Discovering Ramseur at Age 5

By Jones Howell

I never knew anything about the origin of the name, but Ramseur was certainly the origin of me.

Nothing says childhood to me more than Ramseur. Ramseur. General Dodson Ramseur.

I even wrote a book about it. Before I published my book, I visited Ramseur, to take pictures and reminisce. My teenage son and I walked around the town and I told him about some of the places, even my old home place at 808 Dixon Street — which still stands today.
It would mean something to me if you would take a walk with me through a short history and a few years of my life in that, well — I want to say — hallowed place. The year would start around 1959, when we moved from the deep south — a hot, dusty spot in the road called Chancellor, Alabama to the cotton mill town of Ramseur, North Carolina.

Old Ramseur, Hicks Café is on the left. Ramseur Town Hall is on the right, the old Ramseur Fire Dept. was in the basement of the Town Hall. The old theater is next up from the Town Hall and you can see the Bank of Coleridge building in the background.

We lived near the river on Craven Street, which led to the old bridge into downtown. We could walk to the bridge and cross Deep River in five minutes. I first visited the town with my mom. Ramseur was an assortment of novel shops and unfamiliar store owners, and that meant delightful sights, sounds, and things to smell and savor.

The first place in memory as a five-year old is the Ramseur feed mill, or the Roller Mill, as it was called. Men carrying big powdery sacks, white on their eyelashes and hair. The smell of molasses from the enormous grain bins. My sisters would complain that Mama was there to get feed sacks to make dresses for them. But I never remember them walking around with Gold Medal or Pillsbury stamped on their clothes. But what did I know? The thought that stayed in my mind about the mill was imagining mules pulling wagons the long way around the back of it because they couldn’t walk up the steep hill from the bridge. So, according to stories I heard, the circular road was made by mules and for mules. It puzzled me as a kid as to why mules would be coming to Ramseur. I never saw a single mule go around the Roller Mill up that road.

After the tiring walk straight up from the bridge, we would climb a few concrete steps up to some shops on the left. The first one I remember was Hicks Cafe – my first introduction to carbonated drinks. The sound of the syrupy sweet frothy drink coming from a spout fascinated me. I remember hearing someone say, “I’d like a grape soda,” but I never got to experience what that meant. But there were mason jars of stick candy, like sassafras, butterscotch, and licorice which stood like little striped heavenly barber poles — out of my reach, out of our budget. Cigar bubble gum in pastel colors, and packs of candy cigarettes, which — if you blew hard enough — could produce smoke. Six-packs of tiny plastic bottles which, when you bit off the top, you got a shot of coca-cola. My, those were days of decadence!

Louis Brady re-painting the side of the old Ramseur Café.

Beside the soda fountain shop was a barber shop — the old barber shop. There were three chairs and someone would always be pumping up or letting down with his foot. In addition, a leather strap on the side of the chair, a long blunt folding knife, a clickety-clack buzzing tool, hot foam, scraping, a choking collar, a white death gown, and plenty of gossip. Then slapping the neck with an unpleasant liquid. After my first professional haircut, I didn’t want to go back there.
Across from the feed mill was Ramseur Town Hall, and I never went in there. In the basement of the town hall was the Ramseur fire department. The businesses on this side of the street were on a steep incline and I was always afraid when I saw the fire truck backed into the driveway beside the tiny fire department. One false move and that truck would end up in the creek that ran behind those stores. There was also an abandoned movie theater, and it was a source of disappointment and envy for me—the fact that Asheboro had an indoor theater and Ramseur no longer had one. I was mad at whoever had closed it down. I’d often press my face against the glass window but couldn’t see anything. This only increased the theater’s mystique.

Farther up the street was the biggest store in my life—Pell’s Grocery. It had long aisles with shiny floors that a person could easily have skated down, and curved round mirrors. An ice cream freezer which I could open up and breathe in frost, and dream. I remember staring at a Morton Salt box and seeing the price: 10 cents. I couldn’t get over my amazement that there was a commodity in the store that even I might be able to afford. The little girl with the umbrella, walking in the rain. She seemed real to me. Oddly, she’s in my cabinet right now, reminding me that I’m still a kid inside, walking in an ageless rain.

At Pell’s, I’d walk to the pay counter behind my mom and Mr. Pell would proceed to push random buttons and grunt. Mr. Pell’s head was always pointed down, and I hated to see his eyes look up at me through his bushy eyebrows. When he told my mother the price, she would whirl around away from him, bend down slightly and magically retrieve her purse from the top of her dress. She was conscious of robbers but I’d like to have seen someone try to rob from Mama. She had weapons in her hair — metal wave clamps with two sets of teeth which I imagined her pulling out and wielding against any trespasser. And no way would they trespass Mama’s dress. They would have run away more scarred than Frankenstein’s neck.

So, my introduction to Ramseur was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: wide-eyed wonder, treasures to ponder, empty pockets, unanswered questions, strangers everywhere, and unexplainable letdowns. I lived in that fanciful world till I turned eight. Then we moved to the rural community of Holly Springs. Two years later, we would move back into town, and little Charlie would become someone akin to Oliver Twist.

To all of us, whose memories crisscross somewhere out there, like various waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, undulating, calling us back, making us dream again, let me say: by the very act of picking up this bulletin, this may be the first step to renewing our vision for a world like Ramseur, where every building was built with a purpose for us, met a need we had, and gave us an opportunity to carry—for the rest of our lives—connections with the people we met there.

I hope that Ramseur’s sidewalks won’t crack and allow weeds to grow because they are untrodden. Take time to walk the streets and listen, not just with nostalgia, but with a conscience open to reconciliation and with a new appraisal of the past. Perhaps one day Ramseur’s mystique will give way to magic, and that magic will spark our minds to rebuild and revive our legacy.

It is not easy to for me to sit in the theater of my soul, watch the curtains open, and rehearse Ramseur. Like a trail of smoke, my longings weave throughout the town, like a wisp of conscious fog, where memory is looking for something—something real, something lasting, something that will recognize me, and welcome me back.

Welcome back to Ramseur.

As a former Ramseur resident Jones has written several books that draw upon his time growing up here in Ramseur. Graduating from Eastern Randolph in 1972. His books can be found online.

