High school principal by day, Walmart stocker at night

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.

Henry Darby is shown in the hallway at North Charleston (SC) High School, where he serves as principal. Photo by Mic Smith.

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.”

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.’

Henry Darby, principal at North Charleston (SC) High School

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.”

The reunion of knuckleheads in Upstate South Carolina

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 issue of 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.

* * *

Bud Blair, president of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s Legends Chapter in Chesnee. Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter.

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.”

* * *

Legendary motorcycle drag racer Pete Hill. Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter.

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.”

* * *

Rose and Richard Owen, members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association’s Warriors For Christ Chapter in Gaffney, S.C. Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter.

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.”

Ralph Coggins, road captain for the Spartanburg, S.C.-based Jabez Riders chapter of the CMA. Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter.

* * *

Mike Bruso on his 1939 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead that he’ll ride in the Cross Country Chase in 2020. Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter.

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.

Louie Hale, an Augusta, Ga., resident who collects and restores antique motorcycles, including the 1920 Harley- Davidson model that he rode in the Chesnee, S.C., bike games competition. Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter

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.

***

Longtime Chesnee, S.C., City Administrator Becki Hood. Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter

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.”

Hooked on fly fishing

From the first time this writer saw the movie “A River Runs Through It,” I’ve had a fascination with fly fishing.
In the summer of 2019 I had the opportunity to cast my first line in the mountains of western South Carolina.
I learned not only about fly fishing, but also a little bit about life.

As numbers rise, anglers find Chattooga River and Upstate South Carolina delivers

 

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this story first appeared in the October 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine. The publication is read in more than 595,000 homes and businesses and published monthly except in December by The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.

 

By Michael Banks

There is a dirt path leading through the mountain laurel and rhododendron with their clusters of colorful flowers. Hemlocks and pines shoot straight into the blue sky. With hands holding fly rods and feet wrapped in wading boots, we make our way single file through the mountainous Sumter National Forest in Upstate South Carolina.

For I have come to fish the fresh waters. To fly fish, more precisely. And I have come to the Chattooga River. It is, as one resident claims, “a little slice of heaven in South Carolina” and both it and the nearby Chauga River are known as the prime fly-fishing spots in this part of the state.

As I descend a muddied, rock-strewn hillside that’s camouflaged in leafy green undergrowth, I am suddenly thrust upon the main stage. It’s the Burrell’s Ford section of the Chattooga River and I stop, turning in an 180-degree arc, to take in what I’ve come upon. 

Long the land of the Cherokee, the Chattooga serves as a boundary between South Carolina and Georgia. A fishing license from either state allows you on the river that stretches 57 miles from its headwaters in the Blue Ridge Mountains south of Cashiers, N.C., to where it meets the Tallulah River at Lake Tugalo.

Here at Burrell’s Ford, the river — clear and a dark navy blue — is bathed in bright sunlight that bounces off the ripples of the current and rapids that carve their way through a jumble of boulders. The coolness of the mountain-fed waters soothe my sweaty feet as I step into the river. The call of nearby songbirds form a chorus with the sound of the running water. 

It is, at once, an onslaught to my senses, yet a feeling of inner peace and calmness that slowly ascends, along with the sweet cooling relief from my water-covered limbs to sweat-covered brow, chilled by the breeze that comes from upriver.

This is what this angler has come in search of.

The author casts his line along the Burrell’s Ford section of the Chattooga River during the summer of 2019. Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter.

*  * *

Before there’s even a thought to casting the first line, fishing guide Karl Ekberg is off and slogging through the water, eyes intent upon the bottom of the clear riverbed, feverish as he lifts one brown rock after another. If you weren’t upon the Chattooga and had employed his services, Ekberg’s mad scramble would make you think of the frenzied rush of children at a community Easter egg hunt, bursting from the starting line, baskets in hand, scouring each possible hidden cove for treasure.

And that’s exactly what Karl’s doing. For his prize are bugs. And on this day, he is in search of nymphs that lie beneath the silt-covered rocks that line the river bottom. These nymphs will eventually grow to become mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies that will rise from the river’s surface, creating a perfect storm consisting of a tasty morsel, fly-starved fish and the anglers who seek them.

