Memories of Ira I. Boggs
Marriage and the Family
I became interested in a young lady that I saw a time or two when I was delivering eggs at the coal mining town of Barren Creek. I noticed that she was nice looking and a big hardy girl. She was visiting some people that I delivered eggs to, and she brought me a basket to put the eggs in. I didn’t talk to her. I saw that she seemed to be a little shy (maybe because she wasn’t dressed to suit herself). Anyway, I inquired about her and learned that I knew her people. I had known her father, Mr. Grant McCune, since I was a child. He carried the mail by my home. I also knew his brothers and his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Bill McCune of Procious, where Grant McCune lived when I was growing up.
They were all nice people. I also knew her mother’s people. I wasn’t well acquainted with them; but I used to attend church at Barren Creek, where her grandmother went to church. They were pretty intelligent people, but her uncles were a little rough. They made a living mostly by gambling and working in the mines at Barren Creek; but they didn’t matter to me. It was the woman that I wanted to get acquainted with. I suppose that, in a way, she was like me. (People have told me that I was pretty slow to get to know.) She was quiet, and I didn’t mind that.
The next time I saw her, she was nicely dressed; and she looked very pretty. She was quite a bit younger than I was; but, at 20, she was old enough to know people and to know what she wanted to do. I finally had a chance to get a date with her. I had a nice little car, and I took her home from where she was staying at the time I met her. She lived near the head of Leatherwood -- about five miles from Clendenin. I met her family. Her dad was there. He was an intelligent man to talk with, and he was a good Christian. They were Methodist, and I was a Missionary Baptist. That didn’t matter to me, either. I never gave too much consideration to the differences in those churches. I stayed and visited with her for a while.
Then, we got in the car and drove to Clendenin, where we went to the movies. We held hands and watched the show. When it was over, we got some ice cream. We drove around for a little while; then I took her back home. There was a little too much difference in our ages; but we kept meeting once or twice per week and driving about from place to place. She didn’t stay at home much. She had to make her own living. She worked as a maid. Sometimes she stayed with her older sister at Smith Bottom, just a mile or so above Cornwell. That was pretty handy for me to see her often. Her brother in law, Albert Smith, and I had known each other since we were children. I first met Miss McCune in September or October. We kept dating and getting better acquainted.
I had begun to like her pretty well when some boys tried to take her away from me. I was a little jealous; but I thought that was a good test to see if she thought more of me than any other man. She had a close lady friend working in a restaurant at Marietta, Ohio; and she had some plans for going there to work with her friend. I didn’t like the idea; but, still, it wasn’t a very long drive from here. Later, she told me that she didn’t go because she didn’t want to be so far away from me where she couldn’t see me often. That suited me, too. We kept seeing one another once or twice a week; and, sometimes, more often than that. We seemed to be in love. We just weren’t satisfied when we were apart. We drove here and there, and we often just sat in the car, getting better acquainted and making love. She was twenty one and I was thirty four. Well, we were old enough to make up our minds as to what we thought best. I thought that if I was ever going to marry, it was about time; and, at her age, a woman usually worries about letting the years go by and they don’t want to let a good chance slip away.
This next spring I had to leave Cornwell again for about three months. The Hope Gas had another plant at Jackson Station. It was of the same type as Cornwell but not quite so big. They were setting an engine there like we had at Cornwell a 1,000 h.p. Hamilton steam engine. It took quite a bit of work to build the forms and run concrete blocks for the engine foundation. They usually used 25 or 30 men to build the forms and run the blocks (or foundations) and set up the engine. This was the third summer with the Hope Natural Gas Company that I had to go elsewhere for work. After I met Miss McCune, I was with her most of the time while at home from Chelyan. I seldom got started back to Chelyan before midnight. One Sunday, I stayed a little late with Miss McCune.
That night, I drove back to Chelyan unusually late. I had never been so sleepy while trying to drive as I was that night -- and I haven’t been so foolish about it since then. I went to sleep while I was driving my rumble seat Star car through Marmet; but I was startled when I went off of the pavement onto the berm. That woke me. I was headed toward a house. I jerked my wheel just in time to miss running right onto the porch of the dwelling. In one or two seconds more, I would have driven into that man’s home. I was so shocked that I had to stop for a few minutes. That was the only time I ever went to sleep while driving an automobile. Nellie and I made up our minds to get married within a month. I worked three weeks longer at Jackson Station, and I asked my boss if I couldn’t take the week’s vacation that I had coming before I was called back to Cornwell.
He hesitated before he answered. I told him I was going to get married. He said, “Congratulations. Of course I’ll let you off.”That Saturday, I came home after work and went to see Nellie. We made arrangements to go to Charleston on Tuesday. I came back home on Monday night; and, on Tuesday morning, before I left to meet Nellie, I told Dad and Mother that Nellie and I intended to get married, on that day. “Well,” one of them said, “just as we expected. We talked about it while you were on vacation.” We didn’t have any doubt about it. Before we left Mr. McCune’s, at about noon, Nellie told her people that the next time they saw her she would be a married woman.
We went to Charleston and to J. O. Morrison’s store, where we bought some clothes. Nellie picked out a nice wedding dress, and I paid for it. We got to the courthouse just in time to get our license before they closed. We asked the clerk where we could find a minister. A man standing nearby told us to go to Woodrums Furniture Store on Virginia Street. We went there and found Reverend Woodrum. He called on two of his clerks to serve as witnesses and took us into a little room that he reserved for that purpose. We were married on August 14, 1929. We took our vows at about six o’clock; then we had our supper and went to a show. We came out at about nine thirty and found a room at the Holly Hotel, where we stayed overnight. We left our hotel room at about nine o’clock the next morning and went to a restaurant for our breakfast. Then we walked around town for an hour or two. We shopped some, and then drove back by my home.
We stayed there until early evening, when we drove to Leatherwood and stayed at her home on Wednesday night. We drove about quite a bit and followed the highway about 30 miles to Spencer. The counties had finished paving that road. I suppose, at that time, it was the longest piece of paved road in the state. (In those days, the counties paved the roads.) They finally paved a ten foot one way road to Charleston. In about ten years, they paved another ten foot, making a two lane highway. When the one way road was paved, everybody that had a car had to try it out. Shortly after the road opened, I was driving a Buick car below Clendenin, near Falling Rock. There was about a six inch drop on each side of the pavement. They hadn’t made the berm and smoothed it yet. Another car started around us. It hit my car and knocked it off of the pavement into a rock road bank. We all got a pretty hard jolt, but none of us was hurt bad. My brother and I, and Marjorie and Blanche Foreman were in my car. Blanche was the worse hurt. She had to use crutches for a few days. The rest of us had a few bruises.
This was the first wreck I had had while driving. It was the other driver’s fault, and he knew it; but he drove on, while the excitement was on. Some people told us the name of the person that they thought was driving the car that bumped us; but we couldn’t get any proof, and we had to drop it. I had a wrecker pull my car back to Clendenin to a garage, and I had to leave it there. Nellie and I drove around the country a lot that week. We enjoyed being together, alone; but we did visit some with our friends and families. We went to see my Grandfather nearby. He was the only one of my grandparents still living, and he was getting very old. (He was in poor health, and he lived only a few weeks longer.
I had to go back to Chelyan to work that weekend. Nellie stayed at her home while I worked there for about another month. I came back every weekend until late September, when I returned to work at the Cornwell Station. This was the last time I left Cornwell to work elsewhere else. Business was getting a little better. The Hope Gas Company was drilling a few wells, and they were selling more gas. I couldn’t find a better job, and I had received two promotions in the five years I had worked for the Company. I was doing very well with them. I wanted to build a dwelling on my property on Porters Creek, but I decided to wait until spring. After work, I kept coming to look at my land and think about where I should build. I had a little more room in another bottom from where I decided to build, but it was windier there in the wintertime. When it was a clear day, I noticed that the sun set at the head of Ad hollow; and, during the winter, it shined here until within a half hour of sundown. In the summer time, it didnÆt hit here so much. It raised over one point and set over another point; and the wind came up the creek and down Add hollow. The two breezes met here, and it didn’t make so much draft as it did in the other bottom. I had about decided to build between the road and the creek, and to keep one half acre of bottomland on the other side of the creek for an extra garden.
The road ran a little close to my door; so I had it moved some. That made a better place for the road, too. My parents had a 14 x 20 house, over the cellar. Nellie and I bought what furniture we could get along with and moved into it. We planned to stay there until spring, or until I could build on my property on Porters Creek. When I had spare time, I worked some on my bottom lot getting the brush cleared. By February, I had it in shape to start building. I went to the Farmers & Citizens Bank at Clendenin and made arrangements for money to build. The cashier seemed to be anxious to loan me the money. He didn’t hesitate. He asked me if I had a clear deed to the land. I told him, “Yes,” and he deposited the money into my account for me to use for the project. We picked our house pattern from a catalog that I had received from a firm in Chicago. It gave the room layout for the house and all the details we needed to know, but it didn’t include blueprints.
