The Roadside Rest Stop and Four Wheelin

Hubert and Marjorie Ellis owned and maintained a picnic area across from their farm on Forkland Road. It was right next to the rolling creek and had several tables and a gravel pull off place to park cars. It was so nice in the summer to just stop on your way back from Gravel Switch and visit with the people picnicking. Many times I sat there on one of the tables and listened to the bubbling water while the song birds chirped and watched the cars go by and waved to people I knew. There was something about that place that was so calm and serene.

Seldom did I ever pass the picnic area and it was deserted. I have seen Marjorie out there on the riding lawnmower late in the evening mowing and cleaning the place up so it would stay nice for all the visitors that stopped by from other places or local people that just stopped to enjoy and maybe eat their lunch from a brown paper bag.

A favorite thing to do on the Fork was go four wheeling or three wheeling. Everyone had one of these machines and riding up and down, in and out, of the creek was loads of fun in the summertime. Mostly the guys did the driving and the girls road on the back. In some places the banks could get pretty steep but that did not stop these little four and three wheeled monsters!


They would even keep going in the water as long as you did not get in deep enough to drown out the engine. The picnic area was a great place to stop and enjoy a soft drink or beer and listen to a little music and rest a spell before hitting the water again.

Certain areas on some farms in Forkland had been marked off with roads for four-wheelin and little bridges built with road signs just like regular highways.

I remember one time when a bunch of us were up near Mitchellsburg Knob and I let someone talk me into getting on the back of a four wheeler and ride up the right of way that had been cut out up the knob for electrical lines. It was straight up and we both had to stand up to keep the four wheeler from turning over backwards on us. By the time we reached the top I had totally realized that I was not at all in my right mind or I would never have been talked into this adventure. Thank God we did make it to the top without turning over or getting killed. The minute we got up there and stepped off that machine and I looked back down the hill I decided there was no way I was ever going to ride that thing back down. I told my friend that I would crawl on my hands and knees all the way to the bottom of the mountain! I have been scared to death of heights all my life and whatever possessed me to do this was certainly something that has never taken over my mind and body again. My friend said going down would be a lot easier than getting up there and after about thirty minutes of me trying to think of some other way and not being able to come up with a solution, I prayed to God if he would let me make it back down I would never pull anything so foolish again. The ride down was easier and to this day I have kept my word.

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Crazy Bout A Mercury!

I had an old, green chevy wagon that was about a 1979 model when I moved to Forkland. This car was as long as a hurse but ran like a top. I used it for everything. It doubled as a family car, ice wagon, garbage truck, and moving van. Anne and Leigh hated it. They were just at that age where everything embarrassed them and “the green goddess” was enough to cause me to hear such statements as, “don’t park right in front of the school when you pick us up” or “we will be out late, so you don’t have to be there right on time”. It did not help any that the right, rider’s side mirror was broken off and in the glove compartment and used as a makeup mirror many times or that there was rust in several places around the bottom near the wheel wells.
Anyway, one day I was in Liberty, Kentucky and saw JC’s Used Car & Auto Mart right there on the main drag. It had several rows of used cars with one of those little buildings in the middle of the lot where the salesmen hang out so they can run outside the minute you drive into the place.
I pulled “the green goddess” onto the lot and sure enough here comes this tall, lanky salesman before I can even get out of my vehicle. I was lucky enough to get JC, the owner, and while showing me around I found out he knew Hubert Ellis, my friend, back on the Fork. They were good friends and had been for many years. I looked over all the possibilities and my eyes landed on this dark brown, Mercury Cougar. It was kind of sporty, not too big, looked to be in great shape on the outside, so I took her for a spin. I liked the car. I knew the girls would like it, too, but we could not agree on a price and I was not going to trade in the goddess and get nothing for her. She could be used for hauling and such for the store. I returned to the Fork and the next morning Hubert was in the store. I told him about the car I found in Liberty and about JC telling me he was a friend of Huberts. Hubert told me the next time he was in Liberty he would talk to JC and try to get me a better deal on the car.
True to his word, Hubert came by the store in a few days and said JC still had the Cougar and was ready to deal with me. I called the lot on the phone and made an offer again but told JC this was if the car was on the road with license and tags, etc. and I would write him a check for the vehicle. He agreed to the offer and even delivered the car to the store and Hubert took him back to Liberty.
The girls and I loved that car! We thought we had made it uptown! We would go for drives with the windows down, the radio turned up, the cool breeze blowing our hair, enjoying the winding roads and countryside. It was a sporty car and the girls loved the cougar emblems near the windows. It was not a new car but it was new to us.
I did not have this car but about three weeks and one day Leonard Roller was in my store eating lunch, paid for his food, went out to his truck and backed up at least a thousand feet and took the
right side out of my Cougar. Leonard was getting up in age and his eyesight was not the best but I thought he could surely see that car! It was like he made an effort to back up as far as he did to hit it smack in the side and smash the whole side in. I heard the crash and I am a slow person to get angry but that day, I just went off when I looked out at my little Cougar. I was cussing and calling him an old fool and the people in the store would not let me go outside. They said I would cause Leonard to have a heart attack if I ran out there ranting and raving at him. It was very hard to be civil but I did manage to calm down and get his insurance company’s information and give them a call. I got several estimates on fixing the car and the agent brought me a check to pay for it. We were back to the “green goddess” until I could get the Cougar fixed and I was glad I had kept her. Leigh and Anne was not nearly as happy as me about still owning the wagon.
Leonard continued to come to the store for lunch and we remained friends but I always cautioned him when he left to look out for vehicles in the parking lot and I kept my vehicles parked an even greater distance from the store lot.