“Bug in the water catches fish,” Karl says.

In these parts, Karl is known as “the bug guy.” While there is no entomology degree in his fly pack, Karl has put in the homework. Able to quickly identify the often-microscopic creature that flits across the rock’s surface, his enthusiasm is great this day as we’ve found “a monster stonefly.”

“If you have stoneflies in your river, it means you have very clear water,” Karl says.

This aptitude wasn’t always the case. Growing up in northern New Hampshire, Karl, 55, had fished with his father, but, as with most teenagers, he craved speed and action, and he discovered it on the nearby ski slopes as he became a standout downhill racer, even competing on the Olympic course at Lake Placid, N.Y.

It wasn’t until he received fly fishing gear and a fly-tying packet from his parents, as a present for his gaining acceptance into a hallowed culinary school, that the then 21-year-old Ekberg started to get serious about the sport. Yet, it didn’t come easy. There were many hours spent casting on the Pemigewasset River to no avail. 

“It was, pretty much, the school of hard knocks,” Ekberg recalls.

It wasn’t until he heard and learned from the words whispered by wise fishermen that his skills improved. And it wasn’t until about two years into it when he took notice of the many insects that flew above the waters, landing upon the surface to be greedily gathered by the trout and bass.

For he soon learned the secret: Know your bugs.

“I really studied bugs. Because if you didn’t know what was going on, you weren’t catching,” he said of his earlier days spent on rivers that were populated by only wild fish instead of the mostly “put and take” hatchery-supported waters in South Carolina.

For most of his adult life, Ekberg used his culinary education in resorts and hotels in the Northeast. It was the warmer southern temps and the presence of family in Central that drew him here in the late ‘90s. He would spend the next 13 years working for Aramark, which provides food service to colleges and universities, while also spending time on the Upstream waters, perfecting his angling skills.

It would be his talents or, more so, his bragging about his fishing expertise that would catch the attention of one of his employees at the dining hall at Southern Wesleyan University in Central in the summer of 2007.

Karen Maddox had grown up in Virginia Beach, Va., but had lived in several areas of the country as “a Navy brat” before settling in South Carolina in 1972.

“He came in bragging about all of these fish he was catching. And I was like, ‘Dude, if you’re not going to invite me, I don’t want to hear about them.’ It was game-on after that,” said Karen, who would start taking lessons from Ekberg and come to enjoy the sport. Her third fish was a 24-inch brook trout caught along the Canadian border.

“What captured me was the first time that I went out there I realized that the river just has a way of capturing your soul and reworking it and giving it back to you before you leave the river. It’s not an explainable thing. It becomes very obsessive and you don’t even know that it’s happening.”

The two, according to Karen, “co-habitate” and their home and business is served by the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. They’ve been operating the Chattooga River Fly Shop for the past seven years, including the past four years at its location on Highway 28 in Mountain Rest. While Maddox operates the shop, selling merchandise and setting up trips, Karl is “the bug and fly guy, rods and equipment guy” who is on the river guiding groups.

While he has caught brown trout measuring 27 inches in length, Karl’s favorite fishing memory is that of one day in 2014 spent with his father, fly fishing the Burrell’s Ford section of the Chattooga. It was the last fishing trip his father, who was battling hip and knee pain, would make. In January 2019, Bill Ekberg would suffer a stroke and his kidney and lungs began to fail. The U.S. Navy veteran, who served on the second USS Juneau, would pass away in February at age 84.

“We caught a few fish that day, but that wasn’t what it was about,” Karl says. “It was his last trip and I’m glad it was here.”

Fly fishing guide Karl Ekberg is shown on the Chattooga River. (Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter)

*  * *

This ambitious angler readily admits to a romantic image taken from the 1992 film “A River Runs Through It” and actor Brad Pitt, deftly handling his fly rod, the line, long and graceful in the air, as he whips and coaxes the fish to rise from the Montana rapids, that first drew my interest to fly fishing.

I ask Karl if it’s possible that I might go down the Chattooga, a big 24-inch rainbow hooked to my line, trying to reel him in as I deftly dodge boulders and waterfalls.

He grins.

