Nightime view of Wickliffe, the Ballard County seat, from the Fort Jefferson Memorial Cross overlooking the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Henry Sakaida and Sandy Hart

Appreciate the letter


July 11, 2017


          Teresa Morris Salonimer asked to buy a copy of my book a few weeks ago to present to Henry Sakaida, who would be speaking at the Ballard-Carlisle Historical and Genealogical Society. (He spoke on June 27.)

          She said she wanted to present it to him because, “He says he likes small towns and their uniqueness and your book describes that better than anything else we have around here.” (Flattery works every time. I told her I would be happy to donate a copy of the book, no charge.)

          Sakaida, who lives in California, is an aviation historian, journalist, and World War II researcher. He spoke about Harry Melton Jr., one of the Wickliffe men who served in World War II. Melton was shot down over the Pacific. Sakaida’s program was presented by the society and the Kentucky Veteran and Patriot Museum.

          Sakaida wrote a letter to me. It arrived in yesterday’s mail. It included a couple of photos, one of the cow he mentions in the letter, and one of him and Sandy Hart, printed onto the paper with his letter. Here’s what he wrote:

          Hi Joe!

          I was visiting Sandy Hart at the Kentucky Veteran and Patriot Museum in Wickliffe, and before I departed she gave me a copy of your book, “Characters by the Bushel.” On my four-hour plane ride back to Los Angeles, I had an opportunity to read it and found it very funny and interesting!

          In reading your book, it solved a 10-year mystery for me. You wrote about how smart cows are, that they knew the routine when it came to milking, etc. They’d go into the barn in an orderly fashion. Back in 2007, I went to Mongolia. And I saw the funniest thing! There was this lead cow walking about 30 paces in front, leading a herd of cows out into the pasture. No herder present. This was around 7 a.m.

          At around 6 p.m., when it was getting dark, I saw the same cow, leading the herd back into town. No herder! They spent all day grazing out in the fields, and when it began to get dark, the lead cow led his herd back into town!!!

          When I aimed the camera, the lead cow turned around and faced me, like, “What the hell are you up to??!!”

          When I got home, I went on Google and typed in “Monkey’s Eyebrow.” I was surprised when it came up! I visited Ballard County on June 27 just for one day. Sandy can fill you in. I thought Ballard County would be a nice place to have a second home – until someone told me about copperheads and water moccasins!!!! Yikes! And the nearest emergency hospital is in Paducah!!!

          Well, just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book! Take care.


The evolution of West Kentucky politics


June 1, 2017


          An obituary in today’s Paducah Sun newspaper caused me to think about the evolution of politics in Ballard County and other parts of Western Kentucky.

          I didn’t know G.V. Dunkerson Sr., of Kevil. He apparently led an impressive life that included working on the manned moon missions of years past.

          Here are the first two paragraphs of his obituary:

          “KEVIL — G.V. Dunkerson Sr., 86, of Kevil, Kentucky, passed away Tuesday, May 30, 2017, at Baptist Health Paducah. Mr. Glendal Vernon Dunkerson was a Republican and a veteran of the United States Navy. He was of the Baptist Faith and loved his family. Mr. Dunkerson had a long career in the aerospace industry, working on the man moon missions followed by a second career in hospital support management in the Saudi Arabia.”

          As a general rule when survivors prepare an obituary, they tend to list the most important achievements first: “Mr. Glendal Vernon Dunkerson was a Republican….”

          When I first became eligible to vote, being a Republican would certainly set you apart from most of the people in the area. Even today, if you go just by voter registrations, Republicans are a minority.

          In Ballard County elections, it is rare for anyone to run as a Republican. Stonnie Dennis ran as a Republican for third district magistrate in the most recent county election and he defeated a Democratic incumbent.

          What fascinates me about county politics is that even though most voters are registered as Democrats, they seem to align more closely with Republicans in their political outlook. Proof of that statement is that while registered Democrats win county offices, voters here pick Republicans for state and national offices.

          It is my opinion that we will see a gradual shift of registrations from Democrat to Republican in the coming years. I also expect to see more candidates follow Stonnie Dennis in running as Republicans.

          In the last primary for county officials, Carey Batts won the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for sheriff.

          Billy Wayne Wildharber did not run in the primary. A registered Democrat, Wildharber chose to run a write-in campaign against Batts in the general election.

          It’s not easy to be a successful write-in candidate. Voters have to go to the trouble of writing your name instead of just checking a box beside the name of another candidate. Despite the odds, Wildharber – to the best of my memory, because I can’t find the actual number – got more than 1,400 votes.

          That’s a lot of votes. Had he run as a Republican or even as an Independent where his name would have appeared on the ballot, I believe there’s a good chance he would have won.

          If more Republican candidates start showing up on the county ballots, and especially if those candidates are elected, that could trigger a shift in registrations. I believe most people here are registered as Democrats because … well, because they and their ancestors have always registered as Democrats because Democrats win county elections.

          Speaking of the county, I did a Google search for “Ballard County Government” and the second thing that came up was my website. I thought that was interesting and perhaps even odd.

          I did another Google search for “Ballard County Fiscal Court” and that brings up a site hosted by the Purchase Area Development District (PADD) that includes Belinda Foster as treasurer. As we know, she resigned in 2016 and has pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges. Some other people listed as officials no longer serve. That site needs to be updated.

The invalid HIN is just to the right of the serial number.

Those Fed folks can go to hull


April 26, 2017


          My aluminum jon boat is 12 feet long, just about the perfect size for fishing in the small cypress lakes spread throughout the Ballard County river bottoms.

          I have an electric trolling motor but I prefer to sit sideways on a front seat and move among the trees by a technique we call sculling, where the sculler moves the boat by using a small paddle off the front of the boat. I scull with my left hand and fish with my right. This technique allows me to move slower and not bump into logs, trees and knees as often as I would with an electric motor.

          Every year about this time I go to the Ballard County clerk’s office and pay the annual registration fee that makes it legal to use the boat with a trolling motor or with an outboard, which I don’t have.

          I pay that fee even though the boat hasn’t been in the water for three or four years. It rests on a pair of saw horses. I would use it but I don’t have a way to get it from here to there, and I’m not able to lift it by myself. But I’m not ready to concede that I won’t be able to use it someday, so I keep paying the registration fee for the stickers that shows the boat is lake-legal.

          When I went to pay the fee a couple of days ago, Judy informed me that new Federal regulations require that all boats have a verified … I thought at first she was saying I needed a chicken aboard because it sounded like she was saying the boat needed a hen.

But no, it has nothing to do with chickens. The federal law requires a valid and correctly formatted HIN. That stands for Hull Identification Number. The Kentucky registration form she printed out says, under “Vehicle Identification,” that mine has INVALIDKYHIN. (The way we talk, there’s no difference in hen and HIN. Pronounced correctly, there would be a subtle difference. For instance, you can tell the difference between net and nit.)

Judy told me to go home, see if the boat has a plate on it with a HIN, and if it does to do a pencil and paper tracing of it. I asked if a photograph would work and was told that it would.

Move several minutes ahead and you will find me and my son, Joe Ray, looking at the boat resting on the saw horses. Turned out that the boat has a little panel attached that shows model, serial number, and some other information, including the four-digit HIN. We took a photograph. The four-digit HIN turned out to be the same as the HIN shown on my boat title. I found that to be confusing since the state claimed my HIN is invalid. I went back to the courthouse the next day to clear it up.

A phone call to Frankfort cleared it up. The new law requires that a HIN must be 12 digits long. The 12 digits consist of the manufacturers identification code (MIC), the hull serial number, the date of manufacture, and the model year.

The state will send me a stick-on new HIN which goes over the original HIN.

I guess this helps identify boats that are being used in illegal activities. I need a HIN even if I promise not to mount the trolling motor onto the 30-plus-years-old jon boat, cross the ocean, and return with a load of undocumented refugees. SIGH. Too damn many numbers required today. I will refuse to have a personal identification number (PIN) tattooed on my arm if it ever comes to that, and it almost seems like that’s the way we are headed.

To wrap this up, I hate the sound of HIN. It seems so much harsher than the gentler PIN we use with our debit cards. And why limit it to the hull? Why not a BIN (boat identification number)? A SIN (sculling identification number)? Or even a WHIN (why have identification numbers)?

It almost makes me want to get rid of that old, dry-docked aluminum jon boat. Almost. Not quite.

But the vote isn’t for or against alcohol


December 10, 2016


          I received a flyer (not sure if that’s the right term) in today’s mail urging La Center city residents to VOTE NO! on December 20.

          I find one thing wrong with it. The entire content of the writing is about alcohol being a problem, but the vote in La Center isn’t a vote for prohibition, it’s a vote on allowing sale of alcohol. A supporter of the vote might say it’s a vote on whether or not to collect a significant amount of tax money that’s now going to Cairo or Paducah or other nearby towns that already have legal sale of alcohol.

          The VOTE NO mailer printed on a high grade of slick paper doesn’t once mention, as far as I could see, what the vote actually is for.

          I don’t have a problem with people who want to keep their town dry, as Ballard County has been since the men went off to war in the early 1940s. Barlow residents recently voted to go wet and receive the revenue now going to other coffers. That was their choice.

          I do think, however, that people who take a stand for or against an issue should make it clear what the issue is.

          Even if La Center residents vote against the sale of alcohol, the alcohol remains readily available in nearby towns, and soon to be in Barlow. I doubt if having sale of alcohol in La Center will lead anyone to drink who isn’t already tossing down a toddy or two. In fact, some people may even continue to take their tax money to other jurisdictions so their neighbors won’t see them buying a bottle of wine or Old Stumpwater No. 82.

          This mailer includes the information that it was paid for by concerned members of Antioch Baptist Church, La Center. Anyone want to bet that a few of the members of the church don’t make occasional visits to Roof Brothers Wine & Spirits in Paducah or one of the spirit houses in Cairo?

          I spoke with people in another state where I was covering a vote on allowing alcohol sales a few years ago. Often I did run into some who admitted that they went to Chattanooga to buy alcohol, but they didn’t want their church-going friends and neighbors to see them do the same in their home county. Their friends and neighbors usually were folks who attended their same church.

          Trying to understand their point of view, I asked one if she thought it was something her religion would oppose, did she think God would not be watching her buy it in Chattanooga. Apparently she was more concerned about the scorn of her neighbors than the wrath of her God. If you want to drink, don’t be a hypocrite about it.

          Ballard County is a dry county until Barlow sales begin and it’s illegal to sell alcoholic drinks in the county. It’s not illegal to consume them, however. People are able to take their own bottles, for instance, to the country club.

          But isn’t it just a little hypocritical to outlaw one thing when it’s the other that really is the issue?

          I’m only guessing, but I believe that when residents vote a county dry, it’s not the sale that they are targeting so much as the consumption, which they cannot target.

          They may talk about the dangers of people driving after drinking as the reason for disallowing liquor sales, but all the drinkers have to do is drive a few miles to another county, buy all the drinks they want, and then drive back home – drunk or sober – to the dry county in which they live.

          When voters decide to disallow liquor sales, are they saying that they don’t want the profit and the taxes to stay within the county but it’s okay if everyone wants to go to another county and buy all the liquor they want and then bring it back home?

          No, what they really want is to outlaw the drinking but they can’t so they outlaw something else.

          I would drink to that except that when he diagnosed me as a type 2 diabetic about nine years ago, my doctor told me not to drink any alcohol. He didn’t say I couldn’t buy any. But here, the issue is the buying, not the drinking.

Gary Chandler was a good ’un


October 11, 2016


I knew Gary Chandler in three different roles.

First, he was a senior on the Ballard Memorial High School basketball team my freshman year. I didn’t know him well. Seniors and freshmen don’t do a lot of hanging out together.

The next time I ran into Gary, he was the basketball coach at Cairo (Illinois) High School. I was sports editor of the Cairo Evening Citizen. Gary was the coach and also taught at Cairo.

