(03/24/2021)

A Pine Crik Hollow Home

Former Pine Creek resident David Charles Kirby, the son of Roy and Eva Buck Kirby, recalls his life and times growing up in a remote Pine Creek hollow and in Calhoun County.

He attended a one-room school taught by his mother and graduated from Calhoun High School in 1954, with a BS degree in agricultural engineering from WVU (1959).

Professionally he is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator and Professional Engineer in WV, OH, and PA, having worked 22 years as Loss Prevention Engineer with Factory Mutual Engineering; 20 Years as Process Safety Engineer with Union Carbide in South Charleston; 12 years a Sr. Principal Engineer with Baker Engineering & Risk Consultants of San Antonio, TX.

He is married to the former Betty Estep of Mt. Zion, their children, sons, Dr. Kris N. Kirby, professor at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts; and Gregory D. Kirby, of Parkersburg, Safety Engineer at Cytec, Willow Island, WV.

Kirby's recollections reflect life from the Great Depression to the fabulous 1960s, earlier tales can be found under People, Humor and History.

Motorcycle Stories (Part 1)

Those of you not having experienced bone chilling cold rain pox marking your face, while water is being forced up your sleeves from numb hands, and down your boot tops to missing feet, all the while it is penetrating zippers and seams of certified rainproof gear; or the opposite of being cooked by radiation from a 105 degree Fahrenheit road surface, where the air is so hot that it seems to be oxygen starved, requiring very short breaths are just to sustain life, whilst, amplified by the high ambient temperature, your right leg is cocked 90 degrees to minimize the effects of 2nd degree burns being administered from the high, right-mounted mounted exhaust of a Harley Low Rider… Or nagging Lower back pain and extreme fatigue from a 12 hour ride… Or, just hypnotized by the beauty of it all. Suddenly you are in the scene, and part of it, not just an observer. All of your senses saturated, including the sense hearing which is mesmerized by the rhythmic purr or thump of the engine, depending on whether you are riding a Goldwing or Harley. The ecstasy of riding a two lane country road on a warm evening experiencing the smells of honeysuckle interrupted by an occasional smell of cow barn or a skunk.… Those who cannot identify with any of that should take a pass from this article, skipping to some more docile reading, such as something on knitting.

Sixty One Years of Highway and Dirt

I rode motorcycles some 61 years, with only three emergency room visits, none involving overnight stays. Two of those visits were mere broken ribs and broken feet, neither of which could be set. (One testified by a permanent knot.) One emergency room visit was, however, memorable enough to describe later. There were many other occasions where I judged that no bones were broken or permanent damage caused. Considerable pain and suffering ensued with no permanent or lasting damage. Reminds me of when Mike Ferrell and I were hill climbing in Bee Creek, and Mike had a somewhat spectacular backwards flip from his bike near the top of the bank. After tumbling to the bottom he was surveying various body parts, and I ask him if anything was broken. He replied “No, all damage seems to be confined to bruises and abrasions”.

1939 Harley

I bought my first motorcycle in March of 1958, a 1939 model 74 Harley Davidson with a 1948 engine that had been bored and stroked (no doubt rebuilt from damage to the original engine). The Plexiglas cover to the instrument cluster was cloudy making it difficult to read any gauges except the large sweeping analog speedometer hand that ranged three fourths of the upper circumference. It was a four- speed manual shift with a gear shift lever in a slotted gate located on the left side of the fuel tank. A twist throttle was located on the right handlebar, and a twist grip spark advance was located on the left handle bar. The purpose of the spark advance was to retard the timing of the spark plugs so that it would not fire before top dead center during the action of kick starting the bike. The spark retard never worked with consistency. One soon learned to keep leg straight and kick hard to follow through. Once, I recall, it kicked backwards and propelled me to an elevation above the windshield, with me coming down to rest with the top of the windshield between my arm pits. The clutch was a heel – toe operated rocker arm on the left side. The original design was with a spring, for safety reasons, disengaged the clutch unless the rider kept his foot rocked forward. With small modification the spring could be relocated to always keep the clutch engaged unless the heel was pressed down. This was called a suicide clutch, which meant that the rider had to carefully engage the clutch by lessening heel pressure, otherwise it would quickly engage. This had an advantage when speed-shifting gears, because all one had to do was briefly hit the heel while simultaneously moving the shift lever back (or forward if shifting down) one slot. Mine had the suicide clutch.