Bluegrass Saturday Night with Julie Brown

By WT Cox
“The Baton is Passed.”

On May 22, 2021, North Carolina Bluegrass fans were saddened to learn that Tommy Edwards had died. Tommy was a founding member of The Bluegrass Experience, a prolific songwriter and lightning-fast guitarist whose vigorous down strokes imbued his songs with power and tone, earning him World Champion Guitarist trophies at the 1970 and ’71 Union Grove Fiddler’s Convention. Tommy Edwards was also known as the “voice of Bluegrass” from his hosting of his weekly radio show “Bluegrass Saturday Night” on Life 103.1 FM. Tommy hosted the show for over 16 years, and now Bluegrass Saturday Night continues with “new” host and musician Julie Brown.

Julie is the wife of Stan Brown, who is regarded as one of the best banjo pickers in Bluegrass. She currently plays bass with two bluegrass bands: The Bluegrass Experience and her own band, Hindsight Bluegrass. Julie continues with the tradition started by Tommy Edwards in selecting the best bluegrass and interesting stories for her listeners to enjoy. The hours of the show has changed from the old 7-9 slot to 6-8PM and you still hear some of the best and talented bluegrass ever recorded. Julie likes to mix up the selection of music she plays… from traditional and original artist to new and progressive bluegrass. Each week she features a “Funky Feature, Off the Wall” segment where she highlights different approaches to bluegrass music. On one segment she featured a Bee Gee’s song performed by traditional bluegrass artist Bobby Osborne. Nothing is off limits as to what style of bluegrass Julie will use on her show, but you can always count on hearing some old time classics and traditional songs, with a mix of new sounds. If you love Bluegrass Music, then Saturday Night Bluegrass is a show to look forward to each week. 103.1 FM is a local station, and if you are not in range, the show can be streamed from or you can download the life103.1 app.

I asked Julie how she got interested in Bluegrass Music. She said she had always loved Bluegrass music and listened to it growing up. She actually played banjo in a small band with Stan’s dad Odell Brown for three years where they would play a local churches and events. She met her husband Stan for the first time when she visited Nashville to visit family. They were married in 1998 after Stan moved back to Randolph County.

Stan Brown joined the Bluegrass Experience in 2000 after the death of Donald Beane, who was one of the original members. Julie would also fill in with the group from time to time, playing bass. When original member Snuffy Smith retired from the band, Julie became a member of the Bluegrass Experience along with her husband. The band continues to play gigs that were previously booked before Tommy’s death, and also a few new ones too.

Julie Brown Photo by Michael Frank

Julie also plays bass with her band Hindsight Bluegrass. The band was formed in December of 2017 after a get together with some fellow pickers and friends. They enjoyed playing together so much, the decided to form a group and make it real… and name it. Hindsight Bluegrass is based out of the Ramseur area where they meet for practice and rehearsals. They play at private functions, weddings, barbeque’s, town festivals and concerts. Stan Brown plays banjo and sings harmony and Julie plays bass. Scott Hancock, a Randolph County native, plays guitar and sings most of the lead and harmony vocals. Fiddlin’ Al McCanless, a well known potter now living in the Pittsboro area is the fiddle player for the group and also contributes to the vocals. Mike Aldridge from Saxapahaw plays mandolin and also does vocals too. Hindsight Bluegrass has a concert each New Year’s Eve at the Sunset Theater in Asheboro. They also will be at the Farmer’s Day Festival in Robbins on Friday Night, August 5th, and at the Flatwoods Festival in Bennett on September 10th. They have released one CD so far titled simply “2020”. The band website is You can also keep up with them on Facebook.

Julie said she remembered when Tommy Edwards started doing the radio show many years ago. “We would always listen to it when we were near a radio”, she said. “Then later we were able to listen on the computer or the app on the phone. During COVID, that was our favorite pastime. We listened to a ton of bluegrass shows while we couldn’t get out and play. We did a lot of fishing at our pond, and I would always try to tune in if we could”. After Tommy passed, Julie was asked to take over the show. She was hesitant at first, and after much persuading, she finally agreed to give it a try. After two months as a “guest host”, she agreed to make it permanent. Julie said, “It’s a lot of fun and I enjoy keeping up with all the new bands and musicians. I love learning a lot more about the early bands and musicians, and of course all the ones in-between.”

Julie has a great resource for her show in her husband Stan Brown. Stan lived in Nashville from 1976 till 1996 when he moved back to Randolph County and married Julie. He was in the middle of playing music on the festival circuit and on the Grand Ol Opry. Stan knew the stories of those years first hand and got to hear them from the early years direct from the “horse’s mouth”, as we say. Julie doesn’t just focus on the early traditional music or just the new recordings… she plays it all. “You could easily hear me play 2 songs back to back that were recorded 70 years apart”, she says. “I do a little research on some of the older ones to find facts and learn things I did not know. A lot of times I just ask Stan for some neat facts about an artist or song”.

Julie says that the radio station likes that she is a musician and have interactions with a lot of musicians and bands. She meets a huge number of them and keeps up with what they are doing. Julie says, “They like to tell their stories about interactions with other musicians on the air. Bluegrass is different from mainstream Country and Rock because the musician all mingle together.” Festivals also bring opportunities for musicians to meet each other and there is almost always a late night jam session going on. When musicians get together or visit, they usually have their instruments. Many times while visiting the Nashville area, a friend would invite over some “pickers” and there would be an impromptu party with lots of music and food. This is where a lot of stories get passed around and new ones started. It’s often how new bands are sparked too. Those are the kinds of stories fans of the bluegrass show like. “So long as I am playing music, I should have an abundance of new stories to tell… and music to share”

Be sure to tune into Julie each and every Saturday Night from 6-8 PM at 103.1 FM for “BLUEGRASS SATURDAY NIGHT”, or listen in at


Haunted Bed & Breakfast
Private Tour

Story and Photos by Mary Murkin

Question: what do a Bugatti, a haunted bed-and-breakfast and eight extremely unique individuals have in common?

Answer: One adventure-filled evening in Montgomery County, North Carolina!

This outing was months in the planning stages. We set our sights on the Saturday evening of June 1, 2019, to make our way out to the Star Bed and Breakfast in the heart of Star, North Carolina. I tend to refer to many of my outings with this gang as adventures. It sounds so much more daring and exciting. For the most part we are legends in our own minds–and this particular adventure was no exception.

