The champion floater
In 2002, Sam Davis was among those former Cliffside residents attending a reunion of many other current and former Cliffside residents who loved and wanted to Remember Cliffside. Meeting these former neighbors and old friends again brought to mind many memories of the time they lived in Cliffside, and these recollections—the nostalgic, the odd, and the funny ones—were shared with the others. One of Sam’s memories of Lafar Ruppe, as told to Joyce Atkinson Hunter, was a little of each.
He said that during the summer, Lafar would take a group of boys swimming at a place called Burris’ Gin, between Cliffside and Boiling Springs, N. C. The group included Sam’s older brother, Brownlee, and others about his age, which would have included Lafar’s son, Little Fred. Sam was younger, and so was not a member of the group, but was occasionally allowed to tag along with them.
Burris’ Gin had existed there many years ago, but the only evidence remaining was the cement dam across a little stream named Grog Creek. The dam, according to Sam’s recollection, was about 25 to 30 feet wide, and perhaps 20 feet high, and corralled the stream into a perfect swimming hole. The boys would dive from the bank, the dam and the trees around the swimming hole, spending a perfect afternoon cooling off on a hot summer day.
Lafar would swim back out of the way of the splashing and diving boys, and would lie floating on the water for an hour or so, watching while the boisterous boys enjoyed themselves. He floated so effortlessly and contentedly that he appeared to go to sleep. Sam said he, along with others, were amazed that when Lafar floated, only a couple of inches of his body seemed to be submerged, while most of it was out of the water. He said that to this day he had never seen anyone who could float like Lafar did.
Sam Davis’ shocking watermelon experience
Lafar Ruppe and his son, Fred, were trying to earn extra money to put toward building their house off Hwy 221A on Cobb Road just outside Cliffside. They both worked in Cliffside Mill, but were also engaged in other money making ventures. Lafar rented some land where he and Fred raised produce one year, mostly cantaloupes and watermelons, to sell to their Cliffside neighbors. When the watermelons were ripe, Lafar would hitch a trailer loaded with them to his little green Jeep, and would either park it in Cliffside or would drive up and down the streets to find prospective customers. Per Sam Davis, Lafar sometimes commissioned others to sell for him, including Bill Goode, a friend of his older brother, Brownlee Davis.
One day Sam was sitting on the steps to the old footbridge over the railroad tracks, doing nothing in particular, when Bill saw him there and drove up in the Jeep, hauling a trailer load of watermelons. Sam admired the watermelons, so Bill told him to get one of them. Sam said it wouldn’t be right to just take it, but Bill insisted that he go ahead and get one.
While the vast majority of Cliffside people were honest, law abiding citizens, boys would still be boys, and Sam was no different. When he succumbed to temptation and leaned over to pick up a watermelon, he was almost knocked backward by an unexpected jolt. The trailer had been wired so that anyone touching a metal part of the Jeep or trailer when a button on the steering column was pressed got a shock similar to touching a live spark plug wire. Bill Goode drove away laughing as Sam stood there trying to think of some way he could kill Bill and get away with it.
Howard Parris, Lafar’s grandson, told us that Lafar, in still another of his money-making schemes, had gone to Hendersonville and bought a trailer-load of apples. When he went to his job as a watchman at the mill, he would park the Jeep and trailer beside the gatehouse. Several times after making his rounds, he returned to find some of his apples missing.
Wanting to discourage anyone “messing around” his Jeep and trailer, Lafar rigged the electrical charge, taping down the button on the steering column so it would stay active during his rounds. Although the system was originally intended to protect his apples, Sam Davis can attest to the fact that it could also protect watermelons…..and play jokes on unsuspecting boys.