SIDNEY UNDERWOOD: MEMORIES OF HARDMAN ALLEY - Underwood Recalls Grantsville Life, Cow Milk, Cowboys, BBs, Bikes And Tingling Ears

"In a world that is centralizing, merging, consolidating and now globalizing, the spot or place where people are born, live and grow is still what matters most in life. It is in that place where we have our being and learn the lessons of life, from each other and the earth upon which we stand." - Bob Weaver

Former Grantsville resident Sidney Underwood, who now resides in Parkersburg, recalls his childhood days on a Grantsville alley in this short story, coming of age with his parents Wayne and Marguerite Underwood, his dad being a well-remembered football coach at Calhoun County High School.

The story will likely ignite the reader's flame of reminiscing, in the kindest and gentleness of ways.

By Sidney Underwood 2013

Sidney Underwood holding his father's Sports
Writers Hall of Fame Award (Hur Herald photo 2001)

Hardman Alley in Grantsville, nestled along the banks of the Little Kanawha River, was where I spent my early childhood years.

My family lived in a small two bedroom house located on the alley below the Rainbow Hotel.

The time frame was from 1948 through 1954.

I have many memories of that time while I was growing up and I would like to share some of them with you.

I have written this piece also for my children, so that if and when they decide to learn more about my childhood years, there will be a record of it. It is written as seen through the eyes of an 11 year old boy.

Although time fades all memories, the people, places and events described are true. There has been no attempt to embellish or make up anything. I hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.


The fact that our "street" was known as Hardman Alley was not at all offensive to us or our neighbors who also lived there. It was a narrow passage way running from Mill Street to River Street with homes on either side.

It also had a full length narrow sidewalk. Going back in time, as one entered the alley from Mill Street, the first home encountered on the right belonged to the Oren Atkinson family. It fronted on Mill Street.

Mr. and Mrs. Atkinson had two sons, Steve and Pete. Pete was confined to a wheelchair. The next home on that side was the Lucille Proudfoot residence. Virginia Arthur and daughter Jeanne lived in the next house.

Directly behind Mrs. Arthur's house was a small structure where Bob and Beulah Mace lived. Beulah was also Mrs. Arthur's daughter. The house below that was two storied, and was occupied by the Carl Howard family and later by the Stanley D'orazio family. I mention these facts because that house was almost directly across the alley from our home.

The next house on the right would be the home of Alma Ayers, a teacher at the high school. The last house was the oldest structure on the alley, and it fronted on River Street and was known as the Hardman home. My fifth grade teacher, Wilma Stump lived there. She was a widow, and had a brother, James, who lives today on the south side of Grantsville.

Wilma Stump had two daughters, Sandra and Rose Mary. Both were several years ahead of me in school. The first house on our side of the alley and just below the hotel belonged to the Holly Bell family. Mr. Bell was at that time a member of the local school board. The Willard Furr family later lived in that house.


The next building was large and cavernous and was known as the American Legion Hall. It faced Court Street and only the back side was visible from the alley. It had at various times been a meeting place for the American Legion, Lion's Club and was an early movie house.

That building, as I remember, had also been a dealership that sold Willy's jeeps and cars, a Mr. Woody was the proprietor. Later, it was a roller skating rink and maybe a small basketball gym before the front half was torn down.

Shirley "Shy" Hickman operated an auto repair shop for a time in the remaining back half of the building that had an entrance facing the alley. Shy was quite talented in that he actually built a unique car himself.

He fashioned the body, installed the transmission, engine and other parts and drove this, one of a kind, car around town.

Our house was next in line and sat beside the legion Hall. I remember when we looked out our side windows toward the hotel, all we could see was the outside wall of the Legion Hall which was only a mere four feet away.

My Mother always complained about this as that side of our house was always damp for lack of sunlight. Our house was the last one on that side that faced the alley.

The remaining houses faced Court Street. Immediately behind our house was the Jack and Effie Bickerstaff home. I think Mr. Bickerstaff was in the oil and gas business. The next house belonged to Dr. John Bowling. He was the head physician at the local Bowling Clinic above the Calhoun Super Service. I remember Dr. Bowling and my Dad sitting and talking on Dr. Bowling's back porch on summer evenings.


