In 1971, on the day after Thanksgiving, I sat in a small living room with my baby girl on my lap. In the center of the room was a coal stove, the only source of heat for the whole house. Also in the room were my husband Joe, his parents, Freda and Willard, and his Great Aunt and Uncle. (I can’t recall their first names, but their last name was Campbell.) We were up in some ‘holler’ in Perry County Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia. I can still recall how our host sat in a cane back chair near the stove, telling stories in a sing-song voice, using words I didn’t understand, stopping every other sentence or so to shoot a wad of tobacco juice in a coffee can in the corner.
Last week, my husband and I made a trip up that same ‘holler’ in Perry County. Many things are long gone, and much more has changed beyond recognition. Route 15 is the main road from Mountain Parkway through Jackson to Hazard and beyond. It used to go through the center of each small town along the way, now Route 15 is a four lane highway that passes above the towns and cities, depriving those who travel it of the real taste and feel of the communities of Breathitt and Perry Counties. We left the highway and drove through beautiful mountains on windy narrow roads until we found the town of Krypton where the Campbell’s homestead was. The Campbells, Joe’s ancestors, came through the Cumberland Gap when Kentucky was new, and that is where they stayed, generation after generation, until two world wars brought the outside world to them. Now they are gone. Only the children of those who migrated north to Cincinnati and Dayton Ohio and into northern Indiana in the 1950s and 60s to make a better life for their families, remain.
Our next stop was on Route 1096, the site of Fourseam coal camp, which was a self contained community, complete with a dentist, doctor, church and company store. All the houses are gone. No businesses; not even one structure is left to mark what used to be. The small clapboard home of Mamaw and Papal Watkins is gone. But the large bush that used to be in the center of their yard is still there, tangled with Kudzu. My girls ran circles around it in 1976 for the 8mm camera pointing at them. Now there is a paved road that climbs up the hill to where the mouth of the coal mine used to be. Joe commented how his Mamaw used to complain about all the dust and wished they would just pave the road. It is paved now, but no one lives along it to care.
Coal mining has changed too. Men no longer tunnel into the earth, but instead direct huge machines to lop off the tops of mountains, scalping them of their beauty, to get at the coal beneath cheaply and with fewer workers. “Coal keeps the lights on.” I know this to be true and those who live in South-Eastern Kentucky need the jobs that mining coal brings to support their families. Mitch Campbell, Joe’s maternal grandfather, died in his 50s of black lung disease. He dug coal and supported his 9 children, giving half his life to do so. And men continue to sacrifice their health and lives for the ones they love.
What has not changed: Well for one, the Mother Goose House is still sitting on Route 15 in Walkertown, like she has since 1940 and the wooden train trestle that Joe and his cousins jumped from into the South Fork of the Kentucky River is still there. But more than man-made landmarks, Appalachia in Kentucky has not lost her timeless beauty. The green steeps, and the granite faced cliffs are still there. The rivers and creeks still meander along their same paths. And the weeping willow in Mamaw Polly’s yard still stands, even though the house is long gone.
And most important, the people of Southeastern Kentucky are present. Hardy and determined. The same people who have lived in these mountains for over 200 years. They create and live and love. They give us art, music and faith. They are the Appalachian people, the descendants of strong fearless men and women who left Ireland and Scotland and Germany to find a better life in the mountains of Kentucky.
How many of us had to crank our first car to start it or had our hair curled with hot electric rods wired to our heads or had milk and ice delivered to our house from a horse drawn wagon? How many of us carry a century of history inside our minds and hearts? Well Louise Trimmer did and I was very blessed to count her as one of my friends.
I spent many hours sitting with Louise and listening to her tell the stories of her life. History is one subject that is best when told in stories, so I will try to recount some of the best ones Louis shared with me.
Louise told me that when she was a girl her family sat around the living room each evening and told stories, read aloud or recited poetry. Her mother and even her 85-year-old grandmother could perform long recitations from memory. She recalls her mother performing the whole ‘Lil Orphan Annie’ poem complete with voice changes and hand gestures at each refrain ‘The Goblins ‘ll git ya if ya don’t watch out!’ So Louise has no trouble telling history in the form of story, the stories of her life.
