If one was to kneel down at just the correct height and vantage point, you could soon forget you were standing in an old cotton mill in South Carolina’s Upstate. Instead, you’d hear, then see, the steam locomotive as it emerged from the mountain tunnel, its metal wheels chugging along the tracks, the engine’s massive smokebox looming larger and larger as it hurtled toward you.
That act of space and time travel is one of the main attractions of what’s billed as the best multi-scale interactive train display in the Southeast. With the simple push of a button, electric current, creativity and century’s old toymaking, visitors to the Model Trains Station in Taylors, S.C., are transported to a simpler time.
Scott Doelling, of Greenville, S.C., who is a customer of Laurens Electric Cooperative, first started playing with trains as a 7-year-old. One of his old trains is featured in a layout at the station and he volunteers two to three days a week.
“It’s a hobby that you never really outgrow,” said Doelling, who spent 31 years in the corrugated paper business and specializes in creating scenery, such as the mountains and forests lining the tracks. “Your imagination can go wild. You can do anything.”
There are hidden gems among the many layouts and visitors are encouraged to take part in a scavenger hunt. Look closely and you’ll see a group of Boy Scouts around a campfire. Look closer and you’ll see a bear attack right around the bend.
There are push buttons that control different parts of a layout. Children can not only control some of the trains that run on the tracks, but also give power to a saw mill or take delight when a conductor steps out from his station.
“We try to put us much interaction for the kids as we can,” said Doelling, who is one of about 20 volunteers.
There are plenty of vintage trains, including some from the 1920s, that still run along the tracks. But there are plenty of advancements, including digital programs that now allow you to control the train from your mobile phone. There is a train repair shop where people can bring in a faulty engine and the group also allows visitors to bring a train from home and run on the tracks.
The trains and the nine massive displays spread out over 16,000 square feet of space at the historic Taylors Mill mean different things to different people, said Bob Rayle, chairman of the station’s board of directors. Rayle, who still owns the first train set he got when he was 6 years old, said the station is more than just about model trains.
“It’s the little things and the detail. They make the picture, they tell the story.”
Rayle points to the wooden bench where Erna Liebrandt likes to come and sit and watch the trains run on a 600-square-foot display modeled after the town of Schonweiler in southern Germany near the Austrian border. Erna and her husband, Gunnar, were born in Germany and she donated her husband’s prized display after his death. The volunteers at the station helped to build and triple its size, adding a church, mountain backdrop and tunnel for the trains to pass through.
“She just sits there and looks at that German city,” Rayle said, “and what she sees… is her husband. And she’ll sit there and cry.”
Nearly all of the items at the station, which opened in December 2017, have been donated, Rayle said. He tells of another lady who brings her grandchildren at Christmas and they watch Grandpa’s trains run. For years, the tracks he’d built had sat silent under blankets in his double-car garage. Now, they bring enjoyment to others.
Brittany Kujawa, of Simpsonville, S.C., spent a summer day visiting with her three children, ages 7, 5 and 2, as part of a home school group. She said they were shocked when they walked in and saw so many trains and so many sets.
“My kids love trains,” Kujawa said. “The staff here is so involved with the kids and I like the freedom they let them have. I was nervous coming here, ‘Model trains, you can’t touch them.’ But they’ve done such a great job of making them available for the kids to interact with, as well as giving them a place they can run off energy. One of the staff said, ‘They can go wild here.’ And that’s really appealing to a home school mom. There’s something for everyone.”
The Model Trains Station is located at Taylors Mill, 250 Mill St., Suite BL 1250, in Taylors, S.C.
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults: $8; seniors and military: $7; children (age 2 to 12): $5; children under 2: free. Special rates available for groups and birthday parties are welcomed.
He’s the King of Corn Dogs and his dogs are known at festivals throughout the Southeast.
It was the winter of 1975 and Cliff Daley faced a life-changing moment.
He and his wife, Kim, had just married. They’d met while working in a snow cone wagon and playing co-ed soccer. She was a geologist, he an executive at a multinational conglomerate. But in January, his father, Zanelle, died of a heart attack. His mother, Dorothy, was caught in Alzheimer’s, in need of constant care.
The couple considered the bright yellow concession trailer Cliff had helped his father build in 1962 and one where he still worked weekends, serving corn dogs and funnel cakes.
“We said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to commit to it or go on and get out,’” Cliff recalls. “We decided to commit.”
The Daleys left their jobs, landed fair contracts and invested in equipment. And now, Daley’s Concessions is a food services business embarking on a third generation with four trailers seen at festivals throughout the Southeast.
“This concession has held my family together. We’ve been able to grow as a family and work together,” Daley said of Kim and their four children, two of whom plan to continue Daley’s Dogs. “They grew up in these wagons. They learned people skills. They learned to do math and make change. They learned how to serve a good product and take care of customers.”
Cliff’s the Betty Crocker of Corn Dogs, touting the homemade batter and peanut oil that sears the outside, resulting in “great flavor and an ungreasy” corn dog that’s won numerous blue ribbons. Daly’s personal favorite remains the traditional dipped in mustard and there’s another one wrapped with a pickle and the now-popular jalapeno.
“We’ve done it all,” he said, pointing to the Elvis corn dog dipped in a banana-flavored mix and slathered in peanut butter that won the Most Creative award at the North Georgia State Fair.
2020 was the most challenging year for his business as COVID spread and fairs and festivals were cancelled.
“We went through all our savings,” Daley said. “We were very fortunate to stay afloat.”
He credits their religious faith, as well as a small business loan and generous friends.
“One thing about COVID, we tried to find something good in it, and it was people helping people and our faith in the Lord. Every time we prayed at night, there was hope.”
The Gun and Knife Show at the SC State Fairgrounds in March was their first event in almost a year. While costs have doubled for their hot dogs and cooking oil, he remains confident of the future.
