January 2014

I enjoy receiving correspondence from folks who once worked at long-deceased businesses. Such was the case for Ledford's Food Center, once located at 206 N. Roan, just down the street from The Gables, a popular confectionery.

The informant, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that the store once experienced a relatively large volume of business. John Doe's tenure there spanned more than six years. His comments are shown in quotes; my added notes are in brackets.

According to Doe, “The property was owned by area businessman, Robert London, but its contents comprised a retail grocery store leased by Howard V. Ledford. Howie, as he became known, acquired the reputation of being an affable person to customers and employees.

“Although lacking a suitable parking lot, air conditioning, fancy advertising, extended hours, flashy displays and background music, its various perks and clever practices set this store apart from most of its competitors.”

(Customers had to locate parking spaces on nearby streets or use one of the few located behind the store, which had a two-hour limit. Store hours were 8:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. on Monday through Thursday. It was open until 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Unlike most downtown stores of that era, they did not close at noon on Wednesday. They were closed all day on Sunday.) 

“Several area restaurants and small grocery stores routinely bought meat, particularly ground beef, at wholesale prices from them. One eatery, Melody Lane Grill, managed by Jim Townsend, was the best commercial customer through the years, enjoying the greatest discount. 

“Johnson City Eye Hospital’s Ms. Patrick was provided free delivery of her institution’s orders as a reward for their business. Also to the delight of Billy Carpenter, the food center also stored refrigerated and frozen items free of charge for nearby Junior High when the school's own equipment could not accommodate its needed supply.” (Many folks will remember the colorful Billy at the school's cafeteria, working with his mother, Mary, who was the manager.)

“Meat cutters, who stayed busy most of their respective tenure, especially on Saturdays, included Earl Ledford, Dennis Miller, Roy Cannon, Sherman Cox, Claude Lilly, Gene McKee, Jimmy Bowman, and Geeter Sheets. 

“Ledford's obtained its meat from several wholesalers: Rath, Swift, Cudahy, Wilson, Valleydale, Hormel, Oscar Meyer, and Selecto (East Tennessee Packing Co. in Knoxville).  Choice beef was obtained from Kingan Co. in Indianapolis, while pork sausage was procured from local distributors such as Morton Brothers, Bulla and Payne. 

“Locally, the Sells Company sold fresh poultry to the small store. Occasionally, fresh rabbit as well as Will Cope’s home-made tamales could be found in the self-service case.” (Mr. Cope, as many of us seniors can testify, made absolutely the best hot tamales in town.)

“The produce department rivaled the meat market in attrition of employees. At various times, tending the fresh fruits and vegetables were Everett Hughes, Henry Arnold, Bobby Hoss, Joe Henley, Ray Bowman, Edwin Goines, and Bill Hughes.

“Fresh produce was delivered twice weekly and placed at the front door with no fear of theft or damage, despite being left unattended an hour or more before Ledford or assistant manager, Ralph Booth, opened the door around 7:30. Most of these high-quality foods had been bought from Hale Brothers, a premiere wholesaler of fruits and vegetables in Morristown.

“Bag-up boys never had to ask customers whether they preferred paper or plastic; the latter had not come into existence back then. Personnel included J.G. Peterson, Raymond Kilby, Tony Bowman and Marvin Gouge. Jim Evans had a brief stay there as chief shelf-stocker. Only two cashiers were employed at Ledford's: Booth and a worker named Wallace Bolding.”

My column photo shows a Ledford's store ad with a caricature of Mr. Ledford, who promoted his products using humorous comments, usually preceded with the words, “Howie Sez.” 

Thank you, John Doe, for escorting us back to yesteryear for a peek into Ledford's Food Center. Does anyone know additional facts about the operation or what years the store was in business? If so, please send me a note.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my years at the University of Tennessee while pursuing my engineering degree. While I have many favorable reminiscences from that era, there is a particularly bad one that occurred on Feb. 1, 1965 when I was a junior. The forecast for that wintry, 15-degree Monday morning was rain turning to sleet, followed by an accumulation of up to 6-inches of snow by early afternoon.

Surprisingly, classes that day were not suspended. Students, especially those from the South, viewed this as an opportunity to enjoy the campus's invigorating winter wonderland. True to predictions, the white stuff began falling by late morning.

