Bluefield Daily Telegraph
There was a tone of absolute desperation in my brother’s voice when he called me and said: “Buck! Get me out of here!” It was a Friday afternoon in the fall of 1983. Stu had traveled to War with a guitar-playing friend of his from Morgantown who was teaching at English Elementary School. They had performed in Morgantown the previous Saturday night, and somehow, the guitar picking teacher had talked Stu into visiting War. By Friday afternoon, Stu had seen all he wanted to see, and was eager to get back to Morgantown.
At the time, I really didn’t know where War was. I had met Oscar Patrick in my freshman year at West Virginia University. He seemed like a nice guy. I watched Bob Gresham from the stands at Old Mountaineer Field. I knew both of those kids went to Big Creek High School, and I knew it was in very southern West Virginia. I hung up the phone, looked on a map and took off for War. I had been all over the United States, but the ride from Bishop to War was one of the most fascinating roads I had ever traveled. As I neared War, I realized that Route 16 hugged the mountain so tightly that I found it breath-taking just to drive there.
I found the apartment where Stu was staying with no problem. It was just a few buildings back up the hill from where the Bailey Lumber yard was. He asked me what took me so long, and within a minute, we were in the car and headed back to Bluefield. Stu had plenty of time to complain about being stranded in War, and I had plenty of time to look at the incredible mountains from a perspective that I had never previously enjoyed.
As we were leaving town, I spotted a red, 1961 Chevrolet that had apparently been used as fill to build up the road bed. It caught my attention so much that I stopped the car at the next wide spot, walked back to the curve and took a picture of it. I later entered the picture in a Princeton Camera Club photo contest and called it, “Emerging Traffic.” I also used it for its humor value in 1987 when I did a story in the Twin-State Marketer about a sham radio promotion concerning a new underground mall coming into the region.
I noticed last Sunday that most of the car is rusted away, but a portion of the front bumper is still protruding from the side of road-fill hill. Seeing that bumper took me back to a time when I didn’t know everything that I know now. The image of that old ’61 Chevy sticking out of the hillside prompted me to explore southern West Virginia every chance that I got. I even took the great photographer Arnout Hyde, his wife Thresa and two of their friends on a day-long van tour of Bishop, Newhall, Cucumber, Squire, War, English, Caretta and Coalwood. We drove a mile, took pictures for a while and drove to the next image. Arnout had never been there before.
It was easy to see the unique geological and historical aspects of that part of McDowell County, but Tom Hatcher helped me see the unique qualities of the people. Tom invited Karl Miller and I to come to perform for a pair of War Kiwanis Club dinners. He invited us to perform at a War Fall Festival and invited me to serve as a guest speaker at a Kiwanis Club meeting. He set me up to sell books at the Tazewell Historical Society tent at the Tazewell, Va., Street Fair and helped me understand a great deal more about the Clinch Mountain Militia’s participation in the American Revolution. He was an indispensable resource for historical details and modern life. Tom was the real thing.
In the fall of 1983, I had already sold my first picture to the Associated Press for $5, and was regularly supplying June Grubb with feature photographs and stories for her Sunday section and mid-week page. At the time, I had no idea how far a car used as fill on the side of a very steep hill would carry me as my life was changing from educated laborer to inexperienced writer. I had cried, wished, prayed, practiced and studied to be a writer, but it took people like June Grubb, Eddie Steele, Tom Hatcher and so many more to guide me on a course where I could be most helpful.
Tom was a highly educated educator, but the thing that made him a great teacher was his nurturing support and the very articulate way that he insisted on accuracy and doing things the correct way. He never slurred his words, and he never used the vernacular even to emphasize a point. He was unwaveringly committed to proper diction and language, and as a teacher, absolutely dedicated to getting the best from his students. I’m proud to say that I am a student of the late Dr. Thomas Clark Hatcher’s school of real life, where the process of learning never ends. He was my friend.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at email@example.com.