“All of our events have started coming back,” he said. “People tend to be a lot nicer to one another now. Their income is flowing and everything is very positive.”
Getting to know Cliff Daley
CLAIM TO FAME: The owner of Daley’s Concessions has been called the King of Corn Dogs as his family has been dipping and serving Daley’s Dogs for nearly 60 years now.
HOMETOWN: Columbia, S.C.
JUST FOR KICKS: Daley received an athletic scholarship and starred on the pitch for the University of Alabama in Huntsville soccer team. He tried out for the U.S. national team before the 1976 Olympics and made it to one of the final rounds before being cut. “If it hadn’t been for that scholarship, I’d have probably joined the service and gone into Vietnam.”
FAVORITE FESTIVAL? For more than 50 years, there’s been a Daley’s Concessions at the SC State Fair. “Most everyone comes and sees us and they see a lot of their old friends from school,” said the graduate of nearby Dreher High School. “It’s like a big family reunion.”
HIS GO-TO MEAL? “It’s hard to beat a good hot dog, especially with homemade chili and onions and a little slaw.”
FAMOUS FANS: The Monday After the Masters golf tourney hosted by Hootie and the Blowfish is a favorite event. Those who’ve praised his dogs? NFL quarterbacks Dan Marino and Brett Favre and rocker Alice Cooper.
He preached his first sermon when he was 9 years old. Now, some 60 years later, he’s still at the pulpit of his home church in West Columbia, SC.
West Columbia’s Jackson wonders why God chose him
It’s fitting one of the Rev. Charles Jackson’s favorite Bible stories has to do with the boy who offers his lunch of a few fishes and slices of bread to Christ, who multiplies the offering and feeds thousands.
Ever since he was just a child some six decades ago, Jackson has been bringing the word of God to thousands of South Carolinians and building his church into one of the Midlands’ largest.
He’s often wondered why God chose him?
“It’s a tremendous mystery. I didn’t choose it. It chose me.”
What makes his story even more special is that all 50 years have come at Brookland Baptist, the church in West Columbia where he grew up.
Jackson got his start presiding over funerals for his neighbors’ dogs and cats. He preached his first sermon when he was just 9 years old. He was licensed to preach a year later and eventually became pastor at Brookland at 18.
“Maybe, like Jeremiah, God called me from my mother’s womb.”
His mother, Ezella Rumph Jackson, died of cancer when he was just 16. Jackson admits her death caused him to question his faith.
“I couldn’t understand why God would take my mother, a devout Christian. That was very painful. God disappointed me greatly.”
Jackson made peace studying the story of Job.
“Even though Job wrestled and struggled with the inexplicable mystery of God, he never gave up. Because he did not give up on God, God did not give up on him.”
Jackson believes God’s kept him in West Columbia to raise the next generation of believers and build bridges between those of different races and beliefs. He recently delivered a message of love to 75 high school seniors and juniors representing the 17 electric cooperatives across South Carolina.
Jackson downplays his story.
“May the service I give speak for me,” he says, repeating a favorite gospel hymn. “That’s all. May I rest in my grave and nothing be said. May the work I’ve done speak for me.”
Getting to know the Rev. Charles Jackson
If not a pastor? After graduating from Benedict College, Jackson was supposed to be a physician, receiving a full scholarship to medical school. “I love the sciences. I worked in biology for two years, caring for rats and mice.” However, the college’s minister steered him to Morehouse School of Religion in Atlanta, where he received his master of divinity degree.
All in the family: Jackson’s son, the Rev. Charles Jackson Jr., is pastor of the New Laurel Street Baptist Church in Columbia. “I’m happier and more excited in pastoral ministry than I’ve ever been. Much of that can be contributed to young pastors. They’ve kept me vibrant and relevant.”
Favorite Old Testament scripture: Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Read of one woman’s push to chart a path for those wishing to discover their heritage in South Carolina.
As a child, Dawn Dawson-House learned plenty about this country’s founding fathers. Missing were the exploits of South Carolina civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Delaine and Robert Smalls, a former slave who represented the Palmetto State for five terms in Congress.
Those lessons were learned at the family dinner table as well as at church and other social gatherings around her hometown along the coast.
“The community of Beaufort won’t let you forget that African-American history is important,” Dawson-House said. “Our teachers, our families, our festivals and events, you were surrounded by African-American heritage. I found it interesting because it spoke to us.”
Since January 2021, Dawson-House has been the executive director of the WeGOJA Foundation. Pronounced we-GO-juh, the name is a fusion of three languages spoken by people of African descent who were brought to America as slaves.
WeGOJA works to document and promote African-American heritage sites in South Carolina. That work is done through historical markers, listings on the National Register of Historic Places and the Green Book of South Carolina. Teacher guides are provided for classrooms and there are plans to provide toolkits for the large number of African-American families who gather here each year for reunions.
Dawson-House, who spent nearly 25 years in public relations for the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, believes there’s no time like the present to embrace the stories of our past.
“The more we can share the story, the more we can build interest into advocacy, into action, we can start creating our authentic story better,” she said. “It’s not just for tourism, but for the public’s full understanding of our history and our full story so it’s easier to make wiser choices when we talk about public decisions.”
Getting to know Dawn Dawson-House
Claim to fame: She recently accepted the job of executive director at the WeGOJA Foundation after a long career in communications with South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Alma mater: Graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1985 with a degree in journalism. “I thought I was going to be the next Oprah Winfrey, but got out into the real world and realized I couldn’t pay rent.”
Favorite state park:Landsford Canal State Park in Catawba with its “gentle tumble” whitewater and colorful rocky shoals spider lilies. “It’s a beautiful sight.”
Time to unwind: When she’s not enjoying Mexican food, you can often find Dawson-House on her treadmill. She and her husband of 25 years, William House, an investigator with the S.C. Attorney General’s office, are planning a train trip through the Canadian wilderness.