He compiled what is still one of the best winning percentages of all the basketball coaches in the school’s history. He was forced out of the coaching job despite a good record and some very good basketball teams that played a tenacious defensive game as well as being exciting on the offensive end of the court. He was replaced as coach by Billy Chumbler who compiled even a higher percentage of victories at Cairo before becoming the coach at Paducah Tilghman.

Despite Chumbler’s success, I thought then and still think that Gary got a dirty deal. He and I talked about it in more recent times. He wasn’t consumed by anger at the dirty deal, but neither was he happy about it. When we talked, it was more about his successes and the young men on his basketball teams.

Gary was replaced as coach and I eventually left the newspaper to serve a stint in the Navy. After that, I worked in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and then Morgantown, W.V.

It was after I retired and moved back to Ballard County that I ran into Gary again in the third role, drummer with a local oldies rock band called The Little Band, later renamed the Backwater Band.

By then, Gary was already struggling with Parkinson’s disease. He was friendly every time I ran into him and I never once heard him complain.

I had not seen Gary for a while. That’s probably because I have been getting out of the house less.

I saw in the Paducah paper this morning that he died Sunday. I feel sad, even though we all face that inevitable end.

He was 76 years old. In addition to his coaching, teaching and business careers, he was a charter member of Grace United Methodist Church in La Center. He was a veteran, too, having served in the army.

He leaves his wife, two sons and three grandchildren.

Gary was a good guy, and it hurts to lose a good guy. It seems there are not as many of those as I remember from years ago.

Remembering Wickliffe:

Clean hair and chemicals


August 27, 2016


          Lots of things can trigger memories. I was washing my hair while taking a shower this morning. For some reason that took me back some 65 years to a Wickliffe busier than it is today but still a very small town. All the way back to Gwen’s beauty shop.

          I guess you have to be on up in years to remember Gwen’s. It’s been gone for a long time.

          Today, if you stand on Court Street just east of the courthouse and before you get to the city park ….

          Did the streets have names back then? I don’t remember them. Directions included “turn left just past” someone’s house, or “turn right at Bill Ryan’s gas station” or “it’s just across the street from the courthouse.”

          That last one about across from the courthouse meant the row of businesses across from the front side of the courthouse that included, long long ago, the post office and Hughes store and the movie theater and Phillips tavern and café and the Rudd-Wear Drug Store and George Williamson’s City Meat Market, and others.

          Other businesses like the Boyd Drug Store and Tebo’s furniture store and the Ballard mercantile and grocery and Simmons garage probably were “down from Holman’s drug store” or on “the street that goes up to the school” or from some other geographical or commercial site.

          That latter street is what is called Court Street today. May have been Court Street back then, too, but I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning it.

          So, if you stand there with your back toward the south end of the courthouse and you’re facing that restaurant – it’s either a Mexican restaurant or a Guatamalan restaurant or maybe both or maybe they’ve changed the geographic source of the cuisine again by now … for a good while it was the Hillbilly Café, although I think you have to go a few hundred miles east or west to encounter any actual hillbillies – (whew, this is a long sentence) you’re exactly where I want you to be.

          On the far left of that restaurant building as you are facing it, Joe Reno had a dry cleaning business. To the left of the building was a holler (hollow if you prefer) and the Freemans had a big building down in it. They barbecued just about anything. There was a narrow creek behind the Freeman place and there were houses on the other side. Today, I think all of that is part of the park. At the time of which I write and you read, next door to the Reno cleaners my father had a radio and TV sales and repair shop in the middle section, and Gwen had a beauty shop in the far right. (For purposes of precise placement of landmarks, there was a grocery and feed store in the building just west of Gwen’s, going toward the traffic light, with a space of maybe a couple of feet between the buildings, just enough for a couple of boys like my cousin George Crice and me to use in traveling to or from a great adventure. Jess Hunt had that store first, I believe, and I think maybe the Vances ran it for a while and the Viniards took over later. I forget exactly who might have run it.)

          Little kids such as I was back then pretty much had the run of small towns. Now, when I say “small towns” I’m not talking about a burgeoning metropolis of 20,000 people or even a smaller metropolis of 2,000. No, I’m talking about a few hundred. I remember Wickliffe’s population as being around 900, give or take a few. I think that number represented actual people. I don’t think it included any gnat-licking hound dogs or cats or anything like that.

          We little kids could run around town feeling perfectly safe and our parents felt that we were safe too. We could go places on our own and do things that would land parents in jail for child neglect today. In fact, I’ve seen stories about parents arrested because they let children go to a park alone to play. We were safe in parks, except I don't remember any parks; we mostly played in yards. We could always shoot a bad guy with our BB guns if necessary.

          I was in Gwen’s beauty shop often, it being right next door to my dad’s business.

          I recall Gwen by two last names. Sometimes people called her Gwen Horn but mostly it was Gwen Sullivan. I can’t remember why. Maybe one was a maiden name or there was more than one marriage. Or maybe my memory stinks.

          Two things stand out. One was the smell of chemicals, a smell peculiar to beauty shops. The smell probably was a mixture of hair dyes and tonics and chemicals used for permanents. It wasn’t exactly pleasant, but it wasn’t unpleasant either, nowhere near as bad as some of the stinks that rose from the paper mill in later years. Pleasant, unpleasant, whichever, but memorable for sure.

          The other thing I remember was those beauty shop chairs that tilted back so the customer could put her (almost always a “her” back then) neck in the groove built into the sink so the beautician could wash her hair and then rinse it with a little hose with a rubber cap on the end. I thought that was so cool.

          Are beauty shops the same now? I suspect that the beauty shop technology hasn’t changed much in my 73 years. The main difference now is in the number of chemicals for sale to do wonderful things to your hair.

          Hilda Kimsey also had a beauty shop. It was in her home for a while, along with her husband Roy and children Lew and Kay. The house was up what I think people call Second Street. I would call it the hill up toward the Hughes place. Later (or maybe earlier) her shop was one of the businesses across from the courthouse. They told stories on Roy when the shop was in the home. One I remember was that Hilda had a poster advertising some hair color for sale. Roy is said to have added some words: “Buy an extra batch and dye your snatch to match.” I don’t know if that’s true. I wouldn’t put it past him.

          Memories. As we age, they become a bigger part of our lives, it seems. And mostly they are a good part.

A good Case for a long life


August 24, 2016


          I just returned home from a funeral at the Milner and Orr Funeral Home in Wickliffe. Most of you know Wickliffe. It’s a suburb of Monkey’s Eyebrow and is the county seat of Ballard County. You get there from here by driving through Oscar and Barlow.

          It was Junior Case’s funeral. I recall that everyone called him Junior Case when I was growing up in Wickliffe. Nowadays, most people apparently called him by his actual name, Fred Case. I guess he outlived the Junior status.

          Fred Case lived for 95 years. It seems to me there are three ways to pass on. One is for the body and mind to go simultaneously. Another is for the body to give out but the mind stays fresh. The third is for the mind to go but the body lingers.

          I think maybe the third way is the cruelest. At least, the cruelest on the families of those who travel that route.

          Fred took either the first or second route I mentioned. He was blessed in having a good mind throughout those years, and he seemed to be mobile the times I saw him. When you visited him or saw him in a restaurant, he knew who you were. He remembered the events of his life.

          I knew him from Wickliffe, but more recently talked with him a few times at the nursing home in Bardwell when my uncle Billy Bob Crice was a resident after falling in his home and breaking some skeletal parts. That’s why Fred was there, too. Falls. The goblins that hide in dark places and behind corners waiting for a chance to trip up old people and send them to the hospital with broken collar bones or ribs or, worst of all, hips.

          I saw him most recently a few months ago at the Pork Peddler restaurant in Paducah. He was brought there by his son-in-law Gary Batts, Dollie’s husband. I think the Pork Peddler was one of his favorite places. We talked for several minutes, and his mind was as sharp as ever. (I wish mine was.)

          The funeral consisted mostly of Scott Suttles reading remarks written by Fred’s son, Chan Case. The remarks covered highlights of Fred’s life. There also was a violin rendition of “Amazing Grace” by, I believe, a great-grandson.

          Highlights included service as a bombardier in World War II. He bombadiered (probably not a real word) on several missions before his plane was shot down over Germany in the later months of the war.

          Chan wrote and Scott read that all the airplane’s crews survived the gliding landing in a couple of feet of snow, only to be captured by a shotgun-wielding farmer, locked into a shed, and then put into a Prisoner of War camp.

          Apparently their German guards weren’t really bad guys. They were treated fairly well.

          Fred was released when General Patton came storming in with his tank crew, and he eventually returned to Wickliffe.

          He and his wife, Juanita, lived in Wickliffe and also in Carlisle County.

          Fred was a building contractor when I knew him best, and he was responsible for the construction of about 200 buildings during that part of his life. Case Circle just beyond the funeral home bears his name.

          Fred and Juanita also operated a beauty shop in Wickliffe, and a restaurant. Fred was active in the community. He served on the school board and on Wickliffe city council, among other contributions to the town.

          I’m sure Chan has lots of stories he could share. Maybe he will.

          Ballard County funerals are gatherings of families and friends who may not have seen each other except at other funerals. They are opportunities to swap stories and catch up with people. I took advantage of the opportunities to talk with folks I had not seen in a while.

          I talked for a fairly long time with Anita Hallada, formerly Anita Terry, and her husband. She is some kin to the Cases and I remember her as a frequent hanger-oner with them and Chan and Dollie.

          She told me she had heard of Monkey’s Eyebrow all her life but had never been here until a year or so ago when she and her husband got lost and apparently drove around a circle that took them past the Ballard Wildlife Management Area and Monkey’s Eyebrow.

          I told her I was impressed … that she knew she was here. It’s hard to tell. But that’s the way it is – life and the drama of life – in Monkey’s Eyebrow. And the good life we all remembered of growing up in Wickliffe and Ballard County.

Urban Hughes vs. the lumber company for a spell


          Ballard County had a high percentage of “characters” when I was growing up there. Most of the ones I knew were in Wickliffe.

          Urban Hughes was one of the folks about whom stories of legendary proportion were told, and he was near the top when it came to telling stories himself.

          His father, Jess Hughes, ran a dry goods store in Wickliffe and was also legendary in stories told about him. After Mr. Hughes died, Urban ran the store for a few years.

          One story told about Urban took place during the Harvest Festival, an annual fair-like celebration held in downtown Wickliffe along the street right in front of the courthouse.

          No country festival at that time deserved recognition unless it had a dunking machine. Most of you know about dunking machines. For those who don’t, there’s a large tank of water. A wide board is affixed to a backdrop, extending above the tank of water. There’s a mechanism attached to the device which includes a round metal target.

          Civic leaders, school principals, lawyers, those sorts of folks and other volunteers take turns sitting on the board, taunting the audience. For a fee, you get to throw three softballs at the target. If you hit it, it releases a catch, the seat falls and the person drops into the tank of water.

          It’s probably more fun than it sounds. But maybe not much more. At least, it’s a good fundraising activity for the sponsor.

          According to the story, some tourists stopped in Wickliffe during a Harvest Festival probably 50 years ago. They came into Urban’s store and asked what was going on that drew the big crowd and provided the carnival atmosphere.

          Urban reportedly told them, “Well, we’re having a hanging.”

          “Good lord!” one of the tourists exclaimed. “Why are all these people here for a hanging?”

          “We always have a big celebration in town when we hang someone,” Urban is said to have told them.

          “That’s awful,” the tourist said. “But what’s that big tank of water with the board sticking out over it?”

          “That’s our gallows,” legend has it that Urban said. “We have the tank of water there because we’re a good Christian town and we always baptize people when we hang them.”

          But that’s not the story I started out to tell.

          The story I intended to tell involves Urban and the Waldschmidt Lumber Company, which used to be on top of Fort Jefferson Hill.

          Urban had made a purchase there. When he received his statement, he took offense because his name was misspelled.