The Gorleyrosa!

The Gorleys all lived on a farm up the road from the store. When I moved to the Fork, Billy and Judy lived in the rustic looking house about a mile from me. Frank and Clarice, the mother and father, lived up Minor’s Branch on the right in a little, white house. David and Cheryl lived on Gorley Road that ran up a hill right in the middle of the farm. I knew Billy and Judy before I moved to Minors Branch. I met the rest of the clan once I took over the store.
The girls used to ride their bikes to Judy’s house and she would let them watch movies and hang out with her. We all loved the Gorleys. Billy and Judy

Frank would make a trip down to my place every day. Most of the time he would ride his four wheeler down but about once or twice a week he came on his riding lawnmower. The lawnmower would backfire when he cut it off and no matter where I was I knew that Frank was outside. He would come in and visit with any loafers that might be hanging around the store and before he left he bought two packs of Pall Mall cigarettes. Once I said to him that it would be cheaper to buy a carton instead of two packs every day and he explained to me that if he should “kick the bucket” and Clarice got her a boyfriend, he did not want some strange guy getting his cigarettes. Frank was always making a joke about something.

David, Me, Frank

I went for a run after work one day and passed by Frank’s house on my way home. He was sitting outside and yelled to me that he thought a horse was coming down the road with the thumps. ( “Thumps” is a spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm synchronous, with the heart beat causing the flanks and sides of the horse to show flutter or a thumping motion”)

Every time the Gorley clan got together for a pot luck dinner, whether it be Christmas, Thanksgiving, or someones birthday, Frank always showed up at the store with three plates loaded down with food for me and the girls. All those Gorley women were great cooks, too.

Clarice came to the store every day just like Frank but she would walk down in the afternoons. She always had a smile on her face and would tell me she had been cleaning the house or she cooked breakfast for one of her boys. She liked to visit with other people in the store, too.

Clarice

I remember one year when we had the jam session outside in the parking lot and David had a little too much to drink. Frank and Clarice and Cheryl was all sitting around listening to the music and David danced all night right in front of the store steps on one foot. He did not miss a beat. We all thought it was totally hilarious but I don’t think Cheryl was too pleased with his interpretation of Mr. Bojangles.

Mike Gorley, Judy and Billy’s son, was the joker that ran in the store with the ski mask on after I nearly got robbed. Another time, Mike, had heard the song, “Let’s All Go Down to Dumas Walkers” on the radio for the first time and came in the store and told me he heard a song and he was sure it said, “Let’s All Go Down to Judy Walkups”. Well, this caught on and every time we had a jam session the band would play and sing this song for me and change it to Judy Walkups!

