The following interview excerpt of Bert Curry (born c.1901) was conducted at Lenore in Mingo County, WV, on December 5, 1978.
How much money was around back then?
The first public works to come into the Pigeon Creek areas was when Cole and Crane come in to cut all of this virgin timber. All of Pigeon Creek. They built a splash dam at Delbarton, one on Elk Creek, and one on Rock House. They come in here in 1910 and they paid seventy-five cents a day and board for a man to work and he worked from daylight til dark and along later some of their best men, their team drivers… Team drivers had to work extra hours. They’d put them on by the month. I remember my brother-in-law got $35 a month, but he’d have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and then after supper he’d have to go out and clean the stable and curry his team and doctor ‘em, anything that had to be doctored and feed ‘em and bed ‘em down of the night.
Where did people get most of their income in those days?
If you had a job it was usually helping somebody cut timber. My first job was fifty cents a day carrying water for seventeen men and I was about twelve or thirteen years old.
Was that for loggers?
Well, these was loggers but my brother Wallace had a big field of corn. He had to grow corn to feed his cattle. He had six yokes of cattle and he used cattle in logging and he’d take a big flour barrel full of corn and them cattle would get around and he’d feed that corn to ‘em. They’d eat a barrel of corn each night and they’d let ‘em… Maybe a little fodder, or once in a while in bad weather they’d give ‘em a little hay. But them cattle, they worked ‘em six days a week haulin’ logs. They was trained to work and them six yokes of cattle was worth more than you could get for… You could buy a beef for $25 at that time but if you bought a good oxen that was broke you’d have to give about $50 for him.
What do you remember about the logging operations?
They was very primitive. They had nothin’ like a chain saw. They had a cross cut saw and they had axes and they had cane hooks and they had their teams of oxen and then some had teams of mules and horses. When Cole and Crane come in here they contracted all the cuttin’ of this timber. All the haulin’ it and puttin’ it into the creeks where the waters from the dams would take care of it. They had several contractors. They’d contract a whole boundary, maybe 500 or 1000 acres of timber to cut, and it was all virgin timber. It took six yoke of oxen or two to three big span of mules or horses to pull a tree. They didn’t cut it up into logs like they do now. They cut the whole tree and they didn’t take anything less than 16 inches up to the top. They’d be from 5 to 7 feet down where they cut them off and some of them would be 100 feet long and I’ve seen gorges of logs in Pigeon Creek they claimed had 5,000 trees in it. For a mile it’d be piled up bank to bank as high as they could pile. They’d work sometimes with all the teams they could get around them for three weeks a breaking one gorge. And when they got it to the Tug, they’d raft it. Sometimes they’d raft them and sometimes they would drift them down to the locks at Louisa before they’d raft them and they never went past there. They’d raft them there and then take tug boats and haul them from there to Cincinnati.
How did you raft them? I’m not familiar with that.
They had what you call chain dogs, a little chain about that long (indicates about 12 inches) with a spike on each end. They’d drive a spike in this log here and in this log (indicates two logs laying side by side) to hold it together, one at the front and one at the back, and they’d be oh maybe they’d be 50 feet wide and two or three hundred feet long, the rafts would. Maybe they’d have two or three rafts. One steamboat would be pullin’ maybe two or three rafts.
The logs wouldn’t drift apart?
They’d drive them spikes. Them spikes was about that long (indicating about six inches) and they’d drive them in there and it took a whole lot to pull ‘em out.
Did they work in the winter time, too?
Oh yes! I’ve seen fellers wade Pigeon Creek when they mush ice was a floatin’ and when they’d have to get back in the water to thaw before they could walk.
Was the creek deeper then or about like it is now?
It was more even. They had water all the time but they didn’t have as many severe floods as they have now because this was all covered with timbers, all of everything. See, this mulch in these forests held the water and let it leak out. It didn’t run off like it does now.
The water flow was more evened out this year around?
More evened out. But when they’d have a splash dam at Delbarton, one on Rockhouse up at Lando Mines and one in the head of Elk Creek, they’d time these. They’d know how long it took the water to run from Elk Creek, and they knowed how long it took the water to run from Rock House, and they knowed how long it took the water to meet. They’d try to have them all three come out at once so that they’d have a vast big sudden increase in water. You could look up the creek when they’d splash and you could see a wall floatin’ and a turnin’ in and everything.
And that was to wash the logs out?
Yes, well they washed them out to Tug River that way. That’s the way they got them out of Pigeon Creek.
Do you remember when Island Creek first came into the area?
No. Island Creek first come in about 1901. That was over there. They started when two young fellows come from New York in there looking for oil, to prospect for oil, so they could invest some money. And some old man had a mine open right where No. 1 Island Creek mine is and he was a haulin’ coal with a mule—a mule and a sled. He’d go back in there and he’d haul coal out—a big seam of coal six foot high and good and clean. So they decided that there was where they could make their money. So they got to talkin’ with these fellows and they went and got lawyers and they bought around Holden and Trace Fork and up Mud Fork and a vast area. I don’t know how much: 79,000 acres for 470,000 dollars. And fellows like Henry Ferrell, he counted timber so long. To count timber you have men a goin’ through and selecting the trees and one man a tallying. They’d make a mark on a tree when they’d count it, and the fellow with the tally sheet, he kept the numbers. He said they’d count timber a while and said then they had more money than they had brains. To spend that much money for that much land—470,000 dollars—and he said they put up a band mill and cut the timber and sold the timber and built their camps and sold enough lumber to pay for all of it. They got their coal and their land free. Just cut the timber and sold it and got their money back. People thought they were foolish for paying that kind of prices. Buying some of them farms out with all that timber for thousand dollars—that sounded like an awful lot of money. They didn’t have any money. They weren’t used to money. You worked for fifty cents a day. $1000 seemed like a whole lot.