The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Dana Alvin Blevins Story

By Don Bunn © 1991

Issue: July, 1991

Editor's Note... Don Bunn is the son-in-law of Dana Blevins. The majority of this story is in Dana Blevin's own words and was written in 1978. Dana Blevins was born July 23, 1899 at Crandull, Tennessee. He was the tenth child, sixth son of William Kendrick Blevins (1852-1924) and the eighth child, fifth son of Alice Annie Blevins (1869-1925). Dana Blevins died in Bristol, Virginia on June 28, 1985, just one month short of his 86th birthday.

At the age of 18 months I had my first accident. Bessie, my older sister dropped me on a chair post and my right eye was damaged. This caused me to lose 95 percent of my vision in the right eye permanently.

When I was around four years old I had another accident. My mother was rendering lard in a baker with no lid on it. I came in (where the lard was being rendered) and fell into the boiling lard. All the skin around my eyes and face came off. The doctor said that all that saved my eyes was the fact I closed them. My mother said she sat up with me the next 18 months. She had to do the dressing and care for me herself, as there were no doctors close by.

When I was eight to twelve years old I was doing something all the time. I made my own bow and arrows, pop gun and sling shots. When I was twelve I made my first bicycle. I got it done, except for the peddles, so I had to try it out. I got on it at the top of the hill at the home place. There was a road at the bottom of the hill that I intended to turn left on when I got there. When I hit the road my bicycle broke into two parts. One wheel went one way, while me and the other wheel went the other way. The wheels were sawed out of a black gum log two feet in diameter and four inches thick. You just imagine how fast I was travelling. The boys who saw me said I was making 100 miles an hour when I hit the road. This was a close call. I drooped around afterwards for a week or two. My mother would ask me if there was something wrong with me, and if I was sick. Accidents like that today would be cause for hospitalizing a fellow. I would have been put in the intensive care unit with a no visitors allowed sign on my door.

My first school days were at Harmon. I got several whippings for fighting. I had to stand on the stage on my tip-toes with my fingers touching a chalk line. That's not the worst of it, either, for I'd always get a second whipping at home if I got one at school. (Note: Dana wasn't all that bad, for when he was nine years old his spelling teacher presented him with a book of poems.) The teachers were Stanley Shown, Adrian Cole, W.L. Wilson, and a man named Roby. The Harmon school is now used as a church.

When I was around ten years old Hort Watson made me and [my brother] Barry a calf yoke so we could put our calves to work. Barry said to me, "Dana, how are we going to use that yoke since we only have one calf?" Well, I put the yoke around the calf's neck, and I got on the other side and put the yoke around my own neck. When I was ready to press the load, the calf wasn't, so I told Barry to hit the calf. He did, and the calf jumped and turned the yoke around my neck until the hide was rubbed off my neck. Afterwards my neck was so stiff that my mother would ask, "Dana, is there something wrong with you?" I recall another time when I was plowing corn. The sun was real hot, so I didn't want to work the rest of the day. I laid down on the ground beside the horse, and closed my eyes. Mack [my brother] and the other boys were hoeing corn nearby. I heard Mack say, "Look out yonder, Dana has fainted!" So here they all come running and they carried me to the house. They put me in bed. My mother came in and asked me if I wanted something to eat. "Yes, mother," I said, "bring me a jar of tomatoes."

When I was twelve years old my dad said I could take the shot gun out to hunt by myself. I got me a hog rifle which I shot in shooting matches two or three times a week. My dad's "tobaccy" and my mother's snuff were won at shooting matches, as well as lard, sugar, beef and mutton. I won a big beef with four shots through the same hole 60 yards away. I still love to shoot.

When I was thirteen or fourteen years old I worked the road crew with people like Dr. J.C. Hutchinson, C.C. Blevins, Scott Hawks, Roby Walsh and W.A. McNeil. I got $7.00 for nine days work at ten hours per day. That's when I bought my first bicycle, the only one in Shady Valley. [Crandull, Tennessee was later re-named Shady Valley, its present name.] Later on I bought two more bicycles for the boys I ran with.

In 1917 I left home and went to the coal mines. The closest I ever came to being killed was on the first day I went into the mines at Burdine, Kentucky. I was hired-in to drive a mule. They wanted a mule driver so I told them I could do it. Just think, a man in the mines with a mule on his first day! I hooked the mule to four empty mine cars. I got in the rear car, and hollered, "get up, Becky," It was down hill and the mule ran like crazy. But it kept the cars from derailing and saved my life. I didn't even know the cars had brakes on them which I could have used. But I was scared so bad I gave the track man 50 cents to take me back outside. I didn't drive any more mules for the rest of my mining days.

