February 2013

Dec. 15, 1973 was a cold Saturday night in Knoxville. My wife and I, along with our friends, Allen and Charlotte Stafford, drove there from Johnson City to see the Volunteers play the Temple Owls in the Volunteer Classic. We joined 11,700 others at the Stokely Athletics Center. The temperature inside would soon get as cold as it was outside. Allen and I pooled our recollections of that night for this column.

Ray Mears’ squad consisted of Ernie Grunfeld (f), Doug Ashworth (f), Austin Clark (f) Len Kosmalski (c), David Moss (f), Bill Seale (f), John Snow (g), Wayne Tomlinson (f), Rodney Woods (g), Mike Jackson (g), David Mitchell (g), David Smith (g) and Vinnie Tracey (f).

Tennessee came into the game with impressive wins at South Florida (117-90) and DePaul (96-61). Temple brought with them three wins and one loss. Don Casey, first year Temple Coach, was concerned about his team beating Tennessee. Therefore, he devised a strategy for the match.

With 11:44 minutes into the contest with Tennessee leading 7-5, Casey made his move. He placed two of his best players about 28 feet from the goal and positioned them five feet apart. They began dribbling the ball and passing it back and forth with no attempt to throw it to anyone else or attempt to score. Ray Mears, not to be outdone by his rival, instructed his players to go to a 2-3 zone defense and stay there.

This was before the days of a shot clock. Casey’s idea was to force Tennessee to come out and try to retrieve the ball, opening up his best shooters to score. As time ensued, the crowd wondered how long this repetitiveness would continue. The fans’ demeanor quickly turned from disbelief to anger. They paid to see a competitive basketball game, not two guys passing a ball back and forth.

Despite the crowd’s constant ranting, Temple held the ball until the first half ended and exited the court to a barrage of boos. They trailed by only two points.

The second half opened with more of the same. By now, the crowd became much more vocal and hostile, tossing ice and trash onto the floor, causing game delays. Security was beefed up in the building, including positioning additional police officers behind the Temple bench. 

Mears, visibly agitated by the goings on, yelled several times at the Owls to start playing real basketball. Casey responded by challenging the Vols to come out of their zone and get them. The two coaches were in a stubborn stalemate with neither one giving in.  

John Ward, the “Voice of the Vols, somehow managed to keep his listeners glued to their radios that night. Surprisingly, few fans left the game early because, as boring as it was, everyone anxiously wanted to see a Tennessee win. The four us certainly had no inclination to leave.

Although Temple did not give the Vols a single shot from the field in the second half, John Snow made four free throws to preserve an 11-6 Tennessee win. Kosmalski was the Big Orange’s leading scorer with five points. Temple held the ball for about 32 minutes of the 40-minute game.

Ed Bowling, school president, instructed the Vols to play an intra-squad game to appease the crowd. The four of us moved to the center section for better seats. Most of the crowd showed little interest in an exhibition game and began a mass exit. The game was quickly cancelled.

Reportedly, when the two coaches met after the finale, Mears informed Casey that he would never be invited back to Knoxville as long as he was coach. The game would go down in Tennessee sports history as the lowest scoring college game of the modern era.

Although the NBA had a shot clock as far back as 1954, it did not infiltrate the college ranks until the 1985-86 season when a 45-second one was adopted. Eight years later, it was reduced to 35 seconds.

As a parting shot to a wasted night, I mailed our two ticket stubs to the Temple Athletic Department requesting a full refund of the “game.” I am still patiently waiting for it.  

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Today’s column photo should take many of my readers on a nostalgic journey back to the old long ago razed Southern Railway Depot. It was a fun place to go, especially when trains arrived and departed. It was even more pleasurable to purchase a ticket and ride the rails. My subject concerns an unpleasant incident – a train wreck.

The collision occurred in Johnson City on Dec. 21, 1956, resulting in a fatality and two injuries. Specifics of the tragedy were described in a detailed Feb. 1, 1957 Interstate Commerce Commission report. The accident happened within the yard limits of Johnson City on a single-track line over which trains were operated by timetable, train orders and an automatic block-signal system. 

According to my source, Work Extra 6507, a maintenance service train, was comprised of a diesel engine, eight cars and a caboose. It departed westbound from the east siding at Johnson City about 6:30 a.m. and stopped on the main track where the locomotive was detached and moved onto the middle siding.

