Jim's Early Life As a Hillbilly
My mother and father were married just before Christmas in 1930. They had just passed through the good times of the Roaring Twenties. My grandmother on my mother's side died when she was young, and my mother became the breadwinner, working with her father in the fields, and as the mother to the five younger children in her family. My father was fat in his youth with a waist measuring more than his short height. He drove an old Ford and drank corn whisky with his brothers and friends, when he was not working in the fields for my grandfather.
Mamma was five years younger than Daddy was, but she decided to marry him after he was cleared in a false arrest for kidnapping. The young lady in question was a short-term girlfriend of my father, and had run away from home with an older man. Mamma told me she got pregnant when Daddy hung his pants on the bedpost. They did not have a home at first. Daddy found a cabin with dirt floors for their first home. I was born at a friend's house.
My birth took place on August 24, 1931, at home without a doctor in attendance. The practical nurse thought I was stillborn, so she put me on the kitchen table to attend to my mama. By good fortune, an older lady who was also present was able to get me breathing. My mama was not able to breast feed me, so food for the first part of my life was a sugar lump tied in a cloth. The mountain people called this a sugar tit. Mamma found the name Farol in one of the movie star magazines and hooked it up with James from the bible. In the mountains I would forever be Farol but the rest of the world would name me Jimmy.
My grandfather built a house on some of his farmland and my Daddy and Mamma became sharecroppers. This is the home I remember in Metcalf Hollow. The private road going up the hollow was barely passable by automobile. To build the house, Grandpa used lumber he removed from a schoolhouse that was being torn down. The six inch wide boards used for the inside panels were random mixed colors, since the school building from which our house was built had different colors for the rooms. The house was a simple frame construction, with four equal-sized rooms as the floor plan. The floor was elevated on wood posts, leaving the under portion open to the winds and cold. The galvanized sheet metal roof (tin roof) was nailed to a two-by-four wood framework. It was not insulated. This road had four houses, including ours. The last house was at the foot of the mountain where a car could not go. I stayed away from the man that lived there because I thought he was a hillbilly.
There was a Wizard in Madison County and he was electricity. The electric power company had a right away up Metcalf Hollow. The three wires of the 69,000-volt line were a catenary between crosses mounted on high poles. The wires were hung under beautiful green insulators. If conditions were right on a dark night I could see a halo of blue light around the wires. At times I thought I could hear Angels humming church music. I would find out later that the hum was alternating current and the blue glow was cornea. This blue glow was to cause me to alter many designs of the equipment I would build in the future.
At the start of our little road was a crushed stone road being hand-built by WPA workers. This work program was President Roosevelt's experiment of a social state. The program was necessary to stop the spread the idea of communism. This three-mile section of road did not have a name, but it was painful to bare feet. My first vivid memory was of August 1936 when mamma dressed me in my best clothes for my first day of school. Center school was one mile up Bull creek where my aunt, who was my first school teacher, allowed me to start on my fifth birthday. At Center school the creek and road split, and the names became Grapevine and East Fork.
My early school start was cut short when my parents discovered that my only medical problem was my very weak eyes. The left eye crossed, so I tilted my head forty five-degrees to focus my eyes. Payment for glasses, and treatment for my eyes, took about half my daddy's income during those times. My four eyes, with my good eye plastered over so the weak one would be used, had certain advantages. No one would hit me because they were taught it was against the law to strike someone with glasses. If the sun was shining, even on the coldest day of winter, the thick lenses could light a cigarette for my buddies and myself.
The crushed stone road followed Bull Creek a little over a mile until it ended at a place called Petersburg before the creek disappeared into a wilderness. This road had a state number and was covered with asphalt. The tar or pitch on this road presented a problem on a hot sunny day for my bare feet. The only to cross the hell was to run very fast. If this pitch is heated in a pressure cooker it converts to solid carbon. This simple fact will become important in later years.
Local records indicate that my great-great grandfather was in the Union army and was in the battle for Petersburg, Virginia along with his brother-in-law and they named the area at the mouth of Bull Creek when he set up his home in the area.
Bull Creek was not a trout stream because it did not flow fast enough to clean the water, but it did have a couple of decent swimming holes for a small child. Near my uncle's store the creek had a dam that belonged to the grandfather of my very best friend, Conley Silver. This dam fed the millrace for the water wheel that was used to grind corn for bread. Mama told me that the dam and mill were dangerous, but her warning did not stop me from having great adventures around that mill. Conley was nine months older and was my bodyguard. He had a kind heart but a quick temper, and could whip any of the boys in the area with ease.
Conley's father owned and operated a small garage at Petersburg. This place was also a great adventure. They had a generator driven by a gasoline engine to charge batteries that allowed them to have a 36-volt lighting system in the house. My good friend could play the radio any time he wanted to. The fact that zinc dissolving into sulfuric acid produced electricity and that the generator put the zinc back using electricity set my little mind to work.
I was having a difficult time understanding God and electricity was going to be more difficult. I would have to ask Grandpa. He told me not to worry about God or electricity until I understood math and the other laws of nature. His house was on Bull Creek road between our house and Petersburg. It was a monster size house in my mind. He had electric lights from a private power line.
Grandpa had a hand-driven corn sheller, an old T model Ford, and a blacksmith shop. It was a great place for adventures. He let me take the magneto from the old Ford apart. My prize was a million miles of very fine copper wire in the coil. Using a stone tied to the wire, I would toss it over the power line and make a firecracker. My best effort was tossing a piece of hay bailing wire from a high rock over the three phase, 69,000 volt power line that ran through our farm. The bang was more like dynamite. I wondered what would happen if I could find a long piece of iron bar to throw over the wires.