          The statement was addressed to Eurbin Hughes, not Urban Hughes.

          “I won’t pay a bill addressed to someone else,” Urban is said to have told the folks at Waldschmidt Lumber. “My name is Urban … Ur-ban … not Er-u-bin. If you send it to me – Urban Hughes – then I’ll pay it.”

          Next month, he received another statement. You guessed it. It was addressed to Eurbin Hughes.

          He decided to get revenge so when he wrote a check to send to Waldschmidt Lumber, he made it out to Wallshit Lumber Company.

          My guess is that they cashed the check. Money spends the same no matter how it smells.

A copy of the ad Urban published

I Like Ike: An Urban Hughes story


            Some stories about characters in small towns start out as factual accounts of actual events, told because they are funny and reflect well-know traits of the character.

          Many of these grow with each retelling, refined into mythical proportions with only a grain of the original truth remaining.

          Others need no embellishing. I call these “whole-grain stories.”

          I don’t know for sure which category this one falls into. It could be whole-grain because folks who knew Urban Hughes would have had no reason to question the content.

          Bill Ryan, who owned the Standard Oil gas station in Wickliffe, had a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Ike.

          Ike was a well-known resident of Wickliffe who hung around the gas station with the rest of the hangers-on. Once a day, Bill would tell him to go get the mail. Ike would walk to the post office, where someone would open the back door and hand him the mail, which he would deliver to Bill.

          During duck season, you would more likely find Ike in the cabin on Prairie Lake, where he spent time with Danny Ryan and me, prepared to retrieve ducks if and when we dropped any into the decoys spread in front of the duck blind across the lake from the cabin.

          Eventually the day came when Ike died.

          Urban Hughes, who ran the store that his father ran for many years, was one of Ike’s good friends.

          When Ike died, Urban decided to run a tribute in the local paper, the Advance-Yeoman.

          It was printed with a properly somber black border, as befits an in-memoriam tribute to a good friend.

          It extolled Ike’s many virtues – his loyalty, his friendliness, his willingness to do his work, his dependability. It told how much Ike would be missed by the entire community.

          Tommy Ryan recently came across a copy of the ad. It read:


          IN MEMORIAM

          He cared little for worldly possessions.

          He cared less for power or prestige.

          He was devoted to all who deserved his devotion,

          Especially those who were nearest and dearest to him.


          He disliked only one or two who had abused him,

          And he never forgot their abuse, and never forgave.

          He never spoke ill of anything or anybody.


          He had good habits and set an example in decorum.

          He only wanted to do one thing with his life

          And that was to serve, and he did it well.

          So long, “IKE,” you will be missed.

                             Signed: A Friend


          Meanwhile … a human resident of Wickliffe died at about the same time.

          His name was Isaac, but he was called Ike. I’ll not mention the last name so as to avoid embarrassment to either family.

          His survivors saw the tribute in the newspaper and, since no last name was given – I’m not sure that Ike the Chesapeake Bay retriever had a last name – they assumed it was written for their dearly departed.

          According to the story as it’s told, and I can’t vouch for the truth other than to acknowledge that it is consistent with other stories, they decided to take up a collection for their dearly departed Ike the non-dog.

          “Oh Mr. Hughes,” they supposedly said, “we saw your tribute to our beloved Ike in the paper. We didn’t know you felt that way about our dear Ike. But after reading your words we decided to come to the store because we’re sure you would want to make a donation to Ike’s memory.”

          Unfortunately for them, Ike the human had written a bad check to Urban sometime earlier and had never made good on it. Urban didn’t have much reason to admire that particular Ike, but didn’t have the heart to go into a rant about it.

          Urban excused himself, went to a cigar box he kept near the cash register, searched through it until he found the bad check from Ike, he of two legs instead of four.

          He brought that check to the front of the store, dropped it into the collection container the people had, and told them, “Here, take this as my donation.”

          Here’s another short Urban story as told to me by Danny Ryan.

          Urban, Bill and several other older men of Wickliffe would go to Bill’s cabin periodically to cook steaks or catfish and maybe have a drink or two.

          They had a name for their group. They called it the LD Lodge. This being mostly a family site, I’m somewhat constrained to explain that, but let me at least say that the L stood for limber, and the men explained that at their age, the limber status pretty much summed up where they were in life.

          There was a table in the cabin, with one of those slick table cloths that had pictures of fruits and vegetables.

          On this particular night, Urban had enjoyed a good dinner and a drink or two. He got drowsy and dozed off with his head on the table.

          He came awake a little later with one of those abrupt come awakes when you jerk up but remain somewhere between awake and asleep.

          He grabbed a spoon or fork, and started trying to eat one of the vegetables pictured on the table cloth.

          Folks, those were good times and Ballard County was a good place to grow up.

The pavilion is of more recent vintage, but the view of the rivers at Wickliffe goes way back.

A good review of my book and of memories


August 23, 2016


Teresa Morris Salonimer and her parents – Charles (Block) and Aileen Morris – lived just up the road – highway 121 – from my parents and children (five at the time, including me).

She wrote this very well stated review of my book in response to a review by Willie Garner:

Joe Culver 's book had me laughing and crying at the same time. In the echoes of my mind, I could hear the coon dogs baying in the hollow behind the house; the swish, chug of the semis shifting gears as they climbed the hill to US 60; the clip, clip of cards hitting the spokes of bicycle wheels as we rode to town; the bang of screen doors slamming shut; the distant hollow tone of tugboat many memories.

I don’t even remember writing about any of those things but I’m glad my book sparked her memories.

I can remember all those sounds, too. I believe it was the Dowdys – maybe Luther Dowdy – whose hounds chased coons and foxes in the woods back of her house and the house where I grew up. During one phase of my life I hung out with and listened to the lies told by coon hunters and also loved to hear the hounds on a hot chase.

Teresa didn’t mention smells, but the olfactory system also embedded lots of memories.

I was talking about one of those smell memories just a couple of days ago.

Our Sunday school class went on an outing in the river bottoms, maybe to Prairie Lake. That may have been my first visit to the bottoms and my first time fishing.

I have three strong memories, or least three memories as strong as most of my other age-diminished memories.

One was the subtle and not so subtle odor of the bottoms, a combination of vegetation, swamp and dead fish. That memory, driven as it was by smell, led inexorably to these two, derived from the first.

Another memory is of the sheer adventure of walking in wooded lake areas where Indians – probably even Mississippian mound builders – walked, fished, hunted, maybe even fought a battle or two. I can’t remember how young I was but it had to be very young to be able to turn a fishing trip into an awareness of invisible dangerous lurkers.

Finally, I must not have been fishing before because I can remember how mysterious and exciting it was when the cork – or perhaps one of those red-topped bobbers – vanished into the not-so-clear lake water, pulled under by some unseen force. It’s still a thrill when that happens, although as I progressed in sophistication I rarely used a cork. Mostly I cast artificial baits into likely fish territory.

In later years before I moved to Oak Ridge, Tenn., the dominant smell was from the paper mill which located there and provided lots of jobs.

People who worked there said it smelled like money. I thought it smelled more like boiled cabbage or dirty diapers. It’s gone now, shut down, taken the jobs with it.
          There also were the occasional intimidating clicks and clacks and tornadic roars as trains rolled over the tracks down toward the river. There was a depot there in those days so some of the trains must have stopped to pick up or drop off people or merchandise.

          And maybe most of all, even though we youngsters probably didn’t realize it at the time, there was the comfort and safety of being part of a big family that included pretty much the whole town, populated by people we knew.

          My parents often told me of a time when I got a cowboy outfit, either for a birthday or Christmas. It was a full outfit, with pants and shirts and holster and cap guns and hat. I went up to the Ballard grocery store and serenaded Bob Phillips with my rendition of Gene Autry’s theme song, “I’m back in the saddle again.” I can’t imagine doing something like that anywhere except Smalltown USA.

          Memories, Teresa. All of us have lots of them. And ain’t that a wonderful thing!

I think this was daddy's first radio repair shop in Wickliffe.

Ballard County’s first ‘radio station’


November 9, 2010


          The Ballard County telephone book shows two radio stations located in the county, one at Kevil and one at Wickliffe.

          Do you know which station in Ballard County was the first to broadcast music and sports?

          The answer is, “Neither of those.”

          To be present at the first radio broadcast that originated in Ballard County, you would have to travel back in time about 75 years, back to 1934, 1935, 1936. Back to when it was still legal to sell beer and liquor in Ballard County, back to when radio was the primary home entertainment medium because there was no television.

          You would have to open a door situated between the tavern and restaurant operated by Sis Phillips and the barber shop where Bob Moore cut hair.

          J.D. Culver, who later became my father, had been working on radios professionally at his home since he was 13 years old. He lived with his mother, Edna Jones Culver, and his grandparents, Walter Henry Jones and Laura Belle Tackett Jones, at their farm out the old Blandville Road, where that road intersects with Highway 121 today. Their two-story frame house stood then approximately where Cecil Mize’s house stands now.

          His customers had radios that ran off power supplied by batteries. Some radios in the county were powered by generated electricity but the Jones house was not wired for electricity so Culver, who was a junior in high school, couldn’t work on those.

He needed to expand his repair service because more and more radios were plug-in models.

Culver’s mother was friends with attorney Haden Owens in Wickliffe. Mrs. Culver mentioned to Owens that her son needed shop space with electricity.

Owens’ law suite consisted of three rooms above Sis Phillips’ tavern and restaurant. Owens was using only two of the rooms, and he agreed to rent the other one to Culver.

“I paid $5 a month for the space,” Culver said recently, “and that included electricity.” That would have been in 1934 or 1935. Culver graduated from Wickliffe High School in 1936. Culver, who lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with his wife, Jessie Lee Crice Culver, celebrated his 93rd birthday on November 1.

The power was supplied by a single cord that dropped from the ceiling and had a receptacle to hold a light bulb. Culver had to run extension cords to various strategic points in order to power his shop.

He was about 17 years old at the time, a student at Wickliffe High School and a basketball player on the Wickliffe Blue Tigers team.

North 4th Street today, across from the courthouse, looks very little like it did in the mid 1930s. At that time, Bill Ryan’s Standard Oil service station was at the north end of the block. Going south, the next building was the City Meat Market, operated by George and Speed Williamson.

The Rudd-Wear Drug Store was south of that and Bob Moore’s barber shop was next door to the drug store. Later, Hilda Kimsey operated Hilda’s Beauty Salon where Moore had his shop.

The door that opened to the stairs that led to Owens’ law offices was next, and then Sis Phillips’ place. The old Wickliffe Post Office was at the south end of the block, next door to the Hughes & Co. store operated by Jesse Hughes and later by his son, Urban Hughes. (Historical note: Before it was next to the Hughes store, the post office was located across from the phone company west of Ryan’s service station. Jim Miller was the postmaster and Milton Russell Jones – Culver’s uncle – worked there until he was drafted in World War 1.)

Wickliffe had a movie theater (the Wick) either at the time that Culver opened his radio service or a short time after. The theater was operated by Dodie Stout, and it was adjacent to the Hughes store.

Patrons could get a cold beer at Phillips’ and could eat there as well. More than one person has said that the black cook, Cecil Hinchey, made the best, greasiest chili you could find anywhere.

In addition to repairing radios, Culver wired a speaker which he hung outside his shop’s window and played St. Louis Cardinals baseball games for people who would sit or stand outside and listen. The games were broadcast by a radio station in St. Louis.

“There was only one radio station in Paducah at that time,” Culver said, “WPAD.” There were very few radio stations anywhere in the area.

Culver decided to set up his own small radio station. He built a very low-power transmitter and ran a wire from it to serve as his broadcast antenna.

“It was legal back then to set up a station without a license or call letters as long as the signal didn’t cross state lines,” Culver explained, adding that his “station” didn’t have any call letters.

