" was not what you would call a snappy dresser.
When the ref called the fighters to the center of the ring, "Steamboat" removed his robe and towel from around his neck. He was cool. "Killer" rolled his blue jeans up one more roll and took of his flannel shirt and he was ready to fight—combat boots, rolled up pants and the white undershirt. The fight was to be ten rounds. The fighters went back to their corners—"Steamboat" sat on his stool and rinsed out his mouth. "Killer" sat on something—I guess.
The bell rang for the first round and "Steamboat" was going to town. He could easily out box "Killer". My coke bet was looking better by the minute. They fought for about three rounds and "Steamboat" had won every round. "Killer" would duck his head and take wild swings—never touching "Steamboat". I could just taste that coke that I was going to win.
Then a funny thing happened, "Steamboat" got careless and "Killer" hit him. My man "Steamboat" shot up in the air and when he came down, his nose and his toes hit the ground at the same time. Dr. Lovas was at the fight and tried to revive "Steamboat". But smelling salts wouldn’t do the trick. Three or four men carried him over to the doctor’s office where Dr. Lovas got him revived—there went my nickel coke—dang it. A lot of found out that night that it doesn’t pay to gamble—the night that the lights went out for "Steamboat" in Berwind.
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
When I was about 14 years old, Dad bought the little two room building that Mr. and Mrs. Withers had used as a small general store in the `40's and early `50's. It was located across the railroad tracks by the white bridge at the upper end of town between the mainline track and the sidetracks. Dad had held a license to operate a store in Berwind for several years and had sold some bread, pop, cakes and candy from our house on the hill to try and make ends meet. So when he got the chance to buy the little building, we moved our counter, pop machines, etc. in and opened for business. I would work there after school and on weekends. It didn't take long for me to become somewhat pudgy since I had all the sodas, cakes and candy I wanted.
One day a train engineer came in and we started talking about trains and how I wanted to ride one but never had the chance. He invited me to join them on the "shifter" while they shifted the railroad coal cars around on the lower tracks. I locked the doors and climbed up into that huge steam locomotive with them.
The first thing the train fireman told me was about the time he got his foot caught between the tender and the locomotive sections. There's a juncture that runs the width of the engine and as the train passes over the rails a side to side motion is created at this joint and when his foot went underneath the upper part, the sawing action cut his foot off 2-3" behind his toes. We "shifted" cars for an hour or so and then it was time for me to get back to the store. I really enjoyed my one and only train ride.
FIRE TOWER HOLLER
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
We used to have a grapevine swing up the `holler' towards the Berwind fire tower. There was a couple of old graveyards there and the land was a little flatter and had less trees and briars than the surrounding areas. So that's where we would play.
There was a little stream that ran down the hollow and we would dam it up with small logs, sticks, stones, and sod. We had a swimming hole about 3 feet deep. The grapevine swing was in a big tree that grew on the edge of the bank of the stream. We would grab the vine, get as long a run as we could, and ride the swing out over the swimming hole. When we let go, we'd drop about 15-20 feet down to the water. We had a lot of fun there, mainly because our parents didn't know what we were doing. Otherwise, they would have put a stop to the swinging and the swimming hole.
When I was about 15 or 16 years old (1958-59), my sister's husband, Eugene Burks was the spotter for the Berwind Fire Tower. There was a log cabin for them to live in during fire season. Sometimes, after school and weekends, I'd go up there to visit. I loved the walk up there. Sometimes I could cover the 2½ or 3 miles in 45 minutes; other times it might take 1½ or 2 hours. During the spring, there were all the new leaves budding out on the trees and flowers that needed to be inspected. The proud pheasant mamas with their new brood of chicks to be watched. Squirrels, chipmunks, and crows would announce my arrival to all the other woodland creatures.
There was a lot of shale rocks on the roadside. I would stop and dig around in several of these areas looking for fossils. I've found fossils of small fish, bugs and birds. All of which were very interesting to me.
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
One night about midnight during the summer of 1958, a cousin Wandley Toney and I were walking along the road in Canebrake toward Berwind. (We were about 15 years old at this time) As we were rounding the sharp turn just below the Canebrake Baptist Church a black 1951 Chevy sedan heading in the opposite direction was speeding toward us. As it passed, we heard laughter and giggles coming inside the car. Then it screeched to a stop, backed up, and a tall red-haired man about 21-22 years old got out of the right hand rear door. He came around the back of the car and stumbled up to Wandley and I. We could still hear the giggles and talking coming from the car. "Red" asked us where we had been and where we were going. We told him we had been visiting friends in Hartwell and Canebrake and were on our way home to Berwind. He had a bottle of beer in his right hand and asked if we'd like to have the beer. We declined his offer saying that we did not drink. He said "Go ahead and drink it or I'll just pour it out." I told him to go ahead and pour it out. So he did-all over the two of us! Then he climbed back into the back seat of the car and they were gone as quickly as they had appeared. "Red" had made a big hit with his friends for there was more giggles and laughter from the car. Wandley and I were really surprised at the turn of events. "Red" had seemed so friendly and then had turned out so mean and ugly.
We wondered what Mom and Dad would say when they smelled the beer on our clothes. I don't think my story would have convinced them at all! But nothing was ever brought up about it.
I had never seen "Red" before this night and have not seen him since (that I know of). But I can still remember his looks and think that I would recognize him even now if I saw him.
THOUGHTS ON WINTER
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
The winters during my youth were some of the most care free and fun filled days of my life. I realize now that the snow and ice were hazards for the people who had to get out for whatever reason. But for us kids, it meant a day of riding sleds, shovels or just skating on whatever ice we could find. There were snowballs to be made and thrown at each other. Snow angels, once created, could last for days. At school, we could make a huge circle in the snow and play a tag-like game around that circle.
I don't remember the creek ever freezing over enough to skate on, but the ruts in some of the alley ways usually held enough water that would freeze and afford us a "skating rink" of several feet, but you had to beware of that small rock or glob of frozen mud that stuck up above the ice line. That could "put the skids" to your skid.
Of course every winter day was not a day of play. We still had to do our chores, which meant chopping and stacking wood, carrying coal to the kitchen porch, and sweeping and cleaning the "bath house". The bathhouse was a building in our yard that was about 40' X 20'. Miners would come there for a shower and change of clothes after a hard day at the mine. It was the responsibility of us boys to take turns cleaning and keeping the fire going for warmth and hot water in the shower room.
Since we cooked and heated water with a wood and coal burning stove, we had to carry wood and coal every day, so this wasn't just a wintertime chore.
In the 50's, we sometimes got our wood from the sawmill at Rift. It was the bark sides that had been cut off a log in order to square up the log, then cut into 12-14" lengths. We'd have a couple of pickup truck loads at a time to chop. After it was chopped into kindling we'd stack it under the house until it was needed.
I remember one day when we got a load of wood and my uncle, Lonnie Nelson, and Jack Lyons were showing off how they could split the knottiest blocks of wood. We would point out a certain block that had knots in it for them to split. One time Jack was acting like he couldn't find the block that Mom had asked him to split. He would hit each block with the ax and ask "this one?" "No." "This one?" "No." Then Uncle Lonnie put his foot on a block and said "This one!" At the same time Jack brought the ax down on the same block, cutting a large gash across the top of Lonnie's foot. That game came to a halt real quick.
We would get our sleds out when it snowed and go to the very top road of Tank Hill and ride down as far as we could go. Turning down the alleyway between our fence and the Catholic Church and sometimes going all the way to the railroad tracks. We'd have that roadway so slick that no cars could travel it. Then out would come the ashes over our sled paths. We'd just get some snow and put over the ashes and keep going as long as we could.
We'd also go to the top of New Town Hill and ride down as far as we could, but I didn't have as much fun there as I did my senior year of high school. That was the year I took my future wife, Sadie Asbury, up there. We had about 15-20 boys and girls there that night and we burned some old car tires to keep warm. The girls would ride on the backs of the guys down the hill. Somehow the walks back up to the fire didn't seem as long and tiring as they had on previous years.
BATH HOUSE BEDROOM
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
When I was about 16 or 17 years old I sometimes would stay out until around midnight sitting and talking with the guys. Mom and Dad didn't like me staying out that late and told me so on several occasions. Being a typical teenager, I paid them no mind.
They started locking the door at about 10 PM when they went to bed. And I had no key. During this time my sister, Lorene and her husband, Gene, were staying with us and slept in a downstairs bedroom with a window that faced the front porch.
When I stayed out late, I'd just try the door and if it was locked, I'd go peck on the window and Gene would open the door for me. This went on for a couple of months and I thought I had a foolproof system.
One evening I went out for my nightly adventures and spent the time with my friends. About midnight I climbed the stairs to the porch, tried the door and found it locked. No problem. I went to the window and pecked ever so softly. No response. I pecked again. No response. I rapped a little harder. Still no answer. I rapped and whispered "Rene, open the door!" No one answered. Unbeknownst to me, Rene and Gene had gone to spend the night at his parents' home.
I went around the house hoping to find the kitchen door unlocked. No such luck! Now I was stuck outside with no way of getting in the house without waking Mom and Dad. I certainly didn't want to do that and have to listen to the old routine about getting in and getting to bed at a decent hour.
The bathhouse was located just off the kitchen porch so I went in there to figure out what I was going to do. I sat on a bench and thought about climbing to the roof of the bathhouse and hopping over to the roof of the kitchen porch. From there I could just open the window to my bedroom and no one would ever know what time I came in. But I didn't think that I could jump the 5 or 6 feet required to clear the gap.
The longer I sat there, the later it got, and the dilemma was getting no closer to a solution. There simply was no way into the house. After a while I admitted that fact and surveyed my surroundings inside the bathhouse. There was a fire in the stove for hot water. So it was warm in there. There was the bench; about 8 feet long and 12 inches wide. The miners' dirty, smelly clothes were hanging on all the walls. Their muddy boots were all around the perimeter of the room.
I figured if I was going to get any sleep this morning, then it would have to be in this place. I gathered some newspaper, spread them over the length of the bench, found a clean dry towel to use for a pillow and settled down (as best I could) on that narrow bench and fell asleep.
About 5 AM Dad got up to get ready for work and found me on the bench. So even after I put myself through the night of restless sleep, I still had to listen to his spiel about staying out all hours of the night. After this experience I began getting home a little earlier and checking with Rene and Gene to see where they would be.
BERWIND JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
The school at Berwind was located at the north edge of town on a little knoll. Below, the creek made a wide bend around the playground/ball field. It was "my school" from the day I started the first grade in August 1949 until I graduated from the ninth grade in May 1958. My teacher for the first grade was Mrs. Merrill (I loved that woman and think most of my classmates did likewise). She had the patience of Job with all of us, teaching us the proverbial three R's, Reading, `riting and `rithmetic.
The first and second grades were situated in a little white building separated from the main part of the school. It was a small two-story building with the bottom part built like a basement in the side of the hill. In the basement was a bathroom each for girls and boys and the school band room. I remember the band would play each day as we ate lunch since we got to eat about 30 minutes earlier than they did.
From the first grade room, I could sit and watch from the windows as the Jr. high students "changed classes" when the school bell rang. I could hardly wait to get to that point in my education so I wouldn't have to sit in one room all day.
Each year the school would have a Christmas play and I was in every one of them, up to my sixth grade. I played roles from a reindeer to a wise man. Every year, Mr. McCoy, the principal would show the film "Twas The Night Before Christmas" and at the end of the program he would lead us through the refrain of "Jingle Bells".
Also each year the school sponsored a Halloween Carnival. There were thrills and prizes galore and everyone seemed to have a great time.
About 1954 the Canebrake Elementary school burned and the students from there were brought to Berwind, crowding the classrooms with "outsiders". I wasn't too happy with it, but after a while we all made some long lasting friendships.
In the spring of 1956, after a winter of heavy snowfall and springtime rains, the Dry Fork rose and overflowed it's banks, since the school's playground was situated on the bend of the creek, it soon became a torrent of brown muddy water flooding the classrooms on the lower levels.
Our athletic program consisted of basketball, football, and track. I participated in track about three years, running the 220 and the 440-yard dash. I was third string fullback when I was in the seventh grade and didn't see any action in that capacity. In the Eighth grade I was the "Gofer" or water boy for the basketball team (It got me into all the games free and I got to travel to faraway and exotic places such as Ieager, Bartley and Welch).
My brother Bartley played basketball for Berwind and Big Creek. He lettered at both schools. One time when Berwind was playing Bartley Jr. High School, Calvin Buchanan was sitting in the bleachers on the Berwind side. He started yelling, "Come on Bartley!" People turned and gave him the old evil eye. So then he added, "Bartley Toney, that is!"
In 1958, when I was in the ninth grade, the main school building burned to the ground, sparing the gymnasium and cafeteria areas. They partitioned off the gym into four classrooms and I finished my last school year at Berwind graduating to Big Creek High.
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
We got our first television set about 1958. It was a black and white (of course), approximately 21-inch screen. We would sit around it in the dark and watch all the game shows, Jungle Adventure series, and newscasters such as Huntley, Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. Weekdays, we could watch the Pinky Lee Show, Howdy Doody and Snoop and Scoop.
Snoop and Scoop were a couple of Channel Six television personalities from Bluefield that had a show called Circle 6 Theater. They would dress as cowboys and carry on with all sorts of foolish banter to entertain us kids. Then they would show movies starring all of our favorite cowboy stars. Jim Wakely, Eddie Dean, Tom Mix, Lash LaRue, Johnny Mac Brown and others.
During that time the best television picture we could receive was not all that great. Everyone that had a TV had their own antenna mounted on their roof or up a tree in their yard.
Dad, Elza Burks and Earl Buchanan decided to put some antennae on top of the mountain behind Tank Hill. They bought about 5 miles of TV line and several amplifier boosters to try and keep a good strong signal down the hill and into our TV sets. The wire in those days was 2 strands of bare copper wire separated by 2 inch wide plastic insulators.
They scouted around and tried several different locations on the hilltop. Finally, they settled on a place that once was the Kassay Place. They put up about 4 or 5 antennae, each pointed at a different signal to pull in stations from Huntington, Charleston, Beckley and Bristol/Johnson City, TN. It wasn't long until most of the folks up on Tank Hill were hooked up to the world via our television line. Sometimes when the lightning would hit the line a booster would go out or the unprotected wire line would break under a snowfall. Then the time consuming job of finding and repairing the damage was underway. Most of the time, the folks understood when the signal was lost due to unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes they weren't so forgiving, especially when Saturday Night Wrestling from Oak Hill was about to be missed because the line was down.