From Burdine, Kentucky I went to Borderland, West Virginia. I got a job on the tipple. I was hauling slate from the tipple with an electric motor car and dumping it into Tug River. One day it was raining and a pretty girl was flirting with me. I forgot about the track being slick and the motor slate car went into Tug River. I would love to have had a picture of that wreck and how I looked. They didn't fire me, but gave me a better job. All I had to do was blow a whistle when something broke down. One day I was just waiting on anything at all to happen, so I laid down on a big wide belt and went to sleep. But I was dumped off the belt and hit on my feet some fifteen feet below. No one ever knew it. But it was a close call, as I could have been killed.

From Borderland I left and went to Turney Mining Company at Stone, Kentucky. I worked on the tipple. Later on I got a job in the power house at Stone. From Stone, I went to Stotesbury, West Virginia. I stayed at Stotesbury ten years. I was married during my stay at this place. My oldest daughter, Eleanor, was born at Stotesbury. Robert C. Byrd stayed with us before Eleanor was born. I loaded coal with Fred James, Erma James' father. Later on she married Robert C. Byrd, now U.S. Senator from West Virginia and also the Senate Majority Leader.

Eleanor was sick and Ida took her to the Garrett home place to recover. They stayed a few weeks and during this time I left Stotesbury and went to Wyco, West Virginia. While Ida and Eleanor were gone, I got us a house and had the furniture in it when I went and got Ida and Eleanor. This was where Keith and Anne were both born. Later on I left and got a job at Coalwood, West Virginia. From Coalwood I went to Bartley, West Virginia, and from there to Caretta, West Virginia. Three days after I left Bartley, the mines blew up and killed 99 men. This was another lucky change for me.

I guess you wonder why I changed jobs so much? It was because I would not take or do what the bosses tried to get by with. At Caretta I was elected union check-weighman. I weighed coal for 900 men. Imagine trying to please this many men? I was paid out of the coal these men loaded. I got $2.90 an hour, or about 15 to 25 cents per week per man. They kept pestering me because their cars didn't weigh what they wanted them to, so I went from Caretta to Bishop, Virginia. Again, I was elected check-weighman. I had learned how to keep everybody happy at Caretta. While I worked at Bishop we kept our home in Warrior Mines. Malcolm and Anson were both born at Warrior Mines, West Virginia.

After Eleanor graduated from high school, we bought our present property in Bristol, Tennessee and I sent the family there while I remained at Warrior and commuted to Bishop. I gave this up after a short while and joined the family in Bristol. But I couldn't get a job anywhere on account of me being a union man. I was out of work for 18 months, I finally got a job at Virginia Wood Works. I ran a band saw for a year, but then they wanted me to run the big planer and turn out 5000 feet of lumber per shift. I told the boss I wouldn't do it, so he fired me. Then I went out to south Holston Dam which was being built by TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority]. I went to Mr. C.W. Wade's home. He was boss over labor, but not at home. I told Mrs. Wade that I would have to go back to the coal mines to work. "You talk to Mr. Wade," she said. So I went back home and at 12:00 noon the phone rang. It was Mr. Wade. He told me to come out right then and he would put me to work. I rode around with him in his pickup truck. He turned me in a full day [for pay]. He told the labor foreman not to put me at no kind of hard work. It wasn't but a few days 'till I went to work in the warehouse. I kept down the truck loads of rock that they put in the dam.

When South Holston Dam was finished I went to Boone Lake [another TVA dam under construction]. I took care of the filling station, kept records of the gas, oil and equipment, and took inventory of everything. A bunch of us was laid off. I was one of them. The Army boys [veterans from the Korean War] got our jobs. So I went to Bristol Memorial Hospital. Anne my second daughter, who was a nurse, helped me get a job. But I retired at 62 by cutting my social security benefits. But I also got my miners pension, and I am still living.

If you only knew the life I have gone through, with no one knowing, only me and the Lord. Half of my life I spent in the [coal] mines, was on my knees in water over the top of my legs. The water was so cold, no wonder my feet and legs give me so much trouble. My feet and legs will finally kill me. My feet have been hurting me for the past eight years.

It's no wonder that I've been so ill and hateful. I don't want anybody to pity me. I can only say I have done my best. I have been accused of being no manager [at home]. I can't figure out why I have done so well. None of us [the family] has ever gone hungry or lacking in something to wear. No one has ever had all that they wanted or they never will.

