Coalwood, WV…A Wonderful Visit!

My Notebook for Weekend of Rocket Boys’ Festival-(Part IV)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our morning off to a flying start, having met O’Dell and Roy Lee by chance, at breakfast, we were all set to get on the motor coach for an excursion to Coalwood, the town where the magic of the Rocket Boys took place and the setting for Homer Hickam’s classic, Rocket Boys.

100_5397As I wrote about earlier, Carolyn and I had driven to Coalwood last winter when we were en route to her brother’s in North Carolina. The experience of dealing with the steep and very winding roads was something I still think about. And because Coalwood is basically a place where you “can’t get to from here,” it’s a long ways away from anywhere (paraphrasing Roy Lee and O’Dell) and doesn’t show up on many maps or atlases. Just the same, it’s a neat place once you finally get there just over two hours from Beckley. That was why I was so very much looking forward to making the trip this time via a comfortable tour bus, with a tour guide of sorts, explaining the lay of the land and other points of interest. The old slogan about “take the bus and leave the driving to us” was totally in play here!

By the time we pulled away from Tamarack, it was 9:15 a.m. on a beautiful Sunday morning, and our intrepid guide and director was none other than Scott (the guy in the Red Sox ball cap), and he filled us in on the plan for the trip. He took the occasion to ask us our feelings and opinions about the Festival and the surrounding events. We also introduced ourselves and spoke about why we were there. I found this part of the bus ride interesting, and it was good to meet—if only briefly—most of the other twelve or so people who were along for the trip.

But there was also plenty of quiet time to ride along and admire the rolling landscape and all of the various species of trees and plant life adorning the land. There always seemed to be a creek or a river running right alongside our serpentine road as we twisted and turned, up and over, the many mountains leading on to Coalwood. Our little entourage was expected at the Coalwood Community United Methodist Church around 12:00 as the good folks there were planning to serve all of us hungry travelers lunch.

Arriving in Coalwood about a half-hour early, we were joined by a long-time resident and church member, Virginia Phillips, who served as our tour guide through Coalwood. It was good having her aboard as she pointed out the various places—now abandoned and basically gone to ruin—that functioned as the vital parts of the town of which Homer wrote. Her pleasant demeanor and great sense of humor provided each of us a wonderful time learning about—up close and personal—Coalwood and its background. And, we soon learned, she is the daughter of William “Bill” Bolt, who was the machinist who helped the Rocket Boys with their rockets. Further, the church was helping him celebrate his 90th birthday, so we would all be a part of this celebration during our lunch.

The Coalwood Community United Methodist Church

We returned to the pretty white church and went down to the basement for a lunch of chili, cornbread, slaw, and delicious homemade desserts. It was quite pleasant chatting with the church members and residents of Coalwood. Their friendliness and hospitality was outstanding! Though a small congregation, there appeared to be an overall feeling of goodness and spirit. Shortly after our arrival, we were joined by unexpected guests, Homer and Linda. On their way back to their home in Huntsville, Alabama, they wanted to stop and wish Mr. Bolt a happy birthday at the church.

After lunch, and before we boarded for the return trip to Beckley, our little tour group had our picture taken with Homer on the front church steps, after which he spoke to us for ten minutes or so, pointing out various aspects of the buildings, streets, and locations that were such a prominent part of his story. It was good to be on the actual site, with the actual main character/author speaking directly to us.

Then it was time to bid farewell to Homer and Linda and all of the wonderful folks of Coalwood and hop on the bus to get back to Beckley. Nick and I would be up very early—4:00 a.m.—Monday morning for our long drive back to Illinois, so we were anxious to get back to the hotel to pack and get some sleep that night. The return bus trip was one of reflection on not only the day’s journey to Coalwood, but also of the entire weekend. Thanks to all who made it such a good experience, and if all goes well, I’m planning to do it all again the first weekend of October in 2014. See you there…CortlandWriter

Nick explains to Homer the significance of Mount Gay Rum (See The Keeper's Son)
Nick explains to Homer the significance of Mount Gay Rum (See The Keeper’s Son)

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