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
Since there were 10 children in our family (8 boys and 2 girls) and each of us had our own circle of friends; it got pretty crowded at our house at times. I've seen times when there were 4 or 5 extra kids at our dinner and breakfast table. Mom and Dad never seemed to mind when we had friends stay overnight. With that many kids of their own they probably never noticed. We would get everyone together and choose up sides for a "yard ball" game. Our ball was made of wadded newspaper wrapped with the black cloth tape that Dad got at the mines. It traveled pretty well and if it wasn't packed too tightly, it wasn't too hard to catch barehanded. Our bat would be anything from a fence palling to a hand hewn 1" x 4" oak board cut down at the handle. Mom and Dad would sit up on the porch and look down at our game. (The porch was about 12 feet above the yard). As we all took our turns at bat and in the field, everything would go O.K. until someone hit an exceptionally long ball or it went down the hill to the railroad, Then an argument might break out concerning foul ball. So the "umpire" and "referee" on the porch would have to settle it, usually by calling the game off.
We would also play horseshoes along the side of our house. With real horseshoes. Some of them worn quite thin. I was never any good at pitching them. Seems like I always lost. Even today, my scores are always low when the game is over. Mom used to be able to pitch a pretty good game so I tried to get on her team.
Our yard was large enough on the side of the house for us to have a pretty decent football game when we got about 10-15 guys together. And as with the baseball game, everything would go O.K. as long as the ball stayed on the playing field and no one had to chase it over the hill. We would usually play for an hour or two then call it off.
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
Growing up in Berwind, we were pretty much stuck with the people who were living there. But, looking back, I haven't had any better friends than I did at Berwind. The kids I got along with were my friends all during my youth. The ones I found hard to be around were not included in my activities. Sure, there were some that shared mutual friends and we tried to get along as best we could.
All of my life, I have taken to fisticuffs only once. That was when I was about 16 years old. I was working in our little grocery store when Jimmy Cook, a black guy about my age came in and started mouthing off about something. (I don't remember what got him started.) When I asked him to leave, he said something to the effect of "Make me!" So I did. There were only a few punches thrown and then I threw him out the door. A couple of times. I'm not bragging about this little scrap; just wanted to point out the fact that most of us kids got along pretty well. I'm not saying that all was rosy and bright with all of us all of the time. But when we did have a problem with one another, it didn't come to a fight to settle it.
Now, there was an ongoing hate-hate relationship with a black guy by the name of Bobby Mason. He and I were about the same age and just could not get along. Today, I'm sorry for that age of mutual misunderstanding and disrespect on both our parts. I've heard that he became a policeman in Ohio and was killed in the line of duty. I'm not just sorry that he's dead, but also for the fact that we could have been friends if I had tried harder.
Some of my best friends were Richard Altizer, Roger Smallwood, Douglas Dale, Douglas Deel, Ronnie Honaker, Leon Dishman, Tommy Sparks, and Lewis Wade. These are the ones that I ran around with most often. We enjoyed each other's company playing ball, tag, kick the can, and other neighborhood games and spent quite a lot of time in each others' homes. We helped one another with school homework and home chores. I considered us to be the best of friends.
We are now scattered out so far and wide that I don't even know where most of them are. The one I see most often is Tommy Sparks because he still lives in Berwind and I go back about once a year. I haven't seen most of the others for over 30 years. Not too good for best of friends.
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
Lake Berwind is actually more in the War, WV area than Berwind. But anyway, it is a bigger pond than we had anywhere near there before. I think it was completed sometime around 1957-58. A couple of times a week, during fishing season, Lewis Wade, Jr. and I would walk up there after school and fish for a couple of hours. It was so peaceful and quiet back then. There weren’t a lot of vehicles traveling that road.
In June 1964, about 3 days after our second child, Craig was born. Sadie had been staying at Mom and Dad's home before having the baby. I had come home on leave from Charleston AFB, SC. My brothers, Tom and Charles asked if I'd like to go fishing with them. Now, this was around 10 PM when they asked me to go. So I said "yes" and we took off up to the lake. But not before they had a little fun at my expense. They knew that I had NEVER been able to catch a night crawler. I was just too slow. We each got a flashlight and a bucket and started around Mom's house looking for the elusive worms. I was walking around looking intently to the ground, trying my best to come up with some fish bait because all the while I was being ribbed about not being able to catch a crawler. After a while I finally found and caught one. Then another. Then another. I was on a roll! I would see one and grab it before it could get away. I was really excited about my newfound skill. Then I heard the muffled giggles behind me. Tom and Charles were having loads of fun. They were taking worms from their cans and tossing them in front of me so I would find them.
So we got up to the lake around midnight and fished from the bank for a little while. Then one of us found an old wooden flat-bottomed boat in some weeds. We dipped the water out of it and cleaned it up enough to get our gear and us into it and set off to the center of the lake. A little while later we noticed that we had a couple of inches of water in the boat with us. We started bailing water out in a hurry. From then on we kept an eye on it so we wouldn't sink and kept on fishing.
Sometime around 4 AM I hooked something. At first I thought my hook had caught on one of the many submerged trees. But as I kept reeling, I found that whatever was on the end of my line was alive and was getting nearer the boat. I finally got it to the side of the boat and Charles netted it. This was the biggest catfish I had ever seen. I didn't weigh or measure it, but I suppose it weighed about 6-7 pounds and was about 18-20 inches long. So, after the ribbing I had taken earlier, it was my turn to do some ribbing.
MY FIRST VEHICLE OPERATOR'S PERMIT
By Keither Blevins
Having graduated from Big Creek High School in 1937, the only transportation I owned and could operate was a bicycle. I had a friend, Fred Williams, a postmaster in Princeton, WV. He had a franchise in that town on motorcycles, and in his dealership, he was very influential in persuading me to go for more faster and comfortable riding. He and his wife taught me to operate such a vehicle on the Athens Road. I loved it so well; I ended up buying a new Harley-Davidson cycle for $450.00. Of course I would need a permit to operate such a vehicle on the highways.
Tests were being given by a detachment of State Troopers in Berwind on a certain day of each month. I was there on my cycle. I noticed the candidates for Operating Cards in the state of West Virginia had to show their ability to drive their vehicles properly and safely. A Trooper would seat himself in the automobile, right beside of the prospect, to see if he or she was capable. It came my turn. Trooper Dyer questioned me on the laws and rules. I passed with flying colors. He said, "Mr. Maupin will now give you the remaining test." I went to my cycle, started it up with a roar. The cycle had a large buddy-saddle. I said "Hop on Mr. Maupin!" He answered, "You get up the road on that d-m thing, if you get back, I'll give you a permit!" So I made my first permit to operate a vehicle on the highways on a motorcycle.
TERRIFYING COAL MINE EXPERIENCE
By Keither Blevins
In the year of 1942, the whole earth was feeling the effects of World War II. Industries were booming, demands were heavy, all available manpower was being used. The coalfields were no exception. Coal was then called "the backbone of all the industries." Miners worked hard, long hours and under trying conditions to do their share in leading this nation to victory.
There were coalmines in Berwind operated by New River and Pocahontas Coal Company, whose headquarters were in Philadelphia, Pa. These mines had been in operation for many years, with millions of tons of coal having been extracted, much of it sent to foreign markets. More coal was needed to be mined by this company. They had the reserves, but in order to mine such it was necessary to go deep. Many hundreds of feet down, through tunnels driven in solid rock. The vein which averaged 6 ½ feet in height was heavily gaseous, methane (ch4), highly flammable and capable of exploding.
As headings, airways, and rooms were being developed, it was found that a mine ventilating fan located at Vallscreek, WV, producing 150,000 cubic feet of air per minute (cfpm) was inadequate to dilute and render harmless the gas which was being liberated in this particular area and seam. (It was rated the third "hottest" coalmine in the state of West Virginia at the time.) It was decided to place a second fan to this mine in Berwind, which was four miles by road from the Vallscreek fan. I was placed in charge of the maintenance crews as new ventilation was being restored. It was necessary at this time to disconnect the old mechanical fan, and to rely on 9,000 cfpm on a natural current.
I had been schooled on this type of work, having the highest certificates available in competency by either the state of Virginia or West Virginia. Our General Manager, Pete Kerr, knew the danger involved. He had said, "Keither, if ever you think that any danger in the mine gets out of hand, don't be afraid to withdraw your men." I saw that day as we were restoring sufficient air for ventilation. 9,000 cfpm on a natural current was insufficient to carry the tremendous amount of methane being liberated. It later filled all the mine tunnels for miles. It was terrifying. One small ignition could leave this an inferno, a fiery hell. I had withdrawn all men. That night I guarded a highway as billions of cubic feet of methane diluted itself to the atmosphere.
GOOD BERWIND MEMORIES
By Helen Fraley
I can remember the Company Store and remember all the good friends I had in Berwind when I lived there. I remember going places with my Dad, Grover Fraley. I remember the grade school and all the nice teachers I had there. I can remember going to the Company Store and drinking pop and eating ice cream and talking to everyone.
By Evelyn (Morrison) Watson
In their young days, my husband, Bernard, and Clarence Asbury were good friends. Well, they always remained friends. When people began leaving Berwind, they just lost touch. Seems Bernard and Clarence had been "partying" one Saturday night. Some gal's house in Berwind. The topic of food came up. (Remember, in the 30's there was no quick-service eating places.) They told the guys if they could come up with something to eat they would cook it. It was about midnight and they were high as a kite.
Clarence got this bright idea. His dad, Uncle Tommy to us, had chickens, so if Bernard would go with him, he'd steal a chicken. Bernard said he really didn't want to steal the chicken but after hearing how it could be done and nobody would ever know it but them, he agreed to go with Clarence.
Sure enough the chicken house was located away from the house. Slipping as quietly as they could, they sneaked into the yard and up to the chicken house. When they opened the door, all heck broke loose. Roosters started crowing and hens carrying on like there was no tomorrow. (There wasn't for one hen.) Bernard said Clarence grabbed the first hen he could get his hands on and started out of the side yard. They had chicken and dumplings on their minds!
About that time Uncle Tommy let it be known that he was in the vicinity. He kept calling Clarence's name, no answer from him or the chicken. He'd already choked the hen to death and headed out of the yard. A lot faster than they had sneaked in, I might say. Uncle Tommy kept saying, "Clarence, I know that's you". No answer.
Bernard remembered that Clarence never did admit to his dad about stealing that chicken. Although Clarence didn't utter a word, Uncle Tommy felt sure it was him. As far as Bernard ever knew, Clarence never did admit to the job. Bernard said he was afraid Uncle Tommy would shoot them, but he was convinced by Clarence it wouldn't happen. Even after all the years went by and Bernard would relate this incident, he always said, "We should not have done that."
GRAND OLD DAYS IN BERWIND
By Patricia Gravely Woody
Born in Berwind 1925
My children and grandchildren hear many stories in my family regarding growing up in Berwind through the 1920s-'30s-'40s and `50s.
The James Kinzer family was the first white settlers in the original Ritter Lumber Camp. My father, Millard ("Rabbit") Gravely, came there as a young man to work with this company. Later the New River and Pocahontas Coal Co. operated the coal mining industry owned by the Berwind Corporation.
Our family, like most families in Berwind, was large. Though raising a large family was not easy for most, we had many opportunities made available for children as they grew up.
As a child, I recall my mother making her home available for piano teachers to teach several children and in turn for teaching all her daughters at no cost as they grew up. This meant special lunch and evening meals for the teachers. Our home became the gathering place for Saturday night "Sing-alongs" and later, teenagers gathered for "Jitterbugging" to the tunes of the "Hit Parade". As teens, there were parties and fun. Mother always preparing the refreshments and won the hearts of many. My sisters and I were always provoked because all the guys paid more attention to Mom than they did us.
I am especially grateful to my favorite Aunt Nina Troutman and her daughter, Georgia. They will be remembered for running the store company's Club House and later years, the Coal Company Club House. Georgia will be remembered as a third grade teacher in the school system and later employed at the Coal Company office. They both saw to it that I had dancing instruction from available teachers who came there to teach. They are a great part of our heritage and gave much to the Berwind community.
I suppose that a majority of the children of our times were all nurtured in the Berwind Union Church and many married there. I recall a Reverend Wysor who influenced many. However, he made a point to observe situations in the community. He observed my best friend, Anna Mae Nelson, and I sitting on the playground fence wearing shorts. The following Sunday, his Morning Service emphasized the need for covering the body and it was sinful to be seen in public in shorts!! (I wonder what the dear man would say about the `90s attire.)
Though only a small coal camp, the Coal Company, I feel, gave us our greatest needs. A playground which drew all the children for daily activities. I recall the high school age boys playing football there. The Bolash, Kinzer, Waldron, Gall, Linkous, and Branson boys come to mind. Then the evenings are remembered for "Hide and seek" and other games for all ages. In later years we don't forget those competitive games of croquet with the fathers participating. Boisture, Rankin, Gravely, Thompson, Mangus, Dr. Lovas, Merrill, and Seward.
I would say that good ole NR&P Stores was a good training center for most young people of working age. Mr. J. E. Faucette was the General Manager during my time. Underneath that stern, strictly business personality was a man who cared about the young in Berwind. I do not know, by name, the many he helped through college. I did not go to college, but the experience I gained from working at the store was useful throughout my life, especially in handling the general public. During earlier years it was "scrip" drawings and later, "scrip books" at the store office. Jim Merrill was office manager and put up with a lot from the girls working for him. Most who were going through their "courting" stages.
(Editor's Note: For the youngsters who don't remember, or who haven't heard of it, the "scrip" mentioned above was credit from the company and drawn on a company employee's future earnings. It was spent only at the Company Store.)
As children, we really don't recall the hardships our parents had because we enjoyed growing up in Berwind. My family didn't have an automobile until 1940-but neighbors saw to it that they were there when in need of transportation.
I have special memories of:
Berwind folks were simple, working people and though we, as children, didn't have choices of elaborate activities, we enjoyed that which we had. Many of my generation are retired and have been successful in many professions. This reflects from caring people.
GROWING UP IN BERWIND
By Richard N. Canterbury
Berwind Resident Nov. 8, 1942 - June 27, 1960
My earliest memories of Berwind are of helping in my Granddad's (J.O. Bird) and Dad's garden, helping Mother and Grandma prepare the harvest for processing, feeding our hogs, gathering kindling, carrying coal, and assisting in the butchering of the hogs after they were grown.
My favorite chore was walking to the company store for Mother. I enjoyed seeing all the old men sitting around the storefront joking and talking. The counter-people were friendly, especially Mr. Childress at the meat counter. Sometimes I had a little money for candy, or a soda, float, shake, or a cone at the drug store.
As I got older and more mischievous, I joined in the raiding of Don Williams' and Bill Wade's cherry trees and grapevines when they didn't appear to be home. I only slowed down after sampling unripe persimmons at Williams'. The Kaiser's sunflower seeds were good also, but their dogs guarded the fence pretty good.
