Memories of Ira I. Boggs
Right Back Where I Started From
I boarded a train in Orlando at 10 p.m. and arrived at the Camp Creek Station in the afternoon of the next day. There wasn’t anyone there to greet me they didn’t have any idea about when I’d be home. I left part of my luggage at the post office and walked across the hill. I was at the door before anyone saw me. I was certainly happy to get home and see my folks. Mother saw me first. She grabbed me and hugged me and cried for joy. She hadn’t seen me for nearly four years. I was tired, but I didn't get to bed until late that night. Dad took my hand and shed tears with me, too. Clyde and Glenn were the only other members of the family at home. They were out, about the farm, but they came in after few minutes. Neither of them was grown up then. Glen was the youngest, and IÆd been away about all of the time since he was born. He hardly knew me. He had seen me only a few times since he was old enough to remember. Waitman, Lee and Ona came in late that day. Cornelius had married while I was away, and he lived nearby. He came in that evening. We had a merry time.
When I got up late the next morning it seemed very quiet. (That contrasted with the previous two nights in New York City and Washington, D.C., where there were so many noises.) The air was so fresh and calm. The sun was shinning so bright here, away from any smog or fog; and I didn’t smell the salt water of the oceans and seas, which I had been accustomed to for the last month. The forests were fresh and green in their tender new buds and leaves. The dogwood and magnolia were bright with their pure white bloom. The redbuds were beautiful with their glowing lavender buds. The clover fields were in bloom with their pretty red flowers, almost ready for harvest. Mother’s flower garden was aglow with all colors of zinnias, marigolds, and assorted flowers. They looked prettier than Burpees Gardens in Burbank, L.A. or Rigleys Gardens in Pasadena, California.
I had stayed too long in the dead plains and coastal ranges, where it was dry desert anywhere it wasn’t irrigated, or where it wasn’t being used. (In places, the desert was white with alkaline salts and too dead to grow grass, brush or tumbleweeds.) Now, everything looked so lively with nature’s beauty. West Virginia’s natural beauty and its lively nature make it one of the most beautiful places on God’s green earth.
Clyde and Glenn were working in the garden. They came in at noon and, after we ate dinner and they rested for about an hour, I got a hoe and went to work with them. I always liked to work in a garden, where there were so many different kinds of plants fresh and green, and growing so fast that you could see it daily. At this time (June) they were growing very heartily. The weather here was getting very warm. Onions, lettuce, radishes and early vegetables were ready for the table. Garden produce is so much fresher and tastier when you get it right out of your garden the same day you put it on the table.
We came in and ate supper and chatted a few minutes, and then I picked up my hoe and worked some in Mother’s astonishing flower garden. Some of the flowers, such as the Easter flower (daffodils), gladiolas, poppies, etc. had quit blooming; but they were still aglow with the pretty green colors. White, red, yellow and pink roses were just beginning to bloom. They were so beautiful!
They had made several improvements to the house while I was away. They had added two more bedrooms, and they had built a cellar with a big room over it. We called that room ôthe smoke house.
I had to revisit all of the sixty acre farm, most of which I had helped clear from the forest. I climbed to the top of the knob, the highest hill, where I always liked to see the pretty view in all directions. The best scenery was toward the northeast where you could look out over the foothills of the Appalachian range, toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, as far as your eyes could see. You could view the high mountains until they faded from your eyes. On a bright sunny day, when the air was so clear of smog or fog, one could see for miles and miles. The mountains rise up in the blue, until they are dimmed by the horizon. There wasn’t any manufacturing in that direction. Charleston (the manufacturing center) is toward the southwest of our home farm, while the Appalachian range is toward the northeast. Toward the south and southwest, the hills are lower. They look like small knolls, side by side, as far as you can see; but they are just as beautiful as the other mountains. At that time of the year, everything was so fresh and green, a light color to a dark green; and the daisies, clover and other pretty flowers were bright with bloom. They were just wonderful. The dogwood and magnolia had begun to fade in their bloom, but locust trees on the hilltops were in full flower; and they sent out a sweet perfume from their pretty white and pink blossoms. A gentle breeze stirred the air just enough to mix those scents with the cool moister from the nearby trees and give the air a very fresh feel.
The summer and spring birds were busy building their nests. The Cardinal, now our native state bird (the Titmouse was our state bird then), was whistling its pretty soft chimes; and a Bluebird was chattering with its pretty musical songs while cleaning out a hole for its nest in a tree trunk. The Quail was saying, “Bob, Bob, White.” The crickets -- and some of the birds -- were signing their teet, teet songs. Everything was alive with beautiful chimes of nature. Flowers of the fresh blooming daisies perfumed the air; and the trees were alive, with summer coming on. The sounds of wind rustling the leaves, bees gathering nectar from the flowers, and all of the other sounds that you don’t notice over the noises of busy cities, blended together to enrich the atmosphere.
