The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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

Mountain Engineering and Mountain Medicine

By John Winfield Spangler © 1990

Issue: February, 1990

The old barn on a small worked out farm belonging to the Norvell White Ryan (Sr.) family had long been empty. The farm was in a branch of Friendship Hollow near Shawsville, Virginia, and has now been purchased by the William R. (Bill) Ryan family; Bill being a grandson of N.W. Ryan (Sr.).

I was born on the property which also contains the site of the old Friendship Church. This had been near some large oak trees, on top of a hill overlooking the (now) home of the late Everett (Shorty) and Claudine Graham Turpin. School was held in the church before the Friendship School was built nearby, off route 636, where Kyle and Maude Cupp Mussleman are now buried. There are two old cemeteries on the ridge belonging to the Jewell and Branch families, but no name stones.

My brother Bernard (about 11) got the idea of prying a rusty sheet of tin off the back of the barn and making a toboggan out of it. At age 7 in 1939, I had never heard of one. Maybe my older brother Paul (12) or late Uncle Troy (13) put him up to it. Sometimes they talked Bernard into trying "new" things and if something went wrong, they skedaddled, leaving him holding the bag!

Anyway, he knocked some more holes in two corners of the rusty sheet of tin with an equally rusty nail, before turning up that end and wiring it back with some also rusty bailing wire. We were in business.

There was so much rust on the tin that the first few rides weren't much, but it kept getting better. There was room for four, if we straddled the one in front of us.

Finally that thing would FLY down the hill in front of the log cabin where we lived.

After several days of fun-filled riding, the snow began to melt and patches of red clay laced with dewberry briars began to show through, but we continued to ride. On one trip, the toboggan came to a sudden halt in the clay, and that's when the fault in the engineering showed up.

There was nothing solid across the front and with the front riders feet pushing in the middle, something had to give. It did. The front corners simply collapsed inward, letting the center straighten out and forming a chute through which four kids kept sliding, although the toboggan had stopped.

In the hurry to get the machine in operation, the jagged holes where the nails had been had not been beaten down very well. These did a splendid job of removing the seats of our much patched, hand-me-down britches; also making a passing acquaintance with our backsides.

My mother (Ethel Craighead Spangler) was about 28 years old then, and having six young boys and a baby girl, had acquired some experience at "country doctoring." When she saw us, and the amount of sewing required to repair our britches, she knew just the remedy. She grabbed her switch and began applying an old mountain cure called "Hickory Tea." The well placed welts across our backsides served almost as well as bandages. Hardly any blood leaked out at all.

Of course, we were yelling and squalling and trying to get out of reach of her switch. We timed the squalls to the "swish" of her switch, whether we got hit or not, while she was applying the "Tea."

Nowadays, you read a lot about drug awareness and overdoses of drugs and medicines. Shucks, us kids knew about those overdoses in the 1930's - Caster oil, Epsom salts, worm medicine and especially that "Hickory Tea."