THE ‘PUNK’ AT THE CAMP

Nov 20, 2013 by

S: Well, they gener’lly make songs yuh know. You take all them ol’ woodhicks, they would . . . they liked you, they wadn’ nuthin’ they’d, but what they’d do to you. There wouldn’ be but one thing . . .they liked to devil yuh you see. That’s one thing they liked to do was tuh devil yuh. . . but now, you get at one uh their plates, an’ they called the boy, say it was me that was there, called me a punk . . . and you get at one uh their plates, an’ hit was a hard matter tuh find your place now. See, after you went there, uh, when you first go there, why they’d wait till the whole crew went in, maybe a hundred and seventy five men, all of them with cork shoes on, us’ally. The splinters just a flyin’ yuh know. An’ they’d wait, call the crew in, an’ then if they had an extry plate, you see, which is, oh, sometime one a quittin’, an some a comin’ in ya know, pert nigh th’ whole time, why if they had an extry plate, why, they’d holler “One more man”. Didn’ cost yuh nuthin’. An’ if they had two “Two more men.” An’ you’d get up and they’d show you, the cooks would, the plate to get at. But the way I done yuh see, I’d count, I’d count the men up tuh wher’ my plate was, yuh see. I was, I was afraid to get in one uh them ol’ hicks plates. ‘Course he wouldn’t uh hurt me, gimme a rattle though. An’ talk . . . anything. . . now that beat anything, Fly, that I ever seen.
W: Where they fed you, you mean?
S: Jus’ anything that you could mention. And, meat, of all kind now, not of all kind, but they’d have it cooked all differ’nt ways. Say, steak, ‘n’ b’ar’s meat ‘n hog meat, ‘n ham, an’ their table ‘d be, oh, maybe forty feet long, long as from here tuh the middle uh the road.
W: Hmmm
S: They’d jam it full uh that meat about that thick . . . . W: That’s each camp they had that many men?
S: Yeah, at them big ones now, at the big comp’ny camps. That’s wher’ you got your easy days in. They didn’ pay no attention to yuh. . . . But I couldn’ pass a day off to save my life a workin’ at one uh them camps. But you get them ol’ hicks tuh likin’ yuh, an’ could see the devil, an’ have fun of th’ evenin’, you know you had ‘er made. Yessir, they’d hit that punk a good whoppin’. Now they didn’t have them real big camps on Cranberry, when they logged it.
W: They didn’t?
S: Hmm, mm.
W: Country too rough?
S: Some uh, no. Some uh them would have thirty men, er somethin’ like that, thirty or forty. But take ‘er on Cheat, I’ll be danged if they didd’t have a big crew .. The longer you stayed, the better you liked it. An’ if they knowed yuh, jus’ all yuh’d have tuh do, jus’ walk into the cook room an’ say, “Well, I’m a leavin’ tuhmarr’.” “Well, come in, in th’ mornin’.” You’d go in there an’ they. . .”Whaddyuh want for lunch now, tuh take with ya?” Anything you named, they had ‘er now, even down tuh candy on th’ table. Anything. They had eggs, ‘n’ mashed ‘taters, fried ‘taters, b’iled ‘taters, ‘n’ rice, oats, peaches–anything that you looked for, they had’em on these tables.
W: Guess they hauled in all the supplies on the train. S: Yessir, yessir, that’s the way they did.