I thought about the other beautiful seasons in West Virginia. The valley is the beauty of the winter, with snow clinging to the spruce trees. The pretty green ferns and the pretty green holly, with those dots of deep red berries, all add to the beauty of winter in the valleys. There’s no prettier place of nature than those West Virginia hills. Right here in Clay County, we have the pretty blue waters of the Elk River, 250 miles long, with its swinging and winding turns in those deep canyons, by those sharp points of rock, and high tea tables hundreds of feet up the steep bluffs of those hills and mountains, shinning life arts of nature which it takes millions of years to form. (I’m told that the Appalachian Mountains are about two billion years old.) Where will you find any prettier place of nature? Not in the Rockies not in the Vosgus Mts. of France; not in the high mountains and peaks of Switzerland. In all the thirty one states I’ve seen, the fresh scenery and the majestic mountains of West Virginia are the prettiest of all. Mind can’t think of words to express the stunning beauties of God’s nature.
I stayed about home for a few days while I waited for the rest of my brothers to come in so I could see all of them. (My only sister was at home.) None of them worked far from home then, and all of us were soon gathered to celebrate my homecoming. We found our songbooks and sang some old hymns. Guy sang soprano; Dad and Alvah sang tenor; Cornelius and I sang bass; and Mother and Ona sang alto. (Cecil was a good tenor, but he was away, teaching school, and couldn’t be with us that night.) Alvah sang alto at times when there weren’t any women to sing with us. When we were together long enough to practice, we made some good music. We often sang with the choir at church. Singing provided a lot of our entertainment in the days when we didn’t have cars.
I had to see my Granddad Estep. He was the only grandparent I had left. I had to go about five miles to his home. I walked across the hill to Apex (later called King Shoals) where I had to cross Elk River. A good neighbor, Levi cook, (His son, Patrick Burton Cook was married to my Aunt Lula, Mother’s sister) set me ashore on the other side of the river. (That was the same spot where he had boated me over the river many times when I was a small boy.) I thanked Mr. Cook for being so obliging; and that’s all he would accept, as ever. He never charged anyone a penny for rowing them across the river; and he and his family did a lot of that. Sometimes a person would drop a coin in his boat for him, as I often did when I had the change. I then had to walk about two and one half miles up King Shoals Creek, where I had traveled in my youth on my way to Wood Island School, and then about one half mile down Elk River to below where King Shoals Creek empties into Elk River.
I got on my way up the creek, walking on the old tram road that was bridged along the steep hill bluff. I noticed a three cornered crosstie with its sharp corner sticking out. That reminded me of the time my older brother Guy fell on one like it, just about there, when we were young, while we were on our way home from school. He cut his nose off, until it dropped down over his lip. As it would be, a doctor lived just a few yards from there, and we rushed Guy back to him. The doctor dressed it and fastened it back, as best he could; and it healed very well. (He still has a scar; but you can hardly see it.)
I walked on past General Cook’s place (He was the brother of Levy, who set me across the river) and on by the papaw groves, where I had gathered papaws, on my way home from school, to take my mother and dad and my younger brothers and my sister. Some of the trees were large enough to climb, and I would shake the trees to get the ones that I couldn’t reach from the ground, if I couldn’t get them by climbing the tree. (Most of those that fell when we shook the tree were so big and so ripe that they would mash when they hit the ground. So it was better to pick them from the tree, if we could.) I walked another mile or so, past an old house where the old lady, Widow Shaver, had lived. She had passed away, and the old house was falling apart. She would watch us on our way to and from school, and sometimes she would invite us to stop and warm our feet and hands. Then she would hurry us on to school, so we wouldn’t be marked tardy, or on home, so our parents wouldn’t be worried. She was a Black hawk Indian. She, and her children, had a very dark complexion.
I walked on up the creek about two miles, and then I started up the hill toward where we had lived from 1902 to 1908. I stopped at one of the springs where Mr. Bill Arthur had chipped out a hole in a rock. I had a good cold drink of mountain water; and, then, I just sat there for a half hour or so. Time stood still. I was spellbound. I was mesmerized by the place where I had played until I was about ten years old. We had rambled among the rock cliffs and deep canyons until there was hardly a foot of this ground that I hadn’t been over.
Some of the banks were covered with rugged laurel and rhododendron thickets (The rhododendron is our state flower, and it is very pretty.); and there were some rough waterfalls there. There were rock cliffs sixty feet high, where we would build fires and where we would camp in the old bear dens. Wildcats were still plentiful and there were still a few black bears and panthers in the area.
