“I stayed here because I got a good job, got a good boss and I got a lot of great people I work with. Most of my friends, they got on that Hillbilly Highway, as they call it, and went down to North Carolina. I guess I looked up.”
Edwin Vanover, Chief of Police, The Town of Bramwell, West Virginia:
“I grew up in a little town called Eckman in McDowell County, West Virginia. It was exciting growing up. Everybody you knew was in the coalmines, worked in the coalmines. Mostly all the businesses around had something to do with the coalmines. We went in the woods and explored and threw rocks in the creek and fished. You name it! My grandfather worked for Norfolk Southern. All my uncles worked in the coalmines.
My dad was a good man. He was in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. My dad went in the military when he was fifteen years old. He kind of lied about his age. He earned a Purple Heart. I had three other uncles that were in the military. They all got the Purple Heart.
[I remember on Christmas] Mom would get up the night before and cook dinner and it’d be ready in the morning. All the kids around the neighborhood would be at our house. My Dad, he was always sneaking into the presents and night, and everybody knew it! We always had good Christmases.
School was pretty good. Everybody knew each other, you know, small town. I played basketball for awhile, played football for awhile. When I got out of school, I got married.
I’m the Chief of Police of Bramwell, West Virginia. I’ve been in law enforcement since 2002. One of my friends recommended me. I’ve been Chief of Police here for ten years. This town, it’s great. I’ve worked in three or four different towns, but this one, it’s unique. There’s nothing like it. There’s always something going on. We have one of the lowest crime rates in the county. Everybody knows each other. You probably couldn’t get any closer to Mayberry than here. We might have a B&E (breaking and entering) every six or seven months. It’s not a big thing.
I had a police officer working for me one time, and he came to work with cowboy boots on. It was wintertime. He stopped a car on a traffic stop and the car was kind of at an angle and as he was walking away he fell and slid up under the car. He looked at the guy and said ’Well, your exhaust system looks pretty good!’ (laughs)
I’ve felt several times like my life was at risk. I had an officer that got shot on a traffic stop. He wasn’t hurt. He was wearing his vest, but that was probably the most scared I’ve ever been. Not for me, but for him.
The coal industry’s going down. I go to McDowell County ever now and then, and it’s nothing like it was when I was growing up. It was basically booming and now it’s just... just kind of makes you depressed going there and seeing it. I think coal will come back eventually if you get the right people in office to push it. ‘Course you know, I believe in solar power and alternative power, also.
There are a lot of forgotten towns in the coalfields. I guess the further up north you get the better things get. You can tell by the roads when you come into town. But there are a lot of forgotten communities. Seems like the state and federal government just look over it. The ones who live there, they’re not employed; mostly they’re trying to find a way out.
I stayed here because I got a good job, got a good boss and I got a lot of great people I work with. Most of my friends, they got on that Hillbilly Highway as they call it and went down to North Carolina. I guess I looked up.
The history of West Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia, everybody has a story to tell. Maybe Grandpa was a Hatfield and Grandma was a McCoy (laughs). I think it’s just our culture, the way people live. We all might fight sometimes, but we get along in hard times. That’s just something about West Virginia people. I think we have the survival skills.
West Virginians are self-sufficient. They try to make it the best they can. The economy right now in West Virginia is not that great, of course. Especially in southern West Virginia, the coalfields. I have friends right now living there and looking for a place to move to. But they don’t have a job, and when you don’t have a job, it’s really sad.
I’m a hillbilly through and through. I take pride in it. Some people think that’s a bad thing to be called, but you know, I’m a hillbilly.
If something doesn’t happen, if we can’t make coal king again, I see a lot of the small towns unincorporating and people leaving. You know, you’ve got to have a job. I see every day out here somebody I know moved off to find work, and that shouldn’t be. We have the resources, and we have a lot of good people in West Virginia. We need to bring jobs in. The economy and our infrastructure is just so messed up I see it falling apart in the next five or ten years. All the coalminers that I knew, they were basically men of steel. They’d go out and work underground and above ground when it was ten below zero. They still worked. All my uncles were coal miners, and a few of them are paying for it now.
I want to be remembered for helping to change someone’s life for the better. That’s the main thing. If you help one person in life, your life is worth it.”