No. 73, a westbound second-class freight train consisted of four diesel engines, coupled in multiple-unit control, 62 cars and a caboose. It departed from Bristol at 5:30 a.m., being seven hours late. It stopped briefly at signal 23.9A in Johnson City. The signal light indicated, “Proceed.” About 15 minutes later, after some cars had been removed and others added to the train, it continued on its journey.

Suddenly while the train was chugging along at about 10 miles per hour, it struck the rear end of No. 6507, pushing it 265 feet down the track and destroying its caboose. Three section men were riding in the caboose. One was killed and the other two were injured. The front end of No. 73 and the rear car of No. 6507 incurred some damage.

Early that morning, the crew of the service train reported for duty at Johnson City and assembled the train on the east siding. The locomotive then moved on the main track from the east siding-switch to the west siding-switch, entering the siding at the latter switch and was coupled to the west end of the train. It was then moved to the east switch of the middle siding and the locomotive was detached and moved onto the siding for the purpose of adding additional cars to the train. The conductor said that his plan was to enter the siding and permit No. 73 to pass. He said that a lighted red lantern and the red reflectorized disc, which served as a marker, were displayed at the rear of the caboose.

Before No. 73 reached the station at Johnson City, the engineer saw a yard locomotive pass by and assumed that it was the same one he had seen earlier. As the freight locomotive passed the station, the operator handed the fireman copies of three train orders and a clearance form. Almost immediately, he spotted the caboose of No. 6507 about 30 feet ahead of them and instantly applied the brakes, but it was too late to avoid a collision.

Contributing factors to the accident were a light rain and the early morning darkness. The front brakeman testified that dirt on portions of the front windows was not being cleaned sufficiently by the wipers, obstructing his view of the track ahead. He acknowledged that he did not see the caboose until seconds before the collision occurred. Crewmembers concurred that the large train was moving at about 10 miles per hour at the time of impact.

The official accident review, an impressive detailed report, noted that because of the curvature of the track and a building situated north of the track, the caboose could not have been seen until the locomotive was within 658 feet east of the accident site. The reflectorized disc, which served as a marker, was not visible by the big train until it was 380 feet from the small one.

The ruling by the Commission further stated that the accident was caused by failure to maintain a proper lookout ahead while moving within yard limits. Corrective policy changes were implemented by the company. 

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I have fond memories of attending Henry Johnson School (W. Market Street opposite Kiwanis Park) in the 1950s. When I transferred there after completing the first grade at West Side School, I received a warm reception from the principal, Miss Margaret Crouch who escorted Mom and me on a tour of the school.

Mrs. Mary Jordan was the school’s music teacher, instructing students in all six grades. Several years later, I enrolled in her husband, Glenn’s, mechanical drawing class at East Tennessee State College. The couple resided in the Franklin Apartments on E. Main Street.

Mrs. Jordan taught us several patriotic songs like “America,” “America, the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” We routinely sang them during her class.

Our textbooks were the “New Music Horizons” series published in 1945 by the Silver Burdett Company for grades one through six. Each book was of a different size and color with the grade positioned on the lower right cover. Over the years, I began collecting them at flea markets and antique stores and acquired five, missing only the first one.

The six books focused on music activities through “singing, playing, dancing, listening and creating.” They were designed to deepen students’ appreciation of their forefathers who were a part of our American heritage. The primary grade books 1-3 provided a period of enrichment that helped prepare the students for more advanced concepts. The intermediate class books 4-6 took the pupils to a higher level of specific skills.

Notes contained at the back of each book provided specific instruction for teachers. The lessons provided the basics for reading music and also taught us about such instruments as the violin, cello, trombone, French horn, flute, trumpet, cornet, clarinet and saxophone in an effort to awaken our interest in instrumental performance. 

Mrs. Jordan occasionally brought records to class and played them for us. Some had stories associated with them while others introduced us to light classical music, such as “The Nutcracker Suite” and the Russian composition, “Peter and the Wolf,” by Sergei Prokofiev. I have a set of 78-rpm records that are narrated by Basil Rathbone. They possibly are the same ones she played for us. Another frequently played disc was about an old clock maker. There were a variety of alarms heard on it. 

Mrs. Jordan kept a variety of musical instruments in her room for illustrations, but she made it clear to her students that they were to be looked at, not touched or played. She decorated the room nicely around the theme of music. I have always enjoyed music and Mrs. Jordan enhanced my appreciation of it even more.

