Editor’s Note — Following is a third excerpt from an interview of Kenneth Payne, conducted by Anne Malanka as part of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area’s oral history project in 1991. The interview was tape-recorded and placed on file in the Big South Fork Library Collection.
The old-timers had a saw sitting on top of the main saw, when they had the big timber. They had a 60-inch saw, and then they had a 30-inch saw right up over that they’d kick in, and it would reach through. I’ve seen chestnut stumps that were 10 feet across. The biggest one I ever seen was right across the old O&W Bridge.
They’d log these logs right down to the railroad, and they had this loader on the cars to load the logs onto the flat car. They’d take it up to Verdun, where they sold it. They also had big dumps, where they’d dump the logs over the cliff. The biggest I ever seen, we called it the Alf Dump. It’s right above Angel Falls — that big, high cliff.
Right above Angel Falls is the Alf Blevins place, and they’d drop the logs over the cliff. After they logged all around the Alfred Smith place, that’s where they dumped the logs. They put the logs in the river and floated them down to Burnside, Ky. There was a group of people from Michigan who thought this white oak would float. They went up on the side of these mountains and they built troughs. They’d take mules and skid these big white oak logs, put them in the troughs, and chute them into the river. The first thing they discovered was that their logs didn’t float. And when the river gets down clear today, you can see these big white oak logs (in the river) and they’re just as sound as they can be.
For poplar, they used oxen, and they would pull that down in the summertime. When a tide would come, they would whip these logs in the river. And they had wooden boats. Every man up and down the river would put his logs in the river, and there would be four or five men in the boats following the logs. If they got hung, they’d loosen them, and they’d take them on down the river. There was a boom at Burnside, and the boom would catch them. It was ropes that stretched across the river, and they had machines that would take them out of the river. Every man had a branding iron, and he would brand his logs on both ends.
The poplar logs that were branded on the end, if they got down the river a bit, these people on down the river would brand them. When the log got lodged they would cut about an inch off the end and they’d put their brand on that log. Of course they were only getting about a dollar or a dollar and a half per thousand. They were lumber rustlers, that’s what they were. That’s why they followed their logs, to keep people from getting them out. But every once in a while, one would get out.
Discovering new methods
Old man Alfred Smith was raised right there (by the Alf Chute above Angel Falls). He pointed out to me, and showed me, told me how funny it was when he told (the Michigan men) that their white oak logs wouldn’t float.
Now, they discovered later on how to work it. They got an auger, about a three-inch auger with a handle on it, and they would bore a three-inch hole back on each end of the logs. They would drive them with a peg and seal them with air in that hole. You’d be surprised, with just that air in there, that white oak log would float.
In this country, the butt logs will not float. That’s the reason they use white oak for whiskey barrels. Any other lumber — oak, hemlock, pine, any kind of hickory — you can force water through. All except white oak. Chinquapin oak is the same family as white oak, and it is similar.
More uses for white oak
They also used white oak to hew into squares. They used the squares to make what they called tugboats. I seen these tugboats when I was over on Tinian, in the South Pacific. I seen those boats that had left this country, somehow or another, and they were made of this white oak, because marine worms will not bore a hole in this white oak. It’s the only thing that this marine worm won’t work on. A lot of the barges that go up and down the Mississippi River used to be made out of this.
The white oak that used to be up and down this river, a lot of it was hewed out into 24-inch squares, and they would bring them out. There used to be a spur of the O&W Railroad, and that’s where they would bring all of it to load it. They’d bring it up from No Business and Station Camp. They’d have to use eight mules to get it up on top, but after they got it up, they could load it on the train. It was hewed out by broadaxe, because there was a good market for it.
But after Prohibition ended, they went back into the stave business. People everywhere began to make stave bolts. My understanding is that you could only use that barrel one time for whiskey. Before Prohibition, which would’ve been about 1912, down there at what we call the Litton Place, I can show you stave bolts that have been covered up. They’re from sometime before the Prohibition. They logged all of those stave woods out. My dad had a sawmill down there right below the stave woods.
