This book is the edited transcript of recordings I took with my maternal grandfather
William Carson Powell, known as Bill, in 1998 or 1999, during a vacation to
At the time, I made the recordings I was living in Coventry, England and working at
the Local Government Ombudsman. The Ombudsman there was Jerry White, the
former Chief Executive of the London Borough of Hackney and an historian of
London. At the time, he was working on the History of London in the 20th Century,
but he had already completed a book about the East End of London that was based on
a series of interviews with East End residents, in other words, oral history.
I was beginning to have an interest our own family history around this time. My
grandparents, Mirjam Stohl Koehler and Bill and Tut Powell (born Pauline Ruth
Bottoms) had done a fair bit of work on compiling family histories that provided an
excellent basis for my budding, but now dormant, curiosity. Perhaps the combination
of this interest and working with Jerry prompted me to attempt to take an oral history
A note on the recording and transcription
I used an inexpensive tape recorder and a stack of cassette tapes to take the history.
The tapes themselves are noisy and difficult to hear. I probably recorded close to
twenty hours of tape, with the majority having usable content.
I transcribed the tapes myself over 2000 and 2001. That itself was a lesson in
listening. I was amazed by the clarity and fluidity of his story telling. He rarely
digressed, and where he did, it was always interesting and relevant. Through the
process I gained a new appreciation for his ability as a storyteller and an awareness of
my own failure to listen fully. I was chilled to the bone transcribing his war stories
and his description of the constant and present danger. But I do not remember feeling
that way during the original telling.
Although I was as careful as I could be, I’m not a transcriber and I’m merely an
adequate typist. This text is no doubt full of transcription errors and misheard words.
Where I was unsure of names or whole words, I’ve usually indicated with a question
mark or some other notation.
Like many men of his generation, Bill never talked about his experiences as a soldier
during WWII. As a child, I did ask him and I’m sure his daughters, my cousins and
brother asked him as well.
I lost a single tape of recordings which contained his recollections of family history
that had been told to him by his older relatives. That tape was never transcribed and
now, I suppose, those second and third hand stories are entirely lost to history.
I very much regret that I never thought to take oral histories of any of my other
grandparents. I can’t blame myself too much for not taking Tut’s history as she died
when I was thirteen or for my paternal grandfather Wallace Conrad Koehler as he
died when I was 15. But my other grandmother had a wealth of stories that I would
have liked to have collected. My own parents probably have stories, too that I would
like to see preserved, but perhaps it’s in the nature of the relationship that I feel
unable to do this. Their memories may be mine as well, and I suppose I’d feel duty
bound to my own version of the truth.
Bill Powell was born in Wilson County, Tennessee on July 13, 1917 to Neal Powell
and Nell Carson Powell. He died in May 1993.
Bill’s family background
My mother was the oldest of six children. And her mother died when she was 12
years old, and her daddy must have also. Her daddy died before her mother did.
They all stayed real close. They were all real close. All of ‘em. They visited with
each other. I went and lived with ‘em and stayed with ‘em and their children lived
and stayed with us. We went visited with ‘em on Sundays. And they were all close
by. I guess we were sorta in the center of ‘em and I don’t guess there was a one of
‘em that lived over six miles from where we lived.
None of ‘em ever moved very far from Lebanon except my Aunt Frances who
married a Vann. They moved to Knoxville. And they were real good to me and to
Virginia while we were going to school up at Knoxville. She was the last one to die –
no Uncle Walter was the last one to die. Uncle Walter was the youngest of the boys
and Aunt Frances was the youngest of the girls.
My mother and daddy were raised not as orphans, but my daddy’s daddy died when
he was a few weeks old and he had a brother that was four years old, Uncle Ben.
They had to do lots of things to make a living, their mother did. She ran a boarding
house at Lebanon, she worked as a matron David Lipscomb College and finally she
and one of her sisters wound up with a small farm that was part of her daddy’s farm.
That’s a long story about how that was, we won’t go into that. But anyway, they were
raised pretty poor but pretty honest. My mother and daddy got married when my
daddy was, I believe seventeen and mother was fifteen. It might have been seventeen
and nineteen, I’m not sure about that. I had two brothers, one older than me and one
younger than me. The younger was called Fred. The older one died in the flu
epidemic during World War One. And the younger one was scalded in accident.
They lacked medical things. They couldn’t keep his clothes from sticking to him. He
I remember when he burned himself with scalding water though I was not quite three
years old I don’t guess, but I remember that very distinctly. He was seven months.
Both of ‘em were seven months. Clyde was seven months old when he died. ‘Course
I never saw him, ‘cause he died before I was born. So, my mother never talked about
that at all even when my sister was born, she never told her about it.
Virginia only found out about it when she accidentally found a clipping out of a
newspaper when she was – oh probably ten years old. She was so surprised that she
didn’t know what to do, so she went to our grandmother and asked her if it was so.
And she told her that it was. She just couldn’t understand why her mother had never
told her, but she hadn’t. And I never heard her say anything in my life.
This home where we lived was at one time Linwood Academy, and Mammy taught
there and her husband, James B Powell taught there and the house, the schoolhouse,
had gotten into pretty bad shape when my mother and daddy bought it. It never was
fixed up until after I left and Virgina was grown and then they fixed it up some better,
but we had a fireplace in the room where mother and daddy slept. It had a double-
stacked chimney, and on the other side was in the kitchen and we had a fireplace there
and it was a long room in the kitchen, we had a stove in the other end of the kitchen,
and in the middle we had a table that we ate from, and there were windows over this
table and in cold weather with the fire going in the fireplace in one end and the cook-
stove in the other end, at night the bucket with the dipper in it would freeze, in cold
weather. It was a pretty open house. Insulation was never heard of, and we lived like
that for a long time.
I don’t know whether I’ve told you about the deal on the fireplace, in the front or not,
but I had a brother Fred, who was two years younger than I was and he was about
seven months old, so I would have been a little over two, and we were there in the
room and in those times, you pulled fire coals out on the hearth and set a black tea
kettle on those fire coals to heat water. And for some reason, he was big enough to
crawl, he crawled over and reached out and got the handle on that tea kettle, pulled it
over, spilt water all across the hearth, and it ran down under him and scalded him
evidently something terrible. And I can remember that, I can remember seeing him
reach out. And I remember my mother coming and getting him, calling for my daddy,
who was down in the field to come to the house, and I don’t remember anything else
about that deal until I remember us being in church, and my mother having on a black
veil, and crying. And then I don’t remember any more about him for a long long
time. And my mother or daddy, either one, ever said anything to me about that, and
my sister was born twelve years later, and they never told her about that. And she
only knew about it, because she read a clipping that my mother had in a box in cedar
chest out in the hall that told about it. And she wouldn’t even ask my mother about it,
she went down to our grandmother’s, Mammy’s, and asked her if that was so. And,
of course, it was.
They didn’t know to put tea leaves on burns at that time, and ungentine had not been
invented, and they didn’t have anything to put on the flesh to keep the diapers from
sticking. And they finally ordered some ungentine from New York. I don’t know
how long it took to get there, but he must have been dead before it did get there, and it
set around out in what we called the creamery for a long time. And I think my Daddy
finally used it for axel grease, came in little pound cans.
But anyway, my mother and daddy bought a little farm, seventy acres on the credit.
They had to pay for it raising corn and turning hogs in the corn fields and let ‘em hog
it down. They sold the hogs to pay what they could on the farm and they had a rough,
rough go of it. They finally bought another little farm, pretty much on the credit.
There came a big flood, it was on a hillside, and washed all the top soil off. And the
Depression hit, and they had a hard time paying for that.
So when I was about 13 years old, I think I told you about this, my daddy decided
they had to have a cash crop of some kind, and he investigated cotton and sweet
potatoes and soy beans and he finally came to the conclusion that he’d try tobacco.
And tobacco proved quite profitable. And he finally got the place paid for after I had
already finished high school and started college. He told people he never did get out
of debt ‘til I left home.
But he was joking about that. My mother and daddy were both real good to me and
my grandmother – on my daddy’s side – I never knew my grandmother on my
mother’s side, because she died when my mother was 12 years old, the oldest of six
children. So I never did know that grandmother at all. But I knew her grandmother,
my great-grandmother called Old Mammy, but that’s off the subject.
I don’t know if you ever heard me talk about Mammy or not. She was my great
grandmother. Cassander Johnson Carson. She was the one that took the six children
and parcelled em out among her children. Said you take this one and you take that
one and you take the other one. She took my mother and her brothers and sisters and
parcelled ‘em out among her children. She was the grandmother of all of them.
We always went to my grandmother’s, Mammy’s on Christmas day and that was
about a mile from where we lived, maybe we went on Christmas Eve, I don’t know.
But anyway, they got me dressed, put on my little short pants that came down below
my knees and black stockings that pulled up under my knees, with a rubber band cut
out of an inner tube to hold them up. It was rainy and muddy and they told me not to
do anything to get dirty before we went to Mammy’s. Well, I headed for the road and
the mud puddles and ran up and down the road splashing the mud puddles all over
me. I never did do that but once. That was the end of that.
My grandmother, that I called Mammy, owned a little place on the creek, which you
all have probably seen. Or you have, Ingrid, where Uncle Ben and Mammy lived.
But at that time, Uncle Ben was married and lived in Gallatin on a farm that his wife
and his wife’s mother owned. And my mother and daddy lived with Mammy. And I
was born there. Then shortly thereafter, Uncle Ben’s wife died, and he and Robert,
his son, who was five or six years old at the time moved back there to live with
Mammy, and Mother and Daddy got out and bought the place where we lived all of
my life after we left Mammy’s, my grandmother’s.
And we moved up there when I was, I guess, two years old and I didn’t like it at all.
And I decided I would run away and go back down to Mammy’s, and I don’t know
how I got as far as I did, but I got a piece of the way from the house, and trying to get
through a barbed wire fence, and they say I still have a scar on the back of my head,
or I did for a long time, where I got hung up on that barbed wire fence. And they saw
me, or heard me, or something, but anyway they got me and brought me back home.
I remember one time when we were going down there, the creeks were up and there
were two different ways that you could go. The creek in front of Mammy’s house
was so high we knew we couldn’t go that way, so we went to the left, the other way.
And I remember going across with old Charlie and the buggy and mother and daddy
and I remember feelin’ that buggy drift down stream from the power of the water that
was in the creek, and that’s the things I remember when I was little.
My great-uncle was William Haskell Neal and he really was the only daddy that my
daddy ever knew, because my granddaddy died when my daddy was only a few
weeks old and he was the only boy in a family of seven. He came and picked up my
grandmother and her two boys in the Tucker’s Cross Road community and helped
them get started, there’s a story I’ll tell you sometime about how she inherited a small
part of her daddy’s property and lived there for a long, long time. But my daddy
helped him a lot, Uncle Haskell.
Uncle Haskell didn’t have any education, but he had a lot of common sense or
anticipation or knowledge that he didn’t really understand he just had it and at that
particular time the only corn that was raised in the whole United States was one-eared
corn. They didn’t know anything about it, except a stalk with one ear on it. He
noticed in gathering the corn out that sometimes there’d be stalks with two ears on it,
so he put a little box on the side of his wagon bed and every stalk that he found with
two ears on it, he’d put those two ears in that box. Then the next year when they
planted, he would plant seed corn from those ears that were in this box. The number
of two-eared stalks increased each year and he continued doing that for years. Finally
he selected seed corn for so long from two-eared stalks that he got to where better
than 90% of the corn would have two ears.
It was a novelty to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and it was a novelty to
everybody that he could raise two-eared corn. Nobody else could. So he or
somebody put a name on it and called it Neal’s Paymaster. And it was called
Paymaster because you could double and triple and quadruple the yield of corn in
Tennessee. My daddy helped him gather the corn, and then in the Spring of the year
all of the neigbors would gather around and the kinfolk and they would shell this corn.
It was sold as Neal’s Paymaster all over the country and was very profitable to him,
although he didn’t make a lot of money on it because he didn’t sell it very high.
People came from great distances to get it. His son Pallas Neal, which has the same
name as Uncle Haskell’s daddy, and another son Paul Neal continued to grow this
corn from the original seed after Uncle Haskell died. And then this son Pallas had a
son named Kenneth who was a farmer and farmed some of the same land in the same
neighborhood and he continued with Neal’s Paymaster and a lot of people continued
to want it for a long, long time.
Eventually the hybrids came in and that took over from the open pollinated corn –
which this was. Uncle Haskell didn’t know anything about what hybrid corn was but
he knew something and no one really knew what he knew, but he knew enough that
he was covering up some of the ears with sacks and saving that corn to see what it
would do. But that never did amount to much, because smarter people with education
took over and developed the hybrid corn.
But this one grandson of his, Kenneth, died this week and he had a funeral in
Lebanon. He had been a farmer all his life, very active in church work, very active in
the farm bureau, active in the various clubs in Lebanon. And on this casket, when
they buried him, they had a pall made out of fall colors. It was a pale green casket
and there were green flowers on there and mums and pumpkins and various fall items,
thanksgiving items I guess you would say. But then also they had stalks and ears of
Neal’s Paymaster corn. And that was the pall instead of flowers as you usually see
the palls. And he was seventy-some years old.
He has three sons that still farm. And I presume that one of them will continue to try
to hold the purity of the Neal’s Paymaster corn – though it’s an open pollinated corn
and it’s hard to maintain the purity of it. But I presume they will.
I know people here in Lawrence County, which is close to a hundred miles from
where this Neal’s Paymaster corn was grown would drive from Lawrence County up
to where this Neal farm was to buy Neal’s Paymaster corn. It was different looking,
the kernels were. If you really knew well, you could tell it. And that’s really all I
know about that story. But that line hasn’t run out. The corn hasn’t run out and the
Neals haven’t run out.
Of course, my grandmother was a Neal. The sister to Uncle Haskell Neal. He was a
great help to her and a great help to my uncle and daddy. As I say, my daddy thought
of him as the only daddy he ever had. He had three or four boys. He had James and
Pallas and Paul and Willy. And daddy liked Willy and he liked Paul and he got along
with Pallas alright. Although Pallas was a pretty hard man on his family and
everybody else. And then he had one named James, and my daddy never liked him at
all and I never knew why.
My daddy’s name was James Neal Powell and he refused to acknowledge the James
in this name. In the family bibles and anything else that he could find James Neal in
it, he scratched the James part out ‘cause he didn’t want anything to do with this
But for some reason we went to James Neal’s wedding. I remember going to it in the
dark. It was at night, and it was in a house where of course there was no electricity;
they had oil lamps and all those things. We went in a Model T Ford, and we went
down Turner Hill to get to this house where James and his bride were being married.
When we came back the car wouldn’t come up the hill because the gas tank was
located lower than the carburetor. There wasn’t enough gas in the tank to get to the
carburetor, so we had to turn around and back the Model T up the hill in order to get
on top of the hill. And that’s all I remember of that story.
Turkey Bill was my Daddy’s uncle, actually his wife was my Daddy’s aunt -- and
they lived not far from where our home was. And when was a little boy, he helped his
uncle Billy McDaniel drive turkeys. They would go up, about where Albert Gore
lives, up in Carthage, Gainsborogh, Salida, up in that area in there and start buying
turkeys and drivin’ ‘em toward Lebanon. And they would start out with a few and just
keep addin’ to ‘em, bringin’ ‘em on down the road. And when night came the turkeys
went to roost, and if the drivers didn’t have a place to stay they had to just camp out in
the open, ‘cause when a turkey goes in a tree to roost, and especially tame ones, you
can’t get ‘em out. They’re just there, that’s all there is to it. And they would have
hundreds of ‘em, and maybe thousands of ‘em by the time they got to Lebanon with
‘em and they’d put ‘em on a train then and ship ‘em to Nashville, and he did that for
so long and bought so many turkeys that they got to callin’ him Turkey Bill. He
never had heard of Chicken George of course at that time. But he was Turkey Bill.
When you went to the fair, ‘course everybody had horses then, rode buggies, you
needed a whip for your horse and for your buggy and for everything else. And I don’t
know the cost, probably fifteen, twenty cents, maybe a quarter, I don’t know what
they cost, But anyway, they were beyond my reach and I couldn’t get one. And I
surely did want one.
Some of my daddy’s cousins were plowin’ corn on the side of the road as I was going
to school, and for some reason I stopped and started talkin’ to them and one of them
had a whip. And we got to talkin’ about the whip, and I was talkin’ about how bad I
wished I had one, and this old boy that was there, one of my daddy’s cousins said,
“Well, if you won’t whip that pony, I’ll give you this whip.” No, no I wouldn’t whip
this pony at all if he’d give me the whip.
Well he gave me the whip and I rode the pony all the way to school and put him in the
stable and didn’t whip him at all, comin’ back that afternoon, coming back to where
they were plowin’ the corn on the side of the road, for some reason I decided I would
whip the pony. And I don’t guess he’d ever had a whip laid on him before, and he
jumped pretty hard and far and wide and I landed on the side of the road and the horse
went on down the road. They just laughed and laughed and laughed.
A neighbor down the road saw my horse in the creek getting’ a drink of water and he
caught him and brought him on back to me and told me to get on him and ride him
home. And I told him I was not going ride that horse any more anywhere. He said,
“Well, lead him home then. Here he is.”
So I led him a little piece, but pretty soon I got on him and rode him on home. That’s
the end of that story. I rode that pony to school every morning. I don’t know why,
but my daddy always caught that pony and brought him up close the house with the
saddle and bridle on him and I got on him and took off to school.
One day, I don’t know, we’d had a little round about something, I don’t know what it
was about, but I got on my pony and instead of headin’ for school I headed the other
way. I had forgotten all about it, it didn’t mean anything to me, but they thought I
was runnin’ off. But all I was doin’ was goin’ up to a neighbor’s house to talk to
some boys up there that had gone huntin’ and trappin’ at various times with me. We
had a bunch of possums and pole cats and what not that we had skinned and we were
This and the chalk story were ones that my grandfather told me as bedtime stories when I stayed over
with him as a child.
talkin’ about when and where and how we were gonna sell the hides. And they didn’t
know what in the world was going on, so a lot of little things happened.
I made a terrible mistake one time, I don’t know what happened, but I did something
that displeased my daddy and I had rubber boots that came up to my knees and he
picked up a switch or had a switch or something, anyway, he gave me a good
switchin’ on the legs. But, of course, he was hittin’ me on those boots, and I told him
“That didn’t hurt!”, and he said “Well, we’ll come up a little higher and see if that’ll
hurt.” And it did. And I didn’t say any more about that.
When I was a little old boy, and like lots of little boys, I was fascinated by knives.
