CHILDHOOD MEMORIES by: RON DIXON
McDowell/Mercer County Childhood Memories:
My Name is Ronald Boyd Dixon. I was born on August 15, 1934 at home in a Coal Company House located in Switchback, West Virginia. I have one younger brother Teddy Eugene Dixon that was also born at home. He was born February 26, 1938 in the home of our Uncle Norval and Pearl (Wolfe) Purdue in Coopers, West Virginia. Our paternal Grandparents were Kelly Glen and Barbara (Bailey) Dixon. Our maternal Grandparents were John F and Belle Wolfe. Our parents were Kelly Eugene and Margaret (Wolfe) Dixon. Most people called Dad "Gene" and called Mom "Maggie".
The earliest I remember is when I was about 6 or 7 years old when we lived in a Coal Company House on a hillside up a hollow from US52 in Upland, West Virginia. My father was working for the Upland Coal Company at this time. The mine port was a very short distance from where our house was located. One vivid memory of mine during this time was when we got word that an accident had happened in the mine and as kids are likely to do, we ran off toward the mine to see what was going on. After a while an electric motor pulling several empty coal cars with the injured miners exited the port and stopped. I was just a little fellow and was not tall enough to look over the edge of the car so I pulled myself up over the edge and looked in the car. I can still see the image today in my minds eye that I saw on that day many years ago. An injured miner was laying in the car with Blood coming from every hole in his head…his eyes, his ears, his nose and mouth. I soon was chased away by the grownups and told to get myself out of there. I don't remember any other details about this mine accident at the Upland Coal Company.
Our Grandfather K G Dixon and his family lived down in the bottom from where our house was located up on the hillside. Grandfather Dixon was working as a "Fire Boss" at the Upland Mine but at some point later on he began working as a "Fire Boss" at Jenkinjones. I spent a lot of time at my Grandparent's house; in fact when our Father was drafted in 1944 my brother and I lived with them until our Father was discharged from the Army in 1945. I remember that there were mine tracks running directly in front of the house and quite often an electric motor would go by the house toward US52 where the Upland Coal Company had a supply yard with mine timbers and other assorted supplies and equipment. They would pick up whatever they were after and then would return up the hollow to a point where they had to execute a switchback to get back up the hill to where the mine was located.
Of course these years were during World War II. I remember ration cards and ration coupons/tickets that was necessary to buy sugar, gasoline, shoes and other assorted items. I remember how we collected scrap iron for the war effort. I remember we also were even saving empty toothpaste tubes. I remember we could only buy one loaf of bread each day.
As time went by the war ended and our Father returned home. Our Father remarried and moved to a little community that was called O'toole. Father was now working at the mine in Jenkinjones, West Virginia. It seemed like I only saw my father on the weekends as he was asleep when we got up in the morning and he was gone to work when we got home from school. We got our weekly spanking on Saturdays. The O'toole community was about a mile up the road from Anawalt, West Virginia heading toward Jenkinjones. Lot of coal trains went by our house on the way to Welch. I remember riding the local passenger train from O'toole to Welch where we changed trains to go on up to Coaldale. We attended the Public School in Anawalt for two years…my 7th and 8th grades.
In the summer of 1948 Our life was changed dramatically when my brother and I went to live with our Mother and now Step-Father Ople Anthony James in the community known as Coaldale, West Virginia. Our Step-father worked on a section gang for the N&W and we were living in a Railroad owned house just a few feet from the N&W mainline. While living in Coaldale I was able to witness on a daily basis those great N&W built Steam Engines working up the Elkhorn grade. What a wonderful time of my young life. Often we would ride the eastbound local passenger train to Bluefield; spent the day shopping and taking in a movie at the Granada or the Colonial Theatre and then catching the late afternoon westbound local back to Coaldale . On other occasions we would ride the westbound local to Northfork, WV; go to a movie at the Freeman Theatre and return to Coaldale on Number 10 the eastbound.
Coaldale was located in Mercer County at the West Side of the old Elkhorn Tunnel commonly known as the "Coaldale" Tunnel. Coaldale was located up the valley from Maybeury, West Virginia thru the community known as Barlow and on up the valley until you could go no further by car. Guessing, I would say it was about 4 miles from Maybeury to Coaldale and I will say that, unfortunately, I had to walk it many times. Since Coaldale was located in Mercer County Ted and myself attended Public School and graduated at Bramwell High School in Bramwell, West Virginia. I graduated in May 1952 and Ted graduated in 1956. I immediately joined the USAF at the tender age of 17 and left Coaldale for Basic training At Lackland AFB in Texas. Interesting note about getting to school....Before the Railroad construction started the School Bus would travel from Bramwell west on US52 to Maybeury and drive up the valley and on up the mountain into Coaldale to pick up the school kids. After construction started the school bus would drive west on US52 to Blizzards and then go around the mountain on a dirt road to just above Coaldale to pick the kids up.
