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Interview with Robert E. Keim

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  • Robert E. Keim talks about playing on the mountains near Fontana Village where he lived for three years during his early teens while his dad worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the way the town seemed like a self-contained world that his family left only once in the years he lived there, and a tragic incident in which a couple of highschoolers drowned while playing in the river during a picnic. He also mentions coming regularly to the Dam Kids reunions from the 1990s and the changes he noticed had taken place in Fontana Village.
  • TRANSCRIPT: BOB KEIM Interviewee: BK BOB KEIM Interviewer: DN Dustin Norris Interview Date: October 17, 2014 Location: Fontana Dam, NC Length: 27:27 START OF INTERVIEW Dustin Norris: But yeah, I think they're really pushing to get y'all's memories down and recorded- Bob Keirn: Yeah while we're still alive. [laughter] DN: [laughing] No. Oh me. I guess we'll start off, if you could just state your name and give oral consent that we can use the interview for various things. BK: Bob Keirn. You can use my quotes and words in any decent way that you choose to do so. DN: Thank you very much sir, we appreciate it. So, when were you born if you don't mind me asking? BK: When was I born? DN: Yes sir. BK: In 1929. Just turned 85. DN: And when did you live in the village? BK: From, probably around the summer of' 42 up to the summer of' 45. Three years. I was in the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. Bob Keirn DN: Growing up-what are some of your favorite memories from growing up around here? 2 BK: Well it's funny, my memories of when I first came up here, it was in the seventh grade, the activity I remember most was playing up in the hillsides. I swear it seems like they had some mighty big boulders and rocks up here along the hills. We'd play that, and we'd play-not cops and robbers, we played war. We had little paper sacks with flour in them that you would throw like a hand grenade. They'd bust and then you'd be out, you know. And we had little guns carved out of wood, planks, sort of rifles and that kind of thing. I guess that's probably cause of World War II. Did that. .. As you know this was almost a self-contained village. Like they had a tennis court, they had roller skating, they had movies on the weekend, they had-for older folks they had dancing and all. So you really hardly ever got out ofthe village. In the three years I was here, I don't ever remember leaving the village, except for an outing. My folks went once over to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, and taking my dad to the airport when his father died up in Kansas City. And other than that I don't ever remember leaving Fontana. There was sort of a tragedy, I guess it was probably in the eighth grade, during the, sort of, a celebration of finishing grade school. They had a picnic-! don't think anybody told you about that-down by the river, upstream from the dam. A group of the high schoolers went out in the river, they were all holding hands. There were probably a dozen or so of them. And somehow or other, one of them lost connection and they all got disoriented, and two of them ended up drowning. I guess in the river they get swirling deep holes in there and sometimes they get caught in that. So I remember going over to a funeral. Over a bit farther east of here in North Carolina, for the funeral of one of the Bob Keirn girls ... Peck was her last name, can't remember her first name. So otherwise, life was pretty complete here. 3 I had a paper route while I was here. Knoxville News Sentinel. A guy delivered the papers up here and in the afternoon we'd deliver them. Sunday-he'd get up here early Sunday morning and we'd deliver them Sunday morning. Come up-behind the school there used to be a fire station, little fire truck unit there. And the housing for it down at the end of the high school-behind it. He'd deliver the papers up there and we'd pick them up. My route was up on the hillside, about forty or fifty houses. It's really funny, I wanted to save my money and buy a canoe. I don't know why I had my dreams of an old town canoe. You know having lived-my dad was an engineer, civil engineer, and we'd lived on-this was the fifth dam. Started at Norris in '35, and then the Chattanooga, Chickamauga. Then up to Hiwassee Dam, which is a village sort of like this. And then to Lenoir City for Fort Laude, and then up here. And so somehow I wanted a canoe, and my dad and the folks that were with him said, no, that'd be hard to move around. I've since found out that if you've got a canoe and you've got a professional moving company wanting to move it, you really pay through the nose. [laughter] Hauling a canoe as an extra item. And then we moved from here to Denver ... What the heck would I have done with a canoe. [laughter] We get there on VJ Day and we had to live in rooming houses for about the first, I don't know, three or four months. And eat out--eat all our meals out. So anyway, my dad said no canoe and so I ended up just buying a nice wrist watch from my savings. I had my-I babysat a few times, and back in those days they had the little RCA radios, anybody remembers them? They were about, probably twelve, fifteen inches wide BobKeim 4 and just smi of an up-oval dome, you know, about like that. Literally, as people-! don't think people realize it today-but you know how you sit around watching TV today? We would literally sit around in the living room, have the radio on to some of these