During the process of collecting information for my model railroad and this website, I have read and heard many stories about the operations of the railroads and life in Clay County with the ERC&L company in general. Some of these stories don't fit logically into the framework I created for the rest of the site and so this section was created as a place to put them. There is no single theme here, just stories that offer insight into the ERC&L and BC&G. They are presented in no particular order.
MR. BRADLEY GAVE AWAY TWO CARS as told by Cody Burdette
Pat Butler was the land agent for the ERC&L. John Lanham was responsible for keeping the telephone lines strung between Dundon and Widen in good repair. The railroad depended on them for safe operation. He had his own motorcar and a 2 man crew. In 1947, Pat and John had been with the ERC&L Company longer than any other employees. To recognize them, Mr. Bradley took them to his home in Boston, MA for a vacation. The day they were to leave Boston to return to Clay County Mr. Bradley took both of them to the Chevrolet dealer in Boston and bought them each a new car to drive home! As Cody recalls, in 1956 John Lanham still had the 1947 Chevrolet and there was not a spot on it that didn't have a dent!
MR. BRADLEY's SENSE OF HUMOR as told by Cody Burdette
While most of what's been written suggests Mr. Bradley was a stern fellow, this story suggests otherwise...
According to Cody, John Lanham (see story above) was "bad to cuss" when he got mad. Mr. Bradley knew of this characteristic and so when Bradley would come to his house in Dundon he would mess up his telelphone on purpose just so he could hear 'Old John' fuss and cuss. They said Mr. Bradley would roll with laughter and that would only make John cuss worse!
DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY as told by David Marquis
There are many stories about how laid back the enitre operation of the railroad was. Here are two...
Dave had the wonderful fortune to ride on Motor "A" in revenue service on several occassions in 1957 or 1958. One time after buying his ticket at the Company Office in Dundon (from Richard Manning himself no less!) he boarded the bus at the road crossing as there was no passenger platform at that time. Dave recounts that "they didn't actually give him a ticket, he just paid and somehow the railbus drive knew he had done so." On one trip Dave was the only passenger.
In his own words, here's a great story from another trip Dave had on Motor "A":
"On one of the trips, just as the bus was about to leave Dundon, a pick-up truck pulled up to the crossing with two men and a wringer washer. One of the men had just purchased the used washing machine in Clay, and the previous owner was delivering him and the washer to the BC&G. The two men loaded the washer into the baggage compartment at the rear of the railbus. Off we went with the new owner and myself as the only passengers. Four or five miles out of Dundon the bus came to a house along the tracks with no obvious access but by rail. The proud owner of the washing machine and the railbus driver carried the washer up to the front porch and called out his wife to show her their new acquisition. Then the two of them sat down and had a cup of coffee and a chat while I waited in the railbus! Such was the casual pace of life along the BC&G!
As Patsy, a former Dundon resident, tells it, "I used to threaten to leave home and move into hobo cave with my doll bed. My mother told me to go ahead but some hoboes may join me! I never carried through on the threat!". Patsy goes on to tell that there was a pathway paralleling the tracks that went right by the cave. She walked, or rode her bike, past the cave many times and never saw a hobo "there or near the tracks". However, she says, "I did wreck my bike one time while crossing the tracks and have the black cinders in a knee today to prove it!"
COMPANY STORE PRICING PRACTICES as told by Kathy Gaskins
In her "Reflections of Swandale", Kathy recounts that the "company store's prices were set at the Widen store, but since a miner's salary was higher than a mill worker's, there was some grumbling about the inequity. There was discussion of lowering the prices at Swandale, but it was never done for fear that everyone would flock to Swandale to shop where the better bargains were."
CHRISTMAS ON LILLY'S FORK by Cody Burdette
Cody's done it again with this wonderful story!
"One time in 1960 just before Christmas, some church members and I wrapped alot of gifts, and went on the log train to deliver them to the children on Lilly's Fork. Dad would stop the log train right at their doors and we would hand gifts to them off of the log cars, you should have seen their faces. They were surprised when the log train stopped right in front of their homes, and double surprised when we handed them gifts."
"Just down the creek a few yards from Starchers there were probably 3 houses, a few miles up the creek there were 2 more houses, a mile or so furhter on there was 1 house, and almost in the head of the creek was where Jake Nichols lived. Most of these men worked for the ERC&L Co. on the track on Lilly."
FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF BRADLEY'S HOUSE, BRADLEY HIMSELF AND NELLIE, HIS HOUSEKEEPER by Patsy Baughman
Cody recounts this interesting story about a chance meeting with Mr. Bradley.
"I got to meet Mr. Bradley up close several times. One time sticks out in my memory more than the others. This time I was in the company store at Swandale. He came in and spoke to me. That made me feel like I was "king of the hill"! There was a card of smoking pipes on the wall behind the counter. Mr. Bradley asked the clerk to get them down so he could try some of them. After trying several in his mouth he decided on one. He left the store with his pipe without paying for it. I thought how nice to own the company."
(Read the HISTORY - BC&G section for a complete account of Mr. Bradley's role in the ERC&L)
THE GENEROUS SIDE OF MR. BRADLEY by Judy Hart
Judy Hart, raised in Swandle, tells this wonderful story about the man more known for his stern ways than his kindness...
"In the early sixties, after having graduated from Charleston Ceneral Hospital School of X-Ray Technology, I was working at the prestigious Greenbrier Clinic, White Sulphur Springs, WV. Keep in mind I was very young, unassuming, inexperienced, shy twenty year-old from Swandale, WV. My travels had only included trips to Charleston, WV.