My Uncle Ben had a real pretty little knife with a real sharp blade. He always kept a
sharp knife, and I wanted to see it. He didn’t much want me to see it and my daddy
said not to, but anyway somehow or another I finally got to see it and I took it and
stabbed it in a locus tree. I remember where we were. In our front yard there was four
locust trees that grew real close together and I was standing sort of in the middle of
them and I stabbed this knife in one of those trees. I didn’t have a good hold on the
handle and my hand slipped down the blade of the knife and sliced into my hand
down into the bone, cut the leaders in two and that’s the reason always now my little
finger is still stiff on my right hand and not as large as the little finger on my left
It hurt real bad, and my daddy said that was good enough for me. We were supposed
to go pick beans that afternoon, and I didn’t want to go ‘cause I’d hurt my hand and
he said if I hadn’t played with that knife I wasn’t supposed to I wouldn’t have hurt my
hand, so let’s go pick beans.
He gave me a big basket and we picked beans and got it full. I couldn’t carry it in my
left hand so I had to carry it in my right hand and I guess that pulled my hand a little
more. But anyways it was a long time before my finger got well and it’s always been
stiff. I would say I was about 8 or 9, pretty young.
Those locus trees stood there for a long time, til a storm came through and blew ‘em
down. The locust trees have pretty flowers on ‘em that smell good. The bees liked
‘em but they also have thorns on them and they would fall off. Little old barefooted
boys runnin around would step on these thorns and get ‘em up in their foot and then
they would start hurting and they would fester and you had to lay down and hold your
foot up and let your mother take a needle and poke around and stick and finally pick
those thorns out of there before they would get well. So I was never very fond of
We had a great big locust tree right outside the front door of our house. I remember it
was a big one. The trunk was as big around as you see on some big beech trees, big
poplar and big oak trees. It had a big holler in it, and we lived up on a hill and storms
came through an awful lot. They worried about that tree blowin over on our house for
a long time. Finally a storm blew down some other locust trees, but didn’t blow that
one down. So my daddy cut it down and cut it up into firewood. And we burned it up
a stick at a time one winter.
We had to heat our house with wood that we cut. We would cut wood in August
when the leaves were beginning to come off and the sap was going down and the
wood was pretty dry, but still enough moisture in it to where you could saw it better
than you could when it was real dry.
We had to do it with a cross cut saw. You pull the saw to me and backwards and
forwards. Backwards and forwards and we piled up the wood back in the woods and
then I think about November or the last of October we’d haul it up to the house and
ricked it up between those various locust trees right at the house. We threw some of
the wood off down in a wood pile we had and that wood had to be cut up in smaller
chunks. We’d split it and make firewood for the stove. We’d pile up a great big pile
of stovewood. Great big, I guess six feet tall.
Lot of people just cut stove wood as they needed it, but my daddy wanted to get it all
cut and piled up. Sometimes we’d rick it up and sometimes we wouldn’t, but we
always ricked up the firewood for the fireplaces. I had the job of carrying it out of the
rick and rickin’ it up on the porch. And we burned lots of wood.
We lived in a house that used to be an old schoolhouse. Somebody had bought that
property with the old schoolhouse on it and they took it and made it into a house to
live in. The man’s name was Curt North, I never did see or know Curt North. But
that was the name, and that’s who my daddy bought 70 acres of land that had this
school house that had been made into a place to live in.
We lived there for a long time, and when I lived there it never was insulated it was
just weather boarding on the outside, studding, and then some kind of planks of stuff
on the inside that we’d put this canvas on and paper it then. And the wind came in
under the doors through the cracks. In the room where we stayed all the time there
was a hole about the size of a big marble in the floor. When we’d clean the floor,
we’d pour soapy water, boiling hot water all over the floors and mop it and sweep it
out through that hole.
And we took a bath once a week, whether we needed it or not, in the room where we
stayed. Where the big fireplace was. We’d pull the shades on those windows. We
must have had 10 foot ceilings, I don’t know, they were tall. And you’d buy curtains
to put on the windows, but they never could get shades long enough to come all the
way down to the floor. So when we took a bath, we’d have to get papers and put on
the shades down to the floor, so people couldn’t see in and also to keep the cold out.
We’d put papers over the door, and heated water boiling hot and pour it in a number
two washtub. My daddy would take a bath in that number two wash tub, and put
clean clothes on, which he changed once a week whether he needed to or not and
poured the water outside. Then we’d make another washing, a tub full of water, and
they’d put me in and I’d take a bath. Then my mother would take a bath in the water
that I had just taken a bath in. And then we all put on clean clothes and that was it.
Didn’t do any more bathin’ til the next Saturday night. We all had long handle
underwear, sleeves came down to your arms, legs came down below your ankles.
That old school house had lots of cracks and crevices and loose windows and loose
doors and the wind would come through. It wasn’t very substantial or solid, and we
would paper it every once in a while. It was hard even to keep wallpaper on the walls.
As I told you, this house that we lived in was very open, no insulation. And we’d take
demaskin(?), real thin demaskin, and put it on the wall first, and then we’d put the
paper over that, because the paper wouldn’t stick to the wall, but it would stick to the
demastos (?) that you tacked onto the wall, and we would get that fixed up. And then
when the wind blew real hard you could see that paper shaking and movin’ about.
Eventually it’d crack and have to be repapered again.
People’d come over just to visit a lot. They’d come about dark, sit by the fire about
an hour and go home again. We had a friend that came to visit us at nights a lot,
Dillon Beaver?, and Mr Dillon never did wash his hair, I don’t reckon. It was greasy,
Lord, it was greasy. When he came he always set over there on the south wall in a
straight backed chair, and lean back his head onto the wall and the paper, and I don’t
reckon he ever washed his head, ever. It was just as greasy as greasy as greasy could
be. And when he would leave, there was such a big spot, that you can’t imagine,
where his head had messed up the wallpaper. It would leave a great big old greasy
place, ‘cause he’d move about this way and that about a foot and a half long and about
a half a foot deep. And my daddy wouldn’t let my mother say anything to him about
it, and he wouldn’t say anything to him about it either, but they sure didn’t like it.
My mother sure did hate to see him coming when she just papered the house, ‘cause
she knew he was gonna leave a great big greasy place on her new wallpaper.
Ingrid: Didn’t your neighbor ever notice the greasy spot he left on the wall?
Bill: Well, he had greasy spots all over the wall at his house, didn’t mean anything in
the world to him.
He had four children. Howard, Robert Hugh, Sarah, and Frances. And they were all
about my age, but all younger than me. Howard is dead. Robert Hugh was a highway
patrolman, he’s dead now. Frances married an outlaw, I thought, maybe he wadn’t, I
don’t know. He’s dead, she’s dead. And the only one living is the youngest one,
Sarah and she’s not able to take care of herself anymore, so my sister told me. But
they had a first cousin, that was named Bell, and he is one of the largest land
developers and construction people around Lebanon, building houses around
Lebanon. And Lebanon is really on the boom in market of expensive houses. She
drove me through a big golf course at a resort called Horn Springs, and on those
resorts they build homes around the fairways, tees and this, that and the other. And
that’s the kind of homes he builds, and the places he builds. So you can’t ever tell
what a little old hillbilly boy from Lebanon and Carthage might do.
I trapped and caught ‘possums and polecats and coons. Tried to catch foxes. Never
did do much good at that. But there was a black family that lived down below us.
They had good dogs and I went huntin’ with them a lot. They’d come up to the
house about 4 o’clock in the morning, knock on the porch and I’d have to get my
clothes on real fast and bounce out the door and we’d go huntin.
They had dogs that would tree animals, in holes or up in the trees, catch ‘em before
they could get in the hole or the tree. We’d catch from none to four or five animals
before daylight. Then we had to come home. And if we caught a pole cat, well, I’d
change clothes and wash a little, but had to wear the same shoes and go to school and
get in there where they had a pot belly stove. You could tell whether I’d caught a
pole cat or not.
We would skin the animals and sell the hides. We usually carried ‘em to a country
store or we carried ‘em to Lebanon. Down on the square there’s a statue standing of
General Stratton, I believe it is. It had an iron fence around it and the fur buyers
would come and stand around that fence and you would show ‘em your furs and
they’d tell you what they’d give you for it. If they bought it, they’d pay you for it and
hang it up on that fence. They’d buy fur from all over Wilson Co all day long. I
reckon they carried it to Nashville and sold it to somebody and then it wound up being
shipped to St. Louis or Chicago or New York or somewhere where they needed ‘em
for coats and hats and what have you.
We also caught rabbits. We dressed them, that was simply takin the insides out and
leaving the fur and everything on ‘em. We wouldn’t eat ‘em that way, but we’d take
those rabbits down there, too. They’d give us a dime a piece for ‘em. And they
shipped them to Nashville, I don’t know where. Somebody ate ‘em somewhere.
I ate rabbit, but I wouldn’t eat a rabbit that had been done like that, whole and all. But
now in England at one time, they dressed rabbits and hung them in the well. They’d
let ‘em hang there to where when the pulled the hair it would slip off and come off.
They also hung chickens in the well and let them hang there til where when you
pulled the feathers the feathers would come off. I never would go for that either.
We raised chickens, a lot of ‘em. The ones we were gonna eat, we took ‘em and put
‘em in a chicken coop and fed ‘em, confined ‘em pretty tight, and fed ‘em corn and
gravy, I don’t know what all. Fattened ‘em up, and they would get fat in there. Sort
of like the French do with geese. They nail their feet down to where they can’t move.
But these chickens were stuck tight in the coop and they couldn’t move much.
After they’d been in there so long, we’d take ‘em out and we’d either cut the heads off
or take ‘em and wring their heads off and then dip ‘em in hot water. You had to be
careful and not dip ‘em too long. Then you could pull the feathers out pretty easily.
Then you cut the chicken up and washed it real good and put a little salt on ‘em. We
never would eat ‘em the day we killed ‘em. We’d keep ‘em overnight and eat ‘em the
next day. But a lot of people would go out and kill ‘em and cook ‘em and eat ‘em
right then. But we would never do that, I don’t know why. We thought they were
better if you wait a day, I reckon. That’s the only reason I know.
Back in those days, we raised lots of apples and peaches and cherries, and insects
didn’t bother ‘em much. We’d take the apples and the peaches and lay ‘em up on top
of a building with a tin roof on it and let ‘em dry. They would dry out, and then we’d
take ‘em and sack ‘em up and hang the sacks up in the attic or the smokehouse or
somewhere. When winter came we’d take ‘em and soak ‘em in water to reconstitute
‘em and then boil ‘em and cook ‘em and make fried pies with apples or peaches or
what have you. Or we’d just eat ‘em stewed, either one. And we had a lot of apples
we’d keep over and eat fresh apples up until it got so cold it’d freeze ‘em. We didn’t
have a good cellar to keep ‘em in. Some people had good dry cellars and they’d keep
‘em on up to February.
The only crop that we really had when I was little growing up was corn. We raised
the corn and we took the hogs and turned the hogs in the corn and let them knock it
down and eat the corn off the ground and get fat. Those that got big enough we’d
have a truck come, I don’t know, I guess when the corn and stuff ran out, put ‘em on
this truck and take ‘em to Nashville. The ones that weren’t big enough we’d run them
over til next year. There was a joke told about a man who had a bunch of hogs and he
said he had enough hogs to sell that fall and to kill and have enough meat to last him a
year and said he had enough shoats coming on to take care of next year and he had
enough pigs coming on to take care of next year and said after that he didn’t know
what he was gonna do.
We’d take this hog check that we’d get once a year. My daddy had recently bought a
little 70 acre farm and finally got it paid for and daddy bought about 50 acres in
another place and he paid everything that he made on that place every year. The
Depression was coming on then, and all of his year’s work would go to pay on the
farm and the farm was worth about what was owed on it. And another year the same
deal, it was going down, down, down. The hog price was going down, down, down.
We owed one of daddy’s cousins, I forget whether his name was Sy Jenkins or Sy
Young. We’d go pay him once a year, and we’d pay him $700 and that was all the
money we could get together. We milked cows and raised chickens to make enough
to buy the groceries that we had to have. And all this hog money went to him. He
wouldn’t take anything but cash, he wouldn’t take a check, though he and daddy were
kin people and my daddy had as good a reputation as anybody did. But he had to go
to Lebanon and get those hog checks converted into cash and then had to drive or ride
up to see the old man and pay him that $700.
He had a great big old house and he had a dog in the house, and great big old bull
dogs, and the doors chained. He had money, but he was ornery. I never did know
why he was ornery and so hard until many years later. I knew he didn’t have any
children, but I found out later that they had four children and they all died before they
were ten days old. I often wondered if that hadn’t contributed to him being so hard
and mean. I don’t know whether it did or didn’t.
But we weren’t doing any good, and my daddy decided he had to do something else,
other than this hog business. Now, we did raise some wheat, but normally just
enough wheat to make our flour and swap some of it for meal and some of it for
chicken feed, but we never did sell any wheat that I recall. Might have sold a little.
So, Daddy thought about raising sweet potatoes, he thought about raising cotton, he
thought about raising peanuts, he thought about raising soy beans and finally for
some reason, for a cash crop, he would try tobacco. None of us had ever seen
tobacco stalk around there then. There was a man that went to church with us about
six miles from us. We were three miles one side and he was three miles the other
side. He’d been raisin’ tobacco a little. He was my mother’s first cousin, I guess,
they were some kinda kin anyway. And Daddy went to talk to him and we decided
we’d raise tobacco.
Back then you had to pile up big brush piles and burn ‘em to kill all the seed in the
ground. And then you had to break up those ashes in the ground and then you seed in
that and raise your own plants, and set ‘em out.
We raised an acre of tobacco that year. We put it on the best ground we had and put
the most cow fertilizer on it we had and grew it on richest spot there was on the farm.
It made a fine crop and we carried that stuff to Gallatin, which was about 25 miles
from our home. No, the first year he hired somebody to carry it, on a truck. They
brought it back, and it had brought four hundred and thirty somethin’ dollars. There
had never been that much money in our house at one time ever. And he took that
check from the tobacco barn and put it up on the mantle over the fireplace and let that
check set up there where we could look at it and see.
Well, the next year Uncle Ben, he decided he’d raise tobacco. We had an acre and he
and Robert put out 5 acres, but my daddy he never would expand that big. That year
the trucks were gonna charge too much to carry it to Gallatin, so they got wagons and
teams and loaded the tobacco on those wagons and took old quilts and tied over it and
tied it down, ‘cause it was rainin’ and they drove that 25 miles. They left about 4
o’clock in the morning and they got there about 8 o’clock that night. They slept on
the tobacco floor that night in what they call the bull pen. It was just a room, there
was stove in it and benches around and people could sit there and sleep and this that
and the other. And the next morning they got up and drove back home.
I don’t know when it sold, it didn’t sell then, but ‘bout a week or so later. And we
went in a car when it sold. So we began coming out of the kinks a little bit then. It
was pretty hard for me to be against tobacco. I would have never gone to college if it
hadn’t been for tobacco. I don’t guess Virginia would have either.
I remember one story about it when we were raising it. We had what they called
protracted meetings. Protracted means going on a long time at church. And then
they’d usually have church in the morning or the afternoon one and again that night.
The preacher that we had that time, he was against tobacco and he preached several
times about how nasty chewing tobacco was and how bad on you it might be, smokin,
we didn’t know. Anyway he was against it.
I remember we were down at my grandmother’s one afternoon after dinner. The
preacher always stayed with my grandmother. We were sitting out there under the
shade tree. And Uncle Ben said “Well Brother ????, I don’t guess we’ll be able to
pay you for holdin’ this meeting.” And the preacher wanted to know why. Uncle Ben
said “Well, the only money that we have comes from raising tobacco. All the people
round here raise tobacco,” and said “That’s our cash crop. You against tobacco so, we
just don’t feel like you want the money.” He didn’t preach about tobacco anymore.
Uncle Ben used to set out there under the shade tree in a swing with that sharp knife
and a cedar stick and he had a lot of ‘em, and he’d whittle and whittle and whittle,
shavings would pile up all around him. People riding up and down all around the
road would stop and say “Ben, what in the world you doing?” “Cuttin’ timber.” That
was the stock answer that he gave him. And that tree was right beside my
grandmother’s house where Uncle Ben and daddy were raised. And that’s where the
mule story came in.
Daddy had gone somewhere, I don’t know where to see a girl somewhere I guess. I
don’t know where he’d gone. But it was along in August, September. Moon was full.
And he was coming back home and it was getting late and there was a fence row that
had grown up on one side of the road. And it was on the east side, ‘cause he was
looking up at the moon, and when he looked up he saw something white floatin on top
of that fence row. Well, it scared him, he didn’t know what it was. So, he decided
that he’d kick his horse up and move a little faster on down the road. Well this thing
on top of the fence row, it moved up faster, too and kept right up with him. And he
thought, well, I’ll slow down and see what happens. So he slowed down and this ball
of a thing up on top of the fence row it continued to slow down and go right along
with him. And he decided well I’m gonna get home, so he kicked his horse and
kicked off and here that thing was floatin’ on top of the fence row right along beside
him. Finally, the fence row ran out and an old grey mule trotted out. And with its
head throwed up in the air it was just the right height for that fence row to make it
look like there was something floatin’ on top of it. And that’s the story of the old
I didn’t go to school the first six weeks or three months or whatever it was. I didn’t
go ‘til after Christmas, and I rode with a neighbor in a little buggy pulled by a pony.
And we did that that year, and the next year they bought me a great big Indian pony
and I rode that thing to school, Old Dan, for ten years.
The first day at school, I go bouncing in and Clyde Cooksey met me, he was sort of a
bully. He wanted to know if I had any chalk, and I told him, I didn’t really know
what chalk was. I said Naw, I didn't have any chalk. He said “Well, you can’t go to
school if don’t have any chalk.” He said “You’ve got to have chalk if you want to
write on the blackboard and you’ve got to write on the blackboard.”
He said “I’ve got chalk, what’ll you trade me for it?” And I didn’t have anything, but
some nice new marbles, and I showed him them and he said “Well, I give you a piece
of chalk for every marble you have.” And so then I get in the room and there’s chalk
all over the blackboards, everywhere. And that was the first time I remember bein’
lied to and suckered.
I never was particularly fond of him. But he was a couple of years older than I was
and a lot bigger than I was and I never did like him. And I don’t know… we got in a
fight one time and for some reason he had rings on his fingers that were bands that
you put around chickens’ legs, different colors so that you could identify ‘em.
Well, we were fightin’ and he had those rings on and he was literally beatin’ me black
and blue. I got a hold of his head of hair in one hand, or both hands, I don’t
remember which and I held on to that hair, so long and so hard that I pulled a great
big handful of it out of his head. The last time I saw him he still had a bald spot in
his head, because that hair never did come back. My face got well.