On this day, on this angler’s first foray into the river, I stand in knee-deep waters and more likely resemble the scarecrow from the “Wizard of Oz” with arms askew and the rigidity of my pose mirroring the tin man.

Karl, wise and knowing, introduces me to a roll cast in which I handle a 9-foot pole with my right hand, whipping the line out 90 degrees across from my shoulder to the fast-moving water some six to eight feet away. His words are reassuring and welcomed as he teaches me to fish by using the drift of the current.

“Let the river do the work. Keep your tip up. Now, slowly, let it down. Watch as it moves down the river. Very nice. Good work.”

“Uh, what do I do with my left hand?”

With the briefest of pause, Karl offers with that hint of New England accent, “Keep it waahhmm in your pocket.”

And, so, this is what I do. Cast upon cast, I try to remember to pause at the top before flinging my line at the fast-moving foam nearby, watching the red stretch of line near the end where the weighted fly that was knotted by Karl bounces along the river bottom near the Highway 28 bridge.

I try, again and again, the simple, quick flick of my wrist to set the hook, yet on a couple occasions, I resort to my days of pulling bluegill from a Kentucky farm pond and my fly goes “Bill Dancing” across the waters behind me. I can’t tell if it’s a rock or a fish that tugs on the end of the line, but my eyes stay locked and I nearly taste blood from biting my lower lip. I need to catch fish.

Through it all, Karl remains encouraging and helpful. I almost feel like a third-grader whose gotten an A on his math quiz when Karl tells me, “Fantastic job, Michael. Fantastic cast.”

There are worse things I could be doing on a Tuesday afternoon in early July.

“This is the escape from reality,” Ekberg says. “You see the beauty of the river. Catching fish is a bonus because you’re standing in God’s creation out here. I’m not a very religious person, but when you’re standing out here, you’re not attached to anything. There’s no phone call coming in. It’s the game. Let’s try and catch fish. And all of a sudden you look around and say, ‘Wow. This is something.’”

Ekberg offers some tips to the author while catching a respite on the Chattooga. (Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter)

*  * *

Within the past five years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people interested in fly fishing, according to Maddox and Ekberg. He says about 70 percent of those on their guided trips are brand new to the sport with the others made up of those “who have been catching 10- to 14-inch fish and they’re looking for bigger.”

While so-called industry experts say there is also a rise in women fly-fishing, both Maddox and Ekberg say they haven’t seen a great increase.

On the flip side, the number of younger people becoming interested in fly fishing is taking off. Ekberg points to groups such as the Clemson University Fly Fishing Club, which is the third-largest in the nation, for helping to promote the sport.

And Ekberg believes the completion of the nearby Palmetto Trail – a planned 425-mile foot and bike trail connecting the South Carolina mountains to the coast — will only bring more visitors.

As a businessman, he is in favor of more visitors. As an angler, he is hesitant to see more fishermen in his prime spots. And there’s also the question of whether the infrastructure (improved roads, parking areas) is there to handle the increased traffic. Yet, Ekberg believes it’s possible to find a balance and walk the fine line separating the two.

 “Because there’s so much (of the) river that’s not fished on a regular basis, the river can withstand more fishermen,” Ekberg said. “The river’s plenty big enough to stand having double or triple the amount of people out there, but the problem is getting to those areas.”

Both Ekberg and Maddox say the free-flowing, dam-free Chattooga River is the greatest resource in their part of the state and they remain committed to looking after its well-being. They, as well as numerous nearby Trout Unlimited chapters, subscribe to the practice of “leave no trace” on their trips to eliminate litter and keep the scenic river pristine.

“We made a pact in the very beginning that if anything we did affected the well-being of the river corridor, in any way, then we would no longer be doing what we’re doing,” Maddox said. “That’s how much we care about that. The hard part is needing and wanting the revenue to come to us, but (the river) is still to remain pristine. That’s going to be tough.”

Fishing along the Chattooga River, which serves as the boundary between North Carolina and Georgia. (Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter)

*  * *

In the end, this angler did not land his first fish. But my confidence is buoyed by the fact that Karl was also unable to reel in a catch before a low rumble of thunder and darkening skies chased us from the river late afternoon.

