Ray and Eva Swallows

  It seems I’m always telling my granddaughter, Alexis, that I hope she will someday soon develop a sense of adventure. At the young age of six, she is quite reluctant to try new things, or to even taste a type of food she isn’t familiar with. When she’s visiting with us, and she’s encouraged to try something she’s never done before and she doesn’t want to, I always tell her she’s going to miss out a lot of fun things unless she becomes a person who has a sense of adventure. But I met someone recently who evidently has never been lacking of an adventurous spirit. The gentleman I refer to is Ray Swallows of Rickman, and his life seems to have been one big adventure after another.

Ray, born 87 years ago this June 15th, to the late Frank Swallows and Mary (Gibbons) Swallows, grew up in the area that has been home to the Swallows family for 175 years. Frank Swallows worked some twenty-five years at Judd’s Store in Mirandy, Tennessee. In case there are those like myself who have never heard of Mirandy, it was located in the Dodson’s Chapel area. Part of this property was donated by Ray’s grandfather for the building of the Ivy Hill school with the stipulation that if school ceased to be held in the building, the property would be returned to the Swallows family. 1938 was the last year school was held there, and the property was returned to the Swallows family. Ray and wife, Eva, later named their property the Ivy Hill farm. Ray described his parents as being very religious as well as very loving parents. He said he and his sister, Eva Mae, were raised to do what was right. His great-grandfather, Thomas R. Dodson, was the founder of the Dodson’s Chapel Methodist church and was the very first preacher for that church.

Ivy Hill farm was one that had all sorts of farm animals. Along with mules, horses, chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks, there was a big flock of sheep. The family maintained a very large orchard on their farm also. A barn was constructed on the farm that came from two homes once located at Willow Grove. Ray and his father bought the two homes that were up for sale because of the construction of Dale Hollow dam. They paid $45 for one of the houses consisting of five rooms, and $30 for the other that had four rooms. They tore the houses down and brought the lumber back to the farm for the building of the barn.

Ray graduated from high school at Rickman, and during his senior year, he also drove a school bus. His pay for driving a bus his senior year was $1.00 a day. It wasn’t long after Ray’s senior year of school bus driving that Overton County began to let bids to individuals who wanted to drive a bus route using a privately owned bus. Ray bid on not one but two routes, and was a successful bidder for both. But there was just one problem. He didn’t have a bus. To remedy this situation, he bought a chassis from Addison Bilbrey who was the Chevrolet dealer in Livingston at that time. And with only the chassis, front fenders, no windshield, and a cushion over the gas tank, Ray, along with Ernest Carmack and Fred Boatman, who had also bought a chassis each, headed out for Fort Valley, Georgia to get a body for each school bus affixed to the chassis. The business they drove to still makes Bluebird school buses today. At that time, it was located some 100 miles beyond Atlanta. And what do you suppose the weather was like for this trip? Can you guess? Rain. And not just a shower of rain. They traveled in torrential downpours of rain. Only someone with a sense of adventure would have made such a trip, and it’s really too bad there wasn’t a picture made of those three on what had to be strange looking contraptions.

Driving a school bus was also how Ray met his life-long companion and sole mate, Eva Neal, who just happened to live on one of the routes he drove. The school bus also played a part in their plan to run away and get married. Eva and Ray decided that the day they would slip away to get married, that instead of getting off the bus when they got to school, Eva would just stay on the bus. She was 17 at the time and Ray was 23. Ray’s sister, Eva Mae, and Eva’s brother, Homer Neal, accompanied the young couple to Albany, Kentucky, where they purchased their marriage license, and the county court clerk, who was also a preacher, performed the ceremony. They all returned to Rickman that same day, and did so in time for Ray to run his bus route that afternoon. The newly married couple lived for a short while with Ray’s parents, and then moved into the old Ivy School building which Ray remodeled into a home. It was in that home that both of their daughters, Paula and Sandra, grew up. While the family was living there, Eva completed her high school education by correspondence course. She told me that on warm summer days during the time she was taking this course, she would take Paula and Sandra out to the creek that ran through their property, and while the girls played in the creek, she sat on the bank and studied.

Ray and Eva had been married only three years when Uncle Sam pointed his finger at Ray and said "I want you." He was drafted into the United States army where he served for three years. Part of his time in service, Ray was stationed in Camp Grubber, Oklahoma, some 10 or 12 miles from Muskogee. While he was there, Eva came out to visit him. By this time, she and Ray had their first child, Paula, who was only six weeks old at the time of this visit. Eva and baby Paula boarded the train in Algood, and then changed trains in Nashville for the long part of the trip. The train was packed with soldiers who were either traveling home or returning to duty, and other travelers as well, so there was no place for Eva and the baby to sit. Even though a soldier did offer his place to Eva, she told him no, and she sat on their suitcase, holding her tiny baby daughter in her arms, all the way to Oklahoma. Paula has that suitcase sitting in her family room today.