I went all the time to Tucker’s Cross Roads to school, except one year from Christmas
‘til school was out at May one year. At Christmas time one year, Tucker’s Cross
Roads school burnt to the ground, and we had to make arrangements to go other
places. On the back side of our place was a little one room school house with one
teacher, about twenty students, I guess, so they put me to school over there from
Christmas til school was out. And I think they sent Virginia there one year, too,
The teacher would start off with the first grade and teach them a while, then the
second, she had a long bench up front, she’d move whatever grade she was teaching
up front. The rest of us would sit in the back and study or listen or do something. I
don’t know what. But it wadn’t too bad, I learned about as much there as I did
anywhere else. And I went to school, for eighth grade, the first three grades had a
teacher and the second three grades had a teacher, and the seventh and eighth grade
had a teacher, and then you went to high school.
We had a two-year high school, we had fifteen students. Eight were freshman and
seven were sophomores. And they taught seven subjects, taught latin, algebra, and
english. And then that was to each group. Then together, for all fifteen they taught
health one year and civics the next year. They had one teacher for the whole high
school. He wasn’t a very good teacher and we weren’t very good students.
But, we had a library, ‘bout the size a broom closet that had a few books in it
inlcudin’ Encyclopaedia Britannica, and I never heard of an encyclopaedia in my life.
But I saw ‘em in that room and I knew I wasn’t doin’ in good in the classes in there
and I asked the teacher if I could go in there and read the encyclopaedias. And he let
me do that, and I read lots of different things. And one of the things that I read was
about Yosemite Valley in California and it showed a picture of that waterfall and that
rock called Captain something or another, It was my fantasy dream that someday I
might go there, never dreamin’ that I would. And then one day I did get a chance, and
I did go and I did see. That was sorta the beginning of my rambling and travelling, so
you never know what little thing, how early in life may have something to do with
other things in the future.
People were talking about the police being so cruel and being afraid of police and not
trustin’ ‘em and this that and the other and I said that I had an incident that happened
that changed my attitude towards police when I was a little boy. I really didn’t know
anything about police one way or another, ‘cause out in the country we didn’t even
have a constable. We had a Sheriff that would get out there occasionally in case of
murder or rape or something like that. But I didn’t know anything about the police. I
In the city of Lebanon that a city police department with three, four, five policemen, I
don’t know how many. I knew that they could arrest you and I knew that you had to
do whatever they said and this that and the other. One night I had my mother and
daddy’s car borrowed and went to a little restaurant to get a sandwich or whatever.
When I backed out, someone had parked beside me and I scratched their fender. They
were people from New York or New Jersey one, I have forgotten which, and they
screamed and yelled, made such a racket you never heard in your life about how bad
their car was damaged.
Somebody was there and said well, I think if I remember correctly they were wanting
me to pay ‘em for the damage to their car, and somebody, I don’t know who, said
“Let’s go get the police and see what they say.” There was always an old man
walking around the square and he was fairly close and he came over there and looked
at it and he looked around. He talked to the people who were still screaming and
yelling. He told them to calm down and let him look at it. He got his flashlight out
and looked around and he said “When you people pulled in here, you crossed the
yellow line. You didn’t park in the lines like you were supposed to. You were
illegally parked.” He said “Son, you want to bring any charges to them? Any damage
to your car?” I said “No Sir, no Sir. I don’t want to do a thing.”
They calmed down cool, ‘cause they saw that the law wasn’t on their side. and they
took off and left. So I was expecting all kinds of trouble and having to tell my daddy
what had happened. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I became a pretty good
friend of this old policeman that took care of the situation in my favor, I thought. So
I’ve always had maybe a little different attitude to police than a lot of people have.
Uncle Ben didn’t want me to go to college. And he had a pretty good sized farm, it’s
where his son lives now. But he had thirteen acres across the creek and he told me
that if I wouldn’t go to college, he’d give me that thirteen acres to start a farm with
and that I’d be better off farming than I would going to college. He mighta been
right, I don’t know. But anyway that wasn’t what I wanted, and my mother and
daddy did neither. So I managed to go to college.
My mother and daddy didn’t want me to farm, because they had such a rough go of it.
They wanted me to do something else, I don’t know if they didn’t think I could. I
don’t know what they thought. But anyway... and I wanted to go to college, too. I
went over to Murfreesboro to try to get a football scholarship. I played football in
high school. I wasn’t very good, but I didn’t know I wasn’t. But anyway the boy I
went with, that Murfreesboro did want decided he wasn’t gonna go, so they had no
more interest in me.
I had taken agriculture in high school, and the agriculture agent came by and he and
my daddy were talking about college and said that if was gonna go to school I was
just as well to go to the best one. My daddy wanted to know what that was, and he
said the University of Tennessee. I don’t think either one of us had heard of the
University of Tennessee at that particular time. So I went on up there, the only thing
is I didn’t have any money. I think I had saved thirty dollars from a black sheep that
was mine. I got the wool and I got the lambs. I accumulated thirty dollars. And I had
a pony that I had ridden to school for a long, long time, and I sold him for thirty
dollars. That made sixty. And I reckon my mother and daddy gave me forty.
Anyway I headed to UT with a 100 dollars, that had to be room and board and tuition,
books, clothes, everything. I hitchhiked up there. I hitchhiked home at Thanksgiving
and I hitch hiked back home at Christmas.
I had a hundred dollars when I started to college the first year. And that was to pay
my tuition, my books, my room and board and everything else. Well, I got a job
firing furnaces to get a place to stay free2. I got a job workin’ in a greasy spoon, a
restaurant, to get some meals. And I got a job working out at the farm for twenty-five
or thirty cents and hour, I’ve forgotten which. It was a National Youth Act, one of
Roosevelt’s government programs. And I just barely made it through, and came
home that quarter and had no money at all. And no way of getting any, ‘cause I’d
sold my pony and sheep and things I had to get the first hundred dollars together. I
didn’t have anything else left. And I didn’t know how much my daddy could or
couldn’t have given me. I don’t think he could have given me a hundred dollars.
But he and Uncle Ben talked and Uncle Ben said “Looks like he’s gonna go. So
here’s fifty dollars Neal, for him to go next quarter.” I reckon my daddy had fifty
dollars, I don’t know, anyway. I just went a quarter at a time. Just went a quarter at a
time. But then my daddy started working on the tobacco floor in Gallatin. Five
dollars a day, big money. And he stayed over there, raised tobacco in the summer
time. Eventually Virginia got in college, I was out then and he and mother moved to
Gallatin and they both lived over there. And he worked on the tobacco floors for a
long, long time. He got along real well with the man that owned the tobacco
warehouse. And when he and mother got to living over there, instead of staying on
the tobacco floor he rode the countryside asking people to bring their tobacco to John
Hancock’s warehouse to let them sell it. He did that for a long time. Then he began
raising lespidiza which was a new crop for farmers in our area then. And seed were
high for a while. I know one summer, I took the mower and mules and cut around the
ditches in the corners and did this that and the other and I’d make five dollars a day
cutting lespidiza seed. After they’d already cut the main crop.
I got a job then working at a dairy in East Tennessee in the summer. For room and
board and fifty dollars a month, I don’t know what. Then school started, I got room
and board, but no pay. But I didn’t have to work as much. That was at the East
Tennessee Tuberculosis hospital, I believe you went through Fountain City, and the
man that owns Security Feed Mills lived across from the hospital. I’m pretty sure you
went through Fountain City to get out there.
They carried me to meet a bus, because they had employees they had to pick up, it
was a big hospital, on the shift changes. And then I had to get back at a certain time
to meet the bus to get carried back out to the farm. I got tired of that, though ‘cause
you never could get enough sleep. Or I couldn’t, ‘cause you had to milk three times a
day. And you never could... It just didn’t work out. The longest period that you had
off was between the second milking and the final milking and that was when supper
was served. And if you didn’t get up you didn’t get any supper, you got awful
hungry. So I got a job working in the cafeteria over at the University, makin’ 25 cents
an hour, I believe. And a big discount on the food that we ate, plus this that and the
other that we could pick up to eat that other people didn’t eat.
I believe this to be the large brick and stone house on Laurel Avenue that was later made into
apartments. When I was at UT, it was a sought after, but expensive place. There was a large lawn and
one of the tenants planted all the borders beautifully and ocasionally gave me some cuttings, including
some stripey canna that I coveted.
When I first went to the University of Tennessee, I didn’t know how to dance and
they had mixers where they had boys and girls would come and learn to dance and
learn to meet each other. Maybe I already knew how to dance then, I don’t know.
But it was at the gymnasium – old gym – Alumni Memorial Gym at the University of
At that time nobody’d ever heard of air conditioning and they had great big fans.3
There were lots of people there dancing. Lots and lots of ‘em. There was a little short
girl, her name was Sadie something, I’ve forgotten what, from Opaloosa, Louisiana. I
was dancin’ with her, and of course I chew mints all the time now, but back then I
don’t think they had mints and I chewed gum all the time. It was hot and I danced
over and got in front of one of those fans so we could cool off. She was a little short
girl and her head came up just about under my chin and I was a-chewin’ away on the
gum and danced over there to that fan and her hair blew up in my mouth. It got
tangled up in that chewing gum and I didn’t know what in the world I was gonna do.
I think I told you or some of ‘em later on that I got so hot that the gum melted but
actually what I did, I started chewing with my teeth and I chewed her hair in two that
was on the gum. I don’t know whether she ever missed the hair or not. I don’t know
whether she ever figured it out or not. Sadie, I’ve forgotten her last name. But that
was a hot night in more ways than one. It was. It was.
I took tap dancing because I was having to work when I was in college to make what
money I could. Physical ed was required then. For two or three years you did. I had
to take it. I knew absolutely nothing about tap dancing. But this was the only class
that there was available during the only period of time I had when I wadn’t working.
So I signed up for tap dancing. And I tried to tap, but I never could tap. If you
attended every class, you got a C. And I attended every class, and I got a C. But I
still couldn’t tap dance. I didn’t have any tap dancing shoes, but I bought me some
I didn’t have but one change of clothes, one change of shoes, three or four shirts and
suits of underwear. I took ROTC and, had to then, and they issued you olive drab
woollen uniforms and in real cold weather I wore those. I scrambled through every
which-a-way. I sold programs at the football games, basketball games. I just went to
school and worked. The extra curricular activities I didn’t know existed. But I made
it and it in the meantime my daddy started the tobacco business and that brought a
little more income in, and doing other things brought a little more in. I got a little
better jobs, making a little more money. Barely got by, but I got through. When I got
through why I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Some people told me
“You better put an application in, you’ll be graduating before you know it.” So I
applied to get a job teaching vocational agriculture. And I’d never heard about Farm
Security Administration, but somebody told me about that, so I applied for that, too.
And I heard from the Vo-Ag people first, and they called and said I had a place up in
West Virginia. So I went up there and taught up there a year. Good place, good
At the time I attended the University of Tennessee, starting in 1988, Alumni Gym still had no air
conditioning. They still relied on those giant, ancient fans to keep it comfortable. I don’t doubt that
those fans were the same ones my grandfather remembers.
country, good people. Could have been a bad deal, but I didn’t know. There’s little
very good, most of it’s very bad.
Early working life
My degree was in Agricultural Education. I was qualified to teach agriculture,
English, biology, and I don’t know, something else, Economics I believe. And I got a
lifetime certificate. I still have it. I still qualify to teach, because at that time when
you went and got your teaching certificate it was for life. You didn’t have to get it
renewed or anything, now you have to get it renewed every so often. But I never did
teach but for one year. I didn’t like teaching.
Well, I did like teaching. I liked to teach real smart students and I liked to teach real
dumb students and I liked to teach mediocre students, but you stir ‘em all up in the
same class... That just didn’t suit me.
I taught in Runsford, West Virginia. I didn’t even know where West Virginia was. I
didn’t know what I was gonna do when I got through college. I applied for teaching
jobs anywhere I could get one, and I applied to the government to work for the Farm
Security Administration. Well, they called and said they wanted me over at
Henderson, Kentucky. I said OK, suits me, I’m on way. I didn’t know where
Henderson, Kentucky was either, it’s right close to Paducah on the Mississippi River.
But before I left they told me they don’t want you, they’ve found an experienced
teacher, and in a day or two they said they want you in Runsford, West Virginia. OK.
I go to Runsford, West Virginia. And that could have been rough, ‘cause boy there
are some rough places in West Virginia. But Runsford’s on the Green River, and it’s
in a bluegrass area, real good farm area and real nice people in Runsford. It’s close to
White Sulphur Springs. I enjoyed teaching there, but it was a long way from home.
Especially travelling in a little old 1932 V8 Ford car.
I bought that car from Puckett Motor Company in Alexandria, Tennessee. My daddy
let me borrow the money to pay for it and I paid him back out of checks where I
taught school. So, I’d been up there about a year, and this Farm Security
Administration that I’d applied to earlier, I got a letter from them saying that they had
an opening in Nashville. And if I was interested to come interview, so when I was
home Christmas I did. I told ‘em that I’d have to give notice – I believe three months
at school or something like that. But I would start, and I started in March I believe.
I was working in Nashville with a man who’d been there a long time. He had
Davidson County and Williamson County both, where Franklin is. And the intention
was that they would split. He would have Davidson County only and I would move
to Franklin and have Williamson County only. Well, I don’t know, that didn’t work
out some way or another and they said “Well, they’re gonna put another man on down
in Lawrence County. You want to go to Lawrence County?” And I didn’t know
where Lawrence County was. I never had been down in this part of the country. I
knew Loretto was in Lawrence County, ‘cause we’d played them in basketball in a
tournament one time and that’s all I knew about Lawrence County.
I told ‘em “Yeah, I’d sooner go to Lawrence County as not.” And they said “Well
now you don’t have to go,” And that sorta threw up a flag, why they said that, but I
said “I don’t care, doesn’t make any difference to me.”
I’d as soon be there as anywhere else, so I came down, came down through here,
Maury County, Williamson County, it all looked good to me. I came up Rockdale
Hill and hit Lawrence County, and I knew why they told me you don’t have to come
down here if you don’t want to. There wasn’t a blade of green grass anywhere, there
weren’t any cows, there weren’t any chickens, there weren’t any hogs. There wasn’t
anything but shacks, cotton stalks and broom sage. That was absolutely all, and I
knew I was in a poor place then. People were ridin’ in wagons and later on, if the
weather was fair, on Sunday they’d put straight back chairs in those wagons and go to
church and go vistin’, and the people just didn’t have much money at all. people then
in 1940 were still comin’ to town in wagons pulled by mules. People would go to
church on Sunday with chairs sittin’ in the wagons. And 64 Highway was
blacktopped and 43 Highway was blacktopped and there was a road from Leoma to
Five Points blacktopped and that was the only blacktopped roads in Lawrence County
And it was a poor hard place to live right then. But it started getting’ better and
continuously has gotten better.
When we went out to work, and this was in March and there’d been a terrible cold
spell that year, the roads were in terrible, terrible shape, and we carried log chains and
boomers or stretchers to pull with and picks and shovels and all sortsa kinda stuff in
the back of our car, because you could get stuck goin’ down the roads. And if you
went to a farm early in the morning, and we moved early then, we went to work at
seven o’clock, if you stayed too long, and the ground thawed up, you might get stuck
before you got back to a chert road. In fact, I have had that to happen. Sometimes
you had to dig out and chuck up with rocks under the wheels and stuff to get out and
sometimes the people would hook up a team and pull you out. Pretty rough stuff.
People had been accustomed to borrowing about fifty dollars a year to make a crop.
[From the banks.] They would get a man who sold mules to sell ‘em a team of mules
on the credit, and they never could pay for ‘em, but the man that sold ‘em the mules
would say ‘That’s alright, you just feed ‘em on, and if you can’t pay for ‘em by
spring, I’ll bring you another pair around.’ And what he did, he constantly brought
unbroke mules for the people to work, and then they worked ‘em a year, made a crop,
and they were broke, and he took ‘em up then and brought ‘em another pair of
unbroke mules. So that was the way that part of it worked. And then they borrowed
fifty dollars for their fertilizer, and seed if they had to buy seed and a stand of lard, a
little stuff to live on. A stand a lard was literally because some people at some time
had absolutely nothing but grease gravy to eat. And that was lard with flour stirred up
The Farm Security Administration knew that they could never get ahead with that
kind of doin’s, so we had a rule that if we were gonna loan them money, they had to
borrow money to buy a team of mules with, or a horse, if they made a one-horse crop,
and they had to borrow enough money to buy a hundred quarts of fruit jars for a
hundred quarts of food for each person. And they had to buy a pressure cooker that at
that time cost fifteen dollars. And they wanted ‘em to borrow enough money to fence
in a garden. They didn’t much want to do that, because the law was that if you put
something down on a piece of property, you couldn’t take it with you when you
Most families moved every year, because they’d think they’d do better if they moved
somewhere else another year. Which they couldn’t, but they thought they could. But
they would borrow the money to get the fence with, because they figured they could
tear it down -- maybe, and get away with it. But then, they decided that they ought to
have screens on the windows to keep the flies out. Well, they absolutely wouldn't
borrow for that. They would not take the loan if you had to put money in for a screen.
‘Cause they knew that was lost. And we just either had to give in to ‘em or turn the
loan down, one. Tellin’ people they ought to buy screens to keep the flies out, wasn’t
doin’ any good at all.
The ladies, and a lot of ‘em did, had nice white counterpanes, or at least nice white
sheets on top of the bed, I think they put ‘em on when they knew somebody was
comin’. I’m not sure about that, but anyway they had this nice white sheet or
counterpane on top of the bed, and an ol’ chicken came in and got on top of the bed
and the chicken just ruined the counterpane or the sheet. And it just dawned on me all
of a sudden ‘Hey, if we can’t sell ‘em the screens to keep the flies out, maybe we can
sell it to ‘em to keep the chickens out.’ So I told folks ‘Now, if y’all had screens up,
that old chicken couldn’t have got in here and messed your bed up like that.’ And that
was the first time we made a loan to buy screens. And it worked pretty well, most of
But now Lawrence County had a lot of people that had moved here from Winston
County, Alabama. And Winston County was a county that was strictly Republican.
And during the civil war, they tried to secede from Alabama, because Alabama went
with the Confederacy, and they didn’t want any part of that. But then later on, with
cotton started up here, they thought it would be better if they moved up here and a lot
of people from Winston County moved to Lawrence County, Tennessee. And they
were Republicans when they came and their descendants are nearly all still
Republicans. That’s the reason there are as many Republicans as there are in
Lawrence County. In fact, close to a third of the people are Republicans, and about a
third are Democrats, the other third are mugwamps, or Independent or whatever you
want to call it.