The heat of the summer had the trout lurking below, along the cooler, deeper waters of the Chattooga. Ideally, trout prefer water temperatures in the range of 45 to 55 degrees. On this early July day, as the outside temps exceeded 80 degrees, the water temperature was near 70. Ekberg told me not to be disappointed.

“Listening to some of the old-timers when I first got here, they would say, ‘If you can catch a fish on the Chattooga, you can catch a fish anywhere in the country,’ because it can be that fickle, day-to-day.”

Ekberg says, “A lot of folks come back here. It’s the challenge of this river. Tomorrow, we might come out and catch 40 fish from here to the bridge. And that’s the tough part about the Chattooga.” 

Arriving back at Karl’s fly shop, I was greeted by the hot, humid wrap that is known as summer in the South. Harsh white light bounced off the pavement and my cell phone began to rang as I reached inside the overheated cab of my truck for my sunglasses.

It was a welcome-back-to-reality moment.

The water-laden socks beneath my wading boots were heavy. I felt the scrape along my knee where I’d unsuccessfully hurdled a limb blocking our path and the sting of the horse fly had left a nasty welp.

I raised my eyes to the north, to the green forested mountain range and imagined myself back on the Chattooga River, which now seemed days, not minutes, past. Its cool, clear waters and the fish who lurk beneath are still there.

And I, along with many others alike and unlike me, shall return.

The author and Ekberg head out after their day on the Chattooga. (Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter)

 

Bitten by the fly fishing bug?

There are several businesses that cater to those wanting to learn more about the sport. From beginners to seasoned anglers, there are a number of options available with price per person ranging from $140 to $300 for half-day sessions to full-day trips on the area rivers costing anywhere from $250 to $350. 

Most outfitters provide equipment (including waders, boots, fly rods/reels and flies). Those 16 and older will be required to have a South Carolina fishing license, which can be purchased online at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources or at several vendors across the state, who are listed on the SCDNR site. 

The cost for a freshwater license for a South Carolina resident ranges from $5 (14 days) to $10 (annual) to $30 (three years).

Among the South Carolina-based businesses offering guide services are:

Chattooga River Fly Shop

6832A Highlands Highway

Mountain Rest, SC 29664

864-638-2806

 

Dodson Fishing Company

533 N. Highway 25

Travelers Rest, SC 29690

864-610-2140

 

River Blade Knife and Fly Shop

1398 Boiling Springs Road, Suite 1

Spartanburg, SC 29303

864-699-9433

 

Southern Outlaw Adventures

141 N. Little River Road

Salem, SC 29676

864-614-1019

Karl Ekberg ties fly fishing ties at his Chattooga River Fly Shop in Mountain Rest, S.C. (Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter)

 

Provider of fishes

A small government facility hidden deep in a valley of the Upstate South Carolina is responsible for producing some half a million items each year.
Let it be known, the trout anglers of South Carolina are very grateful.

Walhalla State Fish Hatchery ensures that trout remain in South Carolina’s waterways

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this story appeared in the October 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine.

By Michael Banks

Nestled deep in a green valley in the mountainous Upstate near its borders with North Carolina and Georgia is a facility that is of critical importance to the trout that swim the area waters and the anglers who seek them.

The Walhalla State Fish Hatchery is one of five public fish hatcheries that are overseen by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Freshwater Fisheries Management program, but it is the only one raising trout.

Because South Carolina is at “the southern-most extreme of suitable trout habitat, we’re really limited in the number of streams that we can stock. It is a unique fishery for being this far south,” says Scott Poore, the hatchery manager.

Scott Poore, left, and Damon Wilber clean two of the raceways that hold trout at the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery near Mountain Rest, S.C. (Photo by Michael Banks)

Currently, two trucks depart five days a week with an allotment of trout to stock streams and rivers in Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties, as well as the tail waters of Lakes Hartwell, Jocassee and Murray and the lower Saluda River in Columbia.

There are some wild populations of all three species of trout in the waters of the Upstate, but the only trout native to the area is the brook trout. The Walhalla fish compound plays a central role in making sure trout remain.