Bruce Lowe and wife Ann and three sons, Fred, Steve and Robert who lived in the next house. Robert was near my age. Both Fred and Steve were good athletes. Fred received a scholarship to Ohio University to play basketball and baseball. He later played professional baseball in the Sally {South Atlantic} league as a pitcher.

Mr. Lowe operated the Rainbow Hotel and Grille for many years. He had a garage near the front of his property where he housed a beautiful Packard touring car.

The next house was small and rough built, almost like a cabin. I do not remember who lived there. The last house on the corner belonged to Mrs. Cox. Also living there at that time was her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Riddle. Mrs. Riddle was a long time teacher at the grade school.

The area just described pretty much summed up my world at that time. Some of my friends who lived nearby included: Bill Umstead, the postmaster's son, Paul Mollohan, Mike Bell from Phillips Run, Ronnie Propst from Southside Grantsville and Joe Wright, who was the grandson of Willis and Gracie Haught and lived on Mill Street.


My first schoolboy crush was Sandra Stump, the proverbial older woman. I'm sure, she must have known about it. I remember Sandra would always speak to me when we met on the sidewalk and my response was always hesitant and awkward.

I was 11 years old and she might have been 15.

I remember waiting on our porch for hours just to watch her walk by. I thought she looked so good in her short shorts and halter top. I had secret dreams about her. Yes, it was that bad.

I remember a special incident involving Sandra. Bill Umstead, who lived just around the corner on River Street, and I were playing football in Mrs. Cox's backyard. This was across the alley from the Hardman place and Sandra was sitting on the porch swing watching us.

Of course, we saw her and were showing off for her benefit. We were leaping around with exaggerated motions and doing other dumb things. We were surprised when she approached and asked to play with us.

I tentatively threw her a soft pass. She caught the ball and announced that she wanted to play tackle football. She said that she wanted to play running back.

I volunteered immediately to play defense when I realized that one of my secret dreams of her might just come true. But, before Bill could snap the ball back to Sandra, her Grandmother called for her. I'm sure that old Mrs. Hardman had seen our activities and decided to put a stop to it before things got out of hand I learned that day that life is full of little disappointments.

I have one other incident concerning another older woman that I should like to relate to you. Remember now, this was the 1950's.

Pictured left is Dad and I at the Mt Zion Methodist Church, 1953.

Quite often Dad would send me up the alley to the Rainbow Hotel to get him a pack of Camels. I think they cost a quarter. Virginia Bee, daughter of Swayze and Beulah Bee, worked in the hotel restaurant.

I thought she was pretty. When she would see me there, she would always ask me if I was still her boyfriend. My ears would start to tingle and soon I would be blood red with embarrassment. I would drop my head and shyly answer yes.

She always got the same reaction from me each time I went there. She would always smile sweetly at me and tell me to come back soon. I always looked forward to running this errand for Dad.

This was a time before television when neighbors sat on porches and discussed politics and local gossip. It was a time when my mother would go over to Mrs. Arthur's house to borrow a cup of sugar. It was a time when Bill Umstead and I would play ball in the alley.

Many times an errant throw would cause the ball to roll down the alley and across River Street and be lost forever down over the bank into the river.


It was a time when Boone Hathaway would deliver raw milk from his farm on Phillips Run to our front step each morning and pick up the empty glass bottle from the day before.

I was raised on raw milk and the first time I tasted store bought pasteurized milk, it didn't taste right and I didn't like it.

A pastime that I enjoyed was going to the Little Kanawha Theatre. I would go on Saturday afternoons to see Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy movies.

It was the era of the singing cowboy, although, as I recall, Hoppy didn't sing all that well, if at all.

The theatre located on Main Street was operated by John and Helen Cook who lived behind it on Mill Street. On those Saturdays, our gang would gather on the sidewalk and go in the theatre together laughing and talking.

We would sit as a group up front near the screen. We would watch the Movietone News which told us about the war in Korea and the 38th parallel.