shows, and listen to them almost the same as you listen to-watch TV today. You know, not all evening long but certain ones. "Fibber McGee and Molly" and a few other kind of old time shows-radio shows. That was interesting, where you just sit around like that. So anyway, on this babysitting job-they had these units that were put together, sort of mo bile-oh what do they call them-homes. You know doublewide, not trailers, but doublewide temporary homes. And there's one around the bend down here, on the way out to the hospital, and a couple there and they had a little baby. I babysat for them and they had this consoled radio, Zenith. And a Zenith radio, you may not realize it, but in those days that was the premium radio of the day, the Zenith radio. You could tune that in and I ,could get stations in Columbus, Ohio and, you know, just all over, New York City and whatever. So I just loved babysitting there, playing around with listening to different places. Because usually the radio stations you could just get sort of near local ones, that kind of thing. My folks were avid bridge players, they played duplicate bridge. I'm not sure what all the folks did here but my-you know, in the evening. But mine were bridge players, and there was apparently a good number of bridge players in the community here. And they played, I would say, probably two or three nights a week they'd play bridge. And they were real avid bridge players. The next morning, eating at breakfast sometimes on Saturday morning, they would be recounting the hands before-the night before. I played bridge some and I couldn't remember the details of the hands and the Bob Keirn order of the cards and all. Well they did that ... So that was our life ... And then as I said they had the tennis court down here so I played tennis some. Had the softball field. They-construction camp--have you been over to where the construction camp used to be? DN: I have. 5 BK: Well over there they had a big softball field and leagues. So-l don't know if it was every night of the week but a lot of nights of the week they'd have evening softball games. Often we'd go over and watch those. DN: The workers and families and stuff? BK: Well it'd be more probably the single men. And maybe men from here in the village. But it was men's softball games. So I'd go over and watch that. One time I was going over by myself and-I love black olives. So I took a can or two of black olives over there and ate them ... all. And if you wanna ever become annoyed and distasteful of something, gorge yourself on them. Because I didn't want to see a black olive for a long time after doing that. [laughter] Those are silly things. Oh and another thing we did. I hope every kid gets a chance, but around here you have a lot of these mountain streams and we had one just in our back yard. There's several of them coming down in the village here. And you go in the back yard and tum over some of these rocks and there'd be crawdads down under them. You could dam up the stream and play around with little floating boats and stufflike that. So there's some play like that. On down by the grocery store where the village-the store is and all, there used to be-and it's not there now­probably twenty years ago you'd come here, there was a cafeteria up from where those stores are. It's a big vacant area if you've noticed down there at the shopping center. Well Bob Keirn 6 that used to be a big cafeteria. When we lived here that was the big grocery store, up on the far left of that area, which is now just vacant land. And then the barber shops and all else were down there. Along down by, you know where the gas station is when you come into the village? A little bit beyond that, over to the left was a creek coming down, a bigger one, and there was a nice swimming hole over there. So we'd go skinny dipping over in that one. [laughter] And it's funny because you go down there no and try to figure out where it was-this was seventy years ago-it's grown up so much you can't-it looks like ... foliage has just grown in there you can't even figure out where in the heck it was that we were. But that was another place that we sometime hung out and played. Now the older kids, as you've interviewed, a lot of them, like Harvey [Welch], they used to hike up to Shuckstack- DN: Yeah he talked about leading hikes up there. BK: I know they did have a scout troop here, and I was in the boy scouts. We did-when we lived here, the Appalachian Trail literally was on the ridge up here around the village. They've relocated it now so it's over, further a little east of here. But when we lived here it came right along that ridge just up the back of the lodge here. So we scouts would often go up there and hike little parts of the trail and camp overnight. Did that a few times. Those are some of the-most of the activities I remember really as a kid. Sort of a variety. DN: Yeah. It seems pretty eventful. BK: Yeah, one other thing. This was sort of interesting. I was in the seventh grade and then-there was a high school down there and the grade school, which is now where the square dances are. It's big, open inside there. In between they built a little unit where Bob Keirn 7 the seventh and eighth grades came to be housed. While I was in, I guess probably the eighth grade, they built a-sort of a crafts center up on the hill just up behind it, which is still sitting there. For a while they used to have it as a craft center here. So if you go down there in that little walkway between the grade school and, what is now the grill, there's those two classrooms. Well, up a little bit there is that craft room. Kids from the school