We all could learn a little something from Henry Darby.
He spends his days as the principal of a high school in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
At night, he stocks shelves at an area Walmart. His pay goes to help needy students and families.
Editor’s Note: An edited version of this story appeared as a SC Stories feature in the April issue of South Carolina Living magazine, which is distributed monthly by the South Carolina Cooperative Electric Association.
Students at North Charleston High School in the Lowcountry of South Carolina often gaze at the wall of awards principal Henry Darby has amassed over the past 40 years. He’ll ask them what they believe is the greatest honor among the stack of plaques. They never pick the starched white shirt hanging in a box.
“it reminds me of my humble beginnings,” said the North Charleston native. “It’s not the height that you reach, it’s the depth that you come from.”
The shirt came from cloth his mother gathered from an area dump. Florence Darby took the fabric home, boiled it in a kettle in the back yard and made the material into a shirt. He wore that shirt to school two to three days a week for the next four years.
Darby knows poverty, but also the value of education and willingness to work.
He recalled a day when he was 10 years old and his mother was given food stamps.
“My mother put both her hands upon my shoulders, pulled me near to her and tore up the food stamps in my face. Her words were, ‘Boy, you’re going to learn to stand on your own two feet.’ I have never forgotten that lesson.”
And he also knows there are times when others need help.
“I know what it feels like to live in poverty and it’s not a good feeling,” he said. “I just do my best to help those I can help to get out of poverty.”
“I know what it feels like to live in poverty and it’s not a good feeling. I just do my best to help those I can help to get out of poverty.”
Henry Darby, principal of North Charleston (SC) High School
In addition to his full-time duties as principal, Darby works the 10 to 7 overnight shift on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays at a local Walmart. His pay goes to help North Charleston students and their families struggling to buy groceries and clothing, pay rent and keep the lights on.
“The first six weeks or so it was pretty rough,” he said of his job as a stocker. “Just standing, standing, standing. Muscles I hadn’t been using before. Feet swollen, knees swollen. But I’m not a quitter. I’m one of those Vince Lombardi guys. ‘Quitters never win and winners never quit.’”
His story has garnered state and national attention and there’s been a spike in donations. That’s been heartening, Darby said.
“Americans came together to support a cause to help children. It’s almost as if we want to forget about our differences… It’s a beautiful example of how Americans can help Americans.”
Some of his friends, worried about his age, have urged him to slow down. He proudly points to the 40 pounds he’s lost over the past seven months and said he has no plans to stop.
“Whenever I can’t teach or can’t help someone, I’m just gonna say, ‘Swing low, sweet chariot. You can carry me home now.’ I just love helping people.”
Getting to know Henry Darby
Age: Born on Nov. 28, 1954, Darby is 66 years young.
Occupation: Principal of North Charleston (SC) High School; 17 years as councilman for Charleston County (SC); associate at Walmart since August 2020
Book smart: A collector of rare historical books, his favorites include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and a first edition copy of “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” by Jefferson Davis.
Music to the ears: He’s been playing the piano for the past 40 years and has been recognized several times for his talent. He loves to listen to jazz composer Charlie Parker.
The GOAT: There was a time he had a herd of domestic goats. “Goats will keep your yard clean, manicured. And since I was working three or four jobs at a time, I didn’t have time to cut my own grass. I loved my goats.”
Hummingbirds travel great distances twice a year between the United States and Canada south to Mexico and other Central and South American locales.
One of their rest stops is a botanical garden in North Carolina.
North Carolina botanical garden a rest stop for the birds on their annual trips north and south
NOTE: An edited version of this story appeared in the Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, edition of The Gaston Gazette newspaper in Gastonia, NC.
Similar to a fisherman on the banks of the Catawba River, Keith Camburn patiently held his string taut Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, waiting to spring the trap and reel in the mighty beast weighing all of a dime.
Camburn, a Gastonia, NC, resident, and Michael Leonowicz, who makes his home in Charlotte, were two of those responsible for capturing hummingbirds at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden near Belmont, NC. They were each seated in chairs watching a feeder inside a cage, which was constantly circled by a gang of hummingbirds.
The task wasn’t as easy as it seemed. A hummingbird can reach a speed of up to 49 mph when it dives and beats its wings, on average, 53 times per second. So, it’s not like you’re catching a turtle.
“It’s like fishing,” said Leonowicz, who has been helping to band birds for the past 15 years. “The birds have gotten smarter.”
As of mid-morning Saturday, they’d captured five hummingbirds that had been delivered to researcher Susan Campbell, who identified and, with the skilled hands of a surgeon, had weighed, measured and applied bands to mark each of the birds.
“The habitat at the garden is excellent. There are plenty of things planted at the garden that are good hummingbird plants,” said Campbell, an Apex, NC, resident whose been holding the program at Stowe Botanical for the past 15 years.
The hummingbird banding program, which was held Saturday and Sunday, is one of the most popular at the garden, usually attracting anywhere from 800 to 900 people, said Jim Hoffman, the interim executive director at Stowe Botanical.
Lake Wylie, SC, residents Eric and Allison Schaff are members of the garden and attended Saturday’s program with their sons, Noah, 14, and Benjamin, 9. Both brothers got to hold newly-banded hummingbirds in their hands before the birds flew off.
“I felt a very small vibrating because it was breathing,” Benjamin said. “I could see its eyes blinking. It was very neat.”
Did you know?
The hummingbirds you see in your own garden may very well be repeat guests?
“It could very well be,” said Raleigh resident Steve Schultz, who was assisting Campbell during Saturday’s program. “They do have the ability to return to the same specific spot.”
Hummingbirds spend their winters in Mexico and South America, migrating to the United States each spring, where they’ll mate, build their nests and raise their young. In the fall, they return south.
