“Appalachian ingenuity: You’d never think that people here in the mountains would be so smart to come up with things that people in big cities can’t even come up with.”
Roy Farley, Welding Student; Harlan, Kentucky:
“I grew up in a holler at the head of Cawood, called Bob’s Creek. Where we lived was at the end of an abandoned mine road, so it was pretty far up there. I had a blast growing up, I did whatever I wanted to because our closest neighbors were five miles away. We had a farm that was just right beside of our house that we helped take care of, so I ran around on the farm, played with the animals. I rode my horse [and] I guess everything that you would think a kid would want to do. I have one younger brother.
I was close to my mother’s mom. She was a very influential lady in my life. She was ninety-two years old, passed away this December. She worked on the atomic bomb, did a lot of things with her life.
There wasn’t a whole lot she could say about it. Even when she was working on it [the atomic bomb] she didn’t know too much about it. She just pretty much knew that she was making a part that went to something. Later on, after the process was coming to a close, she found out that it was work with the atomic bomb. She took care of me whenever my Mom was working.
I like to look back at some of the things she done, and use that as an influence for my life. There’s not many people who live to be ninety-two years old, and every day she was ready to wake up and go through the day. There were some days I caught her outside in her yard doing gardening and stuff. I thought, for a ninety-two year old lady, that was too much work, but she pushed right on through until the day she got sick, and passed away.
My Mom was a nurse. She worked second and third shift most of my childhood. My Gramaw watched me usually throughout the day until was old enough to go to school. Sometimes, she would watch me after I got out of school until my Mom got off work, if she had to work second shift. I guess you could say she pretty much helped raise me from a pretty young age. She always used to make white gravy over toast with chipped beef in it. Sometimes, she’d take a hard-boiled egg and break the yolk up and put it on top of it.. That was my favorite thing that I remember that she made.
My Dad was pretty much a jack-of-all-trades all my life. He was a mechanic, he was a construction worker, he ran heavy equipment, and he did a little bit of mining. I mean, anything you could think to have done, he could do it.
I went to Harlan High School. I was a Green Dragon. I didn’t really care for high school all that much. I didn’t really feel like I learned enough to make it in the real world, but I was kind of glad because I have common sense, so that helped me out along the way. I guess I kind of enjoyed high school, I had a lot of friends in high school. But I was ready to get out of there and do something different.
There are a lot of times you could meet somebody that you would never think could come up with... say your car’s broke down or something. You might see some guy walking on the side of the road that’s like, ‘Hey man do you need some help?’ And you’re like “yeah, my car just stopped running,’ and he’s like, ‘Oh! I could probably help you fix that.’ Nine times out of ten, you could get somebody to help you fix your car on the side of the road, if you can’t do it yourself. Say you’ve got a lawnmower or something that’s broke. You could just take it to your neighbor most of the time, and they know how to fix it if you don’t know how to. I call it Appalachian ingenuity because it’s so clever. You’d never think that people here in the mountains would be so smart to come up with things that people in big cities can’t even come up with.
I learned how to take a serpentine belt off of a Volkswagen with the motor running, that’s pretty cool. You can lose your hand if you’re not really careful. [You] take one off with a flat head screwdriver, and put it right back on the same way.
After high school, I went to Southeast Community College and I got an Associate of Arts degree. During the summers, after high school, I hung out with a lot of my friends here and they were into skateboarding and BMX and stuff like that and so was I. I bought a video camera and started filming them.
That pushed my passion past Southeast, so I went to Eastern Kentucky University and got a Broadcasting degree [with] an emphasis in film and film techniques and technology. I don’t get to use it as much as I had hoped to. I make money on the side with it. I do weddings, or I used to shoot football in Louisville for different teams. Some car meets that I’ve been to, I’ve filmed. I really wanted to be a filmmaker when I left Eastern, but as far as jobs like that coming around here, it’s really few and far between. I worked some odd jobs here and there.
I ended up moving back here in 2011, because my Dad was sick. He had cancer previously, and then it was in remission for five years. In 2010 it came back [and] in 2011, he passed away. I came back here to do whatever I could to help out.
I don’t really care for big cities; they don’t tickle my fancy at all. I like being able to get on the Interstate and go places if I need to, which is one of the downfalls of living here. But I think it makes the town a lot quieter. Seems like everywhere there are interstates, there’s violence.
