By Sidney Underwood|
I lived in the Cabot station area of Calhoun County for over fifty years. My family moved there from Hardman Alley in Grantsville during the summer of 1955 when I was thirteen years old. My best buddy, Bill Umstead, had left River Street the previous year when his parents built a new home on Mt. Zion ridge.
So, this move was not difficult for me and I had no regrets about leaving the house on Hardman Alley that I had lived in since 1948. I had formed many childhood friendships during that time, but the neighborhood kids like me were growing older and that special magical time of childhood was rapidly fading.
I had put my toys away and was now concentrating on sports. I would be entering the eighth grade that fall and looked forward to playing basketball in junior high.
We had admired the Lester Arnold house at Cabot Station for several years and my parents were finally able to purchase it in May of 1955. Lester and his brother Melvin owned ARNOLD MOTOR SALES, the Chrysler Plymouth dealership in Grantsville at the time.
My Dad had bought two new Plymouths from them in 1949 and 1953 and he considered the two brothers to be honest and well respected businessmen.
Dad had been negotiating with Lester Arnold for several months prior to purchasing his property. After the negotiations were completed, we swapped houses with Mr. Arnold and borrowed $7000.00 from the Calhoun County Bank to complete the deal.
My Mom thought it was so incredible that we would actually live in a $10,000.00 house! Also, she worried about our ability to pay off such a huge mortgage.
Built in 1952 by contractor, Abe Riddle, the house was of the Ranch Style that was popular in the early 1950’s. All rooms were on one floor and the house was in a long rectangular shape. Although our house did not have one, a “Breezeway” was often included connecting the house to the attached garage making that style house even longer.
Subsequently, most of those “Breezeways” were upgraded by adding sliding glass doors creating a sun room. That was a popular conversion of the late 1950’s that made accessing the garage much more comfortable during winter months.
The day that Mr. Arnold turned over the keys to us, he stated that he had one request to make. He said that his mother had planted the Catawba tree in the edge of the front yard the same day his family had moved into the house in 1952.
He asked that the tree not be cut down, but be allowed to remain as a living memorial to his mother. We readily agreed to his request. Fifty One years later when I sold that house to Dick Ullum, a descendant of that original tree was growing in that same spot.
My Dad borrowed a large dual wheeled Flatbed truck belonging to the Calhoun County School Board and made several trips delivering our furniture, clothing and personal effects to the house at Cabot Station.
Everything was moved in one afternoon. Neighborhood kids rode along on the back of that truck and helped carry stuff into the house. They had a good time, nothing bad happened and nobody fell off the truck. Remember, this was 1955 and things were so different then. Several varsity football players including Don Burch did the heavy lifting.
I remember it was Burch who took me down the hallway and showed me the bedroom that would be mine for the next 50 years.
My Mom was so excited to finally have a house large enough for her to have her own sewing room. Under her direction, the heavy Domestic sewing machine, dress patterns and bolts of material were deposited there.
We really didn’t know our neighbors when we first moved to Cabot Station, but soon became acquainted with those who lived nearby. Junior Nester and family lived directly across the road from us in the house now occupied by Mike and Trish Propst.
Nester’s father had been one of two men killed when the Hope compressor station exploded in November of 1945. Harold and Helen Ulumn lived beside us toward town. Mr. Ulumn died tragically in an oil field truck accident near Sand Ridge that fall of 1955.
Clyde and Kathleen Gibson had a house under construction on the other side of our home. Other nearby neighbors were the Oak and Francis Davis family, Olin and Marry Ann Barrows, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Cain and the Betts family who lived down the road in an old dark unpainted two story house. I had heard ghost stories about that house as told by my great Uncle Flave Knight who had lived in Calhoun in the late 1890’s.
About the third day in our new home, we were sitting on the back steps outside the utility room. It was a nice cool evening and we were enjoying the fact that everything had finally been unpacked and put away.
We saw a large yellow tabby cat approaching from the direction of the river. It came up to us and we could see the battle scars on its face. The tips of its ears were uneven and scarred. “Old Tom” as we came to call him was a large male cat that had done his share of fighting.
My Mom started petting him and I think he adopted us at that moment. He would be our cat for the next nine years. He was independent as most cats are and occasionally would be gone for an extended period, always returning after several days of courting or fighting or both and looking somewhat the worse for wear.
Someone had evidently kicked him in the past as he exhibited a protruding lump on his left side. But, that seemed to be of no hindrance to him on his nightly forays.