Everybody advised me not to build a big house. Nellie and I decided to choose between two designs. One was a story and a half. The other was a one story bungalow. We didn’t want to put too much money into a home so far out in the country; so we decided on the five room bungalow with a bathroom and two bedrooms with closets, a full basement, a hallway and back door, and an 8 x 18 ft. porch. The building was 24 x 34 ft. It had a dining room and living room, with a six foot French door between them, and a ten by twelve kitchen. For 1930, it was a nice little modern home. Business was dull; so I had no trouble getting help to build. I knew a city building contractor who was the best of carpenters. He took my map, or blueprint, and figured every piece for the house. We went to the Charleston Lumber Co. for the building supplies. They wanted to know how I wanted to pay for it. I told them I would pay cash, and they were glad to get that.
Business was almost at a standstill during one of the worse panics ever to hit this country. I contacted, Elmer Samples, a neighbor who did odd jobs and had a truck; and he had my house pattern on the ground within a week. I had my house insured before it was built. The lumber was insured as soon as it was on the ground. My brother in law furnished a horse, and I got a scraper and a man to help excavate for the basement, four and one half ft. deep and 25 x 36. We had that ready by the first of March. Dick Duffel was my contractor, and Enos Matheny and Bob Estep were the carpenters. They shaped up the basement and built the foundation and form for it. I got sand (for concrete) from the creekside, near the basement. I could have used the sand we graded out of the basement site; but it was a little fine, and it would have taken a little too much cement. I got about all of my sand within fifty feet of my house. I piled it near the basement site, and we made a box to hold about a yard of concrete. I borrowed some shovels from the Hope Gas Co. and got fully ready to run the foundation and basement wall. I set some bolts in the basement wall to anchor the foundation. In a day and a half, we had the basement and foundation ready for starting the rest of the building. We bored holes in the two by eight foundation and bolted them to the basement walltight and level. That would keep the house from shifting, in case of a wind , or flood. Before it would shift, the force would have to be strong enough to tear the building apart. I used twenty and thirty penny nails and nailed the sleepers good and solid. Dick plumbed the corners and set the 2 x 4's around the walls and rooms, and he soon had them in good shape.
I told him that I was going to quite an expense to build my home, and that the reason I got him to do it was that I could trust him to do it right. A home is a permanent abode, and I wanted it to be sturdy, even if it did cost a little extra. I ordered Number 1 grade lumber for all but the storm sheeting. It would be covered with siding material. I shellacked all of my framewood and doors before I put them up. That protected them from the weather and kept them from warping or cracking. I don’t think the house is one fourth of an inch off square, in either frame or room. Someone asked me why I was so particular about my house here in the country. I said a home is something permanent, and I wanted it put up that way. Also, if I ever sold it, I could have something to sell. I hired a man to paper the walls, and he said he had never papered walls in a house that was as plumb as my house. I used clear oak for all the framing except for the doors and windows. We framed them with pine. After forty one years, it’s as good as it ever was. In about twenty years, I had asphalt shingles put on over the siding.
That made it more air tight, and it would save fuel to keep it warm. In hot weather, it would stay cool longer through the mornings. We put dressed sheeting on the roof and covered it with asphalt shingles. We have oak floors all around. I doubt if there’s a home on Porters Creek as plumb as this house. Enos Matheny had built about all of the houses in our area, up until I built mine; and he said that Dick Duffel was the best carpenter he ever worked with. One day, Mr. Matheny got in a hurry with some of the framework, and he didn’t get it just right. Dick was gone; but he, himself, did it over when he got back. We graded about 100 ft. square of my lawn level. We pulled the dirt from above to below the house leaving an elevation of about four ft. on each side of the lawn. The dirt from the basement helped to build it up considerably. In May 1930, the house was about finished.
I had quite a bit of work to do to it yet; but, we could be more comfortable here than in the 14 x 20 smokehouse room on my parents’ property. Also, I had about three fourths of a mile less to walk to work; and none of it was uphill. (I had been walking to work for five years, and the last part of the walk, coming home tired, was up hill.) We bought more furniture and moved in. Nellie and I have never paid any rent; and, in forty one years, rent expenses would have paid for two homes like this one. My total cost was $2,100 by the time it was ready to live in. I painted the outside (with two coats) right away, and I finished trimming the sheet rock inside. I kept at it whenever I had time, and I soon had the walls painted and the floors varnished. It was a nice, little modern home, and it was very comfortable.
On July 11, 1930, our first child was born an 8 pound boy. I never saw a child look so much like his dad as he did. He was skinny, and he looked like me for that. When he got a little flesh, my picture diminished. We parleyed for a name. Nellie said, “Let’s call him Norris. I’ve never heard of a Boggs by that name.” I agreed to call him Norris Wayne. He was a healthy child. We had lived here only two months. We were a happy couple with such a fine baby. He slipped around before the doctor got here. (In those days, women didn’t go to the hospital to have babies like they do today. The doctor came to your home to see patients then.) We had discussed the size of our family. I thought I was too old to raise a big family, as I was old enough to be his granddaddy.
Nellie thought it was wrong to prevent having children. I rather agreed with her; anyway, I didn’t feel it was right to have her do something she thought wrong. We wanted another child to grow up with him but not too soon. On April 20, 1932, Dallas was born. We thought we would lose him, but he was soon O.K. He wasn’t born naturally. His was a breech birth. I guess we need not have worried after he was born, but the doctor was rather nervous about him, too. His middle name, Ervin, was after my second name, although I spell my name Irvin. Now Nellie and I were elected just right, two boys to grow up together, so near the same age. From our new home, I didn’t have quite so far to walk to get to work as when we lived up Left Hand. I was still working in the pump house in the compressor department. I liked my job, but it would have been much better, in a sense, if I could have worked days instead of tower work. In a way, night work was convenient.
I had some days to be at home during daylight to look after things I couldn’t do well when working on the day shift. One trouble, I would work too much at home; and, if I was tired before I started my shift, that made my job more drudgeful. We would get too tired, imposing on ourselves, which most tower men did. For a year or two longer, I worked the day shift through the summer, because they didn’t sell much gas, and they didn’t need to run all of the pump engines. On the day shift, I worked at mostly anything there was to do; and, when the men started taking vacations, I took their places on the tower shifts. Until we had worked for five years, we got only one week of vacation. In 1932, most of us had five years or more, but a few of the men had less time on the job. I had six years. Because I didn’t like the day work so well, I managed to take my vacation while on the day shift. On day work, we never knew what we might be called on to do, and some jobs weren’t so good. When business was good, I went back to the pump house to work at my regular job. I liked it better as I knew just what I had to do and how to do it. I was promoted to engineer. That paid me $130 per month. That was fairly good wages in those days. Lawrence Dolen was my tower foreman. He was a little overbearing, and that attitude was encouraged by one of the men that I worked with, a man who wanted my job. He was next in line for an engineer’s position.
We didn’t have any particular problem, but it seemed that he wanted to make trouble for me. (I didn’t know until later that the foreman intended to can me; but, if he had tried, I doubt that he could have gotten by with it. I could have transferred to day work, where he didn’t have any authority over me. I think the chief liked my work.) As it turned out, the chief engineer moved to Jackson Station; and we got a new chief, Burl Neusom. He was as fine a man as I ever worked for. Instead of me losing my job, Dolen lost his. Burl called me out and told me that Dolen had intended to get rid of me. He said that he was glad Dolen had left, and then he let me know why Dolen left the Hope Gas Co. Burl and Dolen had worked together elsewhere, and they couldn’t get along. Burl said, “I’ll give you a chance.” He and I never had a crossword. Later, when the new tower foreman took his vacation, Burl gave me that job for three weeks, while the foreman was off.
I worked in the pump house for two more years. At that time, we had to do some maintenance work in addition to the engineering work. For example, we painted the walls (up to the windows) and the window frames. The oilers painted and the engineer looked after the engines. At intervals, the oiler would break from his painting work to go over his bearings and see that they didn’t get too hot. He would paint near his engine, where he could see and hear a rod knock out of place, or anything that was out of order. Before we quit, we would oil our parts of the engine where the oil pumps didn’t reach, and we’d fill the oil cups to keep them dripping properly onto the bearings. Then, we’d go over the engines with towels and wipe up any oil that dropped from the bearings. On the morning shift, we mopped and swept the floors. Since we burned coal, we usually had to sweep cinders from the floors. About every two or three months, we painted the floors. We kept things as clean as we would in our living quarters. We painted those big engines and compressors, too.
They also required us to paint the outside of the building and the outside pipe and valves; but we weren’t required to get off of the ground or onto a ladder. I was hunting the tower foreman to report something. There were several men there, building a water plant. The area was very muddy, and I was trying to avoid the mud. I was jumping from curb to curb. The four by five curbs were built around valves. I thought I was jumping over a four by five curb, but I landed on a curb that was built around the wall of the plant that they were putting up, before I saw what it was. When I landed, I looked down and saw a thirty feet drop below me. If I had stumbled, I would have fallen 30 feet down, onto a concrete floor, or onto a man who was directly below me. I was so frightened that I nearly fainted. I walked off through the mud and sat down. It took me a few minutes to get over the shock, before I could go back to my job. I went back to the pump house, and my boss noticed me. He asked, “What’s wrong, Ira?” I told him how close I had come to getting killed. That’s the last I heard of it.
