Amos and Calie Rakes
By Beverly Belcher Woody
Dr. David Roycroft recently shared some fascinating stories about the previous owner of his home, Amos Rakes. When the Roycrofts purchased the Rakes home and farm, Amos and his wife Winnie were quite elderly. The Rakes’ remained in the home until their passing and the Roycrofts would often visit.
One cold, miserable January day, Dr. Roycroft and Amos were sitting by the fireplace trying to stay warm. Amos began reminiscing, “It was this time of year when me and my brother, Calie always went to Cuba. It was the 1920’s and we would drive our Model T to Atlanta and trade it for a new one. We would have to stay overnight because the dealer had to switch out the regular running gear to our old mountain gear. We would leave Atlanta, head on down to Florida, get on Highway One, and travel down to Key West. Once we got to Key West, we would take the ferry over to Havana, Cuba.”
Amos told Dr. Roycroft of their plans, “Calie and I would each have $100,000.00 in a money belt around our waist. We would purchase 100 tons of sugar (enough for the coming year) and head back home to Virginia. The sugar would be transported to the port in Wilmington, North Carolina where Norfolk & Western Railroad would haul it directly to Ferrum.” Of course, Ferrum is only a hop, skip, and a jump away from Charity.
Dr. Roycroft said that he built a shed on the farm before Amos passed away. Amos said, “Son, you built your shed right in the middle of my runway!” Amos went on to explain to Dr. Roycroft why he needed a runway.
“Calie and I had two biplanes in the 1920’s. We would hire barnstormers for $5.00 a day to make deliveries to West Virginia. We would tie a 50-gallon barrel beneath each wing. There were lookouts in the designated drop spots. When the lookout would give the all-clear signal, the co-pilot would climb out on the wing and drop the cargo onto the landing spot.”
When Dr. Roycroft asked Amos why they didn’t just drive to West Virginia, Amos (in 1980) replied, “Son, they don’t have roads out there now! What do you think they had in the 1920’s?”
Amos was the son of Turner and Martha Thomas Rakes who were both from Shooting Creek. I am sure that many folks can remember the store that Turner Rakes ran in the Charity community. In the late 1920s, Amos began dating Miss Winnie Leslie Martin, the daughter of Jethro and Ardenia Gardner Martin of Willis.
Amos told Dr. Roycroft how he wooed Miss Winnie, “My brother and I would go down to Daddy’s store. Calie would distract Daddy and I would slip up in the attic and grab a whole bunch of chocolates. I would get a barnstormer to take me up in one of our biplanes and we would fly over Winnie’s house. When Winnie would come out on the porch, I would drop the sack of chocolates down to her. Now, boy, that was courting!”
Dr. Roycroft said that “Amos Rakes was one of the most intelligent men that I have ever met, and I (Roycroft) have been around the world a time or two.” You will notice that I have shared a passenger list that I found on Ancestry that shows Amos and Calie Rakes as passengers on the S.S. Cobb, departing from Havana, Cuba and arriving at Key West, Florida. Can you imagine the gumption that it took to travel from Charity, Virginia to Havana, Cuba one hundred years ago?
Dr. Roycroft is working with Roddy Moore, recently retired director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College, “fill in the blanks” along Highway 40 from Charity Church to Ferrum College. If you have information about the land ownership of the pioneer families that lived along that route, I am sure it would be appreciated. I am certainly grateful to Dr. Roycroft for taking the time to share some of the amazing adventures of Amos and Calie Rakes!
(Woody may be reached at email@example.com.)