Using Grandpa's advice I began to study those things around me. It was easy to see that wood burned to make heat and boil water, but I did not know that it took more than twice the energy to boil a pound of water than to melt a pound of steel. It amazed me that the forests did not burn from the heat of the sun, because my glasses would light a homemade cigar. The unusual properties of water were part of the answer. When God mixed the two gases, hydrogen and oxygen, to make water with its special properties, the creation of man was easy. The only thing he needed was carbon and a few other impurities. Experience taught me that if a fire did not have enough air it would not burn well and that the part remaining was charcoal. Grandpa used what was left over from a poor fire to burn in his blacksmith shop. Grandpa taught me to force air through the fire by pumping the bellows. The fire would burn hot enough so he could forge a horseshoe from a bar of steel. He had calcium carbide in closed steel drums that he could use to produce acetylene if he needed a really hot fire. He taught me how to make a little firecracker by mixing a little carbide with water in a metal can with a small hole in the bottom. After a few seconds a match held near the hole would cause a bang.
If my mama left the hot flatiron on the cotton cloth too long, the cloth got black. She did not know she was producing carbon fibers. Mama cooked sugar that she mixed with water to pour over homemade bread. She did not know that if she put those burned carbon fibers in with the sugar she could have made a poor grade of carbon-carbon. This simple fact will become important in my later life.
Experience taught me that light and heat were connected because the kerosene lamp, which was used, for light to read, heated the globe so hot that it would burn my hand if touched. Fire and lampblack were connected, because the globe would get black if the wick was set wrong. Mama mixed that lampblack with kerosene to make ink. The ink was brushed on to paper with holes in it. The result was a pattern on a burlap cloth where she hand punched different colored cotton strings to make beautiful hand made throw rugs that she sold in Asheville.
Mamma did not know that the unburned carbon in the fire above the wick caused the luminous flame. She also did not know that the Ancient Chinese used this process for ink. She did not know that natural gas was being processed to obtain this carbon for paints, enamels, plastics, inks, and additives for rubber production. For sure she did not know that industrial uses for carbon were numerous and the growth of the technology in her lifetime would be astounding. A few tons of it might be placed on the ends of Roman candles that were designed with atomic warheads to destroy the world, as she knew it. Thank God she never saw them fly.
We had a cow to give us milk and butter for most of the year. It was my job to find and milk the cow. She always seemed to find a new place to hide. The major desire of my youth was to find a dog that could find that cow and bring her peacefully to the milking spot. We bought a small pig each spring, which we fed with table waste and pig weed until the fall. Corn was used to fatten the pig until it was killed after the first really cold weather. A heavy dose of salt kept the meat from spoiling. The chickens ran loose, making it necessary to find the nest before the hen hatched the eggs. When I found a new nest my mama gave me the first eggs from the nest to trade at the country store for penny candy and other things. My first lesson in banking was to leave the nest a few more days so it would have more eggs. This worked fine until my brother, who was four years younger, was able to find nests in competition with me. My first lesson in capitalism was to convince him to share the finds on an unequal basis.
Entertainment included country music played by my uncles at Grandpa's house on Sundays and at harvest time. The big corn shucking was in the fall. The adults shucked the corn while talking, joking and singing. The children carried the shucks to a long shed beside the main barn loft. When Mama became bored she would take us for long walking trips to visit with her family and friends. The crushed stones on the roads hurt my bare feet as I walked on them. I was allowed to listen to the battery-powered radio for fifteen minutes each weekday. My favorite program was Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. On Saturday night we listened to the Grand Ol' Opry from Nashville.
We did not have a fireplace. The home was heated using the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. Firewood was collected from the mountain woodlands that were all around us. Building the fire in the morning and carrying in the wood was my job. The house did not have indoor plumbing or a proper outdoor toilet. Water for all our needs had to be carried from the spring, up the hill about one hundred feet to the house. That job was mine all my young life. My mama was the cleanest woman in the world. She used five different waters to wash the white clothing. She finally agreed to move the black iron wash pot and washing stand near the spring.
We grew corn to feed the cow and pig and to make cornmeal, which was our primary bread. We also had a nice garden for fresh vegetables in the summer and for canning in the winter. The farm also had plenty of apples, pears, cherries, and berries for summer eating and canning. Wheat was grown for flour, but this was a losing effort. The man who owned the threshing machine took one-third of the wheat for that service. Grandfather took one-third of the remaining wheat, because he owned the land and we were sharecroppers. The miller who ground the wheat to flour took one-third of the flour for his services. The math of this means that we had less than one-third of the bread from the wheat that was harvested by hand. Breakfast consisted of eggs, when we had them, and homemade biscuits covered with gravy. The gravy was made by heating grease from bacon or fatback, adding flour and milk, and stirring until the gravy was thick. Lunch was corn bread, crumbled in milk, with onion. Mama told me that I would have not made it to manhood without those two staples.
The farmers used every spot that could grow something. My daddy even won some new ground on the side of the mountain that was too steep to be useful. The rest of the small farm was used to pasture the cows and mules. Daddy could not afford a mule, which was the workhorse of those small farms, so he had to trade his manual labor for the use of a mule. The exchange rate was two hours of manual labor for one hour of mule and plow. The little farm did not produce enough income, so my daddy did outside work for extra money.