The boss should have had a barrier around that wall, at least four feet from the curb. They weren’t long about getting one up. I was pretty nimble at that time. I was used to running along the railroad, jumping those ties, when I was late for work. That probably saved my life. That’s the nearest, that I ever came to getting killed on the job at the Cornwell station. Sometime after I started work at the Cornwell station, there was an explosion on a sixteen inch gas line loaded with over three hundred pounds of pressure. I was at work when that explosion happened. It was about quitting time. We noticed the gas pressure going down, but we hadn’t heard what the trouble was that caused the pressure loss. I got in a car with Ray Stats and started to Clendenin. We got to the road that goes up Run Creek. There, at the cab station, by the road, we noticed a woman in distress. She was crying and waving at us to stop.
When we stopped, she said that the gas line had blown up and killed some men. Ray and I jumped out of the car and started running up the creek. (The road wasn’t in shape to drive, and it was a half mile to the site of the explosion.) We saw where it split the line and blew it apart, throwing parts of it several feet out of the ditch. It blew one man (Mr. Rollions) two hundred yards away, up over some tall trees; and he lived to tell about it. Fred Harper and I found him. He couldn’t see, and he was feeling his way along. He was so badly scared that he was hard to recognize. His eyes looked like they were about blown out. He said, “I didn’t know where I was until I bumped into the tool house.” Fred and I led him to the ambulance. He asked if there was anyone else hurt or killed. I said that Clarence Brown and an Estep man were killed and several more men got hurt. (I shouldn’t have told him because that shocked him more.) We figured that the only way that this man’s life had been saved was that he fell through the branches of a bushy tree and down onto some a brush heap. We got him to the ambulance and hunted for the rest of the crew that had been working close to the line.
The explosion had blown the Estep man about a hundred yards. He was broken and torn so much that he was unrecognizable. We carried him to the ambulance and hunted for more people. We found part of the upper torso of a man laying in a dreen, and we took it to the ambulance. I said to Fred, “This looks worse than the battlefields that I saw in the war.” We saw parts of flesh from these men laying all around the area where the pipeline exploded, and we could see pieces of them and their clothing hanging in the treetops. We gathered them up, as best we could, and put them on the ambulance. There were three dwellings near the explosion, but it didn’t hurt anyone who lived in the homes. Their cats and dogs were eating the scattered flesh. We ran them away. In 35 years, I had only one lost time accident on the job. A 16' well casing turned over on my leg, and I was off for two days. I had two lost time accidents that happened off the job. Once, I was standing beside my horse, and he kicked forward with his hind foot and hit me on the leg. I don’t know whether or not the horse intended to hit me. Maybe, he was fighting flies. He wasn’t a bad horse. I was on crutches for a few days.
Another time, I was walking to work and there was a little ice on the ground. There had been a little sleet storm that night and the ground was coated with just enough ice to notice it. I stepped on a clod of frozen dirt, between two car tracks on the level road. I fell on the clod so hard that I broke two ribs and fractured my pelvis bone in two places, clear across it. Because I had plenty of time to get to work, I had been walking slowly. If I had been walking fast, I probably would not have fallen. I hobbled about a hundred yards to the post office. I didn’t think I was hurt so bad. The mail carrier was going to the railroad with the mail. I asked him to call my boss and tell him what had happened, and that I wouldn’t be out to work today. I sat there until the mail carrier came back about an hour. When I made an effort to get onto my feet to go home, my leg hurt so badly that I couldn’t touch my foot to the ground. Two men helped me to the car. I stopped at home and told Nellie I would go on to the hospital and have some ex rays made.
The doctor read the ex ray and showed me the pictures of my broken ribs and the cracks in some others, as well as the broken pelvis bone. They put me to bed, and I lay there on my left side for eleven days. I encouraged the doctor to let me go home; and I was back on my job within thirty days. My doctor said that was the quickest he ever heard of a person getting back to work after a broken pelvis. I drove to work and was off my feet most of the time. We had a good safety record at the Cornwell Station. Our group won a trophy for a million hours without a lost time accident. I played my part in that. In 35 years, I lost only two days because of on the job accidents. Since the first day of work, December 24, 1924, only two men have lost their lives there. The first accident happened just through poor judgment and management in emptying a coal car. There’s a shutter that fastens on a rod underneath the car, in the center. It has hinges on it. The shutter fastens with latches, on each side of the car. To empty the car into the coal crusher, you knock the latch loose with a sledgehammer. That drops the shutter. One young man knocked a shutter down, and it fell on him with the weight of tons of coal. He lived for only two days. Another man burned to death from a careless accident. Two men were welding inside a gas tank that was about ten feet in diameter and twenty feet high. They closed a six inch valve, and took a plug out of a “T” on the pipe.
That let all the gas that might come into the line escape into the air. When the men quit work Friday, they left the shutter open, on top of the tank; but the chief engineer thought it didn’t look just right to leave this plug laying there over the weekend. He had it put back in. On Monday morning, when those two welders came back to work, they got into the tank. Using a flint spark, they tried to light their welding torch. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the bottom of the tank to light it. The welder handed his welding torch up through the manhole for their helper, at the top of the tank, to light it. It exploded. The explosion was heard and felt for five miles around the plant. A flame of fire trapped the two men in the tank. The flame didn’t burn in the bottom of the tank, but flamed up through the manhole. One man laid down in the bottom of the tank until the flame died some.
The other man, Noah Susader, tried to get out until he became unconscious and fell back on the floor. One man at a time went into the tank to lift them out, but nobody could stand the heat for more than a minute or so. The flame died down enough for the conscious man, with some help from a man inside the tank and another one outside of the manhole, to escape. I was about three or four hundred yards away when the explosion occurred. The fire had died down before I got there, but the manhole was still red hot. I helped Mr. Brake out, and there were two men in the tank to lift Mr. Susader out to where we could reach him from outside the manhole. Mr. Susader out wasn’t breathing when we took him out of the tank. Nat Prit started giving artificial respiration; but he was so excited that he was working too fast. I said, “Let me have him, Nat.”
I started giving him artificial respiration by the count the way I was trained in the military service. In about three minutes he started groaning, and he soon started talking. He was so badly burned that he was almost paralyzed; but he wasn’t suffering as much Mr. Brake was. We had the ambulance there in a few more minutes, and the medics got them to the hospital within a half hour or so. Mr. Brake’s ears were half burned off, and his face was badly scared. He came very close to dying, but soon began to recover. Mr. Susader lived only twenty four hours. The nurses said his blood was cooked until he was about paralyzed, and that is the reason he didn’t suffer. Mr. Susader’s father in law tried to question the men about the accident, to bring a lawsuit against the company; but the men who really knew the details wouldn’t talk. No doubt, it’s better that he didn’t bring suit.
The Hope Gas Co. probably did more for Mr. Susader’s family than they would have done if they had been awarded several thousand dollars from a lawsuit. They helped his widow take care of the family of three children. The oldest one appeared to be about eight years old. Several years later, I saw a picture of one of his children’s in the Hope magazine. The company had helped her get a college education and then gave her a job. Mr. Brake recovered, but his ears and face were badly disfigured. We had another man burned about the face pretty badly, just through carelessness or unaware of danger. We had been using gasoline to wash machinery or oil on the floor and mopping with it considerably. He got too close to some hot cinders, which were dumped from the furnace and the three gallons of gas caught aflame and burned his face pretty badly. He didn’t lose any time on the job, but the company had a system of keeping the men on the job when he was able to be out of bed so as to win the million hours without a lost time accident. They would take him to the doctor daily, if necessary, and keep him sitting in the office or give him light duty. After all, the company was careful and far ahead of the United Fuel Gas Company in respect for their employees. They kept “Safety First” signs where there was danger, and they put warning and caution signs on their tools.
They got a cleaning liquid that wasn’t flammable, and we used it to mop oily places. We were responsible for good housekeeping. We had a place for everything and everything had to be in its place. The chief who caused that accident, by putting the plug back on the line, didnÆt stay there but two or three more months. They cut his salary considerably and transferred him to a small pumping station. Everybody was glad to get rid of him. He was constantly having trouble with his men. He got so bad that some of the men would just laugh and scorn him. I had trouble with him only once. He kept following me around, complaining and quarreling with me. He bawled me out for almost nothing. I was sweeping dirt off of some brick and whitewashing it. I really had about all his mouth I could stand. I was using a heavy broom. I pulled the broom up into my hand to see how hard it was. Then I braced myself. I intended to let him have it right in the face. He caught on and walked away. He went back to the office; and, from what I heard, he told his clerks what had happened. They came by me laughing. I heard that he told them, “I believe that Ira Boggs would fight.” Once, he met one of his employees off of the job and started quarreling about something he had done on the job. This fellow realized he wasn’t on the job, and he grabbed the boss and threatened him.