“There are so many anglers that target trout, if we were not able to supplement the existing populations or where populations are very limited, I think you would see angling pressure possibly decimate the fishery in some streams,” Poore says. “I think eventually it would come to a point where angling for trout in South Carolina would become non-existent.”

On average, there is a request of 475,000 trout each year from the biologists overseeing the program in the Clemson office. In the 12 years Poore has been at the hatchery, they’ve met that number and often exceeded it.

In a typical season, they are producing 600,000 to 650,000 trout, Poore said. Of that number, the rainbow and brown species are the predominate ones as there will be some 225,000 to 240,000 of each species produced. The rest are brook trout.

Poore, who grew up in the Upstate and graduated from Clemson with degrees in wildlife and fisheries biology, has been working at the Walhalla facility for the past 12 years.

It’s a job he loves.

“I love being outside. To be in the mountains and see all the seasons, it’s just an enjoyable experience. I feel rich in those non-monetary things that we see,” says Poore, who lives adjacent to the hatchery in a stone house with his wife and two sons.

“For me, growing up and enjoying the outdoors, this is a place where I come to where I’m not confined by four walls in an office,” he said. “As long as I’m producing the fish that’s been requested, providing an outreach opportunity for the visitors that come here, and the anglers are happy, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”

Scott Poore is the manager of the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery near Mountain Rest, S.C. He has been there for the past 12 years. (Photo by Michael Banks)

Want to visit the hatchery?

An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people visit the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery each year. The Mountain Rest facility, which dates back to the 1930s, is open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no charge for admission and hatchery employees are available to answer questions.

“The kids love to come in and see all the varieties of fish,” says Scott Poore, hatchery manager. “During our peak time, we can easily have 1.2 million fish on hand.”

Finding heaven along South Carolina’s Highway 11

Looking for a road trip to experience the colorful palate of nature? Well, a drive down South Carolina’s Highway 11 will provide you with plenty of inspiration and memorable moments.

Seven state parks offer the best of fall for those seeking solace, color

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this story appeared in the September 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine.

By Michael Banks

Following a path traversed by the Cherokee and bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains, South Carolina Highway 11 has become a favored route of those sightseers seeking solace and beauty. 

Seven South Carolina state parks straddle the approximate 120-mile long roadway — also known as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway — and offer everything from hiking to fishing to boating.

With visitors flocking to the Upstate to view autumn’s colorful palate, here are some things not to miss and some tips on how to get the most out of your visit.

There are numerous paved campsites for RV and/or tent camping along the shores of Lake Hartwell near Fair Play, S.C.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Lake Hartwell State Park

Address: 19138 S. Highway 11, Fair Play, SC 29643

Contact: 864-972-3352

https://southcarolinaparks.com/lake-hartwell

Known for:

1. Outstanding fishing. The 56,000-acre Lake Hartwell is inhabited by striped and hybrid bass, largemouth, crappie, bream and catfish.

2. Camping. In addition to 115 paved campsites for RV or tent camping along the lake shore, the park is the only one in the state to offer unique, single-room camper cabins.

Insider tips:

Looking to combine a room with a view along with your college football? Well, Lake Hartwell State Park may be the option for you as the park sees a large number of people setting up camp on Saturdays in the fall.

“A lot of people come in for Clemson football games,” says Brooks Garrett, who has served as the Lake Hartwell park ranger for the past three years. “They’ll bring their campers in, stay for the weekend and go tailgating.”

He also suggested that birdwatchers visit Lake Hartwell during the week when the park is less crowded.

“We get a lot of migratory birds, especially warblers, during the fall,” he said.

A Civilian Conservation Corps monument at Oconee State Park in Mountain Rest, S.C., honors the 3-million plus people who served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Oconee State Park

Address: 624 State Park Road, Mountain Rest, SC 29664

Contact: 864-638-5353

https://southcarolinaparks.com/oconee

Known for:

1. History. This park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and many of those structures can still be viewed. A CCC monument at the park honors the 3 million-plus people who served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942.

2. Wildlife. Black bear are sometimes seen and there is also a family of foxes who live at the park.

Insider tips:

Bring a good pair of closed-toe shoes and some energy and you’ll be rewarded with an awesome view of a 60-foot waterfall.