I was still attending WVU, living on Sunnyside, and bought it in Sabraton (on the other side of town). I had never soloed a motorcycle, and the seller gave me a quick riding lesson in a parking lot. Riding it through town to get to Sunnyside I would kill the engine at almost every stop light (not having any expertise on the clutch), at which point I sometimes let it fall over. I would then have to set it up (a difficult task in its own right), start it, and try to launch again. Horns honked, some observers in not so much hurry laughed. By the time I got to Sunnyside I had skinned elbows and knees from falling off as I laid it down. Thus was my first day of ownership. As I gained skill and confidence I ventured out into the country side. It was powerful for machines those days it would run 85 miles per hour, as best I could tell through the cloudy glass.

I hadn’t owned it long when one of my dearest classmates, CL Chandler, got the fever and decided he wanted one. He was a Vet and there on the GI Bill, and had owned a motorcycle previously. Shopping around, he found a two year old Harley advertised in the Fairmont Paper. We talked it over, and he made me promise that if he bought it, I would not let him ride it above 55 mph. I agreed. He drew enough cash to buy it, and bummed a ride to Fairmont on the back of my Harley. He tried it out, made the purchase, and we began the trip back to Morgantown. It was a beautiful day and we decided to extend our trip by detouring through Grafton. As one comes out of Fairmont on Rte 250 there is a bridge, followed by a long straight stretch up a hill, then a long-radius turn. As we came out of town, I broke my promise, and gripped the throttle to the max. I soon came to my max speed of 85, but still seemed to be accelerating. I hit the long sweeping turn on the inside, decelerated, and still used up all available pavement in making a successful navigation. I was still in front when we stopped at the intersection of Rte. 50 and 250, and he coasted up beside me shouting “How damn fast were you going up that long hill?” When I said” 85”, he replied “The hell you were, I was doing 105 and couldn’t keep up”. We turned left on Rte. 250, then left at Five Corners on 119 toward Morgantown. Just over the hill near Blueville is another long straight, and I accelerated again. All of a sudden “BOOM”, and hot air started scalding my left calf. The cycle started convulsing and vibrating even more than normal for a Harley, and I coasted over to the berm, where it quit. CL coasted up. I had blown out a spark plug. There was no chance of finding it, as it still may be in orbit. We took the good plug to an automobile supply in Grafton, and matched it perfectly with a Model A Ford plug.

I was still attending WVU, living on Sunnyside, and bought it in Sabraton (on the other side of town). I had never soloed a motorcycle, and the seller gave me a quick riding lesson in a parking lot. Riding it through town to get to Sunnyside I would kill the engine at almost every stop light (not having any expertise on the clutch), at which point I sometimes let it fall over. I would then have to set it up (a difficult task in its own right), start it, and try to launch again. Horns honked, some observers in not so much hurry laughed. By the time I got to Sunnyside I had skinned elbows and knees from falling off as I laid it down. Thus was my first day of ownership. As I gained skill and confidence I ventured out into the country side. It was powerful for machines those days it would run 85 miles per hour, as best I could tell through the cloudy glass. I hadn’t owned it long when one of my dearest classmates, CL Chandler, got the fever and decided he wanted one. He was a Vet and there on the GI Bill, and had owned a motorcycle previously. Shopping around, he found a two year old Harley advertised in the Fairmont Paper. We talked it over, and he made me promise that if he bought it, I would not let him ride it above 55 mph. I agreed. He drew enough cash to buy it, and bummed a ride to Fairmont on the back of my Harley. He tried it out, made the purchase, and we began the trip back to Morgantown. It was a beautiful day and we decided to extend our trip by detouring through Grafton. As one comes out of Fairmont on Rte 250 there is a bridge, followed by a long straight stretch up a hill, then a long-radius turn. As we came out of town, I broke my promise, and gripped the throttle to the max. I soon came to my max speed of 85, but still seemed to be accelerating. I hit the long sweeping turn on the inside, decelerated, and still used up all available pavement in making a successful navigation. I was still in front when we stopped at the intersection of Rte. 50 and 250, and he coasted up beside me shouting “How damn fast were you going up that long hill?” When I said” 85”, he replied “The hell you were, I was doing 105 and couldn’t keep up”. We turned left on Rte. 250, then left at Five Corners on 119 toward Morgantown. Just over the hill near Blueville is another long straight, and I accelerated again. All of a sudden “BOOM”, and hot air started scalding my left calf. The cycle started convulsing and vibrating even more than normal for a Harley, and I coasted over to the berm, where it quit. CL coasted up. I had blown out a spark plug. There was no chance of finding it, as it still may be in orbit. We took the good plug to an automobile supply in Grafton, and matched it perfectly with a Model A Ford plug.

