Shirley Virgil Fortney (1908-1987) re-
called Yellow Creek life and times

Fortney's one finger typewritten manuscript
of simple, common life events from 1920s.

By Bob Weaver 2022

Backwoods country boy Shirley Virgil Fortney (1908-1987) was born in a holler off Yellow Creek, Calhoun County WV, near the long-gone post office and store at the Village of Ayers.

The Ayers Post Office was opened between 1893-1921.

He was the son son of Lucian Dennis Fortney (1889-1950) and Esther "Esta" Bell (1880-1923). He was first connected to Lulu Hopkins in 1934, in Calhoun County, but then married Marie Houston Randolph Jackson (1918–1970), November 27, 1954, Big Springs. They are buried in Nobe Cemetery.

Shirley Virgil Fortney's dad Lucien Dennis Fortney of Yellow Creek

The Fortney Children (L-R) Virgil Fortney, Mona Fortney
Yoak, Faye Fortney Richards (who went back to Calhoun
High School and graduated in three years at age 30)

He left the Yellow Creek Valley to have a life-long job at Weirton Steel, but often came back to Calhoun to visit.

Consummate historian Evelyn Yoak McCormick with
her husband Jim, standing before a 150 year old
fireplace mantle constructed by Pratt Stump

His niece, Evelyn Yoak McCormick, wife of Jim McCormick, said he was "A gracious and gentle man, always well-dressed. In his old age, severely afflicted, he would never complain."

Fortney, who grew up on the creek in the 1920s-1930s, years later sat down at a typewriter and one-finger punched about fifty single paragraph vignettes about his life and times.

Each of the short vignettes are about the lives of very ordinary people and their circumstances, each with a title: "Got Hit In The Head With a Spoon" - "Had A Falling Out" - "False Teeth Got Mixed Up" - Mose Phillips Girlfriend" - "A Bad Liar" - "Creed Brooks Perfume" - "Good Hearted Cody Bell," among others.

Evelyn McCormick obtained a copy of his stories years ago, and some have now been published by the Hur Herald.


Tom Hopkins got his tooth knocked out in a fight with his brother. It went on for many years. One day he came by the house and I said it looks like you have been to the dentist. My grandmother spoke up and said he must have been a pretty good dentist, that looks real good. When Tom got me outside he said he hadn't been to any dentist - "That's a grain of corn I shaved down and stuck up in there."


Cam Richards heard about a lonely girl over in Ritchie County and and Willace Richards took him over in his buggy to see her the first time. When they arrived, Cam looked her over and said "You suit me fine," after which she responded, "Well, you suit me too." They got their license and were married the same day.


Cam Richards and his wife Lula went to a big church meeting at the Ayers School. Lula said the preacher had healed from being partly deaf. After church people were walking around. Cam was praising the Lord for Lula's healing and said to her in a loud voice, "You was healed wasn't you Lula?" He ask her the question again, and Lula didn't hear him at all. He then said, "To hell with it."


Claude Jones was working for a man who owned a race track in Arvella PA and was told to exercise the horse for an hour. He made one pass and the horse broke loose and ran out the gate. Claude couldn't hold him and it ran to the top of a hill. Over the top of a hill he met a salesman driving a Model T Ford.

Claude didn't know what to do and pulled on the reigns quickly and the horse jumped over the Model T Ford and never touched it. Claude caught the horse and came back to the stopped car. The saleman was leaning up against a tree, fanning himself with a straw hat, saying I would have sworn that I saw a horse jump over my car.


The last day of Circuit Court was in session with Sheriff Dudley Lutz who stood and asked the crowd if they knew of any public drunkenness to let him know. Harley Yoak stood and said Shird Snider's old sow had been drunk and disorderly and destroying property.


Ross Fortney and George Murphy was working on a farm one morning when George came out all skinned and roughed up. Ross asked him what happened? He said his wife had done it. Ross asked George what nationality his wife was and George said she is Rushian and half high stallion.


Gilbert Haddox was telling his brother about him having trouble with a preacher. Gilbert had a way with laughing while he was talking and said "Ha ha that preacher said he...was...ha ha...going to knock ... ha, ha....the hell outa me...ha ha. He did, ha, ha."


John Haddox had a dream long ago that someone had killed three sheep of his and stuffed the hides in a large sink hole and the dream seemed so real. He told one of the boys he was going up the hill to see if his dream was true. Hides were pushed in the sinkhole.


One time Johnie Rogers and I got tanked up on rhubard wine and we started up to Loyal Yoaks and they were not home and we down over the Plant Hill. Eva Taylor came out with barber tools and wanted me to cut her hair, she picked the wrong time for that. I got started and all Johnie could do was giggle and laugh.

I was only working on one side of Eva's head and I came up from her ears and her mother came out swinging a broom saying you are ruining my girls hair and get the hell outta here.


I worked with all those colored men at Weirton Steel: Charles Grey, Herb Brown, William Black, Austin White, Ben Belew and Jim Green.


Grandma Fortney had a grocery store at Ayers and some big boys would come and talk and have fun, they were a good bunch of young men, and grandma liked to see them come. Harley and Jim Yoak, Branson and Okey Grogg, Charlie Rogers and many more. One night Harley Yoak bet Okey Grogg that he could suck more eggs than he could, so they got started. Grandma went back in the store to get more eggs. As well as I can remember Harley sucked two dozen eggs and Okey sucked three dozen. They went out to where the horses were tied and up come the eggs. Okey won.


