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.
College Years (1954 to 1959)
In 1954 I started at WVU in Engineering. I had planned to major in music until my senior year in high school, and as a result was way behind on math for an engineering student. I struggled and struggled and finally graduated in 1959. I would hitch-hike home about every four to six weeks.
Cline’s Failed Resurrection
On one of my visits Mom met me at the door, visibly upset, and said “Well, they drowned Cline Friday morning.” Now at the Pine Creek School, none of us were brilliant, and most of us were not that bright. But the Coger family bordered on the low end of the scale. Of the Coger kids, Cline was the least intellectually gifted.
Cline was one of my classmates for five years. He called me Kemosabe, after the Lone Ranger show. He was a big boy, big enough to have been gifted with the nickname “Bear.” He was a gentle bear, as nice as could be, and well liked by all who knew him.
Fairs of a sort would occasionally come around, and one that did had a real live bear wrestling show. The bear would stand on its hind legs and challenge all comers. For a dollar you could wrestle the bear and, if you managed to put the bear onto the mat, you would win ten dollars. Ten dollars was a veritable fortune at the time, but no one ever won.
That bear was big and could balance on its hind legs unnaturally well, for a bear anyway. Large crowds would hang around to watch the next victim. As you might expect, someone put in a dollar to get Bear into the ring, and down went the real bear!
Another show that would occasionally come around was a revival. Bear had been saved at revivals several times, but had managed to back-slide a small bit an equal number of times.
Bear was visiting relatives in East Liverpool, Ohio when they were having a big revival meeting. Bear got saved again, and they sealed the deal by baptizing him in East Liverpool River just at sunup.
Unfortunately, truly unfortunately for all those who liked him, Bear didn’t take to water so well, struggled a bit during the baptism, and slipped away from the baptizers into a deeper part of the river.
Bear went under and wasn’t found for several hours, by which time it was much too late. At least, some thought it was too late.
Others brought him back to Pine Creek un-embalmed, and proceeded praying for a resurrection. Red Boggs, a cousin, said they would probably give up when he got ripe enough to run them out of the house.
Three days later they decided that the Lord probably had better things in mind for the Bear and let it go.
The Senior Trip
June 1, 1959, I received an Agricultural Engineering Degree from WVU. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I only had a grade point average of 2.4, and I was afraid someone would review my grades and come up with some reason for me not graduating.
Just before I graduated we had a senior trip. It happened every year and was sponsored by some agricultural company. That year it was sponsored by a combination of New Holland Machinery at New Holland, Pa., and some apple company in Hagerstown, Md.
It was an overnight trip and we stayed in Hagerstown. There was six of us plus Professor Phillips, and we rented a seven passenger van. Things got completely out of control after our visit to New Holland.
We were all drinking copious amounts of beer, and the party had begun. We went straight to a bar in Hagerstown and Ivan Browning drank twelve Singapore Slings. He got me started on them, but I did not have nearly as many.
Ivan was rooming with Jim Dove and I happened to have a room by myself. A funny thing about sloe gin is that next morning after tying one on, a big drink of water seems to reconstitute the whole thing.
At any rate, I took a big drink of water and ran down the hall to Ivan and Jim’s room. The room was unlocked and I burst in. I was immediately overtaken by a foul odor and, in jest, said “Who shit the bed?”
Jim was over on one edge of the bed with only his nose sticking above a sheet, and he said “Ivan did.” During the night Ivan had gotten sick and erupted at both ends. You couldn’t believe the mess the room was in.
They got cleaned up and we hit the road as soon as possible. The situation was completely out of control. There was warm beer left over from the day before and we were having some of the hair of the dog that bit us, except for Ivan, and started throwing empty beer bottles out the van window. Professor Phillips cancelled the trip to the apple orchard.
Phillips was furious and failed us on the senior trip. This was a big problem since the senior trip was a mandatory non-credit course, and we were not going to be able to graduate with an “F” on our record.
Dr. Longhouse was Dean of Agricultural Engineering. He could not force Phillips to change the grade, so he called a meeting to negotiate a peaceful solution to the situation and work out a way for us to graduate.
We went back and forth, and Longhouse said that in the future we were going to have some rules or commandments on how to conduct ourselves. Jim Dove suggested “Thou shall not shit the bed.” Even Professor Phillips got tickled over that and he changed our grade to a D-minus. Because it was a non-credit course our grade point average was not affected and we were able to graduate.
Working Years (1959 to Present)
Factory Mutual (FM)
On June 7, 1959, I started working for Factory Mutual (FM) Engineering, the service group of the Factory Mutual Insurance Companies. I had to have an automobile, so (with Dad’s signature on my note) I bought a new Firedome Sportsman Desoto (first hemispherical engine from Chrysler), and I was off to the races.
During the next twenty-two years, interrupted by six months military service and three years in sales and underwriting, I worked as field engineer for FM. Also, during that time, I married Betty Jean Estep from Upper Pine Creek (a step up from Right Fork of Pine Creek,) and she gave me two great sons.
The creeks in front of the farm house are normally pretty tame, and crossing them requires little effort. However, when a real toad strangler comes along, they can fill up in a hurry. A heavy rain can seal the house off from the road for several days.
I had traded the Desoto for a Corvair around 1962, and I was coming back to the farm to visit Dad and Mom. It had been raining hard and the creeks were up and still rising. As I turned onto the road leading towards the house, I knew the creek would be up and it might be a challenge to get across.
However, the creek was only going to rise higher, and it became a “now or never” (or at least a day or two) type of deal. When I got up to the house the rain had suddenly stopped and the sun was out, and Dad was sitting out in the lawn. The last crossing just below the pond looked awfully high, and I had lost touch with driving it on a regular basis.
Anyhow, I decided to give it a try. I revved up the engine, dropped it into low gear, floored it and shot towards the crossing like a missile.
The water first went over the headlights and then up the windshield. I had the little side windows open and angled to direct the air right on top of me, and so they funneled the water right into my lap. The main windows were part way down and let in a wave as well.
However, with the Corvair’s engine being rear mounted, it actually managed to struggle out the other side of the creek. It was spitting water the whole way as it climbed up the bank with steam coming out of the defrosters.
I pulled it around the side of the house, opened the door and let out a small river of water, and strolled as nonchalantly as possible up to the metal glider where Dad was sitting and watching the entire episode. He took one look at me and asked “You trying to turn that thing into a submarine?”
I left FM in 1981 and started working as a Process Safety Engineer at the Union Carbide Technical Center in South Charleston, WV.
Baker Engineering and Risk Consultants
I was retired four days from Union Carbide when I went to work for BakerRisk. Their main office is in San Antonio, TX, and they have a satellite office in my bedroom in Pocatalico, WV.
I work part time, mostly investigating industrial explosions (specializing in dust explosions).
My work is unscheduled – I can’t predict when the next explosion will occur. Worst incident last year was an iron dust explosion in Monterey, Mexico (10 fatalities). Have briefcase will travel.
MORE TO FOLLOW
Read earlier Pine Crik Tales under People, Humor and History