Our convoy arrived at the Star Bed and Breakfast at approximately 6 PM. It was a mild, clear, blue-sky evening. As we pulled into the gravel parking lot, all of our eyes locked onto the long, gleaming white, vintage Bugatti – – an Italian two-seater sports car. Even if you are not a car enthusiast, just seeing this automobile would make your heart skip a beat.

Once we were able to pry our eyes off of the dazzling little car, our gaze then turned to the two-story, light blue, fairytale like Victorian bed-and-breakfast that was looming high over our heads. A collective gasp went up as we each tried to find just the right exclamation to say out loud about this 6,000 square-foot treasure. Just looking at this extraordinarily detailed Victorian hotel built in 1896 made us feel like we were in another time.

Our plan was to walk around the outside of the bed and breakfast and take photos of it and of ourselves near it. We also wanted to see the meditation garden with it’s 12+ foot high multilevel water fountain. To get to the meditation garden, we had to walk around the back of the property and down a little path. Once we made it to this destination, we felt completely at peace and secluded from the rest of the world. This spellbound moment hung in time so effortlessly until we were all startled by the soundless appearance of a very kind older man who gently whispered “Hello” to us.

Ahhhhhh!!!! We nearly jumped out of our skins. Our surprise visitor introduced himself as Richard, the caretaker of the hotel and property. We begged forgiveness for trespassing and explained that we were from Asheboro and wanted to just see the outside of the bed-and-breakfast and the meditation garden. One of the members of my gang began talking with him and as things would have it, she happened to be very good friends with one of his best friends. He very kindly asked us if we would like to come up to the hotel for a private tour. Oh my gosh! This was more than we had hoped for and appreciatively acccepted his invitation.

We tromped our way out of the garden, up the path and then onto the porch by a side door to go into the bed and breakfast. As soon as all eight of us were inside the entryway and that big door shut behind us, we instantly felt like we were inside a time capsule from the late 1800s. This was such a sensory overload. Between the dazzling colors of the walls, the beauty of the foreign rugs, the sparkling elegance of the large, breathtaking chandeliers, the ornate wooden staircase and all of the decor throughout each room, the feeling of being suspended in another time long ago was deepened with each new sight.

Honestly, it was all we could do to not gawp at each new thing we laid eyes on. I’m talking about things like the ornate wooden staircase – – built by the Cooper brothers, who are the same fellows who built the grand staircase aboard the ill-fated Titanic–to the exquisite, ornate tall wooden organ that looked like it came straight out of “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” movie, a seven foot tall vase, and a spectacularly colorful and ornate full-sized Egyptian sarcophagus! Do you see what I mean? My gosh – – any one of these things would have been well worth the drive out there, but to see this enormous beautiful old hotel filled with these things in every single room was practically paralyzing, and not just as a figure of speech. As we would go into each next room, we would just stop dead in our tracks to take in all the wonders of that room.

The star hotel was built in 1896. Its original owners were Angus and Deborah Leach. The hotel is currently owned by Gary Spivey, a professional psychic. He purchased the bed and breakfast in 2004. He hired his sister, Joyce, as his bed and breakfast manager and spent the next four years giving the whole place an extensive long-distance makeover from California. Joyce and her husband, Richard, continued on as the caretakers of the hotel.

It is purported that Deborah Leach haunts the bed and breakfast, as she passed away in the hotel on October 30, 1901 at the age of 51 – – just five years after starting to run the hotel. We learned of stories about how Joyce had seen the ghost of Deborah Leach, but Richard has not. He indicated that was fine with him.

A few stories emerged about some various unaccounted-for sounds and sights that have been heard and seen at the bed-and-breakfast. These things include, but are not limited to: A baby crying, doorknobs turning, a straw broom whisking, a woman humming and also lights flickering on and off. While we were there on our private tour, we did not experience anything overtly paranormal. We all concurred though, that 123 years worth of good energy absolutely radiated throughout the hotel and all over the grounds and meditation garden.

This fearless group returned on November 23, 2019 for an overnight visit. What happened there that night is clearly material for a whole separate story. We had no idea of what adventures would befall us there on that chilly autumn evening in the heart of Montgomery County!


Where Is the Mirror?

by Debra Vernon

By the time you read this, Christmas 2021 will have come and gone.  More than likely, the latest and greatest toy you bought for your child(ren) has already been cast aside, as they create imaginary forts and dungeons out of the cardboard boxes their gifts came in.  

I bet you spent a great deal of time preparing lots of food for consumption by family and friends.  You cannot go wrong with food!  It is a universal need that bonds hearts and souls around a table.  And, more than likely, there were Christmas decorations inside and outside, along with the requisite Christmas tree.  I confess, putting up those decorations seems a lot more fun than taking them down.  Especially when it comes to that tree!  I have an artificial one and trying to get that thing to fit back in the box it came in is practically impossible.  It is like trying to get my chunky self into that swimsuit I wrote about a few months ago:  stuff busting out in every direction!

One of the long-standing jokes between my daughter and me during the Christmas season has to do with a gift I purchased for her probably 10 years ago.  Young women always want to look their best before leaving the house, and she is no different.  Although there was a large mirror in her bathroom, I decided I would purchase a full-length mirror to hang on the back of her bedroom door.  This would provide an opportunity for her to check out the “total effect” of her wardrobe and makeup selections.  I knew it would be a hit, and not hit my wallet too hard either.  So, I purchased it a few weeks before the big day and hid it until Christmas Eve.

That night, I circled through all the hiding spots I had stashed gifts in.  Even in her early 20’s, that girl would rummage while I was away at work, so I had several secret caches to hide stuff in.  I had gathered the goods and placed them near the tree.  I then remembered I had purchased the mirror.  I went to the usual hiding places; no mirror.  I searched in the “not so usual” hiding places; no mirror.  I tore the house up (quietly) looking for the mirror; no mirror.  Where was the mirror?

Exhaustion finally ended my search for the evening.  I figured I would recall the location by the next morning, and all would be well.  Christmas morning came and went, and I still could not find the mirror.  Now, I could understand if this were a small trinket of some kind, easily tucked away in a drawer or closet.  But this mirror was probably fifteen inches wide, and about 4 feet long.  You cannot just tuck that away somewhere unless that somewhere is a pretty big spot!  And I am the one who hid it!  Why could I not remember where I put it?  I do recall thinking at the time that it was a good spot she would not think to look in.  Too bad I would not think to look there again myself.

