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Vernon

Rockwell Nails

By Frank Boyd

In the year 1929, our country suffered what was called the Great Depression. The Stock Market crashed and there was very very great unemployment. Men couldn't find work. I think the unemployment rate in our country was up to about 25%. I was born in late December of 1931, two years after the great crash of 1929. It was the time of CCC Camps, (Civilian Conservation Corps) and the WPA, (Works Projects Administration). These were government programs that were set up to provide work of some sort of income for unemployed men's families.

In 1933, your grandfather, Vernon Boyd, who had met Admiral Richard E. Byrd while he was in the navy, worked on his airplanes and all, decided to go with Byrd to the Antarctic on the second Byrd Antarctic Expedition. While he was gone, we went to live in Union Town with your great grandfather, Willis Rockwell, "Granddaddy Rockwell", and we lived with him there until Admiral Byrd's return in late 1935. They returned to the Port of Boston in Massachusetts. I do not remember much of the early years between 1931 and '35, but I do remember that your Aunt Peggy, Margaret Boyd, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts after your Granddaddy Vernon returned. Vernon worked for awhile as an ordnance inspector for the government, because we were in the process of getting prepared for World War II and in fact, the depression lasted until we actually got involved in World War II.

As we got closer and closer to the war, more and more work was to be had and more and more men went back to work and even later on, some women, your grandmother Louella wound up working in a war plant all during World War II. Anyway, we returned to Union Town, I guess in 1938 when I was about seven years old, and we stayed there with Granddaddy Rockwell while your grandfather Vernon went off to the south pole again. Admiral Byrd, when he came back from his second expedition, was one-half million dollars in debt, and for those years that was a lot of money. Most of the stuff involved in his expeditions were public subscriptions and donations and that sort of thing. Places like Hormel provided the meats and Reynold's Tobacco provided all of the tobacco products and that sort of thing. But even so, when they returned after the second expedition, Bryd was deeply in debt.

So what the government did, was from the Department of Interior, they formed something called the Antarctic Service and that was formed, I guess, in '37-'38 time frame, because another expedition headed by Byrd went back down to the south pole and was there during the years of '39 through '41. We didn't actually go into World War II, as you will remember, until December 7th 1941 and they had returned by then.

In the meantime, while granddaddy was gone, the government sent mom a subsistence check to take care of me and your Aunt Peggy and your grandma Louella. I think it was the grand sum of about $150 a month. There was still not a lot of work. Uncle Paul was out of work, your Uncle Paul Rockwell, my mother's brother, and the men in the family sort of came and went, but we had a rather large contingent of family living in the small house in Evans Manor in Union Town. There was your Aunt Garnett, grandma Louella's sister and her little girl Sondra, who was approximately the same age as your Aunt Peg. There was Uncle Paul and his wife Aunt Ruby and their three kids, Alice Marie, Paul Jr., and Joseph. It was a real gang and it was a small house.

So, it was decided to enlarge the house and to make more room. I believe we added on two rooms to the side of the house. And, as men were available to help, granddaddy and Uncle Paul and your grandpa Vernon, pick and shovel and wheelbarrow, they dug out a cellar location next to the house. We went down to the creek bank that was on the property. The farm there at Evans Manor was approximately five acres and granddaddy leased ten acres across the road. In that creek bank there was a ledge of flat rock, so we broke out flat rock and the men either worked for or bartered and traded for additional building materials, things like mortar so that we could build up a stone foundation. For lumber, they went and found abandoned buildings that people had moved out of and abandoned and granddaddy got the okay from the County Tax Assessor's Office to remove the structure from the property, since it was an abandoned property. So what we would do, we would borrow a horse and wagon from the family up the road and the men and the boys in the family went down and what we did was, we literally tore that house apart. When we tore it apart for the lumber, we had to be very careful about the nails. I don't know how many times I stepped on nails and got nasty punctures in my feet and had to have them treated with hydrogen peroxide and that sort of thing. But anyway, then the boys what we did was we sat there with hammers and crow bars and nail pullers. We pulled nails out of the lumber and put them into barrels, wooden barrels that were gotten somewhere, I don't know where. But, we piled all those nails in there and the lumber was loaded on the wagon and dragged back up to the building site there at the house at Evans Manor; and the men in the family proceeded to build an additional two rooms to go on the side of the house. Of course, they were obviously bedrooms.

But the nails are the interesting part of the story because, your granddaddy Vernon took an old horse shoeing anvil and mounted it on a great big chunk of stump down in the front entrance to the shop area of the barn, which was behind the house. And, into that he drilled three holes, which were the size of the three most common nails. The top of the anvil had a flat area and the anvil was a horse shoeing anvil so it had a round horn out in front of it and into that horn was where the three different size holes were drilled. Then what he did was, he painted each one of those holes with a colored stripe of paint, something like, as I recall, it was blue, yellow and red and we had three wooden barrels which were painted blue, yellow and red. And, what we boys would do, was we would sit down there at that anvil with a pair of pliers and a hammer and on the flat part of the anvil, we would straighten the nails out as best we could. And then we would drive the nails into hole that they fit into, which would straighten the nail up and trued it up and flattened the head so that the nail could be used again. Then, depending upon which stripe the nail fit into the hole was, that was the color of the barrel it went into. Well, needless to say that over the course of the year that it took us to build the house, I should say add the rooms onto the house, it was necessary to tear down another house that granddaddy had located somewhere. And it wasn't long until somebody came by who were wanting to trade for some nails. Those became known as Rockwell Nails. That's just one of the stories of how we got by.

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Copyright 2001 - Frank Boyd