W: Theydidn’ttrytokeep…
S: They had a certain train they hauled it on. They called it the s’ply train. That’s what they called it. Sometimes they’d pick out some men, you know, to go around these camps with ’em. They had certain days they runned it. I tell ya, I b’lieve it ‘uz Wensday or Thursday that they run the s’ply train. About the middle of the week. An’ they’d take men
with ’em to help ’em onload, an’ by gosh it was, they was a lot uh stuff on that s’ply train at them big camps now. Hell, big boxes uh stuff an’ ever’thing else, ‘n’ it didn’ make any differ’nce how long yuh stayed, your board didn’ cost yuh any. You just eat anytime you want to. Well if you went there an’ hit ‘uz a bad time, or rainin’–you’ve seen it rain ’bout weeks at a time–they wouldn’t turn yuh out, even if they wasn’t a goin’ tuh har’ yuh, they’d keep yuh right there. An’ they put me to, with a feller, now I thought the world of him. I’s raised in this country with him. He’s dead now. An’ one uh them fellers that, uh, I’d went there one time an’ he didn’t know who I was, he married one uh my cousins, one uh my first cousins, but he didn’t know who I was ner nuthin’, an’ I went there oncet an’ I didn’ get to set, an’ so I went to the next camp, me an’ this feller did, an’ by George, he put us on. Went tuh cuttin’ logs. An’ just as soon as, as Solly found out–he knowed Grant well now, he knowed Grant, ’cause they’s on the campbell line together–but he didn’, didn’ know me, he’s married tuh one of my cousins. But anyhow, hit wa’n’t very far b’tween each camp. An’ we’d go up there of a evenin’, and uh, finally Solly said tuh me, one day after he got tuh knowin’ me, by George, well I was a good log cutter, now don’ think I wa’n’t, fer I loved it, liked it, an’ now, he said, “I’ll tell you, Sherman, if you’ll come up hyere an’ go to work,” he said, “hyere,” he said, “now I’ll give you ‘n’ Grant ten more cents on the hour,” “on the day,” he said. Not on the hour, they didn’ work by the hour then. Well, I hated tuh leave Elzie, fer he was a plumb good boss, plumb good. So I tol’ Grant. Well, Grant said, “Le’s go up ‘n…. We thought ten cents was a big thing on the day, it ‘uz nuthin’. So up we went. Sol put us tuh cuttin’ logs. An’ now, mind ya, I could chop at that fer a day, but if yuh cut over that, why, uh, them hicks’d, would . . . they’d jump on yuh ’bout it you know. They, uh, b’cause if one crew got up, say, oh, six thousand, or four thousand, why, then they’d make a kick you know, an’ make the rest of ’em cut the same they did. An’ so, we cut a tree down, me an’ Grant would, an’ he’d jus’ lay down. But now, I never would set, at a camp. I went out tuh work, I always kep’ busy, or sump’n a goin’, an’ he’d jus’ lay down an’ go tuh sleep, Grant would. He ‘uz one of these lazy kind of fellers you know. If
you’d get out where the sun was a shinin’, of a winter, he’d jus’ throw some pine bresh down, jus’ lay down, till I bumped the whole tree and laid it off ‘n’ I was ready to saw. Now I said, “I’ll tell you sump’n’ Grant,” I said,”you know that either one of us kin take a ax,” I said, “an’ chop what they have fer a day, er,” I said, “I can.” And I said, “You’ll get farred one a these days.” Well we’d been there a long time, I don’t know how long, an’ by George hit come a spell of weather that ‘uz real bad now, the snow that deep, an’ they, didn’ make any differ’nce how cold it was. They would turn yuh out now. That ‘uz one thing you could figger on, but if it ‘uz a rainin’, an’ you seen these big wet snows you know, come an’ hang an’ wet yuh, now, if it ‘uz a rainin’, they wouldn’ get tuh sprinklin’, they wouldn’ turn yuh out in it a-tall. So, went, uh, one day, we cut a big spruce. It ‘uz a big one, now. It ‘uz three foot over. An’ all these little pines growed around the roots, you know, and he jus’ throwed him one or two uh them pines, an’ put fer a pillow, he jus’, he knowed it’d take me a right smart while, an hour anyhow, to bump that up. He jus’ laid down. I said, “Grant, you better get up outta there an’ go to work.” “By god, go ahead.” An’ he was a heavy sawyer too. I looked a way down the haul road. I seen Sol a comin’ up the hill. An’ hit tickled me now, tuh see. He come on up’n’ he got on the top of the log where I’d bumped that out; I was just about tuh get on with, uh, bumpin’, an’ he got up on the log, you know, and he said, “Wher’s Grant? I’m lookin’ fer him.” An’ so he up an’ said, “You watch me”, an’ he picked up one uh them big pine tops. Grant’d jus’ fall down an’ go tuh sleep anywar. He picked up one uh them pines, jus’ come with both hands, right down over Grant’s head, and he snorted. “Get up outta there,” he said, “an’ go tuh work.” He said, uh, “Sherman,” he said–ya see, he wouldn’t a farred yuh fer nuthin’, no, he wouldn’t uh farred yuh, but Grant didn’ know it, an’ I’d been there a long time, now, I don’ know, six months or sump’n like that. And he said, uh, I said, “Hell, Grant does that all the time.” I said, uh, uh, I said, “I have all Grant’s bumpin’ tuh do, now,” I said. “Notchin the trees,” an’ so I jus’, I, I was a wantin’ to come home bad. I jus’ studied up sump’n’. An’ I went out that evenin’, it was gettin’ late in the evenin’, gettin’ dark, an’ I went down tuh th’ office, an’ I went down
there, you know, talked tuh Sol a long time. “Hey,” he said, “Sherman,” he said, “you an’ Grant, now, done her good,” he said. “Jus’ the way I want her,” he said. “You fellers is good timber cutters,” an’ he said, “you’re a’layin’ her right with the team ,” he said. He said, “Now that’s jus’ the way I want it.” Said, “We don’ have tuh bump ner nuthin’.”
