Tuesday, March 10

Part 1 ... 1948 ... I had had enough of the mines to know that it was something I didn't want to do the rest of my life. The radio school cost $400.00 - just what I had in the bank so I made up my mind to go for an audition. I figured I could work part time to pay for room and board. Of course I passed. (I doubt if anyone ever failed). The first thing I had to do when we got to Minneapolis was to find a part time job to pay for bus fare and meals. There was a restaurant that specialized in pancakes and they needed someone to stand in the window flipping pancakes. So that's what I did for a week or so. When they hired a newer guy, he took my job and I started waiting tables. I made 50 cents an hour plus tips and two meals a day. I worked from 7 at night until 1 in the morning and then caught the bus and walked home. I started sending out inquires to radio stations in Minnesota. When I got little response I started writing stations all over the U.S. I must have sent out 50 inquires and a few audition discs but no takers. Finally school was over and I had no choice but to return to my hometown of Aitkin, Minnesota. Around the first of April I got a phone call from the station in Hazard, Kentucky. It was the station manager and they were in need of an announcer and if I was interested I could have the job. I accepted of course. I hadn't even asked the salary - I was so anxious to get into radio that I probably would have worked for nothing. Now --- where in the hell was Hazard, Kentucky? I found a map and there it was - way back in the Appalachian mountains just about in West Virginia. But that didn't make any difference - I was going to be a radio announcer. When I told my friends they were excited for me and said, "Kentucky - that's the state of beautiful women and fast horses" or is it "fast women and beautiful horses." I had never been out of Minnesota before even thou I had been on my own for over a year so this was the start of a brand new period of my life.

In mid April 1948 I was on my way to fame and fortune. At this time I owned very few good clothes. I had the sport coat I bought for the prom and a bright yellow sport coat I bought with the tip money I made working at Langfords Cafe and a couple pair of slacks and that was about all. I had two old suitcases that contained all my worldly possessions. It was fitting that as I walked out the door the radio was on and Arthur Godfrey was singing, "The Maori Farewell." song. In Minneapolis I caught the Hiawatha Limited to Chicago. I had been on the train from Aitkin to Brainard but this was a stream liner with a club car and dinning car. We left Minneapolis about 8 PM and got into Chicago early the next morning. I slept very little that night. I changed trains in Chicago and went to Lexington, Kentucky. As we crossed the border going into Kentucky I got the first of many cultural shocks. We stopped at a depot just across the border. I looked out and there was a sign over the drinking fountain "white only" and next to it "colored only." The same sign was over the restrooms. Up to then I had only met a few black people so I hadn't thought much about the differences in the races - much less about segregation. From Lexington I caught the bus to Hazard. Not to far out of Lexington we changed buses in Winchester. By this time I had been on the way for over 36 hours and was mighty tired and edgy. The Winchester bus depot was like a big warehouse with benches around the outside to sit on. It was dark, dirty, crowded and smelled and at that point it was exactly how I felt. Finally the bus to Hazard loaded and I got on. If the bus depot was dirty, crowded and smelled, the bus was even worse. The aisle was full of cigarette butts and looked like it hadn't been cleaned for months. I think everyone on the bus smoked (including me) and when they finished they just crushed them in the aisle. Not to far out of Winchester we starting climbing into the mountains. I found out later that the road to Hazard had only been built a few years earlier and prior to that the only way in (other than walking) was by train. The road wound up and down and around and around. Some of the curves felt like you were going to meet yourself. They were so tight. Most of the passengers were mountain people whose only means of transportation was bus. You saw very few cars by the houses. So the bus was always stopping to pick up and drop off someone. The bus would pull up at a wide spot in the road and there would be a path leading to a swinging bridge over a river and that led to another path that led up to a cabin. Almost all cabins had a front porch that was up on stilts with the back of the cabin on the mountain side. Most porches had a rocker or two on them. I was extremely interested in the things I was seeing on the trip but by now I was so tired all I wanted to do was to get to Hazard.


  1. I enjoyed reading Max's scenic journey from MN to Hazard KY. He got my interest when he got to the only road leading from Lexington to Hazard and describing so much of what I remember traveling when I was going from Hazard to Cincy in 48-49-50 to work during the summer at my Uncle's grocery. Especially so, Slade Mountain. I can imagine how he felt as a first time traveler on this highway, old 15, if I felt this way three or four times a year traveling the same road.

    I loved his graphic description of the houses along the way, but one thing he missed that I always remember seeing and what was written up about us so many times was the washing machine sitting out on the porch. As I grew up I realized they needed the air to keep them cool and also the space in order to wash and wring the clothes. I helped Mommy and I can tell you that it was not an easy job way back then.

    I loved his post.

  2. Mr. Smith is an excellent writer and historian. He provides fascinating details of Hazard and Appalachia during a time that has long since passed.