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Uncle Cling

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Cling Ingle was born in 1877 in Yancey, North Carolina and raised on Unaka Mountain in Tennessee. As an adult, he bought this land in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There was a foot path to this holler and a foot log across his creek. Walking was the mode of transportation.

Roan Highlands from Yellow Mountain Gap

Raising hogs, chickens, and goats put meat on the table. A cow or two provided milk and butter. In the garden were rows and hills of corn, snap beans, okra, squash, turnips, rhubarb, butter beans, melons, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Year-round hunting with a musket added to the fixings with deer, rabbit, squirrels, turkeys, pheasants, and grouse. Along with the hunting, the men and boys fished for mountain trout and perch. The main sweetener was sour wood honey from a couple of bee hives; it was called long sweetening. Strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries grew wild and were picked by all.

Image result for appalachia garden photo

Cotton provided first the thread and then clothes for the family. A spinning wheel and then a loom helped Cling’s five wives create the cloth.

Uncle Cling buried five wives and some children; they all drowned in floods. He lived in the days before Tennessee Valley Authority/TVA built dams and water reservoirs to control the water.

Besides keeping up with his home place, Cling worked as a brakeman on the CC& O railroad. His train traveled from Ohio to the train yard in Erwin, Tennessee, where the cars were shuffled to go off in different directions on separate rails. Cling’s run started in Erwin and ended up in Columbia, SC. Each car had a brake to slow it down if needed. Though small in stature, his arms were strong from cutting wood and had given his arm muscles the strength to handle an iron brake.

CSX 850 load coal south end Erwin yard

Every summer, he rode this same train to Union, South Carolina, to visit his brother Make who worked in the Union Mill. Cling stayed with Annie Mae and Roy Bobo, the daughter and son-in-law of Make. They owned a boarding house. The families would gather every evening to hear his stories; both children and adults were entertained by his holding court. Sipping on his home brew/cough medicine to “wet his whistle” broadened his story lines into funnier endings.

One year he bragged about his monthly check from the government. The US needed land to build a short-wave repeater to relay their communications over the mountains. They built a metal tower to hold the transmitter and the receiver; there was no supervisor. Cling liked the idea of the government paying him.

With his heavy eyebrows, large nose, and tight mouth, Thomas Clingham Ingle was a determined and self-sufficient man, but he had a kind heart and looked after his friends. Whether it was fire wood or a jar of honey, he was a good neighbor.


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