I checked the usual spots again, along with closets and under all beds.  I even checked between the mattress and box spring of the bed in the spare bedroom; no mirror.  Our house has a hip roof, so there really is not an attic, but I climbed on a ladder and lifted the hatch to look up there too; no mirror.  I called family members to see if perhaps I had asked them to store it at their house; no mirror.  Where was the mirror?

She got married and moved out not long after that Christmas.  And believe it or not, the mirror has not been located all these many years later.  Each year we ask ourselves, “where is the mirror” and laugh and ponder where it may be.  We have searched places too small or too obscure to be the hiding spot, but we are optimistic it will be found one day!  But by this time, I suspect we may never locate it.  And do you know what?  That is okay.  I mean, it has become a cherished family tradition; searching for the elusive missing mirror.   Not exactly a Hallmark movie moment, but hey, our family is a bit off-kilter anyhow, you know?  

So, the next time you put something in a place where you are SURE you will remember it, think of me.  You too may find yourself wondering; where is the mirror?


The Legend of the Wabash Cannonball

by Mary Murkin

 PREFACE:  One of the most famous train songs of our American folklore is that of the Wabash Cannonball. This song debuted in the late 19th century as anonymous hobos made up verses about this mythical train and shared them with all of their brethren. The geographic run of this train was from St. Louis to Detroit—all along the Rock Island line. It is suggested that this mythical train—the Wabash Cannonball—was a “death coach” that appeared when a hobo died and carried his soul to his reward (aka Gloryland). As a hobo’s life is ending, they hear the train whistle blowing as the Wabash Cannonball approaches for them to board one last time and take their final ride.

Tadpole and Hap

Bob “Tadpole” Garland held his hands close to the open top of the fire barrel.  While warming his cold old bones, his mind wandered back to his early days as a young train-hopping hobo.  He smiled as he remembered his old three-legged dog, Hap.  Hap was a very old dog now and had been missing for several days.  Tadpole suspected that Hap went deep into this hobo jungle to pass away quietly.

Hap was appropriately named for being such a haphazard little dog that liked to chase each train that rumbled through this hobo jungle.  It was during one of these train chases that Hap lost his right rear leg.  He ventured just one inch too close to the tracks on one of his runs.

 In olden days, a hobo jungle was considered to be an outdoor waiting room for any of the train-traveling hobos who needed a break from miles and miles of the steady clickety-clack of the big steel wheels of an old boxcar.  It was also a great layover spot to wait to change trains or directions of travel.

 One evening when Tadpole had hopped off of a train in a hobo jungle in a quiet little town in central Illinois, he decided to take a walk around the town.  What he found would greatly change his life for the better.  As he ambled east along Lincoln Street, he noticed a rustic old sign at the end of a long curvy lane.  The sign said “Anglers’ Pond.”

As Tadpole walked along the lane to the back of the property, he spied what looked like a charred little cabin.  As he got close to the little house, he could tell that it had been burned many years ago—but not burned down!

 Tadpole decided to push the door open and take a look around in the dim little cabin.  It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the darkroom.  Once Tadpole could see around the room, he realized that this was his new “sometimes home.”

 Anglers’ Pond was an old-time fishing club for area folk who liked to fish from the dock or out on the lake with a non-motorized boat.  It was a sleepy little club in a sleepy little town.

Several weeks after Tadpole took up residence in his new “sometimes home,” he heard a sad sound coming from his front stoop.  He opened the door and saw the saddest little pup he’d ever seen.  He lifted up the small dog and carried him into the cabin.  Once he set the dog down, the little fella began dashing about the room.  He was so rambunctious that he knocked over the stack of wood that Tadpole had gathered for keeping warm at night.  It was immediately after this that Tadpole gave his furry new companion the spunky name of Haphazard—Hap for short.

Seldom did a hobo’s accouterments consist of much more than the clothes on his back and a few treasures in his pockets.  However, now that Tadpole had a “sometimes home” and a trusty companion in Hap, he began to acquire some worldly possessions–the same as a man who actually has some roots put down somewhere.  One of the biggest worldly possessions that Tadpole had acquired (besides his “sometimes home”) was a very old, trusty bicycle.  He was so lucky to be walking down Lincoln Street when a kind old gentleman was rolling the bike to the curb on garbage day and leaned it against his garbage can.  Taped to the seat of this old bicycle was a note that read, “To someone who is able to ride this, as I no longer can.”  As the old man walked toward his house, he turned around just in time to see Tadpole read the note and clasp his hands together as if in prayer and then place himself carefully on the bicycle seat. Tadpole tipped his hat to the kind old gentleman, who, in turn, smiled and waved back.

 Days and weeks faded into years as Tadpole and Hap would busy themselves fishing, cooking, visiting with area townsfolk, and riding the rails whenever the urge hit them to see other parts of this fine country.

 People in this little town in central Illinois came to know and like Tadpole and Hap.  Many of the townsfolk wondered what Tadpole’s “story” was and how he came to be a train-hopping hobo.  The rumors and speculations were diverse. They ranged from him being a wounded war veteran to being a millionaire who couldn’t take the rat race of that life anymore and left it all behind. Never did anyone press Tadpole for an explanation. Tadpole was such a part of this little neighborhood that people used to take notice of when he and Hap would be off riding for a couple of weeks at a time.

 As the years went by, Tadpole’s time away became fewer and fewer. Tadpole used to say, “Hopping on and off those boxcars isn’t getting any easier.” But what Tadpole and Hap still enjoyed doing was going down to the nearby hobo jungle at train times to visit with any of the younger fellas who were still riding the rails and would love sharing their adventures with Tadpole as they sat around a campfire and drank hot coffee.

On this particularly cool evening, as Tadpole held his hands over the fire barrel, turning them this way and that, he smiled while listening to three new arrivals tell about what was happening up in Chicago.  It made Tadpole remember the exciting days of hearing about Al Capone and other gangsters who held a lot of influence over the railroads in those early days.