We would also loan money to a man to buy a farm with. When I came back from the
war, all those people that I loaned money to buy farms, when I went in business
traded with me. I think I was prouder of that than I was of anything. Every one of
‘em. And I reckon they’re all dead now. The men are all dead and there may be one
or two women living, I’m not sure. One died this year, and I thought that was the last
of ‘em but somebody told me about another lady that was still living, but all the men
are dead. All of ‘em paid for their farms. ‘Course the war came along, land went up,
everything went up and times were booming. They paid their loans off and some of
‘em thought they never would pay ‘em off. They couldn’t imagine that they’d ever
make that much money, and we couldn’t loan over 2,500 dollars. But they couldn’t
ever see paying that much off.
And you know practically, I didn’t realise it, ‘cause I didn’t know whether people
were Republicans or Democrats, but practically no Republicans would borrow. They
didn’t want nothing to do with them Alphabet programs: FSA, Farm Security
Administration. A lot of ‘em didn’t want anything to do with the AAA, Agricultural
Adjustment Act – that was the one where they told you how many acres of stuff you
could raise and how many pounds of stuff you could raise on those acres. If you
conformed, they paid you and if you didn’t conform, well you had trouble getting
cards to sell your cotton.
When you went down the Rabbit Trail Road, and turned to the left to go from
Bonnertown to Appleton, that land was owned by the Crowders who were the
staunchest Republicans in the county, and I don’t know if they came from Winston
County or not, I don’t think they did, but I don’t know about that. And it was the
Wilsons, and the Yarboroughs and the Crowders, and they were all three families
strong Republicans. And I never made a loan from Bonnertown to Appleton, but I
didn’t understand why. I didn’t know the history of the people and things, but in
later years I found out that the people who owned the land, if they found out they
were trying to get a loan through the Farm Security Adminstration, they’d tell ‘em
they’d have to move. They weren’t gonna have ‘em farmin’ their land and fiddlin’
with one of those government loans. And I got the first inklin’ of that when I made a
man a loan and his check came in and I notified him it was there, for him to come in
and get his check. And he came in and said he didn’t want that check, he said to send
it back. The reason they had to come in on their checks was, when we set up that
they had to borrow for, that they had to have at least one cow, two hogs, fifty
chickens, fruit jars, pressure cooker, screens, this that and the other, they wouldn’t use
the money for what they agreed to use it for when they borrowed. They didn’t like it
all being told what they had to use the money for, so the money had to be put in a
joint bank account, and they couldn’t spend the money unless they signed it and I
counter-signed it. And that’s the reason they had to come in to get their checks to
deposit it in the joint account. But I didn’t know it at the time, but there were some
merchants that would let ‘em write a check for fruit jars or what not, but they would
give ‘em something else instead.
When I first started work with Farm Security, in fact as long as I worked for Farm
Security, men and women had to travel together. There had to be a home supervisor
as well as a farm supervisor. The Home Supervisor would plan with the women, how
to have better meals, and balanced meals, assure ‘em that they were getting’ enough
money that they could have better things than what they had had. Teach ‘em how to
can. I know a time or two, people would kill a beef and we’d go out and cut the beef
up and show ‘em how to can it, and literally can it. And with the county agent, we
also taught ‘em how to make mattresses.
There was plenty of cotton in the county, but people slept on old sorry mattresses,
straw ticks, everything else, with all the cotton in the world. So we taught ‘em how to
make mattresses. And one of the beating-est things that I ever got into, Mrs Graves
was the home supervisor, and we had a client, Oliver Clayton and his wife. And I
know they ran the nastiest house, and were nasty, just absolutely nasty. Now, that’s
the only way to describe it. ‘Course I guess they was eat up with worms, sick and
everything else and couldn’t do any better. Lot of little old children. She said ‘We’re
going out there today, and we’re gonna eat with those people.” And I said “No way,
absolutely no way I’m gonna eat in Oliver Clayton’s house”, and she said you come
on, and stay with me ‘til we get ready to eat, and if you can’t then, we’ll leave. I
believe you’ll stay.”
So we went, she had a big pan, and boiled water on the stove, poured soap suds in it,
scoured the old kitchen table down, dried it off, spread newspaper on it. Well, I’ve
forgotten what she cooked, corn bread, for sure, white beans, for sure, and I don’t
know what else. But she brought baskets with her, and she brought napkins with her,
and she put these napkins in these baskets and put the corn bread in that, and she
boiled the knives and forks and utensils and stuff. And it was pretty sanitary lookin’.
But she had taught them something, actually she taught me, too. But I remember that
woman, Mrs Clayton, I’ve forgotten what her first name was if I ever knew.
At that time, people came to town on Saturday, they’d come pretty early in the
morning. And they’d walk around and around the square. Around and around the
square, and stop and look in the windows, had a hard time findin’ a place that would
let you use the restroom. That’s the reason I was so positive that restrooms ought to
be provided on the public square for people. But they’d look in the windows. I
remember Mrs Graves, the home supervisor, askin’ Mrs Clayton ‘What do you look
at, whenever you walk around?” And there was a grocery store over there in the
corner where White owns now (?) -- a Peppers fellow ran it, but it wasn’t Peppers
then. And she said “I stand in that window and look at the cheese,” And I thought
that was the oddest thing that she would be lookin’ at cheese, and I asked Mrs Graves
about that, I said “Why’s she lookin’ at cheese?” And she’s said “She’s absolutely
protein starved. And she’s lookin’ at that cheese and wantin’ it, cause she’s so hungry
for protein.” ‘Course that’s the reason we forced the loan… they had to buy a cow.
The Farm Security Act was pretty good in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t too long til the
war came along, and economic conditions got better everywhere. And I guess it
would have worked out of it, some way or another. Course it was a slow thing. It
was a rare thing that a German Catholic ever took a loan from the Farm Security
Administration, cause they were good enough farmers and good enough managers and
smart enough and resourceful enough, so that they made it without having to get a
loan from anybody for anything. The Beuerleins and Niedergeses, those people.
Buying up bad loans
The Farm Security Administration got the idea, that to really help people they were
gonna have to get these debts off ‘em that they owed, where they had to borrow
money from the bank. People were good and honest and they meant to pay their
debts, wanted to pay their debts. But when the depression came and the bottom fell
out of everything they just couldn’t pay their debts, at all.
And a lot of people carried ‘em, Bert’s daddy had a store up in Ethridge, and he
carried ‘em for a long time. And there were lots of people that got in bad shape and
couldn’t pay what they owed. The Farm Security Administration, the powers that be,
thought that it would be a good thing if those people could get rid of those debts. So
they came up with the idea that they would loan the man 2% of what he owed, if the
person that he owed would accept the 2% and write the 98% off.
And they insisted that the supervisors in the County go around and see the people that
they owed that money to and see if they could buy the debts up. Well, I elected to go
see an old man Gladdish who was a ginner, who had furnished cotton seed and
fertilizer to a lot of people and they just couldn’t pay him. He was a pretty successful
ginner because he managed what money he had well, pretty tight, pretty hard. So I go
up to see the old man, and he’s sittin in an old rockin chair, like John F Kennedy sat
in, only it was a lot rougher and he was sittin’ there and I went in. I told him what my
name was and who I was workin’ with and why I was there.
And he didn’t say sit down or anything, so I set down and I told him I was up there to
see if I could buy up the debt of some of our clients owed him and wanted to pay him
2 cents on the dollar for the debt, that the government would advance two cents on the
dollar if he’d write the rest of it off. He never said a word. He was rockin’ in that
chair, and he kept on rockin’. And I told him again, what I was up there for and what
I hoped to do. And he kept on rockin’, and he never said anything. It seemed to me
like I was there for five hours, but it must have not been over five minutes. And I got
up and left and he still didn’t say anything.
And he was a real gruff lookin’ old man. And he’s the man that had the leather
pocket books made which were made out of good leather, and they were good pocket
books and they lasted for years, but they had a slogan printed on every one of them
that said “We ain’t mad at nobody.”
So the government kept on me to get somebody to agree sell up some of those debts.
I saw this wasn’t gonna work worth a dime, and I told ‘em I didn’t understand the
program. I said I wasn’t very successful at getting’ anything done, and I wished they
come down and show me what and how to do. They said ok, they’d be right down.
Two of the top bosses came down and they told me to make an appointment with Mr
Jim Stribling who was the banker who owned the biggest bank there was in Lawrence
County, lots of land, the Christinan Home, the place where they bought cross-ties for
the rail roads. He was just into everything.
And I called Mr Stribling and told him that two of the people from Farm Security
wanted to talk to him, when would be convenient. He set a time. I called back and
told them and they said they’d be there. So we went up there. I introduced them to
Mr Stribling, they exchanged pleasantries for a little while. And then they said “Mr
Stribling, what we’re here for is about this business of buyin’ up these debts.” And he
was a pretty diplomatic old man, and pretty smooth. He said “Have you boys ever
heard of my cousin, TS Stribling who lives over at Clifton, who’s written a book
about ‘My cousin Jim’. And they said, No Sir, they hadn’t heard of that. ‘Well he
won a prize for literature with that story. It’s runnin in the Saturday Evening Post
now, serially. I have some copies laying up here on my filin’ cabinet. Would y’all
like to have a copy?” And they said ‘Sure, we would Mr Stribling, we’d be glad to
read it.’ So he reached up there and got ‘em a copy, gave it to ‘em and said “Why
boys, you come back to see me some time.” And that was the end of that. And they
didn’t say anymore to me about trying to buy these debts. And I didn’t bring it up
I didn’t know it at the time, but the guy that really wrote the Farm Security Act was
named Wrexford Guy Tugwell. And Mr. Wrexford Guy Tugwell was the appointed
Governor of Puerto Rico when Roosevelt was runnin’ for president. And he was
supposed to be a friend of Mrs Roosevelt, and he was supposed, if he wasn’t a
communist, to have very strong communist leanings. Now whether that’s true or not
true, I don’t know, but he did have very liberal and far-advanced thoughts. That’s for
sure. Course at that time I was a pretty strong supporter of Mr Roosevelt, ‘cause I
knew what the farmers had gone through and what their plight was and how little they
had. He was the only person of national stature that I had ever heard of that had any
kind of a program that was supposed to be of benefit to farm people
Some of that stuff was declared unconstitutional. The National Recovery Act was
then, the NRA was declared unconstitutional. They had to change some of the other
programs to change ‘em from being unconstitutional. But there’s always been a
tendency and pushin’ for one world, for the haves to do for the have-nots. The have-
nots always seem to think that they deserve more and the Haves seem to think it’s not
their job to provide any more. I don’t know.
The Bloody Bucket
Well, the Bloody Bucket, that was in Lawrence County, it was down there on Buffalo
Road, George Stevens owned the land it was on. And it was a very rough night club.
When I came to Lawrence County, they were just eliminatin’ the sale of beer in the
county. And I assume that they were or they had sold beer in the Bloody Bucket,
anyway they fought a lot. There were a lot of fights and people got drunk, and I’m
not positive that somebody didn’t get killed in the Bloody Bucket, but they did in
some of the beer joints around. And it was just a place that had a bad name is all I
IK: Did you go in there?
BP: No. I didn’t cull many places, but I culled that one.
Early Married Life
I did that work and I met Tut along in April.
Later on I took tennis. I had never played tennis, but I learned to play tennis fairly
well. That’s where I met Tut, on the tennis courts in the city of Lawrenceburg.
Virginia Freemon Lindsey that was working for me had a tennis court and somehow
or another she found out that I played tennis and she said she wanted Tut and I to
come down and play with some of her friends and that’s where I met Tut, there on the
tennis court. Tennis court’s grown up in kudzu now. Virginia’s dead and Tut’s dead.
Ed Lindsey that married Virginia is still living. He was a pretty good tennis player.
He wasn’t as good as he thought he was.
And we decided to get married along in the Fall, sometime or another. And they were
gonna transfer me to Waverley, Tennessee. And so OK, didn’t make any difference
to me, but I later found out that it did make some difference to Tut, but she was
willing to go. So we went to Waverley, Tennessee. They were gonna fix us an
apartment over there and the place where I’d been living over there, renting. But
before they got that done the man that was in Lawrenceburg, Lawrence County, he
got a job with TVA and was leaving and they wanted to know if I wanted to come
back to Lawrenceburg. And yeah, it suits me, and boy Tut, she was all for it. She
Hadn’t been here long before I married Tut, who I later married, and then they
transferred me to Waverley. And they were getting us apartment over there to live in
Waverley and they told me that the man had been in charge in Lawrenceburg was
leaving and wanted to know if I wanted to come back. Tut surely wanted to come
back and it suited me fine, too, so we did.
We came back, and I worked in Lawrence County for the next three years making
loans to very, very, very poor people. Uh, they didn’t raise anything but cotton in
Larwrence County. Most of ‘em rode to town in wagons. A few of ‘em had Model
T’s, not many. It was a pretty rough way to go. I made loans to people to buy feed
and seed and fertilizer encouraging them to raise gardens, get a pressure cooker, buy
jars and can vegetables. Have a pig to kill and a cow to milk and so on. I made about
forty loans for people to buy farms. The most money we could loan to a man to buy a
farm and everything else was $2500. Most of these poor people we loaned $250
dollars to buy ????, they didn’t like to borrow near that much, but they did.
So I don’t guess we stayed over there after we were married, I don’t guess we stayed a
month. I’m pretty sure we didn’t, cause we married the 20th of November. I think we
came back sometime in December and rented a little old three room house that was
brand new, had a floor in it, pretty floor, hard wood – no it wasn’t – it was pine. But
it finished out real pretty, no subfloor, nothing, just pine on the sills or whatever it
was. And it had clapboard on the outside and pine on the wall on the inside and no
insulation between the walls at all, and no insulation overhead. We had a Cole
Airtight wood heater in the living room. To have hot water you had a little old coal
fired stove the size of a washtub sitting in the kitchen and you had to have a fire in
that. In the bedroom we had an electric heater. A three room apartment with a Cole
Airtight in the living room, a coal stove in the kitchen and an electric heater in the
bedroom. And it still wasn’t too hot.
Well, we had our wedding at the Downtown Church of Christ. And we had Tut’s
sister and one of her friends on the lady’s side, and we had two men that we both
knew, one of ‘em I went to school with at UT. The other one was a friend of Tiny’s,
and we were married there at the Downtown Church of Christ. Six of us.
Her parents, well, they didn’t want to come. My parents didn’t either. You didn’t
have any money to decorate a church or have a wedding much. I don’t know why,
maybe Tut didn’t want ‘em to come. Tiny4 wasn’t there, either. I don’t know why.
Alvin probably wouldn’t come. And Tut wouldn’t have wanted Tiny to be there by
herself, I don’t know. I didn’t know Alvin very well then. Weddings were different
then. And all of the people that were at the wedding except me are dead.
Tut wanted Brother Coffman5 to marry us. His daughter had been a real good friend
of hers and he had been a Church of Christ preacher for years and he taught out here
Tiny was Nadine Bottoms Brown and Alvin Brown was her husband. Tiny was Tut’s closest sister in
E.O. Coffman for whom the middle school my brother and I attended (briefly) was named.
at the high school for years. She knew that he wouldn’t marry people until he talked
to them before he married ‘em. So we went down to his house. ‘Course she knew him
and his wife and his daughter. She was as unconcerned as she could be. But I didn’t
know him, I don’t know that I’d ever met the man or not. But I remember him pullin’
the glasses down on the end of his nose, “Boy, you ever been married before?” If I
had, he wouldn’t have married us. He wouldn’t marry anybody who’d married
I stayed with the Farm Security Administration until I was drafted into the Army. I
was called up twice and I was deferred twice because I was working with these poor
farmers and they needed all the food production they could possibly get. So I was in a
deferred basis. That was about a year I guess I was deferred. And then I decided
everybody was gone but me and people were looking at me and wondering why I was
still here. It was just time to go.
To get a little symmetry, I guess you’d say, to the thing, I was actually drafted in
1943. In the late Fall I had been called by the draft board twice before but was
deferred because I was making loans to farm people and all the food production that
farmers could produce was needed for the army. So I was deferred these two times.
When I got the third call I elected not to ask for another deferment. Because by that
time there were very few young people my age left and people were beginning to look
at me and wonder “What’s he here for? What’s the matter with him?” And I just
sorta thought like “Everybody else has gone, so it’s my time to go, too.”
So I reported to the draft board, the last of October, first of November and went to
Fort Oglethorpe which was just across the line in Georgia, near Chattanooga.
There’s where I was sworn in and came back home for a while, a short while. Then I
was called back to Fort Oglethorpe and stayed there just a short time and caught a bus
and went to Camp Blandon in Florida, which was near Jacksonville, Florida.
I was assigned to the infantry and in going through the processing to get into to where
you were going to be assigned they asked questions about everything that you had
ever done in your life. And one of the things that I had done was work in the cafeteria
at the University of Tennessee as a bus boy, more or less, tearing down and setting up
steam tables. After I got to Camp Blandon one day they came by and said “Have your
gear out at five o’clock in the morning and you’re gonna be transferred.” Where I
didn’t know, but I was there and was taken to a different place for training and this
was cook and baker school. So they trained us to be cooks and to be riflemen both.
Bout half the time on one and half the time on the other.
After we finally got through with this basic training which I think was about six or
eight weeks we got to come home for a short time and then we were assigned to go to
a camp on the east coast to get shipped overseas. And I got there on June 6 which
was D-Day and unbeknownst to any of us that it was D-Day for some reason we were
told to get on a train we were gonna be transferred out west. Why we didn’t know.
We later found out that there weren’t any ships to take us across because they were all
being used on the D-Day invasion.
They transferred us to a Camp in Mississippi. I can’t think of the name of it offhand.
I guess it was Camp Van Dorn. There were lots of big mosquitoes there – I
remember that. Just before I was to get shipped overseas they examined us
physically and they found out that I had one less than the number of teeth that I was
supposed to have, so while I was on the East coast they made me a partial bridge, but
I was shipped to Van Dorn, before they got my partial bridge to me. So I go to Van
Dorn and they examine me again and the bridge doesn’t come so they fuddle around
with me and make another bridge and ship it to the East coast when we go back the
second time and neither one of the bridges caught up with me then. I thought I was
going to spend the war waiting for a bridge. But finally they shipped us out to go to
England and this was in August or September I guess it was.
We went on the Mauritania, which was a very large ship. I believe they said it had
twenty thousand people on it. We were crammed in just like sardines. We had to
take about 150 pounds of gear with us including our rifle and the bandalier,
ammunition, overcoat, extra pair of shoes, shelter half, tent pegs, mess kits, and a
whole bunch of stuff. All together it weighed about 150 pounds. You could barely
carry it. And we were assigned to a place and got very unhappy with the room that
we had. They assured us that they were going to give us more room in a little while,
but they didn’t, that’s where we stayed. We ate twice a day on the ship going over.
