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April a good time to fish or garden, as Bill does


Bill and Carolyn Moorefield for years have been living off Greeneville Highway on the hill
behind the old and closed Emory Smith grocery. They moved out of Newport about five or
six years ago.
Published: 8:09 PM, 04/01/2011

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

The late March weather has been playing more tricks on our hometown and that fits with April's All Fool's Day, as the lamb romped after a boisterous early March.

Redbuds in bloom dot the landscape with dogwoods threatening to open in early April and that usually means swallows return from South America. Red glowing ominous fires in some communities overshadow the gorgeous greening and colorful early spring blooms of crocus and tulip.

I got out of bed in the dark on Wednesday to make photos of the historic Landon Bryant vacant house burning to the ground. There was not much firefighters could do or the members of James Bryant and Herman Hall families I saw standing and watching. My heart went out to see Carol (Bryant) Cason crying. Neighbor Lloyd Bryant said folks were fearful that an arsonist is at work. He lost a barn in the English Mountain area several years ago to an arsonist. Long-time residents of the Old Cosby Highway at Lower English Creek will remember the long-gone grocery operated by James and Mary Bryant. This store was next to the Landon and Texie Bryant home. When we continue talking with Bill Moorefield here he mentions Liston Bryant, who may have been a brother to Landon.

The late week turned into a cooler haze as I made an annual visit to Dr. Kurt Steel at Foster & Steel optometrists. They employee many wonderful technicians two of whom worked with me. Tracy Norris, I learned is the daughter of a former student of mine, Gay Williamson. She used a most modern and impressive retina mapping technology that Dr. Steel explained to me. I liked it because there was no need to dilate my eyes with drops so I can't see well the rest of the afternoon. The Optimap machine makes digital photographs that the doctors view on computer screen to access any disease or injury problems. All went well and eyeglass technician Sheena Chesney was a confident help in selecting progression/transitioning lens. I'll give them a try.

Another interesting fellow I met at the Plain Talk for a few minutes later in the day was Emma Alley's son, James "Chip" Alley, who is back in the county for a while and keen to get back flying passenger aircraft. He is a tall, bright fellow who reminded me a lot of his uncle, the late Jesse Denton, a brilliant educator. Alley does some aircraft inspection/consulting work out west. His sister, Tara, is an accountant in Charleston.

Last week you recall we were visiting with Bill Moorefield, who grew up in the Rankin bottoms area, where he and his family were tenant farmers. We continue that visit and add some more things that I learned during the chats. I'm impressed at near-78 Bill has no interest in retiring and also dedicates a goodly share of his time and labor to the Lord's work at his church off Bybee Highway. When I made photos of the bright yellow hedges at Roger and Keela Ball home off Highway 160 and Sunshine Circle last week, I was within eyesight of Bill's church home.

After leaving the Steel farm at Rankin, Bill Moorefield's labors steadily grew at the Robinson farm, where Bill would help milk 35 Holstein head by hand. They raised about 50 acres of corn, 80 acres of hay, and one acre of tobacco. Perhaps the hardest time for him was when Dad Otis contracted Bright's disease and could not work for about three years. Bill recalled as a young teenager hooking up a team of horses and beginning to plow 50 acres in late October. He did not finish using the flat-bottom plow until the end of January. Otis was able to keep the machinery going, and this relieved the chores some. Bill also used a horse-pulled mower in the hayfield. But pitchforks and strong backs did all the other labor. This was the time before tractor-pulled hay balers, when hay stood in tall shocks to dry. Few people who are not of retirement age could understand the immense amount of work farming required. The environment, at times, was less than friendly, particularly because of flooding along the French Broad River.  Bill heard the story told to him by his father and grandfather, Sam Moorefield. They had been working in the fields. It so happened a giant hackberry grew in one field. This mighty tree had a girth of about eight feet. A sudden flood caught the men in the field so that they had to use wooden rails to build a pallet in the tree and hay on the pallet where they slept through the night until floodwaters subsided. An Afro-American laborer with them chose to swim to safety earlier that day. This flood was a great one in the early 1900s. Bill was old enough to recall the 1941 big flood that washed a section of the railroad tracks away. He also watched coal being loaded on steamers at the coal chute that still exists as a rusted monument.

With work first, school was a distant second but Bill managed some studies at the leased-farm school located where Stokely Chapel Church is off Industrial Road. Georgia Hicks was his teacher. When you consider this was about 65 years ago, it is understood why he couldn't name many schoolmates other than Charlie Ford's son and Tim Strange's Dad. About the only thing he remembered about World War II was the troop trains steaming through and citizens lining up to wave and cry for the departing soldiers.

When he was 19, Bill took his first real job at Rhyne Lumber Company, one of the few major employers in Cocke County. His job was to operate a saw, with Ed Strange his supervisor. Ed would give Bill a ride to and from work in a Model A Ford. I asked Bill if he had met Colonel Charles Rhyne Sr., and he had. "He always chewed on an unlit cigar. When it was fired up that meant he was mad." After less than a year, Bill was laid off and left for farm work at the Rippitoe farm in Greene County until the early 1950s, when he joined Bush Brothers in Chestnut Hill, working in the labeling dept. The first job he truly enjoyed was with J.D. Sluder, who owned and operated Mohawk Milling in Newport. This was from about 1957 until 1969. Many of you have been inside or visited the mill along the Pigeon River.

About J.D. Sluder, Bill said, "He did more for me than anybody," referring to the training and support for outside sales. His territory encompassed Knoxville, Lenoir City, Cumberland Gap, Big Stone Gap, Abingdon, Virginia; Newland, Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Big or little stores, Bill stopped by to hawk Mohawk's flour and meal-the finest that could be bought. Along the way, Bill collected cash for the orders and often called these in to Lois Sluder or Mabel Creasy. He estimated that during a year he might collect a total of $300,000. It was a busy time for the mill that operated all night. One of his friends who was a truck driver was Fred Ramsey. During this time, Bill also developed a keen interest in taking night courses at the vocational school. He became proficient at repairing small engines.

After leaving the mill and all that traveling, Bill meandered around before settling on a job that I found him doing when I began working at the Plain Talk in 1973. Bill was the maintenance man at First Baptist Church for the next 25 years, starting in 1972. He recalled that the other fulltime employee was Betty Wilde, church secretary. Bill enjoyed the church work, the membership, and was apt at fixing and repairing, except when the church's boiler broke down. It was a particularly bad time-the winter of the minus 20 degrees. I'm sure you haven't forgotten and neither has Bill. The church brought in a boiler from Knoxville and set it on the street side along Mim's Avenue. Unfortunately, it got so cold the boiler froze. "I had to set up 19 oil heaters in the sanctuary to keep the temperature at 42 degrees. I stayed up all night."

Most of his later life Bill has lived in a house off Greeneville Highway not far from the Nathan Fords. Bill's first wife was Mildred Bailey and they had two children, Ronnie and Linda Gail, who live near Bill and his wife, the former Carolyn Russell. I got to know her when she supervised the kitchen staff at Newport Grammar School. She was always helpful to the Kiwanis Club for the annual spring pancake breakfast. Incidentally, this takes place on April 2. Carolyn and Bill have one son, Russell Moorefield, who works for the Cocke County Fire Department and is an emergency medical technician.


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