“Slick” was a stray dog that
had found his way to the job and decided to make it his home.
He was a short hair dog that stood about 2 ft tall and weighed about 30
lbs. He was there before I got there and you couldn't ask for a better
watchdog for the job. He got the name “Slick” because he was so good
at sneaking off with the lunches of the guys that worked in the shop.
Those lunches and the food scraps that the coal truck drivers would throw
him, while dumping at the tipple, was what he ate. There was only
one person on the entire job that could touch him, other than that the
closest you could get was maybe 30 ft or so.
When I first got to Mountain Drive, Slick barked like mad at me. I guess he felt that I was invading his territory. The guys at the shop were courteous to me but I was the new guy and a Yankee to boot and as I was to later learn, it was up to me to prove myself worthy of their respect and not the other way around. Listening to the guys at the shop Slick had earned a rightful spot in their eyes. He not only was a good guard dog, he kept the nasty geese, that belonged to the neighboring farm, off the job. He had become part of the job and was talked about often, in good favor. There were a few guys thought that didn't think very much of Slick. They had very expensive coon dogs and Slick just didn't fit into that realm of thinking.
On one occasion someone called the dogcatcher in Middlesboro and told him to come and pick up the stray dog at Mountain Drive. He called back a little later about what time to come over and got the shop instead of the office. Did that ever make the guys mad. He was then told not to come up there. A while later he got the call again to come over and pick up the dog. The guys found out about it and someone called the dogcatcher and told him if he came over there after that dog he would get shot. That was that.
I guess I had been there about a year or so and was really getting fed up with Slick always barking at me whenever I walked up the hill to the hanger like I was still a new guy or something. I had the same problem with the dogs in Germany that barked at me all the time and I fixed that with dog biscuits so I decided to try the same thing on Slick. So, with a dog biscuit in hand, I made my way to the hanger one morning and here comes Slick, barking away at me. Slick kept his 30 ft but wouldn't come any closer so I tossed him the biscuit. He went for it and after a few days he only would bark a time or two to let me know he was there then he would wait for his biscuit. I could live with that.
Eventually I tossed the biscuit closer and closer in to me and over the period of maybe 2 months, I got it to where he was just an arm's length away from me waiting on that biscuit. The time finally came when I was going to try and be the very first person to touch Slick. We were at the hanger door and I had already given Slick his biscuit but he wanted another. I got another biscuit and put it down on the ground right between my legs. Slick just looked at it for a while then stretched out his neck as far as it would go and went for that biscuit. Just as his lips touched that biscuit I reached down and touched him on both sides with my hands. A split second later he was head high with me, doing flips as if he had just been blown up by a land mine. When he hit the ground he started trotting off, without the biscuit, and had the sad look of betrayal on his face.
I figured that was it, he would never have anything to do with me again. I didn't see him for a few days. Then early one morning I was almost to the shop when I felt a cold dog's nose pushing into the palm of my hand. It was Slick. Apparently, he needed some time to reason things out and had finally decided that humans aren't so bad after all, at least this one any ways. I knelt down, rubbed his head, and he loved it. After that, he would eat from my hand and even let me wrestle a little with him. Unbeknownst to me, the guys at the shop had taken notice of this and had apparently decided that if Slick says this Yankee is OK then by GOD I was too in their book as well. Soon after that, A.J. Cox, the assistant parts manager became my fishing buddy and I started getting invited around a little. Slick had opened the door for me, people wise, and I became one of the Mountain Drive family.
Several years later the geese started messing up the job again and it was noticed that Slick was missing. Some of the guys at the shop would use their lunch hour to go looking for him. The concern for Slick grew to the point that Mr. Bolton had me go up and look for him. About a week later, one of the guys that was riding back, high on a seeding truck, spotted him lying in the brush at a nearby silt pond. Someone went for a look and found that he had been shot, one time in the chest, with a 22. The guys put up a $1,000 reward for the name of the guy that shot Slick. Nobody was going to fess up to that one though.
For a time, Slick was part of the history of that job. He opened the door for me and showed me the heart that those guys had. I made a lot of friends there and do believe he will remain in many a memory for quite a long time. That was just the way it was there, you had to earn your spot.