 It was during this storytelling time that Tadpole started to realize that he wasn’t feeling very well.  It was just a shortness of breath he was feeling.  As the three traveling visitors were about to venture into the town to look for something to eat, they asked Tadpole if he’d like to join them.  Tadpole declined their offer and called after them with a smile, “I believe I have a train to catch.”

 Just after this exchange, Tadpole felt his legs give way and he slumped down to the ground and leaned against a tree.  He heard a train whistle blowing and saw the light getting closer.  As the train came into hobo jungle, Tadpole looked up and saw the door on the last boxcar was wide open and he could hear a familiar noise.  He realized that the noise he heard was Hap barking and wagging his tail and welcoming him aboard the Wabash Cannonball.  Tadpole was going for one last train ride. He was going home.

Author’s note:  Back in my hometown of Bloomington, Illinois, I lived about two blocks from a hobo jungle and there really was a hobo of this description named Bob Garland.  The cabin, the bike, the dog, the fishing club are all actual things from my childhood memories.  The rest of these details were just arranged to make for an interesting little story.  Thank you for your time!  ~~Mary

Wealth of Our Community

Growing up in  Randolph County.

By WT Cox

Memories are precious things. They enable us to keep a part of our life experiences with us as we grow old.  As I recall events from my youth growing up here in Randolph County, some events seem just as real today as they did many years ago. We have memories of life events and of pets that we have had over the years, but the most significant memories are the ones of people we have known.  These are the memories that we hold most dear. 

When I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, Ramseur was a different place. It was certainly more rural, but the people were different too.  People knew their neighbors and seemed to care about each other more back then. I remember my grandmother cooking pies and meals for neighbors who lived on our road or in the neighborhood.  Most everyone around us went to the same church… Parks Crossroads or Jordan Memorial. Whenever a neighbor had an illness or life event, the whole neighborhood would come together. Now, most people cannot name neighbors who live across their street or even next door. Where we lived was in the country, and our “neighborhood” consisted of a couple of miles of dirt roads and farm families who stayed in touch with each other. This was especially true during the harvest season.  Some of our closest neighbors grew tobacco, which back then was a very labor-intensive crop.  Neighbors who farmed would come together and help each other during planting and harvest time.  Priming the leaves was the hardest part of growing tobacco… and this was the first “real” job I had growing up.  

I always was one to look for ways to make money. My dad used to let me plant pumpkins and green beans that I sold to Harvel’s Grocery in Ramseur. Mr. Harvel was a kind man and always willing to take my produce. I think daddy was just glad to have me working with him and it kept me occupied while he worked in his garden. I mowed both our and my grandparent’s yards every week, but never got paid money for that… The concept of an “allowance” was not something ever considered in our household. If I was to have money of my own, I had to find ways to earn it. I picked blackberries in the summer and sold them to neighbors in Town for 15 cents a quart, or 50 cents a gallon.  My socks always smelled like the kerosene that I used to keep the chiggers off me. I rode my bike once a week to Alton Cox’s,  who lived about a mile up the road mowed his yards around his house and barn for $1.25 a week…. That was “big” money back then. He also would pay me 50 cents a day to put feed into the feeders of his chicken house.  

 When tobacco harvest season came, all the neighbors were busy working in the fields and looking for help. I got my big chance to help after being asked in church one Sunday morning if I wanted another “job”. Tommy Conrad was needing help with tobacco and the first priming was going to be that Monday. I eagerly accepted the challenge and was told to meet at their tobacco barn around 5 AM. While I had been around tobacco the last year, I had never primed before. I knew it paid good money and was hard work, and I was determined to be the best primer ever and hopefully earn those high wages I had heard about. It was rumored that some experienced primers actually got as much as $2 an hour for their work. That was almost too good to believe. Tommy told me he would start me out at 75 cents an hour and see how well I did, but I would have to wait to be paid until the end of the season when they sold their crop. That was fine with me and still more money than I had ever earned before, so I gladly accepted and promised to be at his barn bright and early on Monday.  He also told me to make sure I wore a long sleeve shirt and pants. I thought he was just kidding with me. I had never primed before and I knew the summer days were hot.  When working out in the heat, surely no one would wear long sleeves. I showed up on time but in shorts and a tee shirt.   The” old” men at the barn just smiled at me and said, “OK, let’s get at it”.  There were several of us “primers” who headed out to the field behind two old mules that were each hitched to two long wooden sleds. I overheard one of the guys ask Tommy why he did not use a tractor to pull the sleds like his neighbor down the road did. Tommy replied, “now why would I do that?  You have to leave out a couple of rows of tobacco for the tractor and with mules,  I can plant more per acre.  Besides, they can turn sharper than a tractor too”.  

I was excited about my new job.  Determined to be the best primer there, I eagerly listened to the instructions on how to “prime”. The bottom leaves were the biggest, and of course the closest to the ground, so you had to work bent over all the time. I was young and small, so that was not a problem.. Actually having to look at the ground all the time gave me an opportunity to look for Indian arrowheads while I worked… another bonus. Tommy told me to grab the first three or four leaves.  “Just twist your hand around the stalk and the leaves will pop right off.  Then you put them under your arm and after you get all you can hold, then lay them in the sled, with the ends facing out”. That seemed simple, I thought. Soon, I discovered that Tommy was not kidding with me when he said to wear long sleeves. The cold, tobacco leaves were wet with dew and the sticky resin made the leaves stick to my skin when I unloaded an arm full.  I did not have time to look for arrowheads because the mule kept the sleds in front of everyone and I was always trying to “catch up” with the person in the row next to me. When we got to the end of the first row, I was the last one to finish.  Some of the “old” men were already way down the next row before I finished my first one. I soon realized that priming was not only a hard job, it was one that took some skill to do right and quick.  The sticky leaves were already beginning to cling to my arms, and I soon realized the big mistake I had made in not listening to Tommy’s advice.  I did my best to keep up, and some of the men would encourage me along the way with things like “come on boy, you can do it”. I was determined to prove I was just as good as them, but actually, it took everything I could muster just to keep up. After what seemed like an eternity, it was time for a “break”. We got a drink of cold water from a long ladle that was dipped into a bucket. Everyone drank from the same ladle, which I thought was strange, but the water was welcomed after what seemed like hours priming (actually it probably was just an hour or two). After a few minutes rest, it was back to priming. The mules responded to commands such as Gee and Haw…  they seemed to know exactly how far to stay ahead and when to stop. The white sandy soil was ideal for sleds and when one sled was full, it would be pulled to the side of the field and another one hitched up. One mule was used to pull the sleds to the barns, that were located down the dirt road to a lead to the home and barns. Most rural roads back then were dirt.  The sandy soil of eastern Randolph County was ideal for tobacco farming and Randolph County had the largest amount of dirt roads in the State. It was not uncommon to see farmers pulling their crops down these roads during harvest season.  