[The ship] was run by the British and somewhere out in the ocean we saw a bunch of
whales or porpoises or some kinda big fish and everybody started running to one side
of the ship and the blare came over the address system. “Now hear this, now hear this
Get back on other side of the ship.” Everybody had run to one side of the ship and we
were about to capsize the ship, they thought. Maybe we were, I don’t know.
We didn’t have any escort. This was a pretty fast ship and it zig zagged every seven
minutes. They said it took something over seven minutes for the Germans to site their
submarine torpedoes on a ship so we zig-zagged all across the ocean to the left and
the right every seven minutes. I think it took us about a week or ten days to get to
We got there one night and they unloaded us and walked us through the town in the
pitch dark ‘cause there were no lights in England because they were still being
bombed then. And we went somewhere and our place that we were gonna stay were
great big old tents that would sleep about 12 people to the tent. And they had straw
piled on the ground and mattresses stuffed full of straw and that’s where and what we
Well, we were supposed to still be cooks then, but they decided they’d take all the
cooks and bakers and buglers and clerk typists and support people of that various kind
and retrain us as infantrymen again. So we trained in England for I guess about six
weeks, I don’t know how long. Then they said we were infantry men again, no more
cookin’. So were then assigned to go to France and we were placed in what’s called a
I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but the war was winding down and there
had been – I guess – millions of people killed, wounded, captured and things
happened to them and all the companies were way under strength. They put as all in
these replacement depots and signed us out to the companies that were in the worst
shape. All they really wanted was just warm bodies to fill up the gaps and that’s
what we were. So we stayed in these replacement depots for a while, a pretty good
while I don’t know how long. And then they said they were going to assign us to a
So they came in and moved us up to some town – I remember we went by St Dien (?)
which had just been fought over a time before and they told us that we were going to
wait in this particular town until the General came and he was going to talk to us
before we went to the front. Well, we waited and waited and waited and waited and
waited and waited stood out in the rain. Stood there so long, some of ‘em fell out.
But finally the General came and I don’t know what he said, but I reckon he said
“Fight hard,” I don’t know what else, but they loaded us in trucks, about 10 or 12
people to a small truck and took ‘em up to the Fosgives (?) mountains with us. It was
dark then and it was really dark when we got there. ‘Course we rode three or four or
They unloaded us from those trucks and a sergeant came out with a blanket over his
head and a flashlight and called the roll. How he knew who was going to be there, I
don’t know, but he did. And didn’t take him long to call the roll and he said “OK
we’ll see you all in society in the morning.” And we said “Sergeant where we gonna
sleep tonight?” and he said “I don’t care where you sleep. I’m going to get in my
hole.” And he took off and we stood out in the middle of the woods with the rain
pouring down and the mud and the snow and the slush all around us and we didn’t
know what to do, but another old boy and I each had a shelter half and we laid one of
‘em down and pulled the other one over us. I reckon we’d been through so much that
we slept there.
Next morning we woke up and we were wet from our shoulders down. But they did
tell us that we were going to be assigned to a company now. There was two of us
and we asked ‘em how we get to the company. And they say – “You see that wire
there.” And of course we did - and they said “You pick that wire up and follow that
wire and you’ll wind up with your company.”
So we took off, we walked all day and never did get to the company. It was getting
dark and we found a hole and crawled in that hole and spent the night there. Next
morning, we got up – by the way – one shell came in. I never did know when nor
where nor why – no more – next morning we got up and got hold of that wire and
went on toward our company. We got there about– close to dark in the afternoon –
course the days were very short by then. This was in November and that far north
they were pretty short then.
When we got to the company they said get over there in that hole and we got there
and we looked up and we saw some Germans. And I thought they were Germans
fixin’ to attack us, and this boy and I – I’ve forgotten who he was, we got excited
about that. Somebody said “Oh, shut up that’s some prisoners they’ve captured and
bringing in. So get in that hole and stay there.”
Well, there’d been a rumour out forever that these boys that we were joining were
going to get relief and sure enough about 8 or 9 o’clock they came around and said
“Ok, we’re pulling out. We’re gonna get relief.” And the way you pulled out, there
was another wire from where this was to back where we were going. And you started
lining up and the man up in front had a hold of the wire and you had to hold the belt
of the man in front of you. And the man behind you held your belt and you started
falling out through the woods in the snow and the slush, going back to wherever this
relief area was. There was another group coming in to take the place on the front.
where this company had been and we slipped and fell and had to pass word
backwards and forwards to hold up , tie up, move out. I guess all night long we
covered, maybe three miles, I don’t know how far.
Before we had gone on the front we’d thrown away our extra pair of shoes, some of
our tent stuff and tent pegs and a whole lot of stuff but we still had a lot of things in a
knapsack on our backs that we were still carrying. We got to where these people were
– they’d been guarding this line for a hundred and eight days – I believe they said.
They had a rifle and a blanket – that’s all they had and we had I guess about 50
pounds of stuff. Well, we left that right there.
They’d carried us on back to a rest area then issued dry clothes and dry shoes and put
us through a chow line and fed us and put us in barns in a French village and in these
barns we got up in the hayloft and went to sleep. We slept that night and the next
morning we fell out to breakfast. And they said “Alright, we’re gonna have a little
exercize.” So after all that mess they started us doing close order drill, just like we’d
done in England and like we’d done in Camp Blandon, Florida. And we were sorta
unhappy about that. But that didn’t last for long, til they told us we were gonna have
to go across a river and attack the Germans.
Well a river was a great big body of water to me, I didn’t know what it was. But they
carried us out to a little old lake and they had some pontoon boats on it and we would
run down and get in those pontoon boats and row across the “river” – the lake and
then run up the hill on the other side and then come back and do it over and over.
And I don’t know how many times we crossed that little old body of water, and then
one morning they said “We’re gonna cross that river tomorrow and attack the
Germans.” Well, here we go. ‘Bout midnight they get us up and load us on the
trucks. And about two o’clock we get on to this river. And there are the pontoon
boats piled up over there, but we look at the little old river – what they called a river
looked like a creek to me. And there was a log out across it, and we never did use the
pontoon boats. We just walked across those logs.
We got over across in this bottom on the other side and I never knew whether it was
German artillery or American artillery or whether it was landmines or what, but the
whole world – it seemed to me like – exploded everywhere. And they said run, run,
run, run, run, run forward. We didn’t know what else to do, so that’s what we did
and we ran up to pine woods, great big old pine trees and then the shells started falling
on the pine woods and they were using proximity shells that didn’t explode until they
got so close to the ground or so close to an object. And they were gettin’ so close the
top of these pine trees and exploding. So there were splinters and wood and stuff just
falling all over us from everywhere. A few people got a few splinters in them and I
heard them calling on the radio to stop, stop, stop, stop, stop. We had gone further
and faster than we were supposed to, because we didn’t have any opposition. And we
had run under our own artillery.
Well, they finally got that stopped. And I guess it must have been about 10 o’clock in
the morning, and I look around and the next thing I saw everybody was breaking their
old K rations out and eating. I later found out that when you were under attack or you
were in combat that one of the things that you did for some reason it made you want
to eat. And that’s what we did.
(A K ration is a thing that in a box about the size of a cracker jack box. And it has
enough food packed in it to feed one person three meals. It has a little canned ham, a
little cheese, a few crackers a little hard candy package or two of cigarettes, some
lemonade some coffee, and just a bunch of junk like that. And it’s very concentrated
food and it doesn’t have any taste, but it has a lot of nutritional value and when you’re
going in combat they issue that stuff. When they issue it to you, you can bet your
bottom dollar that you’re fixin’ to go in combat.)
Well, the next thing we get somewhere – I don’t know where we are – and they say
we’ve got to run these Germans fast, we can’t let ‘em stop. Take off down the road,
and we took a little Mexican sergeant and another old boy that came in about the same
time that I did – the only thing I remember about him was that one of his hands was in
bad shape and I wondered why in the world they took him in and on top of that they
gave him a B A R to carry and they had this little Mexican sergeant and this boy and
myself – we were the point – out in front of everybody and everything.
We sauntered down the road not knowing what was up ahead or what wasn’t up
ahead. There was a thicket out in front of us and when we got to that thicket all of a
sudden that thicket wasn’t there anymore. It was a camoflaged false front and it fell
over and fell down and there was a great big old German 88 gun that they were
shootin’ just like a rifle at us.
They started on the back end of our line and were comin’ up towards the front. They
finally got to us and the shell came in. I don’t know how close it was to us but this
boy with the B A R – it killed him. This little Mexican who was experienced – he
knew what was gonna happen – he had crawled in a culvert and got his head up in it
just as far as he could. It just tore his back all to pieces. I presumed he was killed, but
he wasn’t ‘cause I saw him later. It didn’t touch me.
Then shortly after, our mortar section began dropping mortars on this 88 up there and
they blew it up and took off ‘cause it was just a holding action that they had to slow
us down to keep us from getting somewhere – I don’t know where.
Then they ran us again. Run, run, run. Catch, catch, catch. We went down through a
valley and there were dead Germans laying all down this road and Germans laying
there crying for help and crying for water and this that and the other.
We didn’t dare touch ‘em, offer to help ‘em, or give ‘em water or anything else.
We’d been told over and over that there were people that were booby trapped and if
we tried to help ‘em or do anything for them we’d probably get blowed up ourselves.
So we just had to look at ‘em and move on.
And then we got somewhere, way across the valley, we could see a bunch of
Germans. We started shooting at them with our rifles and they started running and I
don’t know where they went. And I don’t know finally where we stopped, but we
stopped somewhere and then we kept going. Run, run, run, run, run, stop, stop, stop.
And try to catch up with the Germans.
I guess that was the thing to do, I don’t know. But this goes on for a while, they
finally bring us back to our rest area and let us rest a while and get us some new
clothes and stuff. Up to that time I had nothing but leather shoes, and your feet got
wet and cold just all the time. There weren’t enough mountain packs, which were
rubber on the bottom and leather on top to go around.
So another old boy and I went round where the medics were. As the injured and killed
came in to where the medics were, they threw the boots out the window. We went by
and got to looking at those boots and picked us out a pair of boots that would fit us.
We put ‘em on and wore ‘em from then on.
Those things would sweat your feet when you got hot, so you learned that, they all
had a pair of felt pads in the bottom and you wore white socks like athletic socks and
you learned that you had to change those socks and pads or your feet would really get
in a bad shape – you’d have trench foot. So, I carried a pair of socks tucked down in
my chest and a pair of pads stuck down in my back. Body heat would dry those out in
about 24 hours. Every night about midnight I’d take those dry socks and pads out and
put ‘em in my boots and put the wet ones back down under my clothes so I could dry
Well, we went along down through there runnin, running, running, running, trying to
catch up with the Germans. We were getting close to Strausberg. I remember one
day we were way up on a hillside and we were in those World War One trenches and
we were laying there in those trenches. I don’t know what we were gonna do, but we
The trenches must have been ten foot deep and they were filled in a lot by then. I
remember where I was there was a cedar tree, probably twenty foot high growing
right up. I was laying right under that cedar tree and had my rifle laying on top of the
trench under that cedar tree waiting to do something. I don’t know what we were
doing; we were just there. We’d joined up with another company of people; there was
a whole lot of us there.
I looked up from where I was and there was two Germans coming up a pretty steep
hill. They were reminding me of turkeys the way they were sticking their heads out
looking this way and that way and looking the other way. One of ‘em was right in my
rifle sights and I thought “Well, I don’t care anything about shooting him. There’re
just two of ‘em.” And I didn’t, but directly somebody else saw and you never heard
as much shooting going on in your life.
They hit one of the scouts for the Germans and knocked him up against a tree and the
other one took off down that hill. I bet they shot ten thousand rounds of ammunition
at him and never did touch him. That other one was laying over there under the tree
and old boy got up and walked over there – he was crying and moaning and carrying
on. He walked over there and just took his gun and shot him.
We went through a place and I didn’t know what in the world it was, but it had posts
all down one side and wire all down those posts. I couldn’t figure out what in the
world it was for. But it was either where they had had or were building a place for a
concentration camp. I’d never heard of a concentration camp and there weren’t any
buildings there, just the wires and the posts. We just went on through that thing, still
not paying any attention.
We finally get somewhere that night and got in a German warehouse. We were gonna
spend the night there. They warned us not to take our boots off, because some of ‘em
had trench foot and if you ever took your boots off your feet would swell up so that
you couldn’t get your boots back on. By then we ran out of rations, we didn’t have
anything to eat. We looked around in there and we found great big rolls of Swiss
cheese – great big ones, I guess they must have weighed two or three hundred pounds
a piece. And case after case of Portugese sardines put up in mustard. We were all
pretty hungry. I ate so much Portugese sardines and Swiss cheese that it was years
before I could even think about eating any more because it made me so sick.
Finally, we got in to Strausberg, got through there then we start for Colmar. We
didn’t know anything about where Colmar was or where it wasn’t or anything else.
We crossed from France into Germany at Zweibrucken that was in the industrial part
of Germany. The thing I remember about that was when we got there in daylight it
was the first time any of the American troops in this particular outfit had ever been in
Germany and they went crazy. They tore up, they smashed up, they did everything.
They went up in the second and third story of the apartments and threw furniture out
the windows and knocked clocks and vases and anything that there was left in the
house down and destroyed and just absolutely went wild.
That went on for a while ‘til finally the higher-ups came in with enough MP s to make
‘em quit and move out and stop that crazy destruction. Then sometime during the
fighting they moved us toward Colmar and this was the place that we were going to
hold out and we didn’t know what we were going to hold for. But that’s where we
were anyway and it was sort of a rough place to be. We were laying up on a hill and
looking down into Colmar and if you stuck your head out of your hole in the daytime
the Germans would drop shells on you. So you had to lay in those holes all day long
‘til it got dark. Then at night you had get out and bring water up and stretch barbed
wire and dig your hole a little deeper and cover it over with stuff to keep the shells
from 4going in if they came.
It was January and it was cold. The snow was several feet deep. But it is cold. We
stayed there thirty-some days and I never took my clothes off. I never shaved. I
never had a bath. You just stayed in those holes that’s all there was to it.
You patrolled at night. And it was dangerous patrolling. The Americans had
listening posts down in front of us. Those boys were awful nervous. When they’d
hear a racket, if you didn’t identify yourself awful quickly, you’d get shot. And then
the Germans they were lookin’ to shoot you also. It was mean runnin’ patrols down
People would get killed, Germans in particular. We’d see an old German soldier
layin’ there face up when you go out on a patrol one night. The next night you’d go
out and he’d be layin’ face down. Somebody’d rolled him over and searched the
pockets and everything to see what they could find. And then they’d roll him back
the other way. Roll him out, roll him over. I never would touch a one of ‘em. But a
lot of ‘em did. They were looking for anything and everything at the time.
Sometime while we were in that mess, they put a patrol out and told us we had to
capture somebody. They needed ‘em for information or something or other, and we
went down through a vineyard that had wires strung through it. In that cold weather,
those wires were so tight that they sung, made a racket. They told us where there was
a foxhole with two SS Troopers in it. They had a sergeant with another boy and
myself sent down there to capture these two people.
Well, we got pretty close to ‘em down there in this grape vineyard and he said “You
all go on up there to that hole, and slip up on ‘em and jerk those two men out and I’ll
cover you.” Well, we didn’t understand exactly how to do that and he got disgusted
with us and he said alright “You all cover me, and I’ll go down there and get both of
‘em.” Well, OK with me.
And so help me, he did go up there and get both of them. One of them was asleep.
He slipped up on the one that was supposed to be on guard and got one gun on him
and got another gun on that one that was asleep in the hole brought them both out of
there and brought them both back to where we were and said let’s get them back to
where our headquarters are. And these Germans were nervous as they could be, they
were saying “Mach snell”. Go, go, go. They were afraid that the Germans would
shoot them and everybody else. But they didn’t. And we went on back.
That was Carl Allen. That was the bravest little old man I ever saw. He would do
anything. They told him that they were gonna send him back to England, on a rest
area, but they didn’t. I went out with him one night on a stormin patrol, you go out
and make racket and try to attract the enemy. And I didn’t want to make a lot of
racket. I asked him while we was out there “Why do you do all of this? Why are you
so brave about all of this?” And he said “Well, I have a wife and two children at
home and I figure if everybody will do what they ought to and fight like they ought
to, we’ll get this thing over with and we can go home.” You couldn’t argue with that,
so when were up there at Colmar we were supposed to go out on these night patrols,
he couldn’t wait for it to get dark. When it started getting dark he’d want to get down
off that hill. Well, I was sitting in my hole with my head out about that high, lookin’
as it was getting darker and darker. And I knew where the patrol was and I saw a
shell come in on the patrol, and of course I didn’t know what happened then, but
that’s where they got killed right there. That’s where he got killed.
I don’t how we got away from there, but later on we did.
We were going through a thing one night, don’t know where we were, don’t know
why we were there, but we ran into a minefield. There was one tank with us and an
infantry troop. And the people in charge of the infantry and the people in charge of
the tanks were two different people. And they got in the biggest argument there ever
was whether this tank was gonna go first or whether the Infantry was gonna go first.
Well, wound up the infantry was gonna have to go first and they brought some great
big old boards up there about four or five inches think and long and they were heavy
and you take one of those and lay it down and you’d get another and slide it up that
one and slide it on up and you’d walk through the mine field that way and run into
some mines and people got shot up pretty bad, real bad I guess, I never did see them
again. So then the tanks came on, we were through the mine fields then. But boy you
can bet we sure did step carefully.
Then we moved again, we go somewhere, I don’t even know where this was, right
down close to the Colmar canal. I later found out, I didn’t know it then. They told us
we were going to attack some Germans up in the woods up there, that the Germans
had tanks and that we had tanks. They took a whole bunch of people and sent them
across a little stream and bridge to go up there to attack these Germans.
Our company was the last company that was to go up. We were the reserve, this
company. We were to hold. So they all go up there, and then here comes the tanks
– our tanks – went across this little bridge. The Engineers were up there and they
argue around and they finally decide that it’s stout enough to hold us and the tanks.
So they said to go on across. They did and they got right in the middle of the bridge
and down she went.
Well, all of our whole regiment was up ahead of us and another regiment too, I think.
There were a whole lot of soldiers up there and we were the last thing. So they
carried us across that little river, or we had to walk across it and they told us to dig in.