Later on, the chief had more trouble with that fellow. He was a good man, and the company transferred him to another job. When that chief left, we got Burl Neusom back again. Burl was a fine man, and he didn’t have any trouble with his men. On July 4,1932 two years after I built our dwelling house, we had one of the biggest floods I’ve ever seen. Porters Creek was way out of banks. To this day, I’ve never seen so much rain fall in so short a time. For twelve hours it poured down. The water was all around my house and splashing into my back door, next to the creek. It was one foot deep in front of my dwelling, next to the road. I went down into my basement. The six inch thick concrete basement floor wasn’t thoroughly set, and it broke, from one end of the building to the other. The water gushed up so strongly that I thought the house was caving in. I got out in a hurry; and Nellie waded out to the road with our two children, Norris and Dallas. We tried to shelter under a rock cliff, but the water was falling so freely there wasn’t any shelter.
Norris was two years old on July 11, that year; and Dallas was born on April 20. He was only two and a half months old. We carried them across the hill, and across the Left hand of Porter Creek, to my Dads house, where we stayed overnight. I came back the next morning. The creek bank had washed within six or eight feet of my back door; and the earth had cracked clear to the basement wall. The water lacked just a few inches coming through a railroad cut through a bank at the edge of the county road. The road agent was one of my neighbors nearby. I convinced him to let me move the road, about 100 yards, over against the hill; and I filled the grade between my house and the creek with rock and dirt, making it safe from floods. I built a slag rock wall along the creek; taking the rock out of the creek for about two thirds of the wall. I built the wall eight feet high on the upper end to five feet high below the house. I put two wings on it to turn the creek away from my house, one above the house and one between the creek and back door of my house. I put 29 bags of cement in it, some between each layer of rock. I had six men working with bars to push the biggest stones to the wall at the bottom and we slid the heavy rocks upon the wall on skids. I built the wall twenty feet from the house and threw rock into the gulch between it and my house. This opened the creek channel from two to four feet deeper than it was before the flood.
Since then, the swift stream has carved it even deeper. Porters Creek drops 100 feet per mile, and it runs very swift when there is a high tide. When there is high water, it runs at a speed of about 35 miles per hour. Big stones weighing several tons appear and disappear. They come rolling and grinding down the creek, making my house rattle from their crushing along. In the 41 years, since I built the wall, the creek bed has grown deeper. It has cut thirty feet into the hill and bank below the house and fifteen to twenty feet into the hill above the house. In the previous hundred years, this creek drifted from one side of the hill to the other, moving the mainstream as much as fifty yards or more. It leaves its mark with sand and gravel deep in the earth under the sand bottoms. On my job, throughout about three months of the summer, when we didn’t sell so much gas, I had work mostly outside of the plant. That was much better than working inside. It was very hot in that big engine room. I painted most of the time.
The biggest job we had was painting the boiler house, outside and inside. It was 75 feet high, from the floor to the top of the eves. We made us a soft rope swing. We fastened a block and line in the eves of the building and ran the rope through the block so we could pull ourselves and our paint in our rope swing to the top of the building. We would start by painting a swath, as far as we could reach, each way. We could tie our rope onto the swing and fasten it. When finished a section, we would loosen our rope and hold fast to it so we wouldn’t fall. Then we’d let ourselves down to as far as we could reach, and paint another section, until we got on the ground. It took three men about three weeks to paint the boiler house. The engine room was broader and longer, but only about half as high. We learned a better way. The next time we painted those two big buildings, we got a swing board twenty feet long, about 4 feet wide. We put guardrails around it and a block on each end. We pulled it up to the top of the building, and two men on the ground let us down as we painted. Two men worked on the board, or swing. We also painted a big machine shop and several other buildings, inside and out.
The company also owned 14 dwelling houses and a twelve room hotel and restaurant. We painted those buildings every two to three years. The worst such job we had was painting the inside of the boiler house, especially over the boilers. We had to wash it down before painting it, and the heat over those boilers was 1300. It was so hot that we had to work in short shifts. The company had us do that job during the summer. They were afraid to let us do it during the winter. They thought we might cool off too quick and take cold or pneumonia. We also had to paint our wooden bridge that swung on wire cables, for about 100 yards, across Elk River. It was built of 4 inch rough boards. The sides were fenced in about four feet high, and the boards were crossed from bottom to top. It had a four inch strip floor, with cracks between the boards. Often, the women would step into those cracks and loosen their shoe heels. Sometimes, that would cause them to fall. The company later refloored it and made it solid, without those cracks. There were usually three or four men painting this bridge; but, for some reason, the boss had me paint it by myself. When I finally finished it, he asked, “Do you know how long it took you to paint this bridge?” He said, “Eleven and a half days.” “That’s a good record.” I answered, “I just kept busy. I didn’t know how long it would take me.”
While painting the out side of the bridge, I had to be careful not to fall into the river. I stood on a narrow board and held onto the bridge with one hand. Some of the high officials came along and saw me painting in that manner and they said that was too dangerous. They got me a wide belt with a fastener to hold me to the bridge if I did fall. There was a four inch wire mesh outside the bridge to keep children from falling. That was difficult to paint over. It drug the paint from our brush. The swinging bridge was suspended from one and a half inch wire cables that were attached to ten inch gas pipes that were framed with four inch welding pipe and anchored in concrete piers on each end of the bridge. The wire cables were attached to spindles on top of those tall piers and fastened to heavy concrete blocks buried in the ground on each end. We kept this cable greased with a heavy or thick grease so it would never rust and break. The Hope Gas Company was a young corporation at that time; and, without experience, they made mistakes as most men do. For those concrete piers, they dug to a solid base on each end of the river; but they didnÆt drive piling in and around them. In a few years, while the ground was loaded with water, or soaked, one of those piers tipped; and the bridge fell into the river. No one was hurt.
There wasn’t anyone any distance our on the bridge when the pier fell. There was one person on the opposite end from the pier that fell, who was just ready to start across the river. He was a little shaken up, but he got back to safety in a hurry. They set another pier and drove piling under and around it and around the pier that didn’t fall. That happened in 1938. The bridge is still standing in 1970. We live by hopes and learn by our own experience and other people’s stories. I went back to work in the pump house, where I was promoted to engineer. After my promotion, they didn’t require me to leave tower work again. I no longer had to do day work during the summer. I continued as compressor and steam engineer, and I stayed there for two or three years before being promoted again. I worked with two oilers, who helped me take care of five engines and ten compressors. (Each engine had two compressors.) Lawrence Cooper, one of the Hope Gas Co. officials, designed them. The Hamilton Steam Engine manufacturers at Hamilton, Ohio made the steam engines. They were a powerful 1,000 h.p. engine. The flywheel was 20 feet in circumference. It weighed a ton.
When it rolled over at a rate of 120 to 125 times per minute, it had a tremendous power. We didn’t -- or weren’t supposed to -- run them any faster than that. I have checked them when they were running 130; and I wasn’t long about getting my hands on the throttle and getting it to 125 rpm (revolutions per minute). With a sudden pressure drop, as in a case where the gas load was lost through a line blowing up nearby, or when a gate closed through a mistake, the engines could run a way. They could reach a very high speed in just a few seconds. We were usually notified of any expected change of pressure, but in case of a line blowing up nearby, we had no warning. I have caught them when it was dangerous to be near them, but we never did let one runaway to tear apart. Number 1 and 2 engines were low pressure machines. They picked up the gas from the gas field lines. One compressor each on Number 1 and 2 engine picked up the gas from the field and sent it to the higher stage compressor, and the high stage compressor would transfer it to Number 4 and 5 engines. They sent it on through the trunk lines to a relay station or to the place of consumption. Number 3 engine worked independently. It had a low stage that pumped the gas from the trunk lines and a high stage that pumped it into the feed lines. That equaled the high and low stage for the five engines.
This was an interesting job and we felt that it was important, too. I imagine that during those zero temperature days in Cleveland, Ohio, and New York State, those domestic consumers thanked us for this gas. My job was to keep an eye on Number 3 engine and to keep a log on all of the engines. I’d watch the suction and discharge pressures registered on gauges mounted on a board at each engine and check the temperature on each of the ten compressors. I recorded the readings in a book every hour. I also reported the gas pressure to headquarters, in Clarksburg. They would tell me if they wanted more or less gas, and I would speed up or slow down those big engines. On very cold days, we ran those engines at top speed. Sometimes the commercial users would have to shut down in order for the residential users to have enough gas to keep warm. We had a low pressure system in those days. We couldn’t carry more than about 350 lbs. of pressure because the trunk lines wouldn’t stand more pressure than that.
On September 6, 1934, Nellie and I had an increase in our family. I called our doctor. He came and brought us not one but two babies, out and out identical twin girls. The doctor seemed to be almost as proud of them as Nellie and I were. He had four girls, and he said that if those girls were boys and were his he wouldn’t take one million dollars for them. They were so much alike that, for some time, we would get confused as to which was which. We finally found names that suited us Dorothy May and Dorcas Fay. Nellie said, “I’ve found a mark I can use to tell them apart. Dorothy has a freckle on her left cheek.” She looked at Dorcas and found a freckle just like it. They both weighed about the same. They weighed seven and a fraction pounds, totaling two ounces over 15 lbs. Until they were a year old, we would get confused in trying to tell which was which. When they were in high school, they looked so much alike that people couldn’t tell which was which. They still do. We thought that four children would be a nice sized family, but in those days that wasn’t considered a large family. We would dress them as near alike as we could, and we couldn’t get out on the streets without people stopping us and looking at them amazed.