I remember one time when we had finished a field, and the mules were both hitched to two sleds, full of freshly primed tobacco leaves.  We were headed to the barn when disaster struck. Already bone-tired from a day of priming, everyone was glad to be finished, when suddenly one of the mules began kicking and snorting.  The mule took off running and the two sleds were turned on their sides, with greenish golden tobacco leaves scattered all over the road.  One sled busted apart when the mule turned the corner and the other was in pieces by the time the mule stopped at the barn.  “What happened”, someone shouted.  “Bee” Tommy said.  “Must have gotten stung by a bee”. We began gathering up the leaves of tobacco that littered the roadside placing them into another sled.  When I got to the barn, I expected to see Tommy beat the mule for the damage it had done, but instead, he was brushing him and giving him water.  He calmed the animal down, realizing it was frightened and had not done anything wrong.  “You have to take care of your animals, he said.  They have feelings too”.   

It is strange what things you remember. I had not spoken to Tommy since his wife Patsy died.  I knew they were close. I had just seen him a few weeks ago when he came to church with his sister. Tommy had lost his eyesight. He recognized people by their voice. It was hard to believe he died so quickly.  

I know that there is a lot of more important things people remember about Tommy Conrad, but for me, I will always remember him giving me my first “real” job… and of course those mules.  

Thomas "Tommy" Edward Conrad Asheboro, North Carolina Obituary

Ramseur- Thomas “Tommy” Edward Conrad, 77, passed away Monday, December 27, 2021 at Randolph Hospice. Born June 14, 1944 in Randolph County, he was the son of the late Clarence Reid Conrad, and Maude Johnson Conrad.

Tommy was preceded in death by his parents; his wife of almost 56 years Patsy Spencer Conrad; and his son, Spencer Reid Conrad. He is survived by daughter, Donna Conrad Long and her husband Reggie of Robbins; grandchildren, Colton Long and his wife Mary of Robbins, Chesley Cox and her husband Ethan of Troy, Carter Long of Robbins and Steffenie Porvaznik and her husband Mike of Raleigh; great-grandchildren, Reid Thomas Long, Wyatt Samuel Cox, and Gibson Stone Long; brother, Kenneth Conrad of Naples, FL; sisters, Cathy Johnson and her husband Gene of Asheboro and Sherri Needham and her husband Barry of Ramseur; and sisters in law, Jane Gerringer of Asheboro, and Sandra Baucom and her husband Larry of Asheboro.

A graveside service was held at 2:00 pm, Sunday, January 2, 2022, at Parks Crossroads Christian Church, 2057 Parks Crossroads Church Rd, Ramseur, NC 27316 with Reverend Randy Kelley, Reverend Ransom Love, and Reverend Todd Nance officiating. The family wishes to thank Randolph Hospice House for their care of Tommy in his final days. In lieu of flowers, the family wishes for donations to be made in Tommy’s honor to Randolph Hospice or Parks Crossroads Christian Church.

Uncategorized Yesteryear

Yellow Checkered Shirt

Today as I was getting ready for church, the shirt I put on triggered a memory and I began reminiscing about my childhood.  I was privileged to have grown up around my grandparents when I was young. We lived just across the road from their farm, and my dad worked with his father in the lumber & construction business, so we saw them almost every day. My grandad was a quiet, stately man who I admired greatly. I spent as much time as I could with him.  During the summer he would let me help with the chores around the farm. I helped him feed his hogs during the evenings and sometimes he would let me ride with him to downtown Ramseur to have grain ground into feed and pick up supplies.  When we got to the milling company in downtown Ramseur, he would back up the side dock. The owner, Mr. Shoemaker would greet us at the side door and we would shovel our pickup load of corn and wheat into the large abyss that was in the floor of Mr. Shoemakers’ milling company. The hum of the grinding was always mesmerizing to me, and I shuttered to think of what would happen if an animal accidentally were to fall into that pit.  It was just an open hole in the floor that was covered by a wooden trap door when not in use. Once you opened the door, a metal shoot would direct anything thrown into the pit to grinders that would turn it into fine feed or flour. Mr. Shoemaker would then wrap a burlap sack around the mouth of the funnel that came down inside the store and with a quick pull of a lever, fills up a 100 lb sack of feed and quickly tie it with his special knot.  It was then loaded onto the customer’s truck. My job was to shovel the grain into the pit and then pull the bags to the front of the building where my grandfather would be waiting to load them onto his truck. Most of the time the feed we had milled wound up into hog feed.  Each year, Granddad would grow out several hundred hogs to “top hogs” (when they got to around 200 lbs) and then take them to the sale in Siler City. He gave me one of his flock for my efforts every year that I helped him.    

My thoughts were directed to those days while I was dressing for church.   We have a new pastor, and his preaching has caused me to actually enjoy going to church again. I was up early so to get dressed and be there on time. Now my wardrobe is sort of limited. I have never been one to buy a lot of clothes. In fact, I rarely ever throw away anything. That becomes a problem when you grow in places that you don’t want. For some reason, my neck seems to be (well, it actually is) much larger than it was years ago, so my old shirts just don’t fit anymore. They don’t button like they used to either. When I try to fasten the top button to put on a tie, it feels like I am being choked. I do have a few shirts that have a large enough neck that they are comfortable, but most of these are not what I would call “fashionable.” I had put one of these shirts on this Sunday, and as I looked in the mirror, my mind went back to those days with my Granddad and Mr. Shoemaker. While we would grind our own grain for hog feed, Grandaddy would purchase his chicken feed at the store. After we loaded up the bags of feed we had ground, he would go through the stacks of chicken feed and pick out several with patterned designs on the bags. Back then, access to a clothing store was limited to an occasional trip to town or mail order from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Companies would pack their feed in patterned cloth bags that rural women could re-use for dresses, aprons, and table cloths, or whatever they chose to make from them. These feed sacks came in a variety of colors and designs, and when we returned from town with our load, my grandmother would come out and inspect what we had brought. “Now that one will make a nice tablecloth (or something)” she would say “You be careful with it and don’t tear it up.” Granddaddy would nod, as to say “don’t worry.” The shirt I had chosen for church was a yellow checkered one, and it reminded me of those feed sacks and the anticipation of my grandmother getting something new.   