We don’t have the opportunities like people in big cities do. If I need something that I can’t get here, I have to order it and get it through the mail, or if it’s something that I can physically make here instead of buying it, I would much rather do that. Right now, I’m back in school. I’m finishing up a welding degree. I’m already a certified welder, so I’m hoping by the time that I’m finished with school, by next summer, I’ll have my business started. I’m hoping to start a welding business.
I love the hills, I love the mountains. I guess that’s what makes me a hillbilly. I love being away from the big city. I like being out near nature. Whenever I left here and went to Eastern, I actually had somebody ask me if I had floors in my house or if we walked on dirt. That was really offensive and very embarrassing to have to answer a question like that. The stereotypes around here are pretty bad. You just learn to live with them, but it’s pretty offensive in my opinion. It’s not something that pokes fun of somebody’s race or their gender, it pokes more fun at our intellectual capability. The stereotypes lead people to think that people from the mountains are more stupid than other people are, and that’s definitely not the case.
It’s a very rich culture. If you’ve never been exposed to it, you’d probably be pretty shocked. A lot of my friends, whenever I left here and went to school in Richmond, their families were just small families. Mom, Dad, sister, brother and that’s it. Around here, you have a lot of families that are extended family. You may have aunts that live with you, or some of your family may live at home with their Mom and Dad. You may live with your Grandma. Appalachian people are just a lot closer knit and the culture’s rich and deep.
In my spare time I build scale, automotive replica cars. That’s pretty much my mainstay hobby, I try to make a little bit of money on it on the side. I love the car culture. I try to incorporate all of that in everything that I like to do. Toyota Supra is one of my favorite cars, Nissan Skyline GTR. I like Japanese cars a lot, but I also like domestic cars, too. I used to have a ‘69 Chevelle. If I could go back and have any car, it’d be a ‘69 Chevelle. They’re just awesome.
Right now my family is here, my fiancée and our daughter. My Mom still lives here. I’ll probably live here for the foreseeable future, pretty close to Harlan [or] maybe Whitesburg or somewhere close. I’d like to stay pretty close to the mountains for as long as I can. It’s nice and quiet here, and I enjoy that a lot.
The way the economy and stuff is right now, it’s putting things in a really hard position for a lot of people. The job loss especially is really hard for people, and it’s affecting a lot of people my age. It’s really tough to say what I think’s going to happen here five or ten years down the road. We need to focus on something other than coal. I don’t think coal is going to be a renewable resource for us, and I think it’s foolish if we continue to waste time on it. It’s obviously not going to be here forever.
We need to take some clues from the communities around us, and try to do something better. That way, Harlan lives on for a lot longer than five or ten more years. It’ll be here five or ten years down the road, but who’s to say that it’s not going to be a ghost town by then? The abandoned mine land funds should help quite a bit. It seems like in the towns that are trying to reclaim some of the mine land, some of the things that they’re doing, they’re doing pretty good at it. If we can get some businesses in here and reclaim some of the land and start some kind of employment, whether it be several small shops, some kind of large production facility. something needs to come here to help stimulate the economy and put some jobs back in.
That’s the reason why a lot of people go to drugs and stuff around here. They found a meth lab up the street from my house about a week ago, under a bridge. It’s pretty bad around here. It’s really sad, I never would’ve thought that it would’ve got this bad when I was younger.
Losing some family members; my grandmother, my father, my fiancée’s Papaw, was pretty hard. My fiancée’s sister, her fiancée was murdered a couple years ago here. That was pretty traumatic. That’s been something that we’ve all had a hard time trying to overcome and get past. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that I don’t think a lot of people know about.
Right now’s a pretty happy time in my life. We’ve got a good family going on, nothing’s going wrong right now.
My legacy’s already kind of been fulfilled, from my dad. A lot of people that live here know my dad, and they know me by proxy. I have lived up to his legacy because he was a big car guy, and I’m a pretty big car guy, too, so every car guy around here knows me. I just want to be known as the guy that could do pretty much anything he wanted to do. I’d rather fix something myself, than pay somebody else to do it.
I like living here. I hope that things can get better for the economy here. I hope that more people can continue to come together [and] some ideas can be thrown around and some progress can be made in our county.”