No stop-leak for the dripping radiator? Dump in a handful of cornmeal!

Posted by | May 16, 2017

Relatives of the gone-away families often visited if they owned a car or could get a ride with someone who did have one. Susan’s son Henry Hampton (by a former marriage) and wife Mint lived with their children in the Carcassonne community.

Henry worked in the mines and owned a car of what age, make or model I am not sure. I do know there were no late models in the community until many years later. We did the maintenance on our old models, tied them together with baling wire, cleaned the spark plugs and breaker points regularly, took up the slack in the adjustable tie rod ends so the driver need not give the steering wheel more than a full turn on the curves.

Before starting on a trip the trunk or back seat of the car should contain a water pail, hand tire pump, jack, tube patches and glue, three quarts of motor oil, a gas can, assorted tools, wrenches, hammers and screwdrivers. In the absence of stop-leak for the dripping radiator, dump in a handful of cornmeal which is sure to stop the leak and maybe the whole circulation system.

The motor gets hot. Can’t hardly see the road for the steam boiling up. “You hear that noise out there? What is it? Sounds like a loose rod to me. I just tightened them all up last week. Guess I had better pull off to the side of the road, drop the oil pan and take out a few shims, it won’t take long and we will save the oil to put back in when we get done.”

cars on Pine Mountain in Letcher County KYOriginal caption reads: Letcher County, Kentucky. A road scene near foot of Pine Mountain.

Flat tires, motor overhauls and other repairs were common sights along our few winding and narrow highways of those days. Today’s motorist would probably take a dim view of such modes of travel. But to those of us who owned one of these ancient vehicles, the door was opened to the outer world.

We could go to Whitesburg or Hazard and return the same day or even a hundred or more miles to visit gone-away relatives or friends. I have made trips to Tennessee and Ohio in trucks at that time that I would now not trust to get to Blackey and back – a distance of five miles each way.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the route by car from Letcher County to Pulaski County was from Whitesburg across Pine Mountain and down the Cumberland River to Pineville on 119 which was a graveled road at that time. Highway 25 was blacktopped and led to the Bluegrass region.

On the outskirts of Pineville the Hamptons pulled into a small filling station for gas from the hand operated pump. As Henry pulled away from the station with a full tank of 17 cent-per-gallon gas, Mint leaned from the open car window and above the roar of the motor issued this invitation to the startled attendant, “Come and go with us, we are going to Pulaski County to see Henry’s ma.”

In the 1920’s Uncle Tom Dixon, a brother of grandfather Wilburn, owned the part of Dixon Mountain which was across the road and opposite the cemetery.

In summertime anyone traveling along the rough and rutted dirt road through Dixon Mountain would most always come upon Uncle Tom seated by the roadside, leaning back against a huge chestnut tree, a big pile of shavings was around his feet – the result of much whittling as he eagerly awaited the next traveler. Uncle Tom was a great storyteller and philosopher and a firm believer in an unhurried lifestyle. A theory that I fully support.

source: Eastern Kentucky Mountain Memories, by Clifton Caudill, published by s.n., 1996; this excerpt from article in ‘The Mountain Eagle,’ at

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