"Good Morning Earlington:
Walter Martin’s Beer Story at Oldham’s Mill"

As I was talking to Mattie Martin Francis, she showed me a 1905 photo she had of the old Earlington Bee Building with a number of the "guys" –Albert Larmouth (reporter), James Mooreland, James E. Fawcett (associate editor), Walter Martin (Mattie’s dad), Mr. Dill, and Clarence Mitchell (town marshal). The town marshal is reminiscent of an old English "bobby" with his high hat, uniform, and badge. One might expect him to jump right out of the picture blowing a whistle and chasing the "bad guys." It reminded me of one of the stories written by her father Walter Martin in his down-home vernacular of some practical jokers of the time. The following is one of his stories.

"Years ago Manderson Oldham operated a grist and shingle mill on the lot between the residence of Mrs. Annie Mae Higgins and the Earlington Iron Works. On the side next to town stood the old jail. The mill burned down and I do not remember whether the jail burned or was torn down. But, anyway, later on the site of the jail Mr. Oldham rebuilt a grist mill and was in partnership with George T. Miller. Later Charlie Branson and J.C.Madison operated this mill until it burned down, and it was never rebuilt. The concrete foundation for the front porch stood for years a monument to an enterprise that flourished and lived out its day, being wrecked when the project for the colored school gymnasium was built.

But our story has to deal with the original mill. Near it stood an engine house with the belt running from it to the machinery in the mill proper. Dan W. Umstead was for years the supervisor of the machinists, electricians, carpenters, etc., for the old St. Bernard. He was the father of the late Nollie Umstead. W.D. Caveness, who was the father of Mrs. Dan Donahue, was in charge of the plumbers. He knew the location of every water main, sewer and individual pipe line in the city, but no one else did, and when he died the location of many of them was lost. And had it not been for the present street construction program, it is possible some of them would never have been relocated.

Both these gentlemen liked beer, and on one occasion they bought a keg and stored it in the engine room of the mill, whether with Mr. Oldham’s knowledge or not I don’t know. This was late in the afternoon or early evening, and they had blissful anticipations of the treat that was in store for them the following morning.

But alas for the plans of mortal man! In every Eden there is ever a serpent rearing its head in ugly disguise, to steal away fill the pleasures of the spot. And so it was on this occasion. The serpent in the Eden in this case turned out to be Ernest Brinkley, "Booney" Burke and I know not how many other of the round house gang, who discovered what was going on, and under cover of darkness proceeded to bring sorrow to Messrs Umstead and Cavaness by appropriating their beer.

Ernest Brinkley was the only one small enough to work through the hole where the belt ran through the building, so it was up to him to wiggle through and open the door to the black heated pilferers on the outside, who promptly appropriated the keg and adjourned to the round house, after leaving the building as they had fount it. I do not know how much work was done by the round house force that night, but one things is as certain as that the sun will rise in the east and that is that there was not one drop of beer left in the keg after that gang got through with it. And to hide all evidences of the crime, they broke up the keg and burnt it in the boiler of the engine room, that no trace of their nefarious deed should remain.

The next morning Mr. Umstead and Mr. Cavaness arose and with hearts free of guile and filled with joyful anticipations, went to get their beer. What was their dismay to learn that vandals had been at work and caused a black pall of sorrow to descend upon them, effectually shutting from their sight all the joys of nature and forever robbing them of their childlike faith in their fellowman. They searched high and low in the weeds, surrounding the mill, but all to no avail, while the culprits were fiendishly enjoying their discomfort from the safety of the roundhouse. I do not know if they ever found out who did the dirty work, but if they had found out that morning there is a probability that someone would have had to either fight or run—and who is able to run when he is full of beer."

Thus, is the colorful down-home rambling story of what Mr. Martin termed "a very serious matter indeed." His stories are intertwined with our history and various characters. In the telling of one story he weaves in several others as if he were rocking on his porch talking to a friend. How wonderful that so many of his "narrations" were preserved so that we too can get a chuckle from his "Tales of Old Earlington."

Ann Gipson 12-14-2001