Simple things, for a much simpler time. People seemed to be much happier back then.  Thankful for memories.

Business Spotlight Uncategorized

The History of Zack White Leather Company

Almost every small town has at least one store, shop, or restaurant that is unique. It may be a family bakery that has existed for generations or a clothing store that sells designer creations made by the owner. Whatever the type, these remarkable one-of-a-kind businesses give us our rich culture and history and make exploring small towns an adventure. One such place in Ramseur is a business called Zack White Leather Company. Once you enter the doors of their modern building located at 809 Moffitt Street, it is like a step back in time. The smell of leather, rich and strong, floods the shop. You are welcomed by a friendly black Labrador retriever named Jasmine who is the official store greeter. Shelves are lined with dyes and finishes of all sorts and behind the long glass counter are racks of small drawers filled with hundreds of different tools used for carving and stamping leather. Further into the store are high shelves filled with piles of tanned hides. Hanging from the stores’ second level are huge hides of hair on cow, goat’ elk, and bison that are hung from the railing, giving the store a rustic appeal. To the novice, the huge variety of leather hides is quite overwhelming. Only in a very few places in the entire country can you find such a variety of leather hides for sale. How did a company like this find its way to a small town like Ramseur?

Zack White Leather Company has been a Ramseur business since it was moved here back in 1984 from its original location in Raleigh. Until 2003, the business was located at the corner of Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ramseur. For many years it was a central attraction for the downtown with a Civil War cannon mounted on top of the building. In 2003, the business moved to its current location on Moffitt Street alongside Cox Home Center, which is owned by the same owners. The history of a store like Zack White is interesting as well as the man for whom the business draws its name. 

  The leather findings business is an old business that has its beginnings in the shoe trade.  The Company originally was referred to as a “findings company”.  The term “findings”, which is also used in the jewelry trade, originated in Europe many years ago when craftsmen had difficulty locating the items they needed.  These people became known and “finders” and the material they found was referred to as “findings”, which is a convenient way to cover a wide variety of items. Today, with the availability of the internet, almost everyone has the ability to search for items they are needing and companies calling themselves finders are a relic of the past.  At one time the leather industry was the largest industry in America, with US Leather being the largest corporation in1901.  Even as late as the 1960’s, there were dozens of shoe repair shops and leather stores scattered in every county.  Zack White Leather Co used to employ salesman that had designated routes and serviced stores from the Tidewater region of Virginia to Charleston, SC, and up to the piedmont section of North Carolina. Back then, companies stayed in their own “territories”.  Zack White had the eastern portion of NC, and other companies had their own territories.  Southern Leather concentrated in SC and up to the Charlotte area, JH Cook & Sons had the western part of NC and Acme General the southern part of Virginia. Today, with the advent of the internet, the days of having a “territory” are over. The days of traveling salesmen are over and the Company markets their products through several websites which makes their products and services available to a broad range of customers. Zack White Leather Co ships products both domestic and international. Zack White Leather Company is one of only a handful of companies still in existence where you can purchase the wide variety of items used in the craft, tack, shoe, and leather trades, and the products are actually stocked where customers can come in and browse the inventory.  The store is so unique, that people will travel hundreds of miles just to visit the store.  In one case, and customer brought his whole family from Maine down to Asheboro, and while the wife and kids toured the NC Zoo, the father and son spent the day at Zack White shopping.  Customers are considered “local” if they live within a 300-mile radius of the store and many choose to drive the distance so they can feel and examine the leather before purchase. Many customers will tell you they come to the store so they can talk with Zack and learn from his knowledge of the trade or get his advice on what purchase to make. Actually, Zack has long been gone from the business that bears his name.

Zack White was employed by this company when he got out of high school and was transferred to their Raleigh branch in 1939.  He began as a salesman and traveled one of the established routes that ran to Wilmington down to Charleston.  Back then a salesman was required to pay his own way when on the road.  Back before WW11, hotel bills and meals for a week’s travel averaged less than $15.00.  Small town hotels usually were no more than $1.25 a night and the most expensive meal you could buy was a T-bone steak, which cost 75 cents, with a 5 cent tip (10 cents if you were a big spender), Zack was able to save up enough money to purchase the business. In 1954, Zack took a gamble and built a new building next to the train track on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. The road soon became a major business highway and Zack’s leather business prospered.   It was not long before styles and trends began to change to more of a “throw-away” economy, and people repaired their shoes less and less. So to keep up with the ever-changing market, Zack diversified into the leathercraft trade and began stocking and selling tack items along with high-end briefcases to the executives in Raleigh. As the shoe business continued to decline, the business continued to diversify and when Zack reached the age of 70, he sold out to one of his longtime customers who moved the business to Ramseur in 1984. Zack was a former president of the National Association of Shoe Finders and on their board of directors for several years. The business continued to use the Zack White name because of the established reputation and recognition it had within the leather industry and the loyal following of crafters who chose to purchase their products from the company.   

To reach a more diversified customer base, the business started to manufacture a line of belts and finished goods. Today, the manufacturing and production part of the business supplies products to a wide variety of businesses that, in turn, sell in retail stores or at craft shows. They produce many “confined” products for other companies that sell the products through their own name or trademark.  You may purchase a belt or leather item for other stores and never know that it was originally manufactured in Ramseur. The main retail line currently sold by Zack White Leather Company is “Maxwell-Leigh Creations”.  This line of belts, handbags, and fashion items are sold primarily over the internet thru ESTY and in select stores and are advertised in trade publications and magazines such as Our State. They also produce a line of canine collars and leashes under five different style brands and are the official dealer for Cobra Leather Working Equipment for the southeast US.

