Friday, November 18, 2016

An Accident and a Friendship

One day in 1939, my father was driving the curving roads through Broadford, Virginia, probably on his way to work at his gas station. Suddenly, a little boy darted into the road in front of his car. He braked hard and swerved to avoid the child but to his horror, another boy chasing after the first one appeared in his path. The sound of screeching tires and a thud from the impact of the soft body stung the air. Filled with dread, Verne jerked open the car door and raced around the car to find the child lying beside the road, crying out in pain from injuries to a leg bent at an odd angle. Others came running. Relief that the boy was alive flooded Verne’s mind, but agony over the boy’s painful injury filled his heart.

Ambulances may not have been available in the small valley town, so the boy’s parents or neighbors may have driven him to the Saltville hospital where Dr. C. C. Hatfield set his leg. Then again, Dr. Hatfield may even come to the scene as his home was not far away, and doctors made house calls in those days. Whatever the case, he boy was in the hospital for a few days after his surgery. Unfortunately, the leg never healed properly, so the boy had a slight limp the rest of his life. 
Dr. C. C. Hatfield and John Whitely, c. 1939.
 The boy's name was John Campbell Whitely, nine-year-old son of Allen and Mary Whitely.[1] Verne continued a friendship with John for many years and even offered to send him to college, but the boy chose not to go. 

Verne Troutman and John Whitely, c. 1939.

A few years ago when I was in Virginia, perhaps for my mother’s funeral, a man approached me and introduced himself. “I’m John Whitely,” he said. “I was the boy your father hit with his car.” He went on to tell me how much my father meant to him, how he had befriended him and his family after the accident and had done many thoughtful things for him over the years.” I told him that Dad had occasionally talked about the accident and I knew that he had agonized over it. Dad kept pictures of the boy and would sometimes tell us the story of the accident.

[1] 1940 U. S. census, Rich Valley, Smyth County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district 87-14, sheet 3-B, visit no. 42, Allen R. Whitely household; digital image ( ; accessed 16 November 2016); NARA microfilm publication T-627, roll 4295.


  1. Zola,

    I want to let you know that your wonderful blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Zola, I found you via Jana's Fab Finds and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this story and, especially, the photos!

  3. Thank you, Marian! I appreciate your letting me know.