The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Robert M. Sizemore - An Industrious Man, 1879-1939

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1985

Issue: June, 1985

robert m sizemore sRobert M. (Bob) Sizemore sawmill with steam powered tractor. Circa 1914. Click on photo to see larger image.The Sizemore family has been traced from Lunenburg County, Virginia in the 1790's. From there, John Sizemore moved to Stokes County, North Carolina, near the Patrick County, Virginia line in 1796. His son, Levi (born 1828) moved to Carroll County, Virginia in the Center Valley Community. Levi's son, Daniel was born in 1853. Daniel's son, Robert M., better known as Bob, was born September 30, 1879. Bob married Laura A. Frost and they eventually had four children. In 1914, Bob moved to the Laurel Community of Carroll County. In 1915, his son Everette was born.

Today, Everette Sizemore is 69 years old and tells his father's story.

"My father was a big, strong man. When he moved here to Laurel Community in 1914, he bought this piece of land, about 70 acres. It already had an old house, a steam powered grain mill and a sawmill and orchard on the property."

Bob Sizemore was an industrious man who kept the steam engine grain mill in operation for the neighborhood. It only had the capacity to grind corn meal and feed grains. He also prospered with the sawmill. He had a steam powered mill that was fired with wood and he moved it to cutting locations on a large wagon.

In 1914, Bob "modernized" and bought a large steam engine tractor that could move on its own power. It was also stoked with wood. He had a team of oxen, Butch and Ben, that pulled the logs from the woods to where the sawmill was set up. Those oxen were so well trained that once "grabs" were driven into a fresh cut log and attached to the oxen, they would go back to the sawmill by themselves and wait in place for the log to be unhitched. Then the oxen would automatically return to the woods for another log.

Bob Sizemore sawed the lumber for the first house in Galax (before 1920). It was located near the present depot in Galax. That house was built before the rail, came to Galax. At that time, the railroad stations were: Foster Falls in Wythe County and Chestnut Yard and Blair, both in Carroll County.

In those days, Bob Sizemore got the sum of $5.00 for sawing 1,000 feet of lumber and could saw a total of 3,000 feet of lumber a day (including logging and sawing it).

That steam powered tractor cost $1,400 brand new in 1914, a sizeable investment for its day. Everette said that it served its purpose for many years. It was sold and went to Floyd County. Then, it was brought back to Carroll County and the engine furnished the power for the first cannery in Carroll County. (It was located where the Hillsville Intermediate School stands today.) "From there," Everette said, “it was sold for junk, which makes me sick. I wish I had it now.”

I asked Everette if he ever worked with his father in the sawmill. He said, "I worked one day and they had to haul me home in a wagon I was so tired."

Another enterprise Bob Sizemore had was the orchard. It was huge and had, "Now they call them York Imperials, but we called them Johnson Winter apples. They were a good size, long keeping, lop-sided apple." There are still three productive trees of those originals. There were 10, but when Interstate 77 was built, it took seven of them.

Everette remembered from his childhood when Charlie Vernon and his boys, produce people from Lambsburg, Virginia, used to come over with a truck to buy apples in the fall. They would put straw in the bed of the truck to cushion the apples, then pile the truck bed full. Vernon's son Clayton has an apple orchard today.

In the 1920's, the Sizemore’s kept apples all winter in an out-building by putting loose straw on the ground and making sides of a pen with bales of straw. The apples were then put in this pen. Ilene Sizemore, Everette's wife, said in her family, their house was built on a hillside with a dirt cellar in the bank of the hillside. They would dig holes there, line them with oak leaves and fill with apples. They would keep crisp that way til May.

The worst thing Everette can remember happening to his father had to do with an apple tree. It was the middle of February and an ice and snow storm had uprooted one of the apple trees. Bob Sizemore decided to try to get it back in the ground. He was cutting off broken branches to reset it when he made a mis-lick and cut one of his fingers completely off except for the skin on one side of it. He held it together with his other hand and rushed into the house. While Bob held his finger tight to his hand his wife put Cloverine salve on it and wrapped it around and around with a clean white cloth. That cloth was not removed until the finger was completely recovered, which it did. So completely in fact, that it worked like his other fingers and wasn't even stiff!

