Clyde Beal: Growing up in mining camp led to life in ministry
Caudle Adkins was born 86 years ago in the Youngstown coal mining camp in Logan County. The bill for that delivery was deducted from his father's pay check by the mining company. It was a time when coal companies owned everything. When living conditions were substandard, miners pay was inadequate, and most of the houses they lived in were without indoor plumbing. The streets in those coal camps were mostly dirt lanes covered with coal soot.
"Practically everything a miner needed came from the company store," said Adkins. "There's a lot of truth to that old mining song by Tennessee Ford, 'Another day older and deeper in debt.' Once the necessities were bought from the company store, and the bill was paid on payday, there wasn't a whole lot left. My father was fortunate enough that he didn't work in those mines. He worked at the company blacksmith shop repairing mining cars and other mining equipment. Dad was a proud veteran from World War I who served in France. I remember some of the stories he used to tell about the terrible conditions they endured during that war."
Adkins talked about attending the one-room school house where grades first through sixth were taught around a coal-fired pot belly stove. He spoke about the lean years brought on by the depression, and how his father found work when the mines laid practically everyone off.
The depression years were particularly hard for the coal companies of West Virginia and especially those families who lived in those coal camps. Even on the best of days, mining coal came hand in hand with hardships and struggles. When the depression came, miners were forced to find other means to support the family.
"Dad found work under the Works Progress Administration (WPA)," said Adkins. "He became the Lincoln County Supervisor for the WPA in charge of public work projects. But my mother kept right on watching every penny that came through the front door."
In fact, his mother may have been responsible for raising the meaning of the word frugal to a higher level. This was especially true when it came to butchering their prize hogs. Adkins said that the only thing left when mom butchered a hog was the squeal. Nothing was wasted; even the entrails were gladly accepted by the less fortunate for making chitterlings.
His father's new job working for the WPA meant moving to Hamlin. This was a big improvement for young Adkins education. Even with all the modern facilities at school, Adkins still managed to occasionally find himself heading to the principal's office because of his deviant behavior. On one occasion when his teacher sent him to the main office, Adkins knew a paddling was in order. He stopped by the library and secured a few magazines under the rear of his jeans. Much to his dismay, the material was discovered and removed before punishment was administered.
As the economy began recovering during the early 1940s, Adkins' father was given his old job back at the mines. And along with that came some of the same old chores that young Adkins dreaded.
"Dad had made arrangements with many of the neighbors in the coal camp to save table scraps to feed his hogs with," said Adkins. "So I had to carry a five gallon bucket going door to door collecting left overs. That bucket got heaver with each stop; it was also embarrassing passing my friends with that ole bucket. Something I did enjoy though was catching chickens for mom, who would wring their necks in preparation for Sunday dinner."
Adkins joked about the family "Frigidaire" in the nearby creek. This was a rather ingenious wood box placed in a cold running stream. Holes were drilled in each end allowing the cold water to trickle through. Inside the box was milk, cheese, eggs and a few other perishables that were kept fresh.
Adkins eventually quit school and went to work for the Pepsi Cola plant near Logan in Stollings, W.Va., where he made $12 from Monday through noon Saturday. On Sundays, he was paid $10 by the mining company to replace railway ties from sunup until sundown. The pay was good, but the work was back breaking.
The long hours and hard work finally brought to surface the lure of the military. Travel, exotic locations, and a wide open new world beyond the mountains of West Virginia soon found Adkins at Huntington's old Vanity Fair taking a Navy physical.
"While standing in formation just before taking our enlistment oath," said Adkins. "They made an announcement, if anyone wanted to go back home -- step forward. We all stood our ground, and within a few hours my buddies and I were on a train heading for Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, Ill. But we wondered what would have happened to anyone brave enough to step forward."
Navy life for Adkins consisted of endless hours of KP duty, physical fitness, marching, and training, especially 20 mm machine gun training. Weighing only 126 pounds, the recoil of that machine gun would knock young Adkins backward.
Finally the day came when assignments were handed out. Adkins was sure he was going to be assigned to a large sea going ship. Instead he was transferred to Norfolk, Va., where he cleaned and stored old amphibious landing vessels. He stayed at this location during his entire enlistment.
After his discharge, Adkins returned to his roots in Logan County and the mines. He found work at the country store and eventually landed a better position operating a coal tipple for Youngstown mining. He also got hooked on religion.
"I went to a revival once," said Adkins. "And I wondered why this preacher didn't talk about subjects that people needed to hear. Rather than speak directly from the Bible, he just sort of beat around the bush avoiding the true message of the gospel. So I just decided to become a preacher and tell people what they needed to hear."
Before coming to Huntington, Adkins was the minister at Freewill Baptist Church in Logan. He once conducted an ongoing revival for 100 days straight. He has been invited to preach at churches in Logan, Charleston, Portsmouth, Tennessee, Florida and Michigan. And if you would like to hear the gospel message from Adkins on the radio, you may do so on at 4 p.m. Saturdays on 107.9 FM. He's been preaching on the radio for more than 30 years.
Adkins is a retired Nickel Plant employee. He married the former Patsy Ruth Stidum, their marriage together started 64 years ago this July -- a romance that began in Franklin's Dairy Bar in Logan a lifetime ago.
Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer looking for family stories. Write him at email@example.com.