and some of the workers on the dam volunteered their time and built that craft building there. So that was an interesting project we got to work on. DN: Did that kind of thing happen a lot? Where dam workers would help build things for the village? BK: I'm not aware of a lot of-just that really. DN: Alright. You said your dad was a TV A worker. He was an engineer for the TVA? BK: Yes. Civil engineer, yeah. And he worked with more the grouting of the dam where they-down at the base-rock base, you know there's seams and cracks in the rocks and all. So they have to drill holes down twenty, fifty, sometimes eighty feet deep and pump sort of a fluid kind of a grout down there. Sort of like a concrete to fill it in so that you don't get a lot of water seepage under the dam and cause it to erode, and lose the dam. So his work was more of doing that grouting and all. And my mother, she worked pretty much all my life as a secretary. So when we were here she was a secretary over in the hospital. So at night when it came supper time I'd always see my mother and dad both in the kitchen fixing dinner. It wasn't the dad sitting in the living room relaxing while the mom fixes dinner. They were both there so I learned to be a cook early in life. Don't mind being chief cook and bottle washer and all that. I learned to play bridge, actually, in Bob Keirn high school too. As you can imagine, both of my folks being bridge players, so I was an early bridge player too. Then later in life I never met any woman who wanted to play bridge. [laughter] Dam it. DN: I actually, just last night, got asked ifl knew how to play bridge and I said, no I don't know how. BK: It's an interesting game. DN: A guy that was showing us how to play pinochle, if you've ever played pinochle. BK: No I haven't. Now have you played hearts? DN: I have. 8 BK: Bridge is sort of like hearts except a little more sophisticated. Because instead of spades always being trump, in bridge any suit can be trump and you sort of take turns and force them, bidding on what you want the trump to be and how many tricks you think you'll take. And then play it. And duplicate bridge is sort of interesting. They have trays and the trays will hold four suits. And so before the evening-say you're going to have so many tables, and maybe you're going to play sixteen or twenty hands through the evening. You will actually shuffle cards, deal out, and put in these boards predetermined hands and through the evening every couple plays every hand. Either you're playing what they call north-south or east-west, so that when the evening's over, all the north-south people have played identical hands and the east-west have played identical hands. So you can compare how well you did against others playing the exact same hand. And that's why it becomes a little more interesting, competitive, because you're comparing your skill with exact cards that others played. Now the only variation Bob Keirn is, the opponents of the others may be better or worse. So somebody with the same hand may do better or worse because their opponent's skills--or the way the happen to play it works out different. So it's sort of an intriguing variation of bridge, and all. So anyway they were playing that pretty much the rest of their lives, that type of bridge. DN: You said you left the village in '45? BK: Yeah. DN: Why did you leave then? 9 BK: Well, I guess my dad's work was done and he had to look on for another job. My folks were from Kansas City and he had graduated from the University of Missouri: School of Mines, which is now University of Missouri Rolla. So when he graduated he went, for a while, working in the oil fields. I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and then they moved to San Antonio, Texas. All in, working in the oil fields. And then back to Kansas City and I think that's sort of-some of that time is when the Depression hit. I think for a little while-my mother was working as a secretary and for a while he was unemployed probably. Then he got hired on with TVA in 1935 and moved down here. So when he left he got a job with the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver, Colorado. The Bureau of Reclamation, out in the West, is sort of like TV A here in the Southeast. So he went out there working with their office in Denver. I finished high school in Denver and he ended up getting a job with General Electric up at Hanford, which is sort of like Oakridge. Hanford was another one of the atomic energy plants: Los Alamos, Hanford, and Oakridge. He got a job up there on construction, so I moved to Washington-state and ended up going to the University of Washington. Out to the west coast for many years then. Bob Keirn DN: Did you ever come back to the village? Until the reunions started? BK: My daughter--oldest daughter, I've got four kids now, a son and three daughters. My oldest one was in the Army. She'd gone through ROTC and got her commission. She was over at-at the time I was living in northern Illinois and she was over at Fort ... uh ... over in North Carolina, what is it? Fayetteville, North Carolina. DN: Bragg? 