Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Traveling into the Past

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

We spent Labor Day tracking memories. Larry has been thinking about visiting the place he grew up and possibly finding the family cemetery. We decided to go last Wednesday but one thing and another got in the way. Finally, Monday was the day.

It had been 20 years since we last saw Olcott and the area around Brier Creek in Kanawha county, WV. We only live about 60 miles away but life has a way of rushing us along.

Many places he remembered are gone. This was the site of a one-room school his brother and older sister attended. Up this hollow was where his granny's cabin used to be, the one I describe in my story The Headless Woman of Brier Creek. The cabin and all traces of her home--outbuildings, well, foundation stones--have disappeared. Our prints on this earth are fleeting, aren't they?

This was the school Larry attended, Olcott Elementary. It is abandoned and the roof has caved in. Note the tall chimney--in coal country, this school used coal for heat.

Some of the letters of the school's name still remain. Larry attended school here for six years and I could almost hear his boyish shouts as he ran around the playground.


Many of the little side roads were pretty rough (we should have taken the truck).

This small church, Olcott Baptist, I believe it was, or possible Church of God, is still in active use.

The remains of the old powerhouse that provided power to the nearby mine,


and the remains of train tracks that once carried loads of coal out of the mines located up the hollows.As a teen, Larry had a rail buggy that had Chevy wheels. If he let about half the air out of the tires it would ride right on the rails very well. Once, however, when he was riding on this particular stretch of tracks, he got stuck in a place where a branch line connected to the main line. He could hear a train coming and flagged it down, The trains traveled very slowly and the engineer saw him, stopped, and pulled him out. Larry continued on his way in front of the train, honking his horn and waving to the neighbors as he passed by. What memories.

This used to be the home of the mine superintendent. I believe the mine was owned by the Black Band Coal Company, which was the one his father worked for. We have some scrip from that company.


This is Beetree Mountain, heading down. Larry tells several stories about this stretch of road. In one, a friend owned a late 50's convertible (I forget which make). As he headed down the mountain at a fairly good speed, he hit the brakes and found he had none. He thought quickly, and decided to put up the convertible top as a brake to slow the car. As you might guess, it didn't work. With a whoosh! the top was ripped right off the car. Fortunately the friend was able to stop and was unhurt. The same can't be said for the convertible top.

Another story he tells is about sledding on the hill. He and his friends would work for hours, hauling buckets of water up the hill and pouring it down to let it freeze on top of the packed snow, making an incredible sled run. Unfortunately for people in cars, the ice made it impossible to drive down the hill and many a man and woman walked home when the kids were sledding.



I have never, ever seen a stop sign for a train! This one says Stop and Dismount. I have no idea what that could mean. I know dismount means to get down off of something, but what can it refer to here? There is a branch line that comes into this track a little further up, also a road crossing and a trestle so I am sure it has something to do with one or all of these.

Along this lonely stretch of road, Larry recalls rows of company houses; now there is only green and quiet.


There once was a railroad roundhouse here, or nearby, as he recalls. We think

the bricks in this photo might be the only reminder of the roundhouse's existence.


Tomorrow--a visit to the family cemetery and with an elderly but not old cousin.

7 comments:

Michelle said...

Nice to see that you two made it back to this area. It can be bittersweet to revisit the past.

Lynn said...

Larry could write a book, the fact that he could stay on the tracks in front of a train says something charming, I laugh out loud as it conjures up such a delightfully funny sight!

JJM said...

Any sign there was once a horse or wagon trail coming through there and crossing the railway tracks where the stop sign still is? "Stop and dismount" sounds like a warning to a rider or driver to get off and lead the horse over the tracks. --Mario R.

Quinn said...

It can be a mix of emotions, going back to our old haunts, can't it? Sweet, but unsettling at times. Or maybe that's just me, lately!

Granny Sue said...

I think that for Larry it was a good thing, Quinn. The last time we were out there it was looking pretty tough, but now there are new homes replacing the old company houses and trailers, and it just looked better. He enjoyed seeing a few men he went to school with, and especially finally knowing where the family graveyard is.

Granny Sue said...

Mario, apparently the Stop Dismount sign is a warning to anyone riding on the cars to get off because there are close clearances ahead. In this case it must have referred to the trestle with its high sides. I looked at this website to figure it out: http://catalog.jamiesonequipment.com/Asset/Aldon%20Railroad%20Safety%20Brochure%20JEC.pdf Scroll down the page and you can see the sign on the right.

cheryl lynn said...

can u tell me if there was a mans head cut off with an axe back then involving an employee from the black band coal company in a old bungalow home that sit on the hill on the right going up olcott in an old ballfield

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