Mountain Fun


Clyde Whittaker remembers some of the fun he had growing up in Monterey, Tennessee

In mid and late April when it got warm, my friend, James Way, and I started thinking of playing in a small creek about a mile away.  Every year James and I with sometime help from James’ brother Ray would move logs and rocks in place to make a crude dam.  It was not very good, but it raised the water in the hole several inches and made the hole wider.  When James and I were about 13 years old we learned to swim in that little hole.  The following year we started going to the Monterey Lake.  We usually walked almost three miles to the lake.  Soon both of us were good swimmers.  A fellow later told me that when they got to the lake if they saw two heads out in the middle of the lake they would say, “Well I see that James and Clyde are here.”

In winter James and I couldn’t afford store bought sleds.  We made our own.  The city dump was near our house about a half a mile.  We found short pieces of lumber and made a sled.  You couldn’t steer it but it would go fast downhill.

[One time} Ray Way and I were taking a long walk in the woods.  We went up a mountain and decided to go a different way back to town.  We didn’t usually use that trail.  We saw ahead of us an old man with a rifle in his arms blocking the trail.  His name was Ike Buckner, a distant cousin of mine.  He asked who I was and I said Frank Whittaker’s son.  Ike said he didn’t know Frank had a son as young as I was.  I realized he was thinking of my great uncle so I said I am Tommy Whitttaker’s grandson.  When I mentioned my grandpa a large grin came on his face and he said, “Do you want a drink?”  I was about 13 so I declined.  Ike and my great Uncle Frank made moonshine together.

There is a story about Uncle Frank Whittaker and Ike Buckner making whiskey together.  They had two barrels of mash ferment and it already had some alcohol.  Uncle Frank noticed Ike using a wheat straw taking a drop from the barrel.  He figured Ike would drink up their profit.  When they put the sprouted corn in the barrels some corn was left on the ground and rats were eating.  Frank used his pistol and shot one of the rats and put it in the barrel Ike was sipping.  Ike started sippin’ the one with the rat.  He moved to the other barrel and started sipping.  Then he went back to the barrel with the rat.  He looked at Uncle Frank and said, “Frank the one with the little rat in it is the best.”

Clyde Whittaker: Ambitious from the Get-Go


I mentioned in an earlier article about Clyde Whittaker that the whole family worked – which was the general rule of his generation.  Today Clyde will share stories about several of his jobs as well as work he did within the family.

One evening, just before Christmas I was heading home when a lady called and asked me to get her a small Christmas tree, and that she would pay 25 cents.  I did work for the family before, and she would pay me 10 cents per hour.  I remembered where there was a tree of the right size about a mile away.  It was almost dark, so I ran home to get my hatchet and ran to the tree.  Eventually, I cut the tree and delivered it to her for 25 cents.

One year I picked up potatoes in a field of several acres.  At the end of the day I couldn’t straighten up until I walked two or three blocks.  I made 20 cents per hour which was the most I had made up to that time.  They had a tractor to turn over the raised rows.  They also had several people picking the potatoes that were uncovered as well.

At 12 years old I started selling “Grit”, a weekly paper published in Pennsylvania.  On Thursday morning I got up early and got to the Post Office about 6:30 a.m., well before the place opened.  I went to the back door and got a bundle of papers.  I would go to my customers on the far side of town and to the rest after school.  Each paper was five cents and I got two cents.  But I could save for several weeks and buy a pair of bib overalls or shoes.  I don’t think I had more than twenty customers at a time.  I realized that had I been more aggressive in seeking new customers I could have made more money.  Even so I bought most of my clothes from the time I was twelve. 

A family near us offered $1.50 per month, five cents per day, to carry coal and wood to their back porch.  I did it for four or five years.  (I did other jobs for that family.  They lived in a large but old house.  They had a front porch of maybe 35 feet.  I washed the wall for the front of the house with a scrub brush and water and ammonia for 75 cents.  Lots of coal was burned [and] it made white houses gray.  This pay sounds like very little but in those days there were men working on hard jobs for 15 cents per hour or even less.