Peggy Yankey and Judy Gorley

Judy Gorley was one of my very best friends. She was a wonderful person and was loved by everyone that knew her. Judy died with cancer after I left the Fork. I still miss her and all the good times we had together. Frank and Clarice are both deceased also but fondly remembered by those of us that were fortunate enough to have known them.

Gravel Switch and Caney Bridge

The Forkland Community gets its mail out of Gravel Switch, Kentucky. “The Switch” as a lot of people call it is about five miles from the Fork. During the time I ran the store there was somewhere around a thousand people in the Gravel Switch area. The town had a bank, post office, and a country store called “Jerry’s Market” named after Jerry Lanham, the owner. The store had a big sign painted on the roof saying, “Hi, If You Can’t Stop, Wave.”
The town grew up around a gravel quarry on a spur line of the L&N railroad. The trains would stop to pick up gravel and this is how it got it’s name. Penn’s Store served as the post office and doctor’s office as well as selling food and clothing up until Gravel Switch Post Office opened in 1870 when the town was established. The People’s Bank of Gravel Switch was not founded until around 1911. I used to hear tales about John Dillinger robbing the Gravel Switch Bank. I don’t know if this is true but I heard it more than once from some of the old timers in the area. Most of the time, if you tell someone you are from Gravel Switch, they will say, “Isn’t that the home of Minnie Pearl?”
Minnie was from Grinder’s Switch not Gravel Switch. It is a totally different place.
Two or so miles outside of town you come upon a big, old, rusty, iron bridge looming above a right deep hole of water. Another swimming hole! I took the girls down to Caney Bridge from the time they were three or four years old to go swimming. We would picnic on the banks and jump off the rocks, lay in the sun, and visit with other swimmers. If you crossed over the bridge and made a sharp left turn, then followed a narrow gravel road about half a mile, you came upon a huge gravel bar that could not be seen from the main road. My girlfriend, Bonnie, and I used to spend entire Saturdays lying in the sun in the creek listening to country music tapes on my old, black, battery operated, “boom” box. We always took a cooler of beer and soft drinks along to quench our thirst. It was a great getaway from the store for me on days that I could get Carolyn to work. When I look back on these times, it amazes me how the creek was such an area of socializing. It was nothing to be lying in the sun and along comes fifteen three and four wheelers grinding and bumping over rocks, climbing in and out of the water. The riders always stopped to chat or have a beer. Trucks also ran back and forth through the creek beds and farmers would fill up huge water tanks to use on their tobacco crops. Cooking hot dogs, hamburgers and roasting marshmellows on an open fire built on a big flat rock was not uncommon and sharing was the normal thing to do.
A couple of incidents always stand out in my mind when I think of Caney Bridge other than the great times we had down there.
One day I took Anne and Leigh and some friends swimming under the bridge. We had been there for a while and this jeep with no top came down to the creek, pulled out into the shallow part of the water and the driver, a guy, we all called “Groundhog Wheeler”, (I have no idea where he got this name and never knew his real name) wearing only swimming trunks laid his seat back, rested his head on the head rest, put his feet up on the steering wheel, inserted a tape, and closed his eyes. A song started playing. The song was, “I’m Lying Here with Linda on my Mind.” It was a popular song about that time but after the damned thing had played the same song about twenty times, I told the girls, “He is going to be lying there dead with Linda on his mind very soon, because I am about ready to kill him and destroy that stupid tape!” Maybe, you call this “river rage” because I was furious. I managed to control my temper and we got our stuff together and left. Linda stayed on my mind for all these years when I think about Caney Bridge!!!
Another incident involving the girls and I took place very close to the bridge. One warm, sultry evening after closing hours for my place, we decided to drive over to Jerry Lanham’s store and pick up three chicken boxes. His place was the only one in the area where you could get something like that to eat. We got our boxes of hot, fried, Chester chicken and went down to Caney, crossed the bridge, went up the road to a little church and pulled over across the road, spread out our food on the hood of my old green, chevy wagon. We were enjoying the chicken, the time of day, and the cool breeze, when I glanced back toward the bridge. It was lined with men in camouflage, armed with high powered rifles, and they were looking through the sights on the guns. I said, “Get your chicken and get in the car right now!” We quickly gathered up our stuff. I had to drive across the bridge to get back home. We started to cross and I rolled the window down and asked if there was a problem. One of the men told me they were watching a marijuana patch up the creek. Needless to say, we wasted no time getting back to the Fork that day.

