‘Company Town Boy’

Article Published: May. 16, 2013 | Modified: May. 16, 2013
‘Company Town Boy’

Company town boys pose for a photo at Hart Spring Farm. They are (back row, from left) Harold Eastridge, Frank Kearney, Ron Coulthard (front row, from left), Bill Coulthard and Henry Kearney.
Photo courtesy of A.R. Coulthard

Ron Coulthard loves to write and can happily turn phrases on multiple platforms: poetry, country music lyrics and novels.

When he composed his 134-page memoir recently, his intention was to fashion a history book for his five children and 11 grandchildren, not produce a national bestseller.

He succeeded.

“So far,” laughs Coulthard, who self-published “Company Town Boy” through Friesen Press, “I haven’t sold very many books, but my family has enjoyed it. I’m not much at selling things. Thankfully, I don’t need the money from this book to eat.”

Coulthard, soon to be 74, exudes a delightful sparkle as he talks about his literary forays during the past half-century, 34 years of which were spent teaching English as a professor at Appalachian State University. He’s retired now on his 12-acre spread in Boone, with plenty of time to put enthusiasm and good care into his writing efforts, but on his own terms.

“I suppose I could sit around some coffee shops near campus and push my book and sign copies,” he joked. “But that is not going to happen.”

Coulthard was retired almost six years when he was sitting at home on Christmas Eve, minding his own business when the ice storm of 2008 hit. “I actually spent Christmas Day sawing my way out of the driveway,” he said.

“My daughter, Amy, joked that since I was always telling war stories about growing up in a company town — living with my two brothers and parents in a five-room house heated by a coal stove in the kitchen and without running water, but with big rats that wanted to share the outhouse — that I should take this time when I was shut in to write the memoir. I wrote it out on a legal-sized paper and finished in spring, then took it to SOS Printing and got it on a computer.”

The family history he put on paper was centered in Saltville, Va., 60 miles up the road from Boone.
Everything in Saltville revolved around Olin Chemicals Corporation, which employed 1,000 of the town’s 2,500 residents. Growing up there in the 1950s was to experience a close-knit town of friendships and rivalries in a hand-to-mouth environment, “but lots of fun.”

After Coulthard had gone off to college, later started teaching and landing his slot at ASU, Saltville died. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new pollution laws forced the shutdown of Olin Chemicals Corporation.

Sadly, this was just one year after Coulthard’s father, a brick mason at the plant for more than 25 years, had become foreman.

“He was so proud to tell me he was a ‘thousand-dollar man’ now as foreman,” Coulthard said. “That was his monthly salary, and I was too embarrassed to tell him I made a little more than that in just my second year of teaching.

“My dad retired on a pension of $100 per month, but he was a hell of a brick mason.”

Family plays a huge role in the memoir, as Coulthard intended. He spent more than $3,000 self-publishing it, and the book is available on popular online sites, like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble’s bn.com. His wife, Lynn, a retired elementary school teacher, has helped with some publicity, and online reviews have been favorable.

“Most of the Amazon sales have been online versions for $3.99,” said Coulthard, who came up with the title and used the more formal “A.R. Coulthard” as author. “I get 29 cents of that.”

But, so what, Coulthard concluded. It’s his memoir, not “Gone With the Wind.”

“Besides,” he said, “after I finished it, I felt the energy to pick up and complete a novel I had started back in 1987, ‘All-American Boy,’ and I finally just finished it.”

It happens to be his favorite novel.

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