We grew tobacco as the only cash crop. I helped daddy pile brush eight feet wide and one hundred feet long to burn in the early spring. The ashes were mixed into the earth to form a bed for growing tobacco seed into plants. The bed was covered with a canvas cloth to protect the young plants from freezing until the first of May. A track of land that was allowed by an allotment from the government was plowed using a single plow pulled by a mule. Daddy let me try but when the point of the plow struck a stone I did not have the strength to reset the plow. By June 15 the earth was prepared for setting the tobacco plants. We had to wait until a rain came so the soil would be damp. I kept bruising my fingers as I stuck in my hand to open the soil to put in the plant. Daddy let me drop the plants about one foot apart and he completed the task of planting.
By mid July it was time to hand cultivate and dig the weeds in the rows and between the plants. This procedure was repeated three times until the tobacco began to flower out at the top. The flower was cut off to allow the remaining growth to be in the weight of the leaf. Small growths called "suckers" had to be hand plucked from between the leaves. North Carolina is famous for a weed they call the Morning Glory. These flowers can produce massive vines that made cutting and curing of tobacco difficult. My job was to crawl through the thick tobacco plants and nip these flowers in the bud. Lower leaves cure first and a cigar from these partially cured leaves made me sick each time I smoked, but I kept on trying to find the best smoke. Cutting tobacco was hard work and took more muscle than I had. Curved knives sharp on both sides were used to split the stalk almost to the bottom. Five of the split stalks were then placed on four-foot sticks before they were hauled and hung in the barn to cure.
Late in November when the air was wet enough so the leaf would not crumble the tobacco was placed in piles for picking of the leaves which were piled in five grades. The stems of the leaves were made into hands that were tied with a leaf of tobacco. These hands were stacked in baskets and made ready to go to market. Just before Christmas the tobacco was auctioned of to the cigarette companies. After necessary staples such as salt and sugar were purchased the remaining cash was used on items for the house and clothing for the body. A little was always left over for the church and for Christmas presents.
My daddy taught me how to kill a chicken by chopping its head off with an axe. The poor chicken would flop around the wood yard until it was still. It was easier to step on its neck, which was placed on the chop block, then just pull hard and its head would come off clean. In the Northrup fiction he explained electricity when he saw frog legs kicking after they were removed from the body. I didn't connect electricity to the poor chicken.
Killing a pig is something that my daddy was never able to teach me. He taught me how to hit the pig in the head with a hammer before its neck was cut. My first attempt was a blow that struck the pig's head, but the blow was not hard enough so he just grunted at me.
Our property had some very interesting cliffs and pinewoods for playgrounds. Those fields and woods yielded many high-quality Indian flint arrow stones during my youth. Living in nature taught me many things first-hand by exploring the rock cliffs, the woods, and the sides of the steep hills. Nature taught me the power of water to erode gullies. Where we slid out of the woods on to the sagebrush field, a new gully would start. The gully's red clay soil became places for a boy to build roads for his play cars. The cars were shaped stones of many colors, which were abundant in the fields. Nature taught me the power of gravity while sliding down the branches of tall white pine trees. These tall pines dropped their needles in abundance. These pine needles made a beautiful base for our homemade sliding boards. The bottoms of our homemade sliding boards were slicked with pine resin to increase their speed on the blanket of pine needles. Winter sliding was also a learning experience. A barbed wire fence would stop a cow, but was no match for a boy on a homemade sled, wearing his new Christmas coat, flying down the hill on new fallen snow.
Nature taught me, when falling from a high rock, a boy's nose should not land in the place where his daddy had just cut down a shrub. Mama's cure for a nose cut half off was a piece of fatback, held secure with a rag tied around my neck. We did not have TV, magazines, newspapers or shelves of books as learning tools. Yet what I learned was a sound basis for my future work.
Metcalf Hollow had a small branch that emptied into Bull Creek. This branch was alive with salamanders and crayfish. I helped daddy collect this bait so we could go on overnight fishing trips at my cousin's house on the French Broad River near the mouth of Ivy River. I will never forget the good times there, and the taste of fresh catfish cooked in butter. The French Broad River ran black and white suds floated on the top. A Dutch owned firm named American Enka was dumping their waste from a factory that converted wood to rayon fiber. The worst thing was the lingering smell of hydrogen sulfide on damp days that came from their stacks.
Mamma began to worry about my "wandering feet" as I walked and hitchhiked the ten miles to visit and fish with my cousin Zane. His daddy operated a generator at the power dam in Marshall, the town seat of Madison County that supplied electrical power to the area. This dam had been built originally to turn a water wheel for grinding corn and wheat. During the war it was used to run spinners to make socks for our soldiers.
Another uncle operated a larger generator at the dam just below Marshall. This dam was called the Marshall dam when it was built and renamed the Redmon after the dam in Marshall started generating. Posters on the control room wall showed how the electric grid worked at that time. What impressed me was that electricity was a force that traveled at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) and that current did not travel until it was used somewhere. All the generators on Ivy and the French Broad River used fly ball controllers to control the speed of the generator to produce 60-cycle power.
My daddy did not turn the radio on Sunday, December 7, 1941. I did not hear about this event until the next morning at school. The teachers turned on the radio so we could understand that America was at war. Roosevelt words still are vivid in my memory. This was a "Day in Infamy. " We soon began to collect scrap metal from banks of Bull Creek for the war effort.