I walked on up the hill to where we used to live. The place had run down, and it looked like the house was ready to cave in. A family was living there (I don’t like to mention names when I can’t say any good for them; especially after they have passed away) that was accused of moonshinning. They were no good, and they laid around drunk. It made me sad to see my old home place, where I spent some of my happiest days of my life, go to the dogs. This was where I learned to hunt rabbits, quail, pheasants, and squirrels. But, because the timber had been cut pretty close, the small game had almost vanished. My Grandfather cut over the timber, and another party had cut it again.
I went on over the hill to lower King Shoals Creek, where my Grandfather and Uncle Robert Estep lived. I sure was glad to see them again after nearly four years. Granddad was nearly blind. He had had operations on his eyes, for cataracts. He wanted to hear about California, and about my trip from Los Angeles, or San Pedro harbor, south on the Pacific Ocean and through the Panama Canal, through the Caribbean Sea, and around the Bahaman Islands, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Because I had been in the World War I, and he had been in the Civil War, we had some very interesting conversations. He talked about the battles of Gettysburg and Bull Run; and I told him about the Burleau Woods, Meuse Argonne, Verdun and the Vosges Mts. in France. Granddad was a very interesting man to talk with about mostly anything. He was only sixteen when he was called to join the Rebel army. He was never too proud to admit that he was on the wrong side of the war. He said he didn’t know that he shot anybody, except one of his rebel buddies. (He accidentally let his gun go off and shot his buddy in the heel.)
I saw my Aunt Florence and Uncle Robert and my cousins. They were closest to me of any of my relatives outside the family. I’d lived near them for a long time. I was very glad to see them again. Everybody asked, “When are you going back to California?” I always answered, “I want to stay about home for two or three months, but I do intend go back to California. I like the climate, and it agrees with me better than what we have here. Also, I have bought property in L.A. I aim to go back in a month or two.” I stayed with my grandpa for a day or two and then went back home.
After another week, I went to Wallback to see my Uncle Filmore Belcher and family, whom I had lived with for nearly a year. Aunt Lida was my Mother’s oldest sister, next to Mother in age; and she was very dear to Mother. They always visited each other as often as they could, but that was only once or twice a year. In those days, people had to travel by foot or horseback. That was the only way you could get over most of the roads.
I had to hike so many, many miles in the army that I said, “If I ever get back home, I’ll never walk another mile.” I did walk pretty far to see my Uncle Filmore and Aunt Lida Belcher, but we had some very engaging conversations. He was a woodsman -- timber cutter -- for years. He supervised the woods crew, and he filed the crosscut saws for all of his crew. His saws cut into the wood the best of any I ever pulled. In those days, we were cutting the choice hardwood timber in virgin forests. I have cut big white oak trees that were as much six feet thick. Some of them didn’t have a branch anywhere less than 75 feet up the trunk. That was the best timber in the eastern half of the United States. Uncle Filmore could file a saw so even on each tooth that it wouldn’t run off the mark more than 1 to l & 1/4 inch in a stave block that was six feet thick. The saw had to start right and go through a tree properly, or some of the staves would be turned out at the wrong length, and that would ruin the timber.
I asked, “Uncle Filmore, do you remember how near we often came to death in that dangerous work? Do you remember that heavy white oak branch that broke caught on another tree, when falling, and how that tree swayed down and up? It threw that big two hundred pound branch within an inch or two of your head. You had your hat on and your head down, and you didn’t notice it until it hit the ground, just barely behind you.” “Yes, I do,” he answered, “and I did finally get hit by one that didn’t go an inch over my head; and that’s the last timber I felled.” Uncle Filmore was such a good timber cutter that many logging firms kept begging him to work for them. He was so accommodating that he stayed on until he was 75 years old. He was a very good neighbor and a fine man, and he raised an admirable family.
When I came back to Porter’s Creek after visiting my friends and relatives, I was still puzzled about what to do. I intended to go back to California, but I would be taking too much of a chance by bearing the expenses without knowing what propositions I might have to comply with by leaving home where I presently had room and board without too much worry. I was getting enough money from my government pension to kind of keep up my meals, and I helped raise the crops at this time of year and put them in storage. There were but very little expenses otherwise.
I continued to work on the farm. I helped Mother bring in the garden produce as it became ready to gather and make ready for storage. We picked beans and strung them for drying and for canning. There were different vegetables to take care of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, turnips, corn, mustard and other vegetables. This was like the old time way of making a living, and it took very little cash in those days.
I found a day or two’s work on neighboring farms and some in the gas fields. I kept looking for work, but it appeared that there wasn’t much use to look. Things were so slack in business that it looked pretty gloomy. There was a bit of drilling going on (for oil and gas), but there wasn’t much need for that as long as business was so slow. However, the United Fuel Gas Company had drilled a few wells, and it looked like business would pick up some.