We sat there amazed to see the commercial showing a new Ford car on the screen and the announcer telling us to visit the Calhoun Super Service for a test drive. It sounded as if they had filmed that commercial in Grantsville just for us, but the background in the commercial didn't look anything like Calhoun County.

Next would be the Looney Tune cartoons featuring Porky Pig and Daffy Duck and other characters. Then, we would see that week's episode of the "serial" which was a continuing saga of adventure. One, that I remember, was titled "The Undersea Kingdom" which concerned the crew of a sunken submarine that was stranded in a world below the ocean with scary looking robots running around all over the place.

We would watch the feature movie and cheer for Roy, Gene or Hoppy. Those movies always had happy endings. The guys in the white hats would triumph over the bad guys in the black hats. At the end of the movie, after rescuing the girl, they would ride off into the sunset in search of their next adventure.

Quite often, during the movie, Bill Umstead would entertain everyone by throwing popcorn kernels up into the path of the projector beam resulting in a shooting star effect for those seated behind us and creating a corresponding dark streak on the movie screen.

We all thought it was hilarious, but Mrs. Cook did not find it amusing and would walk down the aisle in search of the culprit. She would stand there in the dark and look over toward us. But Bill was cool with it. He knew that she knew, but he also knew that she knew that she couldn't prove that he had done anything.

After she had retreated back up the aisle, Paul Mollohan or Mike Bell would lean over toward Bill and whisper to him that he had better straighten up or all of us would be tossed out of there.

Bill would shrug and say that he was too slick for her and she would never catch him. Nevertheless, after her appearance, his theatrics would end.

Although Bill and I enjoyed going to the movies, sometimes we didn't have enough money. On those occasions, we would resort to gathering up junk to take to Izzy, the junk man.


I hate to admit it now, but we took stuff that didn't belong to us. We looked under buildings and searched the river bank for anything made of metal including collars, small engine parts, old discarded wheels and sections of pipe.

On our sweeps, if we could push it, pull it, drag it or roll it onto the road and if we could lift it onto the wagon, it went to Izzy.

I remember that he was a large man with big hands. He was a good guy. He never asked where the stuff came from and always paid in cash.

Hopefully, most of the junk that we took to him was headed for the scrap pile anyway. I like to think that we were ahead of our time. It was our version of the Adopt a Highway Program.

Bill and I spent a lot of time together during those years. We only got into serious trouble one time. And that involved BB guns. We both had Daisy Red Rider carbines. Those were the kind that held maybe 600 BB's when fully loaded.

Pictured right is the BB gun that got me in trouble with the mayor of Grantsville, 1951

If you could hear the pellets rolling back and forth in the tube under the barrel when you shook the gun, you knew that you were good to go.

I don't know whose idea it was, and even to this today Bill denies it, but one evening we decided that the street lights would make good targets.

We walked along River Street shooting at them. It was quite exciting seeing the bulbs explode. But, someone living on River Street saw me, but not Bill. That unnamed person started yelling at me to stop. Of course, we ran back up the street, but it was too late. Very quickly my parents learned of my misdeeds.

The next day, my parents were informed that the Mayor of Grantsville had arranged time from his busy schedule to see us. And since I was a juvenile, he would see us at his home on High Street. On the appointed hour, my parents and I went to Mr. Rothwell's house below the grade school to await my fate.

We were ushered into a small office by the mayor who told us to be seated. Mr. Rothwell stated that he had been informed of my activity. I remember saying with trembling lips that I was sorry and would never do anything like that again.

Mr. Rothwell never asked me if anyone else had participated in this activity, so I didn't have to mention Bill's name. My parents stated that they had confiscated the BB gun and would hold it until such time that I had enough sense to be responsible with it.

My Dad offered to pay for the lights, but Mr. Rothwell declined and stated that the town maintenance crew would take care of it. He mentioned something about reform school if it ever happened again.

On the way home my mother said that I probably would be sent to reform school the next time and she didn't know if she would be allowed to visit me.

I promised her that there would never be a next time, and there never was. About six months later, I got my BB gun back with a new found sense of responsibility.