The increase in retail customers that visit the store can also be attributed to the wide range of craft items that are offered. Handmade jewelry and pottery items by WT Cox are available for sale. Customers can have custom knife sheaths or holsters made to order, also repair services are offered for a wide variety of leather items, including ladies’ handbags. The company also sells a huge variety of motorcycle apparel, including vests, chaps, jackets, and accessories. The MC apparel is not manufactured by the company, but many items can be ordered custom-made. The backlog for custom make items can be several months, but the wait is usually worth it.

Zack White Leather Co. illustrates the unique, one-of-a-kind experience that can be had when exploring small towns.  The personal attention and unique products that visitors witness when visiting the store are just some examples of the hidden treasures that await travelers who take the time to explore the small towns of North Carolina. There is no better place to start exploring than right here in Randolph County.

Wealth of Our Community

Ramseur’s Own “Mother Teresa”

The Wealth of Community Series

Ms. Tony Marley

We would like to wish a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY to a wonderful lady many people affectionately refer to as Ramseur’s own “Mother Teresa.” Ms. Toni Gilmore Marley will turn 100 years “young” this December 15th. Over the years, this remarkable lady volunteered thousands of hours for local causes, especially Hospice and the Local Food Pantry.  She has faithfully served at Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Asheboro and other charitable causes.  Ms. Marley has been recognized many times for her many hours of volunteer work. In 2014, she received the Service Above Self Award presented by the Randolph Rotary Club for her volunteerism, especially to the Randolph County Hospice.  In 2015, Toni Marley was the recipient of the NC Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in a special ceremony with Governor Pat McCrory.  Then in 2020, Ms. Marley was presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, as granted by the State of North Carolina and Governor Roy Cooper.  This award was given for her “incredible heart and years of service to her community.”  When presented with this award, by Trent Cockerham, CEO of Hospice of Randolph County, Ms. Marley commented, “I can’t feel worthy of this … I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that many other people have done.” What Ms. Marley considers “not worthy” would be quite an accomplishment for most people.  Toni had volunteered over 8500 hours of her time when this award was given in September of 2020, and now that number of hours is even more. She not only serves as a patient volunteer by visiting and offering support, she also helps coordinate and prepare donations of desserts and assist with food services. Toni is also known for her baking skills. Hospice credited her with bringing in over $22,000 to the organization through sales of her cakes and desserts. 

Ms. Marley was part of the original group of volunteers that was formed back in 1981 when Hospice first came to Randolph County.  She now is the last surviving member of that group.  She is not the typical person you would expect to donate so much of her time to giving back to her community. She was originally from Pittsboro, in Chatham County, and came to Ramseur when she was 16 years old. She finished high school and married Joe Harris Marley, and they had two children.  Her husband unexpectedly died at the young age of 36 and left Tony behind to raise her two children on her own, ages 9 and 5. She lived just a couple blocks from the Coble Dairy where she worked.  She was able to put both her children through college, but when her daughter got sick and unable to get around on her own, she gave her the family car so she could get to class from her dorm. During this time without a car to drive, Toni rode a bicycle to work every day, and to church and the grocery store. Eventually, when her daughter passed away from her illness, Toni refused to let hardship get her down. She pulled from her faith, saying “there are a lot of people who are worse off than me”.   She dedicated her life to serving others, whether it be in her church or by volunteering her time, she was determined to share God’s gift of caring with others. In addition to the many awards Toni has received, she is most proud of her church and the outreaches it provides. She is a member of Jordan Memorial Methodist Church in Ramseur and active in the ladies’ group, church choir, and assists with the newsletter.  She still exercises weekly with ladies of the church and attends services when she can. “I thank the good Lord every day that I can get up and take care of myself”, Marley commented when interviewed after receiving her latest award. She enjoys walking in her yard and growing flowers. Her vision is bad, so she cannot drive anymore, but thankfully she has friends who love her and remember the years of thankless service she has given to her community. Toni Marley is referred to by many who know her as Ramseur’s “Mother Teresa” because of her compassion and zeal for helping others in need. She will turn 100 years young this December 15th, and we wish her a very Happy Happy Birthday. 

A celebration service will be given to Ms. Toni Marley Sunday, December 12th from 2:00 till 4:00 pm in the Jordan Memorial Methodist Church fellowship hall, located on Main Street in Ramseur.  The public is invited and to please wear a mask, even if vaccinated. 

 *portions of this article were gathered from the Jordan Memorial Church Newsletter, an article by Tony Bolick USA Network, and from conversations with her friend Emily Johnson.  We were unable to interview Ms. Marley directly.

Wealth of Our Community

Antoinette (Toni) Gilmore Marley

Our son calls “Miss Toni” the Mother Teresa of Ramseur. When there is an illness, accident, death or any kind of family crisis Toni Marley will be the first person to visit with a casserole or dessert and consoling words for the family. She quietly notices if there are things that need to be done and immediately pitches in to help. 

Toni visits the elderly and persons confined to their homes. She makes regular visits to those who reside in care facilities in Ramseur and Asheboro. She seems to have that sixth sense that tells her if there is a special concern.

Toni has been a member of Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church since she was a teenager. She has been youth director, Sunday School Teacher and has served in numerous offices and committees. She is currently a member of the member care team and the adult choir. She supervises the kitchen at the church and coordinates all church meals whether for fellowship or for fundraising. 

Toni is an active member of the United Methodist Women and attends district and conference activities. Over the years she has served as president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer as well as offices within her small group circle. 

She coordinates the bereavement meals that are served to church members’ families prior to or following a funeral. She also coordinates fundraising activities for United Methodist Women.

Toni is an active member of Church Women United of Randolph and is currently serving as treasurer of that organization.

In December, 2003 a food pantry was established by the churches in the Ramseur area. Toni attended the organizational meeting and continues to serve as an active member of the coordinating board. All food and work are provided by volunteers. Each church provides volunteers every six weeks to keep the food pantry open. Toni is in charge of staffing the pantry with volunteers from Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church. During those weeks Toni works at least one day and often more. She collects and delivers the food donations to the Ramseur Food Pantry and also to the Christian United Outreach Center in Asheboro.

Those of us who are younger than Toni marvel at her energy and enthusiasm. She sets the pace for the rest of us. We could certainly learn time management from her. I can think of no one more worthy of being recognized for service to others.

Emily Johnson

Historian Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church