Wars are remembered or not as to how they affect us. “I don’t remember the First World War much. I was just a little girl,” Louise said. “It didn’t affect us much but the Second World War did. “We had young men working at the Ice Cream Parlor who had to go off to war and I remember George would mail them candy.” (George Trimmer, Louise’s husband, owned Trimmer’s Ice Cream Parlor at 222 ½ East Court Street in Washington Court House, Ohio for 27 years.) All five of George and Louise’s sons served in the military. The eldest, George Junior served in the Navy as a parachute rigger. Bill was in the Army Reserves and Jack served in the Army in Korea and in Germany. Louise said she still remembers the gift he sent to her from overseas. “My son Jack sent back a beautiful dress from Germany; hand made of finest designer quality. I never had any that good since.”
Tom, their fourth son served in the Army as advisory assistant to a general in Vietnam, and Tod, the youngest, was in the 82nd Airborne division of the Army.
As for all the many fantastic inventions of the past 100 years, Louise said she felt that the television was the biggest, second only to the radio. “We got our first radio not long after we married. And It was an even a bigger deal when we got our first TV around 1950.”
Louise knows the value of being connected to her roots and her name.
“My full name is Alice Louise McKillip Trimmer. My father liked the name Alice. He and one cousin were the only ones who called me Alice. Everyone else calls me Louise. I was born at my grandmother McKillip’s house, just about three miles south of Jamestown, Ohio. Back then nobody went to the hospital to have babies, they just had a M.D. come and you had the baby at home. We were at Grandma’s when mother got sick (Grandma loved to have us come and sit) and I was born there. (Louise had one younger brother, Marlin, who died in 1960.)
“My Grandfather McKillip was from Scotland but he couldn’t remember anything about it. My great grandparents (also from Scotland) lived in a big old brick house just outside of Jamestown. They were so old they scared me. My great grandmother McKillip dressed all in black, like from the old country. Back then there were a lot of McKillips in the area, kind ‘a like a little McKillip colony.”
Louise said her favorite animal is a horse and she had one in particular she remembered.
“I didn’t know anyone else ever kissed their horse, but now I know they do. We had a horse called Maybell. (Really she belonged to the grandparents.) I was in the seventh grade in Jeffersonville school. We lived about two miles outside Jeffersonville then. My dad said ‘If you’ll just not play basketball I’ll buy you a horse.’ I took the horse and I’m glad I did. I enjoyed that horse so much. A couple of friends had horses too. One was Anna Lee Little. Her father was a vet. We would ride together. We rode our horses together on the last day of school. We got our grade cards and started home. I don’t know how we managed to do it, but we took a wrong rode and ended up in Milledgeville (over 20 miles away) on horses. My stirrup broke and I tied it together with a shoelace.”
Louise is a free and adventurous spirit and if you step back to Jamestown in 1927 you might see her buzzing around town with a bunch of kids hanging all over her little automobile.
“My dad’s first car was a Ford. I was 14 then. One day I just got in it and drove to Sunday school. I didn’t ask. My dad saw me drive away and he knew where I was going. When I was in high school we lived about two miles out of Jamestown and he got me a little ‘run-about.’ It was a crank car with two seats. I used to drive it to school. I’d fill it up with kids, inside and out when we’d go to a ball game.”
She married not long after graduating from High School and her life as a Trimmer began.
“In 1929 I married George. George’s father worked for OS Tobin and made ice cream. No one else in Washington (Court House) made it. That’s where George learned how to make it. I met George when I came to Washington (Court House) with some cousins. We married when I was 18. He opened his own shop right after that in 1929 and we lived in town. George said, ‘If you marry me I’ll build you a house.’ And he did.” George built their first house, a two story custom-built cape cod, on Paint Street during the depression years.
“George made ice cream from scratch and homemade candy. Very popular place. Filled up on Friday nights and on Saturdays all the farmers would come in.
