The largest grading project on a commercial airport ever attempted

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 3, 2016

During World War II while the Army, Navy and Civil Aeronautics Agency were constructing airports for the war effort, attempts were made to have the agencies approve a field in Kanawha County, WV. All requests were turned down because of the large amount of grading that would have to be done.

The county then went ahead and undertook the largest grading project on a commercial airport ever attempted.

In October 1944, in Charleston, W. Va., the contract for the nation’s heaviest airport grading job was awarded to Harrison Construction Company of Pittsburgh, PA by the Kanawha County Court. The citizens of Kanawha County voted a $3,000,000 bond issue for the construction of the terminal and road access from the business section of the town. Later Congress appropriated $2,750,000 to supplement the County fund to assure the completion of the airport.

The project required removal of approximately 9 million yards of material, 40% was rock. The airport is located on a series of ridges, whose area and direction made it ideal for the construction of three runways. For all other sites investigated, the topography was such that the construction of runways of adequate length was impractical or land damages excessive.

In the early stages shovels worked on ledges that were 300 feet or more above the lowest ravine filling levels. Due to layers of pan materials between stone strata there was little opportunity for scrapers to load downhill. Early stage haul roads for both stone and dirt were among the steepest ever encountered by the contractors. Temporary roads employed up to 40% descending grades for scrapers and 25% for dump trucks.

The rock excavation was hauled by nine 1-3/4 yard to 2-1/2 yard shovels loading a fleet of twenty- three 10-yard rear dump trucks and eight 11-yard and 12-yard bottom dump trailers. The earth excavation was handled by ten 25-yard tractor-drawn scrapers and sixteen 12-yard scrapers. Seven pushers with the help of four rooters served the scrapers. With this equipment the contractor averaged from 20,000 to 27,000 cubic yards of earth and rock a day.

Alternate rock and shale layers created a situation favorable to horizontal drilling and blasting. This method was used for all but small special pockets, where six wagon drills were employed, powered by five 365 cu. ft. compressors.

To level the mountain, over 1,000,000 pounds of dynamite were used; a typical blast consisted of 2,500 pounds of dynamite placed in nine parallel 45 foot holes.

Kanawha Airport was formally dedicated on November 3, 1947. President Truman sent his plane, the “Independence;” the presidents of all the participating airlines were on hand, as were many governmental officials. Though a cold, rainy day, the event was attended by an estimated 10,000 people. The first night landing at the port was made shortly after 10 the evening before by the president of American Airlines.

dedication of Kanawha Airport, Charleston WVDedication of Kanawha Airport, Charleston WV.

Col. John Alison, assistant secretary of commerce for air, lauded the people of the city and county on their perseverance and refusal to allow the many obstacles created by rugged terrain to keep them from realizing a project deemed essential to the welfare and growth of the community. He thought it quite significant that the county should have undertaken what the Army would not tackle.

“The record shows that the county of Kanawha has spent more money per capita on airports than any other county in any state in the country,” Col. Alison said. “In addition, $125,000 was voted by the county for an access road to the airport. Other funds were made available for the purchase of land.

“These accomplishments are a fine commentary on the judgment of the 195,619 people of the county and their elected officials.”

At the conclusion of the special ceremonies, the crowd was admitted to the taxi strips to visit planes of Capital, Eastern and American airlines. Chief interest seemed to center about Capital’s “Flying White House,” the DC-4 in which the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to the historic Casablanca conference.

Sources: “Dedication of Kanawha Airport,” Charleston Gazette
November 4, 1947 online at
“The Nation’s Heaviest Airport Grading Project,” The Kanawha Valley Airport online at

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Kentucky politicos bought votes with gingerbread

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 2, 2016

“One of my elections was contested. They accused me of buying gingerbread and using other ways of influence on the voters. Giving them money. They figured what they done, I done the same thing.

“Actually, it comes to a point where most people have to have some encouragement to be interested in elections and they get encouragement in different ways. You did whatever you thought would make them be for you in the elections. If it was hoeing corn, pulling fodder, digging potatoes, gathering corn, milk the cows, hugging the women, or diapering the babies—whatever it took.”

—Ruby Watts, Judge Pro Tem, Knott County, KY

Watts wasn’t alone in his practices. Plenty of other mountain politicians bought gingerbread cakes from elderly women and distributed them to people in the hope of gaining a few extra votes. By doing this, candidates earned the goodwill of the gingerbread bakers and of the people who received a free piece of cake.

Of course, this was just a subtle means of vote buying… but you didn’t hear many complaints as local women generously passed out samples of their best family secrets.