By 1934, business had picked up quite a bit. The Hope Gas Co. put in another one thousand h.p. engine. In the wintertime, we kept all of the engines going at a high speed, but we would have to shut some of them down during the summer.
Finally, business began to look lively. New factories were under construction, and the gas companies drilled more wells. We didn’t have enough gas to supply all of our customers. The Tennessee Gas Company laid a big trunk line from Texas, and the Hope Gas Co. and United Fuel Gas Co. bought gas from them. To measure the gas, we had a meter with a round dial and an ordinary clock on it. We put a paper chart on the dial. It was round with circular marks around it beginning at the pivot and extending to the outer edge. There were straight marks, also beginning at the pivot, extending to the outer edge of the dial. Those marks indicated fifteen minute intervals on the chart. There was a hand on the clock with red ink and one with blue ink. One represented the gas pressure and the other represented the water pressure that might be going through the line. This gas hand would rise up and drop according to the gas pressure. This hand worked up and down on the circular chart. We used a mathematical formula, based on the square root of our readings, to figure how much gas had passed through the meter in 24 hours. We would average the fifteen minute readings to get a number for our calculations, and that would give us a fairly accurate estimate of how many million cubic feet of gas that we had pumped. The chart turned one revolution in 24 hours, recording the readings on the chart. That’s the same way your meter on your dwelling figures how much gas you burn monthly. But the pressure on your line is usually six or ounces instead of the one, ten or 1500 lbs. of pressure on those big trunk lines.
On June 23, 1936 we had another birth in the family another girl. She broke the tie of two girls and two boys. We called her Wilda Jean. She weighed 10 lbs., the largest of them all, at birth. That made five children. Our family was getting large too fast. It’s pretty binding to have so many in school at once. (I was raised in a family of fourteen, and compared to that, five wasn’t so many.) They made an interesting family, three girls and two boys. The oldest being two boys. They were healthy and vigorous children.
In 18 months and eighteen days, on January 5, 1938, another girl was born. She was the smallest of all at birth. She was so little I was afraid to pick her up. She weighed only 6 lbs.; but she was healthy and grew faster than any of the others. Now she’s the largest of the girls, she’s five feet ten inches tall and weighs 160 lbs. That’s the same as her mother weighed when we were married. Now Nellie weighs about 200 lbs. and has, at times, weighed 220 lbs.; but she’s five feet eight inches tall. That was a tall woman then. People now average about two inches taller.
Including the twin girls, Dorothy and Dorcas, and Wilda, we had four children in three years and ten months, or altogether six in eight years. Including the twin girls, they were all hardy and vigorous, and I had to keep busy, working on my job and on my farm, to keep them going strong. We called this one Norma Lea. She grew fast and was the size of a woman at twelve years; just like her mother was at twelve.
I was still working in the compressor department, as an engineer, running those big steam engines. I liked my job, with the exception that it kept us close inside all day. In the summer time, on the warmest days, it got pretty hot; but we could step outside some, just so we didn’t go so far that we couldn’t hear the engines rolling along. We would go over the engines every hour and feel the bearings and see that the oil was circulating properly. We had a pump that drew oil from a tank that held about 30 gallons or more and circulated it through the bearings and back and forth through the pump, and vise versa. We kept the oil tank in the basement, where the intake and the outlet gas steam and water lines were. They came up and connected to the engines and compressors and back into the basement and outside, underground.
We had our gas valves on the outside. It took four men to close or open those big sixteen and twenty inch valves. To open or close the valves, we turned them with our hands. (Now days, they just press a button and the valves operate by compressed air or electricity.)
One day, the chief called me into his office. He said, “I. I.,” (They noticed my initials on the work order board and got to calling me “I. I.” -- short for Ira Irvin Boggs), “I have another job for you if you want it.” He described the job to me. It’s inside and outside work. It’s the strictest job we have. When it goes down, about every wheel stops rolling. It’s the auxiliary engineer’s job.” I said, “I’ll look it over with you and consider it.” He took me into the electric turbine room, where they had two 500 h.p. steam engines, and he showed me the gauge boards and how they operated. They usually ran just one turbine engine. The other one was a spare. It served as a backup source of electricity, for when something went wrong; but sometimes, when things were going at full blast, they would use both. When those engines were going full speed, I could hear those generators humming on top of the hill on my farm two and a half miles from there. They had to be set so solid and true that you could hardly see those turbines moving or rolling over. The chief took me on through the water plant and reservoir and down into the basement, where the water pumps were. They had a 250 h.p. water pump that pushed the water from the condensers to two 70,000 gallon tanks for the steam boilers. It took an hour to fill one of those tanks. I would open the valves to the tank that I wanted to empty into the reservoir and close the valve on the tank that had already emptied. Then I had to start the electric pump to fill the empty tank, and open and close the valves to the reservoir, which had steam lines in it to warm the water for the boilers. There were two 100 h.p. pumps in the basement (one for a spare pump), to move the water from the reservoir to the boilers. When the plant was in full production, it took all of the capacity of a six inch water line to supply those five or six boilers.
This water was picked up from the big condenser pit next to steam pump house, about two hundred yards from the boilers. This pump didn’t deliver the water direct to the boilers, but to a big tank by the end of the boilers. It was heated there, to almost boiling temperature, before going into the boilers. This helped to keep fuel expenses down to fire those five big boilers.
The big condenser that those big steam engines connected into caught the steam from those engines and used it to heat the water in a big tank which overflowed into the condenser pit exhausting the steam into the condenser tank, sealed by backpressure of water at the condenser pit, also kept the noise down. You didn’t hear those big engines chugging along like those at the United Fuel Station at Cobb Station, a few miles down Elk River.
I said to my boss, “I’ll take the job, and we will soon see if I can do it.” This was a better job, in a way. I had it all to myself. I didn’t have a foreman or anyone to bother me. I just went about doing what I knew was to be done and did it the best I could do. I got along without any complaints. It paid me $10 more than the steam engineering job in the compressor plant station.
I stayed near those electric turbines when I didn’t have other work to do. Once an hour, I went to the water plant, at the river. To reach it, I went down a flight of 49 steps to a platform, level with the riverbed, where there were three 250 h.p. electric powered pumps, run from those turbines in my turbine room. I looked at the oil in the bearings on those water pumps to see that there was enough oil in them, and I felt the bearings to see if they were overheating. Then I looked at the water gauges to see that they were pumping enough water through the 16' and the 20' line. The 16' line ran to the condenser of my turbines, and the 20' line ran to condenser for those big steam engines. Those pumps also supplied water for cooling those big compressors that pumped the gas.
Allis Chalmer manufactured the turbine engines. They operated by steam, and rated 500 h.p. When in full speed, they ran at 5,000 revolutions per minute. They made a keen humming sound; but I soon got used to the noise. They would automatically speed up or slow down as the pressure hit them for more or less power. Sometimes, I would have to regulate the voltage, by turning a wheel an inch or so. I soon got well acquainted with this job, and I got so I could listen to the changes in the tune of those turbines; and, as the noise went lower or louder, I could tell their speed; and I could tell if something had gotten out of order, about as well as if I was looking at the gauge. I had to notice the voltage and amperage and keep it going right to run all of those water pumps and other motors. There were several of them. I might also mention our coal crusher and other small motors that run on the electricity generated by our turbines. Those turbines also furnished lights on the job and for fifteen dwellings and for the bridge across Elk River.
This was the auxiliary power plant. It was the heart of power to keep things adjusted and running. We could get power for our lights from the Appalachian Power lines when we shut down a few days every year for maintenance repairs or case we had to shut those turbines down because of a noisy bearing or other emergencies.
When the plant first started operating, there wasn’t much to do at this job; but it got to be a pretty busy job. When a new job came up, it was easy for the boss to say, “Let the auxiliary engineer take it, he doesn’t have anything to do.”
One of the big responsibilities assigned to the auxiliary engineer was testing and treating the boiler water and the domestic water, to keep it pure. When the river was muddy, we had to use chemicals to clear and soften the water that went to the boilers. We used copper sulfate and aluminates to clear it and soda ash to soften it. I have used as much as fifty pounds of copper sulfate to clear it, as much 30 pounds of soda ash to soften it, and as much as 20 pounds of aluminates. When the river was in tide from sandy or loam soil, we didn’t use so much of the chemicals. When it was muddy from red clay soil, it took more chemicals to clear it. When there was a big tide in Buffalo Creek from coal mining, we also had a black water to contend with. We just couldn’t get that water cleared up properly. We usually used from three to 30 pounds of soda ash, but a few times I have seen Elk River so pure we didn’t need any chemicals at all to soften it.
We always used some chlorine in the domestic water to make it safe from bacterial contamination, but very little at times. We had a small tank of chlorine gas, and we regulated the flow of it by the number of air bubbles per minute. We would reduce or increase the bubbles as needed. We tested it with a little seeing eye instrument. We looked through a glass to tell the color of the water to test it for purity. The tank of chlorine held up to 2,000 lbs. of pressure. I have seen it spring a leak, and I have breathed enough chlorine to make my throat raw.