For one of his broadcasts, Culver invited Sis Phillips to come up and speak. After a couple of beers, Phillips and everyone who was in his place of business at the time crowded into Culver’s one-room shop where Phillips sang, “Let the Bumblebee Be.”

One night, Culver took his transmitter to Wickliffe High School’s gym where Wickliffe was playing Barlow or Bardwell. Culver can’t remember which.

Because he was on the team, Culver set up the transmitter and microphone and Strother B. “Hop” Hopkins did the play-by-play while E.W. “Billy Bob” Crice did the color commentary. There are no records that show how many – or how few – people listened to that broadcast. Culver invited Judge Ben Morris to listen to the broadcast at home and Morris told Culver that he had listened. Billy Bob says he remembers that he and his father, who he called “Pappy,” listened to some of the broadcasts over Culver’s radio station. “Pappy” was Ballard County jailer and he and his family lived in building that housed the jail at that time.

Walter Hughes and his wife, Sarah, ran a little store near the old Wickliffe school. One incident Culver remembers was the time Hughes came in and said he would pay the princely sum of $5 if Culver would use the speaker to play a broadcast of a political speech given by the candidate Walter favored, but who was not the favorite candidate in Wickliffe.

Culver agreed, but accidentally tuned to the wrong station and broadcast a statement made by the other candidate. Quite a few people gathered outside to listen. By the time that candidate finished and Culver tuned in the correct station, most of the people drifted away because they had heard the candidate they favored. Hughes paid the $5 anyway.

Culver paid his way through high school with profit from his radio business. He earned enough to buy his class ring and graduation clothes in 1936.

Later he opened a shop on Court Street across the street from the old Swain Hotel, but he had to give that up when he was drafted into the army during World War II. Fred Byassee then moved into that space and operated a barber shop there for years.

Marshall Pennebaker with a gag gift at his 87-year-old birthday party

Marshal Marshall’s years as Wickliffe police officer


August 13, 2011

(Marshall died a couple of years after I wrote this story.)

He came to Wickliffe in 1936 in a barge from Mound City. He was Wickliffe’s police officer for about 17 years. He was scraped by a bullet once and shot at another time. He jailed a millionaire. The county drunk came to his aid one time and used a crotch grip to force the bad guy to stop beating him. And the young people of Wickliffe trusted him and were a regular source of information that helped him do his job.

It would have been correct to call him Marshal Marshall.

Marshall Pennebaker was born in Charleston, Mo., 86 years ago. He served Wickliffe as city marshal from 1949 to 1954, and then again from 1956 to 1967.

He could have served without a break except he quit the job in 1954 on a matter of principle.

Pennebaker always ran the police business the way he thought it should be run.

Then in 1954, when Buddy Bell was police commissioner, “There was a kid who stole a bicycle and Buddy was wanting the kid put in jail. He was only 16 years old and I argued against it. It got so heated I just went down to city council and told them I quit.”

Pennebaker was first hired as Wickliffe marshal after he served in the Navy during World War II.

He wound up in the military, he says, because during an assembly program at Wickliffe High School he heard Anita Faye Crice sing “God Bless America.” He was so touched with patriotic zeal that he ran out and joined the Navy.

Except for the Navy, the marshal’s job was Pennebaker’s first real job.

Asked about the philosophy that he applied to the job, he said, “My philosophy was always give a kid a break and they always gave me a break. They were good to me and I was good to them.”

He tells a couple of stories to illustrate the relationship he had with young people.

“I went home one night and I was laughing and told my wife, those kids think they’ve got me figured out. I was in Doke’s bathroom (Doke’s was a gas station) and I could hear the young people talking about me. One of them said, ‘Well he’s a pretty good fellow but let me tell you one thing right now. If he ever starts scratching that damn bald head, you’d better pay attention.’ The one who said that was Joe Giles.”

Pennebaker said Doke’s station stayed open all night long back in those days and it was a gathering point for police officers “from Cairo and Mounds and Mound City and Bardwell. We had a heck of a good time.”

Pennebaker said there wasn’t anything the young people wouldn’t tell him.

“I’ll give you another story on that. One time Anderson Moss was county judge. That’s when the county judge had power. There had been some break-ins in Ballard County. I had to go to Cairo to get this fellow out of jail on some misdemeanor and he told me if I’d get him out of jail, he’d give me the names of the people who were doing the break-ins. I told the sheriff the names of about 20 who had done them. When they were having their hearing there at night, Anderson Moss wanted to know who I got my information from. I said, ‘That’s none of your business, I ain’t going to tell you.’ He said, ‘I’ll put you in jail.’ I said, “Well that means you’re going to have to put me in jail because I told him I would not tell and I will not.’ Jack Hall was the jailer. I got over there and I was laughing all the time. I said, ‘Jack I need to use your phone. I want to call Judge Stahr.’ (Elvis Stahr was the circuit judge.) The judge said, ‘Marshall what are you doing waking me up at this time of day?’ I said, ‘They’re throwing me in jail.’ He wanted to know what they were putting me in jail for. I told him what Judge Moss said and he said, ‘Put him on the phone.’ He asked him if he wanted to go to jail instead of me.”

Pennebaker didn’t go to jail.

The young people in Wickliffe may have cooperated with Pennebaker but they weren’t angels.

Pennebaker tells this story about some of the young folks. “Kenny Teeters, Tony Phillips and I believe Punchy Garrison (Harold Garrison, later to serve as Ballard County sheriff) were there. This was back when men first started wearing long hair. There was a hitchhiker in town. One of them said, ‘That guy needs a haircut.’ About 15 or 20 minutes later Mrs. Joyce Carpenter called and said, ‘There’s been a kidnapping!’  I knew just as well what had happened. They had gotten that boy, taken him to the cemetery, gotten a pair of mule scissors and was giving him a haircut.”

Halloween several years ago was a time when you could count on the boys of Wickliffe to pull pranks. Fred Byassee’s barber shop was an annual target. Some years the front of the shop would be littered with truckloads of empty cans.

“They did that because Fred would run them away from the front of his shop,” Pennebaker says. “I guess I was a little lax on that. One year I went by and the boys were standing across the street in front of Mildred Swain’s.  I asked them why they hadn’t dumped anything in front of the shop. They just pointed and I looked. There sat Fred Byassee in a barber chair with a shotgun across his lap.”

          Pennebaker doesn’t think there are many differences between young people today and then. He doesn’t think today’s kids are meaner, but he does believe that drugs affect them.

One difference he sees is that “the police don’t try to help ’em. They try to squeeze ’em.”

He said he used to spend a lot of time in Cairo at the Mark Twain. “If there was something going on in Wickliffe or Ballard County as far as that’s concerned, I guarantee you one of these kids would come to Cairo and tell me I’d better get back to Wickliffe. They wouldn’t tell me what was going on, they’d just say get back to Wickliffe. I never asked them why, I’d just come to Wickliffe. There was one time when Punchy Garrison and Tony Phillips got my blackjacks – I was in St. Louis at a ball game – and they had a man in jail when I got back. They had made a citizens’ arrest of a man on top of the building, trying to break in down at Urban Hughes store.”

But the drugs make a difference, he believes. “I think the dope has a different effect on them than whiskey.” He refers to the Wickliffe young people as “my boys” and says, “My boys drank beer. I knew they did. I told them they had to clean the beer cans up, not leave them on the street.”

Drugs led to one odd incident when he was serving as marshal. “They called me down to the Ancient Buried City (now the Wickliffe Mounds) one night, said there was a man down there chasing hogs out of the road. I got there and there wasn’t even no hogs in the road. He was calling soo-ey soo-ey and making strange noises. I just loaded him up and taken him to jail. What it was, he was on a handful of pills.”

Pennebaker remembers a couple of dangerous situations he was in.

“The most dangerous thing, I guess maybe it was the time a man had escaped from prison and was in a stolen vehicle heading south. The state police got him stopped at the red light down here. I was on one side of the car and Lloyd Key (a Kentucky state policeman who lived in Wickliffe) was on the other. I never knew Lloyd to cuss. When the guy started firing Lloyd said, ‘By Ned, hit the ground!’ He always called me Crip. He said, “Hit the ground Crip.” He took off but we finally got him out of the car over in Bardwell.”

There was another time when Pennebaker stopped a car at the Gulf station that was operated by Richard Parham, across the street from the Methodist Church. The car had been weaving when it came through town. “There were five of them in the car. Four of them stayed in the car, but there was this big fellow about 6-9 or 6-10. He said, ‘We’re going to fight.’ I was young and full of vinegar, and I said, ‘That suits me fine.’ He started in and two of them got out of the car, pinned my hands behind me and took my gun. He cocked that gun and held it on me. He knocked the fire out of me. Here come John Moyers. He had a radiator hose, and he was whupping them with a radiator hose. Ned Robinson, the county drunk – that I’d arrested no telling how many times – came up behind the big man and grabbed him” in a sensitive area in the crotch. That ended the fight. “Robinson came to my rescue. He said, ‘They can’t do nobody from Wickliffe that way.’ ”

Pennebaker got shot across the side of his head in the scuffle. He was holding the man’s arm to keep the gun pointed away, but one of the shots came close, scraping Pennebaker’s head. It was only a surface wound.

When Pennebaker started, he started out at $75 a month, and was on call seven days a week. There was no overtime pay.

“There were five law enforcement officers in the county then.  There was the sheriff and his deputy, La Center went to Bandana and Kevil, Barlow people would go to La Center and take his place, and I would run between Wickliffe and Barlow so we could sort of even things out. Now,” Pennebaker says, “they’ve got 27 deputies to cover the county.”

Wickliffe had its own jail then but the city council didn’t want to use it unless absolutely necessary. “When I first come back and started, they done the right thing and they told me to try my best not to put anybody in jail but tell them to go home. That worked okay for a pretty good while and then it got where they were having so many break-ins .…” That was about the time the city council bought what Pennebaker believes was the area’s first two-way radio for local officers. He also was “the first one to get one of those modern si-reens. I thought I was in hog heaven. But it would save your life. It was a si-reen and a PA system too. You could sit in your car like at night time and say, ‘Get out of your car.’ You didn’t have to walk out and get beside that car.”

Pennebaker remembers the time he put a millionaire in the jail.

Fain White King was the owner and excavator of what was then known as the Ancient Buried City, now the Wickliffe Mounds. The Kings also owned the Magnolia Manor in Cairo. In 1946, King and his wife, Blanche, donated the Ancient Buried City to the Western Baptist Hospital. George Johnson managed the site for the hospital for many years until he retired.

During the transition period, Pennebaker says, King and Johnson got into it.

I always tried to settle things, to talk things out,” Pennebaker says, “but King told me how he’d killed two or three people in Mississippi and how mean he could get. He was carrying a concealed pistol. I knew it was wrong but I thought, ‘I’m going to give you a taste of the Wickliffe jail.’ Old George Marshall (who lived beside the jail) was sitting there and saw us drive up, and he came out there in his wheel chair and was the tickledest old man you ever seen in your life. King got him a lawyer and he sued the city of Wickliffe. It went on for about a year. His lawyer was smart and he told King, ‘You don’t want to go to trial in Ballard County. They hate you and they’ll hang you.’ ”

Police got by with a lot of things then that they couldn’t get by with now. “Several things we used to do, you’d be hanging yourself now,” Pennebaker says. “Lloyd Key or myself, or the people over in Mississippi County, we’d have somebody you thought had done the crime but you couldn’t quite prove it. What you’d do, you’d clean up, put your suit on, you’d go in and tell him you were his attorney, see. At the end of it you’d advise him to plead guilty. They’d put you in the pen now for doing that.”

Another story Pennebaker remembers involved home brew.

He says there were “two old colored women” – Ella and her sister – and they made home brew.

“Earl Johnson was sheriff,” Pennebaker recalls. “He come to me one time and talked about raiding Ella. I said, ‘Earl are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ He said, ‘I know what I’m doing!’ All right, fine. I think he got about four or five cases of home brew. He took them to the court house. About a month later they started exploding. In the meantime Ella had gone to court to get that home brew back. How she got out of it completely, she wasn’t selling home brew. She would sell you a barbecue sandwich and give you a home brew to drink. They couldn’t get her.”

