Appalachia I Am From

Falling off the Mountain

Logging Train - Photo Credit: NPS Archives

Logging Train – Photo Credit: NPS Archives

“We hadn’t been there long when a log train, going past with a loader full of logs, fell over directly in front of our house. It barely missed the house and fell over the side of the mountain. The whole thing was over before I realized what had happened. I heard the metallic, squeaky noise of the train, the thunderous boom of the logs hitting the ground, and then silence as they fell into the hollow.

Loaders are equipped with boilers of their own to produce power. Looking out the door, I saw the loader lying on its side with hot, white steam hissing. Thinking it would explode any minute, I grabbed Wilma and ran up the tracks, away from the wreck. The crew met me on their way down. They said there wasn’t any danger of explosion and I could stay in the house. Wilma, sensing my terror, was screaming at the top of her voice. Two cranes were brought up from Elkmont to pull the loader back on the tracks. A few more feet and it would have been in the deep hollow with the logs.

Fred still worked the dawn-to-dusk shift while I took care of things at home. We had four boarders, who had to be fed morning and night and have lunches packed for the job. I had to carry water from a spring about a half mile away for all our drinking, cooking, and washing. Once a week, I made out a grocery list and sent it out on the train to the company store.

After all the men were gone, Wilma and I were free to do what we wanted. Morning and evening, we climbed the mountain to milk the cow. She grazed around the house and up the mountain, always returning to her stall for milking time. She waited in the stall until we came to milk. One morning she wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Calling and looking, we went around the mountain. Wilma pointed down to the hollow below. The cow never went there, so I kept calling. “Mama,” Wilma said, “she’s down there.” I looked down. The cow was there all right-dead. She had fallen off the mountain and broken her neck.

The death of our cow was a great loss, and I didn’t know how we would replace her. I thought of the jokes Pa and Ma used to make about falling out of the cornfield. What would they say about our cow falling out of her pasture?”

Dorie: Woman of the Mountains pgs 123-124 (1912-1917)


I like this excerpt from the book because it allows your mind to visualize the steep mountains that were being logged-steep enough for a load of logs to fall off, steep enough for a cow to fall off. I also like it because you can ‘hear’ the happiness in Dorie’s voice when she says “After all the men were gone, Wilma and I were free to do what we wanted.” Her life may have been a hard one, but it was obviously one she loved and enjoyed.



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  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 28, 2015 at 9:46 am

    I know I am late in posting this!
    I have heard my kin on my Fathers side laugh and tell of animals and things falling off the side of the mountains….
    One story was told that some old hunters would use TAR to put on their boots and shoes to hold them on the side of the mountain while hunting….hence the North Carolina nickname…TARHEEL! It does make sense all the tar-like pitch from the pines would be perfect…Another old story was for sure a neighbors cow that had worn pig-trail grooves in the side of one of their back mountain that they let her pasture…had two legs on the steep side shorter that the other two…just in case she stepped off’en the pig trail! ha
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    F Horne
    October 26, 2015 at 7:34 am

    My grandmother raised 16 kids on a farm in Southwest Virginia. The land was decent but some of the acreage was measured vertically since it was so steep. She had a cistern for catching rain water off the roof of the house but the good drinking water came from a spring over half-mile away in a holler. Not a bad trip down but quite a haul carrying two 5-gallon buckets of water back up the trail. Neither bucket was full by the time we got back to the house!

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    October 25, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    When Granddad Dyer’s well went dry (as it did most times in July/August) we would have to ‘tote’ water in 5 gallon buckets from the ‘year-round spring’ that was more than a quarter mile away from the house, across at least the side of a steep hill. A comment above asked “why didn’t they build nearer the spring”? Lots of reasons. It may have been the only ‘buildable’ terrain in the area. It may have needed to be near the train tracks for the convenience of the workers. Or they may have tried to dig a well, and didn’t hit water. By the way, our ‘toting’ water was in the 1950s and 60s.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    October 25, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    Wonderful story, can you imagine having to tote water that far? Wonder why they didn’t build the house closer to the spring. Anyway, reminds me of a story our paternal Granddad told me as a child (that got me into trouble for repeating in kindergarten at school, the teacher thinking I was lying-LOL).
    He said cows in the mountains had legs two different lengths – normal length on one side, shorter on the other, cause if they didn’t, they’d fall off the mountain. I believed him, of course, and repeated it at school (your Granddad wouldn’t lie to you after all).

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I remember Daddy talking about having to bury his old blue mule that fell and broke its neck while pulling a log down the mountain. It was too steep and the log started to run. He couldn’t get the grabs loose and the mule couldn’t get out of the way.
    I don’t know whether “Blue” was the mule’s name or if Daddy was referring to the color. I think blue was the color because he always said “my old blue mule.” If it was a name he would have said “my old mule Blue.”
    I have heard of other animals being blue but never a mule.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Hi Tipper,Can’t get this story out of my mind as you tell about logging.Back in 1938 when my late husbend Richard was 7 years old, the men in the family were taking the mule and going out to do some logging,they asked Richard to come along and be their water boy,as they leave Richard turns back and yells to Big Mom”send my lunch up in a 10 pound lard bucket.LOL God Bless”

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 24, 2015 at 10:59 am

    That was a nice excerpt to read and some of our mountains are real steep for pastureland.
    My mama enjoyed being by herself
    and doing chores around the house. And she still was able to cook 3 meals a day, on a wood cookstove,and take care of her family. Watching her life not being afraid of hard work made us 6 boys understand
    the dignity of work…Ken

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    October 24, 2015 at 8:41 am

    This makes me grateful we had a beautiful mountain pasture for our cows. We had to take them up there and go back in the evening and bring them in for milking. We had to walk on the Matheson Cove road for just a little ways. That was not a problem. But I always worried that a vehicle would come around the curve and hit one of our cows. WHAT A LIFE!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    October 24, 2015 at 8:38 am

    And our young ones think the world has come to an end if they can’t connect on one of their many devises!

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    October 24, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Love this little piece of Appalachian history. I can understand the train falling off the mountain but the cow?! I see cows on mountains a lot. They must have lived on some pretty steep mountain!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 24, 2015 at 7:30 am

    A hard life indeed. Carrying all your water from a half mile away would be a lot of work. Those were tough people!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 24, 2015 at 7:19 am

    Imagine the isolation for Dorrie and Little Wilma during the daytime. It is a good thing that she gained solace from nature (rough as the terrain was) and her work–as well as her faithfulness as a wife and mother–because almost everything else was stern and demanding of all the patience and resources Dorrie could muster. But mountain women are tough! And Dorrie was a “mountain woman” who learned to “make-do” with situations that came her way.

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