I recently visited the old Whitman Creek ballfield that is now used as the Logan Timberwolves home baseball field. Prior to the many improvements that have been made to the location, it was the scene of tremendous activity for men’s and women’s softball leagues, both fast -pitch and slow -pitch. As a young boy, I used to sit in the stands and be amazed at the fast- pitch teams that existed, particularly in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Among the team names that come to mind are Gordon Foods, Amherst Coal and National Cable Repair. Of course, there were many more.
Some great players that I saw as a young boy were Jack and Jerry Baisden of the Gordon Foods team. (Jerry was and continues to be the fastest white man I’ve ever seen run on foot. Last I heard, he lived in Myrtle Beach). Jack, now in his ‘70’s, was playing in a senior softball league in Charleston just a few years ago. There were other fellows, like Esmond and Arvis Curry, both pitchers and brothers, and who were so competitive I always felt like they were trying to kill each other when they played in games where they were pitted against each other. There was also the late Ted Murray, father of Logan Magistrate Court’s Deanna Brigg; her father being a former teacher and a Mayor of West Logan. Ted was a mighty tough catcher and played for many years. I can remember a young third baseman named William “Tootie” Carter being a good player. We all know Tootie from his infamous Man High School football teams that he coached. I think back then he played for Amherst Coal. There were many others who also stood out and whose names I’ve forgotten, or maybe, I never knew.
Years later, when the games were played mostly on the Midelburg Island field, there were younger players who become stars. Guys like now State Senator Arthur Kirkendoll and former Logan High great Sid Rayburn come to mind; both of them played both fast pitch and slow pitch, a task that is not easily done, and few did it. As for myself, I played the slow- pitch games for close to 30 years, and managed a few teams after that.
So what does all of this have to do with now legendary Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin, who nearly everybody has heard of from the Battle of Blair Mountain back in 1921? Well, there is a direct connection in that one of the famous Logan sheriff’s sons owned and operated what was then Chafin Coal Company located at Rich Creek. John Chafin sponsored a softball team on which I was a member. The team was managed by Jim Evans, who worked at Chafin Coal, and was a tremendous person. John Chafin bought us uniforms, payed our league entry fee and paid tournament fees the entire summer for us. I only saw him once in my life, but only heard good things about the gentleman. Among players on the team in different years were Jerry Browning, Larry Collins, Homer Varney, Johnny “Seed” Adams, Roy “Skillet” Evans, Claude “Fuzz” Zornes, Charlie Rakes, Alvin Gleason, Teddy Conley, Larry Brammer, Art Kirkendoll, Luther Sheppard, Don Browning, Charley Hill, and brothers, Larry and Darry Jewell. I hope I am not forgetting any other players.
Here’s a savory story about Don Chafin’s son and our team’s sponsor, as told by a former employee of Chafin Coal, Clark Williamson, a distant relative of mine, and a very interesting character.
“John said he was trying to make up for what his father had done,” the former driver of a 50-ton Mack truck explained. “He was a good man and every employee liked him. Everything went smooth there. If there was a strike or something, John quickly agreed to go along with the men, and we had no problems. There was a lot of coal mined at Chafin before he contracted the company out in 1979.”
Recalling one incident, Clark Williamson laughed as he explained that, “All the truck drivers drunk, including me. John would bring liquor and give it to his employees. There were times when some of the men needed a swig to straighten them out after a rough weekend, or something. One day, I stopped a driver by the name of Byrd Nelson and asked him if he wanted a drink, and he did. There was a little white jeep with green tags on it that was behind me. He went to John and told him that he had some bad news for him. ‘Your men are drinking on the job, ’ said the inspector.
“You’re kidding,” was John’s response, looking shocked. “I’ll take care of it.”
Williamson said John Chafin called a meeting for all the men and they gathered under a huge walnut tree that stood on the mine property. When the men got there, Chafin was pacing back and forth. He finally stopped and said to the men who were responsible for making him even wealthier than he already was:
“I got the news from a State Mine Inspector today. I want you to know we are going to take care of this. He then proceeded to say, “I don’t want you drinking anymore—or any less. Meeting adjourned.”
Williamson, who said he was “big buddies” with John Chafin Jr., explained that he was offered $10,000 to go to Nashville, Tn., to record a song that Clark did and it was one John Sr., particularly liked. “Me and John Jr. drank wine and played music together all the time back then,” Williamson said.
On another occasion, the former Chafin employee recalls John Chafin’s wife coming to the mine office. “A guy by the name of Jim Brown was working one day when he saw Mrs. Chafin going into the main office. He didn’t know who she was and he whistled at her. Another employee, Bernie Ellis, thought Jim had insulted Mrs. Chafin and he took him to the office to have the man apologize to her.”
When Mrs. Chafin realized what was going on, she quickly stopped the action, according to Williamson. “Leave that boy alone,” she reportedly said. “I haven’t been whistled at in years.”
There is a tremendous history to be told concerning Don Chafin and some of the properties he once owned in Logan County, including his former house on Main Street in Logan that he donated to the Logan Woman’s Club. The structure served for many years as Logan’s only public library.
Like the name of Hatfield, the Chafin name is synonymous with Logan County. And I guess there will always be stories to be written about both.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.