On his deathbed in October 2022 my dad asked me what my plans were for income during my "retirement," by which he meant making some kind of actual income from a business and not relying only on Social Security. I am a good ways off from retirement, but in any case, I picked up the conversation we had started the summer before about the Big Four Motel in Kimball, WV.
Usually my dad was not excited about my wild or crazy ideas, but when I brought up to him in August 2022 the opportunity I had to purchase the Big Four Motel in Kimball for what seemed a reasonable price, and, that someone in the know about real estate said that it was worth pursuing, he got excited. I had already been working in McDowell County, WV in some capacity on economic development issues for about six years. I had a book coming out that features the Pocahontas Coalfield as a case study. My dad had been up every "holler" in the Pocahontas Coalfield when he worked as an insurance investigator back in the 1960s and early 1970s and remembered the Big Four well.
A couple of months later, from his hospital bed in Teays Valley, WV, lifting up the oxygen mask to be able to speak more clearly, he said, "Good, good," to me as I explained I still planned to pursue the Big Four Motel. I told him I would turn my attention to it as soon as I got the edit done for my book.
Since then, both the Big Four Motel and my book about single sector rural spaces, Big Rural, have taken leaps forward. As of this writing, the book is being indexed and proofs created for my review; the motel has a business plan, and I am investigating the costs of the kind of aboveground septic system it will need.
These two projects are becoming intertwined in my life as Big Four becomes a kind of project I discuss in Big Rural. I have settled on the motel not just being a motel, but being a third space--a space for people to meet outside their homes--not only a motel but a gallery for local creative output and a place where local people can learn video production, so that they may tell their own stories.
This blog I am starting here details my journey with both Big Rural (the book) and Big Four Motel and Gallery (motel/gallery/remote work/and economic reinvestment space).
August 2022 my dad told me all he knew about who the "Big Four" were.
He was downstairs at his building and I had come to visit. It was obvious his COPD had taken a turn for the worse. He could no longer walk up the stairs at his and his wife's place. Also while talking, he faded in and out of sleeping.
In between micro-naps, he told me he had heard the story of the "Big Four" many times. According to him, they were White explorers that slept in the Big Ben area or at the Tug Fork [river] when they explored the area: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett--those he recalled, and also a French trapper that stayed there. His cousin's best friend told him this story last--some time in 1960, when working as security for US Steel in Gary, WV. Dad had told me he would look up the name of the French trapper, but he didn't get a chance to do that before entering the hospital, and then hospice, in October.
In December I pushed a version of Big Rural to my editor Courtney at Lexington Press.
January 2023 I made good on the deathbed promise and I closed on the Big Four.