With Halloween just around the corner, I am reminded of times past when danger lurked on nearly every roadway in Logan County during this time of year. Thank goodness, everybody now seems to have their cell phones and other gadgets to keep themselves occupied, and perhaps that helps to keep people out of trouble during these cool autumn nights. Long before cell phones and computers came into existence, though, there were those who took advantage of the Halloween spirit in some not so flattering ways.
Take for instance, the guys more commonly known as the “Porch Sitters.” In nearly every hollow in Logan County — and the Lord knows we’ve got plenty of them — there were those usually young men and some women who, just like the “Porch Sitters, found ways to become downright — well, let’s just say, precarious. I can’t begin to tell you when it all started, but of course, it was sometime after the horse and buggy days, and when most of the county’s citizens could afford automobiles. While I am most certainly not endorsing the following escapades for future generations to partake in, I must admit that those days, or should I say nights, were certainly exciting, yet dangerous — and definitely illegal.
Usually, it started about a week before Halloween when the true ghosts and goblins, those Porch Sitters whose poor souls usually just enjoyed the bathing moonlight that reflected off the No. 16 Island Creek Coal company store’s showroom windows, suddenly became villainous. Maybe it was out of boredom, or perhaps it was for the thrills and laughs, but suddenly, around Halloween time, the “Porch Sitters” became the diabolical “Verdunville Villains.”
We always seemed to come up with a bunch of old automobile tires — usually retrieved from the creek banks — that we neatly stacked across the road several feet high. Along with brush and other ignitable materials, fires were started with gasoline, and the skies suddenly were filled with dark smoke and ashes. Sadly, I must report that this scenario was prevalent throughout the county.
Most people knew better than to travel late evenings during that time of year, but I guess there were those who simply had to do so. Anyway, the police would always soon be on the scene with their spotlights ever searching the nearby hills for the outlaws who had committed the dubious crimes. Occasionally, the state troopers would spot one of us, and the chase would be on. With adrenaline pumping and knowing every nook and cranny of all the hills, creeks, and ditch lines in the area, none of the Porch Sitters ever got caught, but there were some close calls. Some of the braver, or perhaps I should say “more stupid” individuals, would yell at the police from the hillsides, trying to entice them into a chase. Frankly, it’s a wonder that somebody didn’t get shot. I do know there were a few times when shots rang out, likely not at an individual.
Sometimes filling balloons with water and then tossing them from a cliff onto the windshield of an oncoming vehicle would make for an interesting night. Most drivers did not find those antics amusing and oftentimes there were some choice words expressed, as we slithered through the underbrush to prepare for another victim.
One of the more fun things to do was to take an old purse, or even sometimes a man’s wallet, and set one of them in the middle of the road. Attached to the purse or wallet would be a fishing line or string that could be jerked about the same time the person bent over to retrieve what they hoped would turn out to contain money. The driver, who usually had parked his or her vehicle off the roadway, was not a very happy person at that point, especially with all the heckling they received from out of the darkness. Nasty words were conveyed by the poor “suckers” who most definitely were angrily embarrassed. But, like always, nobody ever got caught.
There was the old rolling of the hub cap trick and there was egg throwing, which would lead to paint peeling from a vehicle if not cleaned off quickly enough. But one prank that even I did not appreciate was one in which I’ve never known who perpetrated. On Halloween nights, a fishing line would be tied across an alley from fence post to fence post at about six inches from the ground. I don’t know who enjoyed watching excited youngsters tripping and spilling their bags of candy, but let me assure you that I was not one of them.
Of course, most of these pranks were dangerous, not only to the pranksters and the trick-or-treaters, but also to the automobile drivers. Accidents could have been caused and people could have been injured.
One incident I recall was when the Porch Sitters got word of a monstrous fire located up the road at what we simply called “the head of the creek.” Word was that grown men and women with chain saws had cut large tree across the road and set them afire. I do not recall how we all got up the road that dark evening, but I sure do remember the trip back.
We arrived on the scene only to see headlights and shadowy adult figures on the other side of the blazing fire, which blocked the road a short distance from Dingess Mountain. We were about 25 yards away from reaching the roadblock when a man’s voice bellowed out something about his mother and getting her to a hospital. Seconds later, the booming sounds of gunfire of different calibers followed by angry words rang out loudly. There were about 10 of the Porch Sitters who scattered in different directions. I later found out four or five of these guys got hit by buckshot.
On my own turf, I would not have been too worried. However, I did not know the woods very well on upper Mud Fork. So, I chose to lie back even though I was faster on foot than most of the fellows. In the pitch dark of the hills, running through briar thickets with gunshots in the background, a fellow who shared my name, (Dwight) Baisden, yelled out, “I know these hills, follow me.” In what seemed like only seconds later, I heard a terrible scream. “Ike”, as most people called him, had run into a barbed wire fence neck-high and was not only bleeding, but also had choked himself. He survived, and years later went to work for the federal government somewhere out west. He now is deceased.
As for myself, I survived the night by staying in the hills and off the main road for the two miles or more until I reached the confines of the company store porch, where I rested. Wearily, I later crossed the railroad tracks and headed for bed, just hoping the rest of the guys got home safely, which they did — bruised, battered, and some still with buck shot in their hides, but OK.
Looking back, I realize the roads were in bad enough shape without us setting fire to them. I also realize that people could have been hurt, and that the inability of an ambulance or other emergency vehicle getting through should have been foremost on our minds. Understand, however, that most of us were kids, basically good kids. Unlike today, you never had to worry about any of us breaking into your home or stealing anything. In fact, back then, most people did not even lock their front doors at nighttime.
For the most part, the Porch Sitters were a great bunch of guys; that is, until the one stretch of the year when they became the Villains. Many of the Porch Sitters have either died, or at least settled down — or have we?
Drive carefully, for at least the next few nights.