Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Clell Smarr: Happy Days on Clover Fork

by David Parmer

The Clover Fork Road was a dusty country road in the summer of 1942 when Clell Smarr came to live with Presley and Jessie (Riffle) Bragg. In the winter all the dust of the road dissolved into mud and the busy summer traffic slowed considerably. Bleak was a good description of the wintry road and also the future of ten year old Clell Smarr. The Depression had taken the starch out of the country and out of many of its citizens. Prospects were dim for most people. Misfortune visited Clell very early in life. Clell’s father, William Clarence Smarr, had been killed in a traffic accident in Marshall County on Christmas Eve in 1931. At the time of his father’s death, Clell’s mother, Dorothy, had four young children and was pregnant with Clell. Dorothy attempted to feed her family by working as a housekeeper, but cleaning house and trying to nurture five young children was not an easy task. As an infant, Clell was fed with milk mixed with strained oatmeal which his mother obtained from Depression era breadlines. The struggle to survive was too much for Clell’s harried mother. Penniless and without means of support, Dorothy and her five children found their way to Abram’s Run and the farm of her sister and her husband, Lucy and Dencil Craig. Lucy and Dencil could do little for them. Until Clell was ten years of age, his home was a converted chicken house on the Craig farm. In 1935, Clell’s mother Dorothy married Orville Sapp who lived two farms away from the Craig farm. Although he married their mother, Mr. Sapp did not want the responsibility of her sons so they remained in the converted chicken coop. Dorothy’s daughter Nina found a home with the Holbert family on upper Clover Fork and Mr. Sapp allowed Anna Belle to live on the Sapp farm since she was old enough to contribute household chores.

Right above: Clell Smarr
Left above: Presley and Jessie (Riffle) Bragg's wedding photo
Right below: Pres Bragg and Champion

In 1942, Presley Bragg was the rural mail carrier on upper Clover Fork and became aware of the Smarr children who were living in the chicken hut. Childless after eight years of marriage, Pres and his wife, Jessie, sought and was granted permission by Dorothy Sapp to become the foster parents of her son Clell. Thus Clell came to know the dusty road of Clover Fork and the home of Presley and Jessie Bragg. Clell’s brother Lubert found a home with Vaden Traylor on Clover Fork and his brother Clifford found room and board with Ralph and Audrey Hall of Abrams Run.

A New Home
Clell Smarr well remembers coming to live at the Bragg home on Clover Fork, about two and a half miles above Orlando. Not only was it a new home for Clell but it was in fact new, having just been built for Pres and Jessie Bragg by Charlie Pritt. Pres had ordered the plans from Sears and Roebuck. Coming from an erstwhile chicken coop to a brand new home was like heaven to Clell and the ten year old was starstruck by the comparative opulence.
Left: The home at Orlando where the Braggs moved in 1945.
Right: The home on Clover Fork where Clell came to live in 1942. It was built by Charlie Pritt. from a plan from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog.

Clell remembers the physical warmth of the Bragg home, which, unlike his former home, was airtight against the winter chill. He also found that his foster parents were kind and generous and were glad that he had become a part of their life. Clell recalls that Jessie was particularly proud of the fact that Clell’s red hair matched her own. The first of many trips on which Clell accompanied Jessie was to the barber shop in Weston where Clell received his first “store bought” haircut, ironically by a red-headed barber who presented Clell with a pencil at the end of the ordeal.
Right: Clell with Margaret "Dimples" who was born to Jessie and Pres in 1942.
Left below: Clell with his sister Nina.
Continuing Ties and the Days of Song
His new foster parents were considerate in allowing Clell to remain in touch with his natural family. Clell frequently visited his mother on Abrams Run on weekends and on weekdays and his siblings visited with Clell at the Bragg home. On occasion, Pres and Jessie included Clell’s siblings in social and educational activities. In August 1942, the Braggs took Clell and his older sister Nina to an Upshur County Sing in Buckhannon where Clell and Nina participated in the sing sponsored by Fairmont radio station WMMN. Nina had earlier graduated from Walkersville High School and in September enrolled at Glenville State Teachers College. Appropriately, Clell remembers that the proceeds from the sing were to go to a charity to help orphans. A couple of months later, the Braggs, Blanche (Bleigh) Burkhammer, the Locust Grove teacher, and Clell attended a radio gang at Burnsville.