Finally, in November or December, there was talk of building a big gas pumping station in a big river bottom about a mile and one half below Porter Station. That seemed to be too good to be true. The Hope Natural Gas Company, a new business in this area, started the job. They began by building a railway switch to ship in material to build the plant. They broke the sod there on the 24th of December, but they didn’t use more than a few men in the beginning. They had a big station in Doddridge County (Hastings Station), and they brought some of their men from there. It was a bad winter, and they didn’t get much done.
I kept going there every Monday morning (and sometimes two or three days per week). Until spring, they hired only a few men at a time. I finally got disgusted at the supervisor for telling me to come back in a day or so. He encouraged me, but I was so anxious to get into something appealing to me that I began to get impatient. It had been the longest period that I was without a steady job since I was mustered out of military service. I went to see the supervisor again and I asked him if there wasn’t something he might start me to work at. I told him I had had a few years experience in the gas industry, and that I had done about everything there was to do in the oil and gas fields. I said that I would also like to get on at the pump station when they finished building it.
He still talked favorably of hiring me. I finally told him off. I exclaimed, “Mr. Purple, I have been coming here for over a month; and, right along, you have been asking me to come back.” In a hurry to complete a task, he snapped back, “When I want help, there’s always someone handy to hire.” I said, “0.K. – I’ll be right here when you want a man.”
Usually, there were forty or fifty men there by seven o’clock, every morning. Many of them hadn’t made any wages for so long that they were destitute. I kept my word, and I was there when they did need me. They hadn’t hired anyone early that morning, and it was about ten a.m. I saw Mr. People talking to his assistant, and then he walked away. The assistant started toward the ten or twelve men still there, standing on the railroad track. I stepped out to meet him. He took my name and gave me a mattock and shovel. He marked out a line up the hill for me to dig a ditch for a water line to the place where they would set their first tank for domestic use. Out of fifty or so men that were looking for work that day, I think I was the only one they hired.
I started right away at digging the ditch. It would be about seventy five yards long and fifteen inches deep. The width was just enough to get a shovel in handily. It was needed for a two inch line to carry water to where they would set the tank. I dug it as straight as I could, and I dressed the sides down good and smooth. While I was digging, I noticed the boss, at a distance, talking to his assistant; and I thought I understood what the he was saying. He wanted to know if I just wanted a job or wanted to work. He seemed to be watching me pretty close, but I hardly looked up. I didn’t want him to think I noticed him.
I was a little tender to work at such hard labor, but I kept at it. I didn’t let on, to show anybody how much I was hurting; and, when I got the ditch finished, I didn’t wait for the boss to come to me. I shouldered my mattock and shovel and hunted him to let him know that I had finished it. He went back with me to inspect the ditch. He looked it over good. “Well,” he said, “You got this job done pretty fast.” When I stared on a new job, I always worked pretty fast. I wanted to show my boss that I didn’t mind working and that I always did the job as well as I could. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. The Hope Natural Gas Company always wanted everything to be left in good condition, even if it did take a little more time.
The boss took me to where they were setting a steam boiler an old Climax boiler like they used where we drilled gas wells. It had a square firebox on one end, and the boiler tank ran out about twelve feet further and set up about five feet off the ground. There were three men working at it. Clarence (Pete) Judge was the boss of the crew, and he had set many boilers. I told him I had helped set up a few of them. He asked what I had done. I told him, and he said, “I did too. I’ve drilled a lot of wells.” “Well, I’ve helped drill several, too. I was a tool dresser.” I told him that I could climb an eighty foot derrick about as quick as anyone.
We trued up the boiler and set it up in good shape, by plumbing it and leveling it. Then we laid a gas line. The United Fuel Gas Co. had a gas well near the boiler, and the South Penn Oil & Gas Co. had an eight inch gas line near there. We run our lines to the boiler from it. We also laid a two inch line to the river to pump water into the boiler for steam. We installed a steam whistle on top of the boiler. This was the first whistle that blew at Cornwell Station, March 1925. They still blow that whistle at certain times during workdays, but there isn’t a steam boiler there now. The plant has been converted almost entirely to gas powered engines.
When we completed setting the boiler and laying all of the pipelines to it, Clarence Judge said, “Ira, you get you a shovel. Slip down the railroad and climb up in that freight car where they’re unloading that sand for concrete, and you won’t have to work in this mud.” I got a shovel and went to work. Clarence said, “I’ll tell the boss that I told you to do that.” I was working there the next day, when a man came along and asked if I knew a place he could get board and room. He said he had a job if he could get a place to stay. I said, “No, I don’t, but if you want to go home with me, I think you can stay overnight with us or until you can find a boarding house.” About that time I saw the boss start toward me, almost in a run. He said, “Get to work. What do you think we hired you for to stand and talk.” (That gave me more time to stand and talk.) I answered, “I was helping this man to get a place to stay while he works for you. You can’t keep men here if they can’t find a place to stay.” You hardly dared to stop to look up or you would lose your job. There were too many men hunting for work. They could just step over to the railroad track, mostly any time, and get a man who would work hard because he had a family that was almost starving. People had been out of work for months, some for two or three years.