Scots-Irish immigrants to eastern Kentucky would have known about the election tactic of ‘buying gingerbread’ from the old country. Here’s a snippet from an 1855 British novel titled The Heir of Selwood :

“I do not, however, approve of my friend Walter’s manners!” whispered the captain to Miss Norman. “There is a fitness of things even in buying gingerbread at a fair. He is behaving to-day in a manner highly commendable at an election; but his deportment is too candidatorial for ordinary occasions. As a member, it is right to court popularity; it is infra dig. To seek it as a man. All this distribution of gingerbread is trivial and out of place.”

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does ryhme,” Mark Twain once observed. As recently as June 2007, Knott County Judge-Executive Randy Thompson was convicted of scheming to buy votes; the federal jury also convicted John Mac Combs and Phillip G. Champion, deputies under Thompson, and Ronnie Adams, a former magistrate who now works for the county.

The Knott County town fathers have in recent decades figured out a way to take this negative and turn it to a positive. And so, in 1981 the county government created a Gingerbread Festival in Hindman to be held, naturally, when election day rolls around. Each year local folks vie for the title of Knott County’s best cook, bringing samples of their tastiest stack cakes, shucky beans and gingerbread. The Saturday parade features the world’s largest gingerbread man.

Sources: Our Appalachia, by Laurel Shackelford, Bill Weinberg, Donald R Anderson, University Press of Kentucky, 1988

The heir of Selwood By Mrs Gore, Catherine Grace F. Gore, Routledge, 1855, Collection of Oxford University

Gingerbread+festival Hindman+KY Knott+County+KY Ruby+Watts appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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Moses Cone learned men. He learned how to win them.

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 1, 2016

It was in the late 1870s that merchants of this section of the state came to know a young Hebrew grocery drummer who traveled the mountains on horseback soliciting orders for the Cone wholesale grocery firm doing business in Jonesboro, TN. He was an attractive and interesting young drummer who had genius as a merchant. People just could not resist his selling qualities. When Moses Cone came into their places of business their selling resistance vanished.

They tell us poets are born. So are great merchants like John Wanamaker and A.T. Stewart. If you will study the history of the cotton mill business in North Carolina, you will see that the men who won the largest measure of success with cotton mills were men who were merchants as well as manufacturers.

Moses H.ConeThe early manufacturers like the Holts and Steeles and Fries and Chathams, to mention only a few pioneers, were also great merchants. They had the genius to sell what they made. And that is true of the Cones, most of them, particularly Moses H. Cone, the oldest of a dozen children. As young Moses Cone traveled through these mountains and took orders for groceries, the lure of the heights and the valleys and the fine stuff of the people got into his blood.

He loved the bracing air, the cool water from its sparkling springs, the grandeur of the mountain peaks, the lovely and sweet meadows, and the music of the streams. They held him and went with him as later, Moses and his brothers made connections with big textile mills whose products they sold all over the country.

It was not long before Moses Cone saw that southern mills received too little because they depended chiefly on selling yarns and cheaper fabrics, and so he and his brothers resolved to construct finishing mills, which they did at Greensboro, and later at other places. It was selling before making that laid the foundations for the big Cone fortune. It was said they could sell anything they offered.

As young Moses drank in the glory of the mountains and traveled from place to place, he spent his spare moments in reading. He later said that any man could read himself into a good education. That is what he did. He had received only the sort of public school instruction which Jonesboro, TN offered in the late 1860s and early 1870s. But he had great curiosity. Everything that concerned man interested him.

He first learned men. He learned how to win them. Then he learned books. An indefatigable reader, he mastered what he read. With remarkable mind and keenness of intellect of the best of the Hebrew race, he was as keen for knowledge all his life as he was for orders in his youth as a traveling drummer. Economics, history, literature, art — all intrigued him, and by the time he saw the possibility of the Vision of Beauty he incarnated here and made it permanent in his noble estate he had become an educated man at the age of 40.

Thenceforward, he alternated business with the development of the Moses H. Cone Manor. He came here for his health after he became rich. The early lure held him fast. He purchased 3,000 acres of mountain and valley and meadow and set about developing it. He first bought land and started to build on the beautiful land that looks toward Lenoir. Later he caught the vision of Flat Top and Rich Mountains, and the farm which he converted into orchards of thousands of apple trees and into beautiful lakes.

Biltmore, near Asheville, is known the world over. Comparatively few people are familiar with the Cone Estate near here. Mr. Cone built a home that would be called a mansion in New York or a castle in the old country. It became in his last days the home of genuine and generous hospitality to his many friends and large family connections and so remains a place of delight to those fortunate enough to be friends of Mrs. Cone.