One time at the Ayers School Emmey Richard was telling about her and her sister having a falling out and her sister had left home. Violet Haddox ask where is your sister now? Emmey said she didn't know and said she don't care - "I don't care if she is across the Parkersburg ocean by this time."


Another time Harison and his wife Ettie came by the house and neither one of them was in a good mood, complaining about their mouth being sore. And someone mentioned as a joke that maybe they mixed up their false teeth. Harison said that might be and they traded teeth and things were fine.


An old getlemen by the name of Mose Phillips was working around for people hoeing and weeding gardens, they were giving him 50 cents a day. Uncle Cody Bell had him come and clean up his garden and he paid 75 cents a day. Then Mose told around that Cody Bell was a nice guy but only gave him 75 cents a day and all those others gave him 50 cents.


One time Creed Brooks ordered a large box of perfume to sell and sold it all and forgot to send the money to the company. They kept writing him several letters for the money. It didn't do any good. So they wrote him another letter saying they would knock half off if he would pay. So Creek wrote back saying if they were going to knock half off, he would be willing to knock off the other half.


A preacher came from Fairmont to hold a revival at the Ayers School and he called on Mary Richard to lead the prayer, she prayed for a long time and she asked God if she might reach Satans Kingdom in the end. After church Marys two sons Pert and Bate went out to light their lanterns and Bate said to Pert mother really offered up a good prayer didn't she? He said he sure did now.


Charley Givens was blasting on Yellow Creek Road and had placed a hole full of dynamite and was going to shoot out a place that had slipped in the road. He lit the fuse and loudly yelled Fire in the Hole. Then he saw two Taylor girls walking in a field and he yelled at them Fire in the Hole, saying he had a hole full of dynamite. Then one of the Taylor girls yelled back Fire in your Hole. Then the dynamite went off and mud flew through the air all over them. Charley said he never heard such women swear so much and calld him all kinds of name.


Mary Richard was a neighbor who would come and vist my mother, and dad always taught us to call her Aunt Mary who was old. One time they was having a church meeting at our house and it was hot and we had both the front doors and back doors open. They had set down barrels for boards to sit on and the place was full. A hog came through the house under the benches and people fell off. Pert Richard while the preacher was peaching yelled in a loud voice JESUS CHRIST.


Dad and I was gone somewhere to work, Faye was there and Ben Barker stopped, he was quiet for a while and started working his mouth asking if she heard about Jack Church dropping dead and Faye said no, too bad and Ben left. When we got home from the farm work Faye asked if we heard that Jack Church had dropped dead. Dad said I just left him and he was live and kickin'. Faye said she could tell that Ben was about to tell a lie.


Okey Groggs was working for Ellen Wilson and taking care of her cattle and she had one gentle bull. It was hot and the windows opened and Okey was sleeping upstairs in the big farm house. One night Okey was dreaming that Ellens large bull was chasing him across the field and he run and jumped out the upstairs window and landed in the back yard breaking his leg.


John Bowers worked in the oil field and someone told him on a certain night the world was going to come to an end. He went to Brooksville and bought a large supply of Roman candles and that night pushed them in the deep snow and somebody got up on the porch and made a loud squalling noise and John yelled at his wife: My God Lela jump out of bed the worlds coming to an end.


One time I was squirrel hunting and came upon a small hickory tree that a squirrel was playing all over and I pulled up to shoot and I pulled the trigger and no shot. I set the gun down beside me watching the squirrel and the old gun went off and down come the squirrel. I told the story to the fellows at work and no one would believe me.


Cam Richard had an old movie picture machine that run by hand and was lit with crude oil. Admittance one box of snuff or a thin dime. It wasn't too long before everyone was outside coughing.


Mary Richard was at my grandmothers store and post office at Ayers and somehow they hard a few words about something and Mary went home and cranked up the sheriff. My mother took down the receiver and heard the call to the sheriff. When the sheriff answered, Mary said to come to Ayers West Virginia, there is conduct at the post office.


Harrison Richards stayed over night and was telling my dad about his first wife hitting him in the head with a large dough spoon. He said Lucian, she knocked me sensible for a while. Monnie my younger sister said that must of been the first time he was ever sensible. We laughed and laughed until dad made us leave the room.


When we were going to Ayers School, John Thomas Richard had bought a Model T Ford and was driving it around a large field. He then drove it up to the Ayers School and stopped and Maud Bowers and Ova Groggs opened the back door and got it. He then punched the gas and went across the school porch and knocked down the posts and roof. Maud and Ova was laughing and having a good time, they thought John knew how to drive but he was only learning.


Blane Snider and Charlies Rogers made five gallon of wine in a big crock and set it in the hog lot under a cliff. It was about ready to bottle up before they sat down to dinner when they heard a crashing noise and groaning and all went to see what it was. The old sow came running off the hill and crashed through the paling fence and was all stretched out. Shird was going to shoot the hog saying it was mad. Blane said if his dad wouldn't scold him he might have the answer, so he ran out and under the cliff he found the old sow had knocked the lid off the crock and had gotten her head in and drank all five gallon.


John Haddox came home one day and said to wife Amanda: What do you know, I just heard that Ann Richards is going to lay that baby onto us. She said HELL I didn't have anything to do with it, you get out of here and never come back.


Too soon we get old and too late we get smart.

Postscript: Editing this old-time Calhoun story has been one of my most rewarding - Bob Weaver