The Briquette Camp was pretty close-knit for all that lived there. The men enjoyed team horseshoe pitching on warm evenings before dark in the alley in front of Bill Wade's house. Their skill and friendship kept us youngsters entertained and we often borrowed the shoes to play before they got home from work.
We played softball in the garage area across from the planing mill bridge, and tackle football in the alley. When they tore down the warehouse next to the Assembly of God, we played football there when the Church didn't outlaw it for services or grass damage. We also liked to watch the trains go by from the back porch.
The biggest thrill of my childhood was being able to watch the Miner's League games at our roomy, well-equipped stadium on what is now the Berwind Jr. High playground. Our team always gave it's all for the home crowd despite it's standings. The refreshments were also good.
Before we got the family car, an occasional bus ride to War for treats and the movies was very enjoyable. Then, later, to Cucumber for the drive-in movies was great.
The only part of elementary school I liked was the walking to it; recess, lunch, and walking back. But Mrs. Nahodil, Miss Mullins, and Mrs. McKinley brightened those days somewhat with their patience and kindness.
Meeting new peers from other towns, class change, and watching sports and participating in physical education made Jr High more interesting and my grades improved. We got to go on field trips to Big Creek High. I was fortunate to qualify for the Golden Horseshoe Competition in State Government and got a trip and tour of Welch where we tested to go to Charleston.
After on and off baseball leagues and scout training, my favorite pastimes were hiking and camping up all the hollers until the Berwind Lake was open and then that was usually our destination. We also hitched to Bartley for the swimming pool, and to War for the Big Creek games and the movies.
When television became affordable to more people, the Briquette Plant TV Co-op was formed and proceeded to construct a tower up on a ridge near the Adkins farm to provide reception from East Tennessee, Western Virginia, and Northwestern West Virginia, as Bluefield and Oak Hill could only then be received. After the cable was connected to all Briquette Plant houses that desired it, subscribers were hooked on throughout Berwind. The men maintained the right-of-way until their workload was too much. They hired my brother Kellis, Glen "Babe" McNew, and me to fight the snakes, slippery slopes, insects, wasps, bees, briars, heat, and brush to clear the right-of-way. Blistered, tired, and sore, after five long days, we reached the tower.
Mining, coal processing, and delivery were very dangerous occupations and many accidents that maimed and killed our men happened in Berwind and the surrounding towns. But the men and women supported each other like one big family during these, and the floods, snowstorms, and forest fires that often threatened.
I was witness to some prejudices, but I don't think anyone held deep hatred, just ignorance of other faiths and cultures, and a conformity to the popular sentiment of the period.
Now that I am older, and I hope wiser, have traveled the world, gotten a college education, and received the grace to believe in the Holy Trinity, I wish to ask forgiveness of those I have hurt, offended, or ignored. I wish all Berwinders, past and present well, and part of my soul will always live there.
FRIENDS IN BERWIND
By Ralph K. Canterbury
I came to Berwind, WV in April 1937 after taking a position with New River and Pocahontas Stores. As I passed by the operating complex, the Lab., the power house, the prep. plant, the Briquette Plant, shop and storehouse, I began to think as one who surely would have a rendezvous with destiny. As I passed the beautiful Berwind Club House, turned by the office building and post office and company store-I now had made a wise choice and would have a position for a long time into the future. This was not to be-the company closed after some 25 years after I was hired.
Well, I went into the Company Store and met Mr. Earl Hodges (Store Manager). Lee Wade took me over to Mrs. Troutman's who kept us for bed and room. We took our meals at Pocahontas Club near the Doctor's Office. While I am thinking of some of the characters that took their meals at the Pocahontas Club, I think of the following; Tracy Church, John Ponton, Jess Redyard, Richard Noyes, Willard Noyes, Tommy Thompson, Milton Seward, Ralph Canterbury, and last but not least was Dr. Cecil. I am sure there were many others I cannot recollect. Mrs. Aswell, mother of Sarah Seward (wife of Milton Seward) ran the club. She had a black girl as a helper. We called her "Little Bit". We use to have a lot of fun with her. We would hide our dessert under the table on a vacant chair and tell "Little Bit" we were not served our dessert. She would look around, see none on the table and get confused and serve again, saying she was sure she put it on the table.
I think my most memorable person was Dr. Cecil. If ever there was a Doctor that could typify on a television series "Gunsmoke" as "Doc" (Wilbur Stone) he could have played the part. Grumpy at times, which was normal for him as he was out many nights on child birth cases. He was cranky at times and jolly at times when talking politics, especially Senator Barkley of Kentucky. Doc was a flashy dresser with plaid jackets and pants to suit jackets. He was off to Cincinnati or Florida in that 1937 Imperial Chrysler on vacation when he could get away. He issued pills about 6 evenings a week.
I was hurrying to get out of the store at closing time one evening to go on a date when a customer came in and wanted some stove pipe. When reaching in the shelf I cut my hand pretty bad so I go over to see Doc. He said "What in Hell is matter with you? Have you been in a cutting scrape?" He put alcohol on it and went for needle and thread. When I saw the needle, I passed out. He threw a pitcher of cold water on me and I came to. He said "Damit, what's wrong with you?"
I was told that Doc, when a young man, would pick bullets out of the Hatfields and McCoys. Whichever of the clan got off the first shot. I am not sure if this is true. He delivered one of my children, Ralph Jr.
Well, when I remember events, one memorable event of Berwind will remain with me forever. The Sunday Night of October 30, 1938, when I took as my bride and dear wife, Evelyn Bird. After Church services-officiated by Reverend J.M. Wysor with a full Church of well-wishers. October 30, 1993 we will be married 55 years.
(Editor's note: Congratulations! And we all hope you have 55 more years of wedded bliss.)
By Ralph K. Canterbury
In the early days people who worked for a coal company were dependent upon the company store for their daily needs in life, as well as after death. They owed their souls to the company store, as Ernie Ford used to sing in "Sixteen Tons".
New River & Pocahontas Store at Berwind carried caskets for sale upstairs in the furniture department. After they were there for a long time, and just taking up space that was needed for more furniture, we moved them out to the store barn. There were three sizes, Baby, Young, and Adult. After a while they were marked off the inventory and the store manager told us to destroy them.
The truck drivers and myself wanted the pine lumber from the boxes that the caskets were in. We took the caskets out of the boxes and split the lumber among us. We carried the caskets to the banks of the Dry Fork Creek to burn them. Three of us were on each side like pall bearers. As we walked along, we sang from some of the old hymns, "The Unclouded Day" "Shall We Gather By The River". Well, by that time, traffic began to slow down on both sides of that little one lane bridge across the river, and finally stopping. A few pedestrians came by and gawked. We had to do something quick to break up the stalled traffic. We broke up the dummy funeral, set fire to the caskets, and everything returned to normal. We explained what we were doing. They smiled and drove on their way. At least we were shown some respect.
HERMAN "BAMA" DAVIS
By Ralph K. Canterbury
A very colorful character was Herman "Alabama" Davis. We called him "Bama". He was in charge of the Water Plant and the Laboratory. He and his wife now reside in Bristol, VA. "Bama" was very witty and full of humor. He came down the steps of the Berwind Office one day in the payroll line with a large sack of coal samples on his back. When he reached the bottom step, he said to me, "I wish this company would quit paying me off like this. It's about to get my back out of whack!"
He loved to repeat tales from his native Alabama. Here is one I have never forgotten. It went something like this. It seems a young man was hired as a cement stacker at a plant in Alabama. One day the stack fell over and killed him. Two of the old men uncovered him and he was mashed flat as a flitter. One said to the other, "I can't go down there and tell his wife what happened." The other one said, "Neither can I." Another young boy came by and looked the situation over and said he would handle it. He would break the news to the widow gently. He said, "Put him on that board and put that wagon sheet over him and tote him down to the house and I'll run ahead of you and tell her. I'll break the news to her gently."
So he ran ahead and knocked on the door and stood back like people do when they wait for the door to open. He knocked twice more and finally a young woman opened the door. She looked around and said, "What you banging on my door for and what do you want?" He says, "Does the Widow Macklefresh live here?" She replied, I am Mrs. Macklefresh, and I ain't no widow. I was just married last Saturday. My man, he works down at the cement plant." He said, "He sure don't anymore, you just wait till we pull back this sheet!"
"Bama" would pastor the Methodist Church at Berwind during the times before they would have a regular pastor. He never attended a seminary to study Theology, but preached from the heart. He was a relief pastor in McDowell County as well as around Bristol.
FIRST GENERATION AMERICANS
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
The story of the Gall family’s immigration from Hungary to America reminded me of all the other "first generation" Americans that lived in Berwind.
They came from all parts of the world to America and the "melting pot" welcomed them all. Some came with hardly more than the clothes on their backs. They were willing to leave the place of their birth for the chance of something better, not knowing what lay ahead for them.
They came for various reasons; to escape poverty, religious and political persecution. Some came for love and adventure. Each heeded the call of Lady Liberty through the words of Emma Lazarus, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Some immigrants had family members already here that would provide a place to live, a job with security and stability. Others would have to fend for themselves as best they could.
Ellis Island, the famous immigration processing station in New York harbor, had allowed over 16 million to clear through its doors between the years 1892 and 1954. At it’s peak in 1907, about 900,000 came through Ellis Island. More than 100 million people living today can trace their roots back to someone who came through Ellis Island.
Before the hopeful citizens could walk through the "Golden Door", they had to pass a series of tests to ensure they were physically, mentally, morally, and legally fit to enter the country. Immigrants spent 3-5 hours being processed. During peak periods as many as 5,000 persons a day could be checked, questioned and sent on their way. Some were detained for additional test. Still others were sent back to their homeland
The Statue of Liberty National Monument is located in New York Harbor, New York on 58 acres. A giant statue of 'Liberty Enlightening the World', located on Liberty Island has become a symbol of freedom to oppressed people everywhere. The statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States commemorating the alliance of the two nations during the American Revolution. The American Museum of Immigration is located in its base. The monument also contains Ellis Island.
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
As I look back on my childhood, my memories nearly always start at the big house on Tank Hill that we called home from the late ‘40s to the early ‘60s. From there my mind drifts to the memorable events that happened elsewhere. As I allow my mind to linger at that time in my life, I see my family, which consisted of my parents, Sebert and Lucille, my seven brothers and two sisters. Lorene was the oldest, then came Thomas, Sarita, myself, Bartley, Lester, Charles, Dranan, Hank, and our youngest brother, Hansford, whom we always called "Tedge".
I see us as a typical Berwind family. That is, our dad worked long, hard hours in the coal mine there. We did most of our shopping at the company store; we attended Berwind schools, and churches. We never had enough money for frivolous spending but we usually seemed to have just enough for essentials. Our house, which was drafty in the wintertime, seemed to be warm enough for us to survive.
Since Dad spent so much time in the mines, it fell to Mom to provide comfort when we would hurt ourselves. Also, it was she that would provide the discipline when needed. (Believe me, with ten children, there was always some need for discipline.)
Mom was raised in Valls Creek in very strict surroundings. She learned the meaning of hard work at a very early age. As a little girl she was taught to wash dishes while standing on a makeshift platform so she could reach the sink. Since there was no running water to the house, she had to carry drinking and cooking water from a spring. Water for laundry came from the small creek that ran in front of their house.
She helped with the cooking, and made beds. She washed and ironed the clothes of her family and the boarders that stayed at her parents’ home. During the springtime, she helped plow, seed, and water the garden that would provide their vegetables for the coming year. During the summer she would help hoe the weeds from the garden as well as her other chores. She would travel the roadways in Valls Creek along with her siblings, and pick strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries to can for future use.
As the crops ripened in the fields, she would help pick the corn, beans, carrots, and all the other vegetables. Some would be eaten right away, but there were many jars of canned goods put away for leaner times. In the fall, when the sugar cane was ready, she would participate in one of her least desirable chores—the making of molasses. She said she did not care for that task at all.
Since Mom quit school in the third grade to help out more at home and with her siblings, she didn’t have much formal education. But what she lacked in "book learning" she made up for in common sense and learned from the lessons of life.
Mom and Dad married when she was 18 years old. Eventually they would have the ten children mentioned above, most being born at about two-year intervals. With these ten children Mom still found the time to cook, sew, wash and iron, as well as dozens of other chores required in keeping a household running. She would put out a huge wash every Monday of every week. These clothes were hung on four clotheslines that stretched the length of our yard. (About 75-80 feet each) She also had clotheslines strung along the porches. I’ve seen times when we had clothes hanging in the house to dry. Rooms full! When dry, each shirt, each pair of blue jeans, each sheet and pillowcase, and even tee shirts and undershorts were meticulously ironed. We didn’t have a lot of new clothes, but the ones we had were clean and in good repair. (At least, when we left the house.)
Mom never held a job outside the home until her children were grown. Her one and only job was at the Berwind Jr. High cafeteria. She enjoyed the interaction with the teachers and students as well as her fellow workers, Blanche Houdashell, Pearl Hardin, and Minnie Stanley.
By Ralph K. Canterbury
Most of the younger set would form up at the old Movie House near the Barber Shop. (The Post Office was moved from the Main Office to the Barber Shop building a few years ago.) They only showed silent movies, but we were glad to see anything in those days. The only annoying thing was after the lights were turned off; the rats would come out for peanuts and popcorn that was dropped on the floor. You can understand how your girlfriend, with her feet out of her slippers, would react to a situation like that. Very few of us had a car in those days. If we could get to War, WV. it was possible to see a "Talkie" at the Grand Theater.
Most of us went to parties in the neighborhood and had a good time. Life was simple. It had to be simple in those times. No one at the mines was getting a full week's work. But somehow we made it and lived to tell about it.
MEMORIES OF BERWIND
By Mrs. Mollie Gravely
I remember the old theater that my husband, Millard Gravely, used to own. He asked me if I would play the player piano. I did and that's when we met. He was 17 and I was 16.
Before the mines opened up, W.M. Ritter Company had a saw mill in Berwind where my husband used to work. Then the mines opened up and he started working there. Later, he went on to work in the Supply House and worked there until he retired.
I remember working at the school kitchen. I baked cakes at my home for people and did curtains. I remember the Ladies' Aid Meetings at my house. I belonged to Eastern Star that Mrs. Gibson (who is now gone) and I helped start. I remember going around helping people who were sick and needed help.
By Zula Honaker
I lived in Berwind for 26 years. My husband worked 42 years in the mine at Berwind. His name was Lon Honaker. We had really good neighbors there. Everyone was real nice and kind. I don't visit very often; everyone I knew has either left there or died and new one's have moved in.
