Rambling fever strikes in hot dry August


By G. Sam Piatt - Contributing Columnist



The Hooker Chemical Plant in South Shore closed in the summer of 1971, putting me and more than 60 other workers out of a job. I missed just two weeks work before George Stowell, editor of The Daily Times, hired me as a news reporter.

I worked my way up to sports editor, replacing Don Lundy, who took a state reporting job in Columbus. Then, in the summer of 1973, Stowell and Publisher Bob Carl abruptly fired me.

This came after I wrote an outdoor column reporting on the fledgling Environmental Protection Agency ‘s charge that the steel mill in New Boston (which ran lucrative full page ads in the newspaper) was dumping oil into the Ohio River under cover of darkness.

I didn’t want to see that mill close. My older brother and quite a few of my friends worked there. But I thought it was a newspaper’s job to print the truth, regardless of whose toes it stepped on. Maybe the story would stop the pollution.

There were no newspaper jobs open in Ashland, Ironton or Huntington. I took a construction job helping Bizack Brothers widen U.S. 23 to four lanes through South Shore. Superintendent Louie Bizack hired me even though I was wearing a suit and tie when I hit him up for a job. He didn’t think I’d last until noon. I stayed with it two years, even though at first it nearly killed me. I ran a jackhammer busting up huge boulders.

OFF TO ASHLAND

It was Labor Day 1975 when editor Paul Sierer hired me as a reporter on the regional news staff of The Daily Independent. I came in fresh off the construction job. I was by then running a roller in compacting fill dirt, and some days driving a truck.

I had handled some writing assignments for Paul, and he excused the mud on my boots when I came in for the interview.

I had started freelancing the weekly outdoor column for Sports Editor Mike Reliford the year before. So, this marks the 45th year it has run in the Sunday sports section.

No wonder I’m getting tired.

A 40-POUND TYPEWRITER

We reporters wrote our stories on the old manual typewriters. Computer screens and keyboards were still quite a few years away.

We handed our stories – news and features – to editors Jim Todd or George Wolfford, who went through them with a blue pencil.

There were four of us in regional. Jim and George, like myself and Dan Adkins, also wrote stories. We sat almost on each other’s lap in a room about half as big as my kitchen.

The newspaper was still in the hands of the McCullohs. The first few years brothers Ben and Bob handed me the keys to a company car and a camera (with a roll of black and white film). Some days I roamed across three or four counties, looking for stuff to help fill the paper.

I could drive the company car back and forth from my home in Sand Hill, near South Shore. I came under some criticism when I installed a bumper hitch and pulled my boat to Lake Erie.

DOUBLE HOMICIDE

A couple of weeks after I hired in there was a terrible shooting in Greenup County. Photographer Phil Benton and I outran the state police cruiser in getting to the scene.

A jealous husband involved in a bitter divorce used a .22 rifle to murder his wife and her father. Her sister was shot four times but survived. The shooting happened two miles from my home.

And the people who died were friends of mine.

I returned to the paper and wrote the story. That night sleep never came close to finding me.

I covered the trial of the shooter in Greenup Circuit Court, where Judge Jimmy Atkinson handed Oscar Boyd the death penalty.

BRENNAN STEPHENS

I’m not sure what started my rambling this morning, except that I was looking at a blank computer screen and not much happening in the outdoors in this hot, dry beginning of August.

Congratulations to Brennan Stephens, an eighth grader at Rose Hill Christian School who showed some of the best shooters in the nation how to put an arrow in the bullseye.

Sports Editor Aaron Snyder reported in last Saturday’s Independent the young archer’s accomplishments in the National Championship tournament held in Nashville.

Scoring 149 out of a possible 150 in one of the events requires a steady hand and a steady nerve. And a lot of practice with his bow.

By the time Brennan is a junior or senior Rose Hill just might have a national archery champion to brag about.

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By G. Sam Piatt

Contributing Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at gsamwriter@twc.com or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at gsamwriter@twc.com or (606) 932-3619.