I brought this man, Mell Lipscomb, home with me, and he worked at Cornwell until he died, nearly at retirement age. He and his wife were the oldest people on the job. They never had any children of their own; but they raised a boy and a girl, their nephew and niece. The children called them Uncle and Aunt, and all of the children around called them Uncle Mell and Aunt Cora; so everybody got to calling them Uncle and Aunt. Aunt Cora married my Uncle Charles Foreman a year or two after Aunt Julia died; and I still called her “Aunt Cora.”
We unloaded several cars of sand and gravel and cement, and we were finally ready to start putting up the main building for the pumping station. We had a cement mixer that could mix two sacks of cement at a time. It was powered by steam from the boiler I had helped setup. I looked after engineering of the cement mixer. I had it going when work time came, and I kept it oiled and watched over it during the day. Clarence Judge ran the crane that handled the concrete. Between the two of us, we ran the machinery that handled car after rail car loads of cement that went into the buildings. In addition to the floors and foundations for two 150 x 50 ft. buildings, that included engine blocks for five 1,000 h.p. steam engines, foundations and blocks for five big double boilers. They also laid firebrick to line the furnace and red wall brick for the walls. There were five sets of boilers one for each steam powered gas pumping engine. One boiler was set up over the other two for each of five sets. Four inch tubes about thirty feet long ran from the lower boiler to the upper boiler and through the furnace.
They built a coal bin above the furnace at the end of the boiler house. It would hold a carload of coal (about fifty tons). They had a tussle about fifteen feet high for the railroad cars to run in on so they could put a coal crusher under the railroad cars. The crusher included two big spools about six feet long by four feet in diameter with teeth on them. There were trap doors on the bottoms of the railroad cars. To unload a rail car, someone took a sledgehammer and knocked a latch loose from the trapdoor. The coal would drop into a box over the crusher and feed into it. The coal was ground into small lumps and powder. It dropped into baskets on a belt that carried the coal to the top of a track. The baskets turned over on a shaft as they came back down. The crushed coal dropped into the bin. They had a crane high overhead to drop the coal into the furnace. It ran on a rail track by electric power. A large basket ran under this coal bin, and there was a lever to open up the coal bin and let a fraction of this crushed coal into the basket. The fireman would pull a chain to set an electric switch and start the basket to rolling on the overhead track. He would walk along under the basket, clear through the boiler house from Number one boiler to Number five boiler. There was a hopper over each boiler, and each hopper had a spout latch. We could pull a lever and open the spout to fill the coal hopper. Sometimes we’d overfill the hopper, causing coal and coal dust to spill over; and we’d have to sweep it up and shovel it back into the hopper. The coal was fed into the boiler by a steam engine in the basement of the boiler house. The coal was fed into the furnace by another steam engine located in the basement of the boiler house. A rod ran up past the boilers to the hoppers. It turned three gears located in the hopper. The rod turned over very slowly, and it could be speeded up or slowed down to regulate the feeding of more or less coal into the furnace. The furnace was about twenty by sixteen feet at its base and about twenty feet high where the flame touched some tubes with water running through them. That transferred heat to the water to make steam to run our steam engines.
There was a big fan in the basement for each of the five boilers. They pulled a draft of air and ran it to the boilers. We could regulate the airflow into each furnace, according to how much steam was needed to run those big 1,000 h.p. engines five of them. It took a lot of steam to pull those 5,000 h.p. engines. They had an eight inch steam line that ran overhead to the engine house, which was about seventy five yards from the furnace. The furnace was well closed in, and there was a smokestack for each set of boilers. Those stacks were about five feet in diameter extended about two hundred feet into the air above the boilers. They had a powerful draft to them. There was a damper on each stack to help regulate the furnace according to how much steam was needed. When pumping the full load of gas, we would burn as much as 150 tons of coal in twenty four hours.
Each of those engines had a flywheel that was 20 feet in diameter, and each weighed one ton. When they rolled over 115 times per minute at full speed, they had tremendous power. We didnÆt usually run them at less than 100 revolutions per minute. I have seen them go as high as 120 times per minute. Then we would have to watch them closely or they would burn out one or more of the bearings which cushioned a six inch rod that was turning that fast. They were what you call twin engines -- a low pressure one and a high pressure one. The low pressure pump would take the gas out of the field line and pump it into the high pressure pump, which pumped it into a 20 inch trunk line. The trunk line ran for twenty miles to Jones Station, and Jones Station pumped it on to Hasting Station in Doddridge County.
