Retro Crossroads 0101
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- In this episode of Retro Tennessee Crossroads we're going back to the early nineties at joining the Garbage Gals for a day on the job. Then we'll meet a woman who was known as "Memphis' Rock and Roll Granny." We'll take a ride on the Tennessee Valley Railroad and finally explore the mystery of the Melungeons of Hancock county. That's a light up for this edition of Retro Tennessee Crossroads. I'm Joe Elmore. Sure. Glad to have you. - Well, just like you at home I'll be watching these vintage segments along with Becky Magura. She's our president and CEO here at NPT. - Thank you, Joe. You know, I'm excited to take this, look back to the past at some of the favorite stories from the early days of Tennessee Crossroads. - Yeah. Well right now let's head to 1992, what do you say? - Woo, sounds good. - That's the time when a lot of jobs were, you know, considered men's work. - Hmm. - You remember? - Yeah, I do . - Well, I met some hardworking women in White Bluff who were early game changers of sorts. They called themselves the "Garbage Gals." - People kind of think I'm crazy, but people around here that know me, they know I am . - Meet Sheila Mash, and her trustee truck Buttercup. They're part of the first all female trash collection company in White Bluff, Tennessee, or perhaps anywhere for that matter. Sheila's helpers are sister Maxine and Maxine's daughter Marita. Together they cover the community. With a proficiency for collecting that's collecting rave reviews. - It's not for everybody. I, she and I, my sister we've always been kinda tomboys. I came from a family of nine kids on one big farm. It's not for everybody. - Oh, I'm crazy about these girls. They're fun girls. I've known them since they were kids. - One of the reasons the ladies like this job is that it lets 'em stay close to their homes and children. Along the route, Buttercup stopped to let off Maxine and grandson Matthew, and well guess who took Maxine's place? - Ever had any problems with dogs? - Oh yeah. Yeah, they chase us, yeah. It's okay it beats going to Nashville and finding a job and stuff. - Yeah. - And we get to be outside. That's the main thing. - You like to be outside? - Yes. - What I don't like is the rain . - Yeah. - I can stand the cold, but let it rain and oh, that's the worst time. - This is a rain or shine kind of job isn't it? - Yeah. - [Joe Elmore] Every once in a while you have to stop and pack the garbage which is about the only time you get to rest. Believe it or not, there's a kind of rhythm and flow to this job. That's kind of fun in nice weather that is. And especially after you get the hang of all this bag tossing and even learn the proper signals. Ready for lunch. There's nothing like a lunch break after you've been hard at work, collecting trash. - We're proud that y'all have such clean, nice smelling garbage. - Really nice. - People here in White Bluff are very nice. And the town council and the mayor everybody have been really open minded about being the women. You know, they gave us a chance. At first I think they were just a little amazed but now they seem like they love it. We have what I'd say 99% positive from people, attitude. Yeah. They like us. - Do you still get some strange looks though, occasionally? - Yeah. When they see buttercup eyelashes, we do they look back and see Marita or pitching, you know and realize we're women. We get lots of strange looks and a lot of laughs too. - Well, no, one's laughing now. Not even here at the Dixon county landfill where Sheila, Marita, and buttercup end their work day. Let's resist any closing lines about one man's trash being another woman's treasure or about the sweet smell of success. 'Cause sweet smelling it ain't. But we can say these cheerful, hardworking, Garbage Gals are an asset to White Bluff, Tennessee and many citizens hope they'll be around to pick up the pieces for a long time to come. - We'll see. As long as Buttercup wants to keep on doing it then I guess I will. - How cool of you to jump on the back of that truck now, did that smell very bad back there? - Back there it was great. 'cause we had the breeze, you know from the traveling Buttercup truck. But when we got to that landfill that was my least favorite part. I don't mind telling you. Well I think it's time for our next story. Jana Stanfield had the pleasure of meeting the one and only Cordell Jackson a few years back Cordell proved you're never too old to play rock and roll music. In fact, she became famous worldwide as the Rock and Roll Granny even starred in a commercial for Budweiser beer. So I'm doing my sound check Hello, hello, hello and I hear this woman's - Watch that last chord, I'll show you. - She grabbed a guitar and then she started rocking. No, I mean rocking. - [Jana Stanfield] Meet Cordell Jackson. - You're pretty good. Not. Madonna move over. Make room for Memphis's Rock and Roll Granny. 