Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gaver Hamilton Allman: Telegrapher and Freight Agent

by David Parmer
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Gaver Allman, master telegrapher, was a resident of Orlando for over fifty years, a period spanning the heyday and the decline of Orlando as an important railroad town in central West Virginia. A native of near French Creek in Upshur County, Gaver was born in 1883.

According to his grandson, John Allman, Gaver was fourteen years old when he was befriended by a telegrapher at Frenchton and was taught the art of telegraphy. A fast learner, Gaver soon became adept at telegraphy and applied for a job as a telegrapher with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Although railroad rules required that employees be at least sixteen years old to be employed by the railroad, Gaver added a couple of years to his age and was hired as an “extra.” Youthful Gaver soon had nearly steady employment with the B & O line.
Gaver Goes to Cowen
Around 1902, an opening for a telegrapher came up for the Cowen station. Looking for full-time status as a railroad telegrapher, Gaver successfully bid for the job and took up residence in the Webster County town. In addition to a full-time position with the B & O Railroad, Gaver also found a wife in Cowen when he married Misha Mills.

right: Mishie (Mills) Allman ca. 1910

Misha Mills was a native of Webster County who attended Salem College and studied music. Misha is remembered by Helen Jeffries as a nice looking woman, always well dressed and very pleasant. She played the piano for the Mt. Zion Church for many years. In 1906, Gaver and Misha became the parents of their first child, Forrest.

"Orlando Calling"
In 1906, an opening for telegrapher, depot operator and freight agent at Orlando was announced. The Orlando depot at that time was a “union” depot, meaning that it was owned and operated co-operatively by the Coal and Coke Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The employee selected to be the telegrapher and to operate the depot would be employed by both railroads. Each railroad would pay one-half of the salary of the employee and the employee would answer equally to each railroad. Gaver, who had become a respected employee of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Cowen, bid on the position at Orlando, met the qualifications and requirements of each railroad, and was employed. Thus began the long association of Gaver Allman and his wife Misha with the town of Orlando.

left: the Orlando Depot, where Gaver and his sons worked

Orlando: An Important Railroad Town
For the readers of this story who were not living or were too young to remember the Orlando Depot, its importance to Orlando cannot be overstated. Up to eight passenger trains per day stopped at Orlando. Freight trains also made daily stops there to drop off and pick up freight. Coal trains rumbled through town at all hours of the day and night. All steam locomotives stopped for water at the two water towers at each end of the town. Tanker cars picked up oil produced in the Orlando area. Lumber was shipped by flat car. Cattle and other livestock were shipped by cattle car. Oil and gas well equipment was freighted into the depot. The Orlando merchants received their supplies of barbed wire, cattle feed, hardware, food, furniture, and farm related equipment by rail. Residents of Orlando, Goosepen, Rocky Fork, Indian Fork, Butchers Fork, Copley, Aspinall, Clover Fork, Knawls Creek, Fleshers Run and other parts of southwestern Lewis County and northern Braxton County relied upon the Orlando junction depot for their daily needs.
With such a large volume of railroad related business in Orlando during its heyday, it was critical that a competent manager have charge of the Orlando Depot and make it run smoothly. Gaver Allman, in his early 20’s, became the man in charge at the Orlando Depot as telegrapher, freight agent, and expediter of railroad business. He became a well-respected man in the community of Orlando from his first day on the job.

above right: On the east side of Conrad's (Brown's, Burgett's) store, looking west with the depot on the right, An 18 foot corn stalk grown by Gaver Allman. Look closely to see 6 ft 8 in tall Pate Conrad standing beside the stalk.

below right: the Allmans in Florida, 4th of July, 1928

Gaver: A Man of the Church
The Allman family became faithful members of the Orlando Mt. Zion Methodist Church, a relationship which would last their lifetimes. Gaver served as the Superintendent of the Sunday school for many years and helped in the revivals at the church. John Allman, the grandson of Gaver and Misha Allman, recalls that revivals at the Mt. Zion church were regular occurrences during the summers in Orlando. John also remembers that Daisy Blake, one of the congregants at the Methodist Church, was saved during every revival and that Daisy certainly should have achieved sainthood.