Our dedicated teacher instructed us in a French song titled “Alouette,” first published in Montreal, Canada in 1879: “Alouette, gentille Alouette (Skylark, nice Skylark). Alouette je te plumerai (Skylark, I will pluck you). Alouette, gentille Alouette (Skylark, nice Skylark). Alouette je te plumerai (Skylark, I will pluck you). Je te plumerai la tête (I shall pluck your head). Je te plumerai la tête (I shall pluck your head). Et la tête (and your head), et la tête (and your head). Alouette (Skylark), Alouette (Skylark), O-o-o-o-oh. Alouette, gentille Alouette. Alouette je te plumerai.”

The folksong, while very easy on the ear, was a bit shocking. It originated from French-Canadian women who sang the ditty while plucking skylarks, considered tasty game birds. Each verse built on the previous verse, much like the “Twelve Days of Christmas, as each part of the bird's body was plucked: la tete (head), la bec (beak), le nez (nose), les yeux (eyes), le cou (neck), les ailes (wings), le dos (back), les pattes (feet) and la queue (tail). Mrs. Jordan never told us what the words meant for obvious reasons. 

My thoughts often revert to the five years I spent at Henry Johnson School; it was a pleasant, carefree time in my life. 

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Charles Kuralt is remembered for his popular 25-year “On the Road” program for CBS, a television series that began as a three-month trial in October 1967. Teamed with a cameraman and a soundman, the American journalist logged more than one million miles in six motor homes while producing approximately 500 segments. His formula for success was simple – stay off interstate highways and abide by no set itinerary. It worked.

Kuralt maintained a state-by-state file of letters from fans, references from public relations firms and ideas from local chambers of commerce. He sought out-of-the-way places with atypical stories and unsung heroes. He was given total freedom to explore this great vast land we call America.

Recently, I purchased a book titled, On The Road With Charles Kuralt (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1985) from a local flea market. The chapter on Jonesboro (Jonesborough), Tennessee caught my eye. Kuralt branded the town as “The Most Contentious Little Town in North America.”

The first part of the report mentions the State of Franklin: “Jonesboro, Tennessee’s oldest town, stands quietly in the late autumn sun. It’s all so peaceful now. Hard to believe that it was once the most contentious little town in North America. That was just at the end of the Revolutionary War, when North Carolina, which had ambitions to be a civilized place, took one look at its western possessions, filling up with rough characters wearing buckskins and fighting Indians and decided enough was enough.

“So the state of North Carolina said to the brand new American Congress, ‘Tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to give North Carolina west of the mountains to you.’ The Congress said, ‘Thanks, just the same. But we’ve troubles enough already and what we don’t need is a bunch of backwoodsmen living in a wilderness.’ People around here, left with no government, decided they’d better start one. And right here on this spot, they did. As far as they were concerned, it was the 14thstate. They named it “State of Franklin” after Ben Franklin.”

Headquarters for the new territory was in a building on the site where today’s Washington County Courthouse is located. The new government elected Colonel John Sevier as its governor. The book was a bit unkind to Sevier by noting that the venture was unsuccessful because his constituents were a headstrong, unruly, rough and tumble, ungovernable lot who ever tried to form a government. They were unable to get along and frequently engaged in physical altercations in the courtroom. They even had competing sheriffs to arrest one another. The old graveyard in town received brisk business from the frequent use of muskets and pistols.

The situation grew even worse when a daring young lawyer, named Andy Jackson, rode into town itching for a fight. He and Colonel Robert Love instantly engaged in a verbal exchange. “You sir,” said Jackson, “and all your family are a band of land pirates.” Colonel Love countered, “And you sir are a (expletive) long, gangling, sorrel-topped soap stick. John Sevier added his two-cents worth: “Andrew Jackson is the most abandoned rascal my eyes have ever beheld.” Jackson replied angrily in a newspaper ad: “Know ye that I, Jackson, do pronounce, publish and declare to the world his Excellency, John Sevier, is a base coward and poltroon.” The initial battle of words eventually gave way to swords, canes and guns.”

The book recalled an incident that occurred at the Chester Inn as told by the late historian, Paul Fink. Jackson came to town to hold court, but he was so ill, they had to help him from his horse and put him in bed at the inn. Believing that he was about to be tarred and feathered, Jackson asked for guns at his bedside and dared anyone to approach him. No one did and the incident was quickly defused. Kuralt noted that after the three men moved away from the town, “Jonesboro’s been a lot quieter.” 

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