They found another task for the auxiliary man, or engineer when he didn’t have anything to do. We put a soapy chemical, called burman, in a small tank in the boiler basement. It came in flakes that looked like broken glass. It was supposed to keep the boilers from scaling and to keep them clean. We had to regulate a jet of liquid from this chemical as it flowed into the boilers. There was a 1/2-inch pipe from each boiler where we got our test water. We would boil a half pint of this water in a container and put chemicals in it to bring a sludge. Then we would pour it into a small tube with small scale marks on it. We would increase or diminish the flow of the burman according to the level of sludge that showed in the tube. Then we could increase or diminish the flow of water in those 1/2 inch pipe drains from the boilers, and increase or decrease the burman accordingly. Most of this extra work was for the day shift and the evening shift. The morning shift had the least amount of extra work to do.
When we had to change turbine engines, usually on day shift, we couldn’t always get all of the make busy work done up properly, no matter how fast we worked. Changing those turbines was a particular job, especially when they were loaded to full capacity. We had to be sure our water drain valve was open when we opened the steam throttle. Otherwise, water would collect in the engine and fill it up, and it would blow to pieces. We would keep the steam flowing through the engine until all water was drained while the engine was hot from steam. Then we closed the water drain valve and turned on the steam by opening the steam throttle a little at a time. Before kicking it entirely off, we closed down the throttle on the other engine a little until we had about the same amperage on that dial as on the engine we had started to shut down. If we made a little mistake, we would lose our electric load and our water pumps would all shut down. The chief and another helper, the tower foreman or the machinist, was usually there to help change turbines. It was a demanding job. If we kicked the turbine off and lost our load of water, the steam engines would go non condensing, and the fireman would have to make more steam. Then we could hear those big steam engines exhaust into the air or into the empty condenser tank. They didn’t make quite so much noise by exhausting into the tank as they would if they were exhausting into the air like the United Fuel Gas station at Cob Station does. (At that time, Cobb Station pumped more gas than we did. Later, we put in three more of those big thousand horsepower engines, and then we pumped more gas than the United Fuel.)
Another increase in our family! It was a fine, big, hardy 8 &1/2 pound boy. He was born July 17, 1939, the year before the Second World War broke. We named him Granvel Cornelius. He was the seventh one. They all kept us going strong.
I worked daily on my job and farmed quite a bit, too. I had some timber to cut. I had a sawmill moved onto my place to cut it, and I had bought a ton and a half truck. Business got slack, and I didnÆt do much good at it. I couldn’t sell anything but crossties for the railroad, and they finally quit buying them. I had my truck about half paid for. I got an order for mine posts; but I couldn’t meet expenses, and I had to quit that. I made about three trips to Virginia. I hauled about five hundred bushels of apples and sold them; but I had to hire a man to help do this, and I couldn’t make it pay out. On the weekend, I would quit work at midnight and go with my truck driver. I’d get back just in time to go to work. My driver would sell the apples during the week while I worked and I would make another trip. I made two or three trips to Ohio. On each trip, I took a load of coal and sold it. Then I brought back hay or corn and sold it. I made a little money at this until winter. I had paid $1600 for the Diamond tee truck with monthly instalments of $75. It was a good truck, but there was nothing to do with it. I made a few payments and borrowed $500 from the bank. I paid off the lean on the truck and paid the bank $32 per month until that note was cleared. After business picked up a little, I sold my truck and the balance of my timber to Uncle Charlie Foreman.
After I worked at my auxiliary engineer job at the Hope Gas Company for a few more years, the district engineer wanted me to take a different job. When they started buying gas from Hamilton Gas Company, they installed a new 1,000 h.p. gas engine to pump it, and I would be running that engine. In a way, it was a better job; but it would be quite different from what I was used to. It was too monotonous for me. I had so much to look after, here and there, on the auxiliary job that, anytime I got tired of staying in one place, I could get up and move around, whether I needed to or not. No one knew but what I was just tending to my business, and I could meet people and talk for a few minutes. The gas engineer job was an inactive job; and I wouldn’t be close enough to speak to anyone except when the tower foreman came around. I didn’t take it.
Later on, the district engineer fell into a scheme to make me take it. I thought I understood him. I knew that he and the tower foreman had a mutual friend who wanted my job; but I had too much seniority for him, and it was against our organizational rules to go over seniority. He went to a lot of expense (for the company) trying to take the position. They sent for the chief electrical engineer at Clarksburg. Then they had me meet with the other three electric plant engineers, and all of us took turns changing those turbines, shutting one down and putting the other one on. We had to know our system or we would fumble the job. If one of us made a mistake and kicked off the electric power, that would cause a lot of trouble and expense.
We all spent a half day changing those turbines, each at his turn. When we got through, I noticed that the district chief called the electric chief out for a private talking. I decided I could talk to the electric chief, too. I called him into another room and told him what the plan was and what the district engineer wanted. “Yes,” he said. “I understand, too. I told the district engineer you did a better job changing those turbines than any of them.” That settled it with me, and the district chief didn’t get his plan to work out. I got an extra day’s work, with overtime; and I kept my job.
A few years later, as I grew older, they offered me the job again. My auxiliary job was getting to be a little rough for me; but I learned that the new job wouldn’t last more than two years or so; but I thought I could get my old job back if I had to change. I was a little worried that if I took the job, and it went out, my seniority wouldn’t count. But I learned that if the job was canceled, I would probably have enough seniority to get back to the old job. I had so much running to do on the auxiliary job (and I had to walk to work and back; that was 4 & 1/2 more miles per day) that I finally decided to take the offer.
The new job was the nearest no work of any job I ever had. I was in a twenty by thirty building all alone, and there was a lot of noise from the V type engine, which operated from natural gas. It was built just like a Ford engine, but it was much bigger. I just had to pour a little oil once a day and check the pressure on my books every hour. I had about a half hours work to do each day and I could just sit or walk the other 7 & 1/2 hours. It was the most monotonous job I ever had.
On the day shift, I did have an extra chore that got me out of that noisy engine room for about a half hour. I had to run a test on the gravity of the gas, or a water test. One day the chief sent the tower foreman to help me run it. (I suppose that the test results didn’t look right to him.) In a few days, the assistant chief came by, and I said to him, “You tell the chief I’m ready to run that test again now. If he wants to send a man to help me, I’ll take all the help I can get.” He smiled, and I think he told the chief what I said. (I could have used the help on the morning shift someone to relieve me while I slept!)
On the morning shift, we didn’t have any extra work to do and we didn’t do any work that didn’t have to be done at that time. We sat a lot of the time; and occasionally, when we had lost sleep at home, we would get very sleepy. I read some because if I had anything in my hand when I started to nod, I’d drop it. When it slipped out of my hand, I’d awaken. If anyone came through the door next to those howling turbines, it would cut off the sound enough that I would notice it and awaken from my snoozing. I had a boss to wake me only once; and he just rubbed by me and went on. He didn’t say a word. He came in from the opposite door from the turbine engine or he would have awakened me. Some of the men just couldn’t sit down without going sound asleep.
If I got too sleepy, I would brace myself against something and my legs would give way when I nodded off. I told my friends I wasn’t like a horse; I couldn’t sleep while standing. One of the firemen just couldn’t seem to stay awake. The boss caught him sound asleep a few times, and they laid him off for two or three weeks. They finally had to discharge him. To go to sleep while firing all of those big boilers endangered everything. Finally, as a last resort, the company would discharge a man; but very few men were discharged at Cornwell Station.
One of our men kept coming on the job too drunk to work. He must have been an alcoholic. He was their electrician, and he associated a lot with one of the bosses. I had some trouble with the hot plate where I heated my boiler water, and he rewired it. When I came on the job, before I went out to the river pump house, I would turn on the switch to heat my boiler water. He had connected the wiring to a 240 volt instead of a 100 volt wire. When I got back from the river, the place was on fire. The hot plate set on a wooden table. There was enough voltage on it to kill a person, if he was wet or had wet feet. They laid the man off a few times and finally had to discharge him. His wife taught school; or his family would have starved. Once, he was away from home for a day or two. When he came back, there wasn’t anyone there, and all of the furniture was gone. When he found his family, his wife told him that when he quit drinking he could come home. That weaned him from his bottle for a while, but I have seen him drinking since then. Other than being an alcoholic, he’s a pretty well respected man. (I had worked on public works since I was 15 years old. The Hope Gas Company had the finest, most respectable crew I ever worked with. They were very particular about who they hired permanently.)
One day, the chief said to me, “I.I.,” “I want you to fire those big boilers for two weeks. My fireman is going on vacation.” I had fired a boiler with gas on a well drilling job, but I said to the boss, “Chief, I never fired those boilers.” “Well, you’ve done everything else here. It will be on the day shift; and the tower foreman can help you out, if you need help.” This was during the summer, at a time when they weren’t selling much gas. They fired those boilers with gas when they couldn’t sell it all. There were only three boilers to fire at that time. About all I had to do was watch my water level on each boiler, and to watch my steam gauge and regulate the gas, as needed, to keep up the steam pressure. They would let me know ahead of time, when they were going to start or stop one of those big steam engines. I managed my turn at that job and didn’t blow up any of those boilers or lose enough steam to cause those engines to stop.
