The Carnival comes to Elkridge
There was a vacant lot at the mouth of the holler, near where the Elkridge and Powellton branches of Armstrong Creek met. The American Legion held an annual Memorial Day Service. Kids played sand lot games. Religious big tent revival meetings were held and this is where the carnival came.
It was always a big event when the carnival came to Elkridge. The carnival set up on the vacant lot near Shadid’s Mercantile Store at the mouth of the holler. Shadids was convenient to Elkridge and several other coal mining camps. Going to the carnival was a big deal; it gave us a look at life that we never dreamed of. We would talk about going to the carnival from the time the first poster appeared until opening night and then until the next carnival posted its posters. Going to the carnival gave us enjoyment, immediate bragging rights, and memories for life.
Parking and Admission
The snake oil salesman had in a single bottle a cure for anything and everything that ails you.
A Showboat came to Montgomery and docked near the High School. The showboat was a floating theater used to present popular plays and vaudeville acts. Some showboats were used by traveling Evangelist for Revival Meetings.
Deepwater was 5 miles from Elkridge. On weekends we would sometimes get to go roller skating.
This anecdotal story from “Buck Darlington” a resident of Deepwater explains how the people of Deepwater felt about their skating rink. If Deepwater could be said to have a Community Center, it was the skating rink. It was the only one for miles around and people came from all over to skate there. The entire time that I skated at the rink I kept a ‘strawberry’ on my right hip where I always twisted and landed there when I fell. I never did get to be much of a skater. If I went for a couple of hours without falling down I considered it to be a good night. Some of the kids did get to be rather good skaters. I remember that James Bostic was very good. There were fights at the skating rink. Usually between boys from Deepwater and boys from other towns. The Deepwater boys resented the fact that the Deepwater girls skated with the boys from out of town. We couldn’t beat up the girls, so the boys had to face our wrath. Actually, come to think of it, the girls probably wouldn’t have skated with us, mean as we were, even if there hadn’t been anyone else. The rink was a favored meeting place for couples who were ‘going steady’. After the rink closed for the night, the boys would walk the girls home. That was one of the best things about those teenage years.
Most coal companies had a summer camp for the kids. Getting to go to summer camp was a real treat. There was a charge for attending summer camp; many families had many children and many kids did not get to attend. For those who did attend it was a big event.
In the evening the presence of insects was a major annoyance. We made our own insect repellent called “gnat smoke.” We would soak a rag in gasoline put it in a bucket or large can and light it with a match. Then we would smother the fire and the rag would make smoke for hours and keep the bugs away from our play area. We played games of Hide and Seek, Red Rover, Mother May I, and other games that could be played by both boys and girls.
In the winter time when there was a big snow we would build a fire at the church and company store area. Cars would slow down to climb the incline at the church; we would catch a hold onto the car bumper, lay our sled on the road and jump on. Then we would go for a ride behind the car. If you got right behind the wheels you would get covered with ice and snow. We did this at night so the drivers couldn't see who we were. This was a sure whipping when we got home if our parents found out.
The movie house was located in near by Powellton, a couple of miles from the company store. Usually on Friday night there was a class “B” western, a serial, cartoon and the news reel. One mother, Axie Atha, walked to the movies every Friday night. Any one who wanted to walk with her was welcome to join the crowd. At the movie house colored people would have to set on the left side of the movie house. The movie was scheduled to start at 7 PM, but it actually started when the manager went down front and pulled the curtain that protected the movie screen. Movies were advertised by placing a poster sign at the company store. On occasion we would get to see the top movies. Elkridge and other surrounding coal camps were horrified when Clark Gable said: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a dam.”
Safety Day and First Aid Teams
We had four first aid teams; Men, Boy Scouts, women's team and Girl Scouts. All went to Montgomery on Labor Day, which was safety day to compete against other communities in a similar group. At the beginning of the competition, each team was given a list of all the injuries sustained by the patient in some horrific accident. After you began treating the patient you could not refer back to the list of injuries. Since there were no obvious injuries it was common for a team to bandage the wrong arm or leg.