By Edith Gravely
I remember Berwind as it used to be years ago. I remember the Little School House where I used to attend the first and second grade. Mrs. Marie Stafford was my first grade teacher and Mrs. Ruth Nahodil was my second grade teacher. I remember the Berwind Jr High where I attended. Mr. Robert McCoy was the principal.
I remember Hardin's Grocery, owned by Homer and Pearl Hardin. Both of who are now deceased. I remember the NR&P Company Store up the alley from us and the toy department that was upstairs off from the offices.
I remember the big NR&P Coal Company offices and the post office in the same building. And the theater where we used to go Saturday afternoons to see the Western movies. Our Methodist Church where I attended often. We lived across from the Berwind Bank where Mr. Thompson, Rosalie Rorrer Johnson, Anna Fugaty, and Mr. Milton Seward used to work.
I remember the big playground where we used to play softball. There was a Croquet Court lit up at night where the men played croquet. We used to ride our bikes up and down the alley by the light from the court.
I remember the good neighbors we had; Kinzers, Harmons, Nelsons, and Pauline Waldron. I remember going up to visit Mrs. Rorrer and Rosalie. What nice, Christian people they were. We had a lot of good friends that are either deceased or moved away. I remember going down to Mrs. Price's and Velma and visiting with them on the creek bank when they used to live across from Ester Sebastin. I remember going around visiting and talking with my friends and neighbors; Ester Sebastin, Blanche Houdashell, and Pearl Hardin.
I remember the floods and the snows that we had. The pretty Club House with the tennis court there. The Christmases in Berwind when we used to go caroling with the Young People of the Church. When Edna and I were little we used to take our doll buggies and go over and visit Mrs. Nina Troutman and Grandma Gravely (Sis) and Georgia Troutman.
I remember the good times when Nina would come home and our family; Pat, Nina, Daddy, Mary and I would gather around the piano and sing on Saturday nights. I remember the old wash house we used to play in. Edith and Louise Troutman used to love that wash house.
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
By June Lyons Hall
I came into this world October 6, 1917 in a little three room house by the Catholic Church in Berwind. My parents, Ernest and Ella McCall Lyons and a 5 year old brother, Ralph, welcomed me. We lived there for two more years and then we all welcomed my sister, Mary. Then we moved out to just above the railroad station. At that time there were no four room houses in the "bottom" and no "briquette houses". There were stacks of lumber and a pond with logs floating to the saw mill. We played there a lot and got in trouble with our Mom for climbing the lumber piles. We played with Louise Bailey a lot. I loved to go there. They had a player piano (we had an organ) and we loved to play the rolls. Mrs. Bailey's house smelled so good of Ivory soap.
Well, time passed on by. The years of the `20s were real good. We went to school all week. Sunday mornings we went to Church and Sunday School. We'd come home to dinner and sometimes the preacher would come with us for dinner. Then as we got a little older, we went to the movies on Saturday afternoon. Later on we were allowed to ride the train to War to go to the movies. We would come back on the last train. There was a turntable down by Hardin's Store where the train turned then backed up to the station. We thought that was great!
Then in the last part of the `20s and early `30s things got tough. We didn't have much money but we made our fun. On weekends, we went from home to home and had a party. Mrs. Herndon would have us there on Saturday and we would have a great time. Mrs. Kassay lived on the mountain from us. We would go up there but she wouldn't let up come back with the boys. We had to stay until daylight then go home. At one of these parties was where I met the boy I would marry. I was 15 years old but my Dad wouldn't let me date so we continued to go to the parties and wiener roasts and carnivals at Rift and the overflowing well. We had lots of fun.
I finished the 9th grade at Berwind, went on to Big Creek and had good times. "Dottie" Branson and I were chubby girls and we giggled all the time. Mr. Foster, the butcher at Berwind Store, told us if we didn't quit giggling all the time, we would be so fat we couldn't come through the door. So you can imagine what that did for us!
I graduated from Big Creek in `36 and worked in the Company Store awhile. Then one Saturday in December 1937 Othar and I were married and we lived in Amonate. In June 1939 my son was born the only grandson my Dad had. And was he proud! But Dad passed away on July 20, 1939 of a heart attack. We visited Berwind quite often. My Mom, sister and brother lived on there until 1943 then they moved to Delaware. But I still visited at Berwind until most of the ones I visited either died or left. It makes me so sad to go there now, but I loved the place. There was never a greater place to be from than dear old Berwind, WV. I love everyone from Berwind and wish I could see everyone I knew from the time I was a child until now.
By Rosalie Rorrer Johnson
Living in the second house on the hill above the depot, I could watch the passenger train as it passed by twice a day running from Ieager to Cedar Bluff. I remember riding it to Cedar Bluff and back one day across the high trestles. Riding the train to War and returning home on the bus. The passenger train also carried the mail.
After walking to school for nine years, it was quite a thrill to get to ride the school bus to Big Creek High School.
As I was walking home from school one day they were tearing down the theater where I had seen a famous country music star, Uncle Dave Macon. Frankenstein had also visited there in person. But I didn't go see him...too scary. My husband, Ellis, said he went and people were jumping over seats and running to get out of there. The school even let us go see a movie one afternoon.
Church activities, school plays, programs, carnivals, ball games, etc. were the social life. The town had a playground in the middle of town with a merry-go-round, see-saws, etc. in front of the bank.
While I was working at the bank, the Coal Company paid their employees in cash, which was shipped by mail from Federal Reserve Bank. We used $2.00 bills same as $1.00 and $5.00. The payroll was huge at vacation pay time.
The Doctor's Office carried all the necessary medication. If someone was too sick to go to the office, house calls were made.
The Company Store had everything anyone needed, appliances, clothes, groceries, meats, a drug store, which made milkshakes, sandwiches, pop, and candy. Toyland was upstairs where all children went after school around the first part of December.
Scrip in various denominations of coins was used for purchases at the Company Store. Later scrip books were issued in $2.00, $5.00, $10.00, and $25.00 each half month. Each purchase was listed on the pages of the book showing how much was spent and how much was left. My job in the Scrip Office was to re-add the figures to make sure the clerks had rung up the correct amounts.
I worked in the Bank until June 30, 1960 when it was closed. We left Berwind shortly thereafter.
By Ruby Wade Buchanan
I was in the third grade when we moved to Berwind (Miss Georgia Troutman's class). Went through the ninth grade, then on to Big Creek. Graduating with many that I saw at the reunion this year. After graduation I went to work in the N.R.& P. Coal Company Store. You have not lived without a round at a "Coal Company Store"!
Since I lost my husband of forty-four years (Berl Buchanan) in March 1992, the memory I have of meeting him in Berwind stands out at this moment. Lalie Beni, a long time friend, (who passed away several years ago) asked me if I had seen Gene Buchanan's brother that was supposed to start to work at the store. I had not.
Then one morning as I rushed into work, about to be late as usual, I saw Mr. Gibson ("The Boss"), Gene Buchanan, and a strange guy, in the back of the store talking. A thought ran through my mind - this must be the guy Lalie was talking about, so I turned to take a better look, and he was looking at me!!!! We often laughed about us being like it says in the song "I was looking back to see if she was looking back to see if I was looking back to see if she was looking back at me".
Some months later we began dating. Then on April 10, 1948 we were married in the Berwind Methodist Church.
By that time Berl had been transferred to the Hartwell store as Market Manager, then later as Store Manager - so that ended my days living at Berwind. We lived in Hartwell (Valls Creek) until 1961 when we moved to Florida. This was after Pocahontas Fuel Company bought New River and Pocahontas Coal Company and Stores.
It was a wonderful life, but my world ended when Berl died suddenly from a stroke on March 21, 1992. He had been retired 5 years from work. I thank God for the time we had together, and for the many memories of our days in Berwind and Valls Creek.
It was great seeing so many people connected with those memories at the Berwind Reunion in May 1993.
MY MOST FOND MEMORIES OF BERWIND
By Ann Gravely O'Bryan
The love and closeness of family and friends are my most fond memories of Berwind. The many hours we shared as a family around our piano singing and friends gathering in to join us. The big meals my Mother cooked and having all the family around the table at one time to eat together. The card games of Canasta or Bridge that always brought neighbors in.
Christmas in Berwind was always so special to me. The beauty of all the doors being decorated with real pine and out-door colored lights. The Christmas tree so large it would touch the ceiling with "bubble lights" glowing and breakable colored balls. Packages so full under the tree we hardly had room to walk around the room. The caroling of Church groups stopping at each house.
Memories of Berwind Jr. High School are special to me. The many high school dances, Halloween carnivals, and other activities that were available to all of us to enjoy and bring the students together. They had a great PTA with a lot of hard working parents that gave their time to help sponsor these activities. Also, we had a great school with excellent teachers.
The many evenings of getting together after school at the old Company Store to sit and talk and always getting to buy a "nut billie", which was ice cream with peanuts and chocolate syrup on it. Sometimes a softball game would get started at the playground, or roller skating in front of the bank. At night we played croquet or caught lightening bugs.
How special the Berwind Methodist Church was to me. I treasure the values and the Christian up-bringing I received from there. The wonderful youth group, the great choir with the wonderful leadership of Ann Fugate and Margarita Branson.
Yes, my favorite memories are friends and family. The many hours we shared together will never be forgotten.
By Sadie Asbury Toney
When we were growing up in Berwind, Halloween was a cherished tradition by young and old alike. Most of us enjoyed the Tom-foolery that went on at that time. The school would get us all wired up for the ghosts, gremlins, and goblins that came out on that night. There was the school Halloween Carnival where we could go and for about $2.00 we could play games, eat junk food, and be scared out of our wits in the House of Horrors that was set up in the gymnasium downstairs in the girl's locker room.
Then on Halloween we'd all put on our scariest outfits and make-up and go around the whole town gathering goodies from everyone. (In those days we had no worries of razors being put in apples, or drugs in candy.) We would have a great time "trick-or-treating". But I don't think anyone had as good a time as Suzie Hess did. At that time she was in her sixties and quite spry for her age. Every year she would dress up and go out as Frankenstein's Monster. Even though we all knew who it was under that mask, make-up and clothes, Suzie knew how to disguise her voice and say and do things-things that would scare us to death. She was always a joy to see at Halloween because she always seemed to enjoy it so much.
DAD'S NEW CAR
By Sebert Toney, Jr.
Sometime in 1956 Dad bought the newest automobile that we had ever had up to that time. It was a beautiful 1953 Ford Crestline hardtop. Flamingo red with a white top. Great looking vehicle. This was the car that I would take to Welch to get my driver's license about 3 years later. This was the car that I would wash and wax just to get to drive it. This is the car that I would do my courtin' in.
Anyway, the day that Dad brought the car home we all gathered around and looked at it and oohed and ahhed at it. We ran our fingers and hands all over the smooth freshly waxed lines of it. Then he took us for a ride. He drove us down the road past the store, the school, through Rift, all the time finding something new to be amazed with on the car. We talked about how smooth the ride was and how well it rode and handled. It had an automatic transmission and the engine had plenty of pep. On over to Cucumber he drove us. Then he decided to turn around and go back home. As he pulled off the right side of the road to make his turn-around swing, one of us noticed a silver button about 2 inches in diameter on the left hand floor, just above the light dimmer switch. When asked what that button was for, Dad replied that he didn't know and had not noticed it before. So he decided to check it out. He surmised that it might be some sort of "super charger" for this peppy little automobile. He stopped the car, put the transmission in Park (just in case), and very gently stepped on the silver button. All of a sudden, two big sprays of water hit the windshield, and Dad, taken completely by surprise, almost received whiplash injuries as he jerked back. We all had a good laugh as we had christened our new car on our first ride with the windshield washer fluid.
By Howard Wade
My parents, Harry and Mary Wade moved to Berwind in 1927 and we lived in house 41. Pompeii Beni lived next door to us. Some of our other neighbors were Skid Caudell, Bill Elswick, D.G. (Tarhill) Webb, Lee Barrett, John Compton, Bill Thompson, and a family by the name of Davis and Bernard Rushrook also lived in the neighborhood. A very pleasant place to live.
Reverend J.M. Wysor at the Berwind Methodist Parsonage married June Wallace and me in August 1934. All our children were born in Berwind and I feel it was a good place to raise a family at that time. We started housekeeping over from New Town Hill. Ural Bandy, Joe Wise, Atley Johnson, Dewey Starling, Glenn Corley, Joe Black, and Andy Earls were our neighbors. A very good place to live.
In 1942 we moved to Station Hill. I.E. Rorrer, Arthur Herndon, Tom Asbury, George Savinsky, A. Smithers and Red Gillespie were our neighbors. Again, a good place to live. Later we had Earl Southern, Clarence Ogle, Dewey McGlothin, Bob Hensley, the Stanleys, and the Charles family as neighbors. Good people to live with. They were Berwinders.
But the highlight of living in Berwind was working in the Church. I meet so many people that grew up in that Church who say we helped them. God has blessed us for the efforts we made there. So many of our young people are still serving God. If Berwind had not shut down, I guess I would be there yet. Of course, so would enough of you that it would still be a good place to live.
By Jean Wade Matovich
If I had to describe Berwind in only one word, it would be "Safe". We lived in a little community that was completely safe for us to go wherever we wanted to go without fear. We were so secure! We had good people there - caring people. Remember - we spoke to everyone we met!
I was especially proud of our "down-town". Our nice bank, office building and post office. I still remember the smell of our beautiful Doctor's Office. But the real source of pride for me was our Drug Store. I was so proud to take my company there for cokes from the little bottles, and nut billies!
The most enjoyable time for me was sleigh riding down Station Hill. We would burn old tires to keep warm. Also, a favorite time was Christmas and caroling.
Lots of good memories. God bless us all!
SMALL TOWN-GREAT FUN
By Wallace Wade
I don't think a day goes by that I don't think of Berwind in some way. A small town with no modern conveniences, but yet, everyone got along. To think that one had to fire up the old stove to get hot water, but it was day in and day out.
All the good times we used to have at the Assembly of God Church. All the good people we used to know. Glen Christian and I were talking at the Reunion (1993) of all the young people from Berwind that went into full time ministry. Working for the Lord, it was great.
Every time I see a game of horseshoes I think of the times down in the bottom in the alley at Bill Wade's and Glen McNew's houses and how they would play until dark.
Then on Sunday afternoon we'd go down to the ball diamond to watch Norman Lane coach the team to another win. Roy Linkous and Zenith Blevins would hit home runs out of the park. We would chase balls all day, then if you were lucky, Norman would let you carry all the baseball equipment over to his house. Sometimes he would give us a broken bat, or a ball that had the cover half knocked off of it.