I worked some in the machine shop. There’s where I ought to have been all the time. All of it was day work, but I didn’t try to talk myself into the job. If I had always worked on the day shift, I couldn’t have done much farming and I couldn’t have worked on my house. I worked at the relief shift for about five years. That gave me more time to work at home. I’d work two morning shifts, two evening shifts and one day shift. The worse of it was that, when I worked my last evening shift, I would come off at midnight and have to go back on the day shift that morning at eight o’clock; but that gave me eight more hours off on my weekends.
I grew a little corn, wheat or oats and all the vegetables we needed in the summer, and Nellie canned a few hundred quarts. We kept a horse to do the farming, one or two cows, chickens and hogs. I killed an O.I.C. hog that dressed out at nearly seven hundred lbs. Its middling were six inches thick. We just couldn’t have made it if we had not raised a lot of our food.
On August 1, 1942, another child was born, a 7 pound boy. We called him James Douglas after James Doolittle and Douglas McArthur. This was about the time that Jimmy Doolittle led the air raid over Tokyo, and his name was very popular; also, my dad’s name was James Curtis Boggs. The doctor didn’t get the baby straightened out properly before he was born. He broke the baby’s arm and didn’t tell us it was broken. We noticed it that it was swollen. If there was anything wrong with a child, Nellie would notice it, about as well as a doctor would. She was a good nurse. Douglas didn’t get along good at all. We didn’t think we would raise him at all. Once, he turned so blue that Nellie thought he was dying. We took him to the hospital, and two doctors took him into a room away from me. I heard him scream for life. They set his arm without taking time to give him any relief by freezing his arm or giving him an anesthetic. I could have fought those doctors. I knew what they had done without mercy. A lot of the time, doctors are just too busy to take proper care of patients; and those men may have been like the doctor that brought Douglas into this cruel world. They may have thought he wouldn’t live anyway, but he had a good careful mother who saved him. He soon became as healthy as any of his seven siblings. This gave us four boys and four girls tied for the second time. That made eight, in all.
One day, I had just eaten my dinner, and the children were at the table. Nellie said to them, “Don’t eat all of that chicken.” “I want some left to put in your Daddy’s lunch pail.” The boys were three and four years old. They went to the chicken house and caught one of Nellie’s best laying pullets. They took a six pound ax, and one held its head and the other chopped its head off. They brought it in to their mother and said. “Now Daddy will have some chicken for his pail.” It’s just by chance that they didn’t cut their fingers off. They had cleaned up all of the chicken on the table. I suppose they thought to get another chicken would be as polite a way to make amends as any and that it would save them from a scolding.
On March 1, 1944, another boy was born. (Douglas and Earl were born during World War II.) We called him Earl Edsil. He weighed 7 & 1/2 lbs. He was another fine child. We had a lot of trouble getting proper food for children, or anyone, during the war. We were given food stamps for all varieties of food but we couldn’t find it. The wealthiest people would pay a high price for more than they would really need for themselves. They could get it, even if it was against the law. (They ran the black market, as they called it.) I got so angry at my merchant that I could have sued him, but there was very little we could do about it. I did quit dealing with him, but that didn’t make it any better. About all of the merchants did this black market outlawry. Meat and lard, or anything you seasoned with, was the hardest to find; and that’s a special food children need to build strong bodies. Still, Earl was an especially hardy child, and he made a big strong man, as strong as any of my family. He was the most antic one of the children. He was always playing tricks and making jokes on the other children. Earl called light bread “easy bread,” and he called cornbread and biscuits “heavy bread.” Once, when he was only three years old, he watched Nellie until she got busy in the kitchen; and then he slipped out the front door and started to the farm where I was, with the other children, making sorghum molasses. It was a half mile through the woods, and there were three roads to lead him off, but he took the right one and was just getting to us, at work, when Nellie caught him. He had been up on the hilltop only a very few times; but he must have remembered the roads because he got on the right one.
In the spring of 1945, I planted four acres of corn. After it was partly hoed the first time, I got sick with stomach trouble. I thought I had an ulcer. I went to the Veterans Hospital in Huntington for treatment. They gave me a test and found that I had a bad acid stomach, but no ulcer. After about three weeks of treatment, I came home. I soon got sick again, and I went back to the hospital for more treatment. The hospital was so crowded that they sent me to Fort Lee, Virginia, to the army hospital. The doctor said I just had a badly ulcerated stomach. He treated me for about a month. I got to feeling much better. After about thirty days, my boss at Cornwell Station called to see when I would get back to work. I told my doctor that I had a job to take care of and that, although I got full pay while off, I thought I should go back to work soon. I didn’t have any hard labor to do, and I felt that I was now well enough to handle my job. The doctor agreed to let me go home; but he told me to rest for a few days before going back to work.
A few days after I came home from my thirty days in the hospital, I went to see how my four acres of corn was doing. I never was so surprised, to see such a fine field of corn. Norris and Dallas had finished hoeing the four acres of new ground corn, the first and second time; and there was hardly a weed to be seen. I had never kept the weeds so clean, myself, as Norris and Dallas did. Norris was fifteen and Dallas was only thirteen. New ground gets very foul with weeds and sprouts, but they kept it clean. I never had a better field of corn.
Norris and Dallas worked so hard that Nellie said she had never felt so sorry for anyone. Norris said, “Mother, I’m just too young to take care of a big family.” Nellie felt so much sympathy for him that she shed tears. Norris seemed to think that I’d never be able to work again. They were the most attentive children I ever saw. Dallas was very interested in farming. He was a 4 H member and he later belonged to the Future Farmers of America. He had several projects to improve the farm and he made good at it. He got some good awards for his work, and he made A’s in almost all of his courses.
On April 7, 1946, another girl was born into the family. We named her Connie Kay. She was a fine, strong 7 pound baby. This was another tie in the family five boys and five girls. We never had more than a very little trouble with her obedience. She seemed to just naturally listen to what she was told to do, and she did it whether she liked it or not. If Nellie had to leave the house for a few minutes, she would sit Connie on a chair and tell her to sit there until she got back. She would be sitting there when Nellie got back. She was one of the prettiest children of the family, and she is still pretty at 25 years. This is the last girl to be born in the family.
Another boy was born on April 22, 1948, making six boys and five girls, a total of eleven children in our family. We named him Arthur Curtis Boggs. He is now 23 years old. We named him after the doctor who brought him into this world (Dr. Arthur Smith) and his Granddad Boggs (James Curtis Boggs). We already had one named James Douglas. We gave him Dad’s first name, and Arthur got his middle name.
I can hardly realize how Nellie and I ever took care of such a large family, or ever got by, on a normal income; but we managed to get all of them through high school all that would finish school. Some of the girls quit early and got married. I tried to get them to finish after marriage, but they didn’t. All but one of the boys finished high school, and all of the other five have had some college work. Three of them are in college now. One or two have had at least three years of college work. My second boy, Dallas, liked schoolwork and was very good in his ability to learn. He earned a scholarship for part of his college expenses and worked his way through four years of college at West Virginia University. I couldn’t afford to do much more to help him -- only to encourage him -- and help him to get a loan of a few dollars. He completed eight years of college and repaid the loan. He has a doctorate degree from Cornell University and, at age 38, he is a laboratory director; but he isn’t making much more money than two of my other sons, Douglas and Norris. Norris is a manager for McJunkin Corporation, a tool repair and supply business. Douglas is a store manager for a Woolworth retail corporation store. Earl and Arthur are still in college, while working and making about average salary and wages. They all are industrious workers and doing well. The youngest one, Arthur, is the only one that hasn’t married so far. He’s 22 years old, still in college and working for FMC. He will probably do as well as any of the family.
The girls have married very well and are quite successful. The two twins, Dorothy and Dorcas, both married soldiers who will retire in the next two years and six months, on twenty year retirement at 38 and 39 years old. Both husbands have learned good trades that will keep them in good jobs after they retire from the military. The other girl’s husbands are doing well and making above average wages. They also have very good trades. One is a mechanic and welder, and the other is a mechanic and crane and heavy equipment operator. Connie is a legal secretary and she also makes good wages.
I don’t think I have any reason to complain about any of my family. These days, there are not many families that don’t have at least one black sheep; but there aren’t any in my family of eleven children. They are all diligent workers. They all have interests that keep them going, and they’re always learning to do better.
I continued to work as auxiliary engineer at Cornwell Station until I retired in 1960, after thirty five years. At that time, the Station had changed from steam power to gas and electric power. I had worked at about every chore that there was to do there; even if no more than long enough run vacations on some of the jobs. I had worked at jobs that ranked from pick and shovel labor to tower foreman, and I had worked some as a machinist. Although I liked the auxiliary job (where I stayed, mostly, for 27 years) best, I could have had a machinist job if I had applied for it, but it didn’t pay any more money. It would have been day work, but I would have been working away from home quite a bit.