The field lines didn’t usually handle over one hundred and fifty pounds of pressure; but when we were pumping a full load, the pressure would run as high as 325 pounds at the point of leaving the high pressure engine that pushed it into the trunk lines. When you load a 20 inch line with 300 or 325 lbs. of pressure, you are pumping a lot of gas. We have pumped as high as 250,000,000 cubic feet of gas in twenty hours, but we didn’t usually move more than 230,000,000 cubic feet in that time. Well, I’d better finish building the plant before I pump all of that gas. We finished running all of the concrete into the engine blocks and foundations for the buildings; and the steelworkers put up the buildings with steel frames and sheeting.
We went to work laying sixteen and twenty inch gas lines from the field lines to the engines. We used threaded pipe, and screwed the joints into collars, which brought the ends together and sealed them. This was some of the last screw pipe ever used in the oil and gas fields. Later, they developed acetylene welding methods for joining the pipes, and now they can use electrical welds. For acetylene welding, they used long cylinders that were eight or ten inches in diameter and four and one half feet high, with a valve on top and a place to connect a hose. These tanks had 2,000 lbs. of pressure in them, and they lasted through several twenty inch welds. When they emptied a tank, they would send it back to the chemical plant to get it filled. The tanks have been known to explode, and you dared not handle them roughly. Mostly Electric welders are used now a days. The electric welding machine was hauled around on a motor cart or a truck. If it couldn’t get up the hill on its own power, they could lift it up and let it down with a block and line or they could haul it on a four wheel drive truck or on a bulldozer.
The threaded pipe that we first installed at the Cornwell Station was handled with 16" and 20" tongs, and those tongs were very heavy. It took three men to carry them, and four to six men were needed to buck the tongs to screw the pipe together. I had done this kind of work in Texas and California; so I knew where the best jobs were. I was smaller than most of the men, and the boss would usually assign me to a light job. When I worked on the tongs, I got on the end next to the pipe where there was a short stroke. I was quick and knew when to jerk the tongs off and on. There was also what we called a stabbing man. He got on the outer end of the pipe and lined it straight with the joints to match the threads of the collar. At times he didnÆt get them lined straight, and we would get them started cross threaded. When that happened, we would have to unscrew the pipe and start over again. Sometimes, if we ruined the threads, we would have to relined a few joints and rethread them on a lathe at the machine shop.
This was hard labor, especially on the end of those eight foot 16" and 20" tongs, where there was more leverage and you had to buck the pipe farther, up and down. The boss would peck on the collar, where the pipe screwed together, with a two pound hammer. That kept it jarred until the pipe screwed together. They had a squirt can of light oil, usually lard oil, to make it screw together smoother and to keep the threads from wearing. This was a very particular job, and they didn’t often have a leak. If you did have a leak, in those days you had cut the pipe with a big cutting chisel with a four foot handle on it. A man would strike it with an eight pound hammer and cut the 20" line. Then it had to be rethreaded, matched and put back together. To rejoin a pipe that had been cut in two, we used a ôfollower.ö That had a collar to slip over each end of the pipe with a bevel on each end of the collar, or follower. It had bolt holes and a large rubber ring to fit in the bell end and a ring with bolt holes in it. We would run the bolts, usually 6 or 8, through the holes and screw them very tight with wrenches. It would hold 400 lbs. of pressure. That was before they learned the welding method; but about that time, they were doing some light pressure welding (1925).
While a crew was setting the engines and boilers, we worked hard, for four or five months, at setting the lines and fitting pipes. That was one of the hottest months of May that I have ever seen, and it was hot on through the summer. We didn’t take much time in the shade, but we had to watch about getting too hot. We got the lines about laid; and they set the coolers for each discharge engine, to cool the gas. The gas got very hot, from pressure, while it was being pumped through those engine valves or compressors. On one half revolution of the engine, the intake valve would open and let the gas in; then it closed; and the other half revolution would push it through the high pressure valve and out into the line at a high pressure. That would send it on for twenty miles, where a relay station pushed it further on, to another relay station, or to the consumers.
I asked Frank Purpel about getting a job for me in the producing department, when they started to pumping gas. He told me he didn’t have anything to do with that, but he said that he would recommend me. At that time, I was working for Dallas Powell; and I knew he wanted me to work for him; but he was taking the job of operating the trunk lines. I asked Sye Zarbough about a job with him. He was taking over the station, as chief engineer. He said, “You go with Dallas, for now. Dallas and I plan on trading men later.” Dallas assigned me and Charley Ginler to watching a gas meter on the hill from Cornwell. We regulated it by pinching a valve until they got the right pressure and flow rate on the gas line. We worked there for three months; we each worked twelve hours per day, rotating our shifts, so that one of us was always on the job. We were paid 45 cents per hour, as usual. They were building a gasoline plant at Cornwell, to take the gasoline out of the gas before shipping it. The gasoline, mixed with water, hindered the flow of gas through the lines. It would clog the lines, and they would have to install drips on the low places along the lines, to blow some of it out on the ground. That wasted it.
