The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Wayne Banks Returns to the Blue Ridge

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012

Issue: August, 1981

Continued from last month...

In 1928, Wayne Banks returned to the Blue Ridge. His father and two uncles had a thriving sawmill set up in the Bent section of Meadows of Dan, Virginia. The area was pretty steep and Wayne's brother Elroy, with a mechanical mind, had built them a machine that helped out. It was so steep that they had to hold themselves up by ropes to cut the trees and pull the logs up by steel cables. Of course, it was impossible to work in bad snowy weather.

"One snowy morning, Lester Gunter came by and wanted me to go hunting. I borrowed Harry Boyd's 16 gauge Stevens shotgun. It wasn't good for rabbit hunting, but it would do. We went down in the Big Bent to hunt. At that time, just about every branch that ran down there had a still on it. We went by one of these stills and it was working. My father was a teetotaler, so I didn't know anything about these things. Lester told me that those "backings" before they were run off made a good drink. We got a pint can and took some to drink.

After that I fell several times in the snow and didn't notice that I got snow packed about 4 or 5 inches up in the gun barrel. When the next rabbit jumped up, I fired off at it. That gun barrel peeled back about 4 or 5 inches.

I didn't go home til I got over being intoxicated. When I did get home, I saw I had busted Harry's gun. I sawed the end off and drilled a hole and replaced the sight. I hated to take it back four inches shorter than it was when I borrowed it, but Harry said, 'I been meaning to cut it off anyway and make me a squirrel gun.'

One day I developed a "jumping" toothache. Every time my heart beat, I thought it was going to take the top of my head off. The nearest dentist was in Martinsville and I couldn't go that far. I told Dad I was going to get a hammer and nail and knock it out. But he said no, I might hurt my jaw bone. We were standing in the Bent looking across the Dan River Gorge. Dad pointed out a cabin on the other side of the gorge and told me that a man there had a pair of tooth pullers. I ran all the way there.

It was an old log house, just one room. I went to the door. It had a latch made of wood on it. I told the man who I was and what I was there for. I looked around as we talked and saw that the kitchen was in one corner, a bed in another. I saw a split bottomed chair that had legs so short you couldn't get your fingers between the rounds and the floor. I found out that was the tooth pulling chair. He had pulled so many teeth, it had wore the legs off.

The man went to the kitchen corner and got a water glass 2/3 full of something. I was thirsty so I would have taken anything. I knew it was high powered stuff when I swallowed it, but I didn't ask any questions.

Well, that man got a hold of my tooth and pulled and pulled. I kept passing out. The last thing I remember, he was dragging me around the floor with those pullers. He finally got it out, but I was bleeding to death. The only clean thing in the house was his shirt tail. He tore it off and packed my tooth. I felt so weak from the ordeal I stayed til night before I got back home. I didn't tell Dad I was drunk too.

About this time I took a correspondence course in radio and electronics from Coney Electrical in Chicago. I was grading and loading lumber on the railroad at Stuart for a living.

Irene Martin was a teacher at the Freemont School and stayed at old man John West's in the Red Ruff section. She had a Ford car and went home to Peter's Creek on weekends. She used to give me rides back up Busted Rock. I would push most of the way.

When I came back up here to live, I missed the sports I had learned in Winston-Salem. I talked Dr. West into making a tennis court out of a piece of land at Laurel Fork. We decided we needed some competition so I went to talk to Carl Spence. He had a farm near Len Reynolds' place at Mayberry. I talked Carl into building another tennis court so the teams could play each other. We went to Mt. Airy and bought the equipment.

Simon Scott of Mayberry told me he wanted to buy a radio. He was a Russellite by faith and the head of the Russellite Church, Judge Rutherford, preached on radio. He told me if I could get that man preaching from Atlanta, he would buy a radio. That was "iffy." It might take a month to get a good signal.

Simon Scott got to hear the preacher and bought the first radio around here with a speaker. It was an Atwater Kent.

Shortly after that, the Reverend Bob Childress heard about it and wanted a radio over at the Buffalo Church at his home. The best signals around here came in from the west. The nights the Grand Ole Opry came on, the Childress home started getting full of neighbors by 5:00 in the evening. The room would be full of people and the windows opened so two or three people could stand outside and stick their heads in to hear the radio.

In the 30's, Zenith radios were run off of a 6 volt battery. No one around here had electricity and most used a wind charged generator. The generator would keep their battery charged and they could play their radio and even run a few light bulbs from the battery.

People made their own electricity. At Harris Chapel on the Willis Road in Floyd County, people there had an old water wheel mill. They put in a generator and ran electricity to several houses. Lawrence Bolt ran it for years until the power lines came.

I sold electrical appliances in those days and when a power line came through, I would follow it and go door to door trying to sell appliances to the people who now had electricity. The first thing farmers wanted when they got electricity was a water pump. Next came things like washing machines or vacuum cleaners, as they got up the money. I would carry a washing machine out to their house, set it up and give them a demonstration. Their clothes had to come pretty clean to meet their approval. There were few appliance stores and they were all in the cities. About all of the appliances bought in this area during the 30's was in this way.

NEXT MONTH... Wayne Banks and Hillsville, Virginia's first radio station.