Moses Cone Estate, Blowing Rock NCIndeed, she keeps the place as near as possible in every way to how Mr. Cone designed it, with his own constant improvements. The Cone apple orchard is one of the show places of America. Many see it. But the sight of sights on the Estate is the drive to Rich Mountains and to Flat Top.

On top of both mountains, Mr. Cone built observatories from which one can see five states on a clear day and feel literally that he is on top of the world. On Rich Mountain there are scores of haw trees—the most beautiful haw trees in all the world—and just now the red berries, to be crimson by September, are a riot of beauty and glory. Standing under the shade of such trees, you can see Grandfather and a score of other mountains.

Mr. Cone died early—soon after he had complete his home and laid off his 3,500 acre estate. He lived to see the work and to pronounce it good, and died at the comparatively young age of 50. But he achieved far more than most successful men of threescore and ten. His last days were brightened by carrying out his plans for the beautification of his Wautauga Estate. It is a memorial that will outlast his business structures, enduring as they are, and will give happiness to this and future generations.

From ‘Moses Cone Remembered,’ by Josephus Daniels (Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson; summered in Blowing Rock area), Greensboro Daily News, spring 1930; date not specified; online at

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We don’t own anything, not a damned thing

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 31, 2016

“Over the dam,” some would have said; others would say “Mark it up to experience”; and those persons with much greater financial means than Elmer might have said “Just write it off for tax purposes.” Yet, in the belly and guts of the Depression, he never succumbed to the great temptation to which so many did succumb—jump off a skyscraper, blow your brains out with a shotgun, or just go to bed and never get up, become an invalid, first through fear and then complete physical collapse.

Had Elmer been living in the city when Keystone Lumber bellied up, he might have entertained an alternative to trying like hell all over again. He knew all too well that the old adage—that lightning never strikes twice in the same place—was not necessarily true. It could happen again.

Roosevelt was his hope for the future, and somehow, some day, he would clear the debt to the sawyer, and he would be able to struggle along with what he owed the banks. He told Sylvia, “Hell, if I give up now, that’s it, we’re through, never have a damned thing. At the rate things are goin’ now we won’t even be able to make the farm payment, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna sit down and pity myself.”

“I don’t know, Elmer, things look pretty bad, and as long as we owe Mr. Stalnaker we can’t have anything,” Sylvia remarked as they lay in bed in the dark contemplating the here and now, and worrying about the prospects for the future.

“Well, if I don’t get paid, he can’t get paid.”

“He can sue you to get it,” said Sylvia, propping herself up on her right elbow above her wide-awake man.

“Sue and be damned,” Elmer stormed, irritated at the thought, for he was pretty sure that this is what would happen, and soon. “Let him go ahead and sue. Fact is, he’s already said he’s going to. But what can he get? Not an earthly thing. We don’t own anything, not a damned thing he can touch, and I’ve already told him that.”

“You’ve talked to him about it?”

“Sure, I’ve talked to him about it,” Elmer said fiercely. “I went down to his house there on Quality Hill, back up there on Second Quality; they have a real nice house up there. I talked to him a long time, and he’s a reasonable man; he’s not mad or anything, but he needs his money.”

“He knows you don’t have any money, doesn’t he?” Sylvia asked.

“Oh sure he knows, but he owes Herman Lambert’s grocery store, and he owes Minear’s Hardware store and Bell Swisher’s service station, he told me, and he has borrowed some money at the First National Bank. So, I know he’s gonna have to sue me to try to get what I owe him, because the people he owes will be pushin’ him to get their money.”

“Elmer, we’ll never be able to have anything. I can see it right now. Never.”

from Sugarlands, by Foster Mullenax, McClain Printing, Parsons WV, 2001

Mullenax (1927-2005) was born and raised in Sugarlands, WV. Sugarlands is a biographical novel of his parents Elmer Jackson Mullenax and Sylvia Catherine Knotts Mullenax.

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To the end that man might possess himself of another of the world’s waste places

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 28, 2016

Now began the building of Middlesborough, the name which [my employer, Mr. Alexander A. Arthur] had proposed for the town having been adopted. Men of all trades and callings were entering Yellow Creek Valley, most of them having come by train as far as Pineville, ten miles away, whence they advanced by wagon, hack, horse, or mule.

Apparently every city and town in Kentucky, and almost every state, was represented in these various migrants. Although the constituent parts of a few portable houses had been brought in and set up, tents were employed almost altogether for both living and business purposes, and by mid-autumn of 1889 the Valley looked, at a distance, as if it were occupied by an army.

