January 2009

Our Home on Bear Run

Willa Dean Bonnell Spiker

Willa Dean Spiker's fascinating timeline from Bob & Deans first home through their last

Bob and I were married on November 2, 1946. At that time he was a student at the West Virginia Institute of Technology in Montgomery where he shared a small sleeping room in a boarding house with his cousin, Nelson Zinn. Once we were married, Nelson moved out and I moved in. The room contained little more than a bed and a place to hang our clothes, but as newlyweds we were content in our tiny “FIRST home”. By the end of the semester, however, we were considering moving “BACK home”.

The transition was at the request of Bob’s parents, Jacob and Gay. At age 66, Mr. Spiker wasn’t feeling well and was finding it difficult to keep up with his duties on the farm. They wanted to know if Bob and I could help. They asked Bob to quit college and move back home to take over the day-to-day operations. As an encouragement, they offered to loan us $3200 to purchase Port DeBrular’s 150 acre farm on Bear Run. Since the DeBrular property adjoined the Spikers’ property on one corner, we’d be close enough to offer our assistance yet retain some of our independence and privacy.

In February 1947 we packed our meager belongings and temporarily moved in with Mr. and Mrs. Spiker. The $3200 dollars they loaned us (which we agreed to pay back in installments over time) covered the full purchase price of the DeBrular farm. However, we were unable to move into the residence until the following October. The delay was because of the pumpkins.

This was a farming community where everyone relied heavily on their gardens to get them through the long winters. Mr. DeBrular had been renting his property to a couple that was still gathering their crops. As was customary, (if not the law) it was agreed that we would not displace the family “until after they harvested the last pumpkin.” Of course, this also meant that Bob and I wouldn’t be able to plant our own garden, so we shared a plot of land with Mr. and Mrs. Spiker and we canned what little produce we could raise. That first year we survived on corn, beans and potatoes.

We finally moved into the home in October 1947. The two-story house was of frame and clapboard construction. On both the upper and lower levels were two porches – one on the front and one stretching along the side. There were three bedrooms upstairs, and a kitchen, dining room and living room downstairs.

There were no bathrooms or indoor plumbing. Bob didn’t want me to have to haul water from the well outside so he ran piping to the house and installed a pitcher pump in the cubbyhole off the kitchen. We placed a basin on a nail keg for washing our hands and faces. A small, round, metal tub was removed from its peg on the wall and hauled to the center of the room for bathing. An outhouse took care of the other necessities.

We also did not have any electricity at first. Instead, we used gaslights and small gas stoves. We cooked with a 25-year-old gas oven that my mother, Elsie Bonnell, had given us, and we stored food, such as milk, butter and sugar-cured hams, in the cellar. Some time later, Bob worked with the area electric company agreeing to install utility poles all along the length of Bear Run to bring electricity to our area. He borrowed Mr. Spiker’s horses to haul the logs. My brother, Orville, who had been an electrician in the Navy, helped Bob run the electric wiring in our house.

Our furnishings were sparse for the first two years. Around that time Burns Harlan and his first cousin inherited a house full of furniture in Washington D.C. His cousin took enough furniture to fill a five-room house. Burns told us that for $100 we could take anything we wanted from what was left. After paying $50 more for a truck to haul our “new” furniture in, we filled our house! We took a refrigerator, a sweeper, a half bed, a dining room suite and a living room suite. We also took the buffet, the four-poster bed and the dresser that I still use today.

For the next several years we lived off the farm. People had to raise their own food in those days. We butchered our own beefs and hogs, and we had several laying hens for eggs. Bob milked our dairy cow and we processed the liquid into milk, cream, butter and cottage cheese.

Our garden was filled with things like green beans, lima beans, corn, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, cabbage and carrots. Carrots were never that good because you had to get the soil “just right” and we never seemed to be able to get the right mixture. We grew radishes “just because”. We didn’t like radishes but everyone else was raising them so we thought we should too.

But gardening was only part of farm life. The farm was also how we earned a living. Bob’s older brothers, Brad and Lynn, already had profitable farms of their own. Bob would frequently work on their farms to “earn” a calf or a lamb in exchange for his labor. We would raise the babies then sell them for a profit. Over time Bob “earned” enough animals to begin his own breeding program and began selling the babies to others in the community.

