A Pine Crik Hollow Home
Former Pine Creek resident David Charles Kirby, the son of Roy and Eva Buck Kirby, recalls his life and times growing up in a remote Pine Creek hollow and in Calhoun County.
He attended a one-room school taught by his mother and graduated from Calhoun High School in 1954, with a BS degree in agricultural engineering from WVU (1959).
Professionally he is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator and Professional Engineer in WV, OH, and PA, having worked 22 years as Loss Prevention Engineer with Factory Mutual Engineering; 20 Years as Process Safety Engineer with Union Carbide in South Charleston; 12 years a Sr. Principal Engineer with Baker Engineering & Risk Consultants of San Antonio, TX.
He is married to the former Betty Estep of Mt. Zion, their children, sons, Dr. Kris N. Kirby, professor at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts; and Gregory D. Kirby, of Parkersburg, Safety Engineer at Cytec, Willow Island, WV.
Kirby's recollections reflect life from the Great Depression to the fabulous 1960s, earlier tales can be found under People, Humor and History.
EARLY SCHOOL YEARS
In 1942 Mom was assigned the school on Rowles Run, about a four mile walk from our farm. I was nearly six years old, and old enough to start to school, so now Mom could take over the babysitting duties.
It was decided that it was too far for us to walk, so we moved into the second floor of Uncle Ellsworth Kerby’s, who lived about a mile from the school. He wasn’t really my uncle, he was Dad’s second cousin, but he wanted me to call him Uncle.
I remember well the day that Dad moved us. We loaded up a bed, bedclothes, clothes, cooking utensils (we could use their cook stove), etc., on a sled and hooked up the horses to haul us to Uncle Ellsworth’s.
In the creek above his house a runner came off the sled. We had to completely unload the sled, turn it upside down on the bank, and Dad cut and split a sapling to make another runner. What should have been about a two hour trip took all day.
Uncle Ellsworth was born with one good arm. His left arm was missing below the crook of the elbow and it looked like he had some knuckles trying to form at the elbow.
He was a big tough raw-boned farmer and had developed a lot of strength with an arm and a stub.
He could carry a bucket of water from his left elbow if he kept his arm extended horizontally. It was really strange seeing him carry two buckets of water, one sticking nearly straight out almost as high as his head.
I never knew of Uncle Ellsworth trying to hire help, even though it took him a lot longer to put up hay than anyone else. Stacking hay was hard work for two people. He would pitch it up on the stack with the one good arm, then climb a ladder and place the hay around the pole. I remember seeing him stacking hay when it was snowing.
One morning before we went to school I heard this strange hollow thumping sound, something like kicking a cow in the side, coming from the back porch. I went out to see what was going on. Uncle Ellsworth had propped up a mirror, and was holding a chisel with the stump of his left arm while hitting the chisel with a hammer held in his right hand. With that, plus the intermittent use of a pair of pliers, he was pulling his own jaw tooth.
Blood was everywhere. With one final yank he produced the tooth, wiped his mouth and gave a broad grin showing the bloody cavern where the tooth had been. He said only thing wrong with his approach was that he had loosened teeth on both sides of the bad one.
I told Dad the story, and he said Ellsworth was one of the toughest guys he knew. Ellsworth got in a fight with a big guy on election day at Hur. When the guy had worn himself out beating on Ellsworth, Ellsworth got up and beat him in a fair fight.
Uncle Ellsworth loved good whiskey, and whiskey was plentiful on election day, and that combination may have contributed in some manner to the outcome. On another election day Ellsworth rode a small mare to Richardsonville, about four miles from Hur.
Ellsworth came in at a gallop in front of the country store. He stopped so quick the mare sat back on her haunches. Ellsworth stepped off, waved his stump arm, and said “I can whip any son-of-a-bitch in Richardsonville.”
Several people were standing around, and all eyes went to Harley Bee, the bully of the town. Harley tipped his hat and said “I don’t doubt that one damn bit,” and walked inside the store.
ROWLES RUN RED SCHOOL
Rowles Run School, also known as the “Red School,” was located along the edge of Rowles Run Creek. One summer the creek had got out of its banks, and had washed out the foundation stones along the entire lower side of the building. >p>
The Board of Education took action and had the sides propped up to keep it from moving further, but that left the whole building canted, with the floor on the upper side several inches higher than on the lower side.
If one dropped a pencil, it would roll to the lower wall unless it started rolling off at an angle. A marble made it to the wall every time.
OLD MRS. SMITH
World War II was on, and Mom had to sign up people for rationing stamps (I guess that duty was assigned to school teachers everywhere).
