The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Tribute to Mike Roach

By John W. Stoneberger © 1990

Issue: June, 1990

Michael B. Roach was born April 4, 1902 at Pocosin Hollow on Lewis Mountain in Greene County, Virginia. He was the son of John Scott and Cora Roach.

He married Miss Lina E. Taylor January 3, 1923 at Jollett Hollow Methodist Church. She was a twin daughter of Sylvanis and Lilly Taylor.

Mike and Lina had five children: Marie, John, Betty, Frances and Elizabeth.

About the time Mike was 10 or 12 years old, the Saint Andrews Roach Mountain Mission and School was being established on Lewis Mountain. It was a busy time for everyone. The future looked bright and progressive for the mountain folks. Things were happening like had never happened before on the mountain - hundreds of cattle grazing, the bark wagon with the mule team making two trips to Elkton per week, the operation of the Mission and School, plus a saw mill coming with a huge steam engine tractor.

Mike had grown up on this large estate of over 1,000 acres with over one hundred bark roads by name and many trails leading off of each road.

Our old Episcopal Church papers say, "Mike was such a loving and congenial young man to walk long distance through all kinds of weather almost daily to carry the mail and packages for the Pastor, missionaries and their families."

As the load got heavier and he got older, he used a horse or mule under saddle or light wagon to do this job.

He developed into an extra strong man over 200 pounds and more than six feet tall. As he grew strong, he also became skillful with tools.

At building rail fence he was one of the best. Someone once said, "He could make two or three hundred eleven foot rails a day," and that he could build a rail fence, "horse high, bull strong and pig tight." In order to be pig tight, the small rails were used at the bottom.

Our home was out in the country. We had a screen door with a spring to pull it closed, but no latch. One day a snake crawled in the kitchen and we saw the cat playing with it under a cabinet. Mama disliked this and she spoke to Mike about the incident.

He came with a handful of tools - a small drill, saw, chisel, screw driver and pocket knife. I watched him very close as he took a piece of oak scrap wood for the body, a piece of hickory for the latch, apiece of yellow locust for the spring, along with four wood screws and a leather string. In a few minutes, with these things, he made a professional looking latch for our door that would lock every time the door closed. It never gave a bit of trouble and lasted for years.

It was the neatest piece of craftsmanship I had ever seen. From that time on I always loved tools and wanted to be a craftsman.

Dravo Construction Company of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania was the largest in the world at this time. My dad and his brothers worked for this company. Mike, being a brother-in-law, worked with them, drilling shafts and driving tunnels deep in the earth or through mountains.

One day Mike was working in a deep shaft mucking around the big bucket when a piece of reinforcement steel fell from the top of the shaft, striking him in the back and coming out in the pelvic area. I think of the awful agony he must have suffered: being loaded in the hosting bucket with the hospital probably hours away! He knew how to pray and was strong and tough.

My dad had a blacksmith anvil that weighed one hundred pounds. Mike could set it on the end with the horn up and with one hand, grip the horn and handle it like a toy.

After the terrible accident in the shaft, he had trouble with ruptures in the lower part of the body and he had to take employment of lighter work at Falls River, Massachusetts where he raised his family.

It was a joy to be in his presence and his mountain humor was the best. On one occasion he joined a secret order and he knew he had a neighbor lady with the most inquisitive mind who would never let up on questions she could find out. So he made up this story to tell her.

When he met her, she said, "Mike, I hear you have joined a secret order and now I want you to tell me all about it."

He said, "Well, the first thing they did was take me to a long dark tunnel, and asked me if I could see the little red light at the end of the tunnel. I said yes. Then they said, you start crawling on your hands and knees to the light, but don't let anything distract you or don't stop until you get there. In obedience to his command, I started crawling toward the light. I soon saw to my left a beautiful blond young lady in her night clothes on a comfortable bed. I paid no attention, spoke not a word, and moved on. After traveling some distance, I saw on my right a beautiful girl with black hair on her bed. I moved on in obedience to my command, and when I reached the red light the master of the lodge met me and told me I was a Oddfellow."

Mr. Raymond Goad told me this tale, but it sounds like one of Uncle Mike's.

Another one was about a town citizen who liked to drink an extra amount of whiskey, who had a habit of feeling himself getting overloaded, would windup in the cemetery, lie down where there was no one to disturb or bother him, and sleep it off. On a cold night he decided to do this and was surprised to find another drunken man had fallen in a fresh dug grave and couldn't get out. So he lay on his back moaning, saying, "I am cold... I am cold..." The second drunk looked at him in his position and said, "No wonder you are cold, you have kicked all the dirt off of yourself."

Uncle Mike died January 17, 1986 at Falls River, Massachusetts. He was a fine example of a genuine mountaineer. He was a faithful, loving family man, a fine craftsman, an entertainer with a good sense of humor, plus a great knowledge of mountain history.