A judge watched everything you did to make sure it was done properly and in the right order. One thing that was never in the problem was treatment for shock. You must remember to treat shock or you were docked points. Some things which were not obvious had to be announced to the judge while you were doing it. Such as testing and applying heat for shock. They would take a brick and wrap it in a towel and say; “first test” then touch the brick, “second test” then touch the brick to your cheek and then say applying heat to the patient. Once all the injuries were bandaged, you placed the patient on a stretcher and announced to the judge that the patient was ready for transport. This stopped your time. The judge would then inspect all your dressings to see that they were applied properly and you had used square knots and the ends were neatly tucked in. You were judged according to the severity of the wound or infraction. For instance you always stopped severe bleeding first even though the patient may not be breathing.
Volunteers served without pay to provided character building activities. John Peters was Scout Master, Air Raid Warden and instructor for first aid teams. Margaret Keener was Girl Scout Mistress.
Swimming in Armstrong Creek
Armstrong creek was a place to get wet. Many kids would build a dam and have their private swimming hole or play area. When we had a big rain the flow of water in the creek would increase and wash the dam away. When the creek retuned to normal we would build another dam and have another swimming hole.
About half way between the Company Store and the Company Swimming Pool was a deep hole in the creek. We called it the churn hole. If you were walking to the company pool we often would stop at the churn hole and cool off. The “Peanut Butter Man” lived near the churn hole.
Coal Company Swimming Pool
About two miles south of the Company Store was the swimming pool. The Coal Company built a very large swimming pool. There was a high diving board. Many young boys wanted to make a dive from the big board. Once they climbed the stairs and got on the board, the 8 foot to the water looked more like 80 feet and the young boys sometimes lost their nerve. The other boys on the ladder would not let them climb down the stairs. So they held their nose and jumped. The water in the swimming pool came direct from inside the coal mines and was always cold. In the summer time going to the swimming pool was an all day event and a favorite past time. We would take our lunch and walk or ride our bicycles to the pool. Along the way there were plenty of fresh black berries and raspberries free for the taking.
The Grigsby yard
Sanford and Julia Grigsby lived in a company house north of the coal yard. Their pride in their home was mirrored in the way they maintained their property; they built a croquet court in their yard that gave the adults many hours of enjoyment, for the kids they built a combination see saw-merry go round similar to the Amish seesaw above. On this seesaw you could go up and down as well as round and round. The Grigsby front yard was a standard for the coal company’s annual yard competition.
The women had a competitive soft ball team and played women from other coal camp teams.
Jump-rope, this pastime is "probably very ancient" and was originally a boys' game. As a matter of fact, upstart little tomboys of the 1850's were warned about " instances of blood vessels burst by young ladies who, in a silly attempt to jump a certain number of hundred times, have persevered in jumping after their strength was exhausted. " What could possibly be more unladylike than collapsing in a bloody heap right there on the front lawn!"
Hopscotch predates the Roman Empire. To play hopscotch each player had a marker, usually a common stone. The first player tosses his marker into the first square. The marker must land completely within the designated square without touching a line or bouncing out. If not, or if the marker lands in the wrong square, the player forfeits his turn. If the marker toss is successful, the player hops through the court beginning at square one. Side by side squares are straddled, with the left foot landing in the left square and the right foot in the right square. Single squares must be hopped into on one foot. For the first single square, either foot may be used. Subsequent single squares must alternate feet. When the player reaches the end of the court, he turns around and hops back through the court, hopping through the squares in reverse order and stopping to pick up his marker on the way back. Upon successfully completing the sequence, the player continues his turn by tossing his marker into square two and continuing in a similar fashion.
To play you sit on the ground (blacktop, sidewalk or floor) unless you're playing on a table, in which case standing is usually better than sitting on a chair. Toss the 10 jacks gently out onto the playing surface. Toss the ball into the air with your throwing hand. While the ball is in the air, pick up 1 jack using only your throwing hand. Catch the ball in your throwing hand before the ball hits the ground. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 until you've picked up all 10 jacks. Toss the 10 jacks out onto the playing surface again. Toss the ball into the air, and now pick up 2 jacks each time and catch the ball before it hits the ground. Continue tossing the ball, picking up jacks and catching the ball - increasing the number of jacks you pick up when the ball is in the air until you pick up all 10 at one time. It's the other player's turn when you don't pick up the correct number of jacks or you miss the ball. Begin where you left off when it's your turn again. If you were picking up 3 jacks at a time, toss the 10 jacks onto the playing surface and pick up 3 each time. Declare a winner when you or your friend succeeds at 'onesies' through 'tensies'.
