Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Black Sheep Had a Good Side, Too.

Despite his philandering and his hot-headedness, my paternal grandfathers brother, James H. "Jim" Troutman, seems to have been a likeable, energetic, and resourceful person. He was my dad's favorite uncle.

At age 24, Jim married Mary Sue Susie Olinger, 19, daughter of William and Sarah Olinger. It was 17 August 1904. At that time, Jim was a merchant.[1] He had already started a career as a retail store owner, a career that would make him a fairly successful businessman and landowner. In addition to his store, he purchased seven different properties from various people in the valley over the years.[2]

Jim opened a grocery story at the T of Long Hollow Road and the Valley Road in Rich Valley, Smyth County, Virginia. He had a strong work ethic, his motto being, Id rather wear out than rust out. Even so, his temper put him at odds with a few of his customers. My dad chuckled as he recalled Uncle Jim telling of the time a couple of drunks came into Jims store. One of them picked up a cane that had a carving on the handle of a hand with outstretched thumb. He used the thumb on the cane to thumb his nose at Jim. In that day, this gesture was equivalent to todays raised middle finger. Jim grabbed a shotgun from under his counter and chased the men out of his store at gunpoint. On the porch, he warned them that if he ever saw them again, he would shoot them. They must have taken him seriously, as they both left the valley soon afterward.

At his home located across the road from his store, Jim's wife Susie ran an efficient and elegant household. After the dishes for each meal were washed and dried, she set her table for the next meal using her best china and glassware. She was always ready for frequent guests, my mother told me. I have fuzzy memories of eating at her table and looking at her beautiful dishes.

Home of James and Susie Troutman, Valley Rd. Saltville, Virginia, c. 1925, the house that was supposedly haunted.

 Another story Dad used to tell about Uncle Jim was that he thought his house in the valley was haunted. In the night he would hear knocking sounds that he couldnt explain. It turned out that Susie and her mother wanted to move to the town of Marion, so they had conspired to make Jim think the house was haunted. They succeeded. By 1930, Jim and Susie were living in Marion.[3]
Home of James and Susie Troutman in Marion, Virginia, c. 1936. This house was located on the lot where Pizza Hut is located today.
In 1932, when my dad graduated from high school in Nebraska, Uncle Jim wrote to him:  "Rec your Picture and it sure does look good your [sic] are a good looking Chap I know. Say you know I hate to Just send you 100 after sending the other kids 5 each but as Andy says I know you know the repression is on so you must not think hard of me for this is the hardest time I ever saw to make a dollar." He also complained about the competence of President Herbert Hoover (grammar and spelling errors are his): “[I kno]w you are not making [any] money for there is no one [wor]king any now uless its old Hover and his 53 Verne you all have one smart man in Nebr I know I read after him some and that is Senator Norris he says he dident vote for Hoover for he dident think he was the right man for President."[4] Times were tough, but a few years later, Uncle Jim offered his nephews an opportunity to make money.

In a 1936 letter, Uncle Jim encouraged my Dad (Verne) and his brother, also named Jim, to bring a load of horses to Virginia. Dad and Jim, the younger, could buy horses in Nebraska and ship them to Virginia on the train and sell them for a profit. Uncle Jim wrote, “If you all bring some good hearty kind of good colts and horses not Branded I do think they will sell good so do as you want to and Ill sure help you dispose of the horses as I am some horse trader to and sure can tell a old one from a young one.”[5]

James H. Troutman and his team of  horses, c. 1938.

Verne and his brother Jim did ship horses on the train to Virginia. Jim went back home to Nebraska, but Verne stayed on another six years. He and Uncle Jim hit it off well, and Jim helped Verne with the sale of the horses. Later, Verne opened his own filling station business at Broadford and eventually married a Saltville girl in 1940. In 1938, Uncle Jim and Verne went to Troutman, North Carolina to the Troutman Reunion, the first of many returns for Verne. 

James H. Troutman and Verne Troutman in front of the train depot at Troutmans, NC. This depot was later moved to the grounds next to the Troutman Cemetery and the Historical Association Building pictured below.

Troutman reunion, Troutman, NC, 1938; James H. Troutman and Verne Troutman are designated by arrows at right. Verne drew the arrows when he sent the photo to his family.
Jim's family and Verne also went sightseeing together on occasion, and Verne took pictures. In 1939 when Verne was gravely ill with scarlet fever, Jim and Susie cared for him in their home until he was well enough to return to his own place.[6]

Verne (at left in shadows) and Uncle Jim at a waterfall in NC., c. 1938. (Dad liked to stand in treacherous places.)

Susie, Frances, and Jim at a waterfall in NC., c. 1938

Frances Troutman at Grandfather Mountain sign, c. 1938.
In February of 1969, just a few weeks before I was to be married, my dad took me to visit Uncle Jim where he lived in a nursing home in Meadowview, Virginia, one of several such places he had lived. It seems that he would get mad at someone at one nursing home, so he would move to another one. When Dad told Uncle Jim that I was to be married soon, Jim looked at me straight in the eye.

“Will he pull?” he said. Confused, I looked at my dad. I didn’t know what Uncle Jim meant.

“That’s a horse term. A good team of horses pulls together equally. If one won’t pull and leaves the pulling to the other one, it’s not a good match,” Dad said. My dad and I assured Uncle Jim that my husband-to-be would pull, and we were right.

That’s the last time I saw Uncle Jim. He died 5 July 1970, just a few days before his 90th birthday. He was buried at the Rose Lawn Cemetery in Smyth County, next to his wife Susie.[7]
Tombstone of James H. and Mary Sue "Susie" Troutman, Rose Lawn Cemetery, Marion, Virginia; photo by Z. T. Noble, 13 Oct. 2012.

[1] Smyth County Virginia, Register of Marriages, Book 1, p. 122, James H. Troutman and Mary S. Olinger, 1904.
[2] Smyth County Book of Deeds, Index shows that James H. Troutman purchased property from the following names: Tyler, Patrick, Lewis, McCarty, Ryburn (3 properties), Olinger, and Tyler.
[3] 1930 U. S. census, Smyth County, Virginia, population schedule, Marion district, p. 99 (stamped), enumeration district [ED] 87-15, sheet 20-A, dwelling 295, family 299, James H. Troutman household; digital image ( : accessed 22 June 2015); NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 2461.
[4]  Troutman, J. H., Marion, Virginia, to Verne Troutman, Winside, Nebraska, letter, 17 May 1932, to congratulate Verne on his high school graduation; Assorted Letters, Memorabilia, and Other Papers from the Collection of Verne and Lois Troutman binder; privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana.
[5] Troutman, J. H., Marion, Virginia, to Verne Troutman, Winside, Nebraska, letter, 23 September 1936, to encourage Verne to bring horses to Virginia; Assorted Letters, Memorabilia, and Other Papers from the Collection of Verne and Lois Troutman binder; privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana.
[6]Troutman, Frances, Marion, Virginia, to Lois McIntyre, Saltville, Virginia, letter, 2 February 1939, to tell Lois about Verne’s illness and his whereabouts in James Troutman’s home; Correspondence Between Norma Lois McIntyre and Verne Clinton Troutman, 1939-1942, binder; privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana.
[7] Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 5 August 2015), photograph, memorial page for James H. Troutman (1880-1970), Find A Grave memorial no. # 98718451, citing Rose Lawn Cemetery, Marion, Smyth County, Virginia; photograph contributed by Z. T. Noble.