Tennessee Mountain Stories

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.