Several of us left our Old Melrose Hall dorm after attending morning classes and walked down the Melrose Avenue circle toward “the strip” on Cumberland Avenue. As we passed through the crowd, we noticed some clever makeshift “sleds,” including a large wooden flowerpot borrowed from a nearby faculty house porch, being used to transport students down the slippery streets.

About eight people would cram into the pot along the top of the hill and travel counterclockwise toward the Kappa Sigma Fraternity house at the bottom. The ride abruptly ended when the sled hit the curb at the bottom of the hill causing it to flip, precariously dumping its thrill-seeking passengers onto the ground.

As we continued toward Cumberland Avenue, we noticed a continuous buildup of students that ultimately totaled 500. Although snowballs were initially randomly thrown at other students, the sport escalated into those on one side of the street throwing at folks on the other. Some individuals used an umbrella due to the intensity of the falling snow, but they soon came down after they became targets for a barrage of snowballs. On a positive note, there were reports of students helping motorists get their cars started and back on the road.

The weather began to take its toll on traffic with over a hundred calls received by Knoxville Police, which included the report of a 7-car pileup west of the campus. Of note were 67 complaints of students on the U.T. campus who were throwing snowballs at vehicles, especially those along the 1700 block of Cumberland Avenue.

About that time, the winter enjoyment was elevated another notch. One student would sneak up on a vehicle and attempt to open its door. If successful, a barrage of snowballs would be hurled inside the vehicle, covering the unsuspecting driver and the interior of the car with snow. The individual would be dazed and overwhelmed as he or she tried to navigate their vehicle away from the melee. Anything was fair game for this distraction, be it pedestrians, cars, trucks or 18-wheelers. 

After watching this activity for several minutes, my party decided to eat lunch, Our quick choices were the Quarterback Restaurant (Italian cuisine), the Varsity Inn (Greek food) and Sam and Andy's Tennessean (home of the legendary Vol Burger). We unanimously opted for a Quarterback pizza.

While we were dining, something happened a block away near the main entrance to the campus at Ayres Hall. A 56-year-old man who was employed by the Fulton Sylphon Company in Knoxville, left work early that day to have snow chains put over the wheels of his car. As he traveled down slippery Cumberland Avenue near the entrance to the Hill, he became overly agitated by a group of students throwing snowballs at him, blocking his view of the road.

About that time, the man, who reportedly had high blood pressure, suffered a heart attack, causing him to slump over his steering wheel and veer off the road, hitting a utility pole. He was taken to University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. We did not hear about this tragedy until later.

After we finished eating, we exited the restaurant. Almost immediately, we spotted a commotion and a large crowd gathering in front of the “T” Room, another favorite student eatery on the strip. We sensed something was wrong. To our dismay, we heard that that an 18-year-old male student had been shot near the restaurant.

Not knowing him, we learned that he resided in New Melrose Hall (later Hess Hall), the dorm adjacent to ours. We were further told that he was carried by students into the restaurant to wait for an ambulance to arrive. Word quickly spread that the driver of an 18-wheeler, an employee of the Bird and Cutshaw Produce Company of Greeneville, Tennessee, killed him.

Like many others, someone opened the truck driver's door and pelted him with snowballs. But unlike the others, he became irate, probably fearing for his safety. Witnesses said that he pulled a .22-caliber pistol from his glove compartment, stood on his truck's running board a few seconds and fired his gun into the crowd. The bullet struck the student over his right eye. Several people overpowered the driver, confiscated his weapon and wrestled him to the ground where they held him until authorities arrived. He was taken into custody and charged with second degree murder.

There was a good deal of discussion as to whether the truck driver aimed at any specific student who had thrown a snowball at him or shot aimlessly into the crowd. Some theorized that in the excitement of the moment, he accidentally discharged his weapon.

Unfortunately, this story does not end here. There was a third person killed on campus that day, but there was a myriad of contradicting facts surrounding this individual. One story had him being homeless and heavy on medication. Another said he was a trucker's helper riding along behind the truck whose driver was arrested for the shooting. Supposedly, he witnessed the tragedy and planned to testify on behalf of the driver. However, he was pelleted by a snowball that contained a rock or perhaps a hard piece of ice. He ended up at a nearby Salvation Army and later at a hospital where he complained of a severe headache from what appeared to be a concussion. While there, he succumbed to the injury. 

