Part 14: Out of School

When Brice graduated from high school, he and his father, Henry Sprouse, bought a logging truck, and they went into the pulpwood business, hauling wood. “We hired the young black guys down the road to work for us.” Along with farming, he worked at this until he was drafted into the service in 1950.

“I had two trucks at that time,” Brice said. “A Ford and a Dodge. I gave the Dodge to P.B.Smalley.” (who lived down the road, and yes his family is still there.) Brice gave the Ford truck to his daddy. “And PB kept the Dodge for two months and it was too hard a’ work for him so he give it to Daddy and took off to Baltimore. Daddy sold the Ford to Perry Ward” (a cousin about Brice’s age). Perry worked pulpwood, but he parked the truck at the farm. “I have a story about this truck that’s kinda funny.”

“Over on Dysartsville Road by Sid’s market as you go around a curve, there’s a fence right there, a big old horse jumped over the fence, and I killed it.” (I waited anxiously for the funny part.) “It was early in the morning, before daylight, it’d been foggy and the headlights just made two rays, and there was an old mule, running along in the ditch. I could see him. And I just slowed down and moved over on his side, watchin’ this mule. And all of a sudden, BOOM, the lights went out, truck’s dead. I knew I’d hit something. An old, sawmill horse, big horse, jumped off the bank right on the hood of my truck. And that put everything out of business. And I could hear him moan and groan. And I got out to see what happened, and I couldn’t see a thing. I could hear him moan. I got back in the truck. In a few minutes, another car come along and (in his lights) there laid a big ol’ horse up in front of me. So I sent the guy to get the law to come kill the horse. Of course, he died before they got there. And we spent the rest of the day hunting for the owner and couldn’t find him.”

“That night, we started home, and driving through Dysartsville saw a man walking along carryin’ a bridle. And I stopped, and I said, ‘Have you lost a horse?’ And he said, ‘Yeah and no.’ He said a sawmill man had him stored over at his stable. Horse had been out for three days, runnin’ around and the owner hadn’t been able to catch ’em. And so the stable man had been out lookin’ for him. And I said, ‘Well, I caught him about four o’clock this morning.’ Told him where he was at. That turned out to be a bad deal.” (As I suspected, this was not a funny story, it was bad.)

“The patrol come and the man come back and he got the horse moved out of the road with another truck and hauled it away. And I told the owner I was expecting him to repair my truck. And he said, ‘No, you killed my horse.’ The patrol said, ‘No, you had a stock loss. If that horse just got out last night, it’d be a different story. A farmer saw him out running around three or four days, and he couldn’t catch him, so that’s your problem. You have to fix the man’s truck.’ And he agreed to it.”

“He wanted me to take it to Wells and Seals in Morganton, so that’s where I took it. They had it about a month. They called me one day and said the truck was ready. Anyway, in the meantime, he come up here several times and kinda made friends with the boy who was logging and he said ‘Look, I’m just an ol’ sawmiller. I don’t have a lot of money. You file a claim with your insurance company, see if they’ll pay me for my horse. If they will, and we get your truck fixed, then neither one of us will be in too bad a shape. So James Tate was my agent, and I went up and talked with him about it. He said ‘Was someone leading the horse?’ and I said, ‘No, the horse was loose.’ And he said, ‘How long was he loose?’ ‘Oh, three or four days.’ ‘No, we won’t pay for that. A horse breaks out, we’ll pay for that. Three or four days, that’s a dead deal.’ (Really!) So I forgot about it. The sawmiller was smart, and after a few days he went to see if I had filed a claim, and Tate told him I was up there and tried to file a claim but I couldn’t. So he said, ‘I’m not getting anything out of the horse, I’m not giving you anything.’ I said, ‘I’ll take you to court.’ He said, ‘You’ve already admitted guilt, you tried to file a claim.’ The sawmiller was smarter than I was. So I paid for the truck. He lost a horse and I lost a truck.” Brice’s lesson was, he said, “Don’t give anything over till it’s all over with. Don’t give away anything in advance or you’re left holding the bag. I’ve learned if you’re going to be good-hearted, do it after the settlement. Or it will cost you some money.”(I would not have been amused if it happened to me.)

A lesson learned young and well worth sharing. But all who knew Brice said he was always good-hearted and didn’t consider the money. He was also fair. Later on in life, the hunters he allowed to shoot doves on his farm walked away with a chain used to lock his gate. He told them he would have given it to them if they had asked, but now he couldn’t allow them to come back to hunt. Unless the chain was returned, no questions asked. Such a little thing to some. I’m reminded of my grandmother’s warning, “If you can’t be trusted with the small things, how can you be trusted with big things?” (That should be in the Constitution)

The hunters were surprised the next year when they were refused hunting privileges. Brice valued integrity. He showed it, and he expected it in return.

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