The people of Western North Carolina were better off after the war began. Items were rationed in the stores, but people had money to buy them. Jobs and pay scales for the people increased during the war years. My daddy stopped working at my uncle's store. He became gang boss of a crew installing power in our county. This program was called REA (rural electrification association). We finally had a single 50-watt lamp bulb in each room. I took out a bulb and stuck in a spoon. I got a good shock and blew the fuse.
By 1942 my sister was old enough to need her own room, so my daddy cut a hole in the ceiling and installed steps to the loft under that metal roof. Just enough floor was finished to set up the frame bed and straw mattress where my younger brother and I slept. Of course there was no heating or cooling, so the extremes of the mountain weather were multiplied in our bedroom. The steps to that loft were built on the wall where the power meter was installed inside the house. I slipped and broke the glass on that meter early one morning. It was my chance to understand how a little electric motor worked. I found that a small stick would stop the meter from turning. I then could listen to the electric radio to my hearts content. I could also keep a light bulb in a metal bucket under the cover on cold winter nights. This was much better than the hot rock wrapped in towels Mamma had used earlier.
My daddy went to Detroit to work for Packard Motor Company where they were building tanks. The young children kept up the farm while their fathers were away on the job and their older brothers were away in the services. We continued to collect scrap iron, sold butter, bought war stamps with our pennies, and asked the older people to buy war bonds. My mother remembers me as a very useful farmer, completing the crop and getting things started for the next year, and helping her in the production of hand-hooked rugs.
Daddy came home for a vacation. I ran into a problem I could not solve. Our cow was giving birth to a calf and she was eating the spoils of the birth. I ran down the mountain to get help. She was on top of a hill that I had named Tiptop Mountain. When we arrived at the top everything was clean and fine. You could see a ring of high mountains in the full circle of view from this spot. Daddy told me that the trip to Detroit was the first time he was outside this ring of mountains. At that young age I was already planning to go around the earth, but had no idea how or when.
Every person that visits the mountains soon learned that to see the mountains one must first climb a mountain so the hills will not block the view. From some points Mount Pisgah is in full view with The Rat forever climbing its back. The jagged outline of the peeks against the evening sky has been called the signature of God written for all eternity. The highest point (6684-foot) in the eastern United States is Mount Mitchell just north and east of Asheville. This one is hard to see on the skyline because the Black Mountain Range is too high. On a clear day from Mitchell's dome one can see forever.
My grandpa taught me a method to calculate things, called "if and then," which turned out to be hillbilly algebra. The format was a heavy line drawn down the center of the page. On one side you wrote the "if" parts of the problem, and on the other side the "then" parts of the problem. The answer required, but not yet known, was X. The way to get the answer was to cancel the sides, until only the X remained on the "then" side. Then you did a little simple arithmetic to get the answer. He taught me that I could swap things around and still figure them.
I was his favorite grandson, probably because I enjoyed hanging out with him. He was educated in a boarding school in northern Alabama for a short period during his youth. He loved math and he had an understanding of Newton's laws of physics. He gave me books to read on both subjects, but they were to deep for me. Grandpa wrote all of Newton's laws in words that I could understand. I put those rules on my "if" and "then" sheets for use if needed. Two ideas stuck with me: first, a body at rest wants to say at rest, and second, a body in motion wants to keep moving. Another thing Grandpa told me was that pushing on a rock that did not move was not work even though I would get tired from the wasted effort.
Grandpa taught me the big secret, which was to learn how to do these things in my head, and never tell anyone that secret. The most important lesson for all my future learning and technical life was the "about" answer. He taught me that exact answers were for the moneylenders, but if my plan was to be something other than a banker or an accountant, then the "about" method was best. He also taught me how to round numbers off to ten, save the difference in my mind for the next number, then add or subtract to round off the next number and so forth. The rounding off process had to be inside me, without thinking or worrying about little mistakes, because those would even out.
We went to church at a small, fundamentalist Baptist church. The people selected their preacher, who they expected to read and translate the Bible literally. At the age of twelve, a person becomes responsible and must be born again. The process of praying over someone was repeated often during my young life. Sometimes this process could go on long after lunchtime. This did not suit me, because Sunday was a good meal day and just might include chicken. When my turn came I went straight to the front of the church and announced to the preacher my new birth. The preacher proclaimed that a miracle had taken place in his church, because the silent prayers of the people were answered. The next Sunday they dunked me in the muddy water of another fork of Bull Creek. The creek ran beside the church, where the men had constructed a sandbag dam for a Baptism that day.
Each night before we went to bed the whole family was required to read a chapter from the Bible, repeat a verse of the Bible, and say a prayer that was made up at that moment. Saying a pre-written prayer was not allowed because the wicked Catholic Church did that. Even with all that teaching, they never taught me the meaning, or properly introduced me to the God, they were talking about. The people that ran the churches and Sunday schools had a big problem. The taught that those who would not be born again and believe all God's words in the King James Bible would be damned to hell. This included Jews, Catholics, and even the Methodist in Marshall. The preachers did not trust the teachings of the professors at the Baptist College located a few miles away in Mars Hill.
My school had three teachers for grades one through seven. The principal-teacher taught grades six and seven. I was the only student in the seventh grade level. To keep me out of his hair he would give me reading assignments. The words on the page were blurred, maybe because my glasses were dirty, bent out of shape, or just the wrong prescription, so grandpa's math was practiced over and over in my mind to avoid being bored. The teacher whipped me daily because he would catch me not reading. For my protection, my parents arranged for me to live with an aunt in another school area to escape this teacher.
