Archive for December, 2011

A few days ago I read of a fire in Fort Gay that had destroyed a building and damaged others plus the Fort Gay city hall.  I wrote Bill Wellman a note asking if he knew of the house and it’s history plus some other comments regarding the area.  If you have read any of Bill’s writing you will know that he has great recall of Fort Gay and the 40’s and 50’s there.  I would have to say  that Fred Reid also has great recall.  Bill sent me the below reply and comments.  I think he expresses things that we would all have liked to have seen to the town of Fort Gay.  Enjoy.

Hi Richard,

  Now that you have opened the door, please allow me to reminisce a bit about that section of town.  First, I looked at the Google satellite photo of that part of town and it looks like that was the only building left on that section of the street.  As I recall, there were three buildings there when I was young.  First, on the corner there was Jim and Fays Tavern.  We overturned the outhouse behind that building one year on Halloween and it rolled all the way down to the creek.  The next building had Carl Frasher’s barber shop and I visited that shop so many times, most often a reluctant visit.  And I believe Carl (or was it Karl?) charged 25 cents per head, sometimes using a hand powered hair clipper.  Does 25 cents sound right for that time?  The other half of that small building housed the Fort Gay Post Office.  Two small grilled windows graced the left wall but I think only one window was ever opened at a time.  The wall opposing the entry door was full of mail boxes, each with its own combination lock.

 Later after the Post Office moved into the new building across the street a mom and pop operated laundry occupied the Post Office space.  I believe I recall who the couple was but can’t be sure because by that time I had been gone from the area for a while.

 The third building there, the one that I think burned, was occupied by Lando Smith family.  I am not sure if he was the long time resident there or not but I can recall only his family there during that time.  During that part of my life Lando was a part-time worker for Ray Ailiff. He may have been retired from some other occupation, I just can’t be sure.  He sometimes worked in the store across the tracks and sometimes he accompanied drivers on the truck routes that Ray operated.  During my early teens, I accompanied Ray in a lot of his trips selling candy, cookies and notions on routes in WVa and Kentucky.  Remember that the three brothers, Ray, William, or Wigg, and Tom had separate routes.  I recall traveling up US 52 to Crum and Kermit and some of the ‘hollows’ around the coal camps a number of times.  Later on, perhaps in 1950, I recall one trip in particular that was a deciding trip for me. Lando was breaking me in on the routes and we stopped at many small stores that served perhaps one or two creeks and hollers in a given area.  On one stop we entered the store that was a raw wooden building, barely more than storage shed.  But it did have a covered porch on the front.  The door to the store was unlocked but as we stepped in it was obvious that no one was tending the store.  We went outside and waited on the porch for a couple of minutes, after which a man greeted us from the adjacent house.  His wife soon followed him into the store.  After telling him of our wares, they decided to purchase one box of candy.  The name of the product was Penny Lunch.  It consisted of a 360 count individually wrapped treat that was basically a peanut butter stuffed hard candy log.  The price to the store was, as I recall, about $1.60.  And, as the name implies, the item was sold for one cent each.  Both the man and his wife had to scour several places, even going into the house to retrieve some change, in order to come up with the total price of the product.  I dutifully wrote up the order, delivered the box and we left for the next store.  Even though all of the other stores we were visiting resulted in orders comfortably larger than that one, they were certainly not the gang-busters sales that I felt we would have to have kept the route going.  So that was the deciding day that took me away from the Ailiff Brothers Candy Company, Merchandise Jobbers Extraordinaire, for good.

 I am sorry to hear that Fred is suffering from pneumonia now.  This is the time of the year that makes getting rid of that malady worse than ever.  I knew that he has had to rely on oxygen.  I guess all of us ex-smokers can fall prey to that kind of problem at any time.  But I can knock on wood that both Ilse and I have been lucky for the past two years, avoiding any serious colds, etc.

 We just experienced three days of rain but the total rainfall has only been 1 & 1/2 inch.  We are over 14 inches in deficit now for the year.