Mom made a bed for him out of one of my old wool sweaters and placed it on a shelf in the garage. Always the caring type, she left the garage window open for him. During winter months “Old Tom” would climb the kitchen screen door in the garage up through a small opening into the attic where he took up residence.
Mom made me climb up into the attic and arrange the sweater between the rafters so he would be comfortable. Over time we got used to hearing the scratching banging sound as that fifteen pound cat climbed the screen door late on a winter night. When we heard that noise, we would say that “Old Tom” had safely made it home again.
It was fun calling him down early in the morning. At first we would see his big fuzzy head looking down at us. We would rattle the cat food in his bowl, then watch as he stretched downward full length to the top of the door frame whereupon he would turn his back to us and carefully lower himself tail first to the floor.
Dad was concerned that “Old Tom” might be doing bad things in the attic. My Mon said that “Old Tom” was much too smart to do such a thing. At Dad’s insistence, I climbed up there with a flashlight to look around. Carefully stepping from rafter to rafter, there was nothing to see, it was evident “Old Tom” went elsewhere to do his business.
We planted a garden later that first summer. My parents were curious about the garden soil being so dark. I think it was Clyde Gibson who explained that it was the result of the nearby Cabot facility that produced carbon black years ago. The excess carbon having been captured by the wind and spread along the valley.
The first boy that I became friends with was Jackie Betts who was several years older than me. Jackie and I often played catch with footballs and baseballs in the large field behind what would become FURR’S RT#5 SALES & SERVICE.
I remember one afternoon during the summer, we had our gloves and were tossing the baseball to each other when Jackie told me he had just earned his driver’s license and was looking to buy his first car. Later that summer or maybe the next, he did get a car. It was an old black sedan and he fixed it up and after several coats of wax, I thought it looked cool.
Sometime later when he was visiting Clyde Gibson next door to us, Jackie was backing out of Gibson’s driveway when someone running hard up RT#5 clipped the back of his car. As I recall, no great harm was done to Jackie, but his car never quite looked the same.
Over the years many such accidents occurred along that stretch of road. Time after time petitions were signed by families with children requesting that the speed limit be reduced to 45 mph. But the requests always disappeared into the bureaucratic maze of the Department of Highways.
I spent a lot of time near the river behind our house. I would stand on a nearby sand bar and skip rocks across the surface. My Dad taught me to swim by having me wade out to chest deep water and dog paddle back to him, eventually learning the correct form.
Clyde Gibson and Dad constructed several “John” boats used for setting trot lines, fishing and gigging frogs.
Several of those small boats were lost to flood waters. I remember one time Fred Barnes and sons, Bill and Dick, went out with Dad on a night time frog gigging adventure. The “John” boat was crowded and when it was decided that someone would change positions with my Dad, they attempted to ease past each other and the boat shifted resulting in my Dad falling into the river.
Everyone gave him a hard time about that. Dad accepted the good natured ribbing, but lost his carbide light and later found that he had also ruined his pocket watch.
Mr. Olen Barrows, Editor of the Chronicle, had a TV line to the top of the hill behind his house. He was generous in allowing the Nesters, Gibsons and my family to hook onto it.
In those black and white TV days, we received WSAZ, WOAY and WCHS. The Saturday night wrestling matches from Oak Hill were especially popular and announcer Shirley Love was the Howard Cosell of his day.
Picture quality was best at night and on rainy evenings when the TV screen exhibited very little “Snow.”
Everyone helped with maintaining the line that occasionally suffered from falling trees and limbs since the path went up through the woods. I carried boosters, coils of ladder wire, rolls of cable and tools like a pack horse while Clyde, Junior and my Dad performed the technical work of splicing cables, installing insulators, mounting boosters and routing electric lines down the hill. We always dreaded the March winds because that meant more repair trips up the hill.
Many times my family would watch the flood waters rising from the river. As it slowly approached our house, I would drive stakes in the back yard to mark its progress.
We would travel up to the turn at Cabot Yard to see the water covering the road effectively cutting us off from town. Other times, we travelled down the road to Big Root to witness a similar situation. But our family took the flooding in stride as it was just part of living along the Little Kanawha River. We were lucky in that the water never got to us, although the March 1967 flood nearly covered the gas meter in our backyard about twenty feet from the house.
It was amazing to see the things floating down river when the water was high. Small storage buildings, outhouses, barrels, trees, trash and dead animals were just some of the items that floated by.
Just as the river would occasionally flood, so too, it would freeze over during severe cold in the winter months. The winters of 1976, 1977 and 1978 were especially severe.
