Interview with Dr. French H. Moore, Jr.

Conducted on November 17, 2009, in Abingdon, Virginia
Interview conducted by Richard Smith.
Also in attendance: Tuesday Pope, Damascus Town Clerk; Elena Smith, Damascus resident.
After-interview compilation and recording by Tammy Lowe.


Dr. French Moore, Jr., along with Dr. David Brillhart and many others, was instrumental in the creation of the Virginia Creeper Trail. In this interview I ask Dr. Moore to recall some of his experiences, including the battles fought, to move this abandoned railroad bed to the popular rail trail it is today.

Richard Smith (RS):  I’d like you to start with the time before the Virginia Creeper Trail existed.  Take us back to when we were living here in Abingdon and the "Peavine" or Norfolk & Western Railroad or the ....

French Moore (FM):  VC

(RS):  Yeah, the Virginia Creeper came through here.  Just what are your memories of those days.

(FM):  Well of course that goes back to my scouting days.  Back when Gip Vance and Doug Patterson and our senior scouts masters were past being just regular scouts, we were what they called senior scouts and uh… and Gip Vance was working.  But anyway, we had a scout troop of senior scouts and we had all been scouts with Troop 222 then with the Methodist Church and they organized a senior troop.  It was a new thing, I think it was probably 16 to 18, something like that, year-olds.  And so we all got involved in that and Gil Pass had a gun shop and he also worked at the Post Office and we built a rifle range right in town (of Abingdon).  Off of Oak Hill, right in the hillside so we had a back stop and we did a lot of shooting and then we did a lot of camping too.  And so we would,… Gip was working, but we would catch the train on Friday morning, may 6 or 8 or 10 of us and we’d catch the train down here and we all carried pistols. 

What they had was combination cars, passenger and freight with the Postal, Post Office with the mail going over that way.  They put all the mail on, the guys would sort the mail as it went and then drop it off at all the little towns going over.  And, so the conductor would greet us and we’d have to lay our pistols on the back seat.  And all the passengers that didn’t know what was going on would think it was a pretty strange bunch of guys.  You know, we were just young teenagers, all of us armed.  All kinds of pistols.  My next door neighbor had been in the Second World War and he brought home a 238 9mm German and he had loaned me that and Charlie Hertz father, was not living, but he had his dad's old 38 caliber revolver, which his mother wouldn't let him have, so he would just take it anyway.

So anyhow, we would ride the train and we would ride in that combination car that had the big doors.  Most of the time it didn’t have any guardrails or nothing.  Holding on and leaning out, you know…. watching.  And I guess early days the train was steam….  So we and getting cinders in our eyes of course.   But you’d be hanging out the door and all of the sudden we would come over one of those big trestles....


(FM)    200 feet straight down…  (laughter) and the train was just about as wide as the crossties, so you know, you were really hanging out there, or we’d go by one of the big rock bluffs, and a rock would go swoosh…. Right by you. (laughter)…  not that fast, the train never went that fast. 

(FM) So we’d ride up to White Top and get our guns back and then we’d hike up to Rogers.  And I don’t know.  You’ll know some of these names:  Charlie Hurt and Gerry Henninger, Dave Ringley and all that bunch.

(RS) Yeah…

(FM)      .... just some decent guys. So anyhow we’d hike up to the flat part of Rogers where you really start to go up the steep ....

(RS) Up from what's called Massie Gap....

(FM)    And they used to keep sheep up there in the summer.   And the sheepherders had a little cabin that they’d go up there and stay in the summer.  We were usually doing this in the fall or the spring, when they hadn’t gotten there.  So a lot of times we’d sleep in that and not put tents up.

And I never will forget one time that Gerry Henninger got ahead of us.  All of the sudden we heard all this shooting going on…


(FM)    And he was coming out of the house when we got there.  We said Henninger, “What in the world are you doing?”  …..  He was shooting field mice….  (laughter) .... With an 8 caliber pistol… (laughter)

(FM)    So I remember one night we all got in our sleeping bags and we’d taken a jar top and melted the wax and stuck a candle down in it and that was the light so we thought about and we said, last guy in put the candle out.  Well we weren’t paying any attention so Henninger decides to shoot the candle…. 

trail beginning
Beginning of the trail in Abingdon:
1981 photo.


(FM)    So he shot it and wax went everywhere (laughter).  The light went out of course and we couldn’t hear for about an hour (laughter) .  And then we’d get up, and in the mornings and we’d all side on the side of that mountain.  We’d all find us a flat rock down not too far away and we’d shoot the flat rocks and the bullets would go “ping…ping” (laughter) and the bullets would go across the foliage  (laughter) ....

(FM)    I remember one night…. We were sleeping in tents this night…  We got there late, we got all of our stuff out and cooked dinner and just left it lying out.  Next morning there was that much snow ( hand gesture) and we couldn’t find our skillets and we were raking the snow trying to find our knife and fork (laughter) all covered up with snow.  But anyway, that was the earliest remembrance I have of riding the train and I was probably about 15 or 16.  Subtract that from 78, so what do you come up with?

(RS)     Yeah, 62 or 63....

(FM)    60-something years ago.

(RS)     Yeah, and you were with a good crew there.  A good variety.

(FM)    Yeah.  One night Charlie, Charlie came late and I think he rode with Dave Greenly and they came up the back side.

(RS)  Right.

(FM)    And he got up there and he says, “Oh my gosh I dropped that pistol”, he says “We gotta go find it.  My mother would kill me if she finds out I had that pistol out.”  So three or four of them went back down the trail with flashlights.  Well they found his pistol , of course it was in the mud and water.  So he got up there and he says what am I going to do with this.  And I think it was Dave Ringley says, well I’ve got some butter, just put some butter on it so it won’t rust.  It was salty butter…(laughter)


(FM)    And the next morning the gun was practically discolored from rust. (laughter). So Charlie was going to have a real time getting all the rust off the gun and getting it back home and drying it and getting it back in an old safe or wherever she kept it.  But uh, I don’t know what else we did…..

(RS)  Did you ever just walk the trail from Abingdon, did you ever just walk out through the knobs when you were a kid?

(FM)  No, I didn’t.  Now I remember that the Norfolk and Western Officials used to come down when the trout fishing was started.

(RS)     Right.

(FM)    And  they would bring a cart and they’d take a railroad car, or sometimes they would take one of those little putt-putt engines things, you know, one of those little small ones....    and go out there to the streams to fish.  I can remember that.  But when I fished we drove to Damascus and went up to Straight Branch.  I can remember in those days fishing started at 6 or 7 o’clock….

(RS)  Start of the season....

(FM)    And they would be shoulder to shoulder all the way up through there for fishing.  And I’d fish so hard, and I’m fishing right next to two guys and we’re both using the same bait and they were catching fish and I wasn’t catching any…


(FM)    My dad use to take us on that and was even younger then.

(RS)     Yeah.

(FM)    Uh. We probably walked some on the tracks.  I used to deer hunt up there too.  And we’d walk some on the tracks to get to the deer stand.  But uh, I did not, uh, I don’t remember going to….. Going on the train before the scouting trips.

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