The Allmans' First Orlando Home
When Gaver and Misha Allman made their abode in Orlando they first lived in a house located beside the later built St. Michael’s Catholic Church. This house would later become known as the Rush Hotel, and would also later serve as a dwelling place for other former Orlando citizens such as Oley Ocheltree and Charlie Knight.

The Allmans' Second and Final Orlando Home
The 2nd house is marked in the photo to the left, taken from the Rumisill-Fury Addition, which is the hill across Oil Creek, where the UB Church and the Orlando School was.

In 1914, the Allmans bought a dwelling from James P. Kennedy, a former Orlando merchant who was moving to New Mexico. The frame house was situated on the hill above what would later become the Charlie Knight store and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The Allmans in 1919 bought an adjoining lot from Maggie Kraus. Gaver and Misha Allman made significant improvements to the house purchased from Kennedy. John Allman recalls that the six square columns on the new porch addition to the house were made of Pacific Coast cedar from Spokane, Washington.

The Allman house had a gabled roof and seven rooms, including three large bedrooms and a smaller bedroom. The house had a large attic and an attached washhouse, beneath which was a spring house. The washhouse consisted of three rooms and used natural gas to power a washing machine, gas lights, and a gas stove for heating water. The house was electrified in the late 1940s by the Allmans’ widowed daughter-in-law’s new husband. The house included a double fireplace serving a parlor and sitting room. Down the hill from the house, the Allman’s built a double, hollow brick three car garage and a chicken house and coal house.

An interesting feature of the Allman house was the brick sidewalk which led from the house to the outdoor privy. The brick for the privy sidewalk was salvaged from the platform of the Orlando Depot which was dismantled in 1941.

A Defective Fireplace Hearth
John Allman also recalls that the fireplace in the hearth was plagued with a crack which was never properly repaired and which frequently resulted in hot embers dropping into the wooden foundation below the hearth resulting in house fires. John recalls at least three fires which occurred while his grandparents lived in the home, one of which he extinguished. A later fire was doused by Ed McNemar, a neighbor. John doesn’t recall how the third fire was extinguished. In order to put out the hearth-related fires it was necessary to go beneath the house and douse the fire with water.

In the 1960’s, after Gaver’s death, and while Misha was aged and in a long term care facility at Hopemont in Preston County, Gaver’s oldest son, Forrest, sold the Allman house to Oscar "Junior" and Jane (Stutler) Hawkins, Jr. Unfortunately for the Hawkins family, the former Allman home again caught fire in the late 1960s and burned to the ground. John Allman believes that the defective hearth was probably to blame.

Forrest Allman
Gaver and Misha Allman had two children, Forrest who was born in Cowen before the Allmans moved to Orlando, and Everett who was born in Orlando. Forrest and Everett both attended the Orlando School. Forrest later attended Burnsville High School and graduated with the class of 1925. After graduation, he worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and for a period in the early 1930s, worked the second “trick” at the Orlando Depot, following his father who worked the first shift. Forrest’s younger brother finished the work day by working the third shift. Forrest later secured a position with the Western Maryland Railroad and worked until his retirement as depot operator at Parsons, in Tucker County. .

Forrest Allman at 33 is to the left, Forrest in school is to the right, above.
Evertt Allman is below, left.

Everett Allman
The second and youngest son Everett was plagued from his youth with chronic respiratory problems. So severe was the condition and grave the outlook for his health that Gaver requested a leave of absence from his employer so the family could move to a healthier climate for his young son. The Allmans lived in Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, and Florida for short periods, but to no avail. Everett was treated for his respiratory problem with a new drug named theophylline. Despite these efforts, Everett ’s health continued to decline and he developed other complications as well. Years later, health agencies determined that the drug theophylline was toxic and caused irreversible problems with the liver and kidneys. As the result of this medical error, Everett died in 1939, at the age of twenty nine, leaving a young widow, the former Nora Wooddell, and a young three-old-son, John. Young John lived with his grandparents at Orlando for a few years but returned to his mother after her re-marriage. However, he continued to spend his summers with his grandparents in Orlando.

right: Everett and Nora's son John , his new baby and the new great- grandparents Gaver and Michie.