Saturday at the garden, there was the rare experience of one of the birds they captured having already been banded. Schultz said the female bird, which was at least 3 years old, had likely been captured years ago at Stowe Botanical.
“That bird has flown to Central America and back, Central America and back. That bird’s got more frequent flyer miles than I do,” Schultz said. “This bird traveled thousands of miles. It’s amazing something that small can navigate that distance.”
When will you commonly see hummingbirds at your feeder?
The hummingbirds usually arrive in early April and most have departed by the end of September.
Daily, you’ll usually see them at the feeder when they get hungry, which is typically in the morning and evening. During the day, they’re often snacking on insects, such as the gnats that linger near crepe myrtles, Schultz said.
“One of the myths is that they just drink nectar. In fact, they’re fly catchers. They mostly eat insects, which makes sense because they need protein, especially when they’re nesting,” he said. “And during the day, there’s tons of insects out.”
Which hummingbird are you seeing?
Most likely, in this part of North Carolina, you are seeing a female ruby-throated hummingbird. The male will have the red marking on its throat. They don’t stick around as long as the female, who is tasked with maintaining a nest and raising the young.
“I’ve been helping here five years and I’ve never caught a male,” Camburn said. “They just do their stuff and take off.”
Nix the red?
Another helpful hint: Forego buying the red-dyed hummingbird mix at the store. Instead, make your own mixture with four parts of water to one part sugar. It’s much healthier for the birds and cheaper for the birder, Schultz said.
How many different types of hummingbirds are there?
Camburn said he’s been “chasing birds” for the past 40 years.
“I’m trying to see all the hummingbirds in the world,” he said of a list that has expanded to include 345 different species. “It’s never going to happen but I got to try.”
He’s seen all 11 of the species recorded in North Carolina. Only 17 of the species have been spotted in the United States.
“When I moved here 30 years ago, there were two hummers in the state,” Camburn said. “Now, I’ve seen 11 species, which is just nuts. I’m guessing Susan banded just about all of them.”
A horticulture volunteer at the garden, which means doing a lot of weeding, trimming and planting, Camburn also has taken on filling and cleaning the five hummingbird feeders at the garden.
Each summer, a small South Carolina town is overrun by thousands of motorcycles.
And the town of Chesnee is happy to have them as they host the Antique Bikes On Main that brings in antique motorcycles from around the Southeastern United States.
Each summer, antique motorcycle lovers flock to Chesnee via their two wheels
Editor’s Note: An edited version of this story appeared in the July 2020 issueof South Carolina Living, a magazine produced by the South Carolina Electric Cooperative.
By Michael Banks
For one weekend each summer, the South Carolina town of Chesnee sees its population swell by 10 times its normal size.
While it may be the long line of antique motorcycles lining this small town’s main drag that transport visitors here, it is the city residents and bike enthusiasts who make the event a success and has the visitors from all walks of life returning each July.
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The Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s Legends Chapter, which is located in Chesnee, plays a key role in helping to set up and run the festival.
The chapter, which started in 2015, includes about 100 members, ranging in age from 16 to 84 with the majority of them living in the Carolinas. The group is dedicated to telling the history and sharing their love of antique motorcycles.
“A lot of people will see them on a T-shirt, but they never see one in person or get to hear it run. They get to see it, touch it, look at it, ask questions about it,” said Bud Blair, a Chesnee resident and president of the Legends Chapter who owns three bikes — a 1997 Harley-Davidson Heritage Springer, a 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead and a 1942 Knucklehead.
“My love is my older bikes,” said the 57-year-old Blair, whose been riding bikes since he was 9 years old. “It’s just the coolest. It’s like an old pair of blue jeans that’s your favorite. I’m not knocking new bikes, but I’m just an antique kind of guy.”
And it’s not just men who are fans of the older bikes. Amy Jackson is one of about 20 female club members and is treasurer of the AMCA Legends Chapter. She owns a 2009 Harley-Davidson and a 1938 Harley-Davidson Flathead.
A resident of Cliffside, N.C., Jackson has been riding for the past 10 years. Retired from banking, she’ll get on her bike and ride some 100 miles a day on the roads of the rural Upstate. She didn’t discover motorcycles until she was 47.
“I was running from teenagers,” she said with a laugh. “I bought a motorcycle with one seat so I didn’t have to take a teenager with me.”
* * *
It’s rare to catch Pete Hill sitting still.
The Greenville, S.C., native has always been on the go, often at record-setting speeds, in a motorcycle racing career that piled up wins on tracks all over the United States and Canada, as well as Europe and Australia.
The winner of multiple drag racing championships, Hill’s recognized as the “world’s fastest knucklehead” and is a member of numerous racing halls of fame.
At the same time as he was setting records on the track, Hill continued to run his motorcycle shop, Pete Hill Motorcycles in Greenville, which he’s done for the past 47 years. The four-person shop, which includes his son, Tommy, does a little bit of everything, from welding to building engines and other machine work.
When he was growing up, Hill spent summers working in a machine shop and would advance to working for various auto body shops, including his time in the Air Force during the Korean War. He built his first motorcycle, a 45-cubic-inch engine, in 1946.
“It was an old piece of junk. I could go from my house to my buddy’s house and then leave it there for two weeks until I could scare up enough money to buy a part and fix the one that I broke before I could get it back home,” Hill said with a laugh.
He said the business is what drove him to racing as it served as a testing ground for his ground-breaking mechanical designs.
“I had ideas that were a lot different from the competition and I wanted to try my ideas. That’s what I wanted to get out of racing,” Hill said. “If you win, it proves your ideas were correct. I was so far out of the norm with what I was doing that when it did work out, I was dominant for a number of years.”
He was running motorcycles powered with super-charged nitromethane fuel, reaching speeds up to 190 mph over a quarter-mile track.