I have a picture of my beagle dog, “Tipp” and me standing on the river during the winter of 1976-1977. We walked upriver as if we were on a wide white highway. When the spring thaw came, it sounded like a war zone with the cracking, popping and grinding sounds of the ice breaking up.
I have known Charles Crawford for a long time. His Dad, Ernest, was a bus driver in the county school system. The Crawfords moved to the Cabot Station area sometime in the 1960’s. Mr. Crawford purchased a small house and had it moved to a lot across the road from the Leonard Cain residence.
I got to know Charles early on when he thumbed a ride to town with me carrying a load of GRITS, a rural weekly newspaper published in Pennsylvania. I think his newspaper sold for 10 cents when he started selling them and over a thirty year period the price rose to a dollar. Charles had competition from Mary Wells who also sold the newspaper mainly on South Side.
Charles has a perennial sunny disposition and is well liked by everyone who knows him. He never had a driver’s license, but had no trouble getting around. Most of the local people knew Charles and recognized him standing along the road wearing his old field jacket with his thumb in the air.
Everyone offered him a ride no matter which way he was going. Charles also mowed lawns during the summer months in the local community. In my mind’s eye, I can still see Charles pushing a lawn mower and carrying a can of gas up the road toward his home late on a summer evening, stopping only to wipe sweat from his face with a red bandanna.
Charles is retired now and lives at Unity Village in South Parkersburg. Since I moved to Parkersburg, I have visited with him many times. We always enjoy getting together and talking about the people we knew who lived near us years ago.
I have some thoughts about the Oak Davis family who lived across the road from us. My Mom and Mrs. Davis were very good friends. They spent time together and often exchanged recipes. As a kid, I thought it was so boring when they talked about dress patterns and examined bolts of material purchased at Dalton’s Store in Grantsville.
I realize now that both were very good seamstresses who took pride in making most of their own clothing. But, they were of another time and were taught to sew by their mothers.
Oak Davis was a large friendly man and a good story teller. He worked up the road at the Hope Compressor Station. Often he would invite Dad and me to visit him there.
I was always impressed by the huge flywheels on those long stroke engines. We would follow Oak around while he explained what was happening. We would watch while he filled the oilers sitting high above the stationary engines.
You could not believe how noisy the place was and during the coldest weather, the windows were open because of the heat. Occasionally several of those engines would be out of service for repairs while the other engines continued to push the gas twenty four hours a day.
I will always remember the station whistle that blew each day at 7:30AM, 12:00Noon and 4:00PM. You could set your clock by that whistle that could be heard a mile away. The morning whistle always reminded me that I had only a half hour to get to work.
That old compressor station with its constant chugging sound was like the heartbeat of our community. It was a reassuring sound that never stopped. It was especially relevant when it sounded louder just before summer storms arrived.
When the new automated Yellow Creek Station was completed, it was only a matter of time until the old one would be silenced. I remember it was a sad time for me when the salvage crew dismantled the building and cut up the engines to be sold for scrap. The thing that bothered me the most was not hearing that whistle anymore. The silence of the place was deafening
I have fond memories of my twins, Melanie and Eric, and their friends growing up in the Cabot Station community. In addition to my children, charter members of the SNAKE VALLEY CLUB included the following: Gina, Jay, Jim, Jerome and Paul Aya-Ay, Cicily and Sara Ullum and Carrie and Zack Propst.
Their meetings were held in a storage building and occasionally in a tree house overlooking the river. On school day mornings, they would all stand together in Aya-Ay’s driveway waiting for Starling Holbert to pick them up in Bus No. 23.
I will always remember Roydice and Sue Williams’ daughters, Carla and Leslie, looking after my children when they were small. During the summer months, Eric and Melanie enjoyed swimming in Cain’s pool at Big Bend under their supervision. Other times, all the local kids would pile into Aya-Ay’s pool creating quite a racket. I learned quickly to go to the other end of the house to take an afternoon nap!
These are just some of the memories of my time living in the Cabot Station community. My parents and my family were blessed to have had such good neighbors over the years. The Aya-Ay’s, Propst’s, and Ulumn’s were always willing to assist my family any time we needed them.
Early on, we depended on Don and Helen Furr to look after our property when we were absent. Don and Helen died much too soon and the entire community mourned their passing. Subsequently, Mike and Trish assumed the responsibility of watching over our place when we were not there.
When I travel back to Calhoun for the All Class Reunion each summer, I always drive slowly past our old house and the memories of the good times come flooding back to me. Time makes changes, people move on, but the memories endure.