Pennebaker hasn’t been able to live in his house on Beech Grove road since the floodwaters came up this year. He had lived there for 36 years and water never got into it until this year.

He has been married to Martha Sue for 63 years. She has been mayor of Wickliffe since the last election.

Today, his hearing is fading and age is taking its toll, but his mind is still sharp and he’s a good source of memories about times gone by in Wickliffe.

What’s in a Name, Nick?


Nicknames sometimes replace given names permanently and irrevocably. This might be true in big cities but I don’t have any experience in big cities so I don’t know. I do know it’s true in small towns.

Growing up in Ballard County, Kentucky, kids came to know folks by their nicknames. I never knew the actual names of many of the people.

For instance, there were the Haynes brothers – Dreamy and Possum – who ran a garage in Wickliffe. They probably started around the time of the Model A Ford and they were good mechanics.

They had been at it so long that their skin pores and the lines in the skin of their forearms had a permanent tint of grease.

I sometimes wonder how they would have fared if they were confronted by one of today’s cars, which requires a “mechanic” to be more of a computer technician.

          Another interesting nickname around Wickliffe was one I heard variations of. They include “Shoo Cat,” “Shoecat,” and “Shoecap.” I believe his last name was Phelps.

          I’m not sure which of the variations is right. Different people swear by one or the other. “Shoo Cat” makes a kind of sense. I have no idea what a “Shoecat” would be, or, for that matter, a “Shoecap.”

          By the way, I’m indebted to several folks for contributions to this recitation of names, including my sister Jeanne, my cousin Jackie, my friends Danny and Tommy Ryan, and Mary Hicks.

          Clifford Garrett was always called Wart. I’m not sure why.

          Wart Garrett’s sister Oma Dell married Dick Crice, one of my mother’s brothers. While I wasn’t kin to the Garretts, I was a frequent visitor at their house because I ran around with my cousin George, whose mother was Oma Dell.

Tommy Ryan shares this story about Wart.

Tommy’s dad, Bill Ryan, who ran the Standard Oil station in Wickliffe, weighed a healthy 230 pounds or so at the time of this story, and he sweated easily, often, and in large volume.

One very hot summer day Bill and Wart were going to Prairie Lake to fish for crappie.

Bill told Wart that he had forgotten to bring water and was already suffering from thirst.

Wart said, “Don't worry, Bill, I iced down a case of beer.”

Bill said, “Wart, I had sooner drink horse piss, but I guess it will have to do.”

At the end of that long, hot afternoon Wart was astonished. “Bill,” he said, “I would hate to see how much you could drink if you DID like beer. You drank 18 cans of it."

Some of the other names around town were “Racehorse” Reeves, “Wormy” Davenport, “Sheepy” Dupoyster, “Pig” Stewart, “Handsome” Haygood, “Chicken” Brack, “Sugarfoot” Rollins.

Speaking of the Rollinses, of which there were several in Ballard County, another one who comes to mind is “Coondog” Jess Rollins.

Anytime I saw Coondog Rollins, he would ask about my aunt Nellie Mae Crice, who married Jack Walker in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Coondog was well known for being tight with his money.

Eddie Faye reminded me of this story about Coondog Jess Rollins.

Coondog was a friend of George Johnson, who managed Wickliffe’s tourist attraction, the Ancient Buried City which today is known as the Wickliffe Mounds. He often came to the Buried City to visit Mr. Johnson, and it was not unusual to find him sitting on the shaded porch.

A tourist was sitting in one of the chairs on the porch, and was talking to Coondog.

After a while the tourist decided he was thirsty and needed a Coke. He asked Coondog if he would like one too. Cokes cost twenty-five cents at the time.

Coondog thought about it for a minute before he told the tourist, “No, I don’t think I would like a Coke, but I will take the quarter.”

Let’s see, there were “Block” Morris, “Sorghum” Sullivan, “Sug” (or “Shug”) Sullivan, the Giles brothers – “Cricket” and “Dodge,” whose wife was known as “Tick” Giles – “Hop” Hopkins (that one’s too obvious, isn’t it), “Pap” Beardsley, and Pap’s brother “Moose” Beardsley.

Or how about Jewell Ray Morgan, better known as “Puddin,” “Beano” Wells, “Shorty” Underwood, “Wobbles” Thomason, “Punchy” Garrison, “Chipper” Kinsey and “Squirrel” Warford.

And finally, from the maternal side of my family, there was “Billy Bob” Crice, whose actual name was Ernest Wells Crice. I’m not aware of anyone ever calling him anything except Billy Bob.

Howl, howl the gang’s all here

(an Urban Hughes story)


July 14, 2011


Danny and Tommy Ryan, sons of the late Bill Ryan of Wickliffe, both have mentioned a time when Urban Hughes came home and led the neighborhood dogs in a howl-fest.

Urban’s son Tim Hughes sets the story straight.

“As I think about it, when Urban came home and howled at the dogs, this happened on more than one occasion,” Tim recalls. “However the most significant event that I remember happened probably in the late 1950s.”

Here’s the story as Tim writes it:

The most vocal of the neighborhood dogs were the coon hounds. And from time to time, the hounds would serenade the neighborhood (without encouragement). And they would wake everyone – living or dead.

Now some of the dogs in the choir were 1) Old Joe which was Roy Kimsey's hound. Joe was a growly, somewhat ill-tempered hound with a voice range between two and three miles

2) Next door to me at the time was Harry Rollins. He had some kind of a dog. I think it was a short-haired poop eater ... very noisy with bad breath. Come to think of it that also applied to some of the neighbors.

3) Around the corner on 2nd street heading north was Martin Robertson's home and he had some kind of a hound that liked to howl.

4) Then across the street from Robertson was the coon hound icon of Wickliffe, Ky. – Coon Dog Jesse Rollins. And he had one or two hounds. I think they were the leaders of the choir.

Sometime around midnight, my father returned from the Prairie Lake Lodge, and for whatever reason, Urban thought it appropriate to engage the coon hound choir in an A Capella rendition of the Battle Hymn of The Republic.

So, perhaps guided by his primordial instincts, Urban cupped his hand, placed it to one side of his mouth and began to howl and yodel.

All the neighborhood dogs awakened and chimed in (VERY LOUDLY). And then within seconds, the porch lights in the neighborhood illuminated, and the inside lights as well.

I could hear neighbors cursing, phones ringing and a few other irreverent comments.

Urban laughed, stumbled into the house, mumbled something about the call of the wild and headed to bed. My mom said, "Urban, you did that just for damn meanness." To which Urban replied, "They started it."

Urban listened to the game without a radio


July 9, 2011


I asked Tim Hughes, son of Urban Hughes, who was one of Wickliffe’s main characters, to remember some more of the stories about his dad. I have at least a couple posted in various parts of this site.

Tim wrote back, “Since I was just now sitting in my house watching a baseball game, I am reminded of the following story, circa: springtime 1960-something.”

Tim had just gotten home for the weekend from college and he happened to run into Ken Rudy Doke, who was his next door neighbor at the time.

“Ken came up to me and said he had a bit of a scare a few days earlier when he arrived at his house. He told me that he saw Urban in his car in front of our house. And Ken thought Urban may have had a heart attack,” Tim writes.

The driver's side door of Urban's car was open. Urban had his left foot out of the car on the ground. The car window was down and Urban had his elbow resting on the window sill. He was slumped over with his head on the steering wheel.

Ken Rudy rushed over and said, "Mr. Hughes, are you OK?"

Urban raised his head and said, "Yes I'm fine .... just listening to the Cardinals’ baseball game.”

When Doke told Tim what Urban had said, Tim replied, "Ken, that car does not have a radio."

Ken and Tim had a big laugh and surmised Urban must have just returned from a "board" meeting at the Prairie Lake LD Lodge. Ken said as a matter of fact, he did detect the bouquet of Kentucky Bourbon when he was chatting with Urban.

I have mentioned the LD Lodge in another Urban story. I shied from being explicit about what the letters LD stood for, other than to say that L is for limber and the name was chosen because it allegedly represented the less-than-potent condition of the members, all of whom were senior citizens.

My grandfather in an office in the courthouse. Notice the old telephone. I think the calendar says 1936.

Matt Dillon makes Billy Bob think of Wickliffe


November 17, 2010


          When Matt Dillon stands spraddle-legged in the streets of Dodge City and outdraws his gunfighter opponent at the opening of the TV show “Gunsmoke” on the rerun channels, E.W. “Billy Bob” Crice automatically thinks of 1930s-era Wickliffe in its more wide-open days.

          There were plenty of saloons back then, a tough city policeman, and a crusty old doctor. Shootings and stabbings weren’t uncommon.

          Crice had a vantage overlook to observe that era. He moved to Wickliffe as a seven-year-old when his father – Robert Crice – moved there from Barlow in 1933 after being elected Ballard County jailer. The person holding the office was Bob Price, and he let the newly elected jailer assume his duties early and move into the brick building that housed the county jail and the jailer’s living quarters.

One of Billy Bob’s earliest memories of Wickliffe is the day the Crice family moved to town, which was during the Christmas season. When they came down the hill into the main part of town, there were Christmas lights along the main thoroughfares. Bill Bob was awed; he had never seen such a spectacle.

Billy Bob’s dad was elected four times to the office of jailer. He died in his last term and his widow, Lannie Johnston Crice, completed the term. Billy Bob ran for jailer during the next election and he was elected. When that term expired, he was elected sheriff. He was serving in the U.S. Army in Korea at the time of his election. He was flown back to the U.S. to be sworn in as sheriff in December 1953 and his term officially started in January 1954. He returned to Korea after being sworn in and deputy B. Allie Hall ran the sheriff’s office until Billy Bob was discharged.

Billy Bob has been an observer of things going on around him all his life. During those years in the jail and in the sheriff’s office, he got to observe some of the seamier sides of Wickliffe and Ballard County.

          Recalling some of the places in Wickliffe where people could buy booze – both legally and illegally – Billy Bob’s first memory is of a place known as “Little Hollywood.”

          Little Hollywood was south of the bank, in the location where later Sheepy and Bernice Dupoyster operated a successful restaurant where they served very good food.

          Charley Potts ran Little Hollywood. There were at least two fatal shootings there. One was when Rip Hatcher shot Burnley Sams and the other was when employee “Toad” Denton shot Judson Freeman.

          Hatcher walked in and shot Sams from behind while he sat at the bar.

          Denton, who reportedly had been assaulted by Freeman several times, had enough about a week after being beaten up by Freeman. When Freeman came in and said, “Toad, I want you to set up drinks for my friends,” Denton picked up a pistol and came out shooting. Freeman ran outside, grabbed a telephone pole, and slid to the ground dead. Billy Bob said Denton shot at him six times and hit him with five of the bullets.

          Lois Unsell and John Tietyen ran legal package stores on Front Street (North 4th Street) near Sis Phillips, who had a bar and sold package liquor for more than 30 years. Tietyen also had a business where the Wickliffe Post Office is now. That business included a grocery store, and a dance hall where they served drinks in the back. Unsell’s store was north of the Hughes & Co. store, and was part of a set of buildings where the Wick movie theater later operated.

          George Gay ran the Hilltop Inn on Fort Jefferson Hill. Jess Lane had a little drinking place on the east side of the road under the trestle at the foot of Fort Jefferson Hill.

          Harley Cole ran a dance hall and drinking place, named the Blue Moon, beside the old Nagle Hotel near the railroad tracks. Billy Bob remembers one particular incident that involved Cole and the Tietyen business. Cole became belligerent after having had too much to drink one evening and he went to the Tietyen dance hall ready to fight any and all comers. He was arrested and taken to the Wickliffe city jail. The padlock on that jail was broken, so the police brought Cole to the county jail. Billy Bob’s mother was handling much of the work of jailer at that time. There had been no prisoners for a few weeks, and she couldn’t find the key to the cells. With no place to lock him up, the police sent Cole home.