“Back then you could get a girl to come and help out.” (Louise explained to me how you could have a high school girl from the country come and stay with you to help out with the kids and housework. In exchange she got free room and board and was able to attend the city high school – which was located on North Street, the sight of today’s Washington Middle School. Louise said the city schools were considered to be better than the county schools.) “ I would go down and help out at the shop after the boys were in bed.”
“Four other ice cream shops came into town. George was tired. So we sold the shop and bought a farm at auction. That was about 1956. I always wanted to live in the country. The farm was out on Waterloo Road. George was a worker. He worked his whole life. When we sold the ice cream parlor I said ‘Now George you worked somewhere your whole life. When you come down here (to the country) you don’t have to do anything.’ He said ‘I’ll read.’ You see he never had time to read before. But he worked: mowed the yard, fixed things. He couldn’t stand to just sit around. We both liked to live down there.”
And as with every aspect of her live, Louise has stories of her time on the farm which lasted nine years.
“When we lived in the country I thought we should have a cow. Foolish me. We had all the milk we needed and couldn’t use milk from the cow to make milk shakes, because it was not pasteurized. So we had all this milk.
“We had lots of farmers as customers and one of them said. ‘George, what you need is some pigs. They’d take care of the milk for you.’ Now this man brought in this cute little pig. (Here Louise cuddles the invisible piglet in her arms.) This sow had 15 piglets and couldn’t feed them all. He was raising prize pigs. So we took it home. George would rinse out the ice-cream freezer and save the first rinse-out and give it to this pig. It had never had enough to eat in its life and it would eat and eat and go lie down and then get up and eat some more. The family just died laughing. We’d hold our sides laughing at that pig. The way it would eat and rest and go back and east some more. We all got such a kick out of that pig. That little pig was a she pig and she had 14 babies of her own, all raised on cream and cow’s milk.”
For many years Louise was the oldest living member of Fayette Garden Club, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in May 2012. She has had a love affair with nature all her life. She said she loves to garden and plant different kinds of flowers and when she lived in the country she had lots of rose bushes. So it is not surprising that her favorite place to be was ‘Trimmer Trails’
She said that George bought this little weekend cottage in the Paint Creek area, just south of Greenfield, Ohio This beautiful secluded place was soon dubbed ‘Trimmer Trails’ Not only was there plenty of wild wooded space with trails for walking and logs for sitting on to contemplate the beauty around you but there were also several caves on the property.
“George bought it as a summer cottage, just to go to get a way. We loved it so much. One day George said to me ‘Do you want me to fix it up?’ And I said yes. He put in a bathroom and a kitchen (indoor plumbing). The place was pretty rough. The boys (her sons) liked to say that the old man we bought it from used to chew tobacco and spit on the walls. So the walls had to be washed before they could be painted. We moved out of a four-bedroom house into that small place. We had an iron stove that we burned wood in. It smelled good. George liked to get the wood and chop it. He was in pretty good shape. We lived there a long time, about 17 years.”
It seems there were a lot of snakes at Trimmer Trails and Louise’s long time friend, Connie Merriweather, said she should not forget to tell the snake stories. So she did.
“The house wasn’t very big and it had a cellar that you entered from the outside. We had our freezer down there and I had to put my canned goods down there too. After my husband died we sold the place and the people that bought it said they had gone down in the cellar and there was a nest of rattlesnakes down there. I used to go down there at night and get ice cream. They said they killed six rattlesnakes. They laughed. I was living with rattle snakes and didn’t know it.”
The snakes at Trimmer Trials were not limited to the cellar nor were they only rattle snakes.
“We had bushes around the house and one night I kept hearing this noise and I went outside and there was this bird nest in the bushes about this high off the ground (Here she held up her hand to indicate that the bushes were only about two foot high.) and there was this snake in there eating the babies. I was terrified and George was gone. I was on pins and needles until he got back. When he did get home he stopped the snake and he asked me why I didn’t get a hoe and go after it.