Sometimes I would hang out near the Rainbow Hotel because that was where the older boys would be. Generally that group would include Gerald Ball, Joe Huffman, Jim Stump, Tommy Cain, Larry Stutler and Charles Toepher.

They were all several years older than me. Being older carried a sort of higher status for them because they did stuff that we younger boys couldn't do, like dating girls and hanging out in pool rooms.

I remember one evening, Larry Stutler was sitting on the Rainbow Hotel's porch steps facing Court Street, eating a chocolate bar. Tommy Cain was there giving Larry a hard time. Tommy was well known for that. Larry kept telling Tommy to leave him alone and go pick on someone else.

But, Tommy wouldn't let it go. When Larry wasn't looking, Tommy sneaked over and spit in his face. Tommy should have known better. Larry was bigger, stronger and faster than Tommy and was a starting guard on the Red Devil football team.

Tommy started running down Mill Street for home. But, just before Jeffrey's Alley, Larry caught and tacked Tommy. The rest of us had to run hard down the street just to see what was about to happen.

Larry rolled Tommy over onto his back and sat astride his chest pinning his arms with his knees. Larry told Tommy that he was going to teach him a lesson. With Tommy hopelessly struggling, Larry took a bite of his candy bar, chewed for a few moments and then spit chocolate goo all over Tommy's face and glasses. Everyone learned that day that Larry was not to be messed with.

I mentioned Charles Toepher earlier as one of the older boys in the neighborhood. His younger sister, Emily, was in my grade school class.


Their father was the local doctor who was very fond of cars. Dr. Toepher had the very first Volkswagen Beetle in Calhoun County. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking it looked weird. It reminded me of a turtle shell with wheels. This was 1953 and everyone kidded him about how funny it looked.

He said that it would really go good on muddy roads when he made house calls. The doctor also kept a fine looking Chrysler Town & Country convertible stored in the Arnold Motor Sales building. This car was something else. It had real two tone wood graining on the side.

I remember it was used to carry the queen during the high school homecoming parades. But, the best car and the one that I loved was the doctor's Jaguar XKE convertible.

In fact, he had several of them over the years. Usually British racing green with a black folding top and wire spoke wheels, they were beautiful to behold.

I remember Ben Riddle telling Dad that Dr. Toepher had taken him for a ride up river on the Enon straight and had run it up to 80 mph in third gear!

Cars were a big part of my life when I was growing up. I dreamed of the day that I could actually drive and I could only imagine the feeling of freedom of driving down the road.

In those days, new cars were shown for the first time on a specific day usually in late September. The local dealers would hide the new cars in various buildings until the "show date".

I remember going with Dad to see the new Plymouths and Chryslers at Arnold Motor Sales, and the new Fords and Mercurys at the Calhoun Super Service.

I remember one time Dad test drove a new 53 Ford V8 with me riding shotgun. He headed up Town Hill and Dad really let it out. We topped the hill near Jimmy Robert's store and we were really flying.

I said that we should get this car because it was fast, but it was not to be. Dad bought another Plymouth instead.

When visiting the showrooms, I would always load up on the brochures and bring all that stuff home and lie on the floor and pretend to pick out my car choosing the body style, color and options.

Those brochures would be valuable today if I still had them.


I learned to ride a bicycle when I was 8 years old. Dad and I were over at the high school baseball diamond during the summer of 1950. The south side boys were playing softball. I remember Dad asking Mike Ferrell if I could practice learning to ride on his bike since it was a step through girl's bike.

Mike lived near the turning circle beyond the high school. He told me to go ahead and ride it. With Dad holding on and me pedaling, I started wobbling down the third base line.

Pretty soon, I realized that Dad wasn't there. I was thrilled that I was actually doing quite well for my first time until I saw a parked school bus just in front of me. I turned the handlebar away and fell at the same time.

But, in short order, I was pedaling around the outfield near the football bleachers. I was so happy when Dad said that we would have to see about getting a bike for me.

Sometime later that summer, Dad and I went down to the end of Main Street to Francis Hardware to look at bikes. Sitting in a corner downstairs in the basement was a beautiful maroon and white 26 inch middleweight Roadmaster.