My new school was on an island in the middle of the French Broad River. Marshall did not have room in the town to locate a school due to the river on one side of the single street and high rock bluffs on the other side. The street through town was US 25 and 70. The Southern Railroad had a track through town with a siding and a water tower to give the steam engines a drink after they climbed up the twisted rail bed from Knoxville. The new school was a delight. It was my first opportunity to be in a science class. Our class won first place during a contest to sell savings bonds because my grandfather bought about ten thousand dollars worth. Our reward was a free ticket to see the movie named "Gone with the Wind." Conley's parents did not allow him to see this film because it had the word "damn" in the text.
In 1945 my family sold the house in Metcalf Hollow for $4,400 cash money to my uncle. Daddy used that money, plus some he made in Detroit, to pay off a loan to grandpa for a large farm in Virginia that he owned in partnership with his brother. They paid less than fifteen dollars an acre. Today that place would sell for several million dollars.
I had some misgivings about moving away from my Garden of Eden. Some private work had to be completed to harvest the large pile of black walnuts stored in the barn from the previous winter. I was having more difficulty understanding how God created the Heavens and Earth in seven days as I pondered the theory of evolution and the big bang theory. A huge dark cloud rolled down the hollow and God turned loose a bolt of lightning that split a walnut tree in half. I gave God a promotion that day and allowed that he could create the universe in a second.
There was talk in our family about moving to Virginia, but Mama did not want to go there, and she had her way. The last load on the small truck that moved us was used to transport the cow and the members of the family. My mama and the small children were in the front seat with the driver. Daddy sat with me in the open bed of the truck with the cow.
A new world was opening up, so it was time for me to ask for a smoke. My daddy gave me a Camel, and for the first and only time gave me some important information about sex and life. He told me that under a woman's skirt was a dangerous thing. He told me that if its smell took hold of me my life would be ruined forever. His well-intended message was useless for me at the time.
The first place we moved after we left Metcalf Hollow was a house owned by my mother's sister. We were moving backwards because this place did not have electricity. Mamma had a garden, the cow had a pasture and Daddy was thirty minutes closer to his work. There was no more farm chores to do. Mama did all the garden work herself and the water supply was near to the house. That left a lot of time for adventures and travel.
Our new house was at Forks of Ivy, a small settlement that consisted of a corn mill, a church, and a gasoline station with an attached grocery store. Across the bridge, where the two creeks met, was a small outdoor factory to produce cement blocks, using sand from the creek mixed with Portland cement. Power to pull the pan filled with sand was a truck with two transmissions. I learned that two negatives made a positive because both transmissions in reverse pulled the load forward.
Down the combined creeks was a rock crusher. The people that ran this operation used prison labor to make the rock for the road-building projects in the area. It was fantastic to watch a dump truck unload big rocks at one end and see small rocks come out the other end. Chained convicts broke the large stones, which were blasted from the cliffs, with sixteen pound hammers. Men with shotguns guarded them.
My daddy's older brother built a small house between the on the edge of Ivy Creek between the rock quarry and the crusher long before this operation was started. Five children lived in this house with their older sister acting and being the mother. I do not know what happened to my uncle, but I heard he had a drinking problem. The cousin who was my same age was a master in the art of catching fish with his bare hands. I tried my best to learn how to do this, but always flinched when I touched the live fish.
Just before this creek disappeared into the wilderness was the last house on the road. In this house lived a young girl, Jody, who would become the mother of my five children. I was never able to figure out where Bull Creek joined Ivy and became a river before it became the French Broad. This larger river became the Tennessee River before it joined the Mississippi.
Most of my time was spent walking and hitchhiking in Madison County until school started. We lived in the edge of Buncombe County and the county seat was in the city of Asheville. It was a short school bus ride to Flat Creek high school where I attended eighth grade. This school had the Bookmobile that arrived each week where I could check out some great books. One of the books had the measurements of the earth and the distance to the sun printed on the pages. My math teacher taught me how to calculate the circumference of a circle and I already knew that the earth was turning around once a day and the earth was traveling around the sun once every 365 days. Grandpa's math let me park the zeros so the rest of the calculation was pretty easy. The approximate answer was that we were spinning around like a top at1000-miles per hour and flying around the sun at 67,000-miles per hour.
I hitchhiked to Petersburg to ask Grandpa to check my numbers. His Newtonian math had already taught me the force of a falling rock and the killing power of a speeding bullet. I wondered just how much the earth could weigh and what damage it could do at that speed. Grandpa did not have the math to figure the volume or the weight of the earth. He told me that I had just discovered a small part of God's power.
Men at the Marshall barber shop were discussing another miracle that God unleashed when a small amount of enriched uranium was turned into energy during the explosion of the atomic bomb. The end of the discussion they reckoned that God was on America's side. I made no attempt to understand that force.
Some gentlemen formed a Boys Scout troop in the Forks of Ivy area and asked me to become a member. The uniform and camping out was of great interest to me. I learned that water boiled at a much lower temperature at 5000 foot on Bald Mountain because the pressure was lower. The Scout leader told me that somewhere up there water would boil below the freezing point. Working my way up the ranks and camping trips took my mind away from the study of large math with more than fifty zeros in the answer. I was not ready to understand the concept of infinity, and I sure was not ready for absolute vacuum.
Flat Creek School arranged for a man with a generator to give the students a demonstration of electricity. This type generator could accumulate an extremely high voltage of static electric charge. The girl's hair stood up as they walked near that machine, and he could produce little lightening strikes. This was fun to watch, but I did not learn much.