      I expect to receive my Wayne County News tomorrow so I hope they will have a write-up on the fire in Fort Gay.  There have been some really disheartening stories in recent issues about the problems in Fort Gay.  I think most of the problems reported are on the water system and sewer system.  Those systems are about 60 to 70 years old now, maybe older.  And they are really in jeopardy of collapsing, I think, judging from the stories.  They even had to call onWayneCountyGovt.for assistance and they had to connect on to Lavallette water system just to keep some customers supplied.  I am sure you have heard all of this from your visits back there but it so sad to hear stories like that.  I also noticed that some people have lost their land and property to tax liens.  That area has been passed by the kind hand of commerce, industry and fate, or so it seems to a long distance observer such as myself.  Even as a teenager I used to complain about some land owners who, reportedly, refused to sell land to prospective industry builders.  Of course large pieces of level land accessible to road and rail transportation comes far and few between.  Once I thought that natural gas might bring about a growing industry or at least some small employers who might make the area grow.  That is one of the reasons that I cheer for Prichard now with the intermodal facility.  Hopefully they can make use of the Big Sandy River too, to add to that facility.  It is just a sad thought about my place of growing up.  I didn’t do as well in life as I had wished I could have thus far.  (Is it too late to claim I am still a work in progress?)  But now I wish Fort Gay could have benefitted from some industry for the area and expanded into a more thriving and ever-renewing place.

 And it seems that illegal drug sales and use in Fort Gay has reached saddening proportions.  But I read very little about the Fort Gay Police Department now.

  If you have read this far, it is too late to tell you to just hit ‘delete’.  Maybe this is just a vent for sadness on my part.

 The happy part of this time is that we just had a joyous Christmas and hope to have a good start in the New Year.  All of our family gathered here and we celebrated quietly.  Hope you had the same good time.

Bill W.


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Out thanks to Marcella Thompson for passing along the below obituary notice.  As you can see Chief Master Sergeant Back devoted his lifetime in service to his country.  He was a member of the FGHS Class of 1958.  Our country will miss him


Funeral services for a former Ashland, Louisa and Fort Gay WV resident who served 26 years in the Air Force and attained the highest enlisted rank and was the recipient of one of the military branch’s most prestigious awards, will be conducted Wednesday, Dec. 28 in Universal City, TX.

Charles D. Back, 71, died Dec. 13. A resident of Gilbert, AZ, he retired from the USAF as a Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt) and then worked for Honeywell for 20 years. He was born in Fort Gay to Phoebe Ratliff Back of Ashland and the late David Back. Also surviving are his wife, Maria (Joyce) Back, and their children, Guy, Gary, Wendy, David and Crystal, and grandchildren, Jessica, Devon, Cody, Phoebe, Carson and James. He is also survived by two sisters, Patricia (Elton) Ramey and Martha (James) Preston, both of Ashland.

The funeral will be held at Colonial Funeral Home in Universal City at noon, with burial in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery at 1 :30 p.m. He grew up in Louisa and Fort Gay and attended Ashland High School and Berea College. He was a 1958 graduate of Fort Gay High School.

CMSgt Back was the subject of a feature story in the Ashland Daily Independent in July 1981. Earlier that month he had been presented the Dudley C. Sharp Award during a ceremony at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio, TX. The presentation was made by Secretary of the Air Force Verne Orr and CMSgt Back was the first enlisted recipient. He was given the honor for developing and testing a centralized aircraft support system. It had a projected life-cycle savings of more than $75 million in personnel, fuel and mainte­nance costs for the Air Training Command.

Other military honors include: Airman of the Quarter, Man of the Year, a meritori­ous service medal for outstanding achievement, two Air Force commendation medals. and five campaign stars for Vietnam service. He had tours in Northern Africa, England and Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Da Nang, Vietnam.

CMSgt Back began working on his new logistical support system in 1978 and it had to receive Congressional approval. He worked with architectural engineers contracted to design the Centralized Aircraft Support System which was tested and put into service at Randolph. It was designed to service T-38 trainers and was to be expanded to other Air Training Command bases.

The family has requested in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Fort Gay Baptist Church, P.O. Box 184, Fort Gay, WV 25514 or to the Fort Gay High School Alumni Association, c/o Joe Damron, 211 Hardwick Ridge Road, Fort Gay, WV 25514.

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John Plymale forwarded the below bit of writing to me.  It was sent to him by one of his friends.  It was probably written by someone many years ago situated on a hill top on Queens Creek.  While it is a day or two late for Christmas,  it is still appropriate.  It certainly takes one back to one’s childhood.































          THIS IS A TIME FOR





          JOYS WE AWAIT.