The Amish Visit Judy’s Market

The Amish came to Forkland to build a huge, metal barn for Jo Allen Hayes during the time I was running the store on Minor’s Branch. They would come in for lunch and all sit around the table and eat and talk in their first language which is German. They speak in many different dialects of German and English is their second language. They do not drive automobiles but paid someone to drive them around to their places of employment. Usually, there would be ten or twelve Amish men working on the Forkland project and one pickup truck driver. Most of them road on the back of the truck. The driver spent the day running errands or just waiting for their work to end. Sometimes, he would leave and come back after them in the afternoon.

These people are very friendly but do not like to have their pictures taken. They avoid all modern technology and live a very simple life separate from the rest of the world. Amish people have no telephones, electricity or modern conveniences. They use horse drawn buggies for transportation and farm with horses. They are also skilled craftsmen.

They would talk and laugh and tell jokes while enjoying lunch. The Amish children only went to the eighth grade and many times there would be young boys ten or twelve years of age in the group. I had a television set in the store and the younger children were totally fascinated with it.

They could not wait till lunch time to get to my place and watch tv and ride Anne and Leigh’s bicycles.

Kristz Koblentz was sort of an overseer of the group during the working on the barn. He told me all about his family in Casey County. He and his wife had a son that was becoming of age to date and they were going to send him to Pennsylvania so that he could meet a nice Amish girl there because he was related to so many of the Amish girls in Casey County. Kristz and his wife had a total of eight children. I would keep a supply of packs of small filtered cigars that looked like a cigarette but was brown, on hand, just for them. I was always telling them how much I liked their straw hats and one day they brought me one. I used to keep it hanging on the wall behind the counter.

Once they completed the barn for Joe Allen, they built me a deck on the back of my house and they did it for about half of what it would cost me to get anyone else. Kristz had the lumber delivered and they all started work around 8 a.m. one morning. This was a good sized deck going on two sides of the house with one side facing the creek in back and a railing around the entire structure and steps leading up from the yard. It was connected to the house. Around noon, the day they started one of the men came into the store and asked me to come out back and take a look. I could not believe it when I went outside and walked around the house. They were finished! They built that deck in four hours and it was very study and looked great. The girls and I enjoyed sitting out there in the evening when I closed the store. Anne and Leigh would shoot at fish and cans that floated by with their BB guns.

I had visited the Amish community in Casey County for many years before ever moving to Forkland. They raise and sell the most wonderful produce, homemade butter, and breads, and jams in their bulk food store and a walk through the Amish furniture store will make you appreciate their craftmanship. If you want to take a step back in time just follow the backroads in the spring of the year when the redbuds and wildflowers are in bloom through steep knobs and over rolling hills of the bluegrass to Casey County. Amish country is about ten miles out of Liberty on Highway 127 to a left turn on Highway 910 and on to South Fork Road. Anyone in or around Liberty can give you directions. You will know you have arrived when you see women in bonnets and aprons and men in blue shirts with black pants and straw hats. Time seems to slow down and the world seems at peace in this beautiful place.

In the spring, my children and I all make a trip back to Amish Country. We look forward to it every year. We stop at the Bread of Life Cafe on Highway 127 out of Liberty for lunch and then continue on our journey to visit a quieter, more laid back, simpler way of life. We buy tomatoes, apples, spices, cheese, and enjoy the friendly atmosphere. My son’s wife, Sarah, and my wonderful new grandson, Thomas Wyatt, and my significant other, Bob, now join Rob, Leigh and Anne and me on our trips. It is a wonderful tradition.