10 BK: Is it Fort Bragg over there? I think it is, yeah. So she got married in, I think it was '81. So I drove up from northern Illinois and came through Fontana at that time. The lodge was here at that time. And my sister-! had a sister living here. She was a year and a half older than me. She was living out in Oregon. So we drive through and we go down to the restaurant down here eating dinner. While we're eating dinner, darned if I don't hear a voice that sounded familiar. She and her husband had flown into Knoxville for the wedding also, rented a car, and they were eating dinner in the lodge at the same time. So that was in '81. DN: So you just ran into them? BK: And that was before the reunions started, they didn't start until '85. So anyway, I got here to Fontana in '81. Then in-while we lived here, I don't have great memory of this but for a while my mother's sister from Kansas City came down to visit here and stayed a few months. Maybe she stayed in a--one of the dormitories, where I wasn't that aware of it. Anyway, because of that, on her-I guess it was her eightieth birthday in 1992 ... That would be her eightieth, yeah. Her family had a family reunion, sort ofthe lion clan of our family, and they held it up here at Fontana. So we were in the lodge here then. When I checked in and all, and talking about being here, the people at Bob Keirn 11 the desk told me about the reunion going on. So how Doris and the people running the reunion often discover Dam Kids, well I discovered them [laughter] by having come here and heard that they were here. So I started coming up to reunions in '92. It'd been-with the rare exception of a death in the family or something I've been coming ever since. DN: Well, what are some of the biggest changes that you noticed upon coming back, right the first time? BK: About what? DN: When you came back to the village the first time? BK: Well I was intrigued to see how much has been preserved of what was here when we lived here. How they've gone out of the way to try to preserve it and all. I don't know if anybody's commented on it, but when I first came here, over at the visitor's center-they mention they used to have an inclined railroad that would go from the visitor's center down to the powerhouse? You could get tours through the powerhouse, through the dam and all. And then when 9111 came, they literally tore that inclined railroad out of there and quit having the tours like that. But that was interesting to be able to do that. On one commemoration in 2012, the engineers in some engineer group in North Carolina had a commemoration of the engineers of the building of the dam and were over here for a ceremony during our reunion week. That prompted them to have a special tour where we got to go in the powerhouse and look at it from there. We didn't tour the dam, but rare do you get, even to get into the powerhouse nowadays on that kind of thing. So we got to do that. The other thing is, you know the village has changed hands several times, management. I can't remember the name ofthe company but it's people in Bob Keirn the construction business over in Robbinsville who now own it. Phillips and somebody, Dodge Phillips or what ... You know the- 12 DN: I can't remember, now that-I'll remember as soon as we cut that thing off. BK: Yeah. Well, eventually you note, you ought to find out who it is because the owners of it-some of the owners of it remember, as kids, coming over to Fontana. It was sort of like a community center in the area. They'd have a lot of activities here in the­down in the rec hall where the old grade school was. And music and other things. So finally, their company's big enough and they're well off enough that they bought the lease on the facility. And if you notice the rooms and the cabins have all been tremendously upgraded and improved. It's really, I think, very much thanks to them and their interest in trying to upgrade the place, and keep it as a nice place of-a resort. That I think is the thing that's happened probably just in the last ... oh, roughly the last decade. Maybe it's been a little more, plus or minus. But they've made-they've done a big contribution to it. I think the Dam Kids and a lot of people coming here can be thankful for it. So that's the biggest thing I've noticed in recent time. DN: I didn't really ask you about the kind of view of the TVA as an institution back when you were living here. But do you see any change in the way that people might have viewed the TVA then or how it's viewed now? Or how it's remembered? BK: Hard to say. I do know that-in this area that a lot of people who got ousted out of here, even the ancestry, had ill feelings about TVA because of taking the land away from their folks. I think, you know, they paid them-Ijust heard this story recently-! heard that they got thirty seven dollars an acre for their land. Well, somebody, I guess Ken on the-no not Ken--one of the boat guides Carl was telling one Bob Keirn 13 of the people on the boat tour the other day that those who hadn't settled with the government for thirty seven dollars an acre, eventually troops came in here and ousted them out oftheir homes. And they got something like five cents an acre, a just paltry amount. So a few years back, probably ten or twelve years back, we were over at Stecoah Valley and one of the Dam Kids-I won't go into details. But one of the Dam Kids--or husband of a Dam Kid-played a sort of nasty trick on the musicians and the emcee over at the Stecoah Valley festival, and said there was a world-renowned yodeler­[ Interuption] BK: Said a yodeler was present. I went up on stage to apologize but the guy announcing said-he identified being with Fontana and the Dam Kids. He said, he'd better be good because TV A took land away from my folks. And that's to the festival audience just ten years ago so you can tell that feeling was running deep there. But I better get out there for that. DN: Well sir I appreciate you staying as long as you did. BK: We pretty well covered your questions didn't we? DN: Well, yeah we got almost down to the bottom there. If there's time maybe we can keep going. BK: Okay. END OF INTERVIEW Transcribed by Dustin Norris, October 25, 2014.