            (AUTHOR UNKNOWN)

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(Dec 26, 2011)

Lt. Colonel MICHAEL SCOTT LAKIN, 42, of Charleston, W.Va., died on December 22, 2011, from injuries sustained after the crash of his aerobatic plane near Marysville, Ohio. He was born in Huntington, W.Va., on August 23, 1969, to Doris Short Lakin (deceased) and Lawrence Ferguson Lakin. Michael is survived by the light of his life, daughter Kathryn Patricia Lakin and her mother Dr. Carrie Lakin of Charleston, W.Va.; his father Lawrence F. Lakin and his wife Mary Lou Pelfrey Lakin of Huntington, W.Va.; a proud brother Richard Lee “Rick” Lakin, his wife Kaye, and their son Andrew of Ashland, Kentucky; a beloved sister, Patricia “Patti” Lakin Smith and her husband Ted of Milton, W.Va.; a brother by marriage, Larry Michael Pelfrey, his wife Teresa and their sons Andrew and Tyler of Huntington, W.Va.; and a sister by marriage, Lynn Pelfrey Kearns, her husband John and their children Jack, Bradley and Caroline of Oak Hill, Va.; special aunts and uncles Gloria “Gee Gee” and James Billups, both of whom shared his passion for flying, Carole and Ed Yetter of Zanesville, Ohio, Treva Short, of Louisa, Ky., Barbara Wright of Richmond, Kentucky, Mary and Glendell Frasher of Columbus, Ohio, Sue and Jay Stanley of Knoxville, Tennessee; and a host of cousins too numerous to name, whom he loved dearly. He also leaves behind a special friend, Cherie Rosier of Fairmont, W.Va. Michael was preceded in death by his paternal grandparents James S. and Lyda Frazier Lakin of Fort Gay, W.Va.; maternal grandparents William R. Short and Nannie Moore Short of Louisa, Ky.; two uncles, PFC Richard Lee Lakin of Fort Gay, W.Va., and Billy F. Short of Louisa, Ky.; and two aunts, Virgie Pelfrey of Huntington, W.Va., and Blanche Wellman of Ft. Gay, W.Va. Michael spent his early years in Kenova, W.Va., and his formative years in Wheelersburg, Ohio, where he attended elementary and high school, graduating from Wheelersburg High in 1987. Michael completed his first solo flight on September 15, 1985, and earned his private pilot’s license one year later, launching his aviation career. Afterward, at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., Michael earned his commercial pilot’s license at age 18 and his flight instructor certificate a year later, ultimately graduating in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Studies. Michael then joined the United States Marine Corps, for whom he flew attack helicopters in the Far East. He later served as a fixed-wing flight instructor at Naval Air Station Whiting Field near Pensacola in the Florida panhandle. After leaving active duty in 1999, Michael served with the W.Va. Air National Guard, 130th Airlift Wing, based in Charleston, and became a C-130 Hercules pilot. He was a full-time Guardsman and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He flew many combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Michael had recently returned from another deployment to Iraq, where he was an operations officer for RC-26 detachment out of Clarksburg, W.Va. Michael also flew for the W.Va. state government’s aviation unit, beginning in 2008, and was a corporate pilot for then-Governor Joe Manchin, now a U.S. Senator. In the weeks following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Michael was one of just a few pilots who helped fly troops and supplies to and from New Orleans. Michael also entertained many at airshows, piloting his 2004 American Champion Bellanca Super Decathlon stunt plane. Michael was an active member of Christ Church United Methodist in Charleston, W.Va., where he assisted as a volunteer for the Breaking Bread ministry, a free dinner church members offer to the community. He also was a member of the Pathfinder Sunday School class. The family will receive friends from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, December 26, 2011, at the Reger Funeral Home, Huntington. Funeral services will be conducted at 11 a.m. Tuesday, December 27, 2011, at Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Huntington, W.Va., by Dr. Allen Reasons and Dr. Randy Flanagan. Michael will be buried near his mother in the James A. Ferguson Cemetery in Fort Gay, W.Va. In lieu of flowers contributions may be made to the Breaking Bread ministry at Christ Church United Methodist, 1221 Quarrier Street, Charleston, W.Va. 25301.

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OK, it is nine pm and from what I hear, Santa has officially begun his trip.  I am not sure what time he departed the North Pole, but there have already been scattered reports of sightings of flying objects with an occasionall doll, candy cane, or other toy dropping out of the sky.  No hits or injuries to anyone as of this time.  Santa must have really loaded his sleigh heavy this time.  He says the bad economy has no effect on him and those that believe in Santa. 

When I was growing up on Queens Creek there was no forewarning as to when Santa would arrive.  Radar was in its infancy and not in general use, so the only way that you knew it was the time of night for him to arrive was when your parents insisted it was time for bed and if you did not comply he wouldn’t be stopping at your house.   Now that was motivation enough for me.  To bed I would go, but to sleep I would not.  While tossing and turning and letting my imagination roam,  I would hear strange creaking and thumping and I was just certain that Santa was somewhere in my house.  And I would wonder what he was leaving me, hopefully, something I had asked for.