I was working in the garden for Mrs. Carraway.  She lived by herself.  Sometimes she would stand around and talk to me while I worked.  She was from Ohio and came to Monterey about the turn of the last century.  She said her mother-in-law told her not to say anything to the Whittakers about whiskey.  She said they are very nice people but the men saw nothing wrong with making their own whiskey.

During the summer before eleventh grade I had a job helping build a building that was a chair factory for one year and became a Chrysler Plymouth dealership.  It was paid for by the National Youth Administration in a program employing high school age boys to enable them to stay in school.  We worked two weeks and were off two weeks.  We were paid 15 cents per hour.  I had been doing lawn and garden work for about 10 cents per hour so 15 wasn’t bad.  The last period I worked I plumbed the building.  A regular plumber was hired to supervise the job but he sat down and told me where to put the pipes.  We used iron pipes which had to be cut to length and threaded on both ends.  He did pour the melted lead in to seal pipe joints.  I had a helper to carry pipe and hold it when I cut it.

My two friends and I were the only ones who did exactly what the boss wanted at the chair factory.  [We] were transferred from job to job when part of the chair building got behind.  We made straight back chairs like you see in libraries.

In the eleventh grade I helped the janitor for an hour after school.  Again it was 15 cents per hour paid by the National Youth Administration. 


The summer before I started high school my cousin, Cordell Matheney, was told by an uncle on his dad’s side that he could have some wood where a small tract had been logged and logs the sawmill wouldn’t buy for some reason were left on the ground.  Most people in the area cooked with wood.  So we cut the logs into about 14 inch lengths with a six foot cross cut saw.  We then split into size for a cook stove.  We worked hard for about six days and had seven ricks stacked eight foot long and four feet high as thick as the stick length.  We felt good, but we had to hire a person with a horse and wagon to deliver the wood.  When all was done we had $2.55 each.  I bought used books for the first year of high school and had 5 cents left.  There was a little carnival in town so I used the nickel to ride the merry-go-round.

During my senior year in high school I worked two hours per day in the principal’s office.  Again I was paid 15 cents per hour paid for by the National Youth Administration.  This federal program helped me a lot during my last two years of school. 

Clyde Remembers the Family

Important events when I was a child and young boy was a visit with Grandma and Grandpa Key. 

Grandma Ida Key

Grandma Ida Key

One of my earliest memories is Dad renting a horse and wagon to take us to Grandma Key’s.  I must have slept most of the way.  All I remember is starting and ending.  They lived at the “old place’ then, but soon moved to near Martha Washington School. 

A later trip Dad hired Uncle Erby Teeple to take us.  There was a creek maybe a half-mile from Grandma’s that had no bride.  Most of the time cars could cross the shallow place, but it had rained and the creek was up so he let us out at the creek.  There was a foot log to walk.  I remember being afraid I would fall in the creek.

Our family on both sides didn’t go for much hugging and kissing.  They followed the old English tradition of treating kids after about eleven years old, particularly males, as adults - a brisk handshake and wide smile.  Grandpa didn’t say much but grandma had a soft loving voice that made you feel like you were being hugged.

The inside of their house had newspaper pasted on the walls inside to seal the cracks.  When I had nothing to do I read the papers.  I guess I was in the fourth grade and reading everything I could get.  Grandma saw me reading the words in a paper back hymnal which is what small churches used in those days.  Grandma told me I could have the hymnal.  I still have it after about 80 years.  No one was more kind and considerate than Grandma Key.

Donald and I would gather a few cows and herd them around.  I guess we were playing cowboy.  One day a cow at full gallop came around the corner of Martha Washington School where I was standing.  Donald was holding onto the cow’s tail and his feet were off the ground.

In the morning when we went to the “old place” to work corn Grandma wend along with [the children] Golda, Violet, Donald and me.  Grandpa went ahead with the mule.  Grandpa plowed the middles while the rest of us chopped weeds and loosened [dirt] around the corn stalks.  An hour or so before lunch time Grandma left to prepare food and at that time the midday meal was called dinner, no lunch, and the late meal was supper.  We always had a good meal and we all had a good appetite.

My mom told me things she remembered from her time at home.  When she told her parents she was to marry Frank Whittaker, Grandpa said, “He is a Democrat you know.”