Biggest Wreck

The most spectacular and near miss catastrophic wreck I ever had on a motorcycle was on the old Harley. CL and I rode a lot, and we had ridden out to Cheat Lake and were returning to Morgantown just at dusk. Where Cheat Lake Road joins the main road coming up Airport Road there is a long winding curve with two lanes going up, and one coming down. The berm was probably 30 feet wide on the right side, and a large cinder pile had been deposited on the berm, only to having been removed, except for a lip left by the end loaders. At the right side of the berm was a 5 strand barb wire fence below which was light brush.

We had headlights on, although mine was so dim one had to strike a match to see if it was functioning. Pulling out from the intersection together I loved to out running him I widened mine, getting ahead of him. I was just flat out in second, ready to speed shift into third, when I saw his light flicker in my rearview. I looked back to see what had happened, and when I looked back to the road I was dropping on to the berm. Getting no traction I kept drifting to the right and hit the lip on the cinder pile. From there I launched through the air. I never wrecked in my life that I didn’t go full throttle, which I also did on this occasion. It was like riding a bucking horse. I went over the barbwire fence, and crashed down through a canopy of sumac and green briers. I landed askew on the seat with left cheek on, and the right still elevated. This caused the motorcycle to cut an arc to my left, still wide open throttle, maintaining original momentum - but an altered direction. I was headed back toward the highway. This time I broke through the feeble rusty barbed wire fence and back on the road. During the last part of my excursion I had righted myself in the saddle, let up on the throttle, came back into the road (in gear with no throttle) I came to a stop in the middle of the two lane part of the hill pointed perpendicular to the highway, with engine stopped. I didn’t even fall over; I just jabbed down the kickstand, and sat there until CL arrived. Because he witnessed my wrecking he decelerated, and I had come back in the road in front of him. Seeing that I was OK, he started laughing hysterically, saying that he saw at least three feet of daylight between my ass and the seat during my wild ride. We both laughed, but then I got the shakes so bad that he had to start my Harley. As for me I had nary a scratch nor bruise.

Gus story:

Not long after I got the Harley I got kicked out of my room on First Street for breaking landlady’s rules, and I moved half a block to Harner Manor, on University Avenue. This was an old mansion with a front yard extending down to an 8 ft. high ivy covered stone wall. Only Gus, my former roommate before I got kicked out, and very best friend at the time was allowed to ride the Harley. One day I had just returned from classes when Gus banged on my door, and came in with a bandage as big as a boxing glove on his right hand. He said “Kirby, are you a friend of mine? I said, “Sure”. “If you are really a friend of mine you will never, ever, let me ride that blanket- blank motorcycle again. I got the real story from the barber on the corner of First Street and University Avenue, who had difficulty telling it between fits of laughter.

Gus had been taking a mutual friend, Dave Claypool, a 6.5 ft. tall - almost basketball star, (overshadowed by Jerry West at the time), a ride on the back of the Harley. Harner Manor is on the corner of 1st Street and University Avenue, with 1st being on an uphill grade at the junction. Gus, not able to control the suicide clutch, kept killing the engine. He finally revved it up and popped the clutch, starting a wheelie across the intersection. Big tall Claypool simply dismounted off the back, and walked across the intersection. Gus continued to wheelie across the intersection, and out of control turned up University Avenue, the original intended direction. However, he was now on the sidewalk, and successfully removed about 20 ft. of ivy from the stone wall with his right hand. I guess I was a true friend, because he never rode it again.

Mike Ferrell was riding on behind me, late that summer when we broke down near Millstone. We hitch hiked and walked back to the farm on Pine Creek, got the pick-up, and he helped me load. I took it all apart, and it had a ruined the crank and a cylinder. Parts were going to cost $125, and I had only paid $150 for it in the first place, and I couldn’t come up with the money, and still had a year left at WVU. I sold it for $65 and wheeled the frame and parts in a wash tub into his truck (The buyer kept the tub).

Editors Note: Watch for David Kirby's Motorcycle Stories (Part 2) next Tuesday ...


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