I recall for a few weeks prior to Christmas that there would be a local radio station that would broadcast Santa reading letters from children.  I so looked forward to hearing the show and being amazed at all of the things children were asking for.  I never wrote a letter, and looking back, I wished I had.  Wouldn’t that have been a wonderful memory to  have today.  WOW! Santa read my letter on the radio.  I would have dreams of the North Pole and how wonderful it must be to live there.  All of the toys in the world, lots of candy, and the excitement of helping Santa get ready for his trip.

We had a minister at our church a few years ago that decided that because there was some paganism in early celebrations in Europe that they would teach their children that there was not Santa Claus. They taught them that many years ago that there was a Saint Nicholas who traveled around and did good deeds but that he had been dead for many years and that today’s Santa was patterned after him.  At the time his children ranged from 2 or 3 years of age up to 8 or 9.  He had his 7 year old son at the mall one December performing some shopping duties.  They were on an elevator and a lady got on who was in a talkative mood.  She asked the little boy what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas.  The little boy firmly stated to her without hesitation that, “there is no Santa, he died a long time ago”.  She was shocked at the answer and gave the minister looks that indicated her feelings.  The minister, realizing that she probably perceived him as a monster, averted his eyes and held his breath until the elevator reached his floor and he and his son could beat a retreat to another part of the mall.  Do you perhaps think that was Santa Claus’s way of getting even?

My Christmas present came last night in the birth of a great grand son in Indianapolis.  I was there and saw mother and son within a few minutes of his birth.  It is very difficult to not shed a tear of joy at such a sight.  I don’t believe I have ever felt such a joy in knowing that when I held him a short time later that I was holding in my arms the hope and salvation of all mankind.  It was a sense of wonderment in knowing the responsibility that God had already laid on his small shoulders.  How could anyone question that there is a God upon witnessing such a miracle  and that he is still creating.  There are those that may think I am a little “spacey” because I still believe in miracles and the spirit of Santa Claus but let me put it another way.  Let’s assume that in the end I am wrong and you are right.  I then have lost nothing because I have been a better and happier person because of my faith and beliefs.  But let’s assume  you are wrong.  YOU LOSE!!

My hope for all would be that for all of you that Santa would have on his sleigh a message of reassurance and a promise of good health for the coming year.

May tomorrow, the day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ be the happiest day of your life.  As Santa would say, “MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!

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 The below story is not only true but the event happened some one hundred plus years ago.  I am sure we have all heard the expression, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” and perhaps most, if not all know the story.  It certainly is worth repeating and remembering at this time of year.  It is to bad that we do not have editorial writers such as Francis Church writing today.  I, for one, cast the first vote in favor of Santa Claus.  Do  I believe in Santa Claus?  Well, what do you think?????

Sept. 21, 1897, The New York Sun published what was to become the most widely read letter to a newspaper. It was sent by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who lived with her parents in Manhattan. Below is the full text of that letter and the reply by Sun editorial writer Francis Pharcellus Church.  What an inspiration his writing is.

Dear Editor, I am 8 years old.

Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.

Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”

Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

115 W. 95th St.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10 thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


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It is with sadness that we note the following news article regarding the crash of a small aerobatics airplane at a Ohio airport involving a West Virginia man.  Michael  Scott Lakin was the son of Lawrence Lakin.  Lawrence is an alumnus of Fort Gay High School and he and Mary Lou are loyal supporters of the FGHS Memorial Scholarship.   I know all will wish to join me in offering our prayers and sympathies to Lawrence and Mary Lou on the passing of Michael.

Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 | 3:45 p.m.

A West Virginia National Guard pilot performing air maneuvers for recertification was killed in a plane crash at a central Ohio airport.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol identified the pilot as 42-year-old Michael Scott Lakin of Charleston. Dispatcher Doug Webb says he was injured in the crash around noon Thursday at the Union County Airport and died later at a hospital.

Airport general manager Ed Rusch (rush) says Lakin was performing low-altitude aerobatics for an on-site examiner when his plane crashed just south of the airport’s runway in Marysville, 25 miles northwest of Columbus. Rusch says aerobatic pilots must be recertified periodically to perform at air shows.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said in a statement that Lakin was also a pilot for the state and that Lakin was proud to serve his country.

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