We moved to Grandpa Boone's house, near the rock crusher, for a little while before moving up the road where the black people lived. The Negroes of Madison County were segregated in a small area just outside the small college town of Mars Hill, where we went to school that year. Mars Hill high school did not have Future Farmers of America class, so school was not so interesting. We continued to attend the church at Forks of Ivy, and one Sunday went to the black church to hear them sing.
Even before our family began moving from house to house, the whole area knew me as a hitchhiker, and the direction did not matter because both directions were interesting. There was no way to clone myself, so the first ride determined the direction taken. Throughout life, it was usually the first road open that beckoned me, until the road forked again.
The next year we moved near the Flat Creek School and I began to work on merit badges to become a life scout. One of my merit badges required me to make a magnet to make a telegraph device. After that little magnet job was finished, it was time for me to make a big magnet, using the electricity in the house, and a roll of insulated wire from the shop at school that was wrapped around a metal can. Fire flew, and the fuse was blown on the first try, so more turns were wrapped. The fuse blew, but not so fast. More turns were wrapped, the fuse held, but the insulation started burning from the wires; more turns, and the metal can got hot. Induction heating was discovered.
My scoutmaster attended courses in electrical engineering in his youth. He tried to teach me about the math of electricity, but I was not ready to learn. He worked at a factory near the old roundhouse where they repaired trains in the days when Asheville was a transportation hub. This place has a rivet heater, and he used it to show me how transformers and electric heating worked. They were heating about six inches of a long steel bar before forming it into a long eyebolt.
The assembly consisted of a rectangular donut of stacked transformer iron with two electrical windings. The primary winding was small rectangular copper bar. Two single turn secondary turns ware layers of copper sheet, so it would be flexible, brazed to a copper blocks on the end. A steel rod was clamped in the copper blocks and the power was turned on. The little bar became a resistance element was white hot in a few seconds. This simple electric resistance heater was the forerunner for the first electric brass melter. In this case a single secondary winding was in a ceramic tube filled with liquid metal was the resistor and source of heat for the metal being melted in a liquid pool above it.
I had seen and felt the essence of alternating electricity at this young age. I was to find later that there are rules and electricity behaves exactly in accordance with the rules. Not understanding all the rules got me and others in trouble many times.
Two very exciting weekend camping trips to Grandfather and the Bald Mountain before they became tourist traps took my mind away from electricity for years to come. We moved back to Petersburg at a critical moment of my grandfather's life. His youngest son committed premeditated murder in a drunken rage at a bar near Asheville. Grandpa was never his full self again, but we were still best friends.
My uncle Oss had the largest country store in the region. He had a truck that was used as a moving store through the mountains. My first job that was not farm work was at this store. He paid me a dollar a day to ride the back of the truck as its salesperson. School at Mars Hill that year was totally boring and the world of commerce at my uncle's store became my life's goal. There was still time to be a kid and play with my friends who were also growing up.
Our gang never messed with drugs or booze in those days. We just had clean fun. Conley and I spent a lot of time together that summer. He had worked hard as a mechanic and was able to buy a 1933 Dodge two-door car. She was a pretty green and ran like a singer sewing machine. Four of us were playing poker as Conley motored down a country road. He was trying to get a better view of his cards when he hit a pot hole and the car turned over on it's side. He was very strong and did not need much help to put the car right. My best friend joined the airforce later and disappeared from my life except for brief periods. After I moved back to this area in 1990 we meet each Thursday for lunch.
I first became aware that the Soviets were our enemy during the Berlin airlift in 1948. Winston Churchill told us there was an iron curtain being built across Europe to divide it between the Communists and us. I read that Truman won the election after some newspaper up north had a banner headline that he had lost to Dewey.
The preacher told us of the plight of the Jews and the formation of the Jewish State in Israel. He predicted that more Arabs would die than Jews did under Hitler because the Jews would push them out of the whole area. The preacher told us this was foretold in the scriptures, but warned us that this event would cause turmoil, and he even said that the end of time was near. The evil Stalin was the Antichrist the scriptures had predicted, and both Truman and Stalin supported the new state of Israel.
Mamma realized that I was going to quit school and arranged to move us to a small house in town of Mars Hill to get me away from that store. After schools year end we moved to a small house on the headwaters of Ivy Creek at the foot of the mountain that had a park called Craggy that is world famous for it's natural flower gardens. The first half of my senior year was at a small high school in Barnardsville where there was no science class. I was studying French, English and American history. Daddy found a house near the highway at Flat Creek where he could take the bus to his shift job at Enka and we moved again.
The series of moves meant that I never attended the same school two years in a row, and each school had its program. My first course in chemistry was in midyear of my senior year in high school. I took to chemistry like my pig did to slop. I was amazed to learn that a five-gallon bucket of air had 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms and every atom had electrons flying around like another universe. Chemistry made me forget all other math studies and I thought it would be my life's task.
My bad eyes kept me out of the sport programs, so there was time to learn how to be a good student. Being interested in the subject and letting the teacher know it was just as important as learning the details of the subject.
The girls in my class took advantage of my shyness. As a joke, they all put on lipstick, then en masse pressed me in the corner. In turn, they kissed my face and neck so the lipstick would show. My shyness, four eyes, and very thin build never let me get to first base. Jody, who was in tenth grade, began to pay attention to my advances. Her father was very strict, and she was not allowed to go out with me. She was able to take her younger sisters and brother to church Sunday and Wednesday nights.