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  • Robert E. Keim talks about playing on the mountains near Fontana Village where he lived for three years during his early teens while his dad worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the way the town seemed like a self-contained world that his family left only once in the years he lived there, and a tragic incident in which a couple of highschoolers drowned while playing in the river during a picnic. He also mentions coming regularly to the Dam Kids reunions from the 1990s and the changes he noticed had taken place in Fontana Village.
  • TRANSCRIPT: BOB KEIM Interviewee: BK BOB KEIM Interviewer: DN Dustin Norris Interview Date: October 17, 2014 Location: Fontana Dam, NC Length: 27:27 START OF INTERVIEW Dustin Norris: But yeah, I think they're really pushing to get y'all's memories down and recorded- Bob Keirn: Yeah while we're still alive. [laughter] DN: [laughing] No. Oh me. I guess we'll start off, if you could just state your name and give oral consent that we can use the interview for various things. BK: Bob Keirn. You can use my quotes and words in any decent way that you choose to do so. DN: Thank you very much sir, we appreciate it. So, when were you born if you don't mind me asking? BK: When was I born? DN: Yes sir. BK: In 1929. Just turned 85. DN: And when did you live in the village? BK: From, probably around the summer of' 42 up to the summer of' 45. Three years. I was in the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. Bob Keirn DN: Growing up-what are some of your favorite memories from growing up around here? 2 BK: Well it's funny, my memories of when I first came up here, it was in the seventh grade, the activity I remember most was playing up in the hillsides. I swear it seems like they had some mighty big boulders and rocks up here along the hills. We'd play that, and we'd play-not cops and robbers, we played war. We had little paper sacks with flour in them that you would throw like a hand grenade. They'd bust and then you'd be out, you know. And we had little guns carved out of wood, planks, sort of rifles and that kind of thing. I guess that's probably cause of World War II. Did that. .. As you know this was almost a self-contained village. Like they had a tennis court, they had roller skating, they had movies on the weekend, they had-for older folks they had dancing and all. So you really hardly ever got out ofthe village. In the three years I was here, I don't ever remember leaving the village, except for an outing. My folks went once over to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, and taking my dad to the airport when his father died up in Kansas City. And other than that I don't ever remember leaving Fontana. There was sort of a tragedy, I guess it was probably in the eighth grade, during the, sort of, a celebration of finishing grade school. They had a picnic-! don't think anybody told you about that-down by the river, upstream from the dam. A group of the high schoolers went out in the river, they were all holding hands. There were probably a dozen or so of them. And somehow or other, one of them lost connection and they all got disoriented, and two of them ended up drowning. I guess in the river they get swirling deep holes in there and sometimes they get caught in that. So I remember going over to a funeral. Over a bit farther east of here in North Carolina, for the funeral of one of the Bob Keirn girls ... Peck was her last name, can't remember her first name. So otherwise, life was pretty complete here. 3 I had a paper route while I was here. Knoxville News Sentinel. A guy delivered the papers up here and in the afternoon we'd deliver them. Sunday-he'd get up here early Sunday morning and we'd deliver them Sunday morning. Come up-behind the school there used to be a fire station, little fire truck unit there. And the housing for it down at the end of the high school-behind it. He'd deliver the papers up there and we'd pick them up. My route was up on the hillside, about forty or fifty houses. It's really funny, I wanted to save my money and buy a canoe. I don't know why I had my dreams of an old town canoe. You know having lived-my dad was an engineer, civil engineer, and we'd lived on-this was the fifth dam. Started at Norris in '35, and then the Chattanooga, Chickamauga. Then up to Hiwassee Dam, which is a village sort of like this. And then to Lenoir City for Fort Laude, and then up here. And so somehow I wanted a canoe, and my dad and the folks that were with him said, no, that'd be hard to move around. I've since found out that if you've got a canoe and you've got a professional moving company wanting to move it, you really pay through the nose. [laughter] Hauling a canoe as an extra item. And then we moved from here to Denver ... What the heck would I have done with a canoe. [laughter] We get there on VJ Day and we had to live in rooming houses for about the first, I don't know, three or four months. And eat out--eat all our meals out. So anyway, my dad said no canoe and so I ended up just buying a nice wrist watch from my savings. I had my-I babysat a few times, and back in those days they had the little RCA radios, anybody remembers them? They were about, probably twelve, fifteen inches wide BobKeim 4 and just smi of an up-oval dome, you know, about like that. Literally, as people-! don't think people realize it today-but you know how you sit around watching TV today? We would literally sit around in the living room, have the radio on to some of these shows, and listen to them almost the same as