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A wagon on the schoolhouse one Halloween made memories

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One of my favorite people to interview on my Johnson City, Tennessee, radio show was Waynesville native and professional storyteller Donald Davis.

When Donald came to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, we would swap stories: his about growing up in Haywood County, mine about being raised in Cherokee County.

To make a story more entertaining, a storyteller will embellish and exaggerate but fill the story with just enough truth to make it believable. But the one I’m going to tell you is, as Dad would say, “the absolute gospel truth.”

It was Halloween night, 1958. We high school boys were too old for treats, but not tricks. We never did serious harm, but we skirted on the edge…like turning a squirrel loose in a furniture store.

Our 1958 prank is still talked about in Andrews today.

I don’t remember who came up with the idea of putting a farm wagon on top of the schoolhouse, but it wasn’t me. I was just recruited to assist with the chore. Honest.

Back then, a few farmers still owned horse-drawn wagons, including Mr. Slagle, who had a farm about a half-mile from the school grounds.

The elementary building was new, the first flat-roofed school building in the area. Around midnight, six or eight of us boys snuck Mr. Slagle’s wagon out of his barn then pushed and pulled it up the hill to the school.

With a ladder, some rope, and a few tools, a couple of boys who excelled in shop class led us in taking the wagon apart until we could hoist it and the parts onto the schowol’s roof. We reassembled the wagon and rolled it to the front of the building above the entrance for greatest visibility.

We had no idea our stunt would create so much curiosity. As word spread the next day, Saturday, that a full-sized wagon was perched on top of the school building, folks came from miles around to gawk and take pictures. It was fun to melt into the crowd and listen to speculations about how it got there.

First thing Monday morning, school superintendent Mr. Rufty herded everyone into the school auditorium. He announced he was entertained by the prank, but Mr. Slagle was not.

If he didn’t get his wagon back right away, undamaged, there would be serious consequences. Mr. Rufty said that after some investigation, he’d determined who did the deed, and they’d be called for shortly.

I sat nervously in class waiting for the call to the office. But it never came.

Then Tuesday morning, the wagon was gone.

I couldn’t imagine what evidence led Mr. Rufty to single out the boys he did; they had nothing to do with the prank. Fortunately, one of their fathers owned an equipment business and provided a flatbed truck and some manpower to take the wagon down and return it undamaged to Mr. Slagle.

A couple years later, I was working in West Jefferson in Ashe County, and Mr. Rufty was the school superintendent in neighboring Alleghany County. I called him, and he invited me for a visit. We had a wonderful time and as we said our goodbyes, I brought up the wagon incident, humbly explaining that the boys he’d accused back then had nothing to do with the prank.

“I know that,” Mr. Rufty said to my surprise. “I had no idea who did it. But I was desperate. So I picked some boys from the football team and told them they couldn’t play in the big game against Murphy Friday night unless they figured out how to get the wagon off the building. So they did!”

I left it at that, with me not brave enough to admit to him my part in the notorious prank. No, it wasn’t my idea, but now I kinda wish it had been.

Dave Hogan is a retired disc jockey who lives in the Lake Junaluska community.

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