They’re Calling the Men because Something is Wrong!

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the sawmill whistle woke me in the middle of one night.  At first I heard it in my mind, like a dream.  But then I woke, or Mom woke me.  The whistle kept blowing and blowing, and Dad rushed out of the house to see if he could help.  Mom, Ben (my younger brother), and I could see orange flames against the night sky, shooting high above the tree tops.  The rest is a vague memory, so I asked Mom and Dad about it.

Mom (a native of Gihon Springs):

“When we woke in the middle of the night, I said, ‘They’re calling the men because something is wrong!’

“Your dad said, ‘It probably just went off [by accident].’

“I repeated, ‘No.  They’re calling the men because something is wrong!’”

Dad:  “It was about midnight when the sawmill whistle started going off.  I thought, ‘Surely it’s not 6:00.’”  That’s when the steam whistle usually went off—6 a.m.   It was a steam whistle, like the ones on steam boats, operated by steam power.  The mill, itself, was steam-powered.  It had a huge fly-wheel that kept it in perpetual motion.

“Basically, I watched like everybody else because there was nothing we could do.  The fire was too big.”    There were about 75-100 people standing around, watching the fire.  There were a half-a-dozen fire vehicles.  It was the sawdust house that caught on fire.

The mill had a separate shed that housed the lumber.  The fire fighters soaked it to keep it from catching on fire.  Oil to keep the machinery working fueled the inferno.  There was a 200-gallon propane tank with a pop-off valve that was nearby.  The propane was used for various things but not to run the mill.  “The propane tank kept going off when the pressure built up, making a sound like a cannon.  Boom!”

With sirens going off, police cars, fire trucks…it was very loud.  “You hate it for the folks.  Men put out of work.  Loss of money.”  But saw mills are easy to catch on fire….

The sound of the sawmill whistle was low and high-pitched at the same time. Mournful.

The Bigbee County Geological Society says that most of the early Bigbee settlers were farmers, but forestry later became the leading source of economic growth in the county.

The Tombigbee River was first used for trade before the railroad was finished in 1912. The geological society affirms that this railroad went from north to south, but the railroad that I’m most familiar with went from east to west, cutting through the Findley fields. The Latitude & Bigbee train system was chugging down these tracks by the time I was around. I liked the sound of its shortened name: L & B.

There was a sawmill about a half-mile from our farm—the Gihon Springs Sawmill. My Uncle Gene worked there.

I used to like watching the empty boxcars being filled with sawdust, which would be taken to the nearest paper mill.

A long shoot was attached to the sawmill and hovered high above one of the tracks.  A boxcar would be waiting below while the shoot released cascades of yellow sawdust, until the boxcar was filled.

The sawmill had what everyone called a “whistle” that called the workers in to work. I think it blew at lunch and at quitting time, too.
Our store and house was a half-mile away, but we could still hear the wailing of the sawmill whistle. It was low and high-pitched at the same time. Mournful. The closest thing I’ve ever heard to it is my tea kettle when the steam builds up in it.

Once in the middle of the night, when I was a pre-teen, that whistle woke me from my dreams. It was too early for the workers to be called in to work. There was a fire….But that story will have to wait for another day.

We were no Kennedys…nor Rockefellers, for that matter.

In the last few days of 1847, the Alabama State Legislature formed the county where I was born, Bigbee County.  According to the 1850 census, Bigbee* County had a population of 8,000. My maternal ancestors were part of that population of early settlers. Prior to this, they lived in Mt. Sterling, KY… named after Stirling, Scotland per http://www.uky.edu/KentuckyAtlas/ky-mount-sterling.html.

I come from a warm, loving, boisterous clan named Findley (Gaelic/Irish/Scottish for “White Warrior”).  I don’t know much about their history, but I do know that Gihon Springs was mostly Findleys. Please don’t think that I’m bragging on my family name.  We weren’t Rockefellers or Kennedys by any stretch.  There was just a lot of us, and Gihon Springs is where we were planted.

Gihon Springs set at the crossroads of two roads, Highway 17 and County Road 11. In fact, Gihon Springs was once called Lincoln Crossroads before the name changed.

Highway 17 was the main road that went past our store, Gihon Springs Grocery. It went north, up to Florence and beyond.

To the South, it went all the way through Canterbury and then on down to Mobile.  It had yellow lines.  The other road took you west to Latitude and east to Huckabee.  I don’t know if it went past Huckabee or if it just stopped right there.  This was a county road and it never got painted, if my memory serves me right.  It was a rough road, patched with rectangles of patches.

I lived here, behind Gihon Springs Grocery, for the first 18 years of my life.

* Some names changed to protect privacy.

The Day I hugged Lawrence Welk

autograph  When the Lawrence Welk Show was on prime-time telly, I don’t think we missed a show. Mom and Dad would sit in their recliners, and brother Ben and I  would throw our sleeping bags in front of the t.v. to watch. It was one of my favorite programs. The music was beautiful, as were the ladies’ dresses. My Papa and Gramma watched it, too, and sometimes Gramma and I would discuss the show when we got together. This was the beginning of my music literacy. I didn’t understand why my school friends thought it was a bore.

Note: I also learned to recognize many classical pieces from watching Looney Tunes, but that’s a different story altogether.

When I was nine years old, my parents took us to see a live performance in Jackson, Mississippi. I wore a pink dress, embellished with satin ribbons, that Mom made me. I was in music heaven. I really liked the Welk rendition of “Chattanooga Choo-choo,” sung by the ladies.

At intermission, Mom herded me through the crowd to get Mr. Welk’s autograph. When I got to him, I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I finally managed to give him a big hug and say, “We watch you every night.” I could have kicked myself. Lawrence Welk didn’t come on every night.

Now when Lawrence Welk comes on PBS, I sigh in happy reminisce, “Ohhhhh, Lawrence Welk!”

Lefty (my darling left-handed, left-brained hubby) isn’t really into the show, but he has tolerated it on my behalf.

I’m posting some of the pictures, below. The little blonde hugging Mr. Welk is me, holding up my newly autographed program. The big picture is from the back of my program that I got Mr. Welk to sign.

Steph_Welk