Last Bus To Jacksonville (Part 1)
It was the summer of 1967 in my hometown of New Martinsville. For my good friend George and me, life in our town was pretty much the same each day that summer. We worked as maintenance custodians at the Dairy Queen across from Bruce Park. Each morning before opening George and I would clean the building along with maintenance work that may have been needed after the previous day’s close of business.
We often arrived before daylight came into the valley to perform our morning’s work. One of the first things we would do is turn on an old Philco radio. The radio had seen better days during its long time in service. Its gray plastic case was cracked in the middle and had been glued back together at least once. The back cover was missing and when it warmed up the radio’s glass tubes would give off a warm light. The wall behind the radio would glow yellow in the early morning hours of the new day. The only station the radio would pick up was WETZ. In those days the local radio station would sign off each evening as night came on. Sign off time would change with the seasons. In the fall and winter they would stop broadcasting earlier in the evening as the sun disappeared behind the hills to the west. Most people who lived in town can still remember the song they played before the sounds of the radio turned to static for the night. “God Walks These Hills” was broadcast out over the air waves as the town closed for the evening. If I remember correctly, it was sung by Eddy Arnold.
After the radio warmed up the morning broadcast would begin. The song “On the Wings of A Snow White Dove” would welcome the new day. One of the favorite programs on the radio was called Swap and Shop, George Eubanks was the voice that I remember coming from the glowing radio. It was a show heard most mornings that was as much a social program as business. The announcer would talk about different activities in our community that people should know about, from a family reunion at Bruce Park to a teen dance at the center on Friday night. But the main purpose was to give people wanting to sell or buy something, a way to do it over the morning radio show. Some callers wanted to trade some physical labor for a little money, while others wanted to sell some item they found in the garage to those looking to buy.
The show would go on for a while and then a local commercial would run to pay for the air time. The advertisement went something like, “Everybody’s needin’ a little something.” Then a slow and deliberate voice would tell you to stop by the local finance company and see Bob for a little extra cash. After the commercial, it was back to the program.
They used to joke about a man who called into the program from a ridge near town asking for help to find his lost goat. A short time later in the broadcast another caller wanted to sell a goat; he also lived on the same ridge.
The voice that came from the radio station in the early morning was a friendly voice that spoke of our community that we each were part of in those days. Most of the time, music my generation wanted to hear did not come on the air until later in the day. By the standards of those days it was terribly crazy music. Some even called it hippy music; but to my friends it was simply rock and roll. That summer the Beatles released their new album, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band. For many older adults it was not music, but noise, coming from my gray Philco radio.
The music coming from the radio was our vision into the world beyond the valley. Red Foley may have sung about the treasures in the hills in his nightly song, but for those of us growing up, we wondered about the world beyond the green hills.
We could also hear on the Philco that our country was struggling to find answers to a war in Vietnam and riots in cities. People marched on Washington for equality for every man and woman, while others marched to find answers to a war that grew worse each day. The voice on the radio talked of fear that Russia would send bombs our way. That same year China developed and detonated its first hydrogen bomb. Our lives in the valley threatened no one and I wondered why those countries wanted to end our way of life.
While some in cities far away rioted in the streets and protested, the Beatles sang, All We Need Is Love. It seemed that the world around our valley had gone crazy and the hills kept us sheltered from the problems that existed in places we heard of on the Philco radio.
Each morning in warm weather, part of my job was to wash down the parking lot of the Dairy Queen. I remember that was my favorite part of the job, standing outside hosing down the blacktop in the early morning as the town came to life. As I sprayed water on the pavement I washed the spilled milk shakes and melted Dilly bars down the parking lot drain. On occasion Doc Forbes would open the window of his office and we talked of things in our worlds. As cars passed by, the drivers would sometimes wave and call out good morning to us. They most likely knew my parents and seeing me cleaning each morning in the parking lot was their way of saying howdy. That was my hometown among the hills.
Our country was trying to find its way in a world that was changing with each evening news broadcast. The policy makers in our government decided that fall that the American people needed to be told a more optimistic view of the war in southeast Asia. At the same time, the social unrest in the city streets could not be easily changed to make it more acceptable for the American public. And in the not too distant future of those days Walter Cronkite would report the war could not be dismissed by merely optimistic reporting.
As we listened that summer morning long ago an announcement on the Philco gave George and I a chance to look beyond our valley. That summer morning we heard something that sparked two young men’s curiosity to see the world through adventurous eyes. It was a journey that opened our minds to what we had only heard on the radio. That July in 1967, George and I decided to take a glimpse of the world, as we booked passage on the Last Bus to Jacksonville.