A New School

Clell attended his first year in school on Abrams Run. For his next three years of school, Clell walked from the Craig farm on Abrams Run to the Upper Clover Fork School. His teacher during his time at the Upper Clover Fork School was Lucille Traylor, the daughter of Vaden and Burla Traylor who also lived on Clover Fork. Miss Traylor was a thoughtful and caring teacher. During his days at the Upper Clover Fork School, Clell remembers eating his lunch with classmates in a teepee made of railroad ties. Fortunately, the teepee was well constructed and never collapsed on them. Now, living a few miles lower on Clover Fork with the Bragg family, Clell attended the Locust Grove School at the mouth of Meadow Run beginning the 1942-1943 school year. His teacher during his first year at Locust Grove was Blanche (Bleigh) Burkhammer, an excellent and long time teacher at the school. Clell’s teacher during his second year was Thomas Byrne who seemed perpetually in need of sleep. Virginia McCoy Skinner was Clell’s teacher his final two years at Locust Grove.

Left: Clell's brothers Lubert and Clifford
Right: Bee Heater, who took Clell to the Horseshoe competition

During his final year at Locust Grove, Clell remembers being taken to Weston by Bee Heater to take the West Virginia Golden Horseshoe Test. (The Golden Horseshoe is a symbol of scholastic achievement for 8th graders who excell in the study of West Virginia.) Although he was unsuccessful in winning the prized award, Clell was appreciative of the opportunity. Some of his classmates at Locust Grove whom Clell remembers were Bill Skinner and Hayward Skinner, Louise and Virginia Heater and Rosemary Riffle. Clell remembers being enamored with Rosemary.

After finishing the eighth grade at Locust Grove, Clell entered high school at Burnsville in 1946. Although Clell was no bigger than a mite during his freshman year, he played football at Burnsville. He recalls that his early football initiation was having the air knocked out of him when he was tackled. Clell survived the season and attended the season ending football banquet at Burnsville High School along with his Orlando neighbors Bill Stutler and Charley Knight.
The Blake Ladies
Clell also remembers the Blake ladies who lived in the first hollow on Clover Fork who chewed tobacco, smoked old clay pipes and raised hundreds of turkeys. Rosie Blake and her granddaughter Christine would occasionally offer Clell a chew of tobacco which they raised on their secluded farm. So incessant was their smoking, the ladies carried tobacco pouches on the end of their staffs which they used to tend the turkeys. As Clell remembers, the ladies spent the entire day outside with the roaming turkeys so that they would not fall prey to predators, both four-legged and two-legged. Christine was also a student at Locust Grove School, was powerfully built and was considerably larger than Clell. After school, they would walk down the Clover Fork Road together and given the substantial differences in their size, Christine would frequently offer to carry Clell’s books.

Memorable Moments
A Frightful Scene
Clell had not lived with the Braggs on Clover Fork very long when he witnessed a terrible accident. During World War II, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was quite busy hauling war material and many trains went up and down Clover Fork. The Bragg home was located close to the railroad. Phebe (Posey) Riffle had recently married George "Short" Riffle who had been drafted and was stationed for training in the State of Georgia. Phebe anxiously looked forward to the letters from her Army husband which she would pick up at the Orlando post office. In late October 1942, she received a letter from her husband and was deeply engrossed in reading it as she was walking the railroad tracks to her home above the Bragg place. On this day, Clell was standing on the front porch of home of Charlie Pritt who lived above the Bragg home and was watching Phebe as she walked in the direction of Pritt’s house. Not hearing the approaching freight train coming from behind, Phebe was struck, cartwheeled by the large wheel of the train and suffered grievous injuries. Her right arm was torn from the shoulder and she was thrown unconscious to the ground with a concussion and other serious injuries. Phebe was taken to the Weston City Hospital and was initially given little hope to live, however miraculously, she survived.

Hey Clell, the War is Over
World War II seemed to last a lifetime. Men were away in the military and many lives were changed. Even as a bare teenager, Clell was keenly aware of the war in Europe and the Pacific. In August 1945, while on the hill above the Bragg home bringing the cows in for milking, he heard Jessie’s booming voice coming from the valley below. “Hey Clell, the war is over,” were the memorable words he clearly heard, announcing the end of hostilities in the Pacific.

Lassoing Fish
Clell remembers Jessie Bragg as an excellent fish catcher. When Clell moved to the fisherman’s paradise of Clover Fork, Jessie showed him how to lasso fish by crawling out onto willow limbs hanging over the fish laden pools of water, looping a wire around the fish and flipping them out of the water. Clell remembers that the first time he tried this acrobatic trick, the willow limb broke and he ended up swimming with the fishes.

Riding a Cow Cross County
As every Orlando resident is aware, Clover Fork forms the boundary between Braxton and Lewis County. The Pres and Jessie Bragg farm was partly in Braxton County and partly in Lewis County. When Clell began living with Pres and Jessie Bragg he would ride their milk cow occasionally across Clover Fork. Clell recalls that he would sometimes brag to strangers or the unsuspecting that he “had ridden a cow all the way from one county to another.” This boastful exploit often drew a look of incredulity from the listener.