The stave mill from when they logged out this Hudson tract was right down there at Verdun. They hauled the lumber there. And later on, in the latter part of the ‘50s, there was a stave mill that went in down on No Business, and they cut all that out.
That’s the last logging I done down there on the river. That was in the ‘60s. Then we came back and I went over to Caryville. We kept a mill where it’s sitting right now and run it some. We’d work over there maybe four days a week, then do some custom sawing here.
Hunting and getting by
A source of protein, most of the time, was wildlife: squirrels and rabbits. I never was much of a feller to eat coon, but a lot of these people, they’d eat coon and groundhogs. In the summertime it was mostly groundhogs, and in the wintertime it was coons.
To give you an idea how things could be, my Uncle Poley lived over at White Pine, just behind where the church house stands. During the Depression, when I was a boy, I would go over there and go with him. He had three traplines: one that went down Fall Branch and back up the river, and up a little branch that went on over to what we call Thompson’s, where the spring was, and he would make that in one day’s travel. Then the next day’s travel, he would go down Bandy Creek and back up the river to White Oak, and up Salt Branch. Then, the next day, he would go up Bandy Creek, then over to Oscar Blevins’ place.
I’d go with him, as a boy, and during the Depression, when you couldn’t get a dollar, I saw him have as much as $500 in his pocketbook from mink’s hide. Mink’s hide would go as high as $20 a hide. When you went to eat at his place, you always had wild meat. He always carried a .22, and he’d only kill one or two rabbits or squirrels.
He had a knack for catching game. He would catch a possum, he would skin that possum out, he’d drag that old carcass and tie it over a bush and swing it up in the air. Then he would get off somewhere and foxes would come and discover that. He would find him a rotten log and set him a trap, and nine times out of 10 he would go there and he’d have a fox or something in that trap. And he’d kill these rabbits and clean them out, and take that rabbit skin and find a place in a hollow tree, and he would put it back in there. It would look just exactly like a rabbit sitting in there. But he would set a steel trap right near, and the next time he came back, he’d have some kind of a varmint or a mink.
He knew these people in Knoxville, and it would take him almost a week to go there from down in Morgan County. He’d go and see all his people back in North Carolina. He had seven brothers, and they were all in the Civil War. They fought with the North. They scattered, and the old home was destroyed in the war. He drifted off into Morgan County and built a home down there, and that’s where I was born.
He was an odd kind of individual. He would be working the cornfield, and he’d be halfway through the cornfield and he would say, “Boys, let’s go fishing.” And when he said, “Let’s go fishing,” you caught fish.
* * *
Footnote — This is the final installment of a three-part series about early 20th century logging in Scott County, excerpted from an oral interview conducted in 1991, in which National Park Service employee Anne Malanka interviewed Kenneth Payne. Payne was born in Morgan County, June 15, 1919, to Thomas and Daisy Anderson Payne. He married his wife, Eva Miller, in 1946. Valedictorian of Oneida High School’s 1941 graduating class, he entered the U.S. Army Air Force and rose to the rank of staff sergeant, serving in the South Pacific in World War II, where he was engaged in support services of the dropping of the atomic bomb. He was a lifelong logger, and operated Payne Lumber Company with his brothers until his death on March 23, 2000. He was a founding member of the Black Oak Baptist Church, a founding member of the Scott County Farm Bureau, and served 40 years on the board of directors of the Scott County Farmers Cooperative and the Scott Soil Conservation District. Kenneth and Eva Payne had four children: sons Kenneth (wife Marilyn) and Tom (wife Elaine), both of Oneida, and daughters Lovada Ferguson (husband Harley) of Knoxville and Nada Laxton (husband James) of Oneida.
This article is the June 2018 installment of Forgotten Times, presented by United Cumberland Bank on the fourth week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version can be found on Page B8 of the June 28, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.