Jody attended church where my daddy was the Sunday school leader, and I was allowed to walk her and the gang home twice a week. Her younger brother and sisters were bribed so they would let me have a little time alone with her. The walk back to my home was several miles. There were a few chances to be alone with her in my daddy's car on nights of major events, like my graduation from high school in May of 1949.
My first real paying job after high school was working as a stable boy at a very high-class boy's camp. My duties included preparing the horses for the young boys to ride and cleaning the manure from the stalls to spread on the fields for fertilizer. There were several young college men working as instructors and group leaders at that camp. We lived together in one of the camp buildings and by agreement my work clothes and shoes were stored in an outside shed. We had long discussions about Communism and the scary day when Russia tested it's first atomic bomb that summer. I learned about the Marshall plan from the older college boys.
My secondary education began at a local junior college in Mars Hill. I sure was not prepared for college but I wanted to learn more chemistry. The Baptist church had operated this school since the1850's and was very strict. The mathematics teacher helped me catch up due to the lack of mathematics in high school. His method was to have us answer the roll call with a percentage completion of our homework. He must have known my one hundred percent answer every day in the four classes under him was not always true. My family was proud to see my name on the dean's list even with my flunking the course in English composition.
More than half of the male students at Mars Hill College were on the GI bill and had a much broader view of the world than the younger students. They told me about the Marshall plan in Europe, and that the reason for the plan was to keep the Communists from taking over the world. They told me to be prepared to fight the Russians.
Most of the friends of my youth were disappearing. My cousin, Zane joined the navy, and many of the other young men went to the army or up to Michigan to find work. The summer after college, it was time for serious travel to seek my fortune. I hitchhiked to Detroit to find a job with one of the car companies. No job could be found, so after a week it was time for me to return home tired and hungry.
The next hitchhiking trip to Washington, D. C. resulted in a job as a cook in a White Tower restaurant. I was cooking hamburgers when I saw the headline that South Korea had been invaded and the Russians were supporting the North. I was aware that the Soviets had walked away from the UN in protest. A few days later the newspaper announced that we were going to send troops to Korea as part of the UN police action. An academic scholarship to the teachers college at Cullowhee in Western North Carolina took care of my fiscal needs for the next year.
I helped carry Grandpa up the side of a mountain to Metcalf graveyard where his father was buried in front of a very tall tombstone. The road to that graveyard had been closed for years. My grandmother lived a good life for several more years.
Knowing how to take a multiple choice test that my math professor taught me at Mars Hill College allowed me to win a full scholarship at a teachers college in Cullowhee, North Carolina. I finished one semester of organic chemistry at Cullowhee. This was enough to give me an insight into living chemistry. The element carbon was the key part of all living things. When vegetation was burned it formed carbon dioxide and water, and these were the main building blocks for new vegetation. Trees buried deep in the earth become coal, natural gas and oil. A very small percentage of this carbon becomes diamonds. Fibers of carbon are formed when cotton-like materials are heated in a charcoal-producing furnace.
My only family difficulty during those years was fighting with my daddy over the use of the car. He let me win the argument when the need was real. I wrecked Daddy's l939 Ford on the road to Jody's house. I was blowing the horn, trying to get her attention. After that, I did not dare ask for the car.
The Korean War started and many young men joined the military service. I volunteered on January 17, 1951 after the first four months of my second college year. I could not join the Navy or Air Force due to my poor eyesight, but the Army was taking almost anyone for the Korean conflict. To make sure, the eye chart was memorized just before the doctor examined my eyes. My assignment was an engineering company for my basic training in Camp Rucker, Alabama. After basic training, my next assignment was to an engineering school near Washington for a course in soil testing. The training was for testing soil conditions for road and airport construction. The army misread my abilities. The course was easy to learn and pass, but the army would never be able to get me to do the tedious and detailed work with the testing machines.
When the training near Washington, DC was finished I traveled with four other soldiers who were in different schools back to Rucker. One of the soldiers had a car. We drove down the Skyline Drive from Fort Royal, Virginia to Asheville. It took us two days to make the trip and we slept and cooked our meals in the open air. This was a beautiful trip down the Appalachian. My friends' reward was my mamma's home cooking before we continued back to camp.
After training my assignment was alone in the soil-testing lab with absolutely nothing to do. The officer in charge gave me an old chemical engineering handbook to read so time would pass. It was a thick book with thin pages filled with fine print and contained enough information to last a lifetime. I had decided to be a chemist, so I really began to study this Bible.
My boss allowed me to leave the post after the roll call each Friday morning. With good luck I could be at the airport in Montgomery, Alabama by ten. Air Force pilots were allowed to carry military hitchhikers and my drop off point was Greenville, SC, which was a two-hour hitch trip home. One weekend on the return trip bad weather caused the airplane to skip Montgomery and it landed just north of Dallas, Texas. Hitchhiking was easy for soldiers in those days but from Dallas to Rucker was not possible within the time allowed. I was six hours AWOL and my wings were clipped.
The Far East Command needed engineering draftsmen. My records showed a course of drafting in college with a high mark. When the First Sergeant asked, I did not hesitate in accepting the chance to travel in the summer of 1951.
A two-week leave and ten days travel time was plenty of time to hitchhike across the states. The trip across the country was my first time to see places like the Grand Canyon. After seeing what that river had done over the years I decided that God did not do that in seven days. My travel allowance was almost gone upon my arrival in California, but there was enough left to have my first beer.