In 1981, Hill won his first International Drag Bike Association championship. That year, he also won the American Motorcycle Association Drag Bike Top Fuel title aboard a modified 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. He would go on to win four more IDBA titles and four championships with the American Motorcycle Racing Association before retiring from racing in 1994.
Through it all, his wife, Jackie, has been by his side, serving as a business partner, racing crew chief, author of his memoirs and confidante. They just recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.
And even though he is now 84, Hill still has no hesitation to get on the back of a fast bike. Just last year, he topped 120 mph during a run at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
And he still has his South Carolina driver’s license and rides a street bike. Remarkably, the man who has driven motorcycles at speeds close to 200 mph, has never gotten a speeding ticket. He admits that he’s been pulled over a few times, but never been ticketed.
“I’d say that’s just because the way I look, an old man with gray hair who looks like he’s gonna be in a nursing home in a couple weeks.”
During the Chesnee festival, a steady stream of well-wishers came by to shake Hill’s hand or say hello to. The fame still bewilders Hill.
“I know who I am and I’m not that guy. It (the fame) just comes with the years and years of doing things nationally. I got a lot of coverage and, therefore, people think I’m really something. But I’m not. I’m just the guy who works every day on the winch, building motors in my shop.”
* * *
When Rose and Richard Owen were recently involved in an interstate wreck in the metro Charlotte area, there was no hesitation when deciding who they would call for help.
They were heading to Massachusetts to visit family, driving their truck and pulling behind a toy hauler with their motorcycles when they went to change lanes near a construction zone. The next thing they knew, the camper was rolling and they were in serious trouble.
“God had his arms around us because we hit a cement wall and never felt a thing and ended up on four tires. We were physically fine,” recalled Rose Owen.
However, their truck was totaled and the hauler a disaster.
The couple, who moved to Blacksburg, S.C., about 18 months ago and are members of the Broad River Electric Cooperative, belong to the Warriors For Christ chapter of the CMA. Rose said she knew immediately who to call, reaching their area rep, who drove two hours north to assist them.
“They are our family here,” Rose Owen said of the Gaffney, S.C., chapter. “I know that they are the people we can count on on an every-day basis. We were welcomed here phenomenally. I can’t believe the love that we got from the chapter.”
That mission was exemplified during the 10th annual Prayer Ride conducted by members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association attending Chesnee’s Antique Bikes On Main event.
About 50 riders traveled to churches in Spartanburg County (S.C.), collecting prayer requests before returning to Chesnee for a gathering and pray for those listed on the gathered requests.
“We are there for any reason – a biker down somewhere that needs our help, hospital visits. We help bikers that are in need of anything,” said Ralph Coggins, road captain for the Spartanburg, S.C.-based Jabez Riders chapter of the CMA.
The CMA is an international ministry numbering more than 200,000 members with chapters in all 50 states and 41 foreign countries. South Carolina has 13 chapters.
Coggins, who is now retired after working 20 years for the Spartanburg County 911 emergency call center and 23 years in the U.S. Army, said the group’s primary purpose remains “carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. We do that by riding motorcycles and speaking the name of Jesus to people who need to hear it. Everything we do is all about Jesus.”
The Cowpens, S.C., resident has a favorite gospel verse, John 14:6, that reads “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
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Among the 17 motorcycles that sit in Mike Bruso’s shop in Forest City, N.C., is a 2018 Indian that “absolutely rides beautiful” with a 3,000-watt stereo, heated seats and an adjustable windshield.
However, he says, “It never gets moved. It just sits in my garage.”
Bruso says he honestly has more fun riding his older motorcycles, especially his 1939 Harley Davidson Knucklehead.
“The new bikes are like a new car. You get in, they’re fuel-injected, you touch them, there’s no squeaks, no rattles. There’s nothing to do. You just drive it.”
That’s not the case with the older models. As an example, he points to his 1926 Harley-Davidson JD that doesn’t use recirculating oil and offers little brakes, a different throttle control and the various loose bolts and screws that come with being nearly a century old.
“There’s always something to think about,” said the 41-year-old Bruso, who makes his living as a mechanical engineer for Facebook. “You’ve got to be prepared to fix something while you’re parked on the side of the road. It’s just a lot more interactive than a new bike.”
And Bruso has no qualms about riding his older bikes over long distances.
In September, he’ll be on his 1939 Knucklehead in the 2,600-mile Cross Country Chase that runs over nine days from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to Key West, Fla.
The race will be a warmup for the 2020 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run that will stretch over 17 days. Bruno will be among only 120 select riders traveling over 4,000 miles from Sault St. Marie to South Padre Island, Texas. Bruso, who had been trying to get selected to the Cannonball race, which runs every two years, since 2014, will be riding his 1926 Harley-Davidson JD.
“A lot of people think I’m crazy for riding something that barely has brakes and you gotta hand shift,” he says.
However, motorcycles have always been a part of Bruso’s life. A native of northern New York, Bruso was only 3 years old when he got his first three-wheeler. Now, he can be found on and around the roads of the Upstate as he’s a member of the AMCA Legends Chapter. He’s attended the Bikes On Main event every year.
“I’ve never not had bikes, ever,” Bruso said.
That’s a similar comment shared by Louie Hale, an Augusta, Ga., resident who has attended four of the Bikes On Main gatherings.
As he often does at antique motorcycle shows, Hale was competing in field events that test a rider’s balance, dexterity and control of the bike. He ended up winning the Chesnee competition that required him to place a tennis ball atop a line of pylons while riding his 1920 Harley-Davidson model. It was the first time the Chesnee festival had held a games competition.
Hale collects and restores antiques and he has about 20 different motorcycles, including a 1916 Indian and a 1916 Miami Power Bicycle. His favorite is a 1925 Excelsior Super X with its original paint job that was produced by the Excelsior Motor and Manufacturing Company before it went out of business in 1931.
