Friday, September 7, 2018

I think it will work out real well, the job that is ...

Earl Murphy, ca. 1988 (this photo was
used in the company newsletter)
The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “work,” so I thought I would share the story of my father-in-law Earl Murphy’s move from West Virginia to Virginia and a little of what the family went through during the transition.

In 1963, my husband Charlie and his family lived in the coal mining town of Monongah, Marion County, West Virginia. His Dad, Earl, worked for Monongah Municipal Water Works there in town. He had previously worked at the Mountaineer Coal Company in Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia. Sometime before August, Earl left the water works company and headed to Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland where his brother lived. The rest of the family (my mother-in-law Mary and their three children—Colleen, Charles, and infant Patrick) stayed behind in West Virginia with the plan that once Earl got settled and saved enough money, they would follow him there. By August, Earl got a job with the Washington Gas Light Company at their new Ravensworth Station in Springfield, Fairfax County, Virginia. He moved out of his brother’s home into a rented room in Springfield to be closer to work. According to the publication Entering the Big Leagues: Chapter II, 1960–1969 by the gas company, Washington Gas Light had opened a new “underground liquid propane storage cavern in the Ravensworth area of Fairfax County, Virginia” in 1962. Charlie remembers Earl telling him stories about how the cavern was built, although I’ll note that Earl wasn’t working at Washington Gas Light during construction of the cavern, so this is being told third hand—and that’s all I’ll say about that. Earl told Charlie they started out with a three-foot hole which they dug by hand. Once the cavern was big enough, they dismantled bulldozers, or some type of digging vehicles, placed them in the cavern, and then put them back together. When the job was completed, they left the vehicles in the cavern.

Earl on the right, working at the Washington Gas Light Company

Earl missed his family and wrote the following letter to Mary on August 4. In the letter, he discusses finances and told Mary it was up to her to take care of selling the house and other belongings to raise money to move everyone to Virginia:
Hi Everybody, Thought it was about time I wrote you all a letter. To lazy I guess. How are you all? The last time I came up here it wasn’t to bad being away for the first couple of weeks, but this time I am lost. I miss you all very much and wish you were here with me. I just don’t know what to do with myself from the time I come home from work until I go to bed. 
Well I found a room here just outside of Springfield. It is 9 miles from where I work. It will take about 20 minutes to get there so it is much better than driving 38 miles from Rockville and back. The room is not what I would like, but will do for a while. 
This job I think I will like real well. I worked Thursday and Friday with the weekend off. This week I work day, next week afternoon, and the next week midnight. Being low man will give me shift work for awhile. This new storage field is out in the woods and is still under const. The first test run will be sometime in Nov. I think it will work out real well, the job that is. We can talk about this some other time. 
Mary, with the $360 a month I will be getting for the next 3 months is going to hurt us very much. I don’t know just what we can do but I do know I want you and the kids here with me as soon as possible. School starts the first of Sept and I would like you all here by then or no later than the 15th of Sept. I don’t know how we can work this but we have to do something. I am going to need at least $140 to $150 to rent a house and get until turned on. Once we get moved up here, maybe you could go to work for a while until we can get going again. We will live in one of these places, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Annandale, or Springfield, and it will have to be wherever the rent is best.  
I want you to get rid of the house if you can. If you could get $500 to $800 and have someone to take over payments or give it back to Jane or if you can get enough to pay the bank where we got the siding. That will almost have to be paid. Next see if you can sell the little car $85 or $100. Parts to fix it will be $8 to $10. Sell all 4 of my guns. All the houses here have stoves and refrig. So, if you can they can be sold. The $5000 ins policy I have had for the pasts 10 years or so, cash it in for what it is worth. I have a $10,000 policy on me here at work. Now see all the loan co. we owe money to and see if we can miss one or two payments, that will help very much. I just have to get you and the kids here with me this time, because I don’t plan on living in W. Va. Any longer. There is work here for anybody that is not afraid of work and if that is what I have to do to have a roof over our head and feed us than that is what is going to be done. Honey please get busy doing these things I asked as soon as possible. I would like to come home, but it would cost about $75 which I don’t have. My first pay will be about the 23rd and that will be for a one week period and then I will get paid every Friday from then on. I don’t like the thought of coming home to see you all, because the way I feel right now, it would be damn hard to leave again. Tell Colleen and Charles I miss them very much, but for them to be good until I come home. How is Pat? Has he grown any? Well honey, I have run out for tonight, so will write you later. Let me know what you do. Do as much as you can as soon as possible. Don’t look for me for at least 3 weeks. Love to all of you and write soon.
My address here is Route 5, Box 392, Alexandria, Va. 
Love, Earl 
Honey, I forgot, but if you could sell the tent that will also help. Love
Earl wrote a second letter to Mary on August 7:
Dear Mary and all, Have not heard from you, but there may be a letter at Glenn’s. Have not been up since last Sunday. I was going to write last night, but I worked 16 hours, from 7:30 to 11:00 last night. My schedule for next week is 11:00 to 7:00 then I go on 7:00 to 3:00 PM. I don’t think I will mind working shifts. They are only for a week at a time. 
How are all of you by now? Fine I hope. I still miss you all. Since your [sic] not here to fix me a birthday cake tomorrow, you can fix it for me when I can get home. Will that be alright? I really don’t have much to tell you, so this won’t be much of a letter. I don’t know when I will get home to see you and the kids. I hope it can be real soon.  
Honey, have you did [sic] anything yet about the car, house, ins. Policy etc.? You are going to have to do all of it by yourself since I’m not there to help you. I can’t do anything about a house until I have some money to do it with. I do want you here as soon as we can do it. I would like to get Charles and Colleen started to school up here, so they wouldn’t have to start later in the year and then be behind. I think these schools may be better than what we have there. I’m sorry I don’t have any money to send you, but one of these days I will. Do you have any to get good with? 
Colleen, why don’t you set down and write me a nice long letter and tell me what you and Charlie and Patrick are doing. OK. You be real good until I can get home to see you.
Charles, are you keeping out of trouble? Has mommy had to spank you lately and you behave, because your suppose to be the man of the house since I am gone. Give your mother a big hug and kiss for me. 
Well honey I can’t think of anything more to say at this time so will c lose for now. Write real soon and let me know how things are coming along. Almost forgot about Patrick. Has he been OK. 
Love to all, Earl
We have one more letter written by Earl on August 12. In several paragraphs of this letter, he writes about drama with some people, supposedly friends, back in West Virginia. At one point, he tells Mary she has nothing to be ashamed of or to hide. Because he mentions name, I’ll leave those paragraphs out since I don’t know what was going on.
Hi Honey, I was up to see Glenn Sat and got your letter along with Colleen’s and Charles. It was real nice to hear from you. Have not received any down here yet.
I’m sorry you can’t start the doodle bug, but maybe it is for the best until I get some rod bearings in it. 
… … … 
I got Colleen’s and Charles letters. It was nice to hear from then to. Do you know I got up on my birthday, came to work and didn’t know I had one until the 9th. Forgot all about it. I have been looking at the ad’s on houses and apts., but not much I can do at present. Hope we can soon. I started on the 11:00 to 7:00 shift tonight. It is now 6:00 AM so wanted to mail this on my way to my room. The people I am staying with went on vac this week so I have the house all to myself. Honey, I miss you all very much. If I can I will try to be home this weekend. I hope. The job is going just fine. I like the work and I even feel better. I am down to 156 pounds. Do a lot of walking. 
Have you talked to Jane yet? You had better write me more often and let me know what you are doing. School isn’t far off.. 
Hi Son, I’m glad you have a tank truck and airplane. I miss you to very much. I’ll be home to see you before to long. You take care of everything for me and be good. Write me another letter. A long one. Dad 
Hi Colleen, Yes Pat’s birthday is mine. Does he look better with a haircut? You will have to get your mother to cut Charles’ hair also. Were the cakes you made out of the biscuits good? What all are you throwing away? I still love you to. Be good. I will see you soon and write me. Love Dad 
Well Honey, I think I will stop for now. The man will be in to relieve me in about 15 min. This place is away out in the woods and is very lonely here at night. I miss you and love you very much. Write soon. All my love, Earl
Earl's letters from 1963