Sye Zarbough called Charley and me to his office. He said, “Ira, I want you to night watch at the gasoline station while they build it.” I worked there, at a monthly salary, eight hours per day, six days per week until they got the gasoline plant ready to run. Sye gave me a job as pumper a helper on the gasoline plant. They had three shifts, eight hours per shift.
I worked at the gasoline station for about three years before the boss, and others, made a complaint against me. Sye transferred me to the gas pumping station, as an oiler. I didn’t tell Sye anything; but he understood why they didn’t want me around. They were bringing bootleg whiskey onto the job and drinking it there. One of the men would go somewhere, a mile or more, and get it in the quiet of the night, while he was supposed to be working. Sye finally caught him bringing it to the station. He discharged that man and suspended the boss and others that were drinking it. They were off for two weeks, and he let them come back.
The new job was a step up for me. It was inside the plant and a warm place to work in the winter but hot in the hot summer. After I worked there for three years, I was promoted to engineer. That raised my pay to $125 per month. That was good wages during the worst panic that ever hit this nation.
Business was still slack during the summer and they didn’t have work for all of the men at the Cornwell Station. They couldn’t sell all of their gas when people weren’t using it domestically. They found work elsewhere for us tower men. This was before they started pumping gas into old lines and wells during the summer, loading it to have it handy for winter sales, as they do now. The Hope Gas Co. was growing fast. They only had one station in 1925; but that was a very large one. It was easily worth $12,000,000 or $15,000,000. Now, they have merged with the Consolidated Gas and Supply Corporation and are worth several hundred million. They have holdings in several states and nations. At first, they were a part of the Standard Oil of New Jersey. The president, President Glenn Corrin, who is still president of the Hope Gas Company, said that the men who built and operated Cornwell Station were the making of the Hope Gas Co.
They were setting a 15,000 h.p. engine at Jones Station, Cornwell’s relay station. I went there in 1926 to help in the installation of that engine. I got there at about 10 p.m. The boss asked me if I wanted to go to work on the midnight shift, in two hours. I told him I was pretty tired. He didn’t say anything more. The next morning I went to work with the pile driving crew. The piles were made from pipe that they had on hand. The welders cut out part of the end of the pipe and heated it. They drew it together into a sharp point, and then they drove it about twenty feet into the ground. They had a pile driver that they themselves had manufactured. It was made of eight by twenty timbers, two of them framed together with a pulley wheel on top of it. It was about twenty feet high. They had a track inside of the frame. A line hooked to a block of steel, weighing about 500 lbs., and the line ran over the pulley wheel on top of the derrick. It ran down onto a spool on a shaft turned by a gas engine. This engine would pull the heavy block to the top of the derrick and drop it about 10 feet onto the 10ö pipe, twenty feet long, and drive it into the ground until it hit a solid base. We drove several of those pilings to support the base for that big Snow engine. The engine, with the compressor and rod, was about 40 feet long and weighed several tons. It could pump twenty five million cubic feet of gas per 24 hours. That pile driver hit about three licks per minute. (Now, in 1970, they have a pile driver that operates by compressed air. It can hit as fast as you can drive a nail with a two pound hammer.)
Those pipes were cut off at the top of the ground and run full of concrete. It made a solid foundation. The cement would still be there after the pipe had decayed. We finished that job in about a month. The Hope Company had their headquarters at Pittsburgh, Pa.; but they were moving to Clarksburg, West Virginia. We moved our rig to Clarksburg and worked there, driving pile for an office building a four story building. We worked there for about two months or longer. They didn’t furnish us material to go ahead with this work, and our boss had to lay us off for about a week, telling us they would have the material mostly any day. There were six men in the crew. We were stuck there, away from home. We were a sore crew of men and some of the men looked for another job. They did pay our expenses, but they should have paid our wages, too. They only had three of the five engines running at Cornwell that summer. They started the other two engines and called me back there after we finished the Clarksburg job.
I got back to Cornwell on Monday morning and went back to my job in the pump house. I liked this job better. There was very little hard labor to it, and it was a nice clean place to work and I could live at home.
I liked to work at Cornwell. It was a good job, with the exception of tower work. We had three shifts per day day, evening and morning. I liked the day shift better. It was an hour’s less time on the job. The other workers took an hour, for rest, at noon. We had to watch our machines; but we could sit down by our engine at noon and eat our dinner, and our time on the clock still counted; so we could leave an hour sooner when we were running shift work. I also liked the day shift better as we had the evenings to go out for a little recreation.
