Larry Hypes ...

“Shut down” seems to be operative word – or is that two words? House and Senate leaders, to quote one story, were racing to avoid closing the government along with the debt ceiling before the weekend. I would not have so much trouble since my debt ceiling is somewhere around $20. Never can get my hands on enough of those twenties.

These are trying times for all of us, of course. We are trying to find gas money with the precious petrol now over $3 per gallon. Milk is more than that and milk or “cow cola” as my late Uncle Rudy used to call it, is absolutely necessary to top off a bowl of cereal. In fact, at some stores a half gallon costs almost as much as its’ full brother and the old days of buying a pint (of milk!!) to complement a lunch cake are mostly long gone, too.

Back at A.B. Wiley’s store in Abb’s Valley, the prices were much more compatible with what we young fellers could come up with. Pop bottles (are you old enough to know what that means?) were all glass then and until the end of the 1950s plastic was generally something found at a Tupperware party.

We benefited from several factors. First, the coal mines were going full blast during those years and so traffic zoomed by three times daily going to and fro from Bishop, down to Gary Hollow with quite a bit of traffic from the Mudfork side maybe heading on to Jenkinjones or someplace close.

Equally important was logistics. Back then, miners were almost always in a hurry. Seldom was anybody eager to get to work early. Spending time hundreds of feet below ground, often in mud and/or low coal with some very hard labor involved is not exactly anyone’s idea of a good time. There was also the excitement of the end of any shift. Most workers were eager to get home and didn’t waste time looking in the rear view mirror at quitting time.

More than that, the social scene was different half a century ago. For example, trash dumps were not usually handy and few places in Four Seasons Country had access to a landfill. That was one reason that items ranging from old refrigerators to candy wrappers could be found “over the hill” on hundreds of steep, winding curves in the mountainous coal fields.

People were more independent then, litter laws were vastly different than those of today, and so it was generally overlooked when trash was tossed out. The miners were almost always thirsty either way and since they were in a hurry a ditch was often more convenient than trying to wait until the next stop to find a trash can. So, our treasure trove of tossed-out goodies included the aforementioned pop bottles. Glass was a valuable commodity and not to be wasted by the youngsters who were always on the lookout for another snack.

Coke bottles, Double Cola, the Pocahontas beverages, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Seven-Up and more were all worth something. Usually two to three cents was the going rate but many of those big bottles in the days before the two-liter plastic items might bring in eight cents or perhaps as much as a dime. One could take a wagon or a paper grocery bag and maybe get as many as half a dozen or more which would fill up a carton. At times, 15-20 bottles might make a really large stash and that was approaching the 50-cent range.

Now, at “Orville’s” store we worked on a cash and carry basis but he helped us with credit, too. If we wanted the money for the bottles, that was easy enough so we pocketed the cash. There was another way, too.

Those were the days of neighborhood stores when most people had a “ticket” with the listed items dutifully recorded at time of purchase with no money being exchanged. Miners got paid on schedule, usually every two weeks and few people on earth are more honest than miners and their families. As soon as payday came, they “settled up” with the store keepers.

Even big businesses extended credit because they knew the workers were good for the money. So, we followed suit and either got a snack and paid for it then or had our latest total added to the ledger so that the next time we came in we could order and have that deducted from our amount. Every now and then we would charge and pay our bill when we found more bottles. Once, a friend ran up a total of more than three dollars and we figured the sheriff was coming for him any time.

But, since a drink cost about seven cents and a candy bar could be had for a nickel we could usually count on enough bottles for a tasty treat every couple of days.

Ah, those were the days.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Bluefield High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist. Contact him at

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