Assistant park ranger Savanna Kelley, who has been at Oconee for the past five years, says a three-hour hike along the Hidden Falls Trail is a perfect outing for the fall.

“You can see the waterfall more in the fall than any other month with the leaves down,” she said.

Kelley also suggested renting a paddleboat or canoe. 

“It’s gorgeous to take boats out on the lake with all the leaves changing,” she said.

As dusk falls, the colors of a late autumn sky make for a breath-taking display along the shores of Lake Jocassee in the Devils Fork State Park in Salem, S.C.
(Photo by Michael Banks)

Devils Fork State Park

Address: 161 Holcombe Circle, Salem, SC 29676

Contact: 864-944-2639

https://southcarolinaparks.com/devils-fork

Known for:

1. Lake Jocassee. Four mountain streams and several waterfalls feed into the 7,565-acre lake, making it cooler than others and one of the state’s top trout fishing spots, as well as a fave of anglers seeking bass and crappie. The park offers the only public access to the lake.

2. Scuba diving. The clean and clear waters of Lake Jocassee make it a favorite for divers. Swimmers also delight in the cool waters.

Insider tips:

Those looking for a unique study of leaf color can find it here, especially during the park’s peak viewing during the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November.

“Just get out on the lake and look at all the levels of color change,” said park ranger Kevin Evans, who has been the manager at Devils Fork for 12 years.

“To me, that’s one of the neatest parts. You can see the progression of fall by viewing the different elevations and the best way to do that is to get out on the lake itself.”

Evans also said Monday through Thursday is the best time to visit.

“You can have the entire lake to yourself. That’s just a great feeling, to have that feeling of being by yourself and that wonderment of really being immersed in the resource because there’s nobody else around.”

Keowee-Toxaway State Park in Sunset, S.C., offers access to the 18,500-acre Lake Keowee. It is a favorite of kayakers and canoeists, as well as fishermen.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Keowee-Toxaway State Park

Address: 108 Residence Drive, Sunset, SC 29685

Contact: 864-868-2605

https://southcarolinaparks.com/keowee-toxaway

Known for:

1. Lake Keowee. The 18,500-acre lake offers something for nearly every outdoor enthusiast surrounded by some of the most stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those looking for an access point for their canoe or kayak should arrive early as there is a small parking lot.

2. Wildflowers are abundant at this state park, especially in the spring. Two rare species that can be found are Alleghany spurge and ginseng.

Insider tips:

One of the smaller state parks in the area, visitors should get out of their vehicles to experience Keowee-Toxaway.

“It’s a pretty park, but you really have to get out on the hiking trails as far as the views,” says park ranger Kevin Blanton, who has managed the 1,000-acre site for the past 12 years.

He suggests the No. 3 trailside camping site for those seeking a neat experience.

“It’s located out on a finger of land surrounded by Lake Keowee. To spend the night out on the point out by the lake is really something,” Blanton said.

November’s fall colors are on display near the Visitor’s Center at the Table Rock State Park near Pickens, S.C., as Table Rock looms large in the background.
(Photo by Michael Banks)

Table Rock State Park

Address:158 Ellison Lane, Pickens, SC 29671

Contact: 864-878-9813

https://southcarolinaparks.com/table-rock

Known for:

1. Table Rock. The towering mountain offers up breathtaking views and serves as an access point for hikers on the 80-mile Foothills Trail.

2. Bluegrass music. The “Music on the Mountain” program takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. the second Saturday of each month.

Insider tips:

There’s something special about hiking three miles to the top of Table Rock and seeing a full moon disappear and watching the sun rise, says Scott Stegenga, interpretive ranger at the park for the past 29 years.

“To take in the transition from night to dawn is pretty special. It’s a long hike, but it’s worth it once you get up there. To sit and take in all the surrounding wilderness, watch the sky change, hear the birds awake, to witness the breaking of a new day. It’s just an exhilarating time.”

There is a $25 per person fee and those interested should call the park to register. The next hikes will be Sept. 22 and Oct. 19.

Autumn is a perfect time to visit, Stegenga says.

