Tucked into the dead end of a graveled country lane near Coeburn, the place of 64-year old Daniel B. and Little Buddy is the epitome of an iconic backyard country boy garage and generalized fixit shop of yesteryear. It features the required assortment of a couple of auto carcasses, an eclectic pile of castoff tires, remnants of old engines and other mysterious stuff of mechanical origin, and related and wildly unrelated bric-a-brac, all somehow brought together as a rustic decorative whole by a crusty, heat-tempered burn barrel.
There are artists who paint such backyard scenes for the calendar market, only needing to add from imagination old, broken down dirt track hot rods that came here to slumber and dream of glory days gone by.
Danny B. is one of those guys from another era who can fix practically anything, particularly mechanical in nature. He learned those skills from his late father, Elmer, who, coincidentally, wound up in Coeburn operating the long gone Free Wheeler Motors specializing in motorcycle repairs.
Daniel B. grew up in Kingston, Tennessee, and followed his father to Wise County to work in the motorcycle shop. That’s how the lifelong friendship developed between Danny B. and pal Sammy R. of Dungannon when Sammy was just 14 and finally got a job at Free Wheeler Motors because he was always there working on stuff while hanging out anyway.
They couldn’t run him off — not that anybody wanted to — so Earl hired him, with all subsequent training tossed in for free.
“I’m disabled myself nowadays,” Sammy R. explained of his now vital role as Daniel B.’s best pal. “Oh, gosh, since ’74, I worked for (Daniel B.) and his dad learning how to be a motorcycle mechanic and just all around fixit guy. We could work on ’em, buddy, and we could put ’em out. Earl was a good man. He could fix anything and showed me how to fix just about anything, too.”
Earl couldn’t have known how taking a 14-year-old kid under his wing, training the lad in the trade, would translate decades later into the crucial part Sammy now happily plays in the life of Earl’s son, Daniel, seeing to Daniel’s needs whether it’s transportation to get him to a doctor or the store or wherever else he needs to be, and in general making sure Daniel B. and Little Buddy are getting along as best they can, or at least as best the three together can figure out.
As if health problems weren’t enough to deal with, the unfortunately too good-hearted and trusting Daniel B. got entangled with a motley assortment of opportunistic ne’er-do-wells in recent years, which put him in a tight spot 10 ways from Sunday. Now, he scrapes by on a smidgen over $500 a month in Social Security and an endless supply of good-natured humor and pluck.
“Three years ago I was in good shape,” said Danny B. “But it seems like when I had that triple bypass, it seems like everything went downhill. Fast. Buddy, that’s the hardest thing I ever did.”
Besides the bypass, Daniel B. suffers from a serious, life-threatening liver ailment. He recovered from the bypass surgery and struggles to remain one step ahead, or at least abreast, of the liver problem. But drained of resources, he finds it tough to keep up with needed repairs on his modest trailer home not to mention provide other basics, too.
Even though Daniel B. is confident he could jury rig something to make an old water heater work — and sort of kind of more or less temporarily maybe has — the fact is he could really use a new one. And the trailer could use a couple of coats of fresh waterproofing on the roof. Simple stuff, really, yet not so simple when finances and circumstances keep stomping on the fingers that clutch to the edge of a daily abyss.
At least he has a working refrigerator, thanks to his Wise County Department of Social Services case worker, Elmer. Daniel B. said he managed to fix the circulating fan on his old fridge, but it still wouldn’t cool worth a lick, so Elmer up and brought him a secondhand but at least operational model.
“Elmer, he’s a good guy. I can’t say enough about our Social Services folks. They’ve been real good to me,” said Daniel. “Now that Elmer, he’s even brought food to me before, too. He’s no case worker in my book. He’s a friend.”
For an independent sort who all his life was more likely to give the shirt off his own back to someone who needed one, Daniel finds his present circumstances a little tough to comprehend. It’s like he went to sleep one night as a man in full control of his fate and woke up in a crash-and-burn tailspin leading to dependency on others.
And Sammy and Elmer and Little Buddy are pretty much the entire cast of the others.
“I’m making it, though. I don’t blow no money. Not that I got any to blow, when it comes to that. But I pay my electric. I pay my water bill. I do what I can to get by as best I can,” Daniel B. said.
To save on electricity, he burns wood for heat. Sammy, as only a best pal would, has organized an all-volunteer firewood operation with the help of some of Sammy’s other pals — one of them in possession of a log splitter — for Daniel B.’s benefit.
In the hills of Appalachia, it’s a common theme: If somebody needs firewood, somebody gets the word out. Then somebody else shows up with a chainsaw. Another shows up with a log splitter. And a couple or three or more show up with nothing more to offer than a cheery attitude, a willingness to help and some muscle.
It'’s the sort of thing Daniel B. would have done, and surely did plenty of times over, in his best of days, too.
“Yeah, I’ve had it pretty rough. But lots do, some worse than me. I’d way sooner help somebody as need any help myself,” he said.
“Social Services helps me all they can. I have no transportation, and if it wasn’t for Sammy, I don’t know what I’d do. I used to make a little money on the side, fixing things, but I can’t do that no more. Not like I used to, leastways. I just talk too much, but I tell you the way it is.”
Individuals and families in our Times-News Rescue Fund articles are representative of all those in our area in special need who will benefit this holiday season from generous donations to the fund. The goal this year is $60,000, the same as last year.
Tax deductible donations can be made to the Times-News Rescue Fund, 701 Lynn Garden Dr., Kingsport, TN 37660.