Seventeen Horse Fill
Clell still remembers stories of his new environment. When he was a youngster living with the Braggs on Clover Fork, he learned of a site along the railroad right of way on Clover Fork near the home of Vaden Traylor which had a storied past. At this site, seventeen horses died from exhaustion during the building of the railroad in 1905 and were dragged into the fill and buried. Thereafter, the spot was known by railroaders and people in the neighborhood as “Seventeen Horse Fill.”

Champion and Two Cent Stamps
Pres Bragg
was the mail carrier for Orlando, Route 2. This route traveled up Clover Fork and then over the hill onto the waters of Knawls Creek, down the Little Kanawha River, up Riffle’s Run, over the hill onto and down Road Run, and back to Orlando. Clell would sometimes accompany Pres on his mail route riding on the back of “Champion,” the trusty horse which Pres used during bad weather when a motorized vehicle was impractical to use. Clell remembers on many occasions having to ford Clover Fork in high waters on the back of the trusty steed. He also remembers that the postage stamp for a letter at that time was sold for two cents, an outstanding bargain considering the difficulty in delivering the mail.

Red Drawers
Clell also learned some interesting peccadilloes of his neighbors. He recalls Charlie Pritt telling him that when a lady who lived in the neighborhood wanted Charlie to pay her a visit she would hang red drawers out on a clothes line with the washing. It goes without saying that Clell never passed the house thereafter without scrutinizing the clothes hanging on her clothes line.

Prepare for a Famine
Another interesting memory about his neighbors involved Maje and Sylvia Knight who lived in the large two story farm house above the Bragg home on Clover Fork. Mrs. Knight was a very religious person and was very observant of scriptural teachings and prophesies. In her study of the Bible, Mrs. Knight discerned that the holy book contained a warning of a coming famine and that the whole world would starve. To prepare for the coming famine, Mrs. Knight began a whirlwind campaign of stockpiling food. Clell was visiting the Knight farm one day and Mrs. Knight began fervently explaining the coming famine to Clell. Mrs. Knight asked Clell to come into the Knight home and see how she had prepared for the holocaust. Clell was amazed to find that every room in the house, with the exception of the Knight’s bedroom, was full of food. There were pickled eggs, crocks of sauerkraut, canned tomatoes, canned green beans, canned meat, and canned food of every description filling each room of the house. In addition the cellar house was overflowing. Clell recalls that as small as he was, he still had to walk sideways to go from one room to another. Clell was shell shocked at the amount of food which Mrs. Knight had preserved to tide her over the supposed famine. Fortunately, Mrs. Knight died in 1971 without the need of the horde of food.

Clell Returns Home
After completing his freshman year of high school at Burnsville, Clell’s mother persuaded her husband, Mr. Sapp, that her son was now big enough to help on the Sapp farm on Abrams Run, and that he could dig potatoes, hoe corn, and put up hay. After some consideration, Mr. Sapp recognized that Clell would more than pay for his keep, and agreed that Clell would be welcome to live on Mr. Sapp’s farm in exchange for farm labor. Then 16 years of age, Clell reluctantly left the only true home he had ever known and moved his belongings to the Sapp farm on Abrams Run.

Right: Mary Sapp, Dorothy Sapp, Clell Smarr
Right below: Dorothy, Annabell, Clell, Clifford, Lubert (face hidden) and Nina.

High School and the Military
Clell fulfilled his farm labor obligation to Mr. Sapp as agreed and also completed his high school education at nearby Walkersville High School in 1950. After graduating from high school, Clell joined the United States Air Force and made it his career, retiring after 20 years service. His final years were served at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. as a Congressional escort, a job which required Clell to conduct tours of world-wide bases for members of the government and Congress. Clell retired as a Tech Sergeant (E-6).

After his career in the military, Clell returned to West Virginia and went into the real estate business in Barbour County. Clell was living in Belington during the great flood of 1985 and suffered great property losses as did thousands of people in the Tygart River Valley. Clell now lives in retirement in Flagler County, Florida and does community service work with troubled juveniles who have been assigned to create and maintain vegetable gardens as part of their probation.

Happy Days on Clover Fork
Clell recalls his days on Clover Fork as the happiest days of his life, for the lessons of life he learned, and the opportunities he was given that helped him become successful. To Jessie and Presley Bragg, he is eternally grateful.

. . . . .
Right: Maje and Sylvia Knight lived in the house that once belonged to John and Agnes (Kilker) Carney and later by Charles Emery "Possum" and Florence (Cayton) Skinner. Today (right) it looks like this.

1 comment:

  1. Uncle Clell, So glad to see your recollections and accounts of the happenings in your childhood posted here along with Aunt Ninas. I reflect from time to time the many tales you told us when we were kids.
    Hope Uncle Loubert and Aunt Annabelle can also put their experiences on here also as to bring this factual family story full circle.