Mud Cut (East 5th Avenue) is where we’d hold wagon races, with home-made wagons. Here’s a map of the “race track.” There would be some big strong guy who would push your wagon from Main Street, in front of Mr. Charley’s house, down to the start line, where I have an “X” on the map. The starter, Deputy Sheriff Russell Cobb, would fire a 410 shotgun into the ground; in turn a guy would be standing at the finish line with a stop watch. When he heard the shotgun blast, he would know to start his stop watch (no walkie talkies in those days), so when the wagon crossed the finish line (if it did) he would stop his watch. The winner was whoever came down the fastest. After you passed Reservoir St. it was straight down, so the boys would be flying by the time they got to the finish line. Notice where I have the finish line: there was a house on the left, down in a hole. Mary Edna Huskey lived there. Sometimes a racer wouldn’t make the turn and off down the bank he’d go, sometimes into the side of that house! (Nobody ever got hurt, as I recall.) I can’t remember how many would be in the race but I guess it was at least 10 or 12 wagons. How many people would turn out to see the race? They would be 2, 3 or 4 deep from the top of the hill to the finish line.
Only one wagon at a time would come down the hill. After one wagon finished, the race people would pass the word back up the hill for the next wagon to start.
Who won what? The grand prize was $20 paid by Tubby Hawkins. He paid 2nd, 3rd and 4th prizes, too. I can’t remember how much 2nd and 3rd got, I’d guess $10 or $15.
When did the races take place? From around 1953 until about 1956, somewhere in that time frame.
Sometime in the late 40’s a bunch of Rutherford County law enforcement personnel had a dinner. They did this at different times and places, but on this occasion it was at the Spindale prison camp. After they had their meal an urgent announcement came over the PA system: the bank at Cliffside had just been robbed! All the lawmen jumped up and ran to their cars. Daddy [Deputy Sheriff Henry V. Davis, Sr.] jumped in his ’48 Ford patrol car, put it in low gear and stomped it—but he didn’t go anywhere. What happened was, earlier [Highway Patrolman] Charlie Speed, the ring leader, and some others had had a couple of the prisoners sneak out and jack up daddy’s car and put something under the axle, just enough so the rear wheels wouldn’t touch the ground. Of course, Daddy jumped out of his car to see what was wrong. They all knew he would be torn up by the Haynes Bank being robbed with him way up in Spindale having dinner. They all fell out of their cars laughing at Daddy and his jacked-up car. Well, that’s the bank robbery that wasn’t.
Our neighbor, Rachel Fortune, got on a train going somewhere during World War II. A soldier spoke up and said, “Boys, lets give this lady a seat.” The soldier’s name was Pete something from up north someplace. Rachel later married Pete in her front yard across from our house. I remember looking out the window watching the wedding take place. We had an old hand-cranked record player, and while the wedding was going on I started playing a record called Steel Guitar Rag full blast. I just knew the wedding party would love that song. Mama soon came in the room and made me turn it off. I’ve always felt the absence of my music probably ruined the wedding.
I was a “tour guide” on the Cliffside Day hayrides this year. On about the second tour, Madeline Scruggs Hardin (daughter of Hollis and Odessa Scruggs) was with us and told me this story: On the bank of the railroad cut near the old foot bridge, and near her family’s old homeplace, there is a small section of white clay/dirt, about a 20′ x 20′ section, I guess. Madeline said in her youth she used to get some of that clay and clean the floors in their house with it. She said when you got the clay wet it would shine the floors like new.
I told her story on all of the rides after that, and people’s mouths would drop open and they’d look at me in disbelief.
In the 40’s and 50’s, Cliffside has several taxi drivers, among them Jackson Scruggs, Jack Hames, Junior Smart, Tom Hill, Ashley Reid, Spur Campbell and probably others. When they were “on duty,” the drivers would park in front of Jackson’s Department Store. They had no telephone to receive calls for taxis, so how did they get the word? People would phone the cafe [above the garage] and tell Hoyle Hawkins [who ran the cafe] they needed a taxi. Hoyle would go to the cafe window facing Jackson’s, yell out louder than a boot camp drill instructor, “TAXI AUTOMOBILE,” and name the person needing a taxi. Hoyle was, I guess, an icon to the people in town, with his Taxi Automobile yell.
By the way, there would be several drivers there at any given time. When Hoyle would yell out, which ever taxi driver got out of his car first in response to Hoyle got the call, that’s how it all worked. One more thing, notice I said Hoyle would tell only the name of the caller; the driver knew the caller’s street and house number.
One Saturday afternoon Daddy [Henry Davis, deputy sheriff] was downtown and there was some man staggering around who had too much to drink. Daddy was going to arrest him but he got away—ran off behind the Memorial Building. After a while, someone said they saw the guy going by Charlie Haynes’ house, so Daddy got in the back seat of Jack Hames’ taxi and told Jack to drive slowly up the road. Sure enough, along about the Scout Cabin the drunk flagged the taxi down (Daddy knew he would do it), got in the taxi with Jack and Daddy. You know the rest—somebody went to jail that afternoon.
