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West Virginia Road Pioneer William C. Markle

Claude attending President Warren G. Harding's inauguration in Washington D.C.

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Tom and Jerry, one of the yokes of cattle that Claude kept around to do plowing and hauling produce from the fields. During summer months the cattle played a major part in getting work done on the farm. One at a time they pulled the lever on the cane mill to make Molasses. They did the plowing and hauling whatever needed to be hauled in a wooden sled made for farm work. This picture was taken in 1940.
This is a tribute to my father, Claude Markle, who devoted a major part of his life to building roads and bridges in Clay County. He started his career early in life and was building roads in this county when the earth moving equipment consisted of teams of horses and slip scrapers.

Claude Markle, a pioneer road contractor and native Clay Countian had a futuristic view about the upcoming popularity of the motor vehicle and early in his life he decided to get in on the ground level of road building.

When Claude was sixteen years old he visited an aunt in Pennsylvania and observed their roads and improved highways unlike anything he'd ever seen in West Virginia where all the roads were mere wagon trails that snaked throughout the hilly countryside. When Claude returned home he said to his father,"Someday West Virgina will have roads like that and I'm going to be the man who builds them." His father just brushed it off as a farmboy's dream. But Claude had a burning desire to build roads and with a lot of hard work and determination he embarked on a career of construction work that took him back and forth across the United States and to Alaska.(Alaska wasn't one of the 48 states at that time)

  1. Claude supervised the construction of the concrete arch bridge on Church Street behind the old courthouse in the town of Clay. He brought bridge contractors in to do the job, the same ones he'd used before to erect a bridge in Charleston. He said,"When we built that bridge we put it in to stay." Both bridges, the one in Charleston on Washington Street and the one in Clay are still standing-as of 2002. They were referred to as "iron bridges" because they were the strongest of that type in existence. The bridge was built around l916 and was used chiefly by traffic going up the hill to Clay County High School. He had earlier graded out the site for the high school as well.
  2. He built a triangle at Maysel, West Virginia on his own land at no cost to the state. The triangle was the intersection for State Route 119,36,and 4.
  3. Route 36 to the Roane County Line. 119 to the top of what was called Dulls Creek Hill. (which has one mile of straight road and at that time was the longest straight section of road in the county. Route 4 for 2 miles to what was called Clay Junction, an intersection like the one he built at Maysel.
  4. One road let into Ivydale, another into the town of Clay and one back to Maysel. He built a couple of miles on the road going to Ivydale. He lost the bid for the extention to another contractor.
  5. State Route 16 alongside Elk river into Clay, through Clay, to Hartland, then on toward Lizemore and Bentree. He overseen the building of the bridge crossing Elk River going toward Widen. He built several miles of road called Widen Ridge into Swandale; the road into Widen and through Widen; and 6 miles of railroad at MiddleCreek.
  6. Pat Butcher and Okey Davis among others worked on Sunday to help build the county roads passed their homes on Laural Fork. They donated their time and Claude helped and loaned the equipment

    The old Marion Steamshovel operated by W.C. Markle Company, gnaws its way around a steep Clay County hillside on one of Claude's road construction jobs. The shovel operator and fireman are standing on the shovel and the man at right are eyeing the camera. This was the first steamshovel brought into Clay County. The picture was taken in 1921 while work was in progress on state route 4 directly in front of Ballard Carper's home. The Steamshovel played an important role in the transformation from "buggies" to the automobile. It quickly earned great respect from the road crews because it saved many hours of back-breaking labor. It accompanied by teams of horses, dump wagons, picks and shovels and lots of muscle, the first main roads began to form as the long steel arm gradually scooped up earth and rocks. Powered by thrust of steam and dedicated muscular men the necessary excavating was accomplished and rutty wagon trails became roads.

  7. The wagon trail at Maysel that led to Blueknob run close by his house at Maysel. He raised it up out of his yard by 75 feet and built a new county road, at no cost to the state, on his own land leading to Blueknob. Claude graded the road to the top of the hill, downhill a few hundred feet and snaked out passed the Sam King property; then cut a trail into Clay. John Koch cut a road down into Blueknob passed his house. Ben Pierson, took it the rest of the way to Mt. Zion School. Everybody wanted a road and Claude was always ready to build one for them. They donated their time and Claude helped and loaned the equipment. That was how three secondary roads were built; neighbor helping neighbor. It didn't cost the state one dime to get the secondary roads built.
  8. A section of Coal River Road in Boone County.
  9. In Kanawha County he built several miles of West Washington Street, supervised the placing of the little cement bridge at the turn off at Sissionville Road.
  10. Diana to Webster Springs through Webster Springs and to near Buckhannon.