The twenty-two day trip across the Pacific was on a liberty ship along with about five thousand other army men. We slept in shifts; in side by side canvas bunks stacked five high. The rest of the time was spent in lines, going to our meals, and getting shots of every kind. Many men were seasick. My only sickness was the unbearable pain from the shots.
When we arrived in Japan, we were given M1 rifles and full combat packs for the boat ride to Korea. The boat was full of soldiers, and we slept on the straw mat floors. At Pusan we continued our ride north on freight cars that felt like cattle cars.
The army had not issued us winter dress so the ride was very cold. This was the first time in my life that traveling was not a pleasure. When the train stopped at Yongdongpo, I saw what war could do. A battle ship had shelled the place from Inchon harbor a few months before we arrived, and not a building was left standing. We were loaded onto trucks for our continuing ride north. It began to look like, just maybe, we were going to war. The Army had not taught me how to use the weapon strapped to my back.
We stopped at a schoolhouse just north of Seoul. The schoolhouse was a new location for the Quartermaster headquarters of the Eighth Army. The building did not have central heating. We had a single blanket and an air mattress, and the bitter winter was upon us. Bed Check Charlie, the small airplane that flew over Seoul dropping small bombs, sounded the alarm. My instincts led me to a place under the schoolhouse during the attack, but it was too small to turn around in. A newfound friend pulled me out a little later.
Later that night it was my turn to stand guard duty. My post was on the mountain behind the school. Without training, it was difficult for me to load one round in the rifle while standing guard over my sleeping fellow soldiers. A little later they hired Korean citizens to do that duty. Soldiers with a rank below sergeant had to stand guard at the front gate with a Korean civilian. This duty was four hours every three days. We could snooze while the civilian guard looked at nothing. They can shoot you for sleeping on guard duty in times of war. These times did not feel like war.
They were trying to finish the war at the table at Panmunjom. My assignment was to make charts and posters. My abilities did not suit the task, so they assigned me to writing command reports for the commanding officer. To do that job, the Army asked the FBI to check my background for a clearance to handle secret documents.
The report itself was not secret, but did contain every document received and sent by the group. If only one minor document had a secret stamp, every page of the thick submission was stamped as a secret document. This type of secret document costs our government millions each year to keep secure. The job was easy since nothing was changing at the front. Without the ability to write or spell very well, my task was to rearrange the words of the last report and end it with the statement; "All units and situations remained status quo."
I was promoted to Corporal in late 1951. We worked a seven-day schedule, with most of my time being used to distribute and control the ice production of the army. By the spring of 1952, ice had become a very useful item to cool beer. Some very nice items were obtained for our company by exchanging ice. Units from nations like Canada did not have ice, but they did have whiskey and so on.
F-84's and F-86's were flying out of an airport just south of Seoul. We were in the flight path and the windows shook as they turned on their afterburners. I had no idea that metal was being cast and forged to make the internal parts for this engine that I did not understand. The Stars and Stripes reported daily that all aircraft returned safely.
After nine months in Korea, I was given a chance to transfer to Japan. I thought this would be a nice place to finish my military service, so an application was filled and accepted. My station in Japan was the little town of Otsu near Kyoto. My job was still pushing paper, but on a five-day week, office type schedule. There was no ice to trade, and cash requirements in Japan were much more than Korea.
A large typhoon hit the southern Island of Japan about one month after I arrived. My commanding officer took me to an airbase where emergency supplies were being distributed. I had heard the jets depart Yongdongpo while in Korea, but this was the first time to see them on the ground. The simplicity of the engine impressed me and it was clear this would be the future of travel for years to come.
A Korean man in Otsu had a business deal for me. He wanted to use the United States postal service to ship neckties to Korea. My payment was to be one dollar per tie. The Post Office told me that it would be against the law. The man had two thousand ties in several boxes and was putting pressure on me to finish our deal. My company captain was informed, so he called the Military Police. They arranged with the local police to pick him up when the exchange of neckties for cash was made. They handcuffed me so he would not know that I was the informer. This guy later threatened to rub me out, and they put him in jail. This news spread around the small town of Otsu.
It was at this moment that I heard of the death of Stalin. I was happy that our enemy was dead.
The Army awarded me a merit medal for my work on a system that would reduce the amount of secret documents produced. The military services were paper-producing machines in those days. Manual typewriters with multiple carbon copies were the method to put out orders, and to send reports up the chain. Any document containing troop locations or any hint that would give the enemy information was stamped secret. If one page of a secret document was put into a large report every page of that larger document had to be stamped secret. My job was to log in and out those documents. In our little office several file cabinets were marked secret. I made a suggestion that was passed up the chain that required secret information be put in a very short document, and a separate but simple method be set up to handle them. The Army gave me credit for saving several million-man hours, and making our country more secure because a secret stamp meant something.
The time spent in military and in the zone of war in defense of our country may have been important in the history of our country, but for me it was a job that was boring at times but that I did the best I could. The free time was what I remember. The experiences in the Far East would be helpful in my future business.
My beer drinking days and pay from the government was over, so it was time to settle down and become a useful citizen. During my tour of duty overseas I sent Jody, my high school sweetheart, forty dollars a month for her business school education. Upon my return and a quick courtship she accepted a diamond and agreed to marry me. We were married just after my discharge from the Army in January 1954. The blue suit purchased for the wedding was much too large for my thin frame. Our honeymoon was a short trip in our old Chrysler New Yorker, which was bought with my discharge pay. We rented a little apartment near the center of Asheville to start our married life. This was my first home that had an inside bathroom and running hot and cold water.