Earl and Mary were finally able to move the family to Pimmit Hills, Fairfax County, Virginia about March or April 1964. Pimmit Hills is about 13 miles from Springfield and I’m sure traffic was much better then than it is today.

Washington Gas Light flag
Things worked out for Earl at Washington Gas Light where he spent the remainder of his career. The shift work continued until he retired. His hours rotated between day shift with two off days, afternoon shift with two off days, then midnight shift followed by a week off. Earl liked shift work because it allowed him to take the family on camping trips and to visit family without having to use vacation. He had perfect attendance from 1981 – 1986 and was recognized for six consecutive years of no avoidable accidents resulting in personal injury in December 1986.

Earl hated the union, paying his dues because he had to, but wanting no parts of it. When the union went on strike, he went to the beach and told them to call him when it was over. I’ll note that Earl’s father-in-law George Athya had been a union organizer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which caused friction when he was dating Mary.

In August 1988, Earl reached a milestone at the gas company and was welcomed into the Quarter Century Club after celebrating 25 years of service. Earl retired as a controlman in 1990 at the age of 61 after 27 years of service. At the time of his retirement, Earl received $1,773.94 per month until he reached the age of 62. At 62, the payment was reduced to $1,037.94 per month. That would eventually be reduced to $949.05 per month. Earl and Mary were very conservative with their finances so were able to live comfortably, enjoying 23 years of retirement before he passed away in 2013.

Earl on the right


  1. “Entering the Big Leagues: Chapter II, 1960–1969,” Washington Gas Light;
  2. Fiftieth Annual Dinner program, Quarter Century Club of The Washington Gas Light Company, Fairfax, Virginia, April 21, 1990.
  3. Personal papers of Earl Murphy.

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