I went back up. Me an’ Grant slep’ together; and the habberjacks, Gee- zus, you could hear ’em. They wouldn’ wash the bedclothes, maybe fer a year, ‘n’ you, you know they’ll get stiff when they get so dirty. An’ you could hear ’em a crawlin’. An’ after you was there for a while and got used to ’em. Hell, they jus’ turn yuh red all over. But now they could jus’, they bit you sump’n’ like a moskeeter.
W: What’s that?
S: Greybacks. Lice. An’ they was about the size of a–you know what these big gnats is, now. These big gnats that comes, the first ones of the Spring, them big ones?
W: Mmmhmm.
S: Now, they just about the size uh one uh them gnats, an’ have a white spot on the’r back. And so, I thinks to myself, right now’s my time. And hit was a big snow on, a real big one. I said tuh myself, “Now, I’ll jus’ make up a damn big long line and tell Grant.” I wanted somebody tuh come out with me. We come through the Slaty Fork, an’ the way we come, an’ then we’d catch a train from Slaty Fork, an’ go into Cass. And then we’d, uh, uh, when we’d got to Cass, then we’d catch the passenger down tuh Marlinton yuh see. Jus’ the way yuh went in ‘n out. Well, now, I said, “Grant,” I said, “I’ll tell you sum’n’.” I said, “now, they’re gonna far you,” an’ I said, “the’re gonna far me.” And I said, “the best thing you can do–to not put it off now,” I said, “so go an’ get yore time.” I said, “Now you better go, an’ git ‘er, fer,” I said, “the’re uh gonna far yuh, you know.” An’ they, they wo’ldnt tuck nuthin’ fer us two, yuh see. They wanted us right there, yuh see, an’ stay an’ work. Well, Grant
was a good timber cutter, uh, when he ‘uz uh, a coonskin. He wouldn’t do that when he was a coonskin, you know, take a contract. He was always on his feet then. “Now, by god”, he said. “Now” I said, “you wanna beat’em to it.” I said, “Go on, call for your time, then,” I said, “then that ain’t the farrin’. He already had a, a feller in there, uh, that kep’ books fer ‘im, an’ when Solly was gone, why, uh, he wrote checks. Ray Dusky was his name. He’d married one of Sol’s girls.
W: Sol who?
S: Sol McNeil [McNeel?]. He married one of his girl’s. So Grant said, “I dunno whether to go down tonight.” An’ he said, “during the day?” I said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Maybe you could, better wait,” I said, “till in the, in the mornin’,” but I said, “you wanna get there,” an’ I said, “me too, before they turn out. I said, “We wanna get our time.” Well, nex’ morning, me ‘n’ Grant got up, ‘n’, they’ll let yuh, after yuh eat your breakfast, they given yuh about thirty or thirty five minutes tuh set around before they turned yuh out. Down we went to the office, an’ when we went down, Sol was done gone. He’d left that night, he lived at Slaty Fork, an’ they had ah speeder, you see, you ride it to the top of the hill an’ drop over tuh his house. Went down there, we did. Uh, Grant said, “fix up my time.” Ray said, “all right.” He said, “what ‘re you fellers goin’ out fer?” “Oh,” Grant said, “I’ve got to go out,” he said, “now”. “I’ve got to go out an’ see about my mother,” he said. They lived down here on Stoney Creek. I said, “Ray, you jus’s well fix mine up.” I’z wantin’ tuh come outta there, so, picked up my time. So, come tuh the top of the hill, me an’ Grant had tuh walk her now, come tuh the top of the hill, on top of the hill at Slaty Fork, an’ I looked an’ see’d a man a comin’ up the hill. Up th’old Walton path. Oh, the snow was about that deep, an’ they had, uh, kindly of a path broke, you know, but it was blow over s’bad. Looked up, there was Sol, comin’ up this way. Said, “Where you boys a goin’ ?” Grant said, “We’re goin’ home,” he said. “Sol,” he said, “it’s s’ bad,” he said, “I thought we jus’ better go home.” “Hell,” he said. “It ain’t bad,” he said. “Come n’ go back.” Yuh see, an’ that was a giveaway an’ he said. “Well,” I said, “I ain’t a goin’ back, myself.” Now