It didn't have the fancy tanks between the bars like the deluxe model did, but I didn't care. I remember Doc Law writing SOLD on the handlebar ticket.

That was one of the happiest moments of my life. It seemed like it took forever for Doc and Dad to get the deal done and pump up the tires and lower the seat post to its lowest setting so that I could just reach the pedals.

I rode it down around River Street and up the alley to home. I will never forget that day.

I would often ride my bicycle down River Street past the old mill to the edge of Route 5 near the Boy Scout Camp. My Mother told me several times that I could ride my bike there and on Mill Street and the alleys that connected them, but I was never to ride on Main Street as it was too dangerous.

And when I crossed Court Street, I was to get off and push my bike and always look both ways. Well, you can imagine how long that lasted after watching the older boys go anywhere they wanted.

I was fascinated when they talked about distant places like Leaf Bank and Cabot Station. I remember one day taking my bike and riding toward the old bridge from River Street. I pedaled past the end of Court Street and the pipe yard and the old livery stable on the riverbank near the entrance to Mill Street.

I continued on past the Fat Sturm residence up to the edge of Main Street beside the bridge. I had been to this spot many times before on my bike, but I had always turned around there.

On this day, I decided that I wanted to take a different route home by riding up Main Street. I hatched a plan in a matter of seconds. I would ride up past the A&P Store and stop, look to the right toward the Post Office and funeral home, and proceed further if no traffic was approaching.

I would ride past Strader's Store and carefully turn left just before Poe Gunn's store onto Court Street and glide down past Arnold Motor Sales, then turn right onto River Street and turn right again and sneak up the alley to home and no one would know about it, especially my Mother.

It must have been a good plan because it worked perfectly. I parked the bike at the steps and bounded up on the porch elated with my new found sense of freedom.

Dad was sitting on the swing reading the paper. I glanced through the screen door to see what Mother was doing. she wasn't there. I asked Dad where she was and he said she had gone up town to the A&P Store and Smith's Drug Store to get a few things.

Suddenly, I didn't feel so good.

In fact, I was worried. I walked over and sat down on the porch steps. I knew that I had not seen her on Main Street. I sure hoped that she had not seen me.

Several minutes passed as I pondered my fate. Presently, I heard Mother's voice. I leaned out over the steps and saw her holding a bag of groceries and talking with Mrs. Arthur, our neighbor up the street.

Then, I saw her walk directly toward me. My moment of truth had come and apparently gone as she came up the steps by me and went directly into the house without saying anything.

I started to feel better about things until I heard her call my name. When I went in the house she said she wanted me to put canned goods on the bottom shelf under the sink in the kitchen.

After I had performed this chore, I got up off my knees and started out to sit on the porch. As I was about to reach the front door, she called my name again.

She said that we needed to talk. Now, if you knew my mother as Dad and I did, you would know that the words, We need to talk," meant that it was not going to be a fun time.

Mother and I sitting at the dining room table where we
had the "We need to talk" conversation. This was my 12th
birthday and the little car was my present, 1954

This time proved to be no exception. She was seated at the dining room table and motioned for me to sit next to her. She looked at me for several moments without speaking.

I looked out the window at Dad still reading the paper and silently thought that I needed him to come to my defense, but he was totally oblivious to my situation.

Mother said that she had seen me riding on Main Street and she had thought about it as she walked home. She said that she had decided, since I was a growing boy, to give me the freedom to ride anywhere I wanted.

But, there was one catch to this. In the future, she stated, I must tell her in advance when I was going to ride up town so that when something awful happened to me, she would not be surprised.

After this conversation, riding on Main Street lost some of its luster for me, and I seldom rode there. And unlike the older boys, I never did ride to Leaf bank or Cabot Station.


Winter was a special time for us town kids. In addition to the excitement of Christmas, we looked forward to sleigh riding. On snowy evenings we would grab our sleds and head for Jeffery's Alley.

We would congregate near the Owens Hotel on Main Street. The first kids there would break trail if the snow was several inches deep. We would do our belly flops onto our sleds and slide down the alley and across Mill Street and on toward River Street.

