Chapter 2 - Charles Ralph Waugh
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Charles Ralph Waugh was almost nine, when he was sent to live with Gertrude and Clifford Fields family in the Melrose Addition of Worthington, Kentucky. He and his sister, Virginia, five lived there two years before he found the courage to run away. He felt frightened all the time though, because things kept happening he did not understand.
At first Ralph's new life seemed orderly enough after he went to live at the WC Pierce Home in Catlettsburg, but then Miss Ramey sent him to live with the Fields family. Mrs. Fields enrolled him in school on September 5, 1944 for third grade, and the following year on September 3, 1945, for fourth grade. But, it was near the end of his second school year, as spring weather warmed the Melrose Addition, that Ralph seized his little sister, Virginia by the hand and pulled her along the edge of the big gravel pit to safety.
Back when Pond Run Creek flowed placidly on its way to the Ohio River, Benjamin Chinn with the help of a few slaves settled his prolific family close by the River. He named it Pond Run Plantation. He was not the earliest settler; he was preceded by Buford and Mead family pioneers who pulled off the river at the big curve, unloaded their plunder to take advantage of the flat ground and the fresh stream water. Others followed. But, it was the industrious, Benjamin Chinn who established the first dry goods mercantile in Chinnville, and served his namesake community as one of its early law enforcement officers. He was joined by the family of William J. Worthington, a notable merchant whose political work elevated him to service as Lt Governor for Kentucky 1895-1899. It was Governor Worthington for whom the new half city was named as we know it today.
By 1888, the C&O had laid its first shiny track, establishing its route from Huntington to Cincinnati and like a saber, with no considered thought of loyalty, severed Chinnville in its wake. The train but did not stop in Chinnville then, but it did set the quaint village upon its course as a railroad town split into Raceland and Worthington. The single track would multiply to twenty-six by 1945, just about the time, Gertrude Ramey sent Ralph Waugh to live on the Fields place in the Melrose Addition and after the placid Pond had been dug out for a muddy gravel pit.
The early history of the Melrose Addition was formed through a series of law suits and disagreements between land owners before it was finally platted and attached to the little city of Worthington, Kentucky. It was here in 1944 that Ralph Waugh came to live.
From the Fields house, to get to school Ralph learned to walk the high edge of the gravel pit without slipping in or disturbing the loose rocks. Once it had been a large placid pond with cat fish living on its bottom fed by Pond Run Creek. Then, a few years before Ralph arrived, the thundering flood of 1937, changed its easy going personality. Engorged, with mud the Pond succumbed to the force of river water. After the flood, its dug out-weakened banks eroded and harbored debris of all kinds.
Some years later, a city employee who remembered the lovely Pond of his youth, suggested a ditch be dug to let the water flow back into the Ohio. He was persuasive to the City fathers, but an engineer he was not. At the blast, the force of escaping water sounded a mighty roar as it rushed toward the Ohio. But, the river won as it always had. Its ebb peeled away the banks and gouged the pitiful engineer's ditch into a wide surface canal and wedded forever the gravel pit with the mighty Ohio River. The name of this hapless blaster is lost to memory, but like a large beast, the abyss was made bigger than ever with the explosion. The Pond became a gravel pit. It took its new place sprawled in the center of the community around which residents were obliged to pass no matter where they wanted to go, its water table rose in tandem with the flow of the River.
Railroad tracks multiplied in tandem with rigid steel towers. They pierced the sky with powerful thumping pumps encased inside to draw water from underground wells for the hot engines. Their spiny oily black structures graced the once pristine view toward the mountains. Open space where only birds circled overhead was now punctuated by puffy steam engines and warning train whistles, the shriek of switching wheels, while black smoke fogged the color of white bed sheets hung up to dry. Underneath their feet covered with soot, children played double dare and learned to hop scotch the lattice of train tracks.
Farther up the River and south of the small city of Russell, the mighty C&O built its headquarters and added more new tracks. Its chief purpose was to transport bituminous coal from the old deposits in southern West Virginia and metallurgical high quality iron ore from the new mines in eastern Kentucky. Mostly, the iron pigs stopped at Armco for refining. Some part of the shipments made their way to the Great Lakes; the tracks crossed the Ohio River at Limeville, now named Sciotioville heading directly north through the small towns of the Hocking Valley. With WWII in demand for raw ore and coal, full production was constant. The tracks would multiply to fifty two.
The sentiment of the naming process for the divided town was uneven. On the mountain side of the tracks farther south, progressive residents were more vested in their newest commerce and wanted a modern name. Speculator Jack Keene had acquired 350 acres of the former Pond Run Plantation river bottom land to build his Million Dollar Oval race track. They embraced Raceland to honor this state of the art centerpiece of horse racing industry. It was 1924, and Keene's horse track ran for only four years until 1928, when at last mortgage payments exceeded receipts. Keene left. His followers established a second track near Versailles, Kentucky. Still, Raceland residents kept their new name.
Closer to the river banks, neatly belted in by a circle of rail road tracks, a few sparkling white gingerbread latticed homes still graced the mounds of earth pushed up by ancient upheavals of the River. Belied by their noisy new C&O neighbor, Pioneer families drew more on historic origins and named their half of Chinnville after the noble William Jackson Worthington also an early pioneer and son of a Civil War General. He'd served a term as Kentucky Lieutenant Governor.