Grant said, “I ain’t.” An’ he said, “boys,” he said, “now if you fellers go out, don’t stay over a week.” He said, “come back.” An’ me’n’ Grant went on. We had a night’s lodgin’, a night’s lodgin’ when we, we come to Slaty Fork, an’ then we had our time okayed, an’ then we had to go in Cass an’ get our check. Now Grant said, “By god,” he said, “we’ll, stay all night in Cass,” an’ he said, “we’ll see if we can’t find us some liquor.” He was the awfullest feller tuh drink. It ‘uz all moonshine now. There was’n’ no other kind. And the law watched ’em. We went there to a hotel, an’ I knowed that ol’ man at the hotel. That’s what he use tuh do in the woods when he ran a hotel. So, there’s a fella in this country that stayed with us, by the name of Steve Brody, an’ he’d take whiskey there, you see. He’d pack a suitcase full of whiskey there, an’ then rode up an’ down, sell ‘er out tuh whoever he knowed, you see. But he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t sell it to yuh if you was a goin’ into the camp, b’cause if you tuck it in there, an’ they knowed it, you’re, you’re farred right then. Well, we got us a bed. Now I said, “I’ll tell yuh Grant,” I said I didn’ have no money, well I might had enough now to pay my night’s lodging, an’ down on the train. I think it only cost yuh maybe about a dollar tuh Marlinton. I said, “Grant,” I said, “now I’ll tell you what I’ll do.” I said, “I’ve got a pint of whiskey, of the best whiskey that you ever tasted down hyere.” An’ Grant lived just up the holler there from the West Union church, you know where you, the, where tha Stony Creek’s now.
W: What was his name?
S: Grant Duncan. And I said, “I’ve got a pint of whiskey,” I said, “hidden under that log, that big chestnut log, now.” The log yet there, part of hit. And I said, “if you’ll pay for my night’s lodging,” I said, “I’ll–you’ll drink that.” “By god I’ll do ‘er,” he said. I don’t know–it’s about a dollar or sump’n’, uh, whiskey cost yuh, moonshine whiskey cost yuh about twenty dollars a gallon. Hell, I didn’t have n’more whiskey hid down there ner nuthin’. He paid mine, an’ we walked from Marlinton on up there, you know, an’ I scratched in under that log, you know, dug, an’ let on, lookin’ at there you know. ” ‘ll,” I said, “somebody got ‘er Grant.” I
said, “We jus’ as well quit.” “I’m a goin’ home with ya,” he said, an’ said, “Can you find Steve anywhere?” “Why,” I said, “yes.” And Steve, he’d stay out in the mountains. It didn’ make any differ’nce what it was. He’d build him a, a pole shanty, cut spruce logs ‘n’ make him one outta logs yuh see, an’ then cover it, an’ then bury his bo’lers, an’ put a lantern into ’em. He’d make it the winter ’round, he made good liquor, too. “Tell yuh what I’m a goin’ tuh do,” he said. I said, “what is it?” “I’m a gonna get a gallon,” he said. That ‘uz twenty dollars. I said, “Hell, that’s all the money you got Grant.” “By god,” he said, “I’m a gonna get a dollar.” I think we got about a dollar an’ a half, maybe it’s two and a half a day. Got our board an’ ever’thing like that. “Come on.” We lived down yonder on the river then. Come along you know ‘n’ I said, “Now Grant,”– and Steve was partic’lar now, plumb partic’lar, about takin’ anybody where he uz located at, er anything like that. I said, “Now, Grant, you wait fer me,” an’ I said, “I’ll go an’ get a gallon uh whiskey.” “Where in the hell yuh gonna get where you can find Steve?” I said, “I don’t know.” I knowed exactly where Steve was. So I’d uh, I’d have tuh make a, a, I’d hoot like a owl, yuh see, till he’d know who I was. You’re liable to get shot around one a them things. It ‘uz dangerous, now. An’ the revenue men was thick, by George. That’s all they looked about in this country, was stills. An’ they chopped lots of ’em up. So I went, an’ I got in above Steve, an’ I hooted. He ainswered me. I went off down towards, I don’t know, I got, he give me all the whiskey I wanted, Steve. An’ I didn’t mind coming out tuh that place. I’ll take yuh sometime. I think I can find the very spot where he was located at sometime when we’re out foolin around.
W: Okay.