Last spring, I was in the hospital with a heart attack; and the Lord inspired me to write a short poem. There was a picture, about 24' x 16', on the wall at the foot of my bed. It was as natural a picture of nature as I have ever seen. It was a picture of the mountains going up, up into the horizon, into the sky and clouds, in the fall of the year. There was a camp or lodge, built in the style of homes of a century ago. The roof extended down over a long front porch. There was one small square window in its broad end, and a door at the corner of the house. It stood near an eddy of water a stream running in from the mountains. The timber was different colors, yellow and gold as autumn, with green hemlocks on each side of the water; and the grass was as natural a green color as could be. It looked like grass appears when there has just been a shower of rain that washed all the dust off of it. It looked so natural, as if you were walking on it or sitting on the grass, on the bank of that beautiful, clear stream.
I sat on the green, Looking down into a beautiful clear stream. I sat on the green, and looked up into the beautiful clear sky In the heavens so high. I wondered what the Lord would have me do. Whatever it is, I’ll do it with a smile. I’ll look down on this earth, but it’s hardly worthwhile.
And the Lord blessed me with his heavenly spirit. So I didn’t care much to die, but I hate to leave my family behind. I don’t think people should want to die, not as long as they can be of some interest to this world. I just prayed and left it to the Lord; and I’m here yet at age 76. I’ve prayed that the Lord would take me away before any of my eleven children are called home forever. I’m much older than anyone else in my family. Nellie is thirteen years younger than I am, and I was thirty five at the time our first child was born.
I didn’t finish the story about the picture. There’s more, yet, that turned out good for me. I had just thought about buying this picture; but I didn’t intend to buy it unless they placed another picture in its place, for the next patient that entered my bed. I had read a book of literature and poems Connie brought me while I was in my bed. Until I read that little book of about 165 pages, I never took much interest in poetry. I never had the education to understand literature; but the book was so full of nature and Godly poems that I did take an interest in it. Poems express beautiful thoughts of reality and nature. The little book that Connie brought me dwelled on Godliness so well that I could understand it. God said that the Bible is so plain that a child can understand it.
The picture? About two days before I left the hospital, my nurse came in and said, “Mr., Boggs, I’m going to take your picture.” I was too late, somebody had beat me to it. I said to my nurse, “I’ll look at my friends’ picture in the bed next to me.” (There were only two beds in my room.)
After twenty three days in the hospital, two days after the picture disappeared, I got released. I came home on the Saturday before Fathers Day. I was still mostly confined to my bed for another six weeks. On Fathers Day, while I was in bed, Connie brought that picture to me. She turned it around, in front of me, and said. “This is your Fathers Day present.” I was so happy that I almost went into shock. I said, “You couldn’t have given me a present that pleased me better.” I’m writing this poem on the back of the picture. I want it to stay in the family until a home burns; and sometimes that’s a long time. It’s worth a lot to me. When I finished writing this poem, the Lord blessed me with His unspeakable heavenly blessings. I wrote it on a blank page of the poetry book that Connie gave me, and I signed my name under it. There was another blank space on the opposite page. I signed Nellie’s name at the bottom of that page for her to write a poem and send it to the hospital for me. She obliged with the following verses:
Love does not cease when pleasures cease their thrill.
When passion has grown still,
Blood that raced madly is thin and cold.
Yet time has never our love grown old.
Each others frailty has tried us both
With poor pretense and clever art to hide.
He tells me of the things I failed to see
When he forgets that I am his memory.
Friends have gone on that loved us in the past;
We ask with frightened glance, “Which will be last?”
Oh, let us go together, if we may.
I have more courage, dear God.
Let me stay if one must stay,
For who would know his ways,
And how could he endure the lonely days?
But if he went to rest, I would not weep,
Contented, I would wait eternal sleep.
Young love the dawning, Old love the light,
Shinning the live long day,
Sending its scarlet into the darkness,
Into the night!
I have another paragraph or two to write about while I was in the hospital in May and June. I had a dream; but it was so plain that you might call it a vision. (The Bible says young men shall see visions and the old shall have dreams.) I was feeling pretty poorly one night before I went to sleep. I dreamed of seeing Dad, and my deceased brothers, Alvah and Cecil. I thought they were working in a field, side by side, and stooped over while picking up something and laying it to their sides; and they were talking to one another, and to me. I don’t remember what the conversation was about, but all were talking and working continuously.
I also dreamed that there was a little child standing by the side of my bed, a little boy with brown curly locks of hair. He appeared to be about four years old, but he was looking at me with a cheerful smile. He appeared to have the intelligence of an adult. It came to me that it was my little brother, Scott, who died when I was about nine years old. When I think about it, Scott did have dark blond hair, curly and in locks. It was customary to save a lock of hair from a relative that died. Mother did save a lock of his hair; I remember seeing it at times, years afterwards. I woke up about this time, and I wasn’t breathing. I was about ready to leave this world of suffering and trouble. I didn’t care to die, but I thought it wouldn’t be fair for me to want to leave my family. I prayed for God to spare me a while longer, if it was His will. I wasn’t suffering at all; but I was about as bad off as I had been during that heart attack. I didn’t call my nurse, nor did I think to call her. I wasn’t suffering either, but I started breathing normally again. I’ve never told this dream to anyone except Arthur and Nellie.
I’ve often dreamed of talking to Mother, too; but, somehow, I didn’t think of her in that dream. I have dreamed of talking to Aunt Julia and Uncle Robert, at times. We know not when we will be called to give up this life. It may come as a thief in the night. The idea is never to lay down and go to sleep without asking God to make us safe for His kingdom, and thanking Him for sparing our life through another day.
On October 21, I had to go to the hospital for a checkup and to have a cardiogram made to see how I was improving from my heart condition. I didn’t expect to stay in the hospital anytime, but the doctor insisted that I stay for a few days. I had been having some unusual pains for two days, but I had gotten better. They put me on water and soup for three days, and kept me in bed. I told my doctor that I came into the hospital to get well, not to starve. He grinned, as he knew I understood that they put me on the special diet for a good reason. I stayed eight days, and I sat up a little at a time before leaving. When I came home, I was released from part of my medicine; and I am doing as well as could be expected. I feel strong; but I dare not use my strength but little. I can hardly keep quiet; but every time I get a little tired, I feel pains; and that won’t do.
Now there is not so much to write about. I have lived around here since I returned from California, and I worked at Cornwell Station for thirty five years. My job didn’t change much while I was there, but it started changed drastically shortly after I retired. They put in gas engines and went on automation, which cut the crew by about 80 per cent. In sheer numbers, there are now about as many people out of work as there was in the Hoover panic; but we now have unemployment compensation, Social Security, food stamps and training programs; and we have better means for keeping things on the level by regulating the money supply to control over production and to keep prices down and wages up.
I have lived in the most progressive times of history, but the twentieth century has been a time of great turmoil. I survived the Great Depression of the 20's; and I have lived through the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. (Two of my sons, Douglas and Earl, served in the Vietnam War.) I grew up in the horse and buggy days. We had only a few roads that we could get a horse and buggy over, and most of them went only from town to town. Now, we have been on the moon and are trying to get to the planet Mars.
With all of those narrow escapes, I know that I have had been blessed with a charmed life, but I pray that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will not have to go through as many hard times as I did. Scholars have predicted that the world is due for a century of peace. They say that throughout history the world has alternated between a hundred years of war and a hundred years of peace, and I hope that they are right. I cannot imagine what an all out war would be like in the age of megaton bombs. But, in the end, our descendants may have to start over again and relearn the way of living that we experienced at the turn of the century without running water, electricity, rapid transportation and all of the other modern conveniences. Many families of the younger generations might starve to death before they get into the swing of it.
by Norma Noel
My Dad passed away on November 11, 1983. I have very good memories of him. To me, he was the greatest Dad ever. He was a Godly man. He had a lot of faith and he lived his religion. Dad was such a good family man. He loved his family and was such a hard worker and a caring person. I can see him plainly to this day. He was such a neat and clean man, in appearance and about the house. He enjoyed going to church and always said Grace at the table. He taught us values by example. His influence still lingers with me to this day. He took care of his tremendous responsibilities of caring and providing for his family of 11 children. He not only provided for us, but he communicated the real meaning of Christian living to us. He acknowledged God all of his life. I don’t think any one of his children that would say he failed us. We didn’t have much growing up, but we were all taught the importance of living good lives. I am very thankful for a father that loved us enough to teach us the ways of God by word and example.
I am very proud of my Dad. He was full of patriotism and served in WWI with pride. He wasn’t drafted, he volunteered. I remember hearing him talking about how he was anxious to go and serve his country. He said that he couldn’t wait to get his work completed at home so that he could go. People like him make our country great. He also loved West Virginia. Dad was widely traveled, but he often said our state was the prettiest state in the US. Fall was his favorite time of the year, with all of the brilliant colors on the hillsides. He left a good Christian Heritage and all who knew him spoke well of him.
Dad lost his eye sight and his hearing for the last two years of his life. He never lost track of the time, and was completely aware of things around him. But most remarkable was his attitude during this time. He never failed to talk about how God had blessed him. He remained cheerful and loved a good laugh. I’d like to leave you with a thought that perhaps God allowed him a look at heaven during his last days upon this earth. The reason I say this is because heaven became very, very real to him during that time. Last words of famous people are often quoted and given as an example of their lives. In his last days, Dad seemed to have one message that he had to share with those around him. If you were a part of his life during that time, I’m sure you heard his admonishment: “You can’t afford to miss heaven!”
Norma Noel, Middle child of 11