Tent city labor encampment of Middlesborough, KY; 1895.


The huge labor of straightening the meanders of Yellow Creek, which bisected the Valley, was initiated under the supervision of the late Colonel George E. Waring, of New York, engineering expert.

Ploughs and dirt-scoops without number were employed in preparing foundations for business buildings, breaking ground for mill and factory, opening streets, and leveling knolls. The rasping of saws and the continuous tattoo of innumerable hammers resounded far and wide. The spectacle was inspiring.

Common laborers by the hundreds were changing the face of a passive but nevertheless stubborn earth, and skilled workmen refining and artificializing it with structures, to the end that man might possess himself of another of the world’s waste places.

The conditions were of a pattern in many respects with those of an incipient frontier town or gold-rush settlement in the Far West. The fashion in dress was slouch hats, boots, and negligee shirts. Pistols were carried openly by large numbers, while the native, according to immemorial habit, seldom went abroad unaccompanied by his rifle.

Killings were common, and not infrequently several men would fall in a single fight. Not always were the victims feudists; sometimes they were other mountaineers or “Yellow Creekers;”sometimes from the ranks of the newcomers, among whom was the usual ratio of brawlers, criminals, and shady characters. The drinking-places were numerous, and more often than not the trouble occurred in or near one of them. Many were the hard drinkers among all classes, and almost everybody drank to some extent.

My tent-mate, a middle-aged real estate dealer from the central part of the State, regularly imbibed something like a pint of whiskey before breakfast. On frozen nights–with snow aground and the wind churlishly beating the flaps of the tent, humming through its cordage and sieving up between its cracks of the plank floor-we slept under four or five covers that were as thick as horse-blankets.

In such weather his “night-cap” became a busby–a tall one and straight. He would wake about daybreak, lean out from his cot, light the oil heater, and then reach under the cot for the “inner heater”–the quart bottle of Bourbon which he invariably placed there on going to bed.

There was a tart pop as he pulled the cork and a familiar gurgle as the fiery liquid surged to the neck of the vessel. The process was repeated at intervals until at length he got up and drew on his boots. He was now primed for breakfast.

The establishment where we ate and lodged was called the “Hotel encampment.” The messhouse, of pine timbers with the bark on, which stood between double rows of tents, was manned by darky cooks and waiters from Knoxville, the chief of the latter of whom was Laughing John, a jolly negro, who proudly wore in his shirt bosom a faceted glass “diamond” as big as a black walnut.

The meals in this rude victualing-place would not, ordinarily, have gladdened a gastronome, but now and then we sat down to some especially toothsome viand.

Once this was provided through the occurrence of an unusual incident: A deer wounded by hunters in the mountains had fled, baffled and desperate, into the Valley and was swimming Yellow Creek, then in flood, when a man plunged in to his armpits and dispatched it with a knife. We had venison for several days.

Because of the rigors and the inconveniences and general rough existence, no women or children had yet appeared. Finally, one day, a woman was observed walking along Cumberland Avenue. Her apparition was an event of the first order and made a flurry; men paused and gazed as at some curiosity. She had the distinction of being Middlesborough’s first female inhabitant.

A host of Englishmen, and some Scotch, had followed in Mr. Arthur’s wake–hostlers, artisans, clerks, merchants, and members of various professions.
There were also “remittance men”–idle and more or less irresponsible scions of prominent families in England who were probably content, and perhaps relieved, to have them at a distance. These, having no occupation, neither toiled nor spun, but passed the time in riding and in hunting wild deer, turkey, and fox, and in pretty heavy drinking.

In a different category were young chaps of wealthy upper middle-class derivation who were there solely for adventure and a fling of “roughing it.”

Twice yearly Mr. Arthur went to London to render in person his semi-annual formal report to the board of directors, and it was on one of these trips with him, as his secretary, that I first met the young men when they called at the Hotel Metropole.

There they were in silk hats, spats, and morning-coats, not to mention monocles and walking-sticks. They made known their intention of going out to his development in the States to engage in dairying for an uncertain period.

One brother arrived in Middlesborough some weeks ahead of the other and bought a farm about a mile from town, and for a time he and I shared quarters in a small, portable house.

When the other brother came, he repaired to the farm. They did their own milking, or assisted employees in doing so, and one drove the milk-wagon, making deliveries to customers.

The spectacle of these young fellows, fashionables at home in London, here milking cows, and one of them ringing his bell before houses, drawing the creamy liquid and pouring it into housewives’ pitchers, was amusing.

History Of Bell County Volume II, by Henry Harvey Fuson, New York: Hobson Book Press, 1947

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