Gaver: The Fisherman
In his leisure time, Gaver was an avid hunter and fisherman. Helen (Frame) Jeffries recalls that she often saw him, with fishing pole in hand, headed toward the Oil Creek fishing holes in the evenings. Uncle Zeke, the writer of the Buzzardtown News column in the Braxton Democrat, often made note of the various fishermen who haunted Oil Creek between Orlando and Burnsville, and Gaver Allman was a frequently mentioned angler.

Gaver’s 1951 Chevrolet
Tom Jeffries,
an automobile aficionado who grew up in Orlando, recalls that Gaver Allman owned a black 1951 Chevrolet two door sedan, Deluxe model. Tom remembers that Gaver would frequently drive his Chevrolet to the ford in Oil Creek in front of the Henline homeplace to wash his car. Tom remembered the Allman automobile was always clean and remarked that Gaver was always fastidious about the condition of his automobile.
After Gaver's death Misha frequently asked Sallie Bee to drive her to Weston in Gaver’s automobile so she could shop. Misha was known to be careful with her money, and would pay Sallie only twenty five cents for his trouble, or so he said.

(Sallie and Ruby (Brown) Bee lived in a two-story house at the first railroad crossing west of Orlando.) .
right: Gaver and Mishie on their 50th wedding anniversary
After Gaver’s death in 1961 at age 78, Misha remained in Orlando until she was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. She then went to live in Parsons with her son Forrest for a period and lived the last seven years of her life at Hopemont care facility in Terra Alta. Mishie died in 1970 at age 88. .
Gaver Allman, master telegrapher and station operator, and his wife, Misha, joined their son Everett, in the Orlando Cemetery upon their deaths. Although their old home is now ashes and part of the earth, and the Orlando Depot is but a memory, the continuing presence of Gaver and Misha Allman in Orlando is marked by a impressive monument in the cemetery on the hill overlooking their adopted town.
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The Morse code at the top says “Orlando Calling.”
The Morse code at the end says, “The End.”

comment from Dale Barnett
When I was growing up in Orlando, I used to go to the depot and watch Gaver Allman send messages by telegraph. These were the days before electricity so the electrical power to send telegraphic messages was created by means of an electrochemical reaction which utilized a copper cathode, a zinc cathode and copper sulfate crystals suspended in a large glass jar filled with acid.

comments from John Allman
My grandfather Gaver Allman and my father Everett Allman were telegraphers. My uncle Forrest Allman was also a telegrapher. When I was young, my grandfather arranged for me to learn telegraphy from Okey Lewis, the railroad telegrapher at the Burnsville Depot.

My grandparents, Gaver and Misha Allman, raised large gardens and was self-sufficient in vegetable produce. My grandfather took pride in his gardens and once raised corn that was over eighteen feet tall.

When my grandfather moved his family to Phoenix, Arizona, in search of a healthy climate for my father Everett who had respiratory problems, he bought property in Phoenix. In 1952, my grandfather sold this property which is in downtown Phoenix. It is now the location of the First National Bank of Phoenix.

My grandfather rented one of the stalls in his garage to Worthy Hurst for $1.50 per month. (See a photo of Worthington and Genevieve "Tom" (Skinner) Hurst with their family in the Mar '07 entry about their son Worthington Hurst Jr. who was killed in World War II.)


Above is John Allman, on the left with father Evertt Allman and on the right with grandfather Gaver Allman, at Seneca Rocks, about 1938.
What/where is Seneca Rocks, WV? A place of extraordinary beauty, great rock climbing.

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