Generations of Memories
Heart of the Blue Ridge
By Bob Heafner © 1983-2012
Issue: September, 1983
Let me tell you about my trip down to Kibler Valley with Mr. Coy Yeatts. We were going to visit Mr. Will Barnard, a boyhood buddy of Mr. Coy’s and a long time friend of mine. Mr. Coy is 84 years old and Mr. Will is 88.
I picked up Mr. Coy at Mayberry shortly after 10:00 on a pretty Saturday morning. We went down Squirrel Spur (St. Rd. 614) to the foot of the mountain and cut back to our left on State Road 631. Mr. Coy pointed out paths that were once roads leading to the high hollows and ridge tops around the Bell Spur community. He remembered traveling over most of them but now they are hardly recognizable paths. He told of making a wagon trip down one with his dad when he was just a boy. All along the way he pointed out old homesites and points of interest. By the time we turned left onto Kibler Valley Road, (State Road 648) I had gained considerable knowledge of this area’s past.
“Kibler” is a beautiful little valley with the Dan River running through it and steep mountains rising all around. The road, river, meadows and woodlands all share the valley floor. It is a beautiful timeless place where trout fishing and kayak races are annual events. The road wound alongside the river as we made our way on to Mr. Will’s.
In the early part of this century there was a railroad spur here. It was a spur of the railroad line in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, 14 miles away. There was a large timber operation in this area then and the primary purpose of the railroad was hauling lumber but many a passenger rode the now vanished rails. As I drive through the valley today, I can almost see the little, narrow-gauge locomotive chugging through a riverside meadow with a plume of steel gray smoke rolling back across its cars. What a picturesque sight it must have been.
We found Mr. Will taking a nap on his wide front porch. The house is shaded by large trees in the front yard and huge boxwoods line both sides of the walkway leading to the porch. Mr. Will’s great-grandfather built the house and it has been the Barnard family home for almost 200 years. Mr. Will was born and raised here. His son, Bill, operates the store across the road from the house.
Mr. Will woke up by the time we started up the porch steps and invited us to take a seat. Mr. Will and Mr. Coy reminisced about the time a circus came to Kibler. Mr. Will was 13 at the time and Mr. Coy was 9. Mr. Coy and his mother had walked to Kibler via a foot trail down the steep mountainside from Mayberry. They spent the night with Mr. Will’s family. Mr. Coy’s father joined them the next day. Circus day! Mr. Will and Mr. Coy told of lions, tigers and elephants, all at the circus and from the way they described it, the excitement of it hasn’t worn off any since 1908.
Mr. Coy told of watching Mr. Will swim the river to check a trap while the boys on the bank threw green apples in the river for him to catch in his mouth. Mr. Coy said that after he got home he learned to swim by moving like he’d seen Mr. Will move in the water.
Mrs. Barnard invited me in to meet her mother, 93 year old Mrs. Ella Collins, while Mr. Coy stepped over to the store. Mr. Will showed me a beautifully intricate drawing of the Barnard Family Tree. It was drawn by a traveler who traded it for his lodging one night many years ago, before Mr. Will was born.
We said our farewells and Mr. Coy and I left Mr. Will and drove up to the end of the road. The Kibler Valley Road dead ends at the hydroelectric plant built by the City of Danville, Virginia in the 1930’s. The plant is still in use today and the small settlement at the end of the road are the homes of plant employees. This area is so beautiful you have to see it to appreciate it.
As we were heading up the road, Mr. Coy said, “Open up that bag there (pointing at the brown grocery bag he’d brought from the store) and get you one. I bought you something.” I reached my hand in the bag and felt onions. Mr. Coy said, “Go ahead and get you one. Don’t you like onions?” I said, “Yes sir, I do, but I don’t think I’m man enough to eat ‘em like that.” He looked at me a moment and his eyes twinkled and he said, “Reach down in the bottom of the bag. There’s a fig bar. You like fig bars, don’t you?” “Yes sir,” I replied. As we quietly ate our fig bars, I realized I’d just been treated to a sample of one of Mr. Coy’s sly practical jokes. Neither of us said anything, no need to, but we each chuckled to ourselves as we rode on.
On the way home we stopped at Mr. Adam Clement’s and inquired if he had any honey for sale. Mr. Coy and he were old friends and soon three quarts of honey were found. One quart for me and two for Mr. Coy. Mr. Coy sat in the car while Mr. Clement’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. Barbara Clement brought him a spoon to sample the honey before a deal was made. I figured it must have been good honey when Mr. Coy said if I didn’t want my quart, he’d take it. Mr. Coy’s been eating honey all his life and I figured he knew good honey from bad. Sure enough, that quart of honey went twice as fast as usual on our table. Everybody in the family loved it.
From there we came back up Squirrel Spur (614) to Mayberry. We’d only been gone a few hours but they were hours of fun for me.