“My girlfriend Connie was scared to death of snakes, but she loved to come down there (Trimmer Trails). We used to walk in the woods and sit down on a log. One day we were just sitting and she saw this huge black snake. ‘I was scared silly.’ Connie said about the incident. We ran when we saw it.”
Not long after her husband died Louise sold Trimmer Trails and moved to Greenfield where she lived near her son, Tom.
“George died very suddenly in 1985. Didn’t even know he was sick. He wouldn’t admit it, wouldn’t take anything.” Louise still misses her beloved husband. She and George had five sons and now have 16 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Louise, joined her husband on May 6, 2011 just 5 months shy of her 100th birthday. I still miss her and will always remember the stories of her life.
George “Stormy” Kromer was a real guy – a semi-pro baseball player and railroad engineer. Not the kind of guy you’d expect to start a clothing company, in other words, but one who happened to create a cap that became known for long-comfort and the ability to stay snug, even in the fiercest winds.
This final feature, in fact, is the reason he made his famous headgear in the first place, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Mr. Kromer, known as “Stormy” to the folks who knew his temper, was born in 1876 in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. He grew up with baseball and would eventually play on nearly 30 semi-pro teams throughout the Midwest. He might have continued to play that field, too, but he met Ida, and before Ida’s father would allow her hand in marriage, our ballplayer needed to find real work.
That meant the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad and long, cold trips across the plains. Stormy was an engineer, and to see where he was headed, he had to stick his head out the window – into the wind. Mother Nature stole his cap more than once, and as the story goes, he set out to get her back.
In 1903, he asked Ida (now his wife and an excellent seamstress) to modify an old baseball cap to help keep it on in windy weather. The all-cloth cap with the soft, canvas visor was a departure from the traditional fedoras of the day, but it was more comfortable and because of it’s six-panel fit, it stayed put.
Soon other railroad workers wanted one of Stormy Kromer’s caps for themselves, and when Ida could no longer keep up with demand, they hired a few employees and the business was born.
A lot of things have changed since those first few caps – new colors, new fabrics, new styles – but we haven’t changed the way we make ‘em. They’re hand-stitched right here in the good old U-S-of-A, and they’re still made to fit better than anything you’ve had next to your noggin. Stormy Kromer caps are true to the original, and that means you get all the comfort and function that made them famous.
The Amana Woolen Mill is an integral part of the fabric of Amana history. In 18th century Germany, Amana forefathers founded the “Church of the True Inspiration.” Seeking religious freedom, they endured hardship and persecution for over a century.
A woolen mill was privately owned by several Inspirationalist families. Demonstrating the depth of their convictions, they liquidated the mill and donated the funds to to help purchase passage for 800 members to emigrate to America. By pooling their resources, the sect established a settlement near Buffalo, New York in 1842. Here they adopted the communal way of life. As the growth of Buffalo encroached upon their insular community, the Inspirationists looked west, and in 1855 settled in eastern Iowa.
They erected the first of seven villages and named “Amana” from a bible passage meaning “to remain faithful.”
Farming and industry were established, including the woolen mill which started operation in Amana in 1857. The members of the Amana Society lived peacefully and prospered.
Then in 1923, tragedy struck. The flour mill in Amana exploded, creating a blaze that consumed thirteen buildings. The Woolen Mill was destroyed except for the weaving department. This blow precipitated the pivotal event in Amana history that followed a decade later.
The depression, coupled with rapidly changing times compelled the Amana Society to end their communal way of life and reorganize into a privately held corporation. This is known as the “Great Change of 1932″.
In 1934, the Amana Woolen Mill Salesroom opened to the general public. The mill busied itself producing blankets and yard goods, as well as heavy coating and wool fabric for clothing manufacturers.
Although down-sized in 1985 due to economic conditions, today the warping and weaving departments remain in operation producing quality blankets in wool and cotton. The Amana Woolen Mill has had a colorful history, surviving fires, floods and wind storms. Through it all, the mill’s attention to quality has remained steadfast.