The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The King

By Kelly D. Webb © 1987

Issue: May, 1987

How do children survive their childhood? The fact that they do is attested to by there being so many adults in the world. However, there are many children that do not survive the many perils that they encounter. This story is not about them, but it is about an event that causes one to wonder how some of them survived.

Life for children in a Coal Camp, along the New River, in the Blue Ridge Mountains is not all dull and dark. There are so many interesting things to do, like riding a flat piece of tin, pulled up in front, off a tall slate pile. The sound is of thunder as you rumble down the slide and strike the ground, then you rally from a stunned condition to check and see if any bones are broken. There are abandoned mines that never paid off. To slide and pull yourself deep into these holes and to poke your fingers through the rotted props that are supposed to hold up the roof. Yes, this is entertainment supreme. However, not quite up to the adventures related below.

The weekends were best because the equipment that delivered the coal to the railroad was idle. There was a little engine pulling small cars that hauled the coal from the mines to the nearest railroad, and this was called a dinkey. There was always a small car that had a frame of heavy timbers bolted to it. This car was used to haul ties for track repair and other things that would fit on the flat surface. We referred to this car as a flat car, which was light and easily lifted off the track when not needed and to get it out of the way of other cars. On the weekend, the children I played with would pick this car up and place it on the track. The dinkey track sloped upward toward the mines, and when the flat car was pushed up the track and turned loose the law of gravity did the rest. Out of the mountain we would rumble headed toward the tipple where the coal was dumped into the bins that held the coal to be loaded into railroad cars.

This car had no brakes, as such, so we improvised. There were two heavy timbers placed across the front of the car where they were bolted, so there was about six inches of space between them. We would obtain a long pole, white oak saplings worked best, and by thrusting the pole down between the two front timbers and pulling up on the other end we had a drag that would slow and finally stop the car.

Of course, there was one boy in the crowd that was "King of The Mountain," so to say. One day we had pushed the car almost to the mines, about a mile from the tipple. This was the day the King took over and became the brakeman. He picked as his seat the very front of the car with his legs hanging over the front timber. With a little push we were on our way. The car gained speed and we were moving quite rapidly toward the tipple. Someone called out "sprag it," this was the term used in referring to the brake. The King spragged it, however, he thrust the pole down in front of the speeding car. Faster than the eye could follow, the pole hit the roadbed and the King was thrown flat on the roadbed in front of the sailing car. If it had not been for the force that catapulted the King flat on his face, the car would probable have caught on his clothes and drug him over the roadbed. As it happened, we passed over the King without doing further damage.

When we got the car stopped, everyone rushed back to check the condition of the King. He did not move, his eyes were closed and he did not seem to be breathing. The King was dead; We pulled his body up the bank from the dinkey track into the woods. We all had been threatened with the "lash" if caught engaging in the wonderful car rides, so we were faced with hiding the evidence of our folly. The leaves were quite deep where we were standing so we buried the King in the leaves. The joy was gone from our car rides; we split up and went home.

All through the evening and before I went to bed my thoughts were on the King. I knew that dead things started to smell after they had been dead for a while. I stood at the window and sniffed the air but could smell nothing. I went to bed, and then the thought struck me, what if the wind changed and someone else noticed the smell from the King's body. They would be sure to investigate. I donned my clothes and slipped out of the house to go see if the King's body had been discovered. When I arrived at the burial place I was shocked, the King was gone. My first thought was that a bear had got him. In fact, I could almost hear the bear dragging his body through the leaves. I was terrified. What if the bear came back? I figured the King was gone and I better save myself, as I raced home and jumped into bed, clothes and all.

The next morning I wanted to tell someone about the King and the bear. However, the fear of the "lash" kept me silent. I hung around the company store, in great distress, not knowing what to do. I casually glanced at the road, and what to my troubled mind should appear. The King, he was walking, not dead; not dead at all. He will never know how much I wanted to hug him and tell him how glad I was. Instead, I shuffled over to him when he reached the store building, asking, "How come you got those black eyes?" He did not reply; just pulled open his shirt to show me the black scrapes and bruises over his chest and stomach. No comment was passed about yesterday's events as we walked side by side away from the store headed on another adventure. I knew where there was some apple trees. The apples were probably about ripe and this was my day to treat the King.