My Wonderful High School Jobs
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by Frank Shortt
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When I was in High School in Buchanan County, Virginia in the 1950's jobs were few and far between. Another obstacle was that our
home was in an isolated portion of the County and there were no businesses around to provide jobs for teenagers.
thirteen we moved from my old childhood home down on the banks of Grassy Creek to another home up on Shack Ridge, further down into
Buchanan County. This put me farther from any contact with anyone who could provide me with any kind of work for pay. Dad barely made
a living slaving in the coal mine from daylight until dark each day. The only time he got any money was when the coal could be shipped
to the railway line over at Fork Ridge in Tazewell County. All the other coal mining delivery points in Buchanan County were union
and could only take union coal. Dad could not afford to hire my brothers and me to cut timbers for him to hold the top of the mine
up. We worked mighty hard in the fields for my dad for our room and board!
One morning we noticed some strangers driving out
the only dirt road that led past our house with quite a bit of equipment pertaining to mining. These 'strangers' turned out to be
Dewey Long and his son-in-law, Harry Wright. They had bought a lease from the Premier Coal Co. and were preparing to mine some coal,
even though it was on my dad's property. All the coal rights had been sold years ago by the previous owners of the land. So, what
could we do but allow them to drive right in front of our house, have the coal hauled on the same dirt road, and allow anyone who
worked for them to do the same?
This turned out to be an opportunity for my brother Wendell and me to make a little money. Dad
had forty acres of good timber and he allowed Wendell and me to cut timbers for the new mine. We got a whopping 10 cents for every
timber that the mine used, no matter the length. We were not the greatest businessmen, so we didn't understand the finer points of
negotiation with mine owners. We were just happy to have a paying job! Each day, during the summer, when we were not working in the
cornfield and combination garden for dad, we were busily plying our trade as timber cutters. We did all this with a two man cross-cut
saw that had to be pulled by Wendell on one end and me on the other. I was the skinny one so I sometimes 'rode the saw' causing it
to cut too deeply into the wood and thereby impeding our efforts. Many times Wendell would caution me, "Frank, stop riding the saw!"
I was always somewhat of a daydreamer.
After a while, Wendell dropped out of High School and he and 'Bub' Pruitt went to Norfolk,
Virginia to look for greener pastures. He had finished the ninth grade and was beginning tenth when he pulled his freight for other
horizons. This was when Bill Whited took his place on the saw. Bill was about my age and we were good friends so this prevented us
from coming to blows over my 'riding' the saw. By this time I had become accustomed to the rigors of the job and had gained a few
muscles on my skinny arms and was able to keep up with Bill, who was a little stronger than me. We did this job until John Rose came
along with a chain saw and put us out of business. Thank God, the mine owners had grown to like me during this time and so when we
were put out of business, I went to work for them outside the mine filling dummy dynamite bags, keeping the men supplied with needed
items in the mine, and keeping the outside of the operation cleaned up. It did not pay much, but I was able to buy some needed clothes
and be able to go to a movie on the weekend with my friend Bill Whited. We always shared whatever we had. We even helped each other
with our gardening work. I made friends with most of the coal loaders who were only in their late teens and worked out of necessity
to help their parents support their large families.
My next venture before entering the USAF was to cut brush for neighbors.
Brush grows profusely on the Virginia hillsides as there is ample rain and plenty of native soil to grow just about anything. The
last job I had was for one of my dad's cousins cutting brush with a brush hook and mowing scythe making a whopping 50cents an hour.
My years on the crosscut saw paid off when I went to do this back-breaking work. Had it not been for my employer's wife, I would not
even have gotten paid! She is one fine lady that I shall never forget.The low pay did not include fighting all the yellow jackets,
hornets, and bumble bees on the hillside. There is no need explaining why I joined the Air Force as soon as I graduated High School!