At one time Coaldale was the location of a major coal mine but when we moved to live with our Mother in 1948 the only action going on was the N&W construction to build the new double track Elkhorn tunnel which would lead the Railroad to moving the tracks from one side of the mountain to the other side resulting in a lower grade up the Elkhorn. The new tunnel was opened in June 1950. I was there with many other people at the East Portal and witnessed the first revenue train exit the tunnel. I believe it is common knowledge that the first revenue train was the Pride of the N&W passenger trains which was known as Number 26, the eastbound "Powhatan Arrow". I also was privileged to witness the inaugural run of the "The Powhatan Arrow" in 1946 or 1947 (not exactly sure) as School Officials took all the students from Elkhorn Grade School to watch the Westbound Number 25 go thru Elkhorn, West Virginia. I remember all the kids from school were lined up beside the track and cheered as the train went by. We were really impressed by that streamlined Engine pulling the train. During the construction of the tunnel I was on the construction site many times. For a time, one of my uncles worked on the project. We made friends with several of the workers there, especially with the cooks in the mess hall that had been constructed to provide meals for some of the workers. We managed to get a few free handouts. Sad to say but when the new tunnel opened the community of Coaldale as I knew it slowly faded away. For some reason the powers that be decided to move the Coaldale post office over to a place on US52 commonly referred to as "Blizzards" where the Blizzard family and others lived. The highway department put a sign on the Highway labeled "Coaldale" so I guess the community of Coaldale lives on. I'm not sure which coal company did the work but when the N&W removed all the rails and the electric wire from the old roadbed and tunnel the coal company proceeded to mine out the coal seam that the tunnel had been constructed through.
They mined a lot of good quality coal from that tunnel and then sealed the port. I had an occasion to explore the old community of Coaldale a little over two years ago. Mother nature has completely reclaimed that which is hers. We could not find any clue as to where the portal was located. The only trace of the railroad roadbed we could find was the remains of some cement posts that probably held up signal bridges. No buildings of any kind were located. The only evidence of the home I had lived in was a lonely chimney barely visible. It was quite sad for me to see this but it finally made me realize that those days I remembered living in Coaldale were truly gone forever. Thankfully, I still have the memories.
Grandfather John Wolfe worked for the Mill Creek Coal and Coke Company. He was the general maintenance supervisor for the Coal Company taking care of many repair needs. He was a carpenter, plumber and I'm sure many other things that I was not aware of. He traveled to all the Mining communities of the Mill Creek Coal Company taking care of whatever he needed to do. I remember he used to go to a place called "English". I know it is in McDowell but I'm not really sure exactly where English is.
Grandparents lived in a Company provided home in the community of Barlow. I spent a lot of time at their home as well. The Barlow mine was active and a lot of activity was always going on. From Grandfathers front porch I could watch the action as the N&W had track going up the valley toward Coaldale that the N&W used to move loaded coal cars around building outbound trains. Although today there is no visible evidence there was a huge slate dump across from their home on the opposide mountain side. Today it is completely covered by trees. The Company Store at Barlow was maybe a quarter mile (plus or minus) from their home going toward Maybeury. Granny would often send me to the store to pick up something for her. She always rewarded me with a shiny dime. The dime didn't last long because I couldn't wait to go back to the Store and get one of those huge and delicious .05 cent ice cream cones.
Of Course the mine was eventually closed and the tipple was torn down. I was able to witness the Company Store being torn town as the railroad construction project moved on toward completion. Grandfather Wolfe retired and built a home in Bluewell, West Virginia. They then moved away from the Barlow location. Today it is a very depressing site to drive through this area. Only a few people live there now and most of the buildings have fallen into a dilapidated condition.
I have good memories from my childhood although I'm sure there were some hard times. I was blessed to be born into a good family in southern West Virginia. I have nothing but good memories of all my Grandparents. One thing that I will always remember is the delicious food that Granny Wolfe always placed on the table. As a good Granny will do she was always ready to give me something good to eat.