To pay our bills, Bob bartered his skills and took odd jobs. He attended training classes in Pullman and I went to work at a sewing factory to further supplement our income. We didn’t have a car, so I rode to work with five women from the factory while Bob borrowed Mr. and Mrs. Spiker’s Chevrolet.

Although we were making ends meet, we realized we needed a more consistent form of income…soon…because after struggling with infertility for eight long years, we finally received the great news that we were expecting our first child.

My Uncle Glenn Maxson (Adelene Spiker’s father) was a superintendent for Equitable Gas Company in West Union. He thought Bob would be a perfect addition to his team. Uncle Brian Shepler worked for the same company, but in the Clarksburg office. He immediately offered Bob a position, which Bob eagerly accepted. (From that day on, Uncle Glen always accused Uncle Brian of “stealing Bob away.”) So it was that Bob began “working on the gang.” In other words, he began digging ditches.

To be closer to Bob’s job at Equitable Gas, we decided to move to Clarksburg. We sold our farm on Bear Run to Adelene Spiker’s first cousin, Virginia Pierce-Pratt and her husband, Dale Pratt for $4200.

Around this same time, I began experiencing a few problems with my pregnancy. It had taken us so long to conceive that we certainly did not want to take any chances, so my doctor ordered me to bed. I had to resign from the sewing factory and was forced to rest at home. It must have worked because in May 1954, I delivered a beautiful and healthy baby girl. We named her Cathy Roeanna.

Bob was still borrowing Mr. and Mrs. Spiker’s car. He’d use it to go to work during the week and would take his parents to run their errands on the weekend. Unfortunately, he didn’t have use of the vehicle when Cathy was born and couldn’t bring us home from the hospital. We immediately decided to use the profits from the sale of the farm to buy our own car – a yellow Plymouth that we purchased in Philippi.

I didn’t get my drivers license until after Cathy was born. We laid her down on the front seat between us as Bob taught me to drive. I had always heard you shouldn’t let your husband give you driving lessons but it was no problem for us. Bob was a wonderful and very patient teacher.

Over the years, Bob worked his way up through the ranks at Equitable. Hearing that an office position was coming open, he took night classes to learn typing and other office skills. Soon he would become the Division Superintendent, a position he held until he retired after 30 years of service.

Our home on Clay Street in Clarksburg was actually just the upper level of a two-story house. Two other families lived in this same building, one on the first floor and the other in the basement. Our son, Jeff, was born in 1957 while we lived in this home. Five years later I became pregnant with Melanie. She was born in February 1962, shortly after we moved to our next home in Nutter Fort.

But we longed to return to the country life so in April 1965, just a week and a half before our last child, Bobbi Jo, was born, we made one final move; we purchased our home in Good Hope. The two-story house (built in the late 1800’s at a cost of $100 and an old grey mare,) along with a workshop, henhouse, two-story pigpen, small milk house and a detached garaged, rested on 20 acres of rolling hills. We purchased the farm “on time” for $10,000 and paid it off in seven years.

Once again we raised most of our own produce (but no radishes, this time) and taught our children the art of processing, canning and freezing foods to last throughout the year. We raised our own hogs and purchased beefs and chickens for butchering. We had laying hens for fresh eggs. Bob and our son, Jeff, were avid hunters so we often had deer, squirrel, rabbit and fresh fish for our meals. Occasionally we had wild turkey and wild duck.

In 1970 Bob had a major heart attack. Thinking that I may need to earn a living to protect our children if something should happen to him, I took cosmetology classes in Clarksburg. After earning my beautician’s license a year later, we renovated our adjoining cellar house into a hair salon so that I could work AND be a stay-at-home mother to our children. I operated “Dean’s Beauty Shop” from the back of our house until 1989. By then we were empty nesters enjoying our new roles as retired grandparents. We no longer had pets, farm animals or raised a garden but were confident we had successfully introduced farming – although more as a hobby than a way of life – to our next two generations.

Bob passed away at our Good Hope home on February 21, 2000 but his spirit and our wonderful memories remain here. I still sleep in the four-poster bed we bought from Burns Harlan so many years ago. And sometimes, when the house is very quiet, I can still feel Bob sleeping next to me. We bought our first home together in 1947. Our last home together will be in heaven.