Wednesday, August 01, 2007


My dad got to telling stories about hill people over dinner last night, and it was fascinating.

He started out telling me about a guy who jumped a wild turkey, subdued, and killed the thing. Broke its neck, used his pocket knife to bleed it out, and threw it in the back of his pick-up to take home for supper.

This guy worked for Dad at one of the charcoal kilns he leased out in the timber. When I asked, Dad took off on stories about the man who owned those kilns. Seems a drought in Texas drove this guy and his 20,000 goats north to the Missouri countryside, where there was enough pasture to keep the goats alive. He bought 1200 acres for about $10 an acre, probably from a timber company that had logged it off and abandoned it.

The guy trucked all those goats and his family and his braceros (unskilled laborers) to southern Missouri and then found out he wasn't going to make enough money there to do more than barely survive. So, he looked around to see what he could do with what he had: scrub timber and brush and rocks. Lots and lots of rocks.

As it turned out, there was quite a market for scrub timber and brush in the 50s. It was used to make charcoal briquettes to fuel the new bbq craze. It also turned out that the rocky hillsides were perfect for constructing charcoal kilns.

So, this guy and his braceros dug eight kilns into the hillsides, tunnels 10 ft. high and 20 feet long. Then they cut wood and hauled it into the kilns to burn. Every 20 days, they filled each of those eight kilns with about 340,000 pounds of oak and hickory. Since the big trees were all gone—sold off for timber long ago—they cut small trees and brush too scrubby for any commercial purpose. They hauled the lump charcoal out and sold it to a briquette manufacturing operation about 50 miles away. Is it any wonder they packed up and went home when the drought broke in Texas?

I'm going to remember this guy any time I get to feeling put upon or overworked.


Suzy said...

What a slacker that guy was!

Lazy bastard!

I'm tired just reading about it.


kario said...

Amazing the lengths we'll go to to make our own situations work for us, isn't it? Thanks for the reminder, Jerri.

Deb said...

I see you're not the only remarkable story teller in your family!

Carrie Wilson Link said...


Stacy said...

Did they have mosquitoes and black flies and chiggers too?