          Joe Reno had a place overlooking the river where he sold beer and barbecue.

Colonel Swain, who ran the hotel just west of the bank, ran a dance hall near Fillmore Crossing at one time.

When Ballard County voted itself dry in 1942, that didn’t mean that it was really dry. Before the Cairo bridge was opened in 1937, there were ferries that carried customers to Cairo and back. It wasn’t unusual for the ferries to carry some liquor too. Wickliffe was a good town in which to distribute bootleg whiskey from Cairo, even when it could be sold legally in the county. East Cairo, on the Kentucky side of the Ohio across from Cairo, was home to about 75 families and at least one bootlegger.

Billy Bob remembers a time when one of the ferry operators did more than provide transportation of alcohol from Cairo. He also managed to drink more than his share.

“I saw him staggering down the street,” Billy Bob tells the story, “and he walked into a utility pole. He stepped back, tipped his hat, and said, ‘Excuse me, ma’am.’ ”

When the bridge was completed, that made it even easier to bring alcohol into Wickliffe from Cairo, and those deliveries became much more common when Wickliffe went dry.

Billy Bob recalls that there were two sisters who did a lively bootlegging business in the area known as “the flat.” They stocked a small quantity of legal merchandise, too, but their main business was bootleg liquor. “I wasn’t sheriff when that was going on,” Billy Bob is quick to point out.

Gunsmoke has Matt Dillon (played on TV by James Arness and played earlier on the radio by William Conrad), and Wickliffe had its own tough city marshal, Bill Sanders.

“He was tough,” Billy Bob recalls. “When he went after someone he brought him in.”  Billy Bob remembers one time when the patrons of George Gay’s Hilltop Inn started fighting. “Bill Sanders went there and ordered the drunks to climb into a cattle truck. They did,” Billy Bob said. “He told whoever was driving to take them to Mr. Crice at the jail and tell him to put them in the jail. All of them were still on the truck when it pulled up at the jail.”

Marshall Pennebaker, another long-time city policeman in Wickliffe, also remembers Sanders as a tough cop. Pennebaker believes he was tougher than he needed to be at times.

Wickliffe’s answer to Gunsmoke’s crusty Doc Adams, played by Milburn Stone, was Dr. F.H. Russell, who had an office on what is now North 4th Street between Sis Phillips’ tavern and the Rudd-Wear Drug Store, just north of Bob Moore’s barber shop. Dr. Russell is remembered fondly by many older Wickliffe residents. He came to his patients’ houses when they needed treatment, and he’s famous for telling folks to take a couple of aspirin and call him in the morning.

Billy Bob had several chances to watch Dr. Russell at work on cases that arrived from one or another bar in the middle of the night.

“When I was 10 or 11 years old, on weekends when they brought drunks to the jail we couldn’t sleep for all the yelling in the cells,” Billy Bob remembers. “When I saw lights at Dr. Russell’s, I knew some emergency had happened so I would go over. He would let me watch him work on people. Sometimes they had been slashed across the abdomen, I’ve seen Dr. Russell get out a big needle, shove the guts back in and start sewing. There’s no telling how many lives he saved.”

          Wickliffe also had a population of blacks. One of them was Ernest Freeman, who ran a business in an old, unpainted two-story building down in the hollow just east of where the Hillbilly Café is now.

Ernest Freeman didn’t have “legal” alcohol but probably sold some drinks anyway. His legal business was barbecue and there are people who still think he was one of the best barbecuers around.

He was about 75 when he started, and 85 or 90 when he quit. Among his children were boys named Esau, Joe and Jake.

“Jake was pretty honorable,” Billy Bob remembers, “and everyone liked him. He hauled coal around Wickliffe for years, for Jim Lawrence I think. One day, his mind snapped I guess. They called the law down and said that Jake was shooting up the town, the house, and everything else.”

Elbert Fowler, no kin to the Elbert who was Leon Fowler’s father, had just become a state trooper and he was one of the troopers who rushed to the scene.

“You know how the law is,” Billy Bob said. “They all went down there together and they were shooting back at him. Jake was lying down on the floor inside his house. They didn’t know where he was. All at once Elbert decided he would run up close to the building and break in. But Jake nicked him a little with a bullet. They decided rushing the house wasn’t the way to go for somebody whose mind was bad.”

Billy Bob can’t remember for sure how they finally caught him but he believes they shot gas into the house and grabbed him when he came out.

Billy Bob particularly remembers one incident with Ernest Freeman.

“It was on the 8th of August while I was serving as sheriff,” he recalls. “Ernest had a little old dance hall down there where Maude Shepherd had a store at one time. He called me around 1:15 one morning, said, ‘Mr. Billy, could you come down here? I’ve got trouble down here.’ I said, ‘What’s the trouble?’  “Well, Kenny from Bardwell has killed another man down here,’ ” Freeman said.

Billy Bob rushed down only to find the victim already laid out on some stools, with his arms crossed and coins over his eyes to keep them closed.

“Ernest, what time did it happen?” Billy Bob asked. Freeman replied, “Oh, it happened around 11:15.” Billy Bob said, “Well Ernest, why didn’t you call me then? I might have caught the man before he escaped to Carlisle County.” Freeman said, “Oh, we didn’t think you’d be interested.” And maybe he was mostly right. The general attitude then was that it wasn’t all that big a deal if one black killed another one.

Billy Bob and state trooper Lloyd Key went to Bardwell and soon caught the killer.

“It seemed like somebody got killed in Wickliffe just about every 8th of August back then,” Billy Bob remembers.

(Comments from Tommy Ryan, who grew up in Wickliffe): When I was very young I was plagued with ear aches and recurring stomach aches from a serious (in those days) infant valve blockage surgery. The stomach blockage was called pyloric stenosis, and many infants died from it. It's still common but easily treated today. Dr Russell was so kindly to children, and I remember him putting very warm drops in my ears at his office to get me through the attacks. He just told mom "He'll outgrow it" and I did. I recall drinking a chalky substance for the stomach aches or maybe I just took Pepto Bismol, but that improved, too. I recall him making house visits and giving us penicillin shots or "sulfa" drugs when we had bacterial infections. I really hated it when he retired because the house visit days ended, but the young and blunt Dr J.M. Hunt eventually won our confidence with his skills and equally caring nature for patients.

Clint Boyd and I fished on Swan Lake near Wickliffe in this photo from years ago. Clint loved to fish.

Billy Ed and I had Butts in common


          I have enjoyed many rewarding experiences since we created this site where we can share memories of growing up in a small county and the nostalgia that all of us slip into as we age, wherever we grew up.

          I think, however, that the most satisfaction comes from the networking it brings about. I’ve enjoyed e-mails and guestbook entries from friends and strangers. The site also has brought some notes from old friends I haven’t seen in years.

          One of the most recent e-mails came from Billy Ed Boyd, who is mentioned in another memory on this site, “Musical Approach with the Right Technique,” which you’ll find in the category, “My personal favorites.”

          Billy Ed and his brother, Bobby, were the sons of Clint and Georgia Mae Boyd. They lived a couple of miles down toward Mayfield on what was then Highway 440 but today is, I think, Highway 121. We lived near Wickliffe, Ky.

          Bobby was older. Billy Ed was a little older than I, but not by much.

          It was Billy Ed who showed me how to make my first chords on my first guitar, a Silvertone. He also almost taught me how to tune it. I say “almost” because most notes sound about the same to me. I have the tinnest of tin ears, enough tin to roof a good sized barn.

          He showed me how to pick a couple of bass licks, notably some that brought instant recognition that it was a Johnny Cash song being played on the radio.

          An e-mail from Billy Ed came from out of the blue through the contact e-mail address on this site.

          He wrote, “Bro. it almost brought tears to my eyes to read your commentary. I remember the great times we had, thought we were s……. in tall cotton.”

I’m not sure what the s periods stand for. Probably “sitting.”

He reminded me of my brief stint as a music producer, back when I had never heard of a music producer. My dad dug out an old machine he had that we could use to cut records. I bought some blank vinyl disks and made a few. I had forgotten that I recorded Billy Ed. But he remembered.

“I still have the records you made of me trying to sing some rock and roll song,” he wrote.  “How they survived all these years of moving etc. I'll never know.”

He recalled, “My first guitar was a Silvertone, strings so far off the neck that I just about had to take two hands to play it.”

His second guitar was a Harmony Monterey f hole with a little amp that had a four-inch speaker in it. “Wow! I raised a tobacco crop to buy it for 75 dollars.”

The Harmony catapulted him into the music business. “I played at several little joints in Cairo (Illinois).  My first job was at Pinkies on 28th Street.

Billy Ed has retired, claims it’s the third time he’s retired, and lives in Alabama.

The last time I saw Billy Ed, which may have been at the last Wickliffe reunion, he had a look about him that reminded me of Porter Wagoner.

Thinking back, I might not be alive today had it not been for Billy Ed’s father, Clint Boyd.

Around the middle of the high school years I decided I wanted to start hunting. That’s a good father-son thing to do, except my dad didn’t hunt. He did, however, buy a shotgun for me.

Clint had some Mayfield Creek bottom land behind his house, which included a long, narrow slough with, I recall, three duck blinds.

Clint took me into the woods to teach me how to hunt squirrels. Gun safety was a top priority for Clint. He taught how to carry a gun, how to treat it, how to avoid causing injury to myself or any other person, how never to let it point at another person. I probably would have wound up shooting myself by ignorance and accident if he hadn’t been such a good teacher.

When I decided that I should be a duck hunter, he said I could hunt from one of the blinds. There was a spread of decoys in the water in front of it.

I remember that first duck hunt vividly. I went to the blind that morning with my Chesapeake Bay retriever, Smoky, which, coincidentally, I had purchased from a litter Clint’s female dog gave birth to. Seems like I paid either $20 or maybe $25.

Smoky and I sat there, me with my shotgun and a Lohman duck call, Smoky with a puzzled look on his face.

Flock after flock flew over. Just to show how green I was, I didn’t know if they were ducks or geese. They had necks that stuck out a little, and I knew that geese had necks but I didn’t know if ducks did.

I watched for an hour or two, then went home to open up the World Book Encyclopedia and look at pictures of ducks. I decided that the short-necked birds I had seen that morning were, indeed, ducks.

Smoky and I went back the next morning. While we sat there, a small flock of ducks flew in and landed in the water in front of the blind. I carefully pointed my shotgun at them and fired. Three ducks died from that one shot. I knew that a great duck hunter had been born.

Now, how to get them. Smoky was clueless about his role as a retriever. He liked to swim but he would bring back whatever he saw, a stick, a decoy, a log. He brought back several of those, but never made it to any of the ducks.

They were on the opposite side of the slough so I eventually walked around it, found a long stick, and managed to haul them in.

One shot, three ducks, one clueless retriever. Life was good.

I also managed to fish a little with Clint and if you look in the photo gallery you can see a picture I took of him on Swan Lake outside of Wickliffe. He was using three poles that day.

Oh yes, about the title of this memory piece. Billy Ed mentioned that he bought that $75 Harmony guitar at the Ray Butts Music Store on Commercial Avenue in Cairo. That’s the same place I bought my Rickenbacker that’s also mentioned in one of the writeups on this site.

Butts invented a special type of guitar amplifier with a playback feature. Among his customers were Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore, who used the amp in all the songs he recorded with Elvis.

Bob Level: Wart witch from Bandana


July 28, 2011

Folks say that Bob Level was a wart witch. He could touch a wart and it would go away. Or sometimes he could just say the wart would go away and it would.

He was from Bandana, just down the road from Joe’s Place in Monkey’s Eyebrow.

My mother, Jessie Lee Crice Culver, remembers one time when she had warts on her fingers. She saw Bob Level in Wickliffe and showed him the warts. She said, “Bob, I have all these warts on here and they hurt at night.”