"One morning I was X-raying a very grumpy old man. I checked his chart and to my surprise, it ws Mr. J.G. Bradley. I explained to him that my name was Judy Gregorich and my father had spent a lifetime working for him at Swandale and my father and always admired and respected him and would be surprised to know he was being so grumpy with me.
"Mr. Bradley immediately had a compete change of demeanor and actually engaged me in conversation. During the conversation I told him I planned to be married the next year. Before Mr. Bradley left the clinic he gave me a wedding present - $600. Can you imagine my surprise and excitement!! That was alot of money...I was elated!
THE LIFE OF THE SWANDALE DOCTOR by Ruth Harper
Judy Gregorich Hart provided a copy of an article by Ruth Harper that first appeared in the HISTORY OF CLAY COUNTY published in 1989. Ruth Harper was the wife of O. M. Harper, MD, who was the ERC&L company physician and lived in Swandale with his wife from 1932 until 1937. Ruth was also a very good friend of Judy's mother. Excerpts of Ruth's article are presented here.
"The train had a passenger coach in front of the caboose and one of the fringe benefits (of being the doctor's wife) was a pass for the train. This was during the depression and the train did not run on schedule. When there was a load of coal, or empties to return, the passenger train would not run. So, if I wanted to go to Dundon or Widen I listened for the whistle; while water was being loaded at Swandale, I had time to get to the train. When I went, I didn't know when I would get back!
"The doctor's salary was $275 a month and he was on call 24 hours every day with office hours from 7:00 am - 12:00 pm; 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm in the evening except Sunday. After one year, he recieved one week vacation, without pay. The office and drugs were furnished but there was no office help. Therefore, I assisted him with in-home deliveries.
"Each company employee was charged $2.75 per month - called check off plan - for medical care. Patients could visit the office or call the doctor as often as they wanted for this fee. OB cases were charged $10 and the money turned in to the company. Seven babies in 24 hours was our record.
"Calls were answered on a motor car, furnished with driver by the company. Sometimes we went by horseback if the family didn't live along the railroad track.
"In the summer of 1932, he treated 28 cases of typhoid; all recovered!
LIFE WAS GOOD FOR ERC&L EMPLOYEES as told by Jerrold Murphy
"For many years the 'company' and the 'company stores', et al, have been much maligned. But through the many stories that are now appearing on this website, the message is getting out that the companies and their owners were, in many cases, very benevolent.
"Living in Swandale seems primitive now, but back then, it was like paradise. Consider - the company owned everything. That seems bad, but on the other hand they took care of everything! House needs a new roof, they put it on. Fence falls down, they fix it. Need a doctor, he's paid for. Electricity, yep, they provided it, and although it had to be paid for, this was first done at a time when much of the rest of the county did not have electricity. Swandale even had streetlights, again at a time when that was rare. And the company provided work for family members of employees, even if they might not have been able to find work elsewhere.
"And as indicated in several of the stories below, Mr. Bradley himself was a generous man."
KEEPING EVERYONE FED by Cody Burdette
Cody started hostling on the ERC&L in 1956. Mr. Guy Frame was the night fireman at the Swandale sawmill at that time and the two men talked alot about the "old days". Cody reports that Guy said that during the Great Depression of the 1930's the mill did not run very much so in order for employees at Swandale to get groceries from the store, Bradley came up with a plan. Each day a different crew would take the engine and log loader up and down Buffalo Creek, cleaning trash from the creek. Guy said that if it had not been for this work alot of folks would have gone hungry.
NEIGHBORS HELPING NEIGHBORS by Patsy.Baughman
"I have had people come up to me and say they remember my Dad (a clerk in the store) and during hard times they would find a little bag of candy in their groceries. And they knew, and the other clerks knew, that he would slice a few extra slices of lunchmeat for families who had several children and little to feed them with."
STORE PRICING CODES by Herald Baughman
Before products were placed for sale in the stores of the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company, the wholesale and retail prices were written on each product. The wholesale prce was written in code. The code was derived from the J. G. Bradley's name as follows:
J G B R A D L E Y
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 (stood alone)
A product would be priced like this, for example:
Wholesale price G L A ($2.75)
Retail price 3. 1 0
Herald indicates that the code was never broken and did not become common knowledge among the shoppers.
MR. BRADLEY AND HIS CLEAN WHITE SHIRTS by Peter Silitch
Peter recalls that Mr. Bradley would actually go into the Rich Run mine from time to time. He would go in wearing a suit, whiteshirt and tie. As Peter tells it, Bradley somehow never got coaldust on his shirt. He came out with it as white as when he entered!
CHRISTMAS IN SWANDALE by Patsy Baughman
"Santa was always at the Community Building where we always had a Christmas program. He passed out little brown bags of fruit, nuts and candy to everyone.
I lived in the first house straight up the steps from the Swandale company store when my Dad was the manager and I can remember very vividly Santa peering through my kitchen window one night. It seems that I was not being very nice at the dinner table and someone in my family slipped on the Santa 'false face', as we called it. Santa appeared at the window and was trying to scare me into being a good little girl. That was before I caught on that the family owned such a 'false face'!
Phil Bonzon took this photo of Christmas in Swandale on his layout. The photo appeared on the cover of the December 2009 issue of RAILROAD MODEL CRAFTSMAN.