The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Stealing Watermelons

By Boyd S. Ray © 1996

Issue: Summer, 1996

Just after dark the man started the old truck parked under the canopy of the filling station. It made an awful racket. The popping and cracking and backfiring of that old 1922 Mack truck engine drowned out any other noise in the immediate area. And with holes in the muffler the noise was almost deafening.

The truck bed was nearly full of nice, ripe watermelons. The license tags showed the truck was from South Carolina. The driver and his helper were pulling out to drive the fourteen miles to Damascus, Virginia that night to be there to sell watermelons the next day. Not having sold much in Mountain City, Tennessee the last two days, they were heading for what they hoped would be better fortunes.

Back in 1930, here in the mountains people couldn't raise good watermelons in their gardens. The altitude and cool nights did not favor the type of melons available during those days. Any time there was a special occasion in the summer or fall - like a big family reunion, a carnival, a big tent revival, circuit or county court or an election - some truck from North or South Carolina would show up with plenty of good watermelons. They were sold whole or by the slice. I remember a nice big slice of delicious, red and juicy watermelon cost five or ten cents. The sellers would stay around a few days and then move on to some other small town till they sold out their load.

This time, before the truck left town, a small group of us boys had made our plans. We waited till the truck got to the edge of town, about two blocks, and there were no street lights, and about eight or ten boys piled in, or on, the 1929 Ford Roadster owned by Hadden Miller. He was about 18 or 19 and the rest younger. We followed the truck out the road, at a respectable distance and with no headlights.

Back then, in 1930, the pavement ended at the edge of town. The road was all gravel to Damascus. With no street lights and an occasional farm house light, from oil lamps and back from the road, our only light was from a thin cloud covered moon.

The gravel road increased the noise of the truck, and Hadden drew a little closer. About a mile out the road the truck started up a long steep hill. The driver shifted to the lowest gear. This increased the noise tremendously and slowed the truck down considerably. Hadden drew to within a few feet of the back of the truck and held his speed to the truck speed. By walking a little faster than usual we could keep up with the truck. The loud noise from the exhaust of the truck drowned out any noise from the small roadster. The truck driver, with no rear view mirrors and the back window covered with melons, had no idea anybody was behind him.

The back of the truck had one big board across it and the melons were piled up against it and higher. One boy, big and strong enough, got right behind the truck and began lifting the melons out and passing them to the other boys. They would then put the melons in the car or lay them in the road ditch and get back in line. Everybody was real quite. In about a minute we had eight or ten watermelons. That truck driver never did know we were behind him.

Hadden stopped his car and we sat there till the truck went on across the hill. In those days there was no traffic at night, and no house along the road up that hill. Hadden turned around and we loaded the melons into the car. We then drove back into town, went up behind the elementary school building, and ate those watermelons.

To my recollection this is the only time such a prank ever happened. I know it wasn't right, and I don't recommend it, but it sure was exciting. And those had to be the best watermelons we ever ate.