Brice Baker, Retired/Whitesburg Farmer’s Market Vendor; Whitesburg, Kentucky:
“I love farming. I love gardening. I’ve been retired since ’91, and I’ve worked in about all my life, where I was raised up at home.
I went to grade school over at Colson for eight years, and then I went to Whitesburg High School for four years.
My Daddy died when he was forty-five, and he was sick fifteen years before that. That’s a young man to die at that age, and we all worked together, and helped in the home as a family.
Seventy-five or eighty percent of what we ate, we growed our ownselves. Even the beef, the hogs, the sheep, and chickens. But we farmed enough too, we raised enough food to keep ‘em during the winter time.
I stayed at home during the time I was going to school. In the summer, I would go off somewheres and work when I got of age, in construction work mostly. I worked up in Manassas, Virginia, during the summer, two years in a row, my Sophomore, and then my Junior year.
My Senior year, I went to Indianapolis. I worked [for] Thermobuild Manufacturing [making] storm windows and doors. Then I came back home, and met this woman [I saw at a restaurant], which is my wife, and we got married. We’ve been living happy together thereafter.
Last year, we had our fiftieth anniversary. We went on a cruise down in Florida, and went to the Bahamas, and come back to Gatlinburg.
I went straight from high school to try to find me a job somewhere or other. I worked down here for a dollar and ten cents an hour, and I was going to get married, like I said, in ’64. And I told [my boss], ‘I can’t support a wife on a dollar and ten cents an hour. You’re gonna have to give me a raise.’ And I said, ‘If you don’t want to give me a raise, that’s fine. I’ll give you a notice that I’m gonna quit, and find me another job.’ So he said, ‘Find you another job.’
So that tickled me, [when] I got paid three dollars and sixty cents at another job that I went to from there. So that was a big increase in my pay.
I went to Chicago first, and I didn’t like it there at all. I was gonna try to find me a factory job, that paid good money, ‘cause I’d just got married. I didn’t like it in Chicago.
The newspaper was on strike, and I went to the unemployment office up there, and got a temporary job. One week, I worked thirty-two hours, just spot labor. That’s what they called it, I think. And I got me a job working in a Coca-Cola plant, a helper on a Coca-Cola truck. I went to take my check to the bank to cash it, and everybody in front of me, they would hold their checks out there, and I would glance at ‘em.
Their checks was three times more. I said, ‘If they can do that, I can, too.’ So I went to the steel mill, and got me a job in the steel mill, and I went to bringing home three or four hundred dollars a week, too, just like them. So that was the extent of that.
Far as living there, I didn’t mind living there. But it wasn’t nothing compared to here. Everybody’s in too big a hurry to do something ‘nother, go somewhere, and my wife didn’t like it at all.
I owned a home on East Fourth Street, next to the city airport there, and it was called an ‘income home.’ It was a two-story brick home. I lived downstairs, and rented the upstairs for more than what the payment was for on the home loan.
I think we bought it for like thirteen thousand dollars, you can tell how long ago that’s been, and I sold it for twenty-six thousand dollars, and we moved back here. I rented a U-Haul and loaded all my furniture myself, and we’ve been here ever since.
I wouldn’t have cared to stay there at that steel mill, till I retired. I wanted a job, that I could retire, and get a pension from, but I didn’t never do that. I had too many jobs.
I started working for Southeast Coal Company. There was some layoffs, and strikes, and stuff. I worked for them twenty-seven years, and most of that twenty-seven years was underground.
I done all aspects of mining. I was a foreman for them, mostly on setups, and some on coal runs, but I didn’t like that coal run. I’d usually get it ready for them to run, and do the dead work, move ups and backs, and that’s about all. But, I run the miner, I run the bolt machine. I’ve run shuttle cars, continued haulage, cutting machines, joy loaders. About everything that they had, I could run it, and do it as well as anybody else.
If you get used to working under the ground in the mines, it stays about the same temperature the year round. And we had gas in the Premium mines, and it was pretty bad. Methane. I’ve sat on a miner before, and it hit a pocket of it [methane] and fire would fly clean back into the controls, burnt and singed the hair on your arms. It would be that hot.
I got burnt in the Premium mines. A pump blowed up on me. It burnt me pretty bad. The skin rolled off [and] I stayed off for about two weeks. Then, they let me stay off outside for about a week, and then I went back to work.
I worked over in Virginia in the mines, and it was gassy, but it wouldn’t near like that. I had my Kentucky mining papers, and I had my Virginia mining papers. I was the only one that worked at Dixieana that had Kentucky papers; that could boss in the Kentucky side, or the Virginia side, either one. I guess that’s why they hired me, too. But during the time I was working in Virginia, there was a layoff from Southeast. They couldn’t sell no coal, so I got me a job over in Virginia.
I owned the Hilltop Grocery over here then. My wife was working it, and I worked on the hoot owl over there, in Virginia. The third shift. Most of the time, we started at 2:00 in the evening, and we would work till, well, eight hours, most of my time was ten hours, because I was the foreman, filling papers and stuff out. It would overlap into 6:00 in the morning we’d get off. And so we done real good, far as making enough money to survive on.
We got three kids, two boys and a girl. The girl is the oldest, and we got two boys. We had one boy that had leukemia, and we stayed in Cincinnati for almost a year up there, and he relapsed, and we went to Houston, and stayed down there about nine months. But he’s doing real good now. He’s living up in Madison, Wisconsin, and he’s working at a hospice, but he’s a minister, and he’s a good kid.
I got a good family, and the main thing, I’m a Christian person. I go to church, and I’m a deacon of our church, Jeremiah Missionary Baptist Church. So that’s about the extent of my life, you know.
The business around here right now, we need politics to take care of Eastern Kentucky, not Louisville, or not Lexington. We need something ‘nother here. Now I think a prison is going to come in here real soon. That will help this right here in this neighborhood, not only the housing, but the economy all the way around, it will help. And I think I heard sketches of it yesterday, that we was definitely supposed to be getting a prison, down at Roxana. It’s Federal, so it will be real good for this area.
(What’s special about the region?) It’s like comparing here to where I lived in Detroit, downtown Detroit. I moved back down here [and] it was like getting out of jail. The traffic [in Detroit] is bumper-to-bumper, and just rush, rush, rush. Down here, you can take your good, cool time, and do anything you want to. Up there, you have to be in a haste to do it.”