By Bob Heafner © 1983-2012
Issue: April, 1983
Tyson Sutphin was born February 10th, 1900. He has lived most of his 83 years near Buffalo Mountain in Carroll County, Virginia. A friend of mine, Trent Goad, had told me that Mr. Sutphin would be an interesting person to talk with about the changes this area has undergone in the last 50 years or so.
Today I stopped by Mr. Sutphin’s home introduced myself and explained that I work for The Mountain Laurel and asked if he would mind talking with me awhile about old times. He opened the door wide as if I were an old friend and invited me into his home. Mr. Sutphin is tall and straight, with a full head of white hair. His eyes sparkled as he told of past events and a wide friendly smile seemed natural on his face.
He told me of the first car he ever saw. It was a 1913 Model T Ford. He saw it at the annual “Bridge Meeting” of the Primitive Baptist Association, held at the covered bridge where US 221 crosses the New River. He got to ride on the fender and “that was really something in those days.”
He got his education at the Mt. Hebron School (see our BACKROADS column) which closed around 1918, shortly after he attended.
To hear him talk of going to Hillsville in the 1920’s gave me a perspective of distance and time I’d never had before. Today, I think nothing of driving to Greensboro, North Carolina, a distance of 75 miles one way and the round trip usually takes less than three and one-half hours. In 1925, Mr. Sutphin rented a “riding horse” from a neighbor for $1.50 in order to go to Hillsville to buy Christmas presents for his family. He and Mrs. Sutphin have three daughters. The trip to Hillsville took two hours each way. Imagine it took him two hours to travel 15 miles, over four hours to go to Hillsville and back (a total of 30 miles). I’ll never drive to Greensboro again with the warmth of my heater, my power steering and soft seat but what I’ll think of Tyson Sutphin sitting in saddle for over four hours enduring the cold in order to buy “something special” for his family for Christmas.
He worked on the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and was paid $4.80 per day for himself and his four work horses. This was pretty fair wages for the times.
While working for the Parkway, he was able to acquire a slightly used Model A Ford. One day, Mrs. Sutphin said they needed to do some shopping for the family so they loaded up the Model A and headed for Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Mrs. Sutphin got a new dress and some shoes. Each of the three girls got sweaters, shoes, stockings and undergarments. Mr. Sutphin got two new pairs of overalls; one heavy duty pair for 69 cents and one lightweight pair for 39 cents. The total cost of their shopping spree was $20.00.
He told me of talking with Mr. Matt Mayberry who had fought in the Civil War and how Mr. Mayberry had told him of hiding behind a 10 inch white oak tree during a fierce battle and after the fighting died down of counting 13 bullet holes in the other side of the tree.
He told of buying flour by the 24 pound “poke” and how he could save 2 cents a “poke” if he bought 8 “pokes” which made up a barrel.
He also told me a story about neighbors and how neighbors are what you make them whether they’re good or bad. The story was about two fellows who lived in the same neighborhood and both had decided to go west. The first one left and along the way met a man who ask him why he was going west and the fellow replied, “To get away from my sorry neighbors. Where I came from, the people are the worst neighbors in the world.” The second fellow left the neighborhood and headed west and he also met a man who asked why he was going west and he replied, “To better my life. I hate to leave home because I had some of the best neighbors in the world but I hope to find a better farm out west. Neighbors, according to Mr. Sutphin, are just “what you make of them” and I believe it is true; we always find what we’re looking for whether it’s good or bad.
As I was saying goodbye and thank you to Mr. Sutphin, he apologized for not remembering many interesting things, to which I assured him that I’d found everything he’d talked about very interesting and thought our readers would also.
Mr. Tyson Sutphin is a fine mountain gentleman and just plain fun to be with. Mr. Sutphin, thank you again for your memories.