When on the evening shift, I came off from work at twelve o’clock midnight and slept until about eight a.m. I had to guard against being too busy at day work or I would be very tired by midnight. I’d get up at about eight o’clock, eat my breakfast, read the daily news and work an hour or so (especially in the garden during the summer). Sometimes, I’d go to town for pleasure or shopping, but I would try to get back home in time to rest an hour or more before work time. The morning shift was the most disagreeable shift, but it appeared to be shorter than the day or evening shift. For some reason, time seemed to go by faster on the job. I never could sleep more than two or three hours after coming off this shift in daytime. I’d usually go to bed at about nine thirty and sleep until about twelve or one o’clock. Then, I’d get up and eat my dinner (lunch) and read the news; then I’d mill about the farm at anything there was to do. Sometimes I’d get my gun and go out and target practice, or hunt some (in hunting season), or get in my car with some friends and take a short drive. There were not any paved roads nearer than Clendenin; so I wouldn’t go farther than Clendenin. I’d get back home in time to sleep another hour or two before work time.
I had to walk two and one half miles to get to my job. It was a mile and a half to the river, and then I walked a mile on the railroad track. By road, the distance was ten miles. We had to take a roundabout way to drive to Cornwell Station, or across Elk River from the station, where we could park our car and then walk over a swinging bridge to the station. The roads weren’t kept up very well, and it was hard to drive over them a lot of the year. In the winter the roads were very rough and slick. I could walk it about as quick as I could drive; and, at times, you would have trouble getting over those muddy dirt roads in a car. In the summertime, they would scrape the roads once or twice; and, then, I would usually drive. When the roads were in bad condition, I would rather walk than drive, even if snakes, wildcats and bears threatened me. I’ve seen snakes and wildcats, but I didn’t meet up with any bears.
One time, I was walking along the road in the forest after dark. I could hear something walking in the leaves, about shoulder high. I had a flashlight, but my batteries were so weak that it didn’t give enough light for me to see a stone. I felt one by my feet and threw it that direction. I repeated throwing stones, but the animal still took only a step or two. I said “Mr. Wildcat if you won’t run, I will.” After I settled down, and as I neared our house, I was swinging my hands as I walked. My dog walked up by my side, and my fingers zipped the hair on his back. I almost jumped out of my boots. My hair stood up like a scared cat.
I got so used to the wildcats following me. I didn’t mind them so much, except when they were so close to me that they could leap on me, but I never heard of a wildcat attacking anyone. I was more afraid of being attacked by a mad dog or a mad fox. Several of those animals have been killed here and proven to be rabid.
I decided to make a little extra money by raising poultry. I constructed a twenty by twenty house with a row of nests through it. I installed a dropping board over the nesting stations and put a screen over it. Then I built roosts over the dropping board. I bought a gas burning brooder and ordered 500 white leghorn baby chicks. I would sell the cockerels and keep the pullets. I could depend on two hundred pullets to keep for laying hens. By September they would be laying. There were thirteen families there at Cornwell, and I would deliver them good fresh eggs, at from 25 to 35 cents per dozen. Then, I built two more twenty by twenty foot houses, and could have five hundred pullets at a time. I made a little extra money at this business.
I bought fifty acres of level and sloping hilltop land from my brother. I cleared some of it and grew corn for my chickens; so I was pretty busy, working five days per week at Cornwell, while clearing ground and tending it in corn or small grain, wheat or oats.
In a few years there were so many people in the poultry business that I quit it. I couldn’t compete with them. I cleared more of my land and decided to plant an apple orchard. I sold some trees for Stark Brothers Nursery, and I got my trees cheap. I ordered one hundred golden delicious trees and some winter apple varieties. I already had about twenty five trees on my farm, and I planted two hundred more. In two or three years, those golden delicious trees began to bear. I made a little money at this business; but the orchard soon grew until I couldn’t take care of it by myself. I couldn’t hire anyone at fair wages, and I had to work too hard to run two jobs. I didn’t do much at that business. In 1927, I bought 46 acres of land on Porters Creek. It was within a mile of the railroad and a little closer to my job, and there was no hill to walk up on my way to work and back. Left hand, where I stayed with my parents, was up a fairly steep hill, for a mile or so. I got the land very cheap. It cost me $347.00. There were two and one half acres of bottomland, with two nice places to build. I was still single; but I intended to build a house on it and rent it out, or batch. I had batched some before, while in California. I wasn’t the kind of person that saw many women I liked, and I wasn’t in any hurry about falling in love. I had met a few ladies in Texas and California that I thought quite a bit of, but I never got engaged to any of them. If I could have gotten married, I wouldn’t have been settled, and that’s a bad time to marry. I had dated some few ladies for a few times, but I hadn’t yet met a woman here that I wanted to marry.