A Message from the Editor: “Battling up” Blair Mountain

Racing my old ’78 Yamaha DT175 “Boss”

Dear Readers,

As those of you who know me personally are aware, I live a bit of a dual life as Editor-in-Chief here at BikeBound. I’m also a novelist. I’ve authored six novels published by St. Martin’s Press and written for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Bitter Southerner, The Radavist, and others.

My ’85 Honda XR350R. Photographer: Joe Jackson at MX5000 Race

While I’ve yet to write a book about motorcycles (working on that now), motorcycles and hot rods have a way of finding their way into my work — how could they not?

A good chunk of my novel Wingwalkers takes place aboard a Harley-Davidson Model V with a sidecar and one of the stars of Gods of Howl Mountain is “Maybelline,” a ’40 Ford coupe with an OHV Cadillac ambulance engine, McCulloch supercharger, and moonshine tank in the trunk.

But rarely have motorcycles been so instrumental as they were for my new novel, Rednecks, which came out this week from St. Martin’s Press.

Rednecks is set during the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia, the largest labor uprising in US history, when up to 10,000 “redneck” coal miners marched against the coal companies who’d been using a private army of “gun thugs” to keep them from unionizing. The miners wore red bandanas around their necks and people called them “rednecks.”

If you’ve never heard of the Battle of Blair Mountain, you’re not alone. This was a slice of history the coal companies and their allies effectively buried in the aftermath of the conflict, and the term redneck would come to mean something very different over the years.

While it took many years of reading and research to write a novel about this battle and its origins, the in-the-field research was no less daunting. That’s because Blair Mountain was at serious risk of mountaintop removal within the last decade and coal companies still restrict access to the area.

The first time I tried to go up there, I ran into bullet-riddled mine security gates at every single last road I tried, paved or unpaved. Fortunately, I had an ace up my sleeve…or rather, in the bed of my truck.

I had my ‘78 Yamaha DT175 “Boss” in the back of my pick — a bike I’d brought to ride around the pits at the Mountaineer GNCC in Summit Bechtel Reserve and take on the Hatfield-McCoy Trails that crisscross the old feudlands of southern West Virginia.

“Boss” at the Mountaineer GNCC

In fact, one of the main characters in the novel is the real historical figure “Smilin’ Sid” Hatfield aka “Two-Gun Sid” — a relative of the infamous Devil Anse Hatfield of the Hatfield-McCoy War and one of the few lawmen to stand up for the coal miners.

Sid Hatfield

Well, being met with security gate after security gate, I decided to try a different tack. I started cruising around some of the surrounding hollers until a couple of white-bearded old-timers perked up at the sight of the little red DT and came walking out to the road.

Not surprisingly, they’d both owned Yamaha enduros when they were younger and loved seeing such a bike — a far cry from the tourist side-by-sides and four-wheelers that roar around the area. Soon the talk moved from motorcycles to the Battle of Blair Mountain and the many stories handed down to them from that time. Before long they were kind enough to tell me a back way up the mountain.

 

It turned out to be little more than a rocky creek, too narrow for a truck at many places. A bit brutal on the DT’s primitive suspension but doable. I hadn’t brought my full enduro gear on the trip, not expecting to ride anything aggressive, but when an opportunity presents itself…

I lost a foot-peg on a big rock near the top and had to get off the mountain with one leg sticking out to side and no rear brake, but I did get up to where far too few folks have…and came back with a story!

It just goes to show you how vintage motorcycles have a way of bringing folks together and making stories wherever they go. Later that year, I raced the DT in the AHRMA Cross Country race at Barber Vintage Festival (making the AHRMA calendar the next year!) and sold it to a friend last fall. It always makes me smile to see it out on the road…and luckily we’ve still got a ’76 DT175 in the stable.

Photo: Stephanie Vetterly for AHRMA, Barber Vintage Fest

If you’re interested in the novel, you can pick up a copy wherever books are sold. There’s a full description and links to various retailers at my publisher’s website:

REDNECKS Available Here

I hope y’all enjoy the book and hope to see you somewhere down the road.

My best to you and yours,

 

Taylor Brown
Editor in Chief | BikeBound.com
Author | Rednecks

 

5 Comments

  1. Yam DT, mine was 125cc (Swiss reg) in black, good old days. Great that yours is still running.

  2. David Disbrow

    Glad to see you are still riding the DT. She was a good bike to my son, and me . Congrats on all your new and older novels. I look forward to grabbing a copy of ” Rednecks”. Still see you have the same Toyota p’up.

    • bikebound

      Great to hear from you, David! Yes, the DT got a ton of riding in my ownership, both on road and off! I’ve recently sold it to a friend and neighbor, but I have right of first refusal when he sells it, so I have a feeling it will find its way back to me 🙂

  3. Nice story .
    Thst peg looked to have been welded up once b4 . Lol

  4. Scott Johnson

    Thanks for this column and some insight into your life and interests! Love the blog, keep up the great work💪🏼🏆

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