Back when it was a boom town – home to general stores, a bank, theater and railroad stop – Durbin was the playground of a man whose life is filled with stories, some of which he can’t tell in mixed company.
Edward “Ed” Granville Keller was born in 1925, in his home in the heart of Durbin. He is the son of M. A. Keller and Ernestine Hall Keller.
“Dr. Burner had that house,” Keller said. “We lived in half of it and Dr. Burner, Mabel and Eugene lived in the other half so when Doc was ready to deliver one of the Kellers, all he had to do was walk from his back door over into our back door.”
The family later moved to “a little cottage on the other side of the Methodist Church” and then to an apartment above Kenny Rexrode’s store which is now Kinder’s Market.
Ed and his brothers, Moreau and Lewis made their own fun when they were growing up in Durbin. In a time when having indoor plumbing made you “big stuff,” fun was easy to come by.
“There wasn’t a whole lot going on,” Keller said. “We made our own fun. Where we’d walk to go to school, we tried to ski there one time. Dick Hiner was on a barrel stave and broke his ankle or something.”
A big attraction for the boys was the movie theater, where Moreau got a job so he could see the movies for free.
“There was a guy by the name of Scottie, came from Milton, Delaware,” Keller said. “Scottie had that theater right above the Upper Inn Club, so my brother, Moreau, got in with [him] and he would sweep or whatever to get in free. He said, ‘would you give my brother a job? He’s eleven.’ Scottie said, ‘I don’t think so.’ We went a lot to the movies. Scottie had two or three Dodge trucks – flat beds – and he’d have a generator and movie machines, and they’d go to Watoga and Seneca and show movies to the CC boys.”
Keller said he spent a lot of time “hanging out” at the CCC Camp in Thornwood.
While the boys didn’t have any jobs – at least no paying jobs – they were fortunate to get an allowance from their dad, who worked at the Pocahontas Tanning Company tannery in Frank.
“We were pretty fortunate because dad worked at the tannery and he would have a nickel or dime for us,” Keller said. “He was up there about forty years. He was at the tail end where the dry rollers were. They had that big shaft and this ran back and forth on a plate, and he rolled the last part of the leather after it was clear through. He was pretty fortunate that he wasn’t in where they had the vats where they cut the flesh off. I thought that was really something.”
Along with spending their allowance on movies, one of the most memorable purchase the boys made was for sodas.
“I thought it was the greatest thing in the world – Dick Oats brought Pepsi Cola to Durbin,” Keller said, laughing. “A twelve ounce bottle for five cents. Boy, we were really in.”
The boys continued their “reign” as rapscallions as they raised through the ranks at Durbin Graded School and Green Bank High School.
In 1943, just short of graduation, 18-year-old Keller made the long trek from Durbin to Marlinton where he enlisted with the Navy. He would graduate later with the class of 1945.
“I was in the Seabees,” Keller said. “All those guys that were in there had a trade – most of them. I didn’t, but I had worked for the Forest Service a little bit in the summer on their telephone lines. I thought I wanted to run a bulldozer, so that’s why I wanted to be in the Seabees. We went to Williamsburg, Virginia, and they had a battalion with four or five outfits and I ended up in a maintenance unit with three or four dozer operators and two dozers.”
After finishing his training in Williamsburg, Virginia, Keller was sent to Quonset Point, Rhode Island. Without a dozer of his own to run, Keller worked in communications for his unit.
“They put us on an old oil carrier that was converted into troop transport, so to speak, and we went down the canal zone,” he said. “When we loaded on they just had undressed blues. No markings and they were wool. Of course, in the canal zone, they said, ‘if you guys want to go ashore, you can go ashore,’ and here we were – any other sailor that was there was in dressed white and all we had were the undressed blues – but we didn’t care.”
From Rhode Island, Keller went to Finschafen, New Guinea, and on to Summit Bay near Manilla in the Philippines.
“We were there ‘til December and they put us on an escort carrier, and we came back through San Francisco under the Golden Gate Bridge into Berkeley,” he said. “Then, I got on an old troop train and came back to Ronceverte and up the Greenbrier. My service – I think it lacked about ten days from being two years.”
Back in Pocahontas County, Keller moved to Marlinton where he got a job with the Pocahontas Telephone Company.
“Jim and John Bear had two little old pickup trucks,” he said. “I was with them for about fourteen months and then I went to work for the power company the day after Labor Day in 1948. Where the line shop is [in Marlinton] – there was a brick building there and it had two big generators in it. They were adding one to boost the voltage while they were building the power plant in Reedsville.”
Keller joined the line crew for a while but the company received a boom in customers and Keller became a meter reader.
“I started reading meters out in Woodrow and Slaty Fork to the state line over there and up to Stony Bottom, around through there,” he said. “They didn’t have anything until they started building in 46 after the war. I was in the line crew some.
“I remember over at Geiger’s one time, up above Slaty Fork, I was up there and a wire had pulled lose,” he continued. “Everything then was two or three wires. I put the ladder up and was fixing that. Of course, I was doing it wrong and I pulled the wire. The ladder fell and I broke my arm. I don’t know whether I tried to fix that up or let it go. I drove back to town and Dr. Dilley set my arm, and I never missed any work.”
In the 40s, the line crew and meter readers didn’t have fancy trucks with buckets, hole diggers and four-wheel drive. They had Dodge pickups. While Keller and his coworkers were serious about their jobs, they also found time to have a little fun, with each other and the customers.
“I really liked it,” Keller said. “I knew everybody out through there. There was a lady by the name of Annie Beverage. You went out a ways and, of course, Sherman Hammons and Jack McCauley and I were really good buddies. Clarence Smith – with the crank phone – would call out there, maybe just doing it for fun, and he’d call out and say ‘wait a minute, I don’t believe Annie’s on there yet,’ and she said, ‘yes, I am so Clarence Smith.’ I tried to be out at Annie’s at lunch time reading meters.”
The fun didn’t stop when work did. The men found ways to entertain themselves, much like the Keller boys did in Durbin. Though, most of their adventures included a little liquid courage.
“We were just riding and maybe having a little toddy,” Keller said. “I remember this Plymouth I had. I think the door opened backwards and we were going out around Campbelltown around that curve and Sherman [Hammons] opened the door. I don’t know exactly where Sherman lived, but we’d get together with Sherman. We’d ask Sherman how it was going out there and he’d say ‘it’s so dry, the Williams is only running three days a week.’”
The group spent a lot of time at the El Poca.
“Arch Wooddell was in that bunch and Jack Johnson,” Keller said. “We were up here at the El Poca. Jack and I would go up there every evening. There was a [guy] who lived down the street and he was a bootlegger. Jack would say ‘got a dollar on a pint.’ Whistle [Propst] would give a dollar and I would give a dollar and [Jack] would go and get a pint down the street there. We had some fun times.”
After about six years in Marlinton, the company tried to transfer Ed to Chester, West Virginia. Ed told his first wife, Pauline, and she wasn’t keen on the idea.
“I said, ‘let’s ride up and look at the place,’ and she said, ‘I don’t even want to see it,’” he said. “I was very lucky they let me go back on the line crew in Franklin.”
Keller transferred to Franklin, where he retired after 38 years and five months of service in Pocahontas and Pendleton counties.
Keller married his second wife, Helen, in 1978. The couple resides in Franklin. Keller returned to the workforce in 1991, when he joined the staff at Kimble Funeral Home.
Although he resides in Franklin, Keller is still very much a Pocahontas County boy and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve had a lot of good times,” he said.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org