Then we would have our ballgames; "up the road" would play "down the road". Darrell Overbey would get a team from the bottom where he lived. I would get a team from Station Hill. I don't think we ever had nine players. My team, as a rule, was Roger and Tony Ogel, Jimmy Asbury, Tom McGlothin, Jimmy Shrader, my brother Jerry, and myself. But we had some good times.
Today we see school buses everywhere. But to think how far some of us had to walk, rain, snow or shine.
Then we would think of winter about Thanksgiving when Papaw Wade would kill hogs. To see the men going around Tank Hill with their tubs to help and get the `chitlins'. Before daybreak they would have hogs cleaned and hanging. Mamaw Wade would have the first liver and tenderloin done and ready to eat with grease gravy. All day long I could not wait for school to be out so I could go out there and be there until late that night. Sometimes my dad and his brothers and some other help would be there all night. For the next three months you could go to Mamaw Wade's and get a good pork skin. Tank Hill sure took on a different smell for a few days.
Now-a-days we can see the Dry Fork Creek running clear (hard to believe how dirty it used to be). We would go up to the dam or over to the planing mill and go fishing, but we would always end up in that dirty water. But, for trout season, we would go camping in Big Creek Hollow. O' what times we had on Big Creek.
Then I think of the times we would go down to the Company Store, what a big place. And at Christmas, Toyland was on the 2nd floor. What a thrill! At Christmas, Mamaw Wade always had a gift for everyone that came to her house.
Then the times we don't like to think about when we would hear Dr. Lovas and the emergency crew going for the mines. They had had an explosion or a cave-in. Then to see if anybody, or who had been hurt.
I remember the nights we would sleigh ride most of the night off New Town Hill. We'd go all over town looking for old tires. Get a fire going; just about freeze to death by the time we got to the top of the hill to ride down again. Such fun!
The time we spent in Warrior Hollow was enjoyable. Camping out, we'd ride our bikes down to the swimming hole about 6 AM and jump in. We would turn blue, it was so cold!
I remember "Box Car" and "Cob Pipe". "Cob Pipe" would do a little dance he liked to call "The Hucklebuck".
I left Berwind in 1957 going to the Navy. Sometimes I would be gone for six to ten months at a time. I would get letters saying someone had been laid off work. I would think how that person had been there for as long as I could remember. Each time I would go back, a little more would be torn down, more people gone. Buildings can be torn down, lights can be turned out, and streets can be rolled up. But memories are yours, they are forever.
BECOMING A METHODIST AND OTHER THINGS AT BERWIND
By Dr Ross Marrs
Many times I have been in groups where the question was asked, "Why are you a Methodist?" Answers have included, "Because my parents were" or, "I went to a Methodist revival" or, "I married a Methodist". My answer was always different. "Because they had prettier girls at the Methodist Church." And it is the truth.
I grew up in Canebrake, up the road about two miles. I had a little contact with Berwind until I went there to Junior High School. I noticed that the girls at Berwind were prettier but were not then tops on my agenda. I was mostly interested in baseball, swimming, my boy friends and the like. Then things began to change. By the time I went to Big Creek High School my interests began to seriously include girls (I think I was a little late). That's when my brother and I began to attend the Methodist Church in Berwind. My observations proved correct; the prettiest girls in the whole county seemed to live in Berwind, and I began to make the best of it. Anyway, I joined the Methodist Church there (1941, when Bro. Wysor was pastor) and have remained a Methodist since. In fact, though few would have suspected it then (including myself), I have just completed forty years as a Methodist minister and am now retired.
But my connection with Berwind does not end there. My first job as a payroll clerk which began in Hartwell ended up in Berwind. When I returned from the Army in WWII my first job was at the Berwind Bank. But best of all, and this proves my point, I first saw and first met my first (and only of forty five years) wife at the Berwind Methodist Church. From Huntington, she was a school teacher in War at the time. And that proves it, the prettiest girls were found in Berwind!
WAVERLY BECOMES A SCHOLAR
By Dr Ross Marrs
Our eighth grade science teacher at Berwind Junior High loved to give surprise true or false tests. One day he came rushing in and ordered, "Take a sheet of paper and number it down one side 1-25". Everybody knew what to expect.
I sat beside Waverly, no great student of science, who immediately numbered his page, began immediately to do something and then folded his paper and laid it on his desk. He just sat there and when I tried to get his attention shushed me off. I discovered later that he had just gone down the page and marked T F T FFF TT etc., etc. About halfway through the test Mr. Coffman looked at Waverly and asked, "Waverly, are you not going to take the test?" Waverly immediately replied, "I'm already finished." Since he thought it probably wouldn't make much difference anyway, Mr. Coffman went on with the questions. When he was finished, he had us swap papers and grade each other as he gave the correct answers. I was amazed at what I saw. Waverly had made the highest grade in the class!
All day Waverly received kudos, high fives and congratulations. For once, and probably the only time, Waverly had become a scholar.
FRIENDS, LOVES, AND TOBACCO
By Roger L. Smallwood
My friends and I would meet near the train depot and walk down the tracks to school, come rain or shine. We spent more time at school trying to get out of work than we did studying. It is a wonder any of us ever finished.
In the winter we always stopped at the post office to get warm. I guess that was the half-way mark to decide if we were going on to school or to play hooky. I was the best at making up excuses for not going. How I ended up with a PH. D., I will never know.
I remember playing in the park across from the company store, sometimes for hours. Of course, we had to refresh by going in the drug store and getting a coke or ice cream, sitting in the booths and just wasting time.
Robert Neal, the druggist, was always a friend to all of us kids. If we didn't have any money, he would be there with a free drink. Most of the time he just knew if we had money or not.
Miss Mullins, our third grade teacher. I was in love with her for years. I wonder if she ever got married, or if she is still alive. Her dad was the station master. I used to hang around the station and he would give me odd jobs that amounted to nothing, but he always paid me something.
I would imagine we all had our favorite teachers. Pat Boyd was another one. She was tall, dark, olive skin, black hair, a definite number 10! Her husband was Jennings Boyd, a State Representative. Another was Bettie Muncie, our tenth grade Biology teacher. But I guess my real true love was Brenda Wade. I think I loved her all through grade school.
Thomas Toney really got to me one morning on the way to school. It was about 30° outside and we had stopped at the post office for our usual stop. Tom flicked my ear with his thumb as I walked in the door. I was freezing and thought my ear would fall off. I believe my ear hurt until summertime. (HA)
One summer day while Doug Deel, Dickie Altizer, Rusty Altizer (Dickie's younger brother) and I were throwing home-made darts and Rusty would not get out of our way. The darts were made with chicken feathers, an eight penny nail, and a piece of wood. Dickie said "Move, or I'll put this dart right through your belly-button." Thinking that Rusty would move, Dickie let go of the dart, and it stuck right into Rusty's left rib. We all were just about sent to jail over that. But thanks to good ole Dr. Lovas, he patched Rusty up and sent him home.
I can't remember who it was, but we had sneaked under my house and had just settled into a good chew of Brown Mule tobacco, when Mom (Granny Smallwood) came out onto the porch. "Roger Lee!" she hollered. And it scared me to death. I quickly stood up, and a nail that was sticking out of the porch got me in the head. I swallowed the Brown Mule, and fell on the ground, bleeding profusely from my head. When I crawled out from under the house, Ray Brewster was standing in the yard talking to Mom. They saw all the blood and thought I was bleeding to death. I was hurting more from swallowing the tobacco than having a hole in my head. Again, good ole Dr. Lovas saved the day. (There are a million and one memories in my mind of a time when I thought I was lost.)
I guess the saddest time was in 1954, I was twelve years old, when Dad died. I could hardly go on after that. He was the greatest. My sister, Jackie, pulled all of that together and we continued on with life. But Mom was never the same, as far as being happy.
Remember the Break-through, our favorite swimming hole at Rift? Well, I guess I had another one at Big Creek, up the hollow between Rift and Cucumber. What names! Where did they find them? -War, Rift, Cucumber, Berwind, Excelsior, Warriormine, Squire, and so many more. Sometimes the creek would freeze in the winter and we would use our sleds, an old box, or just run and fall to see how far we could slide.
I remember Sebert and I sneaking into one of Mr. Toney's boarder's room and lifting a drink of wine. I can see that big ole house on the hill--or at least it seemed big in those days.
I also remember this guy coming by every summer selling watermelons. Doug Deel, Eddie McGlothin, and I would get a job helping him and we would always throw a couple off and hide them to eat later. I think the old guy knew it but he never said anything to us.
The Wades, Somoskeys, Hanks, Deels, Asburys, Simms, Aleshires: God, where are they all? I miss them, every one.
Remember the flood? They had to take Mom and us out in a motor boat. It ruined almost everything. But we washed, scrubbed mud, and started over again.
I know I am going back before it is over for me. I want to see Dad's and Mom's grave and any old friends that may still be there. I loved that little coal mining camp nestled in a valley. In a world of it's own. No worries, no cares. Just love, friends and memories.
MEMORIES OF BERWIND, WEST VIRGINIA
By Joyce (Wade) Frazier
First of all I don't believe any place on earth is as innocent and safe as our little coal camps.
Two of my first memories in Berwind were going to the revival at the Methodist Church and from that revival they started singing "Everyday with Jesus" at the opening of Sunday School every Sunday. I remember Mrs. Wyser, a very frail lady. Jean and I would pick large bouquets of violets and take to her. She always told us to ring the door bell and then step into the house and call out our names to let her know who we were.
My very best memories and most thrilling time of my childhood was Toyland. It was such a wonderful time. And to think all the toys there would probably go into on room of any of our homes today. Only the Disney World of today would compare to it. I remember my mother sending my brother Wallace to the company store with a two dollar script book to purchase a loaf of bread. He was gone so long that she finally had to go look for him. When she got down to the train station she found him walking along pulling a little toy airplane. He said "Mommy look what I got for just a $1.98."
My fears that I had in Berwind were the experience of starting to school in the first grade and the dentist coming to the school. Jean and I are mirror twins-I am right-handed and Jean is left-handed. For some reason, our teacher would not let her write with her left hand. She made her write with her right hand and made her stay after and practice writing. There was no way I could go home without her so I would wait outside until the writing lesson was over. Then the teacher started making me leave. I could not even stand outside the door and wait. So I would go all the way across the playground and hide until Jean came by. We really got tired of this, and not being wise enough to share with our parents what was going on, I started doing my writing lesson then Jean and I would go to the pencil sharpener and I would go back to Jean's seat and do her writing lesson.
Another time I did not learn a poem that we had to memorize, so Jean said the poem for me. Although Jean received many spankings for using her left hand it put a great fear in me of teachers from which I never fully recovered during my school days. To survive we decided that I was the pretty one and Jean was the smart one. This teacher never caught us and she never liked us for a minute. What a relief it was to get into the second grade to Mrs. Nahodil's room. Let me say right now-Mrs. Nahodil, I forgive you for not posting my beautiful picture of a boy flying a kite. You said the coloring was really good, but boys do not wear red pants with yellow shirts.
I remember how far away the school seemed to be from our house. In the winter we would get so cold that we would go into the post office to get warm before going on to school. Mrs. Lane was always so nice letting us get warm. On several occasions when Jean and I had lost our gloves and our hands got cold carrying our lunch Joe Pruitt carried our lunches for us from the post office to the school.
My mind goes back to the holiday season, to those plays we used to have in grade school. The teachers tried to use every child with those crepe paper costumes-the hours the teachers must have spent making them. We would carry our little chairs from the first and second grade building to the gym to watch big screen films, usually about nature, our state, or nation. I remember the Christmas plays and treats and when we returned home Santa had already been to our house. I remember how our living room would have an electric train and track running all over it. I remember the joy of caroling.
I remember rushing from the school toward home to get to the first row of houses behind the company store. Nelsons had a big apple tree and sometimes those apples fell out into the alley. I also remember finding a beautiful blue doll dress in this alley. I knew it had to belong to Ann Gravely, but it was a perfect fit on my magic skin doll. I remember roller skating on the sidewalk at the company store and going to the drug store with six cents to buy a "nut billy".
I remember when we got TV in Berwind and `Ole Lonesome George' Gobel was a favorite of everyone. During the commercials everyone would be out getting coal to bank the fires. Coal heating stoves, which meant no heat at night while fires were banked.
I remember the thrill of the 4th of July and the delivery of gallons of ice cream packed on dry ice-all we could eat-with watermelon, cantaloupe and hot dogs.
I remember the French doors in the waiting room at the Doctor's Office. I always tried to see inside the room on the few occasions they were opened while I was there. I thought that was where Dr. Lovas kept the babies he delivered. It wasn't all bad-going to the Doctor's office or having the Doctor make house calls-all paid for. We could do all the shopping in one building-clothes, shoes, dry goods, hardware, gas, and enjoy the drug store.
As children, we loved to watch the steam engine pulling those tons of the best coal in the world. We would wait for the little red caboose and wave at the men riding there. How we loved the passenger train and, on occasions, riding on them. I remember the cinders on everything after the trains would go by.
I remember the thrill of seventh grade. We got to meet all those kids from other towns. I enjoyed Jr. High and Mr. McCoy allowed Jean and I to be helpers for parent-teacher day. The Jr. High play-The Two Cinderellas-being in the choir and the pink dotted Swiss dress I wore. I remember some of the songs to this day. It seems that Jean and I were always in the choir. Mrs. Morey also thought Jean and I would be so cute in the front of the band as flag bearers. She asked to look at our legs. I'll never forget her expression of horror with our little skin and bone legs and big knees.
Some of the best times were in the evenings and nights we played in the neighborhood. We all played together. I don't remember any harsh words or fights. Edward McGlothin once rode a bicycle down the hill and could not make the turn out the road and went down onto the railroad tracks. Another time, sled riding off station hill Roger Ogle tried to beat a train and go across the tracks first. Pete Sutherland took a big "belly bust" on his sled to head Roger off before he got to the tracks. Even without a superman suit Pete saved a life.
The families on our hill were all so nice and got along well. I'm just so sorry I was so shy and missed out knowing a lot of people better. Never again will we be so innocent to completely trust the people all around us. I remember how we never locked our doors, even when we would be gone all weekend.
When Bob got out of the Air Force and we finally settled in Princeton, WV., it was a very hard adjustment. Princeton was such a cold town-like moving up north. I realize living here and knowing so many of those people stayed home or are able to come back home-we can never do that. What we knew is gone and we really do not want to go back (even if we could have the Smithers house). We were innocent and maybe backwoods, but we were also very blessed to be where everyone cared about their neighbors. Can you even imagine knowing everyone in your town on a first-name basis?
We are still in a world of people who need people, so we should live each day trying to be of help and encouragement to those who cross our paths. I thank God everyday that I had parents who raised me to serve God. That's where it all begins. Thanks, Mother and Daddy and to all the Berwind families who have loved us over the years.