Sadie Hawkins Day
A favorite time of the year for the girls was Sadie Hawkins Day; on this day the girls could invite their boy friend to a dance. Sadie Hawkins Day was named for a cartoon character developed by Al Capp for his Li'l Abner comic strip. Sadie Hawkins was so ugly that her father, Mayor of Dog Patch, U.S.A., feared he would never marry her off. In desperation, he decreed a Sadie Hawkins Day. All unmarried men in Dogpatch would get a ten minute head start before Sadie and the other unmarried women began running after them. The man each woman caught would end up in front of Marryin' Sam for a shotgun wedding. This fictional world so captured people's imaginations that Sadie Hawkins Day passed into the realm of modern folklore. The first Sadie Hawkins Day took place on Wednesday, November 9, 1938, but it's usually celebrated on the nearest Saturday to accommodate all the "girls-ask-boys" school dances and other events. This tradition began on November 1, 1938. The Charleston Gazette newspaper sponsored Morris Harvey's (college) first Sadie Hawkins Day celebration. The race and mock wedding that served as its finale were held between halves of the Morris Harvey - New River State football game. It was believed to be the first such celebration in the nation, the genesis of a national craze.
Things boys did for fun
Some boys would get inside an old tire and be rolled around the neighborhood by a friend.
Red Ryder B B Gun
Red Ryder was a radio and movies star. At about age 10 most boys got their first B B gun, the Red Ryder rifle was the top of the line. BB guns were used for shooting at assorted targets: tin cans, pesky varmints and, on an occasional perverse whim, the neighbor's cat or chickens. The manufacturer claimed BB guns built character and developed good habits, good eyesight and steady nerves. Most boys spent time in the hills with their BB gun learning to hunt.
At about age 12 some kids got a new bicycle for Christmas. This was an easy way to get to school and visit friends. The Schwinn was the top of the line.
The boys would make “rubber guns” by using a board about 8 inches long. Next they would attach a clothes pin to a 4 inch board. Then they would connect the two boards. They would make rubber bands by cutting ½ inch strips from an old inner tube. They would attach one end of the rubber band on the front of the board and put the other end of the rubber band under the clothes pin. They would point the gun at the target and push on the clothes pin to release the rubber band.
The Barlow knife
Most boys were not allowed to have a pocket knife until they were in grade school. Entering school was a big event and almost all boys got their first knife while they were in grade school. The pocket knife was a tool they could use to make a whistle, whittle out pieces of art from an old piece of wood, improve their eye-hand coordination and play mumbly peg.
Mumbly peg can be played by two or more boys. The first player attempts to go through all the steps without making a mistake. Should the first player fail to have a good stick; a good is when the blade of the knife is in the ground with the handle standing upright so that two fingers, one on top of the other, can be placed between the ground and the handle. The second person takes their turn, and then the same with the third player until all players have their turn.
first player while standing or on his knees, all future players must
assume this position, makes a fist with the right hand, with the back
of the hand downward, lay the knife across the fingers, with the
blade pointing out, (to the right) then in a semicircle motion, bring
the right hand over to the left so that the point of the blade goes
downward into the ground. The second play is the same move, only with
the left hand. Third play: while standing, take the point of the
blade between the thumb and first finger of the right hand, and then
flip it with a jerk so the knife turns once, in a circle, in the air,
landing with the point going into the ground. The fourth play is
performed the same way, but with the left hand. Fifth play: hold the
knife blade between the thumb and first finger, of the right hand, as
with the previous play, then cross the right arm so the handle of the
knife touches the left earlobe, crossing the left arm and hold the
right earlobe with the thumb and first finger of the left hand, then
with the right hand flip the knife, so that it makes one or two turns
in the air, before striking the ground, point down. The sixth move is
performed the same, except with the left hand.