Donald Key

Donald Key

My Uncle Donald was a few months older than me and we had lots of fun.  There was a small hole in Slate Creek where we went to play and swim after we learned how.  One time Gerald, my brother, was with us.  I guess he saw Donald and I having a good time.  He jumped in even though he couldn’t swim.  Donald and I didn’t notice but Uncle Coy was there so he jumped in and got him out.

Grandpa worked in the mines, I think it was during World War I when demand was high.  He carried his lunch win a bucket with a snap lid.  One time he grabbed his bucket and went to work.  When he opened his bucket he had only sorghum for lunch – it was the same kind of bucket they put sorghum in.  Grandpa worked in Oak Ridge during the war (World War II).  I don’t know how long.

If I was there when the corn was laid by, Grandpa would hew cross ties.  Donlad and I would go with him and saw several long lengths for him then go home.

One day Grandma said Billie was taking Donald and me fishing on the East Fork.  Donald and I started digging for worms.  It was hot and dry and we didn’t have much luck.  He didn’t say anything but broke off a leafy bush about two feet long.  He vigorously waved the bush around and reached into a bush and grabbed a wasp nest without a sting.  [It was] about four inches across.  We had plenty of wasp larva for bait.  We caught a few very small fish.  Grandpa said when a hole got several good sized fish someone threw dynamite in it.

On our last day of our visit Grandma fixed a wonderful breakfast.  She called Ted, the dog, and pointed to a chicken she wanted.  Ted would catch the chicken and hold it down without hurting it until Grandma came to get it.  We had fried chicken, fried apples, home churned butter, sorghum, gravy and biscuits.  Grandma and my mom made biscuits alike and the best I have tasted.

In the 30’s someone stole some corn from Grandpa.  They hauled it home on a sled with some snow on the ground.  Grandpa followed the sled tracks but never said anything to the person.  That reminds of my dad.  We kept six or either hens during the winter.  Someone stole on of our hens.  I was mad about it but Dad didn’t seem to be.  I asked him why.  “They may have needed [them] more than us,” [he said.}

I think it was during the 30’s Grandpa came upon a whisky still in the woods.  He used his ax to chop it to scrap.  In his sixties Grandpa like to amuse young grandchildren at his house.  HE would stand on his head, walk on his hands and hang from a limb.

  Onetime when it had rained heavily there was a good sized pond about a foot deep in the dirt road in front of the house.  There were several geese in the pond.  I had never seen fowl swimming.  Coy was near me so I asked “won’t they drown?”  Coy said no then ran into the water, caught one of the geese and pushed it under the water and said, “see they won’t drown.”  He was probably about 13 at the time.

When I was about five we visited Grandpa Todd’s mother, Tobitha Ingle Todd, who lived on the main road through Clarkrange.  She lived in a two story house with a upstairs porch over the front porch.  I thought that was nice so I went up there.  Some planks were missing from the railing so they immediately got me down.  Upstairs she had two spinning wheels, a tall flimsy looking one for wool and I suppose cotton and a smaller heavier built wheel called a flax wheel.  I never found out why flax required a different wheel.  A five generation picture was made that day, Tobitha, Daniel, Grandma Key, Mom and me.  I never saw the picture.

5 Generation Photo similar to Clyde's memory.  This includes his sister, neice, mother, grandmother and great-grandfather. L-R: June Howard, Tommie Jean Howard, Stacie Whittaker, Ida Key, Daniel Todd  

5 Generation Photo similar to Clyde's memory.  This includes his sister, neice, mother, grandmother and great-grandfather.
L-R: June Howard, Tommie Jean Howard, Stacie Whittaker, Ida Key, Daniel Todd

Clyde's College Years

In 1943 Clyde Whittaker graduated from Monterey High school and was promptly drafted into the United States Navy.  Like so many Appalachian sons he served his nation honorably when she needed him most.  In 1946 he was discharged and returned home to Monterey.  In September of that year he entered Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Clyde writes:

Two or three days after the college term started a meeting of all freshmen in the gymnasium was called.  A fellow who I think was president of the sophomore class got up and started talking about the initiation freshmen had to go through.  When I saw where his talk was going I stood and told the sophomores that I was too old and too busy to put up with such foolishness.  I told them I was not participating in any of it.  He said if we didn’t participate we could not expect to impose an initiation next year.  I told him I didn’t want to.  Most of the freshmen that year were veterans some with many years of service.  After I made my statement the whole thing was dropped.