Mid summer of 1944, Ralph Waugh arrived in Melrose addition in a similar tumultuous and circuitous route. Having lived his young life in first one abandoned building then another on the west end of 13th street near Avondale ghetto of Ashland, he was not yet ten years old when welfare authorities took him and his siblings to the overflowing Ramey Home at Catlettsburg. After a few days though, Ralph was delivered to the Fields farm at Worthington along with the homeless Damron children. The white house, chicken coop, cow barn and outhouse were separated from the Ohio River by the landing field of the old airport. At night the train blasted its whistles at the bend in the River on its way to Cincinnati, while the scent of muddy water assailed his senses. It was another new place for Ralph, but he remained expectant. Miss Gertrude Ramey described an idyllic life in the country for him when she separated him from his sisters and little brother, Ronnie. As a city boy, this was an adventure of promise.
"Their house was old looking and small, but I did have my own room at the back. Another boy, Tommy Damron, who was older than me, but about my size and his sisters Charlotte and Barbara came to live there too. The girls doubled up in the other bedroom. Our toilet was in the barn. We didn't really have a bathroom. I don't recall just when things went bad, because my new life was pleasant enough at first. I had food and a place to sleep, and I felt safe.
It was gradual change after the Damron children left. I fell into the routine of work they designed, at a pace I had never known before," Ralph's memory is still vivid. "Tommy, Charlotte and Barbara left soon after we all arrived, and I was alone until my sister, Virginia came."
"My first memory of a new kind of terror began when Mr. Fields placed a scythe in my hands and instructed me to cut horse weeds. With my first swing, in my struggle to lift it off the ground, because it was longer than I was tall, the long blade swiped a hidden board in the weeds; a large splinter pierced my arm. Mrs. Fields wrapped a white rag around it. Twice a day, I milked and fed their cows. In the morning, I led them out to the airport field to graze. Of an early evening before dusk, I herded them back. One of the cows was a little wild anyway, so I used a rope around her neck. She was especially contrary on that day, and always stronger than I was. Finally, Mr. Fields pulled the cow in to the shed and got her settled for milking, before he broke a lower branch off a bush, and lashed me. Perhaps it was then, bewildered and hurt, I pulled at her teats, pinging the milk streams against the metal pail to drown the sound of my sobs, and felt truly afraid.
I fed the game cocks every day, too; Cliff Fields kept fighting cocks. At other times, I worked in their garden hoeing rows of potatoes, or pumping water to slosh into the rows. There was always a chore for me to do. I was used to working. I had learned at Avondale cutting grass for food, and here I was kept busy every minute I was not in school. I learned to like Quakers oatmeal because that is what I ate for breakfast every day for nearly two years. As the days and months passed at the Fields place, I began to know I was there only to work and I worked alone while the Fields sat on their porch and watched me. I felt a new kind of loneliness, because nobody came to see me; not my mother, nor my father, not even Miss Ramey." Ralph paused, "A new kind of social awareness also presented itself to me at school. Something I'd never noticed before, when I saw other boys had good shoes to wear, and clean clothes with no holes."
The C&O at Russell employed the majority of its car men from Greenup County, including W. Clifford Fields. It was well known to his neighbors, Fields augmented his C&O car man salary by taking in the overflow of homeless children from the Ramey Home in Catlettsburg for which he was paid $1.75 a day per child.
So it was in 1944, in addition to Ralph and his little sister Virginia, Clifford Fields housed some of the Damron children, whose family had fallen on hard times. Tommy, Charlotte and Barbara had two younger siblings, Patricia and Eugene; too young to roam around on a farm near the River. They were kept at the Ramey Home in Catlettsburg as were Ralph's younger sisters Darlene, Marjorie and Phyllis. Ronnie, Ralph's baby brother had been given away, but Ralph did not know where. Ralph would not see his Mother, nor his brother and sisters for two years.
"Sadness was my constant companion, but an anxiety of a new kind invaded me without my full understanding of what I felt, it came to me when I first arrived. One day when we were alone in the house, Mrs. Fields ushered me into the middle bedroom, opened a drawer and fingered under the towels. She brought out a large black and white picture. She unrolled the picture and held it down to my eyes.
"Don't tell Pap," she whispered. I blinked at two naked men entwined. That photo portended for me, something so strange and hurtful, had I understood, I might have traversed the gravel pit that day instead of waiting nearly two years.
As the months passed, my senses blurred into the high alert status of a hunted wild animal with my ears swiveling to every sound. At night, convulsive nightmares startled me awake; vividly, they seem to reflect my dread of each day. Mostly, I feared Mrs. Fields. She'd seize my overall suspenders from the back, and drag me across the bed, pull down my pants and blister my buttocks with her large wood paddle; the pain paralyzed me." Ralph's voice lowered as he spoke. "At some point, I even stopped crying. Her talk puzzled me, made me feel edgy. She whispered stories about her woman friend who also kept homeless boys and described how she played with them. I still did not know what she meant until one night when Mr. Fields was at work, she pulled me into her bed and placed her hand over my mouth.
Not long after this, I heard her tell her husband she wanted to get rid of us; still not long after that, I was hurt from her beating, when I seized my little sister's hand, took the path around the gravel pit, ran past the school house and crossed under the railroad tracks for good. I was 11 1/2 years old." Ralph added, "Nightmares from those two years have plagued me all my life."
- C. Ralph Waugh -
NEXT - Chapter 3 - Ralph Waugh