And the little anti-tank gun – 47 mm – one and I don’t know – probably a dozen of us
in this platoon dug in in five or six holes. Two men to a hole, three to a hole,
something like that. And they said you all stay right here and hold. You’re the rear
Well, just about dark here come a bunch of soldiers back through us. And we say
“What’re you all doing? What you coming back for?” They said “Well the Germans
got tanks up there and we don’t got any tanks. We can’t fight those tanks.” Well,
In a little bit, we looked up and here come another bunch and we asked them and they
said “The tanks are coming. The tanks are coming.” And they’re running back,
running back and we call our headquarters and ask ‘em if we can come back. They
said “No sir, you stay right there ‘til everybody up there in that woods gets through.
And when they get through, then we’ll call y’all back.” Well, so we stayed.
I’d never seen a German tank. I didn’t know what they looked like. But I heard the
durndest racket coming down out of the woods and there were two great big old
German Tiger tanks. And we didn’t do anything. We just looked at them. But that
little anti-tank gun, it shot at one of them and missed it. So he raised his sights up a
little and shot at it again and hit it just as center as you could hit one. And it was just
like you hit it with a BB gun. It just bounced off.
The old German turned around and fired one shot at that anti-tank gun and I can
remember seeing the gun and the people and everything else going up in there. And
here comes the tank on down to right where that gun was and they get out of the tank
and they’re yakking and talking about something – I don’t know what. But sum total
and substance of it was that they’re gonna look up down this river and see if there’s
There were three of us there, and we knew we couldn’t stay there. We’d be killed or
captured one. So we threw everything away, but two grenades a piece. Our rifles our
packs, everything. I kept a fountain pen, for some reason, that I’d brought with me.
That’s the last thing I had left that I’d brought from the States. And we were gonna
swim that river.
Well that little old river wasn’t but about neck deep, so we just waded across that little
old river and snow was five or six feet deep – maybe that’s too much. It was deep, on
the other side of the river. So we get across the river and we laid down and we
crawled through that snow back to that bridge where the tanks are broken down.
We later found out that a lot of the soldiers that retreated across the bridge were killed
because the Germans had zeroed in on it with machine guns when they went across
they shot ‘em off this bridge. Including the boy whose hair I’d cut about an hour
before. But when we get to the bridge the Germans had quit shootin’ at it for some
reason and we go on across and there are quite a few soldiers lined up on the other
side of the bridge. I reckon they were expecting the Germans to counter attack or
something, I don’t know what. But they told us to get there, too. Course we were wet
and cold and everything else.
In a little while here come a bunch of trucks and they load about half of us on these
trucks and take us back three or four miles. They’d set up a great big tent back there
and they had dry clothes back there and extra rifles and everything and hot coffee.
Well, at that particular time I didn’t drink coffee. I didn’t want any coffee. So I got
my dry clothes on and got my rifle and got to lookin’ around and saw what they were
doing. When they got the coffee, they’d load ‘em right back on those trucks and they
were gonna take ‘em and put ‘em right back on the line again.
Well, three or four more of us saw what was going on so we just eased out under the
side of the tent and didn’t go get any coffee and therefore didn’t get in those trucks.
We went back down in the town somewhere, I don’t know where it was and went in
this house. We took our blankets and hung ‘em up over the windows, tore the
panelling off the walls and built a big fire in some stoves and went to sleep and woke
up the next morning.
In daylight we were a little worried, maybe we had deserted, maybe – we didn’t know
what. So we decided we better get out and find our company. There wasn’t hardly
anybody in this town, but we finally saw some MP s and told them we were lookin’
for George Company. They said “Man, George Company’s about five miles down
the road.” We were five miles closer to the front than our company was.
We walked all day long getting back to our company. And there wasn’t much hardly
anybody left in our company. But we got a few replacements in and we go back.
We’re gonna attack the Colmar canal and go into Colmar. Now the Battle of Bulge
was going on up on the right toward Belgium and Holland and we’re way down on
the left close to Switzerland. But we didn’t know all of this.
We were supposed to go across this canal. I don’t know exactly what happened, yeah
I do, too. That’s where our first lieutenant and a bunch of people got killed with a
shell or two. This was on the second day of February, ‘cause I was sittin out there in
the woods it was real bright- sunshiney – wondering if the groundhog in
Lawrenceburg was gonna see his shadow. And here come a shell and WHAM. It
killed the only commissioned officer we had – a First Lieutenant and I never did see
any blood on him. I reckon the concussion killed him.
There were shells landing on other people and wounded them pretty bad and killed
some of ‘em, I don’t know. And that’s when I thought I had got hit because I felt a
sting go in the back of my shoulder. Being that cold you can’t imagine how many
clothes we had on to stay warm, but we had a lot of ‘em on. So I started to peelin’
‘em off and get a man to help me get ‘em off and got down to my shoulder and there a
piece of steel about the length of a needle and half the size no maybe about the size of
a fountain pin point stuck in my clothes into my shoulder, but didn’t break the skin.
So not only did I not get a million dollar wound to get to come back home, but I
didn’t even get a Purple Heart.
For some reason, the Sergeant took over, there were no commissioned officers and he
said we’re supposed to go this way. And we went that way. We went down to that
canal, there wasn’t anybody to give orders or tell us what to do.
Another little boy, he was much shorter than I was were together then. I don’t know
how we got together but we did, so we decided we’d dig us a hole and get in it and get
to sleep. The ground was frozen and it was hard and we dug a hole about a fourth as
deep as you’re supposed to and he got in the hole and layed down and I layed down
on top of him and we both went to sleep. And now that’s where you get killed, when
you get careless and don’t watch your hole or pull guard duty or anything. But that’s
what we did. We didn’t really care. We woke up the next morning and there was the
biggest fire fight going on you ever heard in your life. We were right down on this
canal and really didn’t know we were that close to it. There was another company
coming through attacking the barges on this canal. I reckon they must have gone on
across, I don’t know. But our company had gotten so weak and down so low that they
pulled us back to the rest area, and I think it was in Nancy, France. I’m not sure
where it was.
But anyway they pulled us back and fed us and re-outfitted us and did this, that and
the other and we were way away from the front. The only thing we had to do at night,
somebody had to stay on the telephone. They called on the telephone that night and
said the cook up at Battalion headquarters got some kind of disease and they were
gonna have to send him back to the States and said we want your company to send a
cook up there. Well, I went down to the First Sergeant and said they’d called from
Battalion Headquarters and said they wanted me to come up and cook for ‘em. And
he said “Cook? Hell, what do you know about cooking?” I said “Well, man I’m a
graduate from a Cook and Baker’s school.” And he cussed a little more and said “Get
yourself up there.” And that was the last of my front activities.
I was back cooking again. I was cooking for about 20 or 30 men. We had one unit
out of a field oven that we carried with us and it was loaded in a jeep every time we
moved. The Assistant Battalion Commander had the last, when you tear a command
post down, the assistant battalion commander was the last one to leave and the jeep
that held my stove was hooked on to his jeep. So I was as far back as you could
possibly get and that worked much better.
Finally, the war got over and we wound up in Salzburg, we went through the
mountains, the Austrian Alps the redoubt area. They had guns set up supposedly to
stop us when we went through there, but they didn’t shoot at us or do anything. And
we wound up in Salzburg and stayed there a pretty good while, stayed in a little old
hotel where the people did the cooking and all we had to do was get the food there, all
I had to do was get it there.
Then after a while they decided they were gonna move and they moved us to Castle
(?) Germany, and that was the town that the British bombed in retaliation for the
bombing of Plymouth and Coventry and it was pitiful what they did to that town. But
we stayed there for a little while and while we were there they decided that they were
gonna move us again and they moved us down to Esviege (?) and that was right on
the border where the Americans and the Russians came together and while we were at
Esviege I taught school. I taught a little agriculture and I taught a little history and I
taught Chinese people and any people who couldn’t read and write how to read.
But that didn’t go on long til we got a notice that if you want to go to school in
England to fill out a form and I filled one out and said I want to go to school some
more. And I don’t where, not Stonehenge, but some Henge there was a military
school close to London that’s where I was sent to, and I studied, I don’t know what I
studied, not much of anything to tell you the truth. But I got passes and I went to
London for several things and I went to Edinburgh. I saw the Queen, the present
Queen, and her sister. I just rambled around over the countryside. Then school was
out and they shipped us back then to Stuttgart in Germany and we stayed there a while
and then they decided we were going home.
They sent us to a port of debarkation, I guess it was and caught a little old Liberty
Ship and wound up in Camp Bradebury (?) Indiana and that’s where I was discharged.
And that’s the end of my story.
IK: You were at the Sound of Music house?
BP: Oh yeah, that was in Salzburg. We went down there, I didn’t go in it. I went on
the grounds. I was trying to get a job with the something or other doing something or
other, trying to get something to get home sooner, I don’t know what. I went through
Hitler’s Eagle Nest. I went up there to it, saw it, didn’t go through it. We went up
there ‘cause that was the only place that I knew of in Germany or Austria where they
made ice. They had an ice plant. We’d go up there to get ice. The only other ice you
got was where in the winter time they cut huge blocks of ice out of the river – and the
rivers were polluted something awful, but we’d throw those anti-pollution drugs in
that water and make ice tea and then throw those pills in the water. Supposed to kill
anything and everything. Drink it right on.
IK: What was it polluted with? Sewage?
BP: Aw, the people were so thick. You’d go in these French farmyards and they
would have a concrete pit not quite as big as this room, but nearly, and it sloped
toward a hole in the middle and all the straw and everything from the cows and the
horses and everything was pitched in that pit and the dad-gum well water wouldn’t be
as far from here to the kitchen from that pit where all that water ran in the ground.
And then all the human waste was saved and it pumped out in great big tanks and
wagons, they called ‘em honey wagons and they’d take those out and I don’t know if
there was enough liquid with it or if they put more liquid with it or not, but they’d
spray all the vegetable gardens with that – the lettuce and the carrots, spinach and
everything else. And I guess the sewers, I don’t know, I didn’t see a sewer treatment
plant, I guess it went straight in the river. As far as I know it did.
We were supposed to have water purification outfits with us to purify the water. I
know I was pumping water into a jerry can out of one of these wells close to the
manure pit one night and some Lieutenant Colonel came by and wanted to know what
I was doing. I told him I was getting water to cook with or wash dishes or something,
I don’t know what. Oooh, he chewed me out, up one side and down the other. He
said I was supposed to be using water from this purification plant. I said “Sir, I never
have seen any water from a purification plant.” And he cussed around there for a
while and I guess he radioed up the water purification plant. I don’t guess they
purified water for anybody but the officers and he thought it ought to be for
everybody. But I was smart enough not to argue with anybody about anything.
Didn’t do any good. You lose anyway, there’s just no point in it. Anyway, they sent
two jerry cans of water that they said was purified. I don’t know whether it was or
not. I never did see another one.
You asked me how I came to have this German silverware that I have. When the war
was drawing to an end the Germans were abandoning trains, aeroplanes, buses, cars
and tanks and everything else. And I didn’t have any idea why then, but the simple
fact was that they were running out of oil. Their sources of oil had all been cut off.
The fields that were in Romania and Bulgaria had been bombed. They couldn’t get
any more from Russia. Their oil fields, limited that they were had been bombed.
They didn’t have any tankers that could bring oil into ‘em and they had plenty of
tanks and aeroplanes and trains and that sorta stuff but they were all parked and
I remember walking down the autobahn. I had never seen an autobahn, we call them
Interstates here, and there were aeroplanes parked on the right and left and
camoflaged. All up and down the autobahn. They used the autobahns for airstrips for
the planes to take off and land on. They were good, new-looking planes sitting there.
I knew we hadn’t been strafed or shot at by planes in a long time, and I didn’t
understand why. And I didn’t understand why the tanks weren’t running or anything
Somewhere between Munich and Nuremberg, I don’t remember where, I probably
have it written down somewhere, but I’ve forgotten, we came upon a great long train.
It was sittin’ on a track in some woods, and it was covered up with pine trees and
everything else, camoflaged so it couldn’t be seen at all. When we came up on it we
began poking around in it and decided it wasn’t booby-trapped, so we really began
poking around then. I was in the cooking end of the outfit at that time, so I was
always interested in finding any food that we possibly could. I rattled around in the
dining cars and kitchen all along this train. There were sets of silver and china and
crystal, of real fine stuff, I thought. It was sterling silver, and it was good china and it
was real good crystal. And people were lootin’ it pretty fast. We could loot it
because... looting’s the wrong word, confiscating it. We could confiscate it because it
had DR on it. Deustche Reich. If it had a swastika on it, or it had the German eagle
on it, it was eligible to be taken if we wanted it.
I took a set of silver. Everything that I could get. Knives and forks and spoons and
serving spoons and serving pieces and this, that and the other. A whole lot of it. I had
in mind when I took it that I was gonna send it home. I got it all and wrapped it up
the best I could and put it in a tow sack, and took the tow sack, or croker sack some
people would call it, and throwed it in the back of a trailer that was hooked on to a
jeep. The reason I used this trailer is because it was where I carried the crudest of
field kitchen stuff that we used to cook for the people that were in this part of
I went to one of the officers and asked him if we would sign to let me send this home,
because you couldn’t send German contraband home unless it had an officer’s
signature on it. He said, yeah he would sign for it and let me send it home, but he’d
have to have all the teaspoons. He wanted them. I gave him twelve, I believe. I kept
a few teaspoons, but I kept all the rest of it, and I wrapped it up in sacks and got me
some boxes and tied strings and paper stuff around it got him to stamp his OK on it
and shipped it to Tut. And that’s the story of that.
The Ford Tractor Business
IK: How did you end up selling tractors?
BP: Oh well, my wife, Tut, had started working for Mr Parkes in 1937, I guess. She
went to college one year at Martin and then started working for him. And was
working for him when we got married. And I met him and I liked him and he liked
me. And he had the Ford car agency and the Ford tractor agency both. And Ford
motor company was wanting those split at that time, they didn’t want one dealer to
have both. I really don’t know why, I guess they thought they could sell. They were
trying to get into the tractor business and they wanted somebody that knew more
about tractors that could sell tractors. Mr Parkes sold cars, if he happened to sell
tractors, well that was fine...
So we talked about it, and I wanted to go to school and be a vetranarian. Had to go to
Ames, Iowa. They didn’t have one at the University of Tennessee at that time. They
didn’t have one anywhere in the south except at Auburn and you could not get in that
one at Auburn. So the only hope was Ames, Iowa. And Tut didn’t think we needed
to be going to school anymore. And she liked Mr Parkes and wanted to go in business
and encouraged that that’s what we do.
And I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so we decided that’s what we’d do and during
that time while I was in the Army I sent over all the money that I could and what
allotment that I had and any extra money that I came across. She saved it and we had
$2500. And we kept capitalized the business at $25,000. Mr Parkes put up $22,500.
He owned 90% and we owned 10%. But we had an option that we could buy any of it
we were able to any way we were able to until I owned half of it. We were putting
money back into it, instead of drawing money out. But I’d try to buy all I could of it
every year. But we had to build us a house and started raising a family and doing all
sortsa kinda things.
While I was in the tractor business, Murray came here and the farmers all quit and I
couldn’t sell tractors too good. ‘Cause they were all going to Murray and taking their
money and buying ‘em a car to come to work in or putting in bathrooms. Believe it or
not, they didn’t have bathrooms, they didn’t have televisions. They were spending all
their money on anything but farms. Some of ‘em completely quit farming, some of
‘em continued to farm. So I thought, well what the heck, they’re not going to farm
the land. I’ll farm it and I’ll rent it.
Well I rented it and started growing cotton. I think I had twenty acres the first year
and forty acres the next year and 100 the third year. And I picked that hundred by
hand. And a hundred acres of cotton picked by hand is a big, big deal. So I bought
me a cotton picker, and I got to where I was raising between 250 and 300 acres. And
I did pretty good raising cotton, I made pretty good money. Then I also put in a
machine shop in Farmers Supply Company. Also sold boats and motors, chainsaws
and corn pickers and hay bailers, this that and the other. And then Mr Parkes died,
and I owned half of it then.
His estate tried to get me to buy the other half. They said they’d sell it to me anyway,
every way, anyway. They wanted to get rid of it, they didn’t want any part of it. But
Tut and I, we were I believe, about sixty years old. And we had decided a long time
ago that we were gonna quit when we got sixty-two. And we began looking for a
partner who wanted to buy. And Max Methvin was the one had the money to buy it
from the estate. So he bought it and we were partners and we gave him an option to
buy a fourth of our business when we got to sixty-five. And all of it at some age, I
Well, all of it was going along fine, I thought, but he was pretty hard to get along with
sometimes and his wife was, too. And they got real greedy and just started taking
over. And it didn’t suit me. I told them they couldn’t do that. We had some
disagreements about trying to buy me out and this that and the other. Then I finally
told them that we were gonna dissolve the partnership. And the only way I knew that
we could force it to be dissoved was to have an auction and sell it. Everything, the
land, the building, the machinery, the equipment and everything there was in it. We’d
do it that way or they could pay me what they were supposed to pay me – what I
thought they were supposed to pay me. I just didn’t care which they did, though it
would cost me if it ended at auction.
So they said, they was gonna sue me. And I told ‘em “That’s your business, you can
sue me if you want to. We’re still gonna dissolve it.” They decided they’d buy it
from me and they did and we retired. Tut and I did a lot of travelling then, in the
United States. She did not like to travel outside of the United States. In fact, we
went up to Polly and Wally’s in Ithaca, New York one time and travelled up into
Canada and when we finally got back Tut told me “I’ll never cross the border out of
the United States again.” So we’d been to every county in the state in of Tennessee
and every state in the United States and that took a lot of time.
Then Tut and I, I believe she lived five years after we retired and then she had strokes
and heart problems and this, that and the other. We weren’t expecting her to die when
she did, but she did. I think she didn’t expect to die. Now she might have... She
knew she wasn’t in good shape. I knew she wasn’t in good shape, too.
But we were in Centennial hospital in Nashville and the doctors had all told us that we
could come home, and that wasn’t in the days when they rushed you out. They let
you stay as long as you wanted to, and they told us we could come home Monday,
this was on Sunday, and they gave us instructions about what we could do and what
we couldn’t do, how we were supposed to do and what we were supposed to eat and
what kind of exercize we were supposed to take and just all sortsa kinda things.
And that was one Sunday afternoon. That Sunday night, Saundra and – I don’t know
– a few people, Tiny and ... I’m not sure about Alvin, came up to see us and they were
leaving and she just died, just like that. I tried to go out and holler at them, but they
were in the elevator, going down. Couldn’t do anything about it. They tried to revive
her in this way and the other way, but I had seen people die in the army and I knew
she was dead. I told the doctors I knew she was dead. And they said “You’d be
surprised how many we revive.” What could I do?
I went and called Jill and Danny, left a message on the phone and they happened to
come on in. And they got in the room. When they got to the hospital she was still in
the room, they hadn’t taken her out. In fact, she was still warm, Jill said. I didn’t
touch her, but Jill did.