The second year in college I got to be a lab assistant.  Since I had been an electronic technician in the Navy I was ahead of most students in the electrical area.  The head of the Physics department liked me.  Near the end of the second year the president of the physics club told me I was going to be the president next year.  I told him I knew nothing about that. 

I finished [college] in three years with one summer school and credits I earned at the schools I attended in the Navy.  Ellen [Bilbrey] and I got married in June 1948 before my last year at Tech.  I was going to school on the G.I. Bill getting I believe $90 per month which went to $115 after marriage.  Looking back I realize now that I shouldn’t have married until I was in better financial condition.

We stayed with Ellen’s sisters and my Mom and Dad until just before the fall quarter started.  In Cookeville we rented a two-room apartment where two couples shared a bathroom.  I think we enjoyed life even though we worked hard and had little money.  For several months Ellen worked in a shirt factory.  That is a terrible way to make a dollar.  As a lab assistant I made about $39 PER MONTH.

When the fall quarter started we had the first physics club meeting of the year.  A fellow I barely knew nominated me.  The nominees left the room and when we returned I was the president.  I think the department head asked someone to nominate me.  When we left the room he suggested I would make a good president.

I was taking an optics course taught by the department head [and] I was helping him grade some test papers for another course.  He handed me an optic test I had taken the previous day.  I had a high grade maybe 98%.  I looked at the paper [and] saw that a wrong answer was marked correct.  I pointed it out to him.  I know you knew the answer he said.  I said, “I know the answer now but I didn’t when I took the test.”  He refused to change it.

The physics club won first prize for its float in the homecoming parade under my direction.

At the start of the second quarter one of the professors quit for a better job.  Even though I didn’t have a degree yet the head of the department asked me to teach a couple of courses.  The course listing gave the department head as the teacher but he never appeared in the class.  It was an electrical course and I was good at that.

After I graduated and had a degree I was hired as an instructor for the summer.

I applied to the graduate school in physics and was accepted at Florida State University.

During the summer I had a man who had a small garage weld a frame and tongue on an axel and wheels.  I built a bed on the trailer frame.  I had just sold a beat up ’36 Chevrolet and bought a ’39 Studebaker Champion.  It was small and weak but we put our worldly possessions on the trailer and started to Florida.  The car had trouble pulling the loaded trailer.  So if I saw a stop ahead on even a mild grade I geared down and tried to keep moving because it was difficult to get moving if I stopped.

When we got to Tallahassee we found that the apartment we had reserved was on West Campus which had been an Army Air Base.  Barracks had been divided into crude apartments.  The partitions were framing with wall board on one side.  The 2x4’s were exposed on one side.  I think our building had seven two room apartments.  There was a ladies and men’s bathroom for the whole building.  WE got to be very fond of one couple and all the residents were friendly.  Our friends Bob and Ellen Cook didn’t have a car so we took them with us on our weekly trip to A&P.  Even though we had nice neighbors Ellen was disappointed that we ended up in such crude living conditions. 

I graduated without a job offer.  I thought I wanted to be a college teacher.  At the time there wrern’t many physicists available with advance degrees.  The first offer I got after looking for two months was with the Navy Mine Defense Laboratory in Panama City, Florida.

A week or so after I started working with the Navy Lab I got an offer form Virginia Tech as an assistant professor.  At the time I would have liked to get the job but the Navy people had gone to some trouble to hire me so I couldn’t quit after such a short time.  A couple of weeks after that I got the same offer from Louisiana Tech.  Then after two years I got a call from the ex-prinicpal of my high school who had become some sort of manager at the Tennessee Tech University.  He offered me an assistant professor job at Tennessee Tech.

I worked ten and a half years at the Navy Lab.

Clyde’s School Days


[There is just a little overlap from last week’s article here, but I wanted to include all of Clyde’s school memories together.]

Clyde Whittaker attended Monterey School from 1930 - 1943.