The Man in Black

Very early one morning I had just opened the store while Anne and Leigh were in the kitchen having breakfast before school. It was still dark outside. I knew it was almost time for the school bus so decided to go into the house and see if they were ready. You walked out of the store into my living room and to the right off the living room was the kitchen. If you walked straight ahead when you were in the living room you would enter two bedrooms that belonged to the girls. If you were in the kitchen and facing the living room door you could see anyone that came out of the store into my house.
I walked out of the store and toward the kitchen where the girls were standing by the table finishing their breakfast. I took one look at Anne and asked her what was wrong with her because she had the strangest look on her face and seemed to be looking right through me into the room where I was standing. It was kind of a startled look coupled with one of fright. I asked her a second time what in the world was wrong with her. In a voice that sounded like a whisper to me, she said, “a man just walked out of the store right behind you.” A chill ran down my back as I quickly turned and saw nothing. I went directly to the girls. Anne breathlessly said, “he had on a black hat, shirt, and pants and he went toward our rooms. I knew Anne had seen something or someone because she was trembling.
I told them to go into my bedroom off the kitchen and if they heard me scream to go out the back door and run to the neighbor’s house as fast as they could. I went back into the store and got my pistol from under the counter. I knew the store was open and someone could have walked right in out of the darkness and could be in one of those rooms. Walking as quietly as I could, I slowly entered the first bedroom and looked around the room. Then, I checked under the bed. I entered the next bedroom and checked the bed in there and the closet. There was nothing. There was no man in black to be found and nothing looked different or out of place.
I returned to the kitchen and told the girls everything was fine and there was not anyone in that area of the house. Anne was still visibly upset and did not want to come back into the store but they both followed me back to the counter and I put the gun away.

The school bus came in a few minutes and they boarded and left for school. I, still felt very uneasy about what had happened because Anne was not someone to say she saw something unless she actually did see something and the look on her face told me she was totally scared.

I, again, got the gun out and went through the entire house and searched every closet, under every bed, went into the stock room and again there was nothing.

Peg was in the store later that morning and I told him about this incident. Of course, being scared of everything, he totally thought this was the ghost of some confederate soldier, since some of those old boards used to build the store came out of a house used for a hospital in the Civil War.

I am not a person that believes in ghosts but I know that Anne saw something or someone that day. She was nervous and upset over this for days afterward and has not wanted to discuss it since it happened. The man in black was never seen again by any of us while we lived on the Fork.

My Son, The Graduate

Leigh, Rob, and Anne

My son, Charles, was in school at Eastern Kentucky University during the first years I spent in the store on the Fork. Charles has always been called Rob or Robbie by Leigh, Anne and me but a lot of people know him as Chas. Rob would explore the creek and visit with the people hanging out in the store on his visits. We would load him up with goodies to take back to school with him. I remember getting a cardboard box and going around the store filling it with juices, nabs, potted meats, peanut butter, chips, nuts, and anything he could easily prepare or eat at school. He would take what we called his “care package” and off he would go back to school.

When I fell and broke my foot and was on crutches, Rob was there at the hospital, and spent the night at my house after I came home.

Rob majored in art in college and started drawing when he was big enough to pick up a pencil and put it to paper. I remember his dad and I gave him art lessons when he was only six or seven years old. He loved to draw and would draw on anything! He even made the girls his canvas on one occasion when they were all a bit younger. He used a magic marker to draw all over their arms and legs and it did not come off for days. No amount of scrubbing with soap and water would take those drawings off the girls. Of course, they thought it was lots of fun to have big brother drawing pictures on them.

The day Rob graduated from EKU was one of the proudest days of my life. He was the first and only member of my family to graduate college. I remember getting Carolyn to work in the store and the girls and I being so excited to attend his graduation. There was lots of posing for pictures and he was so handsome in his cap and gown.

Shortly after graduation from Eastern, Rob moved to Florida and from there to New York and then California. He became sort of a gypsy for a while and also bought a motorcycle that he rode back and forth across country.
Today, he has a wonderful wife, Sarah, and the most adorable little boy on this earth, Thomas Wyatt. He is a great husband, father, and son.

He is also a very talented artist, has acted in movies, enjoys writing, and is employed with Kentucky Educational Television in Lexington, Ky.