They hurt even when she put her hands on a pillow at night.

Level looked at the warts and said, “Oh, they’ll go away.”

Mother said she looked down one day and they were all gone.

Daddy said sometimes Level would touch the warts, sometimes he wouldn’t. “He was a wart witch. He was the seventh son of a seventh son, I guess. That’s sometimes the way it works.”

Mother mentioned one time when her father – Robert Crice, who served as Ballard County jailer – had a “big ol’ thing” on his head. He went to Dr. Russell, a doctor in Wickliffe and a legend in his own right in the area, and wanted him to take it off.

Dr. Russell asked if it was hurting him, and my grandfather said it wasn’t. Dr. Russell didn’t want to cut it off. Because it wasn’t hurting, he told granddaddy, “Just leave it alone. Don’t mess with it.”

But granddaddy didn’t like having it on his head, so one day when he saw Bob Level he mentioned it. “It’ll go away,” Level said. Sure enough, it just went away, just disappeared.

“You’d sort of forget about the wart after talking to Bob and all of a sudden you reach up there and it’s gone,” mother said.

Daddy mentioned a man he worked with at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “I had a wart on my thumb and it bothered me,” daddy said. “I was complaining about it one day and he said, ‘Here, I’ll just buy that wart,’ and he gave me a penny.”

Daddy said he put the penny on a shelf on his work bench and, “believe it or not,” at some later date that wart went away.”

From Teresa Morris Salonimer, daughter of Charles (Block) and Aileen Morris: Pug Hammett was another one who could remove warts. I had one on my thumb and Daddy told me the next time Mr. Hammett came in to shop at Sunlane IGA have him touch it. I did (though I was a non-believer). The next week, the seed wart dried up and flaked off.

Charles Wesley Hargrove’s song


          It’s not a song you hear often, but on those rare occasions when I happen to hear one of the classic country radio stations play “Skip A Rope,” I think of Charles Wesley Hargrove.

          I’m thinking of him now because I read his obituary in the online version of the Paducah Sun newspaper, which reported that Charles Wesley died on July 29, 2008.

          According to the paper, he was retired from the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, was of the Pentecostal faith, and was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Kevil.

          That’s not much to say about a man who was truly one of the characters who came from Wickliffe, Ky.

          Charles Wesley was six or seven years older than I am, so we weren’t close. I remember him mostly from Dixie League baseball and from his occasional appearance on the bandstand at Club 18 in Cairo.

          He wasn’t up there often; in fact, it was a rare occasion when he stood at the mike. His appearances always seemed to coincide with a few more beers than he probably should have drunk.

          And when he eventually cajoled whatever band was playing to let him sing, it was always the same song. “Skip A Rope.” I guess it had some special, deep meaning to him.

Skip a rope skip a rope, listen to the children while they play
Ain't it kinda funny what kids all say, skip a rope.
Daddy hates mama, mama hates dad
Last night you should've heard the fight they had.
Gave little sister another bad dream, she woke us all up with a terrible scream.
Skip a rope skip a rope...

Tommy Ryan with some input from his brother Danny shared some other memories.

Charles Wesley Hargrove was truly a "character" of Wickliffe, Tommy says. He was born to a father named “Private” and a mother named “Brownie.”

“During my college years on weekends and summers, I drank many beers with Charles Wesley, Tony Phillips, Joe Thomason, and some others either in Club 18 or around Mound City Landing,” Tommy remembers.

“I remember listening to him strum tunes of the 50s and 60s on his guitar. Some would say I wasted time and money, but Charlie and so many wonderful Ballard Countians gave me a great education in dealing with people. He was a most interesting character.”

 Tommy adds, “When I was a very young kid in the 50s, there was much talk about two local young baseball star pitchers, Charles Wesley the righty and the younger George Lane the lefty. Charles Wesley hurt his pitching arm as a senior in high school. Most people say he hurt it when he pitched an entire Dixie League doubleheader solo for Wickliffe while also playing high school ball, but many years later he told me he tripped over first base and landed on his pitching shoulder that day.”

After high school, Charles Wesley married a Cairo girl and moved there to work as a manager at the grocery store for several years, raising kids and continuing to play a solid second base for some fine Wickliffe Dixie League teams. He returned to Wickliffe after he was divorced.

According to Tommy, “Charles Wesley was most personable and well-liked by young and old in Wickliffe. He poked fun at everybody, talked a lot, but his conversation was nearly always about baseball, the U.K. Wildcats or songs. He was a talker but he always told you straight. His only sins were his cheerful but loud and profane voice and eventually a drinking problem that he avoided until the end of his first marriage. When he would see me (or Joe Thomason or any other baseball fan), he would greet us at the front part of Club 18, bending over like a pitcher getting the sign from the catcher, or hold up his beer bottle and say ‘40 degrees...perfect!’ ”

          Tommy says that Charles Wesley nearly died in a car wreck several years ago. “His pal Tony Phillips, a longtime Dodger fan, came up from Florida to visit Charles Wesley,” Tommy remembers. “Brownie (Charles Wesley’s mother) told him that Charles Wesley was barely responding. As soon as Tony spoke to him, Charles Wesley said, ‘The Dodgers ain't for shit,’ and Tony knew he was going to be okay.”

He ended his songs or anything humorous he said or did with a loud, infectious laugh along with his natural uninhibited manner that made people warm to him.

          One final memory Tommy Ryan relates: “In the ’60s we all tried to impersonate Clint Eastwood's ‘Fistful of Dollars’ character, even going so far as to smoke those disgusting short, powerful twisted little cigarettes at the Turf Club, but Charles Wesley was the star because he was tall and broad-shouldered and had the older rugged face look.”

Billy Bob Crice, standing where he made the long throw, points to the dome on the Ballard County Courthouse. He threw a baseball over the dome.

Billy Bob’s longest pitch


September 28, 2010


          What may have been the most impressive game of pitch and catch in Ballard County history took place more than 60 years ago and consisted of only one pitch.

          E.W. “Billy Bob” Crice was doing the pitching. Bill Weaver was going to try to do the catching.

          A small group gathered in front of the Rudd-Wear Drug Store on Wickliffe’s main thoroughfare across from the Ballard County Courthouse to watch the goings-on.

          Billy Bob recalls that spectators included Harry Shelton Lane, Archie Wear, V.P. Rudd, Will Shadoan, all of Wickliffe, and Alvin Fisher of Bardwell. There may have been others, but no one took roll on that day some 65 years ago and those are all the names Billy Bob can remember.

          Billy Bob can’t remember exactly when he made the throw. He thinks it was probably in May or June of 1946, which was his senior year at Wickliffe High School.

          The courthouse figured prominently in Billy Bob’s life. He had grown up in the Ballard County jail. His father, Robert Crice, was jailer for about 20 years. The Crice family had living quarters in the jail building.  The jailer’s job included duties as custodian of the courthouse. Billy Bob helped out and was a familiar figure in the various courthouse offices. Later, after his father died and Billy Bob’s mother, Lannie Johnston Crice, served out the remainder of the term, Billy Bob was elected jailer and then was elected sheriff.

          But before his political career got under way, Billy Bob was a better-than-average pitcher in the old Twin States League. He pitched submarine style, where the ball is delivered in a lower-than-sidearm motion from just above the ground. In one game against Metropolis, he struck out 20 batters.

          He decided he would try to throw a baseball from in front of the drug store, high enough and far enough that the ball would pass over the courthouse dome.

          Asked why he decided to do that, he recalled that Archie had been teasing him about believing that he was “the best kid player in town.” Anyone who remembers Archie Wear knows how it must have irritated Billy Bob to face the merciless teasing that Wear was capable of.

Billy Bob says he got the idea of throwing a baseball over the courthouse dome from reading about Charles Evard “Gabby” Street, a professional catcher who caught a baseball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument, a distance of 555 feet. Street was unable to catch any of the first 12 balls. He finally caught the 13th. That was on Aug. 21, 1908.

In Ballard County there’s no Washington Monument, but there is a courthouse. Billy Bob told Wear that he was going to throw a ball over the dome on top of the courthouse.

          Archie told Billy Bob he didn’t think he could throw a ball that high and far. Billy Bob said that he could, and that Bill Weaver could catch it.

          Unknown to Wear and the others, Crice and Weaver had been practicing the toss and catch off and on for a few weeks, and Billy Bob was confident he could manage to clear the dome.

          On the day of the event, with the small group watching, Weaver went behind the courthouse and positioned himself about where he thought the ball would drop if it cleared the courthouse.

          Billy Bob focused on the top of the dome for a few seconds, took a hard windup, and threw the ball as hard as he could.

          It rose up and up, and then dropped down and down, having cleared the top of the courthouse dome, and landed in Weaver’s mitt. Mr. Jones, a Wickliffe businessman, had been recruited to stand near Weaver and confirm if the ball passed over the dome and if Weaver caught it.

          That wasn’t Billy Bob’s only legendary toss.

          A few years later, having heard in a discussion about George Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac River, Billy Bob said he thought he could throw one across the Cumberland River. This was back in the days before the river was dammed to make Lake Barkley. He was egged on by a co-worker who said he would pay him $25 if he could.

          Billy Bob remembers that a crew from the Army Corps of Engineers was in a boat on the far side of the Cumberland, watching for the dollar to splash into the water.

          But there was no splash. Billy Bob gave a mighty submarine throw and the dollar sailed all the way across the Cumberland into the mud on the far side.

Reginald “Catfish” Jones, one of the Corps employees who was watching the throw, saw where the dollar hit and he retrieved it, so Billy Bob not only collected on the challenge, but he got the silver dollar.

The other side of the tracks (bottom side)


August 7, 2011


I am indebted to my good friend Danny Ryan for providing the basis for this story.

Dugan Shepherd was generally well thought of around Wickliffe. He had lots of friends.

His wife, Rosie, might have helped keep him mostly on the straight and narrow. She didn’t put up with a lot of crap. Apparently she had a bit of a temper.

Someone said of Rosie, “If they ever name a hurricane after Dugan’s wife, you’d better hit the tall timber.”

Dugan’s actual name was Wilbur Lee Shepherd. His face was not quite right. A relative said that was because he was kicked in the face by a horse or mule when he was young.

Another relative passed on that Dugan taught himself to cuss when he was a kid by tying a string to his big toe. Every time he yanked the string, he said a cuss word. I don’t know if that’s true or just family lore.

Dugan was an ironworker. He worked hard and, as is the case with most ironworkers, he had periods when he was between jobs. Ironworking is an undertaking that keeps its practitioners in good shape. Dugan was a strong man.

I don’t think Dugan was one of the men in Wickliffe who regularly nursed a bottle of beer or took a little nip from a bottle of the harder stuff.

He would go for periods without anything and then – as did other men in Wickliffe – would go across the river to Cairo and go on a drinking binge, or as some of the men put it, “go on a tear.”

These tears weren’t just for a couple of hours.

Here’s how one of Dugan’s co-workers once described Dugan’s most recent (at that time) escapade in Cairo: “They were planting corn under the Mile Bridge when he went over to Cairo, and they were picking it when he came back.”

I can’t vouch for the story that follows as far as whether it’s true or not, but it’s a good story to tell.

They say that Dugan went to Cairo on one of the tears and managed to put away quantities of the hard stuff over a quantity of days.

One night he decided it would be a good time to go home and, seeing as how he would be going home in the middle of the night, he decided he might as well walk.

For some reason he chose to walk across the railroad bridge that spans the Ohio River from Cairo to Kentucky, or from Kentucky to Cairo depending on which way you’re going.

He had been walking for a while, long enough that he figured he must be somewhere near the middle of the river which flowed far below him, when he heard an approaching train.

Not having been on a tear sufficiently long that he was willing to face a train head-on, Dugan managed to work his way through some openings and hang onto cross ties or supports or something beneath the bridge.