Ray bought his first car in Muskogee during the time he was in service, a 1941 Chevrolet. His father accompanied Eva on the trip to drive the car back home. On one other occasion, Eva and Ray’s sister, Eva Mae, made the trip to Oklahoma by car for a visit. During that time of war, stamps were issued for just about everything, including gasoline and tires for cars. On the return trip back home, the women had a tire to blow out, but they were lucky in that it happened in sight of a service station. And not only were they lucky that it happened there, but the kind-hearted man at the service station replaced the tire, but refused to take the stamp because he feared they might need it someplace else before they made it back home. He also suggested to them that since it was just the two women traveling a long distance by themselves, and rather than to have the worry of having car trouble again, they go to the bus station and pick out a soldier who might want to accompany them back to Tennessee. They thought this over and decided to take his advice, and sure enough, found a soldier who took them up on a offer to ride back home to Tennessee with them. As this story was being told to me, we all marveled at how trusting times were then, and that no one in their right mind would even consider doing such a thing nowadays. There’s a lot to be said for that old saying "the good ole days."

During his time in service, Ray’s unit was sent to the front lines to do battle, and it was only because he suffered an acute attack of appendicitis that kept him from going with his unit, and who knows, that might have also spared his life as well. Part of his time in service was spent in central England and in France. While serving in central England, the area where he was stationed was near the homes of two famous writers, William Haslet and Charles Darwin. Ray’s sense of adventure was not misplaced while he served his country either. He never missed an opportunity to visit nearby cathedrals, museums and art galleries. Visiting with the local people and getting acquainted with them was something else he thoroughly enjoyed. He once attended a Easter sunrise service at a cathedral near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with 15,000 other people whose voices all sang together during that special service. He told me it left such an impression on him that he has missed only one time attending a sunrise service since then, and the reason he could not attend on that one occasion was because he was recovering from a heart attack. He also attended services at Notre Dame several times while he was stationed in Paris.

After returning home from service, Ray did some carpentry work for a while, and in 1949, decided to continue his education by enrolling at Tennessee Tech on the GI bill. He received his degree and graduated in 1953. His first teaching position was at the Homestead school near Crossville. In the fall of 1954, he learned of an opening for a science teacher at Rickman High school and applied for the job. He was hired and spent the next twenty-five years teaching there. He taught biology, chemistry and physical science. He retired in 1979.

Well, you’d think that we’re near the end of the story, but it’s about this point that I learn that just how extensive Ray’s sense of adventure is. He was an avid cave explorer for many years. Now this may not sound like something very adventurous to some folks, but just wait till you hear the rest of the story. Ray, along with Jim and Charles Young, who were all referred to as experienced spelunkers, made an astounding discovery in 1962 that brought a research team from Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA to the cave where this discovery was made. An article in the August, 1962 issue of The Tennessee Conservationist had this to say about their discovery: "Jim and Charles Young realized the significance of their discovery when they encountered bones of an unusual nature deep inside a wild cave which they were exploring. Ray Swallows, science teacher in Rickman, confirmed their suspicions and reported the find to the State Geology Department. A research team from the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA, was consulted and agreed to investigate the discovery. The boys had, indeed, found two complete skeletons of the giant ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersoni) which had met death together at least 8,000 years past. This pair of bear-like creatures probably tumbled into a water filled sink inside the cave. The geological structure of the cave has no doubt changed in 8,000 years, but the bones have been remarkably preserved. The giant ground sloth was an awkward brute which grew to the size of an ox. He was a vegetarian and not aggressive toward his fellow creatures, however, his long curved claws were very formidable weapons. Bones of this species were first identified by Thomas Jefferson in 1797. The process of removing the bones without damage and packaging them for the hazardous return trip is an art which only the experts can handle. Dental picks are the primary instruments used by Allen McCrady and Harold Hamilton of the Carnegie Museum to separate the well preserved but chalky sections of bones from the surrounding dirt and rock. After their careful removal, the bones are then packed in dampened tissue paper, wrapped in burlap, and sealed with plaster. The plaster "country hams" as they were lovingly called, then had to undergo the treacherous journey out of the caverns in which they have for so long resided."

Even though the Young brothers were the ones who found the remains to the giant ground sloth, Ray told me he is the one who actually discovered the existence of the cave itself. It is known as the Roberson Cave and contains many stalagmites and stalactites, and has been described as having such scenic grandeur that the journey into the earth to see what’s there is well worth the effort. This cave is just one of many Ray has spent time exploring in.

Both Ray and Eva are very talented crafts people who have spent a number of years doing wood working. Ray carves many things out of wood, and Eva has given these items the finishing touches by beautifully hand painting his creations. I especially liked the hand-carved mushrooms Ray has done. This type of work runs in the family as well. Son-in-law, Donnie Stover, has done a lot of beautiful detailed carving, and Paula, like her mother, has completed the work with hand painting.

The warm welcome both Ray and Eva extend to anyone who pays a visit at their home is felt the minute the door is opened and the visitor is invited inside. They are both gracious and kind folks, and even today at age 86, that sense of adventure is very much evident in Ray’s smiling face. And I’m very happy to be able to include in my journal just a few of the adventures he and Eva have shared as they journeyed through a very happy life together.