If Bob Sizemore was hardy, he was also strong. At one time, he was known to pick up a crate of shafting weighing 530 pounds, swap ends, and lay it back down. This occurred at Hunnicutt's Mill.

As if these three businesses were not enough, Bob Sizemore also had two more major ones. One was a threshing machine that he and his brother moved from farm to farm. Again, their strength came into play as they had to level the machine at each stop and did so by simply lifting up one side while the other stuck a board under it. Bob and his brother bought around 100 acres adjoining Bob's land and later Bob bought out his brother's half.

The other major business concern operated by Bob Sizemore was a blacksmith shop. Western movies gave us the impression that blacksmiths mostly shoed horses, but there was a whole lot more to it than that. The blacksmith shop did all metal repair work for the community and made such things as horse shoes and tools. The metal was bought at hardware stores and some was dug from Iron Mountain and smelted in Carroll County.

Here are some details of the blacksmith trade in the early part of this century. How did they weld metal together? Each end of a piece of iron was tapered and borax put between the two pieces. Then it was put in the forge until it was hot Just short of the melting point. It was then brought out, put on the anvil and hit with a hammer. Bob Sizemore charged 25 cent per piece for welding metal.

The same method was used to repair a broken mattock blade. To sharpen a mattock, it was put in the heat, then the hot metal edges were hammered until thin and sharp. The blacksmith then took a file and trued the cutting edge.

To temper the metal, it was put back into the fire and brought to a cherry red. It was then brought out and about two inches of it was dipped into a salt water solution. Salt would toughen it. You had to he careful not to leave it in the water too long as it would make the metal brittle and would break if it cooled too fast. Then you watched the color as it "run down the metal." (Remember, one end has been cooled in water and is a different color from the other hotter end.) The color will go from light straw to dark straw and then when it turns blue, the metal is dipped back in the water and cooled again. Bob Sizemore got 5 cent for sharpening each end of a mattock.  Everette learned these things as a small, boy helping his father. Everette stood in a chair and turned the crank which turned the fan that pumped air into the fire of the forge to make it hotter.

Bob Sizemore also made bolts; cut and threaded them in his shop.

One of the most used of farm implements was the homemade A harrow. It was used to drag across plowed land to smooth it out to plant. It was shaped like the capital letter "A" made of wood and usually had 21 square metal teeth in it. Round holes were bored in the wood at an angle. Then the square metal "teeth" were heated and forced into the holes, burning their way through the wood. It was a frequent job to sharpen those teeth on all four sides. The charge for that was 1 cent each. Everette said he made his pin money as a boy by sharpening harrow teeth.

Bob Sizemore set a good example and Everette Sizemore is an industrious person, in his father's footsteps. He has been a carpenter, taught woodworking shop at Hillsville and Woodlawn High Schools, has a wood working shop and makes knives. Around Everette, nothing goes to waste and everything is put to good use.

His father also gave Everette something else, an education. When Everette was growing up, school went to the 7th grade. There were not high schools in every neighborhood. Everette loved learning so much, that after he had completed the 7th grade, he went back for two more years to learn everything he could. Finally the teacher told him that he should try to go to high school, because he could not teach him anymore. Everette's father borrowed $5.00 for the books and an arrangement was made for Everette to cut firewood for an elementary school near by in order to pay for the transportation to Woodlawn High School. When Everette finished his four years there, he had a 96.4 average on 20 subjects.

Everette built his own house for his family in 1940 - a home built of timber he cut out of the woods and sawed himself - a home on the property his father bought in 1914.

Everette said of his father, "I lived with him for 23 years (until his father's death) and I never heard him say a dirty or even a harsh word in his life."

Talking to Everette Sizemore, you can easily get a picture of a good mountain father who worked hard and taught his children by example the right values in life.