Within a span of one hour, three people died on the campus of the University of Tennessee. Police descended on the campus, many broadcasting messages to students. We were told to instantly leave the area and return to our dorms. We were warned not to pick up a snowball lest we be arrested. The campus was placed under a strict curfew until things calmed down. 

How could such a potentially fun day turn into such a horrible tragedy. The news spread like wildfire from radio, television, magazine and newspaper coverage. Even Paul Harvey made it the subject of his weekday program and a small national magazine, “Pageant,” described the tragic events in their March edition. 

When the grand jury met to determine what action should be taken against the truck driver, the court did not feel that his action warranted a trial, believing instead that he acted in self-defense to an unruly mob. Although he was immediately released from custody, some students disagreed with the court's decision and let it be known. There was no tangible evidence from interviews of those who witnessed the tragedy that the slain student participated in the snowballing activity. The general opinion was that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When I occasionally travel back to the campus, my mind sometimes drifts back to that fateful day when three lives were tragically extinguished, resulting from the antics of a few well-meaning but out of control students who were intent on having some winter fun. It was a day that still resides in my memory.

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The Original Carter Family, who resided in Maces Springs adjacent to Clinch Mountains, became a legend in the early country music field. The original singers, comprised of Mother Maybelle Addington Carter; her brother-in-law, A. P. Carter; and his wife, Sara Dougherty Carter, produced a vast assortment of country music hits. A.P acquired an remarkable collection of songs that he either wrote or rescued from obscurity.

The Original Carter Family (Maybelle, Sara, and A.P.)

In later years, Mother Maybelle carried on the Carter Family style of music with her three attractive and talented daughters: June, Helen and Anita. They became featured performers on ABC-TV’s “The Johnny Cash Show” that comprised 58 episodes, running from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971. Adding to its attractiveness was the fact that it was taped at the famed Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, early home of the Grand Ole Opry. Johnny had a special fondness for the Carters, especially June Carter, whom he married in 1968.

Mother Maybelle invented the folk-guitar style of picking known as the “Carter lick” or “Carter scratch,” a designation that still bears her name. Throughout her life, she had no intention of abandoning the country music audiences who held the original threesome in their hearts for three generations.

The Carters commanded an audience that bridged a wide generation gap from folk coffeehouses to civic auditoriums. Maybelle’s highly familiar rendition of “Wildwood Flower” would enchant a sophisticated class of UCLA students one moment only to stir a group of southern hillbillies the next.

The Carter girls entered the act when their mother felt in her heart they were ready to perform: Anita at age 4, Helen at 6 and June at 10. Each of the girls played several instruments, ironically disclaiming the piano, the only instrument on which they received formal training.

In the winter of 1938-39, the Carter family left the beautiful Clinch Mountains  and moved to Texas. Living at a San Antonio boarding house, Helen, Anita and June received training by recording radio transcriptions in the basement of a house. They later progressed to radio stations in Del Rio, Texas; Charlotte, NC; Richmond, VA.; and Knoxville, TN.

By 1951, the group had been invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, an American icon. A few years later, they returned to Texas to play before 40,000 wildly cheering fans in the Cotton Bowl. June's personal hits included “Music, Music, Music.” and “Baby, It's Cold Outside,” the latter featuring zany country comedians and song satirists, Homer and Jethro.

June next studied dramatics in New York and continued with tours and personal appearances on major network television shows. She rejoined the Grand Ole Opry in 1958.

As a writer, June won three BMI awards for “Ring of Fire of Fire,” which Cash recorded; “The Matador;” and “Wall to Wall Love.” Maybelle could play about any instrument that could be picked and a few that couldn't. Urged on by a college crowd, she once played five-string banjo nonstop for an hour and a half. She also mastered the acoustical instruments of guitar, fiddle and autoharp.

In 1951, Mother Maybelle hired a then-unknown electric guitar player, Chet Atkins, to travel with the Carter Family. Because of his natural talent and affiliation with the famed group, his name didn’t remain unfamiliar very long. He soon became a smooth electric guitar player legend in his own right.

