The Tillers Talk About the Gap

Some of the things they told me were hard to believe, but it was fun to sit there and imagine what it would be like.

This interview in about the history of Rocky Gap and the people living in it, I interviewed Ralph (RT), Bess (B), Buford (BT), Nannie Rose (NT), George (GT), and Ila Tiller (IT). Each of them told me what it was like to grow up in Rocky Gap. They told me many stories and facts about living here. I found this to be very interesting because I found out many things that I did not know.

This interview was conducted by Jamie Trail. (1995)

One thing that would be hard to live without is electricity, but it seems like they found plenty to do. Ralph Tiller, remembered a lot of things and told me some very interesting stories. One of my favorite stories is how they got ice, because now I can just go home and push a button and ice is there. I'm glad we have better technology now, and it made me think of how easy life is today. Even though they didn't have some of these luxuries it seemed like they had plenty of fun and excitement. Another thing I found interesting about Ralph is that he owned a service station for many years and had lots of stories on the people he served.

Bess Tiller has lived in Rocky Gap longer than any of the men, and had some different stories to tell me. I thought one story that was neat is when she was talking about the train and who rode it. I have never been on a train before so I think I would have liked a train running through Rocky Gap.

Buford Tiller better known as Boots is a man who has a lot of history behind him. He has helped build many of the schools and houses in Bland County. He also helped build the post office and many other structures. I think it was great to find out that my Great Uncle helped build the schools I attend.

Nannie Rose Tiller helped me a lot by giving me lots of facts about Rocky Gap. She told me the history of the businesses in Rocky Gap and the bank robberies that have taken place in Rocky Gap. She also told me about a doctor who lived in Rocky Gap and only charged one to three dollars for house calls, which I find amazing.

George Tiller is my grandfather and told me he doesn't remember all that they did, but he told me some very interesting stories. I think it is neat, because he and his family lived about where I do now. He told me that a lot of things have changed in this community and where I live. Every now and then we can find some evidence that they lived up near my house. Ila Tiller didn't live around here but she helped me get more information, and made up more questions for me. I'm glad I did this interview and hopefully I will keep it so my kids can look back on it and wonder how people made it without the luxuries they have.

The Camp

Jamie: Why do they call the "Camp" the camp?

Buford: Oh, there was a camp over there where they had all those camp houses.

Nannie Rose: It was for the sawmill workers to live in,

Buford: It was a sawmill camp is what it was.

Ralph: The same company that put the dinky track built the camp houses to house their employees just like the coal companies build houses to house their employees in the coal field.

Buford:They called them coal camps or saw mill camps.

Ralph: Yeah, coal ... and this was a lumber camp. In other words when they needed people to work for them and there was no houses they put up a a bunch of houses for them to live in and work for a living. They used a lot of script. Script was things that they used in place of money they didn't give them money in advance, but they could go draw script and take it to the store and buy with it.

The Ice Man Cometh and the First Car

Ralph: He worked in this Sutphin's service station while we's in school. He worked up there in the summer time, and I hauled ice. Helped the old man deliver ice, we had an ice truck come up through here. We had no electricity, no refrigerators so the ice truck ran through here about four days a week. Mondays we delivered ice all around Rocky Gap, up Clearfork and then we'd go to Bland, and go from there to White Gate, and come back through the Wilderness. Tuesdays we'd delivered ice all around here, and we'd go to Bland and deliver ice over there. Then we'd go to Ceres and we'd go plum on through to Smyth County with that load of ice, what little we'd have left, and then back. And we did that four days a week. I helped haul ice and I was there in almost every house in Rocky Gap, and Bland County. We'd carry ice in little old ice boxes, some of them hold fifty pounds, some of them hold twenty-five pounds. And they had a ice cart, a little four corner ice cart, that had ... What was it? Twenty-five, fifty-eight, twenty-five, fifty, and seventy-five cents. What ever poundage of ice you wanted you turned that number up in the top that diamond cart or that square cart. You turned that number up and the ice man could see it-. from the. road. And he chunk off what ever that was and carry in and put in your refrigerator. People would pay or leave the money on top of the refrigerator, if it wouldn't be the correct change you took money out of your pocket and made the correct change, took the money on back to the truck, sometimes you'd never see the people in the house.

George: Well he said chopped it off that's what he meant. Because they had real long block about as long as the truck bed,

Ralph: Well they come. in three hundred pound blocks, and about thirty-six inches and, but they was three hundred pounds. And that old guy that helped haul ice would take his hands and measure it this way and ch-ch-ch-ch-ch. Then with that ice pick and he could cut you fifty pounds of ice off with that. When we started with the block of ice in the morning it had three hundred and thirty pounds in it, and at-five.o'clock in that evening the. ice melted all day, but we kept it covered with two tarp covers, and feed sacks. What do you call them?

Bess: Burlap ...

Ralph: We called them bark sack but a ...

Buford: Burlap ...

Ralph: Burlap sacks and we kept it covered and all day you wouldn't drift thirty pounds off that block of ice he could still cut three hundred pounds out of that block of ice, at five o'clock in the evening. You'd think ice would melt faster than that but we kept it covered up good, and it, didn't meIt that fast. I bought my first. car in 1936 I give fifteen whole dollars for it.

Buford:This ain't Rocky Gap history.