Word got around that without the stamps you couldn’t buy sugar or tires. Some real characters showed up to sign up. I especially remember old Mrs. Smith. I don’t know how old she was; everybody simply called her “Old Mrs. Smith.” Anyhow, she had a perpetual running nose.
She would grab a fistful of snot and give it a sling. It would crack like a 22 rifle when it hit the wall or floor. Dad knew her and said I should not laugh so hard, because she was my second or third cousin.
A COLD NIGHT
Lizzie Hughes, another cousin, was very old and lived a couple of miles from Uncle Ellsworth’s, and we decided to visit her and stay all night. It was very, very cold, and she lived in a very, very large house.
She had raised a large family and with each new kid they built on another upstairs bedroom. The bedrooms (I think there were four upstairs) were accessible only by going outside and walking along an open upstairs porch.
The bedroom we were assigned was at the remote end of the house from their fireplace. We were so cold by the time we got to our room that we decided to sleep in our clothes. I snuggled up against Mom and was soon asleep. I awoke sometime after daylight and looked over at Mom and became horrified. She had frost on her eyebrows and all around her head on the blanket and pillows. I never was afraid of ghosts, but I thought I had just seen one.
Pulser McCune was another of the legendary characters of the community. He was very religious and would get converted every winter. He had been baptized so many times it is a wonder he hadn’t drowned. He went to church at Hur, Walnut Grove (at the mouth of Barnes run), and Tuttle Hill (Snuff Box Glory).
He got up and testified at one of the revival meetings and said “Friends, the Bible says that if one’s faith is as large as a mustard grain you can move mountains – friends, I want to tell you right now, my faith is as large as a hulled walnut.”
My Dad later said that Pulser was more powerful than an atom bomb.
On another occasion someone heard loud cussing going on near Pulser’s farm, and asked someone else about it. The other someone said that is Pulser working his mules – he has them so spoiled that you have to cuss them to whoa. Not only was he cussing, but he did it loudly for several days. At next revival someone took him to task for his language. He said “Yes friends, I was plowing with a root-cutting plow a new-cleared patch on the ridge. I lost my religion at the mules. I knew when I lost it – it cracked like thunder and went into a hollow stump. I knew it was no good to try to get it back while I was plowing. When I got done plowing I got down on my knees at the hollow stump and prayed, and I got my religion back. It came back with a clap of thunder, just like I lost it.”
A root-cutting plow is a regular turn plow with an iron knife blade welded (forged on by a blacksmith) to the front of the moldboard. When you hit a root the front of the plow tended to tip down and raise the handles.
This yanked your arms off, and most people would work forward with the plow handles under their arms. This was okay for small roots, but large roots tended to throw you over the top of the plow, in the worst case almost onto the back of the mules.
After a few hours of this, you ended up with bruised ribs and a foul disposition. Dad reckoned as how that plowing with a root-cutting plow would make anybody lose their religion.
MILLER JACK'S GRIST MILL
Jack Starcher (Miller Jack) had a grist mill at Cremo, about two miles down the creek from the Red School. The grist mill was originally powered by a water wheel, and Miller Jack converted it to be powered by a Model A Ford engine.
One day in the middle of the winter when it was blue cold, too cold to do any farm work, Pulser threw a sack of corn over his mule and rode to Miller Jack’s to get the corn ground to meal. The mill was a big old building and did not have a bit of heat.
Miller Jack had knocked some holes in a 55 gallon drum and was trying to get green wood slabs from his sawmill to burn. The fuel line to the Model A kept freezing. Miller Jack would get out a blow torch and thaw it out, grind a little bit, and then the fuel line would freeze again.
Pulser was stomping around back and forth trying to keep from freezing. Finally he became very disgusted and said “Miller Jack, I have an old rooster that can eat the corn faster than you can grind it.”
Miller Jack, who was also very frustrated, said “Well Pulser, he couldn’t do it for long.” Pulser responded “Well he could, by God, ’til he starved to death!”
DOGGIE ALLEN'S STORY
Doggie Allen told me a funny story. He had gone to a neighbor’s house to help them work out their corn. Doggie’s friend was plowing with a mule and a double-shovel plow. Doggie and his friend’s dad were hoeing. The mule was balking, and finally the friend picked up a rock about as big as your fist and cut-drive at the mule’s rump.
The rock bounced off the mule, flew over two rows and hit the boy’s dad in the back of his head. The old man reared up, shook his fist, and said “Son, a little bit of that is a damn plenty!”
More to follow ...