My Dad told a story the other day that tells it all. As Berwind closed down, Dad was at the Club House for a dinner. As he stood out on the porch looking over Berwind Square, Herman Davis came up to him and said "Howard, you are looking out over this territory where we have built friendships and mixed with the best people in the world. Now we are all going in every direction, north, south, east and west never to have this privilege again in our lives-to know these kinds of people."
By Bonnie (Wade) Woody
I have so many memories of growing up in Berwind it is hard to think of what I want (or dare) to put in writing. So I will start by introducing myself. I am Bonnie Sue (Wade) Woody, the ninth child of Betty and Lewis Wade. I was born on Tank Hill.
Some of my fondest memories are of Easter Egg hunts at the Berwind Conservation Club; Stacey's, where we all got together and had a lot of fun; and growing up in a large family where there was lots of love for family and friends alike.
Going to school in Berwind was like going to school anywhere else I guess. I do remember one time at a ball game in Berwind, I had a kidney infection and Dr. Goodykoontz had given me some pills for it that turned my urine purple. I told a few of my close friends about it and even gave them some of the pills. We also gave some to a few of the younger kids, telling them it was candy. Boy did I ever get in trouble when the parents found out.
My sister, Barbara, and I delivered papers for it seemed like forever, but while doing this we not only got to visit our friends, but we got to see the whole beauty of Berwind. Even though we didn't realize it then. We moved from Berwind to Kendallville, IN when I was 14 years old and these memories became more and more dear to me. Running through the hills; sliding down the slate dump; and seeing the God made beauty always filled me with pleasure.
Recently, on a trip home, a few of us went up Tank Hill, back to where Dad had kept his cows, and it made my heart sick to see how the beauty has been destroyed by people dumping garbage, old furniture, cars, and everything imaginable over the side of the mountain. I hear the Governor has vowed to clean up these eyesores. I hope he can and return some of the dignity to My Home Town.
After moving to Indiana I met and married Kenneth Ray Woody, Georgia Hankins' nephew, from Bradshaw, WV. We have been married for 25 years and have 5 children:
We also have 3 beautiful grandchildren with one more due in July 1994.
MEMORIES OF BERWIND-1920s-1930s
By Mary Evelyn (Morrison) Watson
Around the year 1905, a very successful family-owned coal mining company, Berwind-White of Philadelphia, PA. expanded its operations and opened new mines in McDowell County, West Virginia. As the result of a previous success in Pennsylvania, they planned and built a community complete with houses, schools, stores, offices, banks, and barber shops to support the influx of new workers to the mines. The formed a new company, New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company, to operate the mines. They named the community Berwind, after the family that owned the Company.
I was born in Berwind and lived there during the best and worst of times. Living in the coal fields was considered by many to be the worst place in the world. If one didn't know anything else, it wasn't too bad. After all, most men made good money and officials kept the company houses painted on the outside and homemakers kept the inside nice.
I believe my parents came to Berwind from Abingdon and Saltville, VA in about 1914. My mother attended Berwind High in the seventh grade, which would have been about 1914. She and my father were married at the Methodist Church on June 11, 1921, with Rev. J.W. Wysor performing the ceremony. The church was originally located near where the Post Office is at the present time. It was moved several years ago when the Dry Fork River flooded and did severe damage to the property
Near the church stood a barber shop and theater. The barber shop was still there in 1945. My brother, Randall Morrison, took my son there for his first haircut. I suppose it has been years since there has been a barber shop in Berwind. Mr. Robert Page who was the procurement officer for the Company occupied the large white house nearby with the picket fences.
Crossing the Dry Fork was a swinging bridge, and on the opposite side in the first two-story house on the right lived Rev. Wysor. He pastored the Methodist Church for many years. He left Berwind in the late 40s, maybe as late as the 50s, moving to Clermont, FL. He had terminal cancer but the doctor did not tell him because they knew he would not agree to retire. So they told him that his wife had cancer and that he must get her to a place where she could relax along with him for the remainder of her days. They knew that was the only way. He did resign his church and moved to Florida where he passed away not long afterwards.
Pastor Wysor visited the schools every week giving a short sermon and an interesting story. The one I remember was about the little engine that said, "I think I can." This fine Christian man took care of and ministered to the sick as well as to those who were not ailing. He probably conducted more funerals in the community than any one pastor before or since. He was loved and respected by all church organizations.
The Club House, supervised by Mrs. Mann, was located on the same side of the river as Rev. Wysor. This was one of the best kept and prettiest building and grounds anywhere in the coal fields. It was strictly operated to entertain the operation's officials who came often to the NR&P "jobs" from Windber, PA. I remember my father going to Pennsylvania periodically to paint and spruce up the Windber buildings.
The Club House was equivalent to our modern-day Marriott. In World War II people collected everything from scrap iron to sterling for the war effort. Mrs. Mann gave my father several pieces of sterling but she crushed or bent them so the would be used for the designated purpose. I remember a beautiful silver fruit bowl and pitcher, among other items.
In 1928 or early 1928, my parents started what was known all over the town as the "Big Boarding House by the Catholic Church". I do not know if they were the first to operate this house for boarders or if they bought out someone else. At one time in the late 20's, when coal was king, they had 36 boarders. I remember a long table that seated 18 people. Of course, they worked different shifts so there was never 36 men who would have a meal at the same time. But, if necessary, it could have been arranged. Weekends found the men, most of whom were miners, away to visit their families, usually returning late Sunday night.
The rooms in the house were very large and could easily accommodate four double beds. With four large rooms upstairs, 4 beds each, 16 beds total, 32 boarders could be housed. Most workers were willing to share a bed if necessary. There was an extra room downstairs reserved for special people. If a miner was injured and had to remain in the "camp" for medical treatment, sometimes that room was used for this person. It was a multipurpose room on the first floor. Arrogance always existed. I remember an incident where a miner was injured and recovering from his injuries. He folded a $20 bill, lit it form the open fireplace and lit his cigarette. You know what $20 was worth in the 20s!!
The back part of the house had a large kitchen and pantry. I recall dinner pails (called lunch buckets by the miners) setting on the counter in the pantry at night. They were partially filled for next day's lunch; fruit, desserts, napkins, etc. Coffee, water, and sandwiches went in the next morning. This saved a lot of time for the help.
The cook made gallons of coffee and dozens of biscuits. Eggs were bought by the case. The time came when Dad had to let her go. She had a daughter and several grandchildren living nearby who also gave her a hand in the kitchen. We all loved her and hated that she had to go but Dad had no choice as provisions from the pantry kept disappearing.
The Company doctors of the early years, some of whom I remember were; Dr. Cecil, Dr. Louis McCarty, and Dr. Emory E. Lovas. This big house might, and again I say "might", have been built for the Company doctor's residence. It had indoor plumbing, a kitchen sink and hot water. This was not the case for the average working man. I do know that Dr. Louis McCarty had an office in the room off the side porch of the boarding house. There were two entrances from the outside; one from the side porch and one from the back porch. There was a small room that Dr. McCarty used for his office. When we moved in, a couple of shelves were still in that room and I can still remember the medicinal smell of the area. Mother put a double bed in there and that is where I slept all the time we lived there.
There were eventually nine of us children, but my brother, Randall, was the only on born in that house. He was number five. We did not and were not allowed to mingle with the boarders. The back portion of the house was for the family.
Just before the 1929 stock market crash, Dad moved the family to a new house that he had built in Abingdon, VA. But he continued to operate the boarding house with my grandmother's help. I soon lost contact with this way of life but the memories are as plain today as yesterday’s sunrise.
There was segregation in those days. I remember that at the end of the third row of houses was a school for the black people. There was another school for them at Canebrake near the power house.
The railroad station was the "hot spot" in town. My parents said they would, along with other young couples, meet the daily trains as a form of entertainment. Just to see who was getting on or off the train. The mail came by train for years. Mr. Pete Lawless met the train and delivered the mail to the post office. The post office was in the main office building next door to the bank. In the 20s there was also a dentist office in that building.
Two or three trains ran daily from Iaeger to Cedar Bluff. I remember Dad ordering a hunting dog and it was shipped into the station, then taken to the post office where Dad picked it up. Of course, it was in a crate. But isn't it hard to imagine having to order by mail, then wait for any correspondence one might need; no telephones-just telegraphs and sometimes an in-town phone system.
There was a pool hall; two barber shops-one for blacks and one for whites all located in the same building. The pool hall was located on the roadside, over the railroad, below the Catholic Church. That pool hall was a hangout for the men.
I had an uncle who was a brakeman for the N&W railroad. When he was working that area he stayed with us at the boarding house. Trains shifted and would lay over in the railroad yard. Standing on the front porch of the boarding house, look toward your left and below the main line and that is where the engine would stay over night. They could go to near Rift where there was a turnaround and water tower to service these big steam engines.
There were no laws about blocking traffic back then. Big deal! There weren’t too many automobiles in any of these coal camps in those days. One could either wait until a train unbolted a crossing; that would be when an engineer got orders to move out, or find yourself another way across the tracks.
There was a sawmill (or planing mill) across the creek that was an important part of a growing coal town. Before the "Briquette" houses and those four room houses just below the railroad were built, the Company stored logs in that portion of the camp (called "the bottom") to be sawed and readied for new houses and/or repairs. Those house that now occupy this site were built in early 1930s.
Berwind also had a coal grading tipple, a laboratory, and water tanks. The lab treated the water to be used by the community. It was, I believe, pumped into two large tanks and treated, then pumped to a storage tank for distribution. I haven't the slightest idea how much the tank held, but I am told it wasn't unusual for the teenagers to climb the outside ladder and jump in for a swim.
The power house had one 250 feet high smoke stack and two or three 75 feet high. My father painted them yearly. He climbed the stack with a hook attached to his belt, never looking down because of the fear of falling. It took several days to scrape, prime and repaint. Once he had placed the swing (something similar to a Boatswain sling, I suppose) over one of the smaller stacks and during the night it fell. It had rusted from the inside out and just crumbled in a heap on top of the power house. No one was injured but it could have caused a death had it not happened during the night.
Speaking of the power house. There was a crew that maintained the power line right-of-way. The electricity was made right at the Berwind power house fueled by coal. A great amount of dust came from the smoke stacks at the power house, almost suffocating at times.
The tipple could put out a cloud of dust and smoke that covered the entire area from Rift to Canebrake. I'm surprised everyone in the coal fields escaped lung disease. Of course most of the men who worked inside the mine did get what is known as Black Lung.
The dust usually started around noon. If one would look in the direction of the tipple you could see the coal black cloud moving. Housewives rushed out remove drying clothes from the lines. No electric dryers in those days. If you didn't make haste, there would be a "whole lot of shakin' going on".
Before my day, there were coke ovens in the hillside across from the Briquette Plant. That is where the "Coke Row" houses got their name.
I don't know when the Briquette Plant went in. I do know it was a clean operation and was operating full force during World War II. At one time there was so much work for coal miners that it wasn't unusual for 2 or 3 families to occupy the same house. Just not enough houses to accommodate the employees. Then the depression came. Many houses were boarded up all through the town.
Across from the Briquette Plant was the Assembly of God Church. The first Pentecostal church anywhere in the coal fields. It was originally built for a saloon. It was called "The Gray Goose". Much like the gold rush days of the west, it was a hangout for the hardworking miners. I don't have any knowledge of why it closed.
One Sunday night while my father and another man was waiting for the church doors to open for service, they saw a man, known as Bruno, taking an evening stroll up toward the fire tower. Suddenly a shot rang out and Bruno fell. They cautiously approached the man and found him to be dead. A gun was found thrown over the embankment-no one in sight. The common thinking was that Bruno had come into the coal fields from New York to get away from the Mafia but that they had found him. Suddenly he belonged to a group called "The Blank Hand". The police-yep, Berwind had two-picked the body up and he was never heard from again.
World Wars I and II brought long awaited prosperity to this coal industry which was founded about 1905. The area also experienced much poverty during the great depression of the 1930s, but through a changing economy and the whispers of another war, it bounced back.
After World War II, there was a crushing blow with the loss of markets, reorganization of the operation, and the loss of our young people to the military, etc., and this was also a time when the people who were born in the 1920s and `30s began looking to the future and making plans to relocate. For most it was the best move of their life. The military educated our young men to aid them in leaving the coal industry for starting a whole new world for themselves and their children.
When World War II began to show on the horizon, work started picking up and anybody who wanted a job could find one. This is also the period of time that people with dreams of a different lifestyle started their exodus. It didn't happen overnight; it took years to relocate. But things were changing. World War II changed everyone.
The Company Stores-the best and only place for a girl to get a job. What a place! New brides bought their furniture there. These new couples bought the best of everything at these company stores. It was the forerunner of malls of today. Really, they carried the very best. A tailor traveled from one store to another with samples of fabrics for men's suits. My late husband and his brothers had their suits tailored there by the company store tailor. I believe Nunbush was the only men's shoes they carried at one time. Name brand canned goods, etc.
My Dad had the paint contract for all New River & Pocahontas Company property. He had to do the stores at night after they closed the day's business. In the early years, the stores opened at 7:30 AM, closed from noon ‘til 1:00 PM for lunch and closed at 6:00 PM through the week, and in the 1920s I believe they stayed open until 10:00 PM on Saturday night.
Seems there was a young man from a fine Berwind family became so unruly when he had a drink that most people avoided him when they knew he was drinking. Once before the following incident he had gone into the Company Store and tore up a few things. He was warned not to come back in the store especially if he was drinking. We all know we cannot reason with a drinking man. One night he went into the store and of course he had been drinking and eyewitnesses remarked that he was kicking items off the counters and shelves like a mad man. No one could subdue him. The manager did get him out of the store. The manager had a pistol for protection but had never had to use it. This time he walked back to his desk, got the pistol and shot the man at the gas pumps. The company transferred the manager and charges were never filed against him. The young man that was shot was engaged to a beautiful blond girl from Canebrake. I recall seeing her sitting on her parents' porch crying. I will never forget it; it was the day of his funeral.
In front of the bank and office building was a first-class community play ground. Swings, slides, sandboxes, merry-go-rounds; the whole works. The company installed the equipment and kept it repaired.
I was never into sports but Berwind used to have a town baseball team. The diamond was at the school ball park that had a nice set of bleachers. So Sunday in Berwind was BASEBALL.
When I started school in 1928, I went to the Primer, as it was called, in the little two room wooden building that is still standing. My teacher was Mrs. Graves. Her husband was the High School principal. Maybe he was the only principal before Big Creek High came into being.
In the `20s and `30s high school rooms were on the top floor of the main building and a science class and manual training in the basement. It remained so until Big Creek opened in 1932 at War, WV, then the Manual Training class was moved to the main building.