Of course I enjoyed my boyhood days. I didn't have but very little money to spend before I left home. I loved my mother and dad. They did what they could to feed and clothe us. We got one pair of "brogan" shoes. We knew that would be all. I greased my shoes every day with mutton tallow. I don't see how they bought the first pair. My mother made the rest of our clothes along with our socks. When we sat down to the table, no one said what's the reason you don't have something else. I have eaten corn bread and white gravy for breakfast. Very few eggs we got. They bought tobacco, snuff, lamp oil and coffee. I loved my early days, because I loved my mother. She went through so many nights and days waiting on me through accidents that happened to me in my early days. My mother never worried about me for I told her where I was going and when I would be back. I have missed my mother and dad so much. There has never been but a few days that have passed that my mother didn't enter my mind. She was the one that told me what to do and what not to do. She told me to never smoke, chew or curse or drink. I was in my teens before I drank and my mother never did see me drinking or smoking. I did this because I knew she loved me. She also knew I loved her.

I could write a book on my inside mining days. I've had lots of close calls, but I enjoyed those days very much.

I am indeed lucky to still be living. One of the closest calls was when I went back in my place to get my shooting cable. I was running and ten feet of my cable was dragging. The whole mountain fell and caught the end that was dragging. I was only two seconds ahead of it! That's close. Another time I was bent over shoveling when a rock fell and caught me on the top of my head and my cap and lamp were under the rock! Another close call.

In my early courting days I told my mother I would be back in two weeks, for her not to worry abut me. So I hit the trail by foot. My girlfriend lived 55 miles away, and I went by foot only. When mealtime came I was knocking on doors to find something to eat. Very few [people] that turned me down. One day I was tired. I had to hunt a place to stay. I came across an old lady and told her where I was going and that I wanted to stay all night with them, and eat supper with them. She told me to go down to the barn and talk to her son. If he says you can stay then you can stay. So I did what she said. I told the boy who I was. He asked me if I knew Kinney Blevins of Shade Valley, Tennessee. He said he worked with him. I told him my dad filed saws. He said you have to stay all night with me and my mother. He told his mother to fix my supper, he's going to stay all night with us. You imagine how glad I felt. Just think, from Shady Valley to Mountain City, Tennessee; from there to Shown, Tennessee; from Shown up through the Third District, crossed over the mountain and into North Carolina to Southerland, North Carolina - 55 miles away from home. The only thing that passed me was another man on foot. That was around 1914.

When I left my girlfriend's home on my way back home, I stayed at the same place that I stayed when I went through. The old lady had me a date close to where she lived. I knew then I had it made. When I got ready to leave, the girl's father told one of the boys to saddle one of the mules and take me to Shown, Tennessee, about twelve miles away. I certainly did enjoy that mule ride back over the trail I had hoofed on my way over. I walked from Shown, Tennessee back to Mountain City, and from there back across Iron Mountain to Shady Valley. It was then called Crandull, Tennessee.

I had hid my overshoes up on the mountain as I went over, in a hollow log. It was dark when I got back to where the overshoes were. The wood rats or mice had built a nest in them. Imagine, it dark and them rats right out in my lap! What a night. I wore my soles on my shoes out 'till you could see the bottom of my feet. I left with $4.00 and got back home with $2.00 and never missed a meal. That's not too bad. I Wonder what it would cost today if I had to pay for it.

When I first met Ida I walked across Holston Mountain and walked back. I didn't have the kind of money to hire someone to bring or take me, so one day I got to studying. If others can have a car, what's the reason I can't have one? So I went and got my brother Mack to sign a note for $615. It was for a new Chevrolet Roadster. So I went and got Charlie Blevins to go with me to Mountain City. We walked over. He told me he could drive. We got the car, and Charlie drove about two miles. I was scared and told him to stop. He did. I got out on my side and went around and told him to get over. He said to me, "You can't drive!" I said "You can't drive either." That was the first steering wheel I ever had hold of. Imagine, to cross that mountain when the road was only wide enough for one car. I knew I would not see no other car. I didn't have one bit of trouble. I was nervous at first, but it soon wore off. "Lucky man." A few days later I drove to Stotesbury, West Virginia to work.

A short time later I decided to get married. Ida had been putting me off getting married. So she had to have advice from her people as to what to do. So one day I got a letter stating that she decided to get married. That put me to studying, as I knew I didn't have that kind of money. So I got me a note and went down to where Mack was working and gave him the note to sign. He asked me what I was going to do with the money. I said I was going to get married. Mack said he pitied that woman. He asked me how I was going to take care of a woman when I can't take care of myself.

A few days later me and Ida got married. John K. Wilson married us. I gave him only $2.00, for I knew my money was not going to last too long. I didn't have but $100, so I stayed two or three days and headed back to Stotesbury. When I got back we went to Hatton Lawrence where I was boarding, to stay. About dusk I heard Fred James holler, "come to the window!" I did. The whole yard was full of people. Fred said to me, "Take your choice, set us all up or go with us to the river." I told Fred, "Will you let me go if I give you what money I got?" He said "Yes." So I pitched him my wallet. I didn't have any money left 'till I drew my next payday.

So this is just a few sketches from my life.