Ralph: And we went to Mechanicsburg to see it run, but when we went to get it, it wouldn't run, We towed it with a chain from Mechanicsburg all the way up to Bland and across Brushy Mountain, and all the way home, and it was two weeks before I got it to fire up; but I did get it started. You remember going after it?

George: I didn't go with you,

Bess: And she's got-- that thing running.

Buford: What kind of car was it?

George: Model eight Ford coupe.

Ralph: Roadster

George: Roadster, yeah. I remember you bringing it in, but I wasn't with you.

Ralph: Yeah, I put them little wings on the windshield, rumble seat in it, new top on it.

Buford: How much did you spend on it?

Ralph: Fifteen whole dollars.

Buford: Fifteen dollars.

Ralph: Yeah.

George: I remember when you got it, after you got it running.I rode in the new seat a couple of times.

Working for a Living

Jamie: Can you tell me what you did for a living?

Ralph: She needs a loud speaker over there.

Bess: She said what did you do for a living.

Buford: Laid brick

Nannie Rose: Drove the school bus, worked for the school board as maintenance. Worked in the post office as a clerk.

Buford: She knows a lot more about it than I do. Go ahead,

Bess: Ask him what of the buildings he built in town.

Nannie Rose. He's built quite a few houses in Bland County. He helped build both of the school houses in Rocky Gap and Bland, and worked on Bluefield Regional Hospital when it was Bluefield Sanitarium.

Bess: And he built the post office.

Nannie Rose: Yeah he helped build the Masonic Lodge and the post office, and built the. post office at Bland. Helped build doctor Kegley's office, I mean house, didn't you help build Dr.. Kegley's home.

Buford: It took you all a while to name all the ones you could think of.

Nannie Rose: I'd say he's built two hundred houses.

Buford: Brick homes

Nannie Rose: Yeah brick mostly.

The Railroad

Jamie: Can you tell me where the railroad went, you know approximately where the railroad went down through Rocky Gap?

Ralph: This big band mill up here had what they called a dinky line..

Bess: Well now she's talking about the railroad, and it came across down there at the bridge it come around behind ...

Ralph:And went to Bastian.

Bess: And went to Bastian.

Ralph: It went to Suitor, all the way to Suitor. It came from Narrows the railroad came from Narrows tip through Wolf Creek into Rocky Gap tip to Bastian and on up to Suitor. And they had sidings and stations, They had station in Bastian, and a station in Suitor, a station in Hicksville and in a station in Rocky Gap. That you would board the passenger. Then they had branched lines, they had a branched line. that came off over here to the Mills and tip to the saw mills.

Buford: Stock pins

Ralph: Yeah and there was a stock pin over there. People shipped their cattle by rail out of here.

Bess: We got the mail by railroad.

Ralph: Yeah the mail came in by rail. And then this big saw mill up here which was a big band mill was there when we moved here with a saw on the wheels and another saw up stairs in the piling room. The dinky line went up behind your daddy's house all up through Laurel Valley to Tazewell County. Now that was all tore out by the time we got here but the old cross ties and everything was still there, it hadn't been torn out many years. And the old engine was setting up there and it was a great big old engine, that pulled them logs. And I don't know whether it went into any other valley or not. Did that dinky have any other tracks in any other hollers?

George: Didn't think they did.

Ralph: Just up Laurel Valley was where their dinky lines run. But the railroad track came from Narrows down to Rocky Gap to Hicksville, Bastian, and Suitor. And they used to haul manganese that was used in iron to make steel, they hauled lumber.

Bess: But this big bridge with the iron work over top of it, that was the railroad bridge, so it came up there and went around behind the old bank building and crossed the creek, I mean out there next to that other bride out there...

Ralph: When they closed the railroad the state took it over and put a paved highway on the railroad bed.

Nannie Rose: Well the railroad was built up here in 1919.

Ralph: It was stopped in 1942 didn't they.

Nannie Rose: 46

Ralph: 46

Nannie Rose:That's when they pulled the tracks.

Jamie: Did any of you all ever ride the train?

Ralph: No, Bess rode the train.

Bess: I used to go see my grandma on it'.. My grandma lived in Narrows ...

Ralph: Did you ever ride it Nannie Rose.

Nannie Rose: Not that one, I was wrong that railroad track was built in 1912 and was bought by Norfolk Western in 19l2 there was another company that built it.

Bess: A bunch of China mans built it, they built it with Chinese people. cause I heard dad talk about how the Chinese built it, how they eat and everything.

Ralph: Next question,

Jamie: Do you have any interesting stories about the railroad?

Ralph: No, in particular. This old feller I talked to one time was working on the section crew and they was a black snake in a pile of tires and he went to the pile of tires to get a tire off of it and this old black snake got after him and run him about half in the air and half on the ground. And as he went by this one feller, the feller hit the snake with a shovel and knocked him down and they killed it, but that thing got after him and run him.

Nannie Rose: Well the mail was hauled on the railroad on the train. It came from Narrows to Rocky Gap. They threw the bag of mail off over there at the depot and John Honaker when hear that train whistle blowing the boy would jerk off his hat and he would almost......

Ralph: Throw a wheel barrel after it.

Nannie Rose: Well some of it, but he'd get over there and bring that mail to the post office.

CT:I heard mom speak riding, catching the train here and riding it to Narrows, and then from there to Bluefield.

Jamie Trail (class of 1995)

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