68 year old Cordell Jackson. The commercial you just saw was not Cordell's first time on the tube. Her music video was aired on MTV and VH1 and it earned her a guest slot on the David Letterman show. Cordell Jackson was playing rock and roll guitar when rock and roll began. She can still remember at age 12, getting in trouble When her father heard her playing a rock and roll version of Red River Valley. That didn't stop her though. She's still rocking at churches, conventions, and college campuses. In Memphis you'll often find her at a well known rockers night spot called the Antenna Club. - Welcome to the beautiful Antenna Club. And at this time it's my distinct pleasure to introduce to you a woman who drives a yellow Cadillac and plays a red flame guitar. The woman who put Budweiser on the map, miss Cordell, Jackson. - [Jana Stanfield] Cordell Jackson's notoriety began long before her television fame. In fact, it began before television. - My dream as a child to play on the radio. That was all there was. And since then there has been television and here we are. - [Jana Stanfield] Cordell Jackson is recognized by music historians as the first female recording engineer in the country. In 1956, she formed Moon Records the oldest Memphis record label in continuous operation. Over the years, she estimates that she's written four to 700 songs. Describing Cordell Jackson's music is difficult, even for her. - I've said it several different ways from barnyard disaster to classical. You know, I play pretty well, any type of music. And I get, I write a lot of Christian music and produce Christian music and I'm producing my first female artist in my 35 year history of Moon Records and have written the songs, and my first country. - [Jana Stanfield] Cordell says the country record she's producing on singer. Susan St. John won't be Nashville country. It will be Cordell Jackson, third world country. Cordell's desire to express her individuality dates back to childhood. When her father spent $159 for her first guitar, a K Supreme. - When I first started to play the guitar I was told by a lot of people, adult people 'cause I was only 12 years old and they'd say little girls don't play the guitar as if they were shaming me. And I would just look 'em straight in the eye and says, "well I do." That was my answer. And as I came along in the record of making business, it was unheard of. And I certainly had it mashed out on me over and over and over and over and over. And it still occurs, but I've never let that touch me. I knew what I wanted to do. God gave me my life. He didn't give it to someone else and I was always willing to live it. It's pretty simple. - [Jana Stanfield] Cordell Jackson was discovered for the commercial when two ad agency reps saw her video on public television in St. Louis. They came to see her perform and within weeks she was appearing with rocker Brian Setzer for the ad. What does she think now when she sees it? - Oh, that's me. Oh really? It's it leaves you, you forget it. And you will be sitting there in the ball game. You certainly want to see it, but for the time but the time it's a third over by time. Hey, that's me. You know, it's it leaves, it's funny how it affects you that way. - [Jana Stanfield] The ad has generated new generations of fans. Cordell has been surprised and delighted by the size of the crowds at her shows. - I mean it was raining. They were sitting there with the water, just rolling off of them nobody out the 4,000 people they said was there moved. And they stood upon hour at wit to get my autograph. And that just that's mind boggling, but I love 'em for it. And I, I really appreciate that kind of expression. - [Jana Stanfield] Magazine writers have gone wild with articles on Cordell Jackson. She has been featured in magazines from the New Yorker to the Christian Science Monitor. Spin magazine named her one of its 35 guitar gods in its 35th anniversary of rock and roll issue. While some people her age may be thinking of slowing down Cordell Jackson is enjoying her success and revving her engines for whatever comes next. Her goals for the future are simple. - I've always been doing what I enjoy doing and it's all been a happy life. Whatever comes I want to handle it well and do it well. And whatever it is, I'm gonna be happy with it. - By the way, Becky, I checked up and Cordell kept rocking until she passed away in 2004 at the age of 81 - Man, I'll tell ya - What a lady - I love, love, love that segment. And, and you know, Joe I've seen a lot of Tennessee Crossroads but I don't think I've ever seen that segment. - I guess we oughta move on to the next one. What do ya think? - Well, I hate to move on but I know we're gonna have something great. - Well, you know, the late Jerry Thompson had a lot of fans from both his newspaper columns and his stories on Tennessee Crossroads. Now he could find a story anywhere he went. Especially somewhere like the Tennessee Valley Railroad. - [ Jerry Thompson] At first glance you might think this is a story about trains And it is. But it's also about dreams. It seems the two often go hand in hand. When I was a kid, I could stand out in my yard and hear the trains go through Springfield. There's just something about the boomful whistle of the steam local motive that conjures up dreams, dreams of all kinds. Lovers' dreams of being brought together. Adventures' dreams of being taken far away to strange and exciting places. Mother's dreams of trains bringing their son safely home for more. And the dreams were as endless as a person's imagination. For me, I always dreamed of driving a steam locomotive of feeling the rumble and the power and the heat and blowing the whistle. Yeah, I guess that was the highlight of my dreams blowing the whistle. Of course, as I grew older and steam engines became obsolete. My dreams faded, but sometimes dreams even those of yesterday year do come true. I found this out on a recent visit to Chattanooga, where steam locomotives still run the rails on a regular basis. I could feel my heart pound a little faster in my mind