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Excerpts from the Letters Home
Benton Hickok

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November 14, 1934
Guntersville, Alabama

… Poor Edna Winiandy over did herself cooking, cleaning, and laundering for us to such an extent that the day after we left, Ralph was taking her to the hospital in Columbus for treatment. She was kinder to us than our own mothers could have been. I enjoyed better food there than any place I have ever been.

We left Cincinnati at 8:30 and after a very beautiful drive thru the Kentucky bluegrass region, we lunched in Lexington and watched the Armistice Day parade. On our way out we passed thru the University of Kentucky campus. Soon after crossing the Kentucky river we struck the hills. Once we noticed a roadside sign: "WHISKEY 2 ˝ MILES." The rougher the hills the larger the whiskey signs were. We spent the night in a very cozy hotel in Rockwood, Tennessee. By 10:00 A.M. Tuesday, we had passed through "Darwin's Dayton", [scene of the famous Scopes evolution trial] a terrible looking "dump." Just beyond there we crossed a mountain every bit as high as East River Mnt. We reached S. Pittsburgh, Ala., for dinner. By 2:30 P.M. we pulled into Guntersville, Ala., after a 625-mile drive from "Upper" [refers to Upper Sandusky, Ohio]. We had three toll bridges to cross on the way.

This town is absolutely the crumbiest looking dump I have had to stay in on the whole job. Actually the accommodations here are inferior to those we enjoyed in Mio, Michigan. As this town was already filled up with T.V.A., Army Engineers, and Power Co. survey parties, we had to take what we could get. Our home here is just about as squalid and dirty as the "Old Foster House." No heat with big holes broken in both our windows. A bare flue sticks up thru the center of our attic room. There are holes in the floor big enough to throw a cat thru. The toilet and bath is about as clean, tell "Pap," as the toilet in Hatchers Old Store, and to reach it we must go thru the kitchen downstairs. The old lady and her daughter who reside here look like Minerva ____ and Piercy ____. They both appear to be dope addicts. One of our fellow borders has been drunk for the last six weeks, and the local officers have beaten him so that his skull was fractured in two places and the doctor says he may go crazy at any time.. Last night I dreamed he was in our room - a raving madman sneaking in the dark.

This is all just like a terrible nightmare after the furnace heat, modern bath, and lavender bed lamps at Winiandy's. Even the nicer families here exist on an appallingly low standard of living. This is without a doubt the most primitive and crudely appointed town I have ever had to live in. It is 25 miles from the nearest railroad, and there are no paved roads for miles and miles. There is not even an A & P chain store here. In place of it there is "Noah's Ark" and "Jitney Jungle." The meals we get here are almost too foul to eat - dirty and greasy.

Yesterday in contrast to going to work over the Manhattan Bridge in New York, we took an old stern wheel river ferry-boat across the Tennessee River, then bumped along 5 miles of farm wagon trails to the scene of action. It took us until 10 o'clock to even discover the first bench mark, hidden in some briars on the bank of the Tennessee River.

Our job is find a "bust" between the Army Engineers survey in 1933 and the recently completed T.V.A. survey. Consequently, we are required to tie in with all these previously established marks.

Yesterday afternoon we managed to make about a mile progress, all of it being thru corn fields 4-feet high and unpicked cotton fields. Today we ran about three miles of levels thru cotton and corn fields, briar patches and bramble swamps. At one time we had to cross a stream at the bottom of a deep canyon, by swinging across on a wild grapevine.

At the start as well as at the finish we had to scale a rocky bluff with our instruments. With all that extremely rough going, Slug checked the 3 miles to within 3.4 millimeters of the original Army Engineers Datum.

During the last two days I have seen more poverty and squalor than ever before in my life. These natives here in the valley of the Tennessee River live just like animals. Their homes are hideous slab shacks with no "Johnny houses" at all. All the country thru here is red clay and sand interspersed with rocky ledges and scrub evergreens. I was wrong about the railroad. There is one thru here, but only freight is hauled over it. The cars are floated up the river on barges to the landing.

Saturday night - Received your letter and enterprises this morning. I read them going down the river on the old stern wheeler as it was so foggy that we couldn't begin to see the banks or even a boat length ahead….

Even though we are in a horrible "hole" of a place, there are several pleasant features. For the first time since being in Margaretville, we once again have spring water to drink, such being that of the local water supply. And here, we are being fed the first cornbread and biscuits that I have eaten since leaving Staunton, Va.

I have about gotten over my cold by now, thanks to this balmy weather. Each morning as we start out there is ice on the puddles, but from 10:30 on we can work with our shirt sleeves rolled up. For the last three days the afternoons have been from 70 to 75 degrees warm. The terrain is so rough that all week long we have managed to work only 5 miles upstream to the first landing. However, we have been checking our sections very close such as 1.3 millimeters for mile long sections. This line runs upstream to Scottsboro, Alabama.

Monday we have a sizable bayou to cross on a 30-foot long fallen tree 20-feet above the water. Hope we don't fall in with our instruments.

Unger fell down again today. Not between the rails, but between the row of cotton. We are having lots of fun - Hastings is a peach of a fellow to be with.

I hope to be seeing you all in about a month. Yowsuh!

Your devoted son,


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