He hung on for dear life because he didn’t think he would survive a fall from that bridge into the middle of the Ohio River.

Finally the train passed by, but Dugan was tiring and didn’t have the strength to get back up on the track side of the bridge. He was getting worried that he might not be able to hang on for much longer, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to get out of the predicament.

Daylight was breaking so he decided if only he could hang on until it got light enough that he could see what he faced, he might be able to escape the danger.

When the light reached a level that let him see his surroundings, nervously he looked down to see how high up he was. Turns out, he was only a couple of feet above the ground, having walked nearly to the end of the bridge on the Kentucky side. It was a simple matter of letting go and dropping safely to the ground so he could continue his journey home.

The story, as told, doesn’t say what level of hurricane he encountered when he got home.

The Legend of Crazy Betty


          She lived down the Old Blandville Road. Cruel and insensitive as we kids were, we called her Crazy Betty. Maybe the grownups did too.

          They say she had been jilted by a lover. He promised to come for her. Local lore had it that whenever a car drove past where she lived, she would walk down to the road and stand, waiting for him to pick her up. Sometimes she was already standing there when the car went by.

          A few years later when a young Tanya Tucker recorded the song “Delta Dawn,” the story reminded me of her.

          One night, either I had guests or my sister Jeanne did. This had to be around 1959 or 1960, because I was driving.

          I suppose we must have been telling stories. Probably some ghost stories. It was late enough that it was dark outside, a good time for telling scary stories.

          Either Jeanne or I mentioned Betty, and how she stood by the road, apparently waiting, waiting. Our friends were skeptical. “Well, let’s drive down there and you’ll see for yourself,” we challenged.

          We loaded into the car – either the 1959 Pontiac or daddy’s station wagon – and drove the mile or two to where she lived.

          It was a spooky night. Fog rolled low across the ground. The trees seemed somehow ominous, threatening, in the Ballard County darkness.

          There was a very large tree near the road, beside the driveway that led up to her house atop a small hill. In the dark and the fog and the mood, it could have been a hanging tree from earlier, more violent days.

          We drove past the tree and the driveway and no one was there.

          We continued on the road past the house for a short distance until we found a good turnaround spot so we could drive home.

          The skepticism had increased. Our friends were convinced we had made up the story.

          When we came to the driveway on the way back, there she stood, near the tree, shrouded and blurred by the fog, waiting for … well, waiting for whatever her compulsion was that caused her to wait.

          It was a sudden, startling thing to see her. It was like a scene from an unsettling movie.

          It scared the hell out of us.

          There was no more skepticism that night. I don’t think we told any more scary stories.       

Three stories about Mr. Jones


August 14, 2011


Anytime you walked past his house in Wickliffe when I was growing up, Mr. Jones would say, “Fine day, boy.” Rain or shine, it always was a fine day.

His name was Robert Herman Jones but most folks called him either Mr. Jones or sometimes Old Man Jones. Some people called him Herman.

Marshall Pennebaker, longtime lawman at Wickliffe, told these three stories about him.

Mr. Jones usually attended services at the Christian Church in Wickliffe more or less across the street from his house, where the Rev. Bill Morris preached. He sat up front every Sunday – middle row, second pew, left-hand side looking toward the pulpit, according to Teresa Morris Salonimer, a niece of Rev. Morris. Mr. Jones was hard of hearing. Some folks say if you ever heard his wife sing, you would know it was a blessing in disguise.

On this particular Sunday, Mr. Jones attended church at Morris Valley Christian Church where Rev. Morris also preached.

It was a long-winded sermon and Mr. Jones had pretty well reached his fill of being preached to.

He pulled out his watch, checked the time, and said loud enough for folks to hear, “Too damn long, too damn long.”

Here’s another: Mr. Jones was behind the wheel of his vehicle in Cairo, Ill. The Cairo police thought he was driving too slow and they wanted to give him a ticket.

He was poking along heading south on Highway 51. The Cairo police had two cars with red lights on at 28th Street, trying to get him to stop, and one officer standing in the road with his hand up.

Mr. Jones thought they were being mighty friendly so he waved at the friendly officers and kept going.

On down the road at 8th Street there were three police cars with their lights flashing. Mr. Jones waved at them again and kept going.

When he got to the Ohio River bridge, he had to stop because the police had the bridge pretty well blocked.

Mr. Jones didn’t understand what the fuss was all about.

“I didn’t do nothin’,” he said.

Third story: Wickliffe’s Baptists were having a revival. Mrs. Jones went over to the service on this night.

The next morning, Mr. Jones asked her if there was a good crowd. She said, “Yes Herman, they had a good crowd.”

“Well,” he asked, “was anyone there unsaved?”

“I don’t know, Herman,” she answered. “I didn’t go around asking people if they were saved.”

“Well, were they any Baptists there?” he continued.

“Well yes, there were Baptists there.”

And he wrapped up the conversation: “Well then, if there were Baptists there, there were some unsaved there.”

Can I borrow something, Mr. Jones?


February 7, 2011


          Mr. Jones, who must have been born old, apparently never saw a bad day in his life.

          Anytime you would walk past his house in Wickliffe when I was growing up, he would say, “Fine day, boy.” Didn’t matter what the weather was, it always was a fine day.

          His name was Robert Herman Jones but I never heard anyone call him anything other than Mr. Jones or sometimes Old Man Jones.

He was quite hard of hearing. If anyone happened to say something mean to him, he didn’t hear it and he would respond, “Ah boy, yeah, fine day.”

          His hearing was responsible for one of the oft-repeated stories in Wickliffe.

          A tourist wanted directions to nearby Barlow, Ky., and he had the good fortune to see Mr. Jones standing nearby.

          “Excuse me, sir,” the tourist said. “Could you tell me how to get to Barlow?”

          Mr. Jones didn’t quite hear what the tourist asked.

          “Borrow!” he said. “I ain’t got nothin’ you can borrow.”

          The tourist was patient.

          “No, I didn’t ask to borrow anything. I want to know how to get to Barlow.”

          “I’m tellin’ you, I ain’t got nothin’ you can borrow,” Mr. Jones replied more adamantly.

          By now the tourist was getting less patient and he began to shout.

          “No you old man! I don’t want to borrow anything, I just want to know how to get to Barlow!”

          The shouting got through.

          “Ah, Barlow,” Mr. Jones said, pointing north. “Just over the hill.”

          That reminds me of a time several years ago when I lived in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The couple across the road were totally deaf.

          One morning I was taking my young sons to the car at the same time that the deaf neighbors were going to their car.

          “Good morning,” my boys said to them, and looked a little hurt when they didn’t respond.

          “Boys,” I said, “they didn’t answer because they can’t hear.”

          “GOOD MORNING,” the boys shouted.

          (Comment from Tommy Ryan, son of Bill Ryan who ran the Standard Oil station in Wickliffe):

          Joe, as you know, Mr. Jones frequented the service station, though generally for a bathroom trip and brief chat with anybody willing to talk. He was such a nice man and according to my cousin Bill(y) Ryan, Mr. Jones suffered premature aging because of multiple health issues when he was a young man.

I still can hear that unusual twangy accent as he crutched into the station. After dad would give Mr. Jones a friendly greeting, it was always the same "Hi, Bill, hi boy, hi dog (to Ike, our fine Chesapeake Bay retriever), fine day, ah, boy, yeah." He made Ike pretty uncomfortable walking with the crutch, but we loved to hear the "Hi, dog."

As he would leave, if we were pumping gas into a vehicle, he would always become interested if he saw an out-of-state license plate. One friendly smile from the customer and Mr. Jones would stop and ask him "How are the crops up there?" The customer would usually mumble an answer. One of dad's favorites was the reply by a very serious Michigan man: "Crrrrrops? Chrrrrrist, pops, I dunno!”

(NOTE: An exchange with my friend on Facebook today – August 21, 2018 – reminded me that this story is one of many that I did not transfer from my old website to this newer version. It’s still a good story and I hope you enjoy it.)


A bucket of water and a baloney sandwich


March, 2007


          One of the best meals I ever ate was a soggy baloney sandwich about 30 years ago. (NOTE: Make that 40 years ago in 2018.)

          I was in law school at the University of Tennessee at the time. One of my best friends in law school was Lee White, who grew up in Elizabethton in upper East Tennessee’s mountains. He remains a good friend to this day. He gave up practicing law a few years ago, opting to drive a semi truck across the country, hauling large boats.

Up there in Lee’s mountains, a couple of drops of rain can cause flash floods. That’s not what it’s like in Ballard County where the Ohio runs into the Mississippi. Here, it takes lots of rain to raise the river level.

          Lee and I started law school at the University of Tennessee at the same time. We both were hunters, his experience coming in the pursuit of whatever critters ran around the mountains, while mine was mostly with the game you would find in a river bottoms environment. Duck hunting was my favorite, and at that time I usually went back to Ballard County each winter for at least one duck hunt.

          Lee had never been duck hunting, so I invited him to go.

          We launched our 14-foot johnboat at the landing close to the old pottery in Wickliffe, Ky., just south of the confluence of the two mighty rivers.

It was in November, maybe around Thanksgiving, and it was one of those days duck hunters like to remember. It was raining fairly hard, the wind was gusting, the temperature was falling, and the boat was overloaded with Lee and me, guns, duck and goose decoys, hip boots, hunting clothes, a tent, and a big cooler full of food and soft drinks.

          We headed downstream to a sandbar island that had some trees and grass growing on it. The outboard probably wasn’t big enough for the load, but I was confident we would be okay.

          By the time we got to the island, we were both wet and chilled, which made it important to get the tent pitched.

          Did you ever try to pitch a tent in the wind, when the pegs have to be buried into the sand well enough that the tent doesn’t blow away? It ain’t easy.

          We fought the weather and the dropping temperatures and the sand and finally got the tent up. We were exhausted, far too tired to try and build a fire in such damp conditions, so we crawled into the tent and opened the cooler.

          We mashed some soggy bread, baloney, sliced cheese and sand together into sandwiches. (With sand, they would be just wiches.)

          We each took a bite and agreed it was the best food we’d ever tasted.

          Meanwhile, as we tried to hunt, the rain continued, the temperature dropped some more, the wind was creating white cap waves in the river, and we weren’t having a lot of luck. Ducks had enough sense not to be out. Apparently, we didn’t.

          We had pulled the boat onto the island when we arrived and tied it to a tree. When we woke up the next morning and the river had risen enough that our boat was floating, though still soundly tied to the tree, Lee began to rant about how I was trying to drown us. I tried to reason with him that it took a lot of water to cause the river to rise enough to cover the island, but he was frightened.

          We agreed to return to land.

          This time, we were going against the current. The waves were higher than our heads as we sat in the boat. The small outboard was struggling against the current. One wave swept over us as we slid into a trough and filled the boat with water.

          Lee gripped the sides of the aluminum boat hard enough to leave finger impressions in the metal. “You’re wanting to die and take me with you,” he accused me.

          I tried to reassure him that we were okay, even as both of us dipped water out of the boat to lighten the load enough that the motor would push us against the current. I wasn’t all that sure either that we wouldn’t sink.

          I told Lee that if the boat did sink, we should each grab a couple of goose decoys for flotation.

To Lee’s surprise, and maybe a little to mine, we did make it back.

As we loaded the boat onto the trailer, I said, “Lee when we get the boat loaded, let’s drive into town to the restaurant. We’ll park the truck and walk in. We’ll be wet and cold, but they’ll let us in because they serve lots of duck hunters. The waitress will seat us. When she comes back with the menu, I’ll say, ‘We don’t need a menu. Just throw a bucket of water in our faces and bring us a baloney sandwich.’”

It wouldn’t have been the same. You never can quite duplicate the conditions that caused that great meal to be as great as it was.

(NOTE: Today, some injuries, and perhaps age, have forced Lee into retirement. I am happy to report that as of today, he is alive and mostly well in his hometown.)

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© Joe W. Culver