He writes:

We moved into town near Grandma Whittaker when I was five.  I started school at six.  All twelve grades were in one building.  No running water the first year.  We had a girl and boys outdoor toilets.  There was a well with a hand pump near the back entrance.  Each class had a water bucket.  In lower grades the teacher would send two boys to fill the bucket and carry it back to the room.  Each kid had a telescoping cup that collapsed until you could put it in your pocket.  Each room had a large pot-bellied stove for heat.  The teacher would send two boys to the basement to get a scuttle of coal.  The teacher had to keep the fire going. 

In second grade the teacher got us samples to pass to the kids.  She got a small tube of Vaseline for each student.  I put a small dab of Vaseline on my hair.  I punched the cute girl in front of me to look at my hair.  She said it looked good.  So I put the rest of the tube in my hair to make it look even better.

Each class had a picnic near the end of the school term.  The usual place was the woods near where I lived.  When we finished eating I told Mary Frances I knew where there was lots of wild flowers.  When we got back to the picnic area no one was there.  When we got back to the hill and could see the school the last of our class was going in.  One of the girls yelled that Mary Frances was in the woods with Clyde.  Mary Frances yelled back, “You just wish it was you.”

In the fourth grade the teacher wanted a demonstration of a debate.  Mary Francis and I were selected.   We sat together in a corner and worked up the debate.  We enjoyed the task.  Shortly after that her father, a Methodist pastor was moved to another church.  I thought that was a terrible thing for the church to do.

In the fourth grade I sat near the front of the room.  The teacher called a boy to the front.  He had been making trouble and she was going to paddle him.  In those days a teacher was judged partially on her willingness to use the paddle when necessary.  As she paddled him I looked up and saw tears running down her face.  She was doing what was expected of her but it was hurting her more than the boy.

In the fifth grade we had an old maid, Flossie, a wonderful teacher.  When she needed to leave the room for a short time she would say, “Clyde tell the class a story.”  I would stand and tell something I had read.  One time I made up a story to tell.  She called on me maybe five times during the year.  She never called on anyone else.  [That year] I entered a speech contest which was part of a regional school competition including athletic events.  I was on the stage well into my speech when three high school boys in the back of the auditorium started laughing loudly.  I thought I did something and started thinking what it was and mixed up my speech terribly.  I didn’t realize until much later, they didn’t’ even know I was making a speech, they were joking among themselves.

I was either in fourth or fifth grade when our neighbors the Way family was going to kill and butcher a hog.  I had never watched the butchering of a hog so I decided to play hooky from school and watch it.  I thought no one would notice but my Mom saw me playing around the neighbor’s house about a hundred yards away.  When my Dad got home he cut a limb off a peach tree near the back steps and used it to give me a good whipping.  I had other whippings but I remember that one best.  I deserved the whipping and it hurt.  To my parents, school was serious business.  In those days parents who didn’t give their children proper guidance were considered neglectful.  I know now that whipping me caused my Dad more pain than it did to me.  [Someone asked me], “Didn’t you hate your Dad for that?”  I said no that I deserved everyone I got and deserved some I didn’t get.  We didn’t have much in those days, but I knew my parents always did the best they could under the circumstances that existed at the time.  I never had any doubt that my parents loved me and I loved them.

In most ways sixth grade was an uneventful period.  I have told people that from the age of twelve I bought most of my clothes – not all but most.  Mom made my shirts until I joined the Navy.  I was given a shirt, store bought, at least once maybe twice.

In the sixth grade I didn’t own a book.  In those days our students had to buy their own books.  I had a little money but I used it to buy overalls and shoes.  I would go in thirty minutes or more before class started and study using my friend’s book, which was left in their desks overnight.  At lunch I would rush two blocks home and eat a little lunch and rush back to school to study another thirty minutes before class started.  One day we had a test I don’t remember the subject.  The teacher was chewing out the class.  Everyone had done very poorly on the test except Clyde.  He went on to say Clyde don’t own a single book.  I was so embarrassed that I never told anyone until about three years ago I told [my sister] June.  I had come to realize that he didn’t mean to insult me but was complimenting me for doing well on a test under difficult circumstances.