Hale, who is retired after a career as an electrical engineer, said he enjoys collecting unusual bikes. And if it features the original paint and is not “all clean and shiny” it’s even better.
“That’s just like how it came out of the factory, 99 years ago,” he said, pointing to his brown- and bronze-tinted 1920s Harley-Davidson.
There was no hesitation by Chesnee city officials some 10 years ago when they were approached by the Antique Bikes On Main organizers to see if they had an interest in teaming up. And that could have been because two of the longtime leaders – Mayor Max Cash and City Administrator Becki Hood – were familiar with motorcycles.
Cash, who has served as the town’s mayor for the past 30 years, had a Harley-Davidson that he rode for years until he decided to sell it two years ago.
He said the city, which dates back to 1911, had held several festivals in the past – including the Poke Sallet Festival that celebrated pokeweed – before hitting a home run by holding its Chesnee City Fest in conjunction with the Antique Bikes On Main.
Hood, who has ridden on motorcycles owned by her two sons, says there have been estimates of up to 10,000 people coming into Chesnee over the three-day weekend.
“We get a lot of tourists in for the bike rally. They come from California and everywhere,” Hood said. “We have people from all walks of life. We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have professional people and we have just plain people that ride bikes. Most of them are very nice.”
And those visitors bring cash, benefitting the town’s merchants, along with paying a 2 percent city hospitality tax that’s added to restaurant bills. Hood estimated the tax generates about $15,000 each month for the city’s coffers.
That money goes a long way in what is South Carolina’s smallest city, which occupies a little over a square mile and numbers 868 residents, according to the 2010 census. The city employs just 10 people and there is a small tax base.
Hood said the city agreed to allot $50,000 of the hospitality tax money this year to help with the Antique Bikes On Main and the Chesnee City Fest. That money allows the city to offer free carnival rides for children and keeps vendor fees low.
There is no alcohol sold at the event that is geared toward not only motorcycle enthusiasts, but also families with children.
“We had the Hells Angels here in the past. No problem whatsoever,” said Hood, who could recall only one arrest – that for public intoxication — in the last 10 years. “It goes along like clockwork.”
And, according to Hood, that hospitable, friendly atmosphere goes hand-in-hand with what Chesnee stands for – its small-town atmosphere and the wonderful people who call it home.
“The kids grow up, they move away, gets jobs in big cities. But you have the people here that love the small-town ambiance. I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” said Hood, who has lived in her home for the past 37 years.
“It’s just that hometown feel,” she said. “If somebody hurts, we all hurt. It’s this thing of ‘You’re my brother. Can I help you?’ And that’s what I like about it. I love the people. It’s just home.”
Ole Miss basketball coach Kermit Davis has always been a difference-maker.
On Thursday, June 25, he was among 46 coaches and administrators from Mississippi universities who met with government officials at the state capitol in an attempt to get the state flag changed.
Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in the Oct. 17, 2018, edition of The Clarksdale (Ms.) Press Register newspaper.
As a visiting coach, Kermit Davis always had an appreciation for the atmosphere one feels when they enter The Pavilion on the Ole Miss campus.
The 9,500-seat arena, sporting a price tag of $96.5 million, has proved to be a dungeon of horrors for visiting teams since its opening in January 2016, including some games where Davis stalked the sidelines.
Now, Davis will be calling The Pavilion his home for the forseable future as he attempts to resurrect the Rebel basketball program.
He comes in with lofty laurels as Davis is an eight-time conference Coach of the Year and ranks 34th among Division I coaches with 403 wins in a career that’s included 15 years as the head coach at Middle Tennessee and head coaching jobs at Idaho (1997, 1989-90) and Texas A&M (1991). He ranks 11th nationally in winning percentage over the last three years and 13th over the last seven.
Davis told members of the Clarksdale Rotary Club during an Oct. 9, 2018, appearance that he wasn’t looking to make a move from Murfreesboro, Tenn., where he had built Middle Tennessee State University into a name on the college basketball scene and had grown a fan base numbering some 150 to 200 fans when he first arrived in 2003 to more than 10,000 who make up Blue Raider nation.
But when Ole Miss came calling last spring, the Leakesville, Ms., native couldn’t resist the opportunity to become the Rebels’ 22nd head coach.
“It was the right fit for me,” Davis said. “It’s been a great six months in Oxford.”
The son of longtime Mississippi State coach Kermit Davis Sr., the younger Davis played for the Bulldogs, graduating in 1982, and started his coaching career in Starkville, Ms., as a graduate assistant.
And while he admits there will be a challenge in his first season in Oxford, Ms., Davis believes he has the facilities and program that will attract the nation’s top players.
“You need for nothing” at Ole Miss, Davis said, pointing to the campus and athletic facilities, topped off by The Pavilion.
“It’s the nicest on-campus arena in college basketball,” said Davis, who was the guest of Rotarian and local attorney Ed Peacock, who has had Ole Miss season tickets since 1974.
“We’re going to create a product they really want to see play,” he said. “We’re trying to create that winning culture.”
Yet, it won’t be easy as Davis predicts the Southeastern Conference will be “the best it’s ever been” when you look at the depth and the recruits the conference’s schools have brought in. He believes the SEC could send nine or 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament this year.
“There’s been a total commitment to basketball,” Davis said of the SEC schools.
And that’s also true at Ole Miss where he pulled in the nation’s 35th-ranked recruiting class despite being on campus for just a few months. He anticipates three or four of the freshmen class seeing significant time this season.
“We’re going to try to create a national brand. And to do that, you’ve got to beat national teams on a national stage,” Davis said. “Can we do that in basketball?”
The Rebels open the season on Saturday, Nov. 10 when they host Western Michigan. There are dates against Butler, Baylor, Iowa State and Middle Tennessee on the schedule, as well as the usual SEC slate featuring powerhouses Kentucky and Florida.