racing back to my childhood. As I stood on the platform and watched the old six 30 pull into the east Chattanooga station. I even pinched myself just to see if I was dreaming. Dave Marshall is the operations manager for the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. The museum operates a restoration shop and a fully functional railroad. Now the engine in the old six 30, when, when was it built? - It was built in 1904, it's 84 years old now. Probably one of the oldest engines in active regular service. Now there are some older engines around. We've got some older ones here, but running every day, there are not many of 'em that, that do that. - And you carry passengers every day on the line? - Yes, sir, during the summer months we're open seven days a week. Monday through Saturday, we run seven trains a day. Sunday, we run five and every day to labor day. Then after that, we go to weekends. - Now in October, when the, all the leaves change color you have a special excursion training - Right, that's our autumn leaves special. It runs from downtown Chattanooga to Ohnata, Tennessee this year. This is our first year to Ohnata in several years. It goes up through some very scenic country as far as east Tennessee, the mountains the plateaus go it's beautiful trip. - One of the problems with the trains is turning it around. Tennessee Valley Railroad has a working turntable just for this purpose. Turntable was built in 1916 and is so perfectly balanced. It takes only a 25 horsepower motor to turn a train that weighs many tons. Not only does the museum operate a railroad they also restore local motives and rail cars. This is the Eden aisle. and this is the way corporate executives travel more than a half a century ago. This private rail car was built, especially for the president of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. He used it as a rolling office take him throughout the system and what better way to travel thick carpet solid mahogany. And what better way to keep an eye on your business? See how things are running. He can look at his own personal gauges and find out whether or not he is on schedule. You tell what the temperature was and how fast he was going. That's the way to travel. I also took a walk and tour of the yard just in case I ever wanted to buy my own rail car. How do you inspect a rail car? I did it the only way I know. - On Board. - Finally it was time for my dream to come true. I took my place in the cab of the engine. You know ever since I was a kid in Springfield growing up on a farm and I could hear the trains go through every morning. Every afternoon, the old steam engines were the most lonesome whistle I've ever heard. I always had a dream that I'd like to sit right up in the cab of one of those big, powerful local motives and even drive it. Well, part of that dream, I'm fulfilling today. I'm sitting right up in the cab with powerful steam local motives, and who knows before the day's over I might complete the rest of that dream. They might let me drive it. And they did. I found the throttle, very responsive, the engine very powerful, and the fire box very hot. But it didn't take long to get everything running smoothly. That's when I could devote my full attention to blowing the whistle, a fella can be real creative the train whistle and make it a quick blast or make it moan and grown. I brush creativity aside and I just blew the whistle. After riding in the engine, I went back to the passenger cars where I enjoyed the scenery and the freedom to relax and move around. However, some passengers left no doubt as to the soothing effect the click of the rails has on a person. Sometimes it'll even put you to sleep. As I stood at the rear of the train and watched the glisten rails play out in the endless ribbons of steel. I wondered if my young friends would remember this day as I would. I wondered if their first exposure to a train pull by steam engine would fan the flames of their dreams to a lifelong love affair with trains and with dreams too, that night. I hope so. 'Cause old six 30 stands as a huffing puffing monument to a bygone era when people had time to dream as lavishly as they can imagine. And my presence on this train and the rumble and the heat and the smell of cold smoke in the air all stands as proof that some dreams really come true. - Wow, Joe, what a beautiful storyteller that he is. - He was a great storyteller a poet and a philosopher at the same time, I think. And just could write about anything and expound upon anything that he experienced. Well, as they say in show business here's something totally different. Okay. - Right. - In 1992, a Crossroads crew and I traveled up to Hancock county and upper east Tennessee. Granted, there's not much to do up there. It's one of the poorest counties in the whole nation. What makes it unique are a group of former settlers called the Melungeons. Their origin has been a source of mystery and debate for about well two centuries, which continues to this day. - [Joe Elmore] Hancock county isn't a place you just pass through on the way to somewhere. You almost have to be heading here to arrive. If you do come here, you'll see some of the purest unspoiled scenic land in the state of Tennessee. Now, if beauty always equaled money it would be a rich area, but it's not. Economically, it ranks at the bottom of the state. And it's one of the 10 poorest counties in the nation. In fact, here in Sneedville the county seat per capita income was just over $6,000 in the most recent