In those days everyone had real sleds with steel runners, not the wimpy plastic things that kids use today.

My sled was a Champion and it was ok. But, the lucky kids would have Flexible Flyers or Lightning Gliders. Those sleds were long and sleek and steered easily. We would sleigh ride in the dark under the street lights and as time passed, the incline would get slicker and faster.

We would devise jumps near the entrance to Mill Street. We learned quickly to hold our breath when we became airborne. We learned to maintain control when we crashed down onto the snow again and to keep our heads up on impact, otherwise we would suffer cut chins or damaged teeth on the wood and metal steering wings.

Some of us did suffer minor scrapes and bruises to our faces. We would stay out there for hours until we were almost frozen. Only after the curfew sounded from the Courthouse roof, would we head for home.

I have one great memory of that time. I think it was the first snowfall of the season. I was the first one there with my sled. There were several adults standing around talking about the weather.

With great pent up energy, I got a running start and dove onto my sled and promptly rode it right into the stone abutment on the left side of the alley.

Momentarily stunned but unhurt, I was surprised to see Bunk Stump, the local undertaker, standing there looking down at me. He said he had seen me wreck my sled and wanted to know what happened.

I told him that I could not steer the thing as the wings would not turn. He asked to see my sled and I handed it to him. I stood there and watched what he did next.

He produced a file from his coat pocket and proceeded to file my rusty runners until they were bright and shiny. Then, he reached into his pocket and brought out a small can of lubricating oil. He oiled the pivot points on my sled wings and proceeded to work them back and forth.

When he was satisfied that the sled was ready, he handed it back and said for me to try it again. Wow, what a difference that made. My sled had never been faster and the chronic steering problem had vanished.

Being a kid, I'm sure that I never thanked him for all he had done for me on that snowy evening. Bunk was a good guy. I will always remember him helping me and I'm sure that I was not the only one he helped.


I saw television for the first time in 1952 in the Rainbow Hotel. Bruce Lowe, the owner, had a small black and white Emerson in the lobby.

On some evenings Dad and I would walk up to the hotel. I would get a chocolate malt milkshake and go into the lobby to watch Milton Berle's variety show sponsored by Buick.

Dad and Mr. Lowe would usually stay in the restaurant section and smoke cigarettes and talk about whatever men talked about in those days.

I remember Friday nights were special for the men. They would congregate in the lobby to watch the Gillette Friday night fights.

Dad and I playing with our little
dog Mac in front of our Philco tv, 1953

The only fighter from that era that I recall was Rocky Marciano who defeated the great Joe Lewis. I remember that we got our first TV at home in 1953. It was a Philco Golden Grid console model. I think it came from Francis Hardware and I think it cost almost $400.00, which was a lot of money!

We subscribed to a local cable system that had antennas on top of the hill above northside. We only received three channels back then. Those were the days of Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob and the peanut gallery.

Some other shows that I remember were: Mr. District Attorney, I Led Three Lives starring Dana Andrews, and Boston Blackie.

I remember being allowed once a year to sit up late with my mother to watch the academy awards usually hosted by Bob Hope.


In April of 2011, I met with my lifelong friend Bill Umstead on the steps of the Courthouse in Grantsville. After several minutes of small talk, I suggested that we take a walk down Hardman Alley just for old times sake.

He agreed that it would be fun to see the old alley again. As we entered the alley, I was struck by how small everything was and how different it looked.

I suddenly realized that all of the people that I had known and remembered from that time well over 50 years ago had either died or moved away.

When we stopped in front of my old home, I was surprised to see that it had been made into a garage.

We walked on toward River Street pointing out who used to live where and generally reminiscing about the old days.

When we reached River Street, I turned around and looked back up the alley.

For a fleeting moment, I was transported back in time. I could see two young boys playing ball and yelling and having fun.

I could see my footprints everywhere I looked.

I had run and played, carefree and happy, just as generations before me had done in this same place.

With my eyes becoming moist, I knew that I would always remember my years on Hardman Alley.

I could only wonder if the alley would remember me. - Sidney Underwood

"We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings."

"All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you'd be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being." - Thornton Wilder, OUR TOWN

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