S: It was where he had his camp, I helped him cut the logs, tuh build with. An’ he was there three or four years, an’ nobody never did find it, find him.
W: And what was his name–Steve?
S:
Steve Brody.


Notes:

My granddad, Ed Woodell, was born around 1885. He cut timber in the same area in the mountains where Sherman later, aged 12, started working in 1915/16. ‘Punk’ was any young ‘man/boy’ in the camp. Men who worked in the logging woods were known as ‘woodhicks.’ Granddad, who worked on Red Lick Mountain, would walk home on Saturday Evening. Grandma would have a large kettle of water boiling when he got there. He would strip down in the ‘wash house’, throw the clothes outside the door and wash himself down to get the ground in dirt, sweat, bed bugs and lice (grey backs) washed off. The boiling water would finish off the bugs and dirt. I worked with a man called Tom Clutter when he was getting on in years. He had worked on the same crew as my own granddad. Tom once told me “I’ll tell you what happened to your granddad: he worked himself pert near to death. When we turned in for supper after a 12 to 14 hr day, Ed would eat and then say ‘Ok Melvin (his oldest son) let’s cut another thousand (feet of timber scale) before dark’.” It was crosscut saws and axes. For those men who worked in the big timber where Sherman was, the pressure on married men was heavy. On the other hand, there were many men who would seldom leave the camp. They would work right on through for three, six, or twelve months before going off the mountain. When they worked on Cheat Mountain at the big ‘company camps’, there was the ‘boom town of Cass’ which had everthing a ‘penned up hick’ could want. When hicks would be coming off the mountain, the engineer for a loaded log train would blow a certain whistle to signal the hicks were on the way. ‘Watch out! The hicks are coming!’ would mean different things to the townsfolk. This was often the pattern which was followed: first to the Cass Company Store, to draw their pay, buy a pair of ‘AA Cutter (high top) shoes and some Richie Wool clothes’ and then go across the Greenbriar River to ‘Dirty Street’ where the hotels selling illegal liquor(Prohibition),steady poker games, and the whore houses could be found. After 3-4 days of being on a ‘big toot’, all was often gone except a great hangover. They would gather up the shoes and clothes which had been put back, and then hit it back to the mountain. The smaller operations where Sherman and my Granddad worked, belonged to Campbell Lumber Company and Cherry River Boom and Lumber Company. These were the camps of which Sherman said there were fewer number of men in each camp than the Company camps on Cheat Mountain. The included photographs showing during this story were taken at these smaller timber operations in the nearby mountains. The photographs showing during the first story of this Chapter, were of the early log drives on Knapps Creek and the Greenbriar River at Marlinton, West Virginia, in the late 1890s. Mr Amos McCarty, who lived a mile from my present home on Brown’s Creek, was born about 1869. He said “I was on ever’one of the log drives on the Greenbriar River“ (which took place in 1890s). “I was on all those drives down Knapps Creek. We would cut the timber all year and skid it down to the creek. Then when the big snows and thick ice would melt and go out, it would come a big tide and we would catch it and ride the logs down the ‘Briar’ to the big mill (in Ronceverte: French for ‘green briar’). They had a big boom down there. The biggest drive came out of Possum Hollar that one year. I forget how many hundreds of thousands of (board) feet they said there was. But for sure it was a mess. The tide was runnin’ so fast that it would jam the logs up on the bank and we would have to get’em rolled back out in to where it was runnin’ free.” I asked “How dangerous was it” “It was a wonder all of us wadn’t killed back then. There was one time we had a jam right down there at that sharp bend in the Creek just before you get to Marlinton. The flood was pushin’ everthing tight up against so we had to get out and start pickin’ that jam up with our pikes”. “There was this Trainer from down Cochrans Creek who was on our crew. All at once the logs parted, and he went in. The logs then were pushin’ back. (The other man) was right there and grabbed him by the hair and jerked him up out just as the logs jammed back together.” I said to Amos “Mr McCarty, when I was a boy up at Cass, I found an old pair of high tops with what my uncle told me were ‘corks’ in the soles. The ‘corks’ were worn flat. I had a big time stompin’ around in them. I was only about ten or eleven and they were just my size.” “Yeah, that’s what kept us from fallin’ in. We could jump from one log to another and not fall in.” “I saw a picture one time of loggers and their britches legs didn’t hardly reach past the tops of their boots. How come was that?” “If we didn’t go ahead and cut ’em back, when the britches’ legs got wet in that cold weather, they would freeze and break off. I figure those old high tops you found were Cutters.”

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