The Improvement of Lawrence County
Well, what made it better was the fact that the people knew it wadn’t producin’,
wasn’t bringing anything, the extension service sold people on the idea of plantin’
vetch, and takin’ and turnin’ the vetch under. And it’s enormous amount of green
cover, and they turned that under and it rotted and it enriched the ground. Well, they
had been growin’ nothin’ but cotton and corn, that was all. I remember loanin’ a man
the money to buy a farm with one time, that the fellow we bought it from told us this
particular field had been in cotton twenty-three years. And they began to follow crop-
rotation then. Lespedeza came along, and that is a legume plant, and the land was
starved for nitrogen, and that was a nitrogen fixation plant, and this vetch decaying,
vetch was a nitrogen fixation plant, too, and then people began getting’ livestock in,
cows particularly, and sowin’ pastures and runnin’ the cattle on the pastures and just
change from broom sage and cotton which was all they had when I came here in
practically all the places.
Ingrid: and the manufacturing didn’t hurt.
Bill: Well, that came much later. But there still many of those people that started
working in the manufacturing plants who were raised out on the ridges where they
still had broom sage and cotton, and that was about all. And when the plants came,
they quit farming, and began to buy another car to ride to work in, began to buy a
television, which they didn’t have. Began to have runnin’ water and bathrooms
installed in the houses, and they ran some cattle. And that wadn’t too bad for the
land, but it wasn’t good for my business, ‘cause I’d been sellin’ them farming
equipment and supplies and all of those things and they weren’t buyin’ ‘em anymore.
So I decided, I had to do something, so what I decided was, all this land’s layin out
there not being used, I’ll just rent it and start raisin’ cotton. And I never had grown a
lock of cotton in my life, but it’s really not very complicated. So I got in the cotton
business, and then in the soybean business. The first year, I believe I had twenty-two
acres of cotton, twenty-something. Did pretty well with it, and the next year I had
forty-something and the next year I had eighty, and the next year a hundred and sixty
and the next year three-hundred and twenty. I doubled it every year. And that year it
liked to have killed all of us, before we ever got that crop out, ‘cause we were pickin’
it by hand and I decided that either I was gonna quit raisin’ cotton or I was gonna buy
a cotton-picker. And we didn’t know anything about cotton pickers, except little old
one-row Internationals, and International and John Deere were comin’ in down South
in Alabama, and we had International and John Deere dealers, and I didn’t want to
buy one of those, so I scouted around and found out about Ben Pearson cotton pickers
which was a descendant of Russ Brothers cotton pickers which was the first people
that ever made a cotton picker that they couldn’t sell in the United States, but they did
sell ‘em in Russia. Then the sold part of their patent right to Allis Chambers who
made a picker, and then Russ Brothers went out for some reason and they sold the
company to Ben Pearson Archery company in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and they started
makin’ the cotton pickers. And I did pretty good raisin cotton and few soy beans for a
Ingrid: What kind of people picked cotton by hand? what kind of people did you
Bill: I hired people that you could hire for.. the very poorest of people who were just
trying to make a little money to do something, they were paid when we were choppin’
the cotton, fifty cents an hour, and when we were pickin’ the cotton, I have forgotten,
but I believe we paid three cents a pound to get the cotton picked.
At that time, they turned the schools out for cotton pickin’ vacation and you could
hire lots of children, wasn’t any such thing as child labor law on the farms, and we
didn’t have trouble getting’ people because we had a lot of cotton around, well we had
a lot of cotton all over the county, but we didn’t have any trouble anywhere, ‘cause
we had two men with a truck with a top on it that picked the pickers up and hauled
‘em to the fields and all, and we paid off any time anybody wanted to be paid.
A lot of people wouldn’t pay a cotton picker until the end of the week, so they thought
they could hold ‘em. We paid off at any time. And I think I’ve told you about one
time, it got late, it was in November like this cold rainy weather we’ve had and
pickin’ cotton right up there on Springer Road, on fifth street, and a little old boy had
pickin’ about an hour -- bollin’ rather, pulling boles, that’s not pullin’ the cotton out
of the burrs, just pullin’ burrs and all, and he came and said “I want to get my pay”
and I, for some reason -- I never had any question but that I was gonna pay him,
Martin who paid off wasn’t there and I had the money bag, and I told ‘em, I said
“Son, if you don’t pull these boles for me, and these other people quit, how in the
world am I ever gonna get this cotton out?” And he looked me right straight in the eye
and said “It ain’t my cotton and it ain’t my worry.” So I paid him. I wished to
goodness I knew who that boy was, but I’ve never seen him before and never seen
The one that didn’t get away
I wasn’t much interested in fishin’ but that seemed to be the popular thing to do, so I
came down here and gonna go fishin’ - we’d come through and fish at the trash gate.
But I didn’t have an Alabama license. Well, there’s a place around here somewhere
off to the left, I don’t know just where we could get a license, so we went down there
to get me a license and he didn’t have any. So I thought, what the heck, nobody’s
ever asked me for a license in my life. I’ll just fish without any. And that was a
mistake. ‘Cause about the time I got fishin’ a man came around and said “Well, you
got a nice string of fish there, may I see ‘em?” And I said “Sure,” and I held ‘em up
and he said “Well, I’m the game warden, have you got your license?” And I said “No,
sir.” And he said “Well, here’s you a piece of paper, you got down to Town(?) creek
and pay off.” And I went to Town Creek and paid off and I wadn’t gonna buy any
license for sure. So I came back home and I when I got home I went down to the
coffee shop and I never did know how they knew about it before I got back to
Lawrenceburg, but they already knew that I’d got caught fishin’ without any license
Went down to Town Creek and paid off, paid off in a drug store, there was an old
justice of the peace back there in the drug store. The trash gate was right down
there. That’s where I got caught, right down there on that bank.
(recorded driving around in North Alabama)
Well, a lot of this county is pretty rough, pretty remote, not very good roads. And
there are a lot of people that like to drink moonshine whisky. And there were two,
well actually there were three main makers of whisky around Lawrenceburg.
Emmanuel Bird, John Hall, and Wence Reynold. Wence was down on Shoal Creek.
Bird and Hall were on Dry Weakley Creek around Powder Mill Hill. And they were
slick manufacturers, they tried awfully hard to catch ‘em. But they were pretty sharp.
The revenue people would raid ‘em and catch ‘em sometimes, but not often. Because
they were in remote areas, they had lookouts, they just were hard to slip up on.
They slipped up on Wence Reynold one time and he was down on Shoal Creek.
Arthur Smallwood was with the Alcohol and Tobacco unit then. He’d known Wence
forever and Wence had known him forever. So they were making a run one day and
just to be funny Wence went over to a sappling pole and made out he was cranking up
a telephone and said “Arthur, we’re fixing to make run,” He said “Come on in and
catch us.” And Arthur’d been watching him all the time and he said “Well, Wence, I
believe I will.” Wence said “Well, that’s the fastest service I’ve ever got on a
sappling telephone pole.” They sent him to jail then.
Emmanuel Bird, I guess he was the biggest manufacturer that there was, and he
always had other people doin’ it and they never did catch him. But he finally quit, got
old, I guess he had all the money he wanted, he just quit. Sold out his stuff to other
people. So he stopped somewhere one night and ran up on one of these stills where
they were making some. And he went in and talked to ‘em, just sitting around. And
they raided ‘em. Right where he was sitting there talking to ‘em. And he didn’t have
a thing a world to do with it, but they sent him to the Federal penetentiary in Atlanta,
‘cause they caught him at this still and they’d been after him forever. And so he
wound up in Atlanta. He served three or four years. But he didn’t fool with it any
more, sure enough, after that.
I sold him a good bit of equipment and stuff, went out one day, he was fussing about
his plow not plowing right. Pretty wooly land, it was the spring of the year, he was
out there plowing. He was drunk, ooh he was drunk. He was so drunk, if he threw
his hat on the ground it wouldn’t hit.
Well, he plowed up a rattlesnake. And he’d been telling ‘em how he could handle
rattlesnakes, that he wasn’t scared of ‘em. This, that and the other. And he said
“There’s one, I’ll show ya.” And he got a stick and put on it, and then put his foot on
it, and then reached down with his hand and picked the rattle snake up. And he meant
to catch it right exactly behind its head, but he caught it about 3 inches too far back,
and that snake was swinging right, swinging left, swinging right, swinging left, and
almost biting him.
And I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to do anything. But Emmanuel was
awful drunk when he picked that snake up, but within a minute or two he was sober. I
mean sober. He got the snake down somehow or another and got loose of him. But
we didn’t talk about the tractor or the plow giving him any more trouble.
I told you how they caught Wence and how they caught Emmanuel Bird, but they
caught John Hall, too. He was the last one they caught. He was slick as a whistle.
He was greedy as he could be, too. And he rented a farm that had a cave on it, and he
was making whisky in the cave. But he ran the electricity that he needed for the cave
and dug a trench all the way from his house up to where this cave was. To run his
still where he had to heat the water or something, I don’t know what. And he was
doing fine, but he moved away from this house to another house, but he didn’t have
his electricity disconnected. So somebody finally figured, here’s this abandoned
house here and it has an electrical bill every month. What’s going on? And they got
to looking around and they found signs of this trench. They followed this trench up to
the cave and then hid out up there til they caught him up at the cave making whisky.
They took him to Atlanta.
Ed Lindsey and Virginia both played bridge pretty well and Tut and I played bridge
pretty well. And we played a lot of bridge together. And he wanted to run for public
office. Mayor of City of Lawrenceburg, and he couldn’t get anyone to run with him.
Ed and I didn’t win by much, but we won by a little. It took three then. And nobody
wanted to run with Ed and I guess nobody wanted to run with me too much ‘cause I
was so new. ‘Course people knew him better than I did. Somehow or another Tut and
I decided that I’d run for Finance Commissioner and we like to never have got
anybody to agree to run for Street Commissioner with us. But we finally did, and the
fellow that ran for Street Commissioner, Junior Edwards got beat by one vote.
Ed and I won and we didn’t get along well at all. We quit playing bridge together.
He wanted to run the city completely. He wanted one of his brothers to be City
Attorney and one of ‘em to be Chief of Police and his first cousin to be City Clerk and
ladies that worked up or went to Church up at the Methodist Church to run the finance
office. I didn’t know about all the stuff, but I began to catch on. So we had a right
rough time. I never intended to run but one year, one term, and when it came time for
re-election I didn’t have any idea of running. I don’t know, but somehow or another
I heard he told somebody that it was a good idea that I wadn’t running, that I couldn’t
get elected anyway. Said I only got elected the first time by riding in on his coat tails.
That didn’t set well with me at all so I decided well, I’ll run and see what happens.
And I did, and I got elected and he didn’t. And then Murray Ohio was beginning to
come here and I thought I’d stay one more term, then the Union problems were here
and I thought I’d stay one more term and that was sixteen years and I’d made up my
mind that I wasn’t gonna run anymore and I didn’t. A lot of people said “Boy, it’s a
good thing you didn’t run, you’d a got beat this time.” And I told them “Well, you
don’t know whether I would have or not. Do you? You won’t ever know.”
Well, it was a big, big outfit here. They were running then, they had over 2000
people at Murray. Of course, the union they wanted dues from that many people.
That would have been a big plum if they could have organized the plant. Well, the
company came down here to get away from the union in Cleveland, Ohio. They
didn’t want a union. So, the union organizers were pretty smart and they knew how to
appeal to people and told ‘em Murray was taking advantage of them and wasn’t
payin’ ‘em enough and wasn’t anything they could tell them to get them to sign up.
But they finally got enough to sign up to where they called a strike.
Murray just wasn’t gonna stand for the union and a lot of people in the town knew
they wasn’t gonna stand for it, so a lot of people in the town they were against the
union, awfully strong. The union organizers; they were gonna have union or bust.
So they began intimidating people in every way that they could, literally pushing
people off the square downtown. There was a part of the square that you couldn’t go
on if you didn’t belong to the union where they had their meeting place. They were
just good old country people, but they’d got worked up pretty much by these union
organizers. They were just milling around on the square and they were ugly and
people were just afraid of ‘em, scared of ‘em.
They began blocking the entrance to the plant and not letting the people in, and one
night they blocked the entrance to the plant and wouldn’t let the people out, not
management or anybody else. So then the town got pretty upset and said, well we
ought to do something to not let that stuff go on. I remember some of ‘em said, “We
ought to get a gun and go up there and shoot ‘em.”
Well, I didn’t want to get any gun and go up there and shoot anybody, but I thought
we ought to keep the roads open and the streets open so the people could come and go
if they wanted to. So I was in favor of gettin’ together an auxiliary police force.
Some people called it a Sheriff’s posse and some called it a patrol, they called it
everything under the sun, but I called ‘em the White Hats ‘cause they all wore white
And so we gotta try to organise ‘em. I was acting Mayor then because the Mayor was
sick and incapacitated and couldn’t do anything. So I called some of these people up
that was so hot about wanting to go up there and shoot ‘em and this, that and the other
and wanted to know if they would sign up be members of the White Hats, the
Sheriff’s deputy thing we were organising. No, no, they couldn’t do that, that would
hurt their business, that’d hurt their business, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I
thought “Lord have Mercy, what have I gotten myself into?” And about that time
three people I will never forget, Delton Truitt who was superintendent of the power
system and Bill Sevier who was a little manufacturer here and Dukie Parkes, the son
of my partner Edward Parkes and two or three of his friends came and said “We’ll
sign up for this thing.”
Well, then some more and some more and some more began signing up for it. I think
we wound up with about 275 volunteer policemen. They were all deputized by the
Sherriff. And then the city hired about twenty-eight full time policemen and then we
hired about 50 auxiliary policemen, different from these White Hats. We would go up
to the plant every morning or every time shifts changed, there was a whole bunch of
White Hats up there to keep the roads and gates open and the union couldn’t do
anything about it.
Finally, the union got so hot they decided they had to do something. So one morning
up there when the shift changed, they slowed the cars down and wouldn’t let the
people in. We had the Sheriff up there and the Chief of Police up there and the union
people literally just whipped the Sheriff and the Chief of Police. I mean literally,
physically whipped ‘em, stomped ‘em and sent the Sheriff to the hospital, and the
Chief home. We had asked that the Highway Patrol come in and help us before, but
they wouldn’t come. They had said they couldn’t come in ‘til law and order broke
down. Well, when they stomped the Sheriff and the Chief of Police we telegraphed
the Governor that law and order had broken down and we were unable to maintain
law and order in the town. So the Highway Patrol came in.
Well, they gave trouble even with the Patrollers. And one day I saw ‘em from up
there at Farmers Supply Company, they went over there and got ‘em a 55 gallon
barrel of grease and just greased themselves all over. I didn’t know what in the world
was going on. And they go over there where the Highway Patrol are with their nice
pressed, clean uniforms that were standing guard over there, letting the people in and
out. And they decided they couldn’t do anything with ‘em. Well, the Highway
Patrol, they’d heard about it, so they rolled their sleeves up to their shoulders and they
got grease and put on them and then got buckets of sand and put this sand on the
grease on their arms. They had the State Highway Department send trucks up there
and they literally picked ‘em up and throwed ‘em in these trucks like cords of wood.
Carried ‘em to jail.
Well, they hit the jail and the union was sittin’ down there and bonding ‘em out just as
fast as they hit and they were right back up there. But they made one mistake. They
got the jail so full they couldn’t handle any more. And this was on the Wednesday, so
they sent a truckload of ‘em to Lewisburg to the jail over there. Well, the Sheriff in
Lewis County had given orders that he went to church on Wednesday night and that
he was not to be bothered under any conditions.
So they go over there, and they send people over there to bail them out and they say
“Well, can’t bail ‘em out, til the Sheriff get’s here.” And they say “Well, let’s get the
Sheriff here.” “He’s at church and we can’t disturb him.”
So they had to stay til the next morning. Well, they were a little hot when that
truckload got back that night. It finally got to where there was so much pressure
being put on the Highway Patrol that the Governor had to bring the Highway Patrol
back. But he told us that we had to maintain law and order, that we had to get enough
White Hats that were determined to let the people in and out and he gave us the
authority to do it. That’s all we wanted in the first place. And so it drug on for a
while. They set up there for two or three months but they didn’t cause any more
Finally, they carried it all through court. And they even put it to Federal Court. They
subpoenaed me and the Sheriff and the Chief of Police up there. We were
subpoenaed to court for violating their civil rights. That’s was the first I’d ever heard
of violatin’ people’s civil rights. They had a real cracker jack lawyer, this fellow
Barratt who’s still a lawyer representing the unions. We had John Hooker, Sr
representing us free and the company. I’m sure the company was paying him plenty.
But they argued and argued and argued and the judge finally told us all “Now, I
don’t want the court to have to get in this thing and settle it. You all settle it. Get out
there in the hall and talk about it and settle it and come back in with something that I
can issue a decree on and get this thing over with.”
Well, we went out there and talked and didn’t get anywhere. Came back in and
Hooker the lawyer for the city and the company said “Judge, this union and Mr
Barratt are the most agreeable people that I’ve ever seen when we get out there in the
hall and we’re just gettin’ along just fine. But we get back in here and they won’t do
what they said they’d do in the hall, ” He said “If you can at all, persuade these
people a little bit. Persuade ‘em.” And I don’t know what he [the Judge] told ‘em,
but he told ‘em they had to come up with something. So they finally enjoined us, the
Sheriff, and the Chief of Police and myself as the Mayor from violating their civil
rights, provided, however, that they didn’t provoke us.
Well, that was good enough. That gave them the headlines in the paper “City and
County officials enjoined from violating the civil rights of the strikers” and down in
the little corner somewhere providing they don’t provoke us.
In the end, they just quit. Finally, somebody bought Murray out. And those people
don’t have any support from the town at all. Now the town supported the Hannons
and the Fleshers and the Smothermans and all those people and really helped out.
Nobody supports ‘em now.
But the union’s not near as strong now as they were then. They have threatened to
strike and threatened to strike and they’re threatening to strike right now. And
Murray said “Well, we’re trying to sell this plant, and we’ll just speed it up. We’ll
start moving it to – they have three or four other locations – we’ll start moving to
those locations. And we’re gonna attempt to sell it and it may be that this plant here
just completely closed and abandoned.”
That’ll be 2000 people out of a job. You know there’s some people that don’t care. I
don’t feel that way at all. ‘Cause I know if you lose 2000 jobs that that hurts the
community. But they say “Well, they ought to have thought about that before they do
this, that, and the other.” Unions are a way of life and I don’t know. But the
company doesn’t have any support at all, but they say they don’t care. They’re trying
to sell it anyway. If they can’t sell it with the labor unrest existing like it is, that
they’re just gonna close it and move it. And they are moving it now, they don’t make
bicycles here anymore. I think they’re taking the push mower line out and putting it
somewhere in Mississippi.