“You get the foliage peaking at the end of October. The air is cleaner and crisper, less humid. Altogether, it’s a better hiker-friendly atmosphere in the fall. It’s one of the special places in South Carolina that’s still preserved.”

From the overlook atop Caesers Head State Park near Cleveland, S.C., one can see portions of neighboring North Carolina and Georgia.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Caesers Head State Park

Address: 8155 Geer Highway, Cleveland, SC 29635

Contact: 864-836-6115

https://southcarolinaparks.com/caesars-head

Known for:

1. Bird-watching, specifically hawks from September through November. During Hawk Watch, visitors can observe the raptors as they migrate to their South American feeding grounds. On one past September day, 11,048 birds passed through the park.

2. Sixty-plus miles of challenging hiking trails and trailside camping. Hike the Raven Cliff Falls Trail and see the tallest waterfall in the state.

Insider tips:

Tim Lee has spent the past 19 years working as the interpretive ranger for the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, 13,000 acres of pristine southern mountain forest encompassing both the Caesers Head and Jones Gap state parks.

He has seen a lot of visitors and one of his favorite quotes was from a child as she stood atop the overlook at Caesers Head, which sits some 3,200 feet above sea level with a spectacular view that extends into North Carolina and Georgia.

“She said, ‘You can see the whole world from here.’ And I think that’s a great quote,” Lee said. “Through all our different eyes, you can see the whole world from there.”

And if visitors will look down at the ground, they’ll also be in for a treat.

“One of the things that people don’t think a lot about, but there are a lot of beautiful fall wildflowers that bloom along our trails,” said Lee, mentioning New England asters, various goldenrod species and the beautiful but toxic milk sick, which is also known as white snake root.

A portion of the Middle Saluda River runs through the Jones Gap State Park near Marietta, S.C. Some of the best trout fishing in the state can be found in its waters.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Jones Gap State Park

Address: 303 Jones Gap Road, Marietta, SC 29661

Contact: 864-836-3647

https://southcarolinaparks.com/jones-gap

Known for:

1. Beautiful waterfalls. At least five waterfalls can be viewed from this state park. Hikers can work up a sweat on the Rainbow Falls Trail and then cool off in the mist of the falls.

2. The Eastern Continental Divide. Rain falling on one side of this divide runs into streams that eventually end at the Atlantic Ocean, while rain falling on the other side ultimately runs into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Insider tips:

Some of the best fishing for wild trout in the state can be found on the Middle Saluda River, a designated scenic waterway that runs through the park.

Lee, who is a fishermen himself, said the state stopped stocking the river back in the 1970s and those fishermen seeking wild, natural-born trout come to the park.

“You get a true wilderness experience where you feel that you are the only person out there… it’s just you and the river,” Lee said. “It gives you an opportunity to reconnect with the natural world, the river, the forest. I’ve heard many people say how relaxing and calming the sounds of the river

Getting to know South Carolina’s shark whisperer

The man who does battle with man-eating sharks admits he’s “not a crazy jump-out-of-airplanes kind of guy.”
He enjoys playing golf and tennis, but he’s no adrenaline junkie.
“I’m pretty boring. I live a pretty simple life,” says Chip Michalove.
However, he’s quick to admit he gets more than a little nervous when he enters the ocean and the waves hit against his waist.
“I’ve just seen too many of them out there and I can’t relax. If I go chest-high, I’m going to have a coronary,” Michalove says.

Chip Michalove guides his boat off the coast near Hilton Head Island, S.C., on a recent day. In these waters, Michalove has gained the reputation of ‘the shark whisperer.’
Photo by Milton Morris.

By Michael Banks

(This article appears in the August 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine.)

Other than doing battle on the open sea with 3,500-pound great white sharks, Chip Michalove claims he’s a rather boring guy.

“I live a pretty simple life,” says the 5-foot-9, 160-pound angler who earned the nickname of “the shark whisperer” by reeling in great whites measuring up to 16 feet long.

His love of fishing was cast early. Michalove was 5 and his family vacationed on the South Carolina coast. His parents booked a charter with legendary fishing guide Fuzzy Davis and, on that first trip out, they caught a six-foot shark.