My brilliant sister Juanita, when she was about 13, needed some new shoes. Daddy had to go to court that day so he dropped Juanita off in Avondale at the corner to buy her some shoes at a store there. Daddy gave her enough money to buy the shoes and pay the fare back to Cliffside on A.E. Hardin’s bus. But when Juanita got into the store, she saw the new shoulder pocketbooks that had just come out—and just had to have one. When she bought it she didn’t have enough money left for bus fare, let alone shoes. So Juanita, with her old shoes and new pocketbook, walked the railroad tracks back to Cliffside.
In the ’40s deputy sheriffs and highway patrolmen worked together a lot of the time. On numerous occasions one of Daddy’s best friends, Charlie Speed, a highway patrolman, would come to our house for supper. I remember Mama starting early in the mornings cooking, cook all day, with the help of my sisters, to have a meal ready for Daddy and Charlie that evening. I never seen a horse that could eat more than those two could eat. I think Daddy would buy every steak that Fletcher Ruppe had for those big meals. That same patrolman, who would come to our little house in Cliffside for meals and visits, went on to become the Commander of the NC Highway Patrol under Governor Bob Scott.
Glenn Head was a mechanic at the garage (and probably worked in the mill too). One day he worked on his son’s car then took it for a test drive. Glenn went to the top of River Street and turned around. As he was approaching the bridge coming back towards town, the steering broke. Glenn ran straight into the river near the dam. As I remember, the car was under about 8 to 10 feet of water (you know how the bank sloped off in the river).
According to Glenn, the car window was partially open (or he managed to get it partially open), but he got hung trying to get out. Glenn said he knew he had one kick left. Lucky for him he got free, came up and swam out to the bank.
When he got to the bank, a man who was fishing nearby helped him out of the water. He told Glenn he saw him go in, but was so scared he couldn’t move. Also, at the time, there was a lady looking out a window of the terrycloth room in the mill. She told some of her coworkers that a car had just run into the river. They all thought it was a joke, but when they drained the pond to get the car out they found out it was indeed true.
Believe it or not, right after that, someone else almost ran into the river near where Glenn wrecked, but was stopped by a tree before plunging into the water. (This story came from Glenn Head himself through my late brother, Brownlee Davis.)
The culvert above the roller mill was a good swimming hole at one time. Shine Freeman would stop the train there at times and let us little boys ride back to town on the train after a day of swimming. The story goes that Shine’s brother dove off the culvert and was killed way back when, don’t know if that was true or not.
Remember hearing the story about the petrified cat under the mill? Well, the story is true. When I first went to work in the mill in 1958, one of the older hands (the mill workers were referred to as hands, not employees back then, remember?) carried me down under the mill and I saw with my own eyes the cat in question. I think the cat met its fate in the early 1900s. As far as I know, it’s still under the mill. I read an article once about the cat, but I don’t have a clue where I read it.
In many of the old pictures, you’ll see an old bus sitting by the fish pond. The bus was A.E. Hardin’s. They called it the Jitney bus. It would make trips to Forest City, Rutherfordton and Shelby. That’s how a lot of people would go shopping. Remember, a good many people didn’t have cars then, didn’t need one most of the time. My sister Juanita tells me that in the summer time Mr. Hardin would get up a bus load and go to either Carolina or Wrightsville beach, and sometimes to the Great Smokies. When they would go to the beach they would leave Cliffside about 6:00 in the morning and arrive at the beach around 5:30 or 6:00 pm, that’s how long the trip was back then. The bus you see in the pictures was a small bus, I remember earlier when he had a larger bus. All this beach trips were made during WW2, in the large bus.
One summer night when I was a teenager, I was downtown sitting on the steps in front of the Memorial Building with about 10 or 15 other people. G.C. Fisher spoke up and told us about a salesman who, some time ago, had spent the night in the Memorial Building. G.C. said the salesman checked out the next morning, saying he was going to Forest City to get a room because the town clock chimes had kept him awake all night. Well, we all laughed about the salesman, then Fisher looked up at the town clock and said it’s ten minutes to nine, lets see just how loud the clock is when it chimes nine. As we waited, Dewitt Rollins and a few other told a few jokes. After the joke telling and all the laughter, someone looked up at the clock. It was 10 minutes past nine, and not one person in the crowd had heard the clock go through its Westminster routine and strike nine. I guess the moral of the story is that the clock was such a part of our lives that no one ever really noticed the bells. Or else everyone in the crowd that summer night was hard of hearing.
Footnote: On the rare occasions the clock would stop, no one missed the bells, but everyone, believe it or not, seemed to notice that the clock’s hands weren’t moving.