Maybelle, along A.P. Carter, Sara; and daughters, Helen, June and Anita became the next generation Carter Family. She was born May 10, 1909 in Nickelsville, Virginia. A singer of traditional ballads of the hills and an accomplished musician, she broke into commercial music after marrying Ezra Carter in 1926.

With her musically inclined in-laws, she traveled from her home in Poor Valley that was adjacent to the Clinch Mountains to Bristol, Virginia to make their first recording, an RCA release called “Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow.” Forty-three years later, the Original Carter Family became the first group ever named to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Mother Maybelle's demise occurred from respiratory complications at Nashville Memorial Hospital on  October 22, 1978 at age 69. The Carter Family style of old-time music is still revered and appreciated to this day.

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Today's column is a quiz to see if you can identify in which year all of the 19 items below appeared in the Johnson City Press-Chronicle newspaper. The answer is revealed in the last paragraph.  I will narrow the choices to 1951, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971 and 1976. Read on and take a trip down East Tennessee's memory lane:

1. The Joe Pyne Show was heard daily from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. over Erwin's radio station WEMB-AM 1420. Pyne pioneered the confrontational talk show format with his nationally syndicated show that was carried by 250 radio stations at its peak.

2. A commercial-free 3.5 hour video program was beamed coast-to-coast as the National Educational Television network opened for what they believed would be a window on the future. The broadcast centered around and included President Johnson's State of the Union address to Congress.

3. WJCW-AM 910 displayed its NAB Radio Code seal of the National Association of Broadcaster (see column photo).

4. The movie, “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines,” was playing at the Majestic. Their rotary phone number (a definite improvement to “number please”) was WA 8-5761.

5. There were nine soap operas on television that year: Days of Our Lives, Doctors, Love of Life, Another World, General Hospital, Edge of Night, Search for Tomorrow, Guiding Light and Secret Storm.

6. The United Press International produced its first Random House News Annual, said to be the most comprehensive annual news publication ever issued. It was comprised of 500 photographs, 320 pages and 100,000 words, selling for $5 at bookstores, $2.45 through the mail.

7. An advertisement for WETB-AM 790 had the largest news staff in the Tri-Cities area plus broadcasts of MBS (Mutual Broadcasting System) Network News. Reports were aired on the hour and half-hour.

8. Green Acres was on CBS television at 9 p.m. Oliver (Eddie Albert) was selected to judge the apple competition at the annual Hootersville Fair, mistakenly thinking he had  been appointed to the Circuit Court.

9. The Bonnie Kate Theatre in Elizabethton presented “Zorba the Greek,” a winner of three academy awards. It starred Anthony Quinn in the lead role.

10. The Olde West Dinner Theatre, once located on the road leading from the old Kingsport Highway to the Tri-Cities Airport, featured a 1954-55 Broadway play titled, “Tender Trap,” that dealt with the “game of romance.” A gourmet meal was included in the ticket price.

11. Young's Supply Company, located on Lamont at Boone advertised a Motorola 21″ table model color television set for $439.

12. Popular television westerns were Wells Fargo, Lawman, The Rifleman, The Virginian and Cheyenne.

13. Peerless Steak House, “Where Good Foods Taste Better” promised the best in steaks and Grecian salads.

14. Katherine Willis had a local cooking show on WJHL, Channel 11 at 1:05 p.m. each weekday.

15. The Capitol Theatre in Erwin offered the movie, “The Restless Ones,” which probed inside the bright, turbulent world of today's youth. It contained a special screen appearance by Billy Graham. Admission price was $1.00.

16. ABC offered the dramatic TV anthology, “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater,” that had a four-year run. Every program involved Bob Hope in some capacity, whether in person or behind the scenes. The show most remembered was the Christmas one filmed before an audience of homesick G.I.s in Vietnam.

17. Cole (Rexall) Drug Store placed an ad to rent their Blue Lustre electric carpet cleaning “shampoorer”  for $1.

18. The city extended an invitation for bids for the construction of a drainage channel through the Housing Authority. Submissions could be sent to the Keystone Community Building at 901 Pardee Street.

19. And finally, a classified ad offered this appeal: “Will rent the 1904 W. Walnut Billiard Room that contains 4 billiard tables to any organization or group after 8 p.m., 7 days/week, from 2-4 hours for $4.00 an hour.”

 The answer to the quiz is the fourth one I mentioned in my first paragraph.

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