(Editor’s Note: In his first season as coach at Ole Miss, Davis led one of the biggest turnaround seasons in the nation. The Rebels posted a 20-13 record to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. In the last 2019-20 season, Ole Miss finished with a 15-17 record, including a 6-12 mark in the SEC.)
The Oct. 6 stop was Davis’ first in Clarksdale, but he has fond memories of the area. Out of high school, he first attended Phillips Junior College in neighboring Helena, Ark., for two years. It was there where he met his wife, Betty. The couple have two daughters, Ally and Claire.
“It’s nice to be back in this area,” Davis said. “Northern Mississippi basketball fans are unbelievable. There are a lot of knowledgeable fans around here.”
And it’s a fan base he will attempt to energize and bring back to The Pavilion in droves.
For he wants to make it his home for now and the future.
“It was strange, surreal.”
Those were the words of Scott Denton, a member of the No. 88 race team, said when asked about NASCAR’s return to racing on Sunday, May 17 in Darlington, S.C.
Racing resumes without fans, life goes on for one member of Hendrick’s No. 88 race team
Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in the Saturday, May 23, 2020, edition of The Gaston Gazette newspaper in Gastonia, N.C.
After two months of being pitted under the yellow flag version of coronavirus, NASCAR’s race teams have returned to green flag racing, one of the first professional sports leagues to resume operation.
Scott Denton, 54, has been involved in auto racing for the past 17 years. He’s spent the last 10 working for Hendrick Motorsports as a member of race teams featuring drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
He’s currently a member of Hendrick’s No. 88 team that’s led by driver Alex Bowman and crew chief Greg Ives. Denton is the backup driver for the No. 88 race team hauler, but also is a part of the pit crew on race day.
As a member of the support crew, he’s responsible for throwing the rear air hose and catching the gas can during adrenaline-pumping pit stops that last less than 15 seconds.
Prior to NASCAR stopping racing in mid-March, the 88 team had been on a roll as they were coming off a win March 1 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The win was the second career victory for the 27-year-old Bowman, who is in his third full season driving for HMS.
And once racing resumed, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet made another strong showing, finishing second in the May 17 race at Darlington (S.C.) Speedway.
“Sunday was awesome, but it was also different,” Helton said Wednesday, May 20. “It was strange, surreal, but it went well because everybody there did what NASCAR asked us to do.”
All of the race team members had to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They had their temperature checked before entering the race track and had to wear a mask and practice social distancing once inside.
“We had to follow all the protocols that NASCAR wanted and HMS wanted,” Helton said. “Pretty much all day you had a mask on and gloves and you were six feet apart to keep your distance. It was different because you usually mingle and say ’Hi’ to guys, but all you could do basically was just wave at them instead of high-fiving and stuff like that.”
The big difference was the quiet and emptiness of the track’s grandstands.
“You miss the fans because of the screaming and yelling,” Helton said. “When I’m doing my duty, you don’t really think about it, but yeah, we miss the fans.”
On a typical race week, Denton works Monday through Thursday at the Hendrick Motorsports shop in Concord. He spends his time “turning the tool box around” and “turning the trailer around”, which basically means he’s going through a six-page checklist and making sure the equipment used on race day is serviced, in place and ready for use.
He’s normally off work on Fridays and Saturdays and then flies out to the race track with members of the race team on Sunday. After assisting the pit crew during the race, he drives the hauler back to its shop in Concord.
While they weren’t in the shop from mid-March through early May with social distancing restrictions, Denton’s days were filled with plenty of video conference meetings through the Microsoft Teams software. Sometimes, there’d be three meetings per day.
He also devoted a large amount of time to mountain biking and doing workout videos at home. With the physical demands of working as part of the pit crew, it was important for the 6-foot-1-inch, 194-pound Denton to stay in shape. The work paid off as he dropped 10 pounds while social distancing.
A 1983 graduate of Ashbrook High School, Denton makes his home in Belmont with his wife, Christyn, and their 6-year-old son, Jack. One benefit of the downtime has been the chance to be at home, Denton said.
“That’s a blessing in itself to be able to be home with the family,” he said. “It’s been a lot of family time.”
While currently serving as a backup hauler driver, when he started at Hendrick Motorsports, Denton was the primary driver for Gordon’s colorful DuPont transporter and Junior’s Mountain Dew-splashed tractor-trailer. He made the switch to a backup driver after he got married in order to spend more time at home.
“When I’m on the road, I’ll do a lot of Facetiming, especially on the West Coast trips,” Denton said of races at Sonoma, Calif., Las Vegas and Phoenix.
The 2,800-mile drive to Sonoma from Concord runs more than 40 hours each way, he said, while Phoenix takes 34 hours.
The drivers follow Department of Transportation regulations that limit them to 11 hours of driving per shift. On the long trips, he and the other driver will often rotate, switching out every 10 hours.
“When you’re driving the truck, it’s the open road, it’s like freedom,” said Denton, who says Interstate 10 through southern Arizona is his favorite stretch of road. “It’s unbelievable. There are beautiful mountains and scenery you just don’t expect to see. If you didn’t leave Gastonia or Belmont, you wouldn’t think something like that exists.”
Racing has long been in Denton’s blood. He started out racing super late-model cars at Cherokee Raceway in Gaffney, S.C., with his grandfather, Toy Bolton.
“I love racing in general,” Denton said. “I grew up in racing and I was always a race fan growing up. I used to watch those transporters go by and I used to tell my granddad, ’Hey man, I’m going to drive one of those one of these days.’ He said, ’Oh, it’s a lot of work.’”
Denton’s longtime friend, Mark “Hollywood” Armstrong, who was working in auto racing and now works for JR Motorsports, suggested Denton, who was working part-time at FedEx and attending Gaston College, get his commercial driver’s license and he would help him land with a race team.