survey. It's a town with no industries, theaters, or golf courses, and only one aging motel with seven rooms. Still, for 6,700 hardy mountain people it's a rugged home sweet home. Hancock county is also a home for a vanishing race of people called the Melungeons. Although they've been part of the culture in this area since history's been recorded no one knows exactly who they are or where they came from. Well, the Melungeons mystery is one that Scott Collins has dedicated his life to solving. Scott works here in the courthouse where he serves as clerk master and unofficial historian his office walls bear several old pictures capturing the town's historical moments like the annual Turkey run. Now, here are some local boys heading off to World War I and journeys to strange foreign lands but the most fascinating and unique history of this region revolves around the Melungeons. An olive skinned, dark haired, English speaking people who may have arrived in the late 1500s. Scott is himself a Melungeon, who has grown increasingly interested in the mystery of his ancestors. - Of course, I've always felt like they were Portuguese sailors who shipwrecked off the coast of North Carolina. And, and that's, that's been my that's been my theory and story all the time and they kind of moved farther and farther east off the coast and moved back into this area into wilderness. And they found the rich lands and rivers in this area and had just settled here. - Recent research by Dr. Brent Kennedy of Atlanta indicates a new clue in the mystery and ties to invaders from Morocco who landed in Portugal during the seventh century, whoever they were they probably migrated to South Carolina before finding their way to Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. - We're gonna go up on Newman's Ridge. - When the first white settlers moved into this region in the early 1700s, they found Melungeons living in peace with the Cherokee Indians. Eventually though the new pioneers pushed the Melungeons out of the fertile valley and up to Newman's Ridge into a life of isolation. Scott took me to a cemetery where the earliest Melungeons settlers were buried until the 20th century at least, they suffered a lot of discrimination. They had very few legal rights and little motivation for preserving their heritage. So many of the stories and clues of their early lives are buried under the crude rock grave markers. - Here's one in 1896. - Okay. - So, but, but most of these I would think would go back at least 150 years, probably - Some stories, however, have endured through the generations. Maybe the most popular involves a large bootlegger named Mahalia Mullins. Once the sheriff tried to arrest this successful moonshiner who stayed in this mountain house mostly all of her life. - But he was invited to come on in. And so when he went in, he saw Mahalia Mullins sitting there. The big lady that she is six probably four to 600 pounds told her she was under arrest and he tried to bring her out the door and couldn't get her through the door. 'cause she was so large. So he couldn't tear the door down or tear the side of the wall out to get her out. And so he just left her and he brought the warrant back to the judge and that he had on the return catchable, but not fetchable. - In recent years, the Melungeons have intermarried and many have moved away to get work. Since most older Melungeons were told very little about their roots. Not much has been passed on to those like James Goins. - When I was born and raised right here. And, and my dad and my mother was too. And my grandpapa, he was 103 year old when he died. You just, while back - When Mr. Goins was growing up here, he says people of all origins shared a common bond and burden because of the hard times. - Well, it all depends what you're doing. If you want to work, it's alright, but if you don't wanna work, you don't wanna come around here. - Scott says a major documentary film and research project may soon completely unravel the Melungeon mystery. Retracing the journey of the people from far away lands to the mountains of Tennessee. And that may be good for all the people of this land who chosen to make a life here. And especially good for the Melungeons whose fascinating heritage and history are in danger of extinction. It's one good reason this proud Melungeon is glad to stay close to his Homeland. - Maybe I can make a difference. And that's the reason I came back and I like it here. And I guess I'll always live here. - Wow, Joe, that was such a fascinating story. And you know, I was not familiar with that story at all. - I don't think most Tennesseean are, it's kind of a remote area of the country and of the countryside and it is a mystery to this day. Nobody totally agrees to their origin. - Wow, But it just goes to show that people have come from all over and found a home right here in Tennessee. - Well, that is true. That is true, indeed. Well, I'm afraid it's time to get back to the present day but Becky and I will be back for another blast to the past the first Sunday of next month at 6:30 PM. Don't forget, we'll see you then.
Retro Tennessee Crossroads
July 03, 2022
Season 01 | Episode 01
We’re time traveling on Retro Tennessee Crossroads. First, we’ll go back to the early ‘90s and join the garbage gals for a day on the job. Then, we’ll meet a woman who was known as Memphis’s rock ‘n’ roll granny. We’ll take a ride on the Tennessee Valley Railroad. And finally, we’ll explore the mystery of the Melungeons of Hancock County.