In the `30s there was bus service from War to Amonate (Murphy Bus Service). A man whom we called "Low Gear" drove this bus for years. All one had to do for a ride was to stand by the road and flag him and he would stop and pick up his passenger. He had one frightening experience. He stopped to pick up a woman and it seems she had been involved in a love triangle. It so happened that the "other" woman was already on the bus. The woman getting on pulled out a gun and shot her dead. Murder was common, as it has always been, but certainly not accepted. Marital problems existed then as well as today. Live-in companions were common and were known as "coal field license". I know of one family that lived together for probably 25 years and had five or six grown children before tying the knot. So common-law spouses appeared early in these communities. Were they ahead of their time?
During the `20s and 30s the company store delivered merchandise to their customers by a dray. I think the word means `a cart built to carry heavy loads'. Anyway, we always called when we saw it coming, "the dray is here". The cart was pulled by mules. One would leave a list for groceries, cow or hog feed; the clerks would fill the order and put the merchandise in bags or boxes and the dray delivered to the houses. These rascal mules were very stubborn. Sometimes they balked and refused to move. I remember one time this happened right at the back gate of our boarding house. No amount of persuasion seemed to interest the animal. My Dad asked the delivery man to let him handle the situation. As plain as yesterday I recall a snap of the whip and some kind of jumbled command and that mule took off like a jet.
There was no self service in those days. Every item bought at the store was taken from the shelves and packed for the customer. I well remember because I started working at the Berwind Company Store during summer vacation. By the time I started working, trucks were used to deliver orders and there was one man to do the driving and to deliver orders to the door. Sometimes he had help at the dock loading the truck. I think cow feed (we called it "chop" and I don't know where that word originated) weighed 100 pounds per bag. So the guys had to be in good condition to take on this job of driving the delivery truck.
Christmas was great! The store was very much aware of the chance for business. They went all out on Christmas decorations. I remember the first Santa Claus I ever saw. Years later was told his name-Bob Marrs. My brother, Bud, and I were taken to the store especially to see Santa Claus. Things have changed, but the Santa Claus suit is the same as when I first saw him over 60 years ago. Fabric for his suit is different but not the Santa Claus. Great memories!
Immigrants played a very important part in developing the coal fields. Hungarian, Italian, Irish, and African. All were hard workers. They usually came straight from Ellis Island to the coal fields. Many came to America alone, leaving family in Europe only to later bring them to this great country. I've known some to live in lean-to shacks as near the mines as the company would allow. By the grapevine I've heard many became very wealthy. They had no overhead expenses and wages were good. I always doubted the wealthy story, but I do feel they should be recognized for their contributions to the coal areas.
There were no vacuum cleaners, as we know today; just brooms, mops, and dust pans. The houses were not insulated and windows and doors had no weather stripping so coal dust seeped into every nook and cranny. Thanks to modern technology things have changed.
The `20s and `30s had radios but no TV. Never even dreamed of such. The radio usually had a copper wire running from a tree or on top of a house just to enhance the reception of the programs. I was a radio buff but the only programs I remember came in from WBT, Charlotte, NC, and of course, the Grand Ol' Opry from Nashville, TN. The closest stations were Welch and Bluefield.
Back to the subject that no one likes to talk about-death. The deceased was usually brought back to the home. I think I can safely that for years O.J. Douglas was the only funeral director in our area, and I understand they are still in operation today. The respect for the family of the deceased was always thoughtful and caring. Usually a local church group would gather in the home and sing hymns and a minister would speak and have prayer. Always someone sat up through the night with the family.
For the funeral itself, flower girls carried the flowers to a waiting car and when at the cemetery lined up behind the hearse to carry them to the grave site. So, at that time most funerals were conducted in the home or a local church. Not so today, as funeral establishments furnish a chapel for these services.
There were gasoline pumps in front of the company stores and always an employee to fill your tank. Price: 25 cents a gallon in the late `30s and probably less in the `20s.
A dry cleaning truck came by the home two or three time a week to pick up your cleaning. All mens' suits and ladies' nice dresses and coats had to go to the dry cleaner, as there were no man-made fabrics at that time. If the truck failed to stop by your home, just tell a neighbor and the next time he came around he got the message. I'll assure you he would come to pick up. That was good business. Seems like all cleaning had to be taken to War, then again, seems I can remember a short-lived cleaning business between Berwind and Rift.
My parents bought all their groceries for the boarding house from the Hardin Store. They were located in a large building just beyond the school.
Recently I returned to this childhood town. Things indeed have changed tremendously. Very few people I knew were still there-just the older folks. The mines no longer operate and all the coal has been mined. The 6:00 AM, 12:00 noon and the 5:30 PM whistle no longer send a shrill message of the time. The thriving town of the 1920s and `30s-the part I knew-is gone. The trees have again reclaimed their mountains and the air is clean. Many of the houses are gone and the sun is setting on those of us who were privileged to think back on the good days of Berwind. Yes, there were hardships and heartaches, but there is also a lasting bond that sets the area apart from homes we now have established all over the world. I wish only to remember the good times.
Berwind, you were a wonderful place for a child to grow up. Low crime rate, warmth and kinship like the relationships that will live eternally in my heart.
Many will not be able to look to this area with the same sight as we of the golden years. It was the place of my birth, childhood, school, and a marriage that lasted 50 years. May God bless those whose roots were deep and have stayed to keep the remains of a yesterday alive. I love you, Berwind!
MY FAVORITE BERWIND MEMORIES
By Dranan A. Toney
I guess about all my favorite memories of Berwind surrounds my childhood. The one thing that stands out most is Berwind Hollow. I sure did spend a lot of time around there, as did most of the other boys. We used to go around there with Louie Wade and milk the cows and slop the hogs (and my clothing). I never did want to miss going, and would get upset if he went without me. I enjoyed going around there and playing Cowboys and Indians and shooting our bows and arrows and slingshots. I got into a lot of trouble when I was little, but I had a ball getting there!
I remember an older black gentleman that we called "Cob Pipe". That is all I ever knew him by, and still don't know what his name was. Old "Cob Pipe" used to hit the bottle pretty heavy and was always good for a few laughs. We would see him and ask him to do the "Hucklebuck" and he would start slinging his arms and dancing around.
I remember when I was about five years old, Charles Buchanan and I went up to his Uncle Haggan's house and we asked him for a little chew of tobacco. Knowing what it would do, he gave us a little bit of "Prince Albert". I remember that it was a very hot day and we went both got sicker than a dog-to put it mildly. We both went home and went to bed. Our mothers couldn't figure out what was going on, but as usual, they found out. That was the last chew for a while.
I remember another time when I was about five years old, I was walking up the railroad tracks with a B.B. gun and I pointed it at a man coming down the tracks in one of those little yellow motor cars. He stopped the car, got out and pointed his finger at me and gave me "what for". He scared me to death. After he got through with me, Mom was standing at the door of our little store and heard it all. Then I caught it again! I might say, that I liked the man's way better.
I can remember when some of the older boys in town used to stand on the corner across from the old Doctor's Office where C.L. Young now lives. They would just stand around and laugh and "cut up". Before I was old enough to be one of them, I used to sneak over in the park and get behind a tree and listen to everyone talk. Boy, could I tell some stories about everyone!
I remember when I was little; I always looked forward to Thanksgiving Day, because all the neighbors that had hogs to kill would do it on that day. I took place, where else, but right in front of Louie Wade's house. We would all gather around and watch them shoot, stab, and throw the hogs into the water and scrape them, and then split them down the middle. Then some of us boys would get to put on some gloves and scrape all the insides into a big ol' tub. It was lots of fun.
(Tammy's note: My husband apparently has a very strange definition of fun and entertainment. It has been my privilege and duty for the past fifteen years of his life to try to rehabilitate his way of thinking and behaving. Ha Ha.)
I remember when the trains would come through and would have to stop every evening. They'd break the cars up and while some stayed on the top track, the others on the bottom track went back to the tipple to load. We'd climb over and/or under the cars, engine still running, never knowing when they'd start moving again. I'd get in trouble about every day because someone would always tell on me.
After the accident, which caused my blindness, I remember walking all over Berwind. I was determined to let nothing slow me down or keep me from doing everything the other guys were doing. Including getting into trouble! People in the neighborhood were amazed at me, roaming around all over the place. They'd ask me questions, which seemed ridiculous to me, like if I counted all the steps from one place to another. I guess they were just curious.
I remember an incident while riding my bicycle when I was 13 years old. Mom and Dad didn't want me riding because, with me being blind, they were afraid that I might get hurt. Did that stop me? I felt like I had the same rights as the rest of them. So I'd sneak out of their sight, bicycle in tow, and here I'd go. I rode thousands of times over in New Town Bottom, across the bridge, never missing it. Well, almost never. One day, the bridge must have moved a little, because one minute I was riding merrily along on dry ground and the next minute James Barton was getting me out of the creek! He took me home with him and gave me some dry clothes (which were way too small for me) and then took me home to Mom. She was real sympathetic for a few days, until she found out how I really got wet!
By Tammy (McGlammery) Toney
Some of my best times in Berwind were with my cousin (and now my sister-in-law) Dinah. When I was a teenager, she and Charlie would take me home with them and their daughter, April. We'd have cookouts in their yard, play music, and sing some songs, and just cut up and act silly sometimes. Those times are very special to me.
For me, the MOST memorable thing that happened in Berwind occurred on June 23, 1979. That's the day that Dranan and I were married in Berwind Park. Mrs. Florence Young and Mrs. Nancy Charles played a big part in making this day so special. It all started out as them giving me a bridal shower. Dranan's friends from his C.B. radio days then decided that they would get in on the act and show up and surprise him. It got so big, they decided to do an outside shower. Well, as surprises usually go, Dranan found out about all the surprises, so he decided to pull the surprise of all surprises. We decided to have the minister, Raymond Hayes, there and we'd get married while we had all our friends together. Well, the day finally comes, and here are over 200 people gathered together. Most of them thinking they were there for a bridal shower, and when they arrive they find tables decorated with roses, lights strung in the trees, and the beautiful wedding arch under the elm tree with roses strung all around. My brother-in-law Charlie, who has always been a little "out of the ordinary" (but we love him anyway) even had the music covered-with a piano in the back of his truck. There were so many people and so much love in that place on that day. I never go back to visit that I don't look across the street at the park and remember standing under that big tree with our friends and loved ones looking on and nervously saying our vows to each other and before God.
By Brenda (Wade) Swank
I was born and raised in Berwind and lived there until I was sixteen years old. I have many wonderful memories of growing up on Tank Hill. At the time, it seemed boring, but recalling that time in my life brings a smile to my face and a warm feeling in my heart.
Being a part of the Wade family meant I not only had many brothers and sisters, but many aunts, uncles and cousins living in Berwind. I always loved the closeness our large family had. When I think back to my childhood, I remember my pride in my parents. They always had the most children at the PTA meetings and were always involved in what we were doing.
I also remember my friends. Especially my "boyfriends", Sebert Toney, Roger Smallwood, Glen McNew, Ronnie Pollard, and Randy Combs, and the rest! Funny, I can't remember the girls' names! Just Kidding!
I have kept in touch with Sadie Asbury, Barbara Wagner, and the Pollard girls. I've lost touch with most everyone else, but would love to see or hear from them.
Walking the mile to and from school is something I have never forgotten, especially in the deep snow.
Here are some of the other warm memories of Berwind:
I married Randy Combs in 1959 and moved to Columbus, Ohio in 1960. Randy and I had two boys, Randall in 1963 and Ryan in 1967. I was married to Randy for 21 years, divorced now for 12 years. Then I married Tom Swank two years ago.
We moved from Columbus to Logan, Ohio and have been restoring a 130 year old farm house. My extended family now includes two step sons, and my pride and joy, five grandchildren whom I enjoy very much.
CAREFREE DAYS IN BERWIND
By Anna Fugate Horne
The holiday season was so special...the Sunrise Service on Easter morning. Often if was cold, but what a wonderful feeling as we left the church service after 7 A.M. to greet the sun, in our Sunday finery and then back for the regular services. It was fun seeing the new hats (and we really wore them complete with gloves and the new shoes and clothes) then egg hunting and candy. There is a close feeling for those attending and working in the church.
During the Christmas season I recall getting ready for the play and giving out goody bags that were provided by the Coal Company. We would put the nuts, candy and piece of fruit in the brown bags and have them ready at the Berwind Gym complete with a visit from Santa; a special program and always included the reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" given by Bobby Kerley. Then it would often be concluded by strolling all over Berwind caroling, then stopping at the Boistures, Bunts for hot chocolate. No matter how cold, we went and it was just great from one end of town to the other.
I worked at the Berwind Bank during 1941-45 and I recall the days of rationing-bread, meat, gas (we handled these coupons in our daily work) and standing in line at the grocery store for these items. How good the cheese and bologna looked being sliced.
And how much fun it was every Saturday afternoon or evening to go to the movies and get popcorn and catch up on the next chapter of our favorite serial. Then it was off to the drugstore to have a soda (usually this was about 5 cents) and be there until it closed about 8:30 P.M. then we'd go home and listen to "The Hit Parade" on the radio.
Of course there were sad times. The blast of the tipple whistle telling of a mine accident. The community would come together for the families affected by this. There is such a bonding of the folks from Berwind. It's a great place to have lived, gone to school, worked, married, and even though we've left there for some years now, I recall how much we love to hear that name.
What fun we had on cold winter nights riding sleighs down the steep road and then we'd take a break for hot chocolate at one our neighbors. The Halloween Carnival at the school gym. Getting dressed up and seeing the pranksters at work the next day. All of the pranks were done, not for mischief, but being a part of growing up and having a wonderful start.
Many of the buildings are gone, also the folks. But the wonderful memories and the values learned are with us forever. I'M GLAD TO HAVE LIVED IN BERWIND AND TO BE A PART OF FUTURE GATHERING FOR RECALLING A GREAT PLACE!
MEMORIES OF BERWIND
By Darrell McKinney
Like everybody else, I remember the good ole Company Store that most of us were in debt to. Of course, as kids, that didn't bother us too much. As long as we had a script book with a little left on it to use in the drug store. After all, you could "run it over" about 25 cents or so. There was the wooden rail fence between the store and the post office/company offices where the adult men sat and whittled and gossiped. The kids had to sit around the corner. Every once in a while the company had to replace the top rail of the fence due to the whittling. I remember playing marbles in front of the company store because it was the only level place around.
There were the football games in the field in front of the offices and bank. The bank never meant much to us because we never had any money to put in it. A couple of times they strung lights out into the field and made a boxing ring. I remember one of the matches was between two men who got into an argument at either the tipple or briquette plant. They decided to "settle it with gloves". One man's name was Calvin-last name completely escapes me-I believe the other man was Arthur Boyd. Maybe someone else recalls the "fights" better than I do.
