She Drives a 1990 Chevrolet Truck


The last couple of months have changed her routine, and had it not been for the fact that health problems brought about this unwanted change, Bonnie King would still be getting behind the wheel of her 1990 Chevrolet pick up truck and heading out for Fentress County to check on her home and farm there. But she plans on getting back to her old routine when she gets to feeling just a little bit better. In the meantime, her son, Larry King, Overton County's Assessor of Property, drives her up to the Beaty Town community in Fentress County a couple of times a week to make sure everything is okay. Now for those folks who don't know Bonnie King, you might ask what's so unusual about a lady driving a pick up truck to Fentress County. And the answer might be that really, nothing is too unusual about that, but if you happen to be 85 years old, it does shed a little bit different light on the subject. Here's a little bit about the life of a lady whose 85 and still drives a pick up truck.



Bonnie Cooper King, whose parents were Jacob and Ellen Cooper, was born in the Wright's Chapel community of Fentress County on September 20, 1919. She was number six in a family of eight children consisting of three boys and five girls. Bonnie's two younger sisters were twins. She described her life growing up as not an easy one. The Cooper family raised a big garden, had chickens and cows. Eggs were sold at Pete Wright's store to buy sugar and coffee and other staples for the family. Ellen Cooper often ordered material from a Sears and Roebuck catalogue to make clothes for her family. Bonnie remembers when she was growing up that many times she rode a mule to the mill carrying along with her a white sack of shelled corn to be ground into meal for making cornbread. The girls in her family worked right along side the boys, doing the same chores the boys did. She told me how her twin sisters hooked up the team of mules to the wagon one day and went out to cut a load of fire wood. One sister sat up in front of the wagon to drive the mules while the other sister rode in the back to operate the hand brake. Just as the wagon approached a steep hill on the way back with their load of wood, the twin who was supposed to use the brake jumped out of the wagon and left her sister to manage as best she could to get down the hill without turning the wagon over. Somehow she kept the wagon under control while the sister who jumped out stood at the top of the hill and laughed.

One of the jobs Bonnie had as a young girl was keeping house for Bertha Stockton, the County Court Clerk of Fentress County. She was paid $2.50 a week and in turn, she did all the cooking, cleaning, and the washing. She could go home on the weekends.

The Cooper children attended school at Wright's Chapel, a school that also went by the nickname "Lick Skillet". The family moved from that community to Cooper's Chapel around the time Bonnie was in the seventh grade, and she completed her eighth grade year there. It was around that time that Bonnie became acquainted with Allard King, son of Jasper and Leeann (Wright) King of the Beaty Town community. An interest in basketball was something Allard had even as a grade school student. He and his brother, Carlos, both played on the high school team at Helena in Fentress County. During the years Allard and Carlos attended Helena, the two of them rented a small house in that community so they would be nearer to the Helena school, and didn't have to travel from their home in Beaty Town. Allard's father wanted his children to get a college education, and strongly encouraged them to do so. Following high school graduation at Helena, Allard enrolled in college in Pulaski, one that allowed students to work their way through. He completed two years in Pulaski before being drafted into the army. During the time Allard was going to college in Pulaski, he and Bonnie decided to get married. Since they didn't want anyone to know about their wedding plans, Allard arranged for a preacher and a witness to be present, and they all met out in a open field where the ceremony was performed. The wedding was kept secret for two or three months. Bonnie told me she could take me to the very spot where they were married.

Allard was teaching school at Sweet Gum Grove at the time he received his call to duty in the United States army. He served for fourteen months in Wyoming and in Mississippi. He was able to use his teaching experience while in the army and helped many of his fellow soldiers complete their education during the time he served. After his military duty ended, he and Bonnie moved to Cookeville where he completed his degree at Tenn Tech. Bonnie worked at Wilson Sporting Goods during the time Allard was in school there. He resumed his teaching career after graduating from Tech, and taught school at Cooper's Chapel, East Fork Chapel, and West Fentress Elementary. At each of the school where he taught, he coached both girls and boys basketball teams. One of the schools Allard's basketball teams often played against were from Independence and coached by Overton County's Wilbur C. Smith. Although these two men were rival coaches, they were also very close friends.

As time went along, the King family grew to include a daughter, Louise, a son, Larry, and another daughter, Jo Ann. Louise can remember when her mother was learning to drive, and that was in 1948 Chevrolet truck that had a stick shift in the floorboard. Larry was just a baby, and he and Louise would be placed on the seat near their mother where she bounced them around quite a bit while perfecting her skills of changing gears in the 48 Chevy. It must have been then that she developed a love of Chevrolet trucks. One thing vehicles were not equipped with when Bonnie first learned to drive was a heater, and in order to keep her young children warm when they went somewhere in cold weather, a kerosene lantern was placed in the truck. It provided some warmth for what was probably a very cold ride otherwise.

While the King children were growing up, Bonnie got a job at the shirt factory in Jamestown. She drove a 1960 Chevrolet, a car this time, a vehicle Louise described as "the car with fins." Bonnie hauled riders also employed at the shirt factory during the time she worked there. She recalled how on a snowy morning, she slid in the ditch one the many curves in the road going into Jamestown. Somehow she managed to get the car out of the ditch, and made it on into work. Many times, Allard would drive Bonnie and her riders into Jamestown if a snow had fallen the night before.

One of the ways extra money was made when the King children were small was to pick green beans from one of the large fields grown all around Fentress County. Louise remembers how they would get up very early in the mornings on the days they went to pick beans. Her father would take a truck load of people with them on these bean picking days.

Even though Allard King was a relatively healthy man, his life was cut short because of complications from gall bladder surgery. He died in 1970 at the very young age of only 55 years. After Allard's death, Bonnie continued to live on and run the family farm consisting of some 90 acres in the Beaty Town community. Up until just a couple of years ago, she lived there alone. When health problems related to congestive heart failure developed, Bonnie moved to Livingston to live with her daughter, Louise. Up until she moved in with Louise, Bonnie always made a garden, and did a lot of canning and freezing of fresh vegetables. But there is one thing she hasn't stopped doing even now, and that's drying apples. It wasn't too long ago that one of her dried apple stack cakes went for $150 at a benefit auction for the King cemetery held at the Pine Haven Community Center. A second one brought $130 and a third one brought over $100.
Bonnie and Louise still attend church at the Riverton Baptist in Fentress County, and always go by to check on things at Bonnie's home before returning to Livingston. It's really hard to believe that Bonnie is 85 years old. She certainly doesn't look it, and another remarkable thing about her is the fact that her hearing is excellent too. There aren't too many people her age or even much younger that do not suffer from some type of hearing loss.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised in another month, or maybe not even that long, the door of Louise's home closes behind Bonnie one morning, and she slides into the seat of her pick up truck to head out up the road toward Fentress County. She's a great example of someone who has been able to maintain her independence and enjoyment of life well into her 80's, and doesn't plan on this recent change of routine becoming permanent. And who knows, that Willie Nelson tune, "On the Road Again!", just might be playing on her radio the next day she takes off on Highway 52 headed East.



Members of the Allard and Bonnie King family photographed around 1966.  Pictured in front are Allard, Bonnie, and daughter, Louise.  Back row, daughter Jo Ann and son Larry.