“I thought it was just the coolest thing in the world,” he says. “I became obsessed.”

The family later moved to Hilton Head Island and at the age of 22, Michalove bought his first boat and went into business as a fishing guide. Before catching his first great white, Michalove was just like everyone else of generation Jaws—scared to death of the giants. But as he’s caught more and more great whites, his respect for the animals has grown.

“It’s the smartest fish I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I’ve never seen an animal that will come up behind a boat and if they sense something’s not right, they leave. They’re not the maniacs that you see on TV that come in and crash into the place. There’s actually a methodical, thinking process.”

Michalove, who operates the Outcast Sport Fishing charter business, says he is grateful for the life fishing and sharks have provided.

“Great whites have absolutely changed my life,” he says. “They’ve given me a new truck, a new house. It’s been so beneficial, and I owe them everything. If I can help protect these guys, I’ll do everything I can.”

Getting to know Chip Michalove

AGE: 43.
HOME TURF: 
Hilton Head Island.

CLAIM TO FAME: Fishing guide dubbed “the shark whisperer” after catching 50 great white sharks over the past four years, including an unheard-of seven great whites in one day.
A MATTER OF SCIENCE: Michalove attaches satellite tracking tags to many of the sharks he and his charter customers reel in so scientists can track shark movements along the Atlantic coast.

ONSHORE: Enjoys golf and tennis in his free time.
CO-OP AFFILIATION: 
Member of Palmetto Electric Cooperative.

Grace under fire

One winter morning earlier this year, Bernadine Reed suddenly found herself in a life-and-death situation, trying to calm and corral 40 panicked first – through fifth-graders as smoke filled Darlington Public School Bus No. 3071.

Photo by Milton Morris.

This story appears in the June 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine.

By Michael Banks

Two years ago, Bernadine Reed, who grew up in tiny Dovesville, S.C., left the noise and chaos of Baltimore, Md., to return to the piece and quiet of small-town life in rural South Carolina.

But on one winter morning earlier this year, Reed suddenly found herself in a life-and-death situation, trying to calm and corral 40 panicked first – through fifth-graders as smoke filled Darlington Public School Bus No. 3071.

“I told everybody, ‘We have to get off this bus now,’” Reed recalls.

A vehicle had slammed into the back of the bus after Reed had stopped before a railroad crossing on Jan. 22 at about 6:30 a.m. The only adult on the bus, Reed was able to guide the children, who were all crying and upset, out of the bus and to a nearby field. While flames consumed the vehicle, Reed was able to reach her supervisor and then called each child’s parents to let them know they were safe.

“Everybody looks at this as me being a hero. I tell them, ‘I’m just a mother that got 40 kids off a bus. That’s all.'”

— Bernadine Reed, bus driver in Darlington, S.C.

Reed, who had never driven a bus before, attributes the intensive training she had undergone in December for staying calm under fire. She had only been a driver for 45 days prior to the accident.

“I’ve been around children all my life,” said Reed, who had been a special needs educator and also ran her own daycare in Maryland.

Reed says she has a passion for her “babies,” which is what she calls the children who ride her bus.

“All my kids love me. They call me ‘Miss BeeBee,’” she says. “I think kids are just drawn to me. I’m like a magnet for kids and they listen to me. They know they’re on Miss BeeBee’s bus and Miss BeeBee don’t play. We are on this bus to get to school and home, safe and sound.”

Bernadine Reed

Age: 49

Home turf: Darlington

In the family: Reed’s 27-year-old daughter, Shantee Jacobs, recently moved from Maryland to Darlington and also became a school bus driver. She believes her entire family, which includes four children and three grandsons, will eventually move to South Carolina.

Accolades: While the parents of the children she rescued rewarded her with flowers and candy, Reed was also honored by the local school system and received a key to the city of Darlington.

“I told them, ‘Y’all don’t have to do this. This is my job. This is what I do,’” Reed says.

If a movie’s made, who plays the role of Bernadine Reed? “Queen Latifah,” she says with a laugh.

Did you know? Reed admits to being “a little bit adventurous.” She wants to go bungee jumping and says she likes to climb trees and “I want to jump out of an airplane, at least one time.”