you listen to-watch TV today. You know, not all evening long but certain ones. "Fibber McGee and Molly" and a few other kind of old time shows-radio shows. That was interesting, where you just sit around like that. So anyway, on this babysitting job-they had these units that were put together, sort of mo bile-oh what do they call them-homes. You know doublewide, not trailers, but doublewide temporary homes. And there's one around the bend down here, on the way out to the hospital, and a couple there and they had a little baby. I babysat for them and they had this consoled radio, Zenith. And a Zenith radio, you may not realize it, but in those days that was the premium radio of the day, the Zenith radio. You could tune that in and I ,could get stations in Columbus, Ohio and, you know, just all over, New York City and whatever. So I just loved babysitting there, playing around with listening to different places. Because usually the radio stations you could just get sort of near local ones, that kind of thing. My folks were avid bridge players, they played duplicate bridge. I'm not sure what all the folks did here but my-you know, in the evening. But mine were bridge players, and there was apparently a good number of bridge players in the community here. And they played, I would say, probably two or three nights a week they'd play bridge. And they were real avid bridge players. The next morning, eating at breakfast sometimes on Saturday morning, they would be recounting the hands before-the night before. I played bridge some and I couldn't remember the details of the hands and the Bob Keirn order of the cards and all. Well they did that ... So that was our life ... And then as I said they had the tennis court down here so I played tennis some. Had the softball field. They-construction camp--have you been over to where the construction camp used to be? DN: I have. 5 BK: Well over there they had a big softball field and leagues. So-l don't know if it was every night of the week but a lot of nights of the week they'd have evening softball games. Often we'd go over and watch those. DN: The workers and families and stuff? BK: Well it'd be more probably the single men. And maybe men from here in the village. But it was men's softball games. So I'd go over and watch that. One time I was going over by myself and-I love black olives. So I took a can or two of black olives over there and ate them ... all. And if you wanna ever become annoyed and distasteful of something, gorge yourself on them. Because I didn't want to see a black olive for a long time after doing that. [laughter] Those are silly things. Oh and another thing we did. I hope every kid gets a chance, but around here you have a lot of these mountain streams and we had one just in our back yard. There's several of them coming down in the village here. And you go in the back yard and tum over some of these rocks and there'd be crawdads down under them. You could dam up the stream and play around with little floating boats and stufflike that. So there's some play like that. On down by the grocery store where the village-the store is and all, there used to be-and it's not there now­probably twenty years ago you'd come here, there was a cafeteria up from where those stores are. It's a big vacant area if you've noticed down there at the shopping center. Well Bob Keirn 6 that used to be a big cafeteria. When we lived here that was the big grocery store, up on the far left of that area, which is now just vacant land. And then the barber shops and all else were down there. Along down by, you know where the gas station is when you come into the village? A little bit beyond that, over to the left was a creek coming down, a bigger one, and there was a nice swimming hole over there. So we'd go skinny dipping over in that one. [laughter] And it's funny because you go down there no and try to figure out where it was-this was seventy years ago-it's grown up so much you can't-it looks like ... foliage has just grown in there you can't even figure out where in the heck it was that we were. But that was another place that we sometime hung out and played. Now the older kids, as you've interviewed, a lot of them, like Harvey [Welch], they used to hike up to Shuckstack- DN: Yeah he talked about leading hikes up there. BK: I know they did have a scout troop here, and I was in the boy scouts. We did-when we lived here, the Appalachian Trail literally was on the ridge up here around the village. They've relocated it now so it's over, further a little east of here. But when we lived here it came right along that ridge just up the back of the lodge here. So we scouts would often go up there and hike little parts of the trail and camp overnight. Did that a few times. Those are some of the-most of the activities I remember really as a kid. Sort of a variety. DN: Yeah. It seems pretty eventful. BK: Yeah, one other thing. This was sort of interesting. I was in the seventh grade and then-there was a high school down there and the grade school, which is now where the square dances are. It's big, open inside there. In between they built a little unit where Bob Keirn 7 the seventh and eighth grades came to be housed. While I was in, I guess probably the eighth grade, they built a-sort of a crafts center up on the hill just up behind it, which is still sitting there. For a while they used to have it as a craft center here. So if you go down there in that little walkway between the grade school and, what is now the grill, there's those two classrooms. Well, up a little bit there is that craft room. Kids from the school and some of the workers on the dam