Seventh play: while holding the knife blade by the point as with the other moves, using the right hand, bring the handle up to the nose, then using the right hand; flip the blade in a downward motion, so that the knife blade lands point down into the ground. Eighth move is the same, except with the other hand. Ninth play: while holding the blade between the thumb and first finger of the right hand, bring the handle of the knife up to the right eye, then in a downward motion; flip the blade so that the point lands in a downward position sticking up in the ground. Tenth move is the same, except with the left hand. Eleventh play: place the left knee onto the ground, leaving the right knee sticking upward, place the point of the blade onto the right knee while using the first finger of the right hand to hold the handle in place. Then, using the right hand, flip the knife in a rotating motion, so that the blade lands in a downward position, sticking up in the ground. Twelfth move is the same, except with the left hand. These are the most used plays others may be added. When a player misses the next player takes his turn. Once a player completes each of these plays, he wins. The looser is the player with the least number of plays completed.
Using the handle of the knife the winner hammers a wooden match stick into the ground using the handle of the knife. While holding the knife blade, the winner uses the handle to first hitting the match three times, then closes his eyes and attempts to hit the match three more times. Winners always try to drive the match as far into the ground as possible. When completed, the looser must then place his mouth over the match, and using his teeth, chew away any grass, or dirt if necessary, and continue until he pulls the match from the ground with his teeth. As the looser works to pull the “PEG” out of the ground, the other players are chant, “ROOT, ROOT, ROOT, ROOT.” While the looser mumbles.
Boys would make whistle from a fresh cut stick in spring time, when the bark is juicy. If you strongly blow into the whistle, you produce a loud sound.
To make a sling shot we used a sturdy forked branch from a tree limb. We took and old inner and cut two 15 inch long and about ½ inches wide strips of rubber from an old inner tube. We cut a piece of leather from an old shoe tongue. We put two vertical slits into the leather tongue. We slit a hole in each end of the rubber band that fastened to the end of each fork. We weaved the rubber band through the leather tongue. We open the slits and put them over each end of the forked wood. We wrapped the rubber at each end with kite string. We would find small rocks about the size of marbles. Put the rock in the leather pocket, hold the leather over the rock, hold the fork firmly, pull the rubber bands back; aim at a target and let go. Some boys became accurate with this weapon.
A favorite thing to do was play marbles. Sometimes even grown men would play. To play you need a smooth piece of ground to play on, there was an ideal place to play near the tipple. We had two versions of the game, round ring and square ring. In round ring everybody put a designated number of marbles in a round ring drawn on the ground, usually 8 to 10 ft in diameter, then tried to knock the marbles out of the circle by shooting at them with your “taw”. Shooting was done by making a fist, placing a marble (your taw) on your index finger and flipping it with your thumb. All the marbles you knocked out of the ring you got to keep. In square ring, everybody put their marbles in a small square ring, backed off 20 to 25 ft, then shot their taw up near the square ring. From there, taking turns, you shot at your opponent's taw. If you hit him he was out of the game. The last one remaining won all the marbles.
Boys would also catch “lightning bugs” and put them in a jar and use the lighted jar as a lamp. It never was functional, just an expression of creativity.
The carbide light used by miners was made up of two compartments. The top part held water and the bottom carbide. A lever on the top released water a few drops at a time into the carbide which produced a flammable gas. The gas came out of a small aperture in the center of a reflector. The reflector had a small cog wheel and flint similar to a cigarette lighter. Lighting the gas flame was accomplished by sliding the hand quickly across the reflector and cog wheel and therefore lighting the gas. A flame four to five inches long would shoot out of the reflector and gradually die down as it burned off the gas. A miner would have to replace the carbide and water several times during a shift, sometimes in total darkness. The carbide light was dangerous because the open flam would sometimes ignite a gas pocket and cause an explosion.
As kids, we found a much better use for the carbide. We would place a few grains of carbide in a quart jar, add a few drops of water then quickly secure the lid tight and throw it in the fast moving creek. In less than a minute the jar would explode like a bomb but by that time it was far enough downstream that we were out of danger. Needless to say, we did not let our parents see us doing this.
Go outside and play
The opportunity to play outside in the fresh air was always welcomed by kids
On week-ends the kids would get together to play sandlot games
The newspaper boy
The lucky boy had a newspaper route; He earned his own money