Claude put all his energies and resources behind his dream of building roads and bridges to achieve success. He helped build the mighty Hoover Dam that stands on the boundary of Arizona and Nevada, a section of highway in Death Valley Nevada, and the Alaskian Railroad that extends from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Although many people believed him to be a dreamer, but he was possessed with determination to build roads, tunnels, and bridges--he accomplished what he set out to do. The driving force that took hold of him when he was young never released him until he had completed many construction projects across the country.

Clay County Banker W.Murray Smith talked openly about the knowledge he was made aware of during Claude's construction career and his accomplishments. He quoted: "I first knew him when he started doing some work around here on the roads. That was back in the years when the state Legislature decided roads should be built to connect the county seats. I saw him build the road from Clay to Two Run and probably used the first steam shovel ever in the county on that contract. Most of the work in those days was done with horses and slip scrapers. Claude also brought "Hug" an old dump truck into Clay County. It was the first truck to enter Clay County and was driven by Lee Sizemore."

`````Sitting tall, these riders and their mounts posed for this photograph after completing work on the Middle Creek Railroad. From left to right; Claude Markle,{riding "Old Painter"} Fred Colebank, H. Schoonover, and Shude Conley. Notice the can at the lower left hand corner. It contained their celebration beverage(grin)

At age nineteen, Claude started to work for Board and Duffield, a road construction company and remained with it for thirteen years until he'd saved enough money to establish a business for himself. When Road construction began in Clay County, Claude went to Jackson County and convinced James Chase to move to Clay County and do the surveying. Chase left Jackson County and stayed as a guest in the Markle home until he found a suitable place to live. Chase liked Clay County and bought property and remained in Clay until his death. He was noted as one of the best surveyors in the country and did most or all of the surveying for the roads in Clay County.

Some of the first roads Claude built were with 36 teams of horses and mules. Later, he brought the first steam shovel into Clay County. He had several construction crews going at the same time and traveled from job to job on "Old Painter" his race horse. "Old Painter" had won on the Westen Race Track seven years in a row.

The house built at Maysel, West Virginia where I grew up, was also used to board the working men. Later one room was used for a Commissary. After the road was completed in the area, a closer road camp was set up. Then a room was converted from the bunkhouse at the house into a Commissary where wives of the road men came to purchase their bulk food. It included stables such as meats, dry beans, 50# cans of lard, and flour by the barrel. Claude bought food supplies at the A&P store and sold them to the men at cost. When meat was delivered once a week, everybody gathered around and waited it's arrival. They didn't have refrigeration to preserve their meat so they just had to resort to whatever means they could to keep the meat from spoiling. Many methods were used, smoked, salt cured, and canned. Salt fish was a very popular item because it would keep for a long time and they didn't have to worry about it spoiling.

Since Claude paid better wages than anyone else in the area, it wasn't very difficult to find men ready to work. Once he needed some more men to work so he mounted "Old Painter" and rode off through the farm fields where men were working their crops. He rode up to a man fertilizing his field. Claude asked; "How much are you getting paid to do that?" The man answered, "Fifty Cents a day." Claude said, "I'll pay you five dollars a day to come work for me." The man set his bucket down and climbed on the horse behind him. The man worked eleven years for Claude.(I met the same man after my father passed away and he found out I was from Clay County and he begin to tell me the same story that my father had told me many times.

This toy steam shovel was special made for Floyd Markle, Claude's 4 year old son. He walked around the work site with a timebook in his pocket and asked men how many hours they worked. An engineer was so impressed by the child's interest in the work he had a friend of his at the Buddy Toy Company in Chicago to build him a replica of the Marion Steam Shovel. I kept it until recently trying to decide on what to do with it as there was no one who really would appreciate its history, so I donated it to the Museum at the Culture Center in Charleston, WV by their request. They contacted me about a display to honor my father's accomplishments and I thought that people could enjoy seeing the little steam shovel for years to come. The Museum is closed now for alterations but when it opens again my father alongside the little steamshovel will take their place in history Thanks to them for making it possible.

The following men worked on the roads. Henry Markle, Tomer Markle, Okey Davis, A. Crawford, Spencer Eagle, Hayward Markle, Joe Dawson, John L. Dawson, Ben Hopkins, Ballard Carper, Fred Colebank, Shude Conley, Henry Schoonover, John Davis, Curt Davis, Winston Schoonover, Fred Dawson, Lester Dobbinspeck. Wilber Lanham,(waterboy) Ben Pierson, Fuller King, Pat Butcher, Tom Graham, James Chase (waterboy),John Koch, James Chase Sr. (surveyor) Others were Mullins, Cox, Bragg, Kings, Hershman, Hamricks, Reeds, Sirk, Butcher,Nichlos, Varney, Hanshaw, Pierson, Crookshanks, Chapmans, Mullins, Summers, Hiram Young, Darnell Jones, and Charley Falls.
I don't have all the names. I wrote these down 50 years ago. If someone knows of others who worked, I'll be glad to add them.

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