volunteered their time and built that craft building there. So that was an interesting project we got to work on. DN: Did that kind of thing happen a lot? Where dam workers would help build things for the village? BK: I'm not aware of a lot of-just that really. DN: Alright. You said your dad was a TV A worker. He was an engineer for the TVA? BK: Yes. Civil engineer, yeah. And he worked with more the grouting of the dam where they-down at the base-rock base, you know there's seams and cracks in the rocks and all. So they have to drill holes down twenty, fifty, sometimes eighty feet deep and pump sort of a fluid kind of a grout down there. Sort of like a concrete to fill it in so that you don't get a lot of water seepage under the dam and cause it to erode, and lose the dam. So his work was more of doing that grouting and all. And my mother, she worked pretty much all my life as a secretary. So when we were here she was a secretary over in the hospital. So at night when it came supper time I'd always see my mother and dad both in the kitchen fixing dinner. It wasn't the dad sitting in the living room relaxing while the mom fixes dinner. They were both there so I learned to be a cook early in life. Don't mind being chief cook and bottle washer and all that. I learned to play bridge, actually, in Bob Keirn high school too. As you can imagine, both of my folks being bridge players, so I was an early bridge player too. Then later in life I never met any woman who wanted to play bridge. [laughter] Dam it. DN: I actually, just last night, got asked ifl knew how to play bridge and I said, no I don't know how. BK: It's an interesting game. DN: A guy that was showing us how to play pinochle, if you've ever played pinochle. BK: No I haven't. Now have you played hearts? DN: I have. 8 BK: Bridge is sort of like hearts except a little more sophisticated. Because instead of spades always being trump, in bridge any suit can be trump and you sort of take turns and force them, bidding on what you want the trump to be and how many tricks you think you'll take. And then play it. And duplicate bridge is sort of interesting. They have trays and the trays will hold four suits. And so before the evening-say you're going to have so many tables, and maybe you're going to play sixteen or twenty hands through the evening. You will actually shuffle cards, deal out, and put in these boards predetermined hands and through the evening every couple plays every hand. Either you're playing what they call north-south or east-west, so that when the evening's over, all the north-south people have played identical hands and the east-west have played identical hands. So you can compare how well you did against others playing the exact same hand. And that's why it becomes a little more interesting, competitive, because you're comparing your skill with exact cards that others played. Now the only variation Bob Keirn is, the opponents of the others may be better or worse. So somebody with the same hand may do better or worse because their opponent's skills--or the way the happen to play it works out different. So it's sort of an intriguing variation of bridge, and all. So anyway they were playing that pretty much the rest of their lives, that type of bridge. DN: You said you left the village in '45? BK: Yeah. DN: Why did you leave then? 9 BK: Well, I guess my dad's work was done and he had to look on for another job. My folks were from Kansas City and he had graduated from the University of Missouri: School of Mines, which is now University of Missouri Rolla. So when he graduated he went, for a while, working in the oil fields. I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and then they moved to San Antonio, Texas. All in, working in the oil fields. And then back to Kansas City and I think that's sort of-some of that time is when the Depression hit. I think for a little while-my mother was working as a secretary and for a while he was unemployed probably. Then he got hired on with TVA in 1935 and moved down here. So when he left he got a job with the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver, Colorado. The Bureau of Reclamation, out in the West, is sort of like TV A here in the Southeast. So he went out there working with their office in Denver. I finished high school in Denver and he ended up getting a job with General Electric up at Hanford, which is sort of like Oakridge. Hanford was another one of the atomic energy plants: Los Alamos, Hanford, and Oakridge. He got a job up there on construction, so I moved to Washington-state and ended up going to the University of Washington. Out to the west coast for many years then. Bob Keirn DN: Did you ever come back to the village? Until the reunions started? BK: My daughter--oldest daughter, I've got four kids now, a son and three daughters. My oldest one was in the Army. She'd gone through ROTC and got her commission. She was over at-at the time I was living in northern Illinois and she was over at Fort ... uh ... over in North Carolina, what is it? Fayetteville, North Carolina. DN: Bragg? 