But they’ve got a pretty mean man, the companies are gettin’ pretty hard. They say
they’ve got so many people wanting to work. If this bunch wanna quit, quit. They’ll
hire another bunch. But you know, they’re not paying any more per hour now than
they were ‘bout 8 years ago when Murray sold out. The unions haven’t done a thing
for the people that I can see. They brought an organiser in here who’s bought a big
quarter of a million dollar house, but if he’s done anything for the people I don’t
know what it is. But they’re still mad at the Hannons and the Fleshers and the
Smothermans and those people that started the plant here. And they never had it so
good in their lives. It’s a hard thing.
One year they did real good and they decided they were gonna give every employee a
bonus at the end of the year. And they did for a year or two. And in one year they
didn’t do very well, at all, and they decided that they couldn’t give a bonus that year.
You never heard such a howlin’ and a gripin’ in your life. “They took our bonus
away from us. They took our bonus away from us. They took our bonus.” Well,
maybe they did, I don’t know. But they gave ‘em the bonus to start with, but then
they felt like it was due and theirs and they had to have it, so I don’t know what.
‘Course I think they’re speedin’ the lines up now, and they lay people off and then
call ‘em back and want ‘em to work 60 hour weeks. They’re trying to get the older
ones to quit, ‘cause they don’t want to have to pay ‘em their retirement. I don’t know.
But the management surely doesn’t have any part of the community with ‘em. And
that makes it better for the unions. Outside of the fact that management say we’re
trying to sell the place anyway, and if we can get a decent contract with you we can
continue operations. If we can’t, we’ll move what we can and sell the rest of it out,
and get you a plant in here if you can.
There are a lot of good plants that have come in here since Murray came in, a lot of
‘em. But now they’re getting pretty... they’re getting harder to get along with. The
union doesn’t seem to have the clout that unions used to have. Because if they get too
rough with ‘em, they move overseas. But you know, used to be people wouldn’t buy
anything that had ‘Made in Japan’ on it and now they don’t pay any attention to it all.
And then they got to where if it had ‘Made in China’ stickers on it they didn’t want it.
So when I got stuff that had ‘Made in China’ stickers on it, I just scraped it off. They
didn’t know why they wouldn’t buy it, except it had ‘China’ on it. Now then they
don’t pay any attention to that, they don’t care. A few do, most of ‘em don’t. But
you rarely ever have anybody look at a piece and say “I’ll not buy that it’s made in
China.” They’ll buy it ‘cause it’s cheaper.
The story of the Uncle Franks who went to jail and the Franks-Bottoms family
Well, I don’t know all of the details of that, but he got in some trouble. I don’t know
exactly what it was all about to tell you the truth. I’ve heard this and I’ve heard that
and I’ve heard the other. I heard that he and Dr. Leo Harris, Sr were going with two
girls out here in the country somewhere. I don’t know what the deal was and I don’t
know why but I understood that they put ‘em in a well. Now, why they did that I
don’t know, and why they got ‘em out I don’t know, and who got ‘em out I don’t
know. And I don’t know.
Dr. Harris, nothing happened to him, because there weren’t any doctors hardly at all
and he was, I guess this was during the ‘flu epidemic or something or other, and he
was the only doctor around here that would go out in the county and they didn’t do
anything with him. Now I don’t know whether he [Mr. Franks] went to prison or
whether he didn’t, but I reckon he did. And then he came – if he went to prison or if
he didn’t – at some later date he opened up a beer joint right there on the hitchyard
right back of where Norton’s dry goods store was and had a little old restaurant back
there in the back.
Tut’s half-sister Lucille went to work for him. And Mr Bottoms didn’t want her
working for him at all and told him that she couldn’t work for him. I don’t know
what happened, this that and the other, but anyway, Mr Bottoms shot the man. He
didn’t kill him, but shot him. He shot him because he wouldn’t make Lucille quit
working down there. Mr Bottoms had told him that she couldn’t work for him, and
told her she couldn’t work for him. But she did. She left here immediately after that.
Lucille went to Old Hickory out towards Gallatin from Nashville, where a Powder
Plant was, where DuPont is now and went to work up there. She lived up there for a
long long time. She married a fellow named Gamble and they had troubles. I don’t
know what in the world about. They divorced and she went to Florida, she got a job
working with the Government down there, the Social Security Administration. And
that’s where she met Maury and they got married.
Mr Bottoms, Thomas Benjamin Bottoms originally was connected with the Whites
and a bunch of people over there at Ardmore and Cash Point, in Alabama and
Tennessee right on the line and they had a big mercantile business. I don’t know what
happened, but anyway it didn’t do so well and they closed it out in the early twenties
and he had been operating a gin over there at Cash Point, I believe. There was
thirteen of those kids living at home at one time at Cash Point, his, hers, and theirs. A
bunch of his had already gone on and married. I don’t know what happened, but
anyway cotton came to this county along in the twenties and there wasn’t a gin over
here that was much account so he moved over here and got a partner and they went in
the gin business in a big way.
Tut was one of 17 children. Her mother had four children and her daddy had eight
children and then they had five children. There were three different sets of them and
altogether they had seventeen children. I’ve heard them say that at one time 13 of
them were all living at home together. Some of the older ones had gotten married and
moved off. They never did all live together at the same time. She was born at Cash
Point, Tennessee which is near Ardmore, Tennessee. And Ardmore is at the state line
that goes through Tennessee and Alabama. Cash Point is in Lincoln County,
Ardmore is in Giles County.
I think Mr Bottoms ran the gin and did the work and his partner kept the books and
then the depression began coming on and cotton went from a high price in World War
One down to a nickel a pound and broke lots of people. He got to drinking and his
partner got what there was of the business and he wound up with nothing. And up to
that time he had sent Lucille to college some, Margueritte had finished college, and
Boots wouldn’t go, that’s Mrs Bottoms children. The other one, Buster he joined the
Army at 15 years old in World War One and he died of TB.
I don’t know, Mr Bottoms was down and out, and he got this job as a policeman on
account of his political connections. It didn’t pay much, but it paid some. And all
Mrs Bottoms children got going, and Lucille helped Tut a whole lot. She got through
one year of college. I don’t know whether Tiny... She helped Tut and Tiny both, but
Tut most. And Tiny always said Tut was Mrs Bottoms’ favorite and Lucille’s
favorite, and whether that’s true or not I don’t know.
There was Pauline, Nadine, Daphine, – no there was Willadean and Daphine.
Willadean died early – three or four years old – of diptheria I believe. And then
Buddy, that they called Butter Bean. And that was the five of ‘em. Mrs Bottoms had
four children that were Stewarts and five children that were Bottoms. That’s nine.
And Mr Bottoms had eight when he and Tut’s mother got married, so that’s where the
17 come in. And none of the Stewarts are left. Tiny is the only one of the five left.
Mr Bottoms has two sons left. One in California and one in a rest home in Athens,
Alabama. So out of that 17 there are three left. Robert the one in California was the
last of Mr Bottoms children [from his first marriage]. His first wife, she died in
Tut’s mother got a divorce from her first husband. Hardly anybody got a divorce in
those days, but her husband was a bad alcoholic and ran off and gave a lot of trouble
and practically abandoned her. I don’t know the details, but anyway she divorced
Mr Stewart also remarried, and he had two daughters, and I didn’t know that until, I
don’t know, not too many years ago. I never heard anybody say anything about him.
He disappeared, nobody knew where he was, according to Tut and Tiny for a long,
long time. And he got sick or something and got in touch with Margueritte6 and
Boots. And they went over to Chattanooga and saw him and hadn’t seen him in years.
And brought him back home, I think, to Margueritte’s and got him a room or
someplace for him to stay.
About my travels. Now honey, I’ve been real lucky about my travelling. Before Tut,
my wife, died, your grandmother. We travelled all over the United States. I don’t
believe she went to every state with me, but almost all of ‘em. The few she didn’t,
I’ve gone to since. She may have gone to all of ‘em, except Alaska and Hawaii, I
don’t know. She may not have got to some of the Western states, Washington and
Oregon or not.
We went up to Polly and Wally’s... and Ingrid’s... one time when they were up at
Cornell. Polly had always wanted to go to the Bay of Fundi in Canada. We started up
there and drove all up through New England toward the Bay of Fundi and finally got
to St. John’s where the time came in out and had a twelve foot drop. There was a
twelve foot waterfall that you could look out the window where we ate where you
could see. And if you stayed there long enough if the tide came in it eventually came
up over this waterfall and the water reversed. It was called a reversing falls. The
water went back up the river. And just for a moment, it stopped. It didn’t go
forwards or backwards either one. And then after it covered those falls, it started
falling again, and they came back and were twelve feet high again.
But Tut didn’t want to go any further, so we came on back through various things in
Canada and on back to you all’s home in Cornell and brought you home with us. And
I remember we stopped at a hotel somewhere in Ohio and we were eating in a pretty
nice restaurant, and you’d been out swimming with some little old girls. We were
sitting there eating and you were looking all around on the walls. You musta been, I
don’t know, four years old – four or five, but I remember you looking around and
saying “They have nice art here, don’t they?”
We had to put you in a car seat, that was one promise that your mother and daddy
insisted that we make before we left with you. And that was when car seats were just
coming in. You were good about it, but you got tired of it. So we had a lot of rest
stops up and down the road, and we would stop every hour and let you out for ten or
fifteen minutes to run around. You would run around just about like a little wild deer.
Margueritte told me that she remembered her mother running her father off with a shotgun. She also
told me that she eloped with her husband Luther Chamberlain. They got married in Waynesborough.
He was so frightened of Mr Bottoms, that he didn’t want her to tell him that they had got married and
wanted to just take her back to her parents’ house on their wedding night as if they had been on a date.
I couldn’t keep up with you, and I was always afraid you might run out in the parking
lot or run out in the street or something or other and something happen. But you were
pretty good. I guess we just stayed on the road one night, coming back, that’s all I
Tut and I also went to every county in the state of Tennessee, there are about 96 of
those. We made every county from Obion County in West Tennesee to Carter County
in East Tennessee from Lawrence County on the south to Montgomery on the north
and all in between. Tut and I had also been to Mexico when her sister Lucille lived in
San Antonio. And she told me, now I don’t ever want to go out from the United
States again when we got back from Canada. She said there was enough in the United
States to see and “I don’t ever want to go out of the States again.” So, OK. That was
that as far as I was concerned.
Then Tut died one November and the next Spring or Summer, Jill and Danny had a
trip planned to go to China and they insisted that I go with them. I didn’t want to go,
because I thought I’d be in the way. I thought that they ought to just go on this trip
themselves. Well, they insisted that I go and Jill talked to me individually and
insisted that I go and Danny talked to me individually and insisted that I go. So, I
decided alright, I’d go to China. We went to Nashville and caught a plane to Los
Angeles or San Francisco, I don’t know which and then we caught a plane and flew
all the way to Japan. Because at that time you could not fly from the United States to
China. The relations between the United States and China was not so good. It got
better and now it’s worse again.
So we stayed a night or two in Japan and went around the shrines and temples and
rode the subway and did sightseeing things and went to a fair or two. I don’t know
what we did. But then we caught a plane from Tokyo to China and I remember we
went by Mt Fuji. It was a real clear beautiful morning and we could see Mt Fuji good
and plain. And then went on and landed in China.
People are on the take everywhere, and I don’t know what happened but the tour
director went to talk to some Chinese people about something and got all the bags for
this whole tour put on a cart and said “Now when I say move. Move! Now let’s go,”
We moved through customs on the fly, I never did know just exactly how that worked
out. But they were very watchful of us. We not only had our American guide, we
had a Chinese guide and we had a “Watcher” who watched the Chinese guide to be
sure that we didn’t pass any contraband or bad literature or anything else. But we
spent quite a bit of time in China. We went to Shang Hai and Peking, Beijing now,
and we walked the walls.
We went out on a commune farm and saw lots of things. We talked to a lot of people
and I remember one thing they were really wanting to know – they came up on the
street and wanted to know if they could talk to you to practice English– and they
wanted to know about the Ku Klux Klan. How they knew so much about the Ku
Klux Klan or how they heard of it, I don’t know. When I told them I lived over just a
little piece from Pulaski where the original Ku Klux Klan got started they really got
interested. I think they thought I might have horns or be a demon or something, I
don’t know. But we talked pretty freely to them, and they did, too.
I think they were executing about 3000 a year in China at the time. They didn’t
know much about it at the time. We wanted to know if they didn’t execute ‘em what
kind of punishment did they get. And they said they banished ‘em out on the Gobi
Desert. I remember askin’ ‘em how long did they banish ‘em for? How long did they
stay out there? They said they didn’t know, nobody had ever come back.
I remember we went by the Blue Lake and this was the place that people on
honeymoon went. There was a motorcycle sitting on a wharf down there, tied down, I
couldn’t imagine what for. But I later found out that these honeymooner couples
would go down there and set on this motorcycle and get a picture taken and that was
their honeymoon picture that they’d send home to their people.
They were pretty poor, pretty squalid conditions, but I guess they were a lot better
than they had been. Every tree over there was numbered. You couldn’t cut one
without a permit and you had to give the number. Even the trees up and down the
road were numbered like that. There were very few cars at that time. There were
bicycles. They talked like a bicycle would last a lifetime. Old men would ride girls
bicycles because they couldn’t mount a boy’s bicycle.
From that I had always wanted to go to Israel, and my sister knew that and she knew a
lady in Lebanon, Tennessee that was gonna take a tour to Israel. And she “Why don’t
you talk with them and go with them,” So I did. I could tell you a lot of things about
Israel, I’ve been there a couple of times briefly since. Just one long trip. And I told
Polly and Jill they would never know how much that trip to China cost them, because
it cost quite a bit of money to travel and I have been to fifty something countries over
the years. Some of ‘em for only a day at a time, some of ‘em for a week at a time, but
in many different countries. I’ve been in Europe and Asia and Africa and South
America. I don’t reckon I’ve been in the Arctic and Antarctica, but all the continents.
I don’t know the countries I’ve been to, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Russia,
Belorussia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, I’ve been in Greece, Italy, Rhodes, Cyprus,
Equador, South America, France, of course, and Germany and Belgium and Holland.
And believe it or not I haven’t been in Luxemburg. I was in Switzerland. And then I
went in Colingrad which was old German Prussian which is now under Russian
control but does not border or touch Russia as we know it today. And from there onto
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. To Russia again, visiting the palaces and museums.
Catherine the Great’s palace and through the Kremlin, museums in Moscow,
Pushkin’s museum and Peter the Great’s palace and I don’t know. I’ve just traveled
an awful lot. I’ve been real lucky. I’ve also been to Egypt. I guess other places that I
can’t think of right now. Turkey, been there. Georgia, Greece, Austria. I was sad to
have missed Luxemburg. And I would have liked to have gone to Portugal and Spain
and Morrocco and Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, those countries around the western end
of the Mediterranean. I made all those on the Eastern end of the Mediterranean. But
I’m too old and stiff to think about that now, that’s over with. That is over with.
Bill Powell’s Tips for Selling
Try your best to get something that people want. And try your best to get it to where
you can sell it a reasonable price and try to be nice and polite and kind to people. Just
do the best you can is all I know. I have sold all my life. I have found out what a
prospect was. It took me a long time to find out when a person was a prospect. But a
prospect is somebody that has the desire to buy and the money to pay for what he
wants to buy.
You have to help people decide to buy what they want to buy. I remember one fellow
that looked at a tractor two or three times and talked and talked to me about this
tractor and twisted around and couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that and couldn’t
make up his mind. It was Ellis Bryant. And I finally said “Ellis, do you want this one
over here or do you want this one over here.” And he said “I believe I’ll take this one
And that’s what he wanted all the time, but he never would say “I want this tractor.”
So I had to help him say this is the tractor I want. That’s called closing the sale. And
it took me long time to learn how to close a sale. I didn’t know how to do it. I’ve
been to lectures and this that and the other always talking about closing the sale,
closing the sale. And I finally found out that that’s what you had to do. You had to
try to ask people questions with which they would respond with a yes or in the
affirmative. And not be negative and ask them questions which would let them get
negative with you.
I never did sell a whole lot of stuff, but I’ve sold all my life. I’ve made a good
enough living, I never had any desire to get rich. I didn’t have any desire accumulate
a lot of wealth. I think I could have, if that’s what I wanted to do, but I just never did
have any desire to do that. But I always worked at something. Trying to do this,
trying to do that, trying to do the other.
I was raised up selling. I was raised just like the Amish are raised now, we didn’t
have electricity or running water. We didn’t have a bathroom. We didn’t have
anything, ‘cept just plenty to eat. We raised enough chickens and eggs and milk to
buy our groceries. And we raised enough hogs to sell in the year to pay the debts that
we had on the farm.
And when we weren’t doing anything else my daddy would buy and sell mules.
‘Course that’s a longer story, the thing I remember is the fact is like Amish had iron-
tired farm wagons with a bed on ‘em. We would hook up to a wagon like that, two
mules and take a gate and lay down on top of the bed and go up and down the road
trying to buy little old calves. And my daddy would try to buy ‘em for 25 cents up to
whatever he had to pay for ‘em. And then after he bought ‘em he tried to sell ‘em for
various prices, but usually tried to sell ‘em for five dollars a piece. But if along late in
the afternoon, somebody offered him about 25 cents more than what he paid for the
calf. He’d say “Son, I believe we’re gonna let this man have this calf. He might jump
out of the wagon and break a leg or something and die before morning.” He’d say
“We’ll just let him have that one and we’ll have the quarter and tomorrow we’ll go
buy us another one.” So I’ve just always been selling. Not a lot, but a little.
I really didn’t know anything about Ford tractors when I started selling ‘em. I could
have just as well been selling steam boats or outboard motors or anything else. I
know now that it’s important to find out a place where there’s a good market, where
there’s potential. Because there was a fellow in Columbia which is a town about
twice the size of Lawrenceburg went in the Ford tractor business the same time that I
did. Now he wanted to make money, he wanted to make it bad. That was his
ambition. And he made a lot. But he sold a lot more tractors than I did, because he
was in an area where you could sell a lot more, the potential was a lot greater.
But I didn’t know anything about that, I just started selling Ford tractors because they
were available here in this town. I liked the town. My wife liked it here and I liked it
here. We just worked here together and did the best we could. Lot of people have a
desire to leave a big estate when they die, but I don’t have a desire to leave a big
estate. I’ve always given a fair amount of money to church and given a fair amount of
money to my family and fair amount to this that and the other. I’ve never tried to
waste money. But I have never tried to make money just for money’s sake.