Lev. 19: 9-10 instructs the children of Israel to leave a portion of the harvest in corners of the fields for the less fortunate to glean.
Times were still difficult in the late 1940s and early ’50s.
James Ed “Papa Pat” Patterson was born in McNairy County, close to a small town called Finger. His wife was Mary Kathleen Crowe. She was an orphan and knew nothing concerning her biological parents.
My grandfather found employment with the NC&StL Railway, later purchased by the L&N.
Known by his friends as “Iron Jim,” he worked on the track maintenance crew. This job, along with the steam engine fireman, were the most two physically demanding jobs in railroading.
Other than a cotton patch, railroading is the only job he ever knew. Papa Pat started out as a gandy dancer, laying track for the NC&StL.
He proved to be quite proficient at driving spikes, manipulating heavy tracks and wrestling cross ties. This earned him the name “Iron Jim,” and he carried it proudly for the remainder of his life.
The Paducah, Tennessee and Alabama Railway went bankrupt in 1896. It was absorbed by the NC&StL.
In its infancy, dark-fire tobacco, cotton, white oak barrel staves and various other farm products rode in rails from Benton, Ky., to Paris and beyond.
Hazel was originally called Kensee. Many of the residents didn’t like that name and, in 1890, after much politicking, the town was renamed Hazel.
Rumor has it that a large grove of Hazelnut trees straddled the state line, thus the name Hazel was conceived. Instead of nicknaming the local high school the Lions, the Hazel Nuts might have hit closer to reality.
A large tobacco floor was located between my house and Mike and Joe Morgan’s home. This cinder block and saw mill slab lumber structure burned to the ground in 1919. My Dad, as a youngster, worked part-time at the business. I believe Henry Dees, founder of Dees Bank of Hazel, owned the business. The old foundation was still intact in the early ’50s.
It was bounded by Town Creek. Joe and I toted our BB guns into the overgrown thicket and battled pirates all day long. When we each arrived home after playing much too long, we were exposed to a vicious examination by ours fathers, searching for ticks, beggar’s-lice or any alien insects. Preparatory cleansing was a heavy anointing of coal oil or lye soap.
In the early ’20s, local farmers were being starved by the low prices paid by American Tobacco Association, owned by James B. Duke. He also operated the notorious Duke Power Co. Coal miners in East Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia were sacrificial lambs led to the slaughter to feed Duke’s greed.
The Black Patch War was spawned along the Tennessee-Kentucky state line during this time frame. Dr. David A. Amoss of Springfield was the secret leader of the “Silent Brigade.” Members of this society formed an association in a feeble effort to raise tobacco prices from 3 cents a pound to 5 cents.
The vast majority of tobacco floor owners were bankers, sympathetic to Duke. Sometimes a palm-greasing went a long way in those long-ago days.
Once the crops went on the warehouse floor, the farmer had no right to refuse the price offered by American Tobacco.
The Night Riders wore black hoods and, just a mile or two away from their intended target, they wrapped feed sacks around their horses’ hoofs.
In a desperate effort to raise prices on dark-fire tobacco, certain warehouses that sided with American Tobacco were torched. These burnings usually transpired in spring and summer, when the floors were empty.
My other grandfather, Leander Daniel Salmon, who lived in the Blood River Bottom, cultivated six acres of Little Chief dark-fire tobacco in 1919, fetching a whopping $60. He and his family of five had to exist a year on $60.
I remember my father describing the burning of the tobacco floor in Hazel. He was only about 10 years old, but he was hired to clean out the warehouse floor after the season-ending sale in late February.
The sales concluded on Saturday and no one dared to work on Sunday. Monday afternoon after school, “Lil” Jesse Tilghman was sweeping out the lugs, broken or trashy leaves.
He would then tie each sizable pile in a hand and later the floor boss, Newman Daugherty, collected these tied hands of tobacco and sold them at Mayfield. As Pop was finishing his chores, he was startled to see a silent group of about 10 black-hooded men on horseback, waiting in front of the loading ramp.
A spokesman for the men very quietly advised Jesse it would be best if he went home. In a matter of minutes, the tobacco floor was reduced to charcoal.
Apparently, the local operator of the warehouse learned his lesson. The floor was never reconstructed. Nearby floors in Clarksville, Springfield Hopkinsville, Mayfield and Paducah experienced fire problems.
Finally, the state militia in both Tennessee and Kentucky were dispatched, but this police action did nothing to raise the price of dark-fire tobacco. This, coupled with the coal field wars, was the biggest uprising since the Civil War.
This is just a nebulous footnote. Duke University is funded to a great extent by an endowment fund set up by James B. Duke.
In these days of public political correctness paranoia, I shall select the wording selectively for the following sentence. I have a delicate decision deciding who I dislike the most: John B. Duke, for endowing millions swindled from coal miners/dark-fire tobacco farmers to Duke University; Christian Laettner, for hitting the “shot;” or Rick “The Stick” Pitino, for not fronting the Blue Devil’s inbound passer.
You can remove the D on the front and the E from the back and it still ain’t U.K. I have a more apt four-letter word, but I’d best not divulge it.
After Papa Pat was promoted to section foreman, he was commissioned by the L&N to carry a revolver. The over all upkeep and track security was his responsibility. The Hazel town marshal’s jurisdiction ceased at the state line. Papa Pat’s authority ran from Puryear to Hardin.
As regular as the sunrise, Papa Pat announced that he would be checking the tracks each Thursday. If someone desired to glean a small amount of coal or popcorn, Thursday was not a wise or prudent choice.
Next week, I’ll end my bloviating about railroad memories.
Published by my Dad in the Paris Post Intelligencer.