10 BK: Is it Fort Bragg over there? I think it is, yeah. So she got married in, I think it was '81. So I drove up from northern Illinois and came through Fontana at that time. The lodge was here at that time. And my sister-! had a sister living here. She was a year and a half older than me. She was living out in Oregon. So we drive through and we go down to the restaurant down here eating dinner. While we're eating dinner, darned if I don't hear a voice that sounded familiar. She and her husband had flown into Knoxville for the wedding also, rented a car, and they were eating dinner in the lodge at the same time. So that was in '81. DN: So you just ran into them? BK: And that was before the reunions started, they didn't start until '85. So anyway, I got here to Fontana in '81. Then in-while we lived here, I don't have great memory of this but for a while my mother's sister from Kansas City came down to visit here and stayed a few months. Maybe she stayed in a--one of the dormitories, where I wasn't that aware of it. Anyway, because of that, on her-I guess it was her eightieth birthday in 1992 ... That would be her eightieth, yeah. Her family had a family reunion, sort ofthe lion clan of our family, and they held it up here at Fontana. So we were in the lodge here then. When I checked in and all, and talking about being here, the people at Bob Keirn 11 the desk told me about the reunion going on. So how Doris and the people running the reunion often discover Dam Kids, well I discovered them [laughter] by having come here and heard that they were here. So I started coming up to reunions in '92. It'd been-with the rare exception of a death in the family or something I've been coming ever since. DN: Well, what are some of the biggest changes that you noticed upon coming back, right the first time? BK: About what? DN: When you came back to the village the first time? BK: Well I was intrigued to see how much has been preserved of what was here when we lived here. How they've gone out of the way to try to preserve it and all. I don't know if anybody's commented on it, but when I first came here, over at the visitor's center-they mention they used to have an inclined railroad that would go from the visitor's center down to the powerhouse? You could get tours through the powerhouse, through the dam and all. And then when 9111 came, they literally tore that inclined railroad out of there and quit having the tours like that. But that was interesting to be able to do that. On one commemoration in 2012, the engineers in some engineer group in North Carolina had a commemoration of the engineers of the building of the dam and were over here for a ceremony during our reunion week. That prompted them to have a special tour where we got to go in the powerhouse and look at it from there. We didn't tour the dam, but rare do you get, even to get into the powerhouse nowadays on that kind of thing. So we got to do that. The other thing is, you know the village has changed hands several times, management. I can't remember the name ofthe company but it's people in Bob Keirn the construction business over in Robbinsville who now own it. Phillips and somebody, Dodge Phillips or what ... You know the- 12 DN: I can't remember, now that-I'll remember as soon as we cut that thing off. BK: Yeah. Well, eventually you note, you ought to find out who it is because the owners of it-some of the owners of it remember, as kids, coming over to Fontana. It was sort of like a community center in the area. They'd have a lot of activities here in the­down in the rec hall where the old grade school was. And music and other things. So finally, their company's big enough and they're well off enough that they bought the lease on the facility. And if you notice the rooms and the cabins have all been tremendously upgraded and improved. It's really, I think, very much thanks to them and their interest in trying to upgrade the place, and keep it as a nice place of-a resort. That I think is the thing that's happened probably just in the last ... oh, roughly the last decade. Maybe it's been a little more, plus or minus. But they've made-they've done a big contribution to it. I think the Dam Kids and a lot of people coming here can be thankful for it. So that's the biggest thing I've noticed in recent time. DN: I didn't really ask you about the kind of view of the TVA as an institution back when you were living here. But do you see any change in the way that people might have viewed the TVA then or how it's viewed now? Or how it's remembered? BK: Hard to say. I do know that-in this area that a lot of people who got ousted out of here, even the ancestry, had ill feelings about TVA because of taking the land away from their folks. I think, you know, they paid them-Ijust heard this story recently-! heard that they got thirty seven dollars an acre for their land. Well, somebody, I guess Ken on the-no not Ken--one of the boat guides Carl was telling one Bob Keirn 13 of the people on the boat tour the other day that those who hadn't settled with the government for thirty seven dollars an acre, eventually troops came in here and ousted them out oftheir homes. And they got something like five cents an acre, a just paltry amount. So a few years back, probably ten or twelve years back, we were over at Stecoah Valley and one of the Dam Kids-I won't go into details. But one of the Dam Kids--or husband of a Dam Kid-played a sort of nasty trick on the musicians and the emcee over at the Stecoah Valley festival, and said there was a world-renowned yodeler­[ Interuption] BK: Said a yodeler was present. I went up on stage to apologize but the guy announcing said-he identified being with Fontana and the Dam Kids. He said, he'd better be good because TV A took land away from my folks. And that's to the festival audience just ten years ago so you can tell that feeling was running deep there. But I better get out there for that. DN: Well sir I appreciate you staying as long as you did. BK: We pretty well covered your questions didn't we? DN: Well, yeah we got almost down to the bottom there. If there's time maybe we can keep going. BK: Okay. END OF INTERVIEW Transcribed by Dustin Norris, October 25, 2014.