How can anybody not remember the school? There was a time when the men had a baseball team and played teams from other towns such as War, Hartwell, Bishop and others. The only names that come to mind are the Manager, Norman Lane (he used to give us kids a dime for foul balls that we got out of the creek) and Roy Linkous. Roy played 3rd base and was the slugger. He used to hit balls up over the fence and into the road. Another name comes to mind-Glen McNew-was a pitcher, I think.
I remember going to the Doctor to get "sick excuses" from school during squirrel season. I don't think he turned anybody down.
I remember one day when the train was getting briquettes, we would grab all the buckets we could find and head for the railroad track and hope that the cars were real full and the engineer would really bang them hard so as to knock off lots of briquettes. With them it was easier to start the fire with less kindling. The only people who could get them from the company had to work at the briquette plant. They all lived in "briquette row"-a double row of houses between the planing mill and the railroad. The planing mill-where we all went to get boards to fix our fences, etc.
Then there was sleigh riding down Station Hill and down Newtown Hill. It seems that somebody always came up with a tire for the fire and somebody would get his or her tongue stuck to a sled.
When I first got to Berwind (I would guess around 1946) there was an old theater between the company store and Methodist Church. I don't think they were using it then though. In just a couple of years they tore it down.
There used to be a train depot at the bottom of "Station Hill". A two car passenger train ran between Richlands (I think) and Ieager on weekends. One car for whites and one for blacks. People caught the train around noon to go to War to the movies and come back by bus.
There was a Catholic Church with a house built onto it next to the house that the Toneys lived in and services were held there every Sunday.
Thomas Toney was one of my childhood buddies, though I think he was younger than I was. My wife (a girl from upper Michigan) and I got married in my folks' house up on the hill behind the Assembly of God Church. I remember when they came to shivaree us (do they still do that?) Thomas pushed the wheel barrow. He did a good job I guess, since we will celebrate our 37th anniversary in April 1994.
BERWIND SCHOOL MEMORIES
By Rachel (Morrison) Ripley
Some of my memories of the Berwind School are:
By Ruby Sloan
My Mother and Father were married in Berwind in 1912. My older sister was born there. They moved to Newhall where I was born and then a younger sister. We then moved back to Berwind where my sister, Magdaline and brother I.C. were born.
I was married and had six children there. Their father died in 1959. I later moved to Roanoke where I remarried. My husband died September 28, 1990.
When I speak of Berwind, I never say "Berwind". It's always "Down Home". It will always be home to me. I hope I will be able to attend the next Berwind Reunion of old friend and neighbors.
When we lived on the hill above the station, some small boys started a fire near my back door. Someone stood on the roof and poured water on it. I had it in my mind that was a young Toney boy. Recently, I mentioned it to my son Donny, who informed me that he gave the boy the matches. He said he didn't believe it was a Toney boy.
OUR FOND MEMORIES OF BERWIND
Ruby (Linkous) Fourney
Mary K. (Linkous) Stopher
Elizabeth (Linkous) Reynolds
Alice (Linkous) Ross
Playing in the sawdust, under the planing mill, along the stream that ran from the valley behind the mill--Playing on the stacks of lumber in the planing mill yard at the foot of hog pen hill--The odor of ethnic foods cooking in the neighborhood on warm summer evenings--Walking up on the hill into the black neighborhood to buy hot dogs and coney islands from Jessie--The feeling of nostalgia when we think of the mountains--The Easter egg hunts--The blue birds--The grapevine swings--The hike to the fire tower--The Company Store--The movie theatre where the movies changed 3 times weekly--The rides around War Mountain to get to school--The memories just keep rolling and rolling into our hearts and minds.
How fortunate we were to receive an excellent academic as well as an ethnic education.
I, Elizabeth, remember the thrill of being a soda jerk at the drug store at the age of fifteen. I was in "hog-heaven"!
I, Mary, will never forget December 8, 1941, when Mr. Robert F. McCoy, Jr High school principal, lit the huge bon fire and burned all the 'made in Japan' items he could find and then announced that he had joined the Navy that morning. And the flags in the windows with a star for each service member from that family.
The snake dance at the end of World War II when we wound through Berwind from the Briquette Plant to the ball field at the school. There we lit a huge bon fire and burned Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito in effigy. So many of my memories center around the 'Great War'. I grew up and became an adult at an early age because of those years; as did many of us.
I, Alice, remember most vividly, my elementary school friends and teachers. The McKindleys were such kind and wonderful people as well as a good teacher. She instilled in me a desire to travel and to get to know other areas of this great country.
I remember the hours spent with the Williams family and the childhood games Carol and I played. They were good years!
I, Ruby, remember a great beautification project in the late thirties. Prizes were offered by the Company to those who made the most beautiful lawns. Many planted flowers and shrubs that year and Berwind was really beautiful dressed in her summer finery.
I remember the dances at the school gym--the hikes to the fire tower--the good friends--all of the treasured memories that recall a happy childhood.
Grandpa's Clock by Sebert Toney, Jr.
Sunday, October 21, 2001
On a bedside table, I have a small travel alarm clock. Late at night when I am in that stage of conscientiousness somewhere between sleep and wake, I sometimes hear the steady, rhythmic tick-tock of that small clock. I am taken back, almost hypnotically, to a time many years ago when there was another clock that ticked much louder but much more soothingly.
When I was a boy growing up in Berwind, I would sometimes be allowed to sleep over at Grandpa's home in Vallscreek. During the winter, my grandpa would set up the living room area as a bedroom so he could get by with keeping only one fire going at night for warmth. We would all pile into the beds and talk for a while until Grandpa got too sleepy and demanded quiet.
That is when the ticking of his large "Big Ben" alarm clock seemed to get louder and insist that I listen to it. It was ticking off the seconds of my life. But at that time it was counting the seconds so much slower. The years from the first grade until my graduation ticked by so slowly, it seemed that I would never be able to grow up and be able to do the things that I wanted to do.
There was a driver's license to earn and places to see. The time from school's start to end was an eternity. The time from Halloween to Christmas was especially lengthy. Time between birthdays were almost unbearable, especially when I had older sisters and a brother that had special privileges that they would tell me to "just wait til you're 7 years old and you can stay up later." Or "just wait til you're 10 and you will get to go there." It seemed that there was always an age limit for everything and I was always just below the limit. Next year. Next year. I was in such a hurry to grow up!
Now it its fifty years later and as I lay in this bed I still hear the ticking of a clock. But it seems to be ticking so much faster now. Why is it in such a hurry? Why did the concept of time have to change? As I look back, I wonder, "Where did the time go?" I know I must have lived it, but the time has somehow slipped by me when I wasn't paying attention.
I wish that once again, somehow, I could get hold of Grandpa's clock. It kept much better time.
As a lad growing up in Berwind, I lived in the area of town commonly referred to
as “Tank Hill”. So-called because of the large black water tank that
stood on the hill opposite the coal mine entrance. At a very early age, I met
Bobby Mason, a black boy of my own age. Blacks and whites lived in close
proximity in this neighborhood so for us to intermingle and play together was
It seems that Bobby and I were immediate foes. I can't recall anything that either of us first did to the other to cause our mutual animosity. Why we could never get along was a mystery all during my growing years.
We could sit with each other on the railroad tracks and talk for long periods of time and then part friends. Or we could walk side by side to the company store. Then the next day we could be at each other’s throats and threatening to beat one another to smithereens. However, with all this bravado, we never hit one another, even though during these confrontations we each held rocks or sticks for protection.
Well, I grew up and moved away from Berwind. I enlisted in the Air Force and one of my duty assignments was at Charleston AFB, SC. While there, one of my co-workers, a black kid from New York, was talking to us one day and he mentioned that he had gone to the movies in downtown Charleston and he had to use the back entrance for admission. I thought he was kidding until one of the guys that grew up there said that it was true. I had heard of things like that happening but personally did not know of anyone that it had happened to.
Well, as it turns out, many years later, I learned from John Burnett, a black man that had lived in Berwind during the 1950s, that that very thing was a common occurrence there. Things that I took for granted, Bobby could not even think of doing. Things like sitting in the booths at the company drug store and drinking a shake or Coke. Eating an ice cream cone at the drug store was forbidden for him. He had to take his treats OFF the premises. Because I was white, I was afforded these privileges. Because of the color of his skin, Bobby was denied them.
Now, as I look back, I think I have a little better understanding about the small town politics that I had no idea existed in MY hometown, I think that I may have been the “release” that Bobby needed to have for his frustrations. He lived the prejudices of our town. I knew nothing of the prejudice. Oh, sure, I knew that we were segregated at homes, at schools, and at churches. But my Dad and the other white men worked in the mine with blacks as well as the other “minorities” that worked there. At that time, in my mind, that’s just the way things were…and I saw no wrongs.
Bobby grew up and moved to Ohio and became a policeman where he was killed in the line of duty. I'm sure that even in his adult life he was still denied the basic freedoms that he should have been able to enjoy his whole life and for which he gave his life. I think that if Bobby were still alive we could be the very best of friends.
A Narrow Escape
Sebert Toney. Jr.
This story did not occur in Berwind, nor did it occur when I lived in Berwind. However, it did occur in circumstances that could have been Berwind or any number of coal mines in that area.
I had joined the Air Force in 1961, just days after graduating from Big Creek High. After having four assignments in eight years (not counting Basic Training and Technical Training) I decided to quit the Air Force and seek my fortune in West Virginia.
I landed a job in the Newhall mine, starting out as a trainee, which meant I did everything that no one else wanted to do.
At first I worked with my dad. That man cut me NO slack at all. I guess he felt that since I was in a dangerous situation that I should know about the dangers and one should be on guard at all times. He also felt that one should give a day’s work for a day’s pay. I’ve said many times that for the first month that I worked there, every day seemed like three days long.
After about six months, a roof-bolter job became vacant. I applied and was selected to fill that position. This meant that I now held the UMWA Union’s second-highest paying job in that mine. My pay was a whopping $4.57 per hour!
The year was 1970. The day started out as any other normal day for us. I arose at about 7:30 am and helped Sadie get our two boys, Roy and Craig, off to school. They attended Canebrake Elementary where my brother, Thomas, was the first grade teacher. He had just completed college and I thought it was great to have a brother teaching one of my sons in school.
After we got the boys on the bus and off to school, Sadie and I sat down and had some breakfast and leisurely drank some coffee before getting on with our household chores. We had decided that I should reenlist in the Air Force because we had discovered that I had made a big mistake when I got out.
We lived in a large two-story house in Amonate, West Virginia and I was trying to get it ready for the coming winter because this is where my family would stay while I was away at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas studying for my next Air Force career.
I worked the evening shift from 3 pm to midnight at Newhall. This was the first mine that I had ever worked in and I guess it was in pretty bad shape, because every time I told someone where I worked they would say, ”Well, if you ever move to any other mine, it will be a step up!” I worked that mine for one year exactly (give or take a week).
That afternoon I went to work as usual, got my gas lamp prepared, set up my drill bits and extensions for my roof bolting machine. As a roof-bolter, my job was to go into an area just as soon as the coal-cutting machine got out of it. This meant that I was virtually unprotected from falling debris or cave-ins except for the few roof jacks that I would place around my position to help hold the roof up.
The cutting machine moved about on caterpillar tracks much like a bulldozer or an army tank. It would cut an area about 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep and would move from one area to another to keep the coal production going. This area is where I would have to go into and make safe for the cutting machine on the next pass.
The cutting machine was electrically operated and had large “umbilical” cords connected to it, which had to be manually manipulated to prevent them from being run over and cut by the “cat tracks”.
The procedure was for the cutter to make it’s cut of coal, inching farther and farther into the blackness. When it reached the maximum of the cut area, it would be backed out, being very careful not to roll over the electrical cables.
However, on this trip out of the cut the miner was backed up to where it could make a right turn to go into another passageway. As soon as it got out of the way, I went in and started to work. As I was busy concentrating on my tasks, the miner and crew were busy trying to get to the other cutting area. As it was rounding the corner it’s right hand track passed over the umbilical cord, cutting through it and thereby allowing the insulation to start smoldering. The ensuing smoke crept into the area in which I was working.
Before I knew it was happening, the thick, acrid, rubber smoke was so overpowering that it replaced my oxygen in hardly any time at all. It became very hard for me to breathe and I could hardly see the headlamps of my co-workers behind the source of the smoke.
I started walking back towards the lights, then became very disoriented. I guess I had gotten about halfway out and then started back from where I had come. From somewhere in the blackness of the smoke and my confusion, a hand touched my right arm, guiding me back away from the thick, heavy smoke.
My lungs were burning and I felt as though I could get no air. My breath was coming in short gasps and my chest hurt like hell.
Then I was lying on a bench in the fresh air passageway but it was still very difficult for me to breathe. I laid there for what seemed like 20 or 30 minutes gasping and panting, struggling for breath. Slowly I became aware that another man was there with me, his hand on my shoulder, his eyes looking intently at me. He was the one that had come for me and pulled me from the smoldering rubber smoke. This young man had saved my life! How he had so quickly understood that I was in trouble and disoriented, I’ll never know. But I do know that I owe my life to Ken Gillispie.
I have thanked Ken several times, and I think that I’ve even embarrassed him a time or two because he is a kind, unassuming man and he expected nothing in return for my life.
At the time that this all took place Ken lived in Tazewell, VA. He eventually became a section foreman and worked at Amonate, WV. The last time I saw him was about 1973 when I again thanked him.
Not long after this episode I returned to the Air Force where I finished my career in 1982 after serving 5 years in Honolulu, Hawaii then 3 years in Tucson, AZ then returning to Sheppard AFB, TX in 1978.If anyone sees Ken Gillispie, tell him that Sebert Toney, Jr. says, “Thanks a lot!” Because of his fast thinking and quick actions I have had 33 more years to enjoy watching my children and their children grow. Thanks, Ken
LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
Pat (Gravely) Woody
Evelyn (Morrison) Watson
June (Lyons) Hall
Ralph K. Canterbury
Rosalie (Rorrer) Johnson
Sebert Toney, Jr.
Ruby (Wade) Buchanan
Jean (Wade) Matovitch
Roger L. Smallwood
Joyce (Wade) Frazier
Sadie (Asbury) Toney
Bonnie Sue (Wade) Woody
Brenda (Wade) Swank
Anna (Fugate) Horne
Dranan A. Toney
Tammy (McGlammery) Toney
Darrell E. McKinney
Rachel (Morrison) Ripley
Ruby (Linkous) Fourney
Mary K. (Linkous) Stopher
Elizabeth (Linkous) Reynolds
Alice (Linkous) Ross
Esther (Gall) Sebastian