After obtaining his CDL, Denton started out driving a motorhome for race team owner Chip Ganassi and then worked his way up through the ranks, culminating with the offer from Hendrick Motorsports in 2010.
This weekend’s trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway is their shortest trip of the year, as it’s almost literally across the street from their race shop. The Concord track and race week is a special time for Denton.
“I can bring my family. My son and wife can come to the garage and see what I actually do for a living,” he said. “Charlotte’s always been special because of that.”
However, Charlotte will also be without fans as NASCAR’s social distancing restrictions remain in place. Denton will miss having his family there beside him.
He says the fellowship among the racing community is what he likes best about his job.
“I enjoy racing. I enjoy going to victory lane. It’s pretty awesome.”
Thirty-four-year-old Thomasina Williams, who lived out of her car in the past, can count on one hand the number of places that were her own.
Through the generosity of one group and thanks to a coronavirus stimulus check, she now has a furnished home for she and her 5-year-old daughter.
Thomasina Williams has been homeless before and knows what it’s like to live out of your car and have all your earthly possessions in your backseat.
After the death of her mother when Williams was just 16 years old, she’d spent the past 18 years bouncing from one family member’s home to another, from Virginia to North Carolina, searching for a permanent landing spot.
“It was tough,” she said. “I can count on how many places I had (to call home) on my hand. It was three. Three places that were my own.”
Williams had moved in with her brother and other family members in their Gastonia, N.C., home in September 20109, but was facing the very real possibility of being without a home again earlier this year. The family was moving to a smaller place and there wasn’t room for Williams and her 5-year-old daughter, Miacayla.
Williams was determined to not put her daughter through the turmoil she’d endured. She needed stability in her life.
“I’m just a person that don’t bother people unless I really need help,” Williams said. “It (being without a home) didn’t really bother me that much when I was young. It didn’t bother me until now when I’m getting older and wiser and I have a child.”
She and Miacayla had a home before in Virginia. But Williams said they lost both the home and her vehicle.
“I was struggling. My job wasn’t paying enough, I had a car note, taking care of her, her father was in and out of her life,” she said.
In March 2020, Williams landed a job as a custodian with the Gaston County public school system. Around that same time, she and Miacayla found a temporary home at the Gaston Inn, paying on a weekly basis.
Each weekday at 6 a.m., she and Miacayla left their room at the hotel on East Franklin Boulevard and walked five blocks to the bus stop at the Eastridge Mall. Miacayla was dropped off at daycare and Williams at the Gaston County School District office, where she was taken to whatever school she was working at that day. In the afternoon, the process would reverse itself with Williams and Miacayla walking back into their hotel room 12 hours later.
While blessed to have a job, Williams, who was without a car and had little money, was going to need a minor miracle and an angel.
Who knew the minor miracle would be linked to the coronavirus COVID-19 that has caused financial hardship, sickness and death to so many? Economic Impact Payments distributed by the federal government in April provided an unexpected boost to Williams’ bank account.
The stimulus check was a blessing, Williams said. The $1,700 she received for herself and Miacayla provided the security deposit and first month’s rent for an apartment at The Oaks at Edgemont apartment complex in Gastonia.
“This is the time to step out and try,” Williams recalled thinking as she held the check in her hands. “And when I tried, God opened that door.”
Phyllis Lowery, who has been a bus driver for the city of Gastonia Transit System for the past four years, remembers seeing Williams walking along the street.
“I used to see her walking a lot and one day we had Free Friday,” Lowery recalled. “I stopped and told her, ’You know, the bus is free all day today. You can ride anywhere you need to go.’”
That initial conversation would stem more talks and Lowery would come to learn that the woman she saw each of those cold mornings was out searching for a job.
“I started learning a lot about her,” Lowery said. “It had got to the point where she was in tears. She just didn’t know what to do and she felt like giving up.”
Williams told Lowery she had found an apartment, but didn’t have anything else other than she and her daughter’s few belongings. That’s when Lowery decided to act.
Lowery has been a member of Risa’s Special Delivery since its formation in January 2018. Over the past two years, the non-profit organization has made numerous donations to families and individuals in need. Lowery said she enjoys being a member of a group that’s devoted to helping people.
“Right now, everybody’s basically paycheck to paycheck,” Lowery said. “When we all come together to help and support each other, it makes it special.”
Lowery contacted Florence Eury, the founder of Risa’s Special Delivery, and told her of Williams’ plight. The story resonated with Eury.
“I’ve never been homeless, but as a single mother it touched my heart,” Eury said. “I could never imagine being homeless with my children.”
On Saturday, May 9, 2020, about 20 members with Risa’s Special Delivery went up and down the apartment complex stairs carrying items into Williams’ home. They were cleaning, helping to build bed frames and arranging furniture.
Eury said it was fitting that the delivery was made the day before Mother’s Day.
“It was planned for next Saturday, but I told them, ’I dare not have her stay in here with nothing on Mother’s Day. This is her Mother’s Day gift,” she said.
In just three days after asking for help on the group Facebook page, Eury said they were flooded with donations.
“Stuff just started coming in,” she said. “They got nice things and she had nothing. This is the first time we’ve done a complete makeover. It’s just a blessing.”
On Friday, May 8, 2020, Williams and her daughter entered their own apartment for the first time. On Saturday night, they sat in a fully-furnished apartment, surrounded by new couches, beds, lamps, television and plants with a full refrigerator and microwave.
“I don’t think it’s going to hit me until later,” Williams said. “It’s just been so long. Five years for my daughter… it’s a big blessing. This is the first time I’ve ever had someone come in and help me.”
She believes having their own home can change both her and her daughter’s life.
“I just want to tell everybody to ’keep your head up and keep on pushing, just keep pushing,’” Williams said. “This right here changed my life.”