Looking Back with
Dale Kelley

photo and story by Bill Weaver

These days the hardest thing about crossing Kelley Hill on State Road 46 is staying under the speed limit. The road is smooth, the turns wide, and the cars powerful. But once upon a time things were far different. “Originally it used to be just a dirt road,” says Dale Kelley of the hill named for his great-grandfather. “When I was little it was stone but it still had ruts. That was a steep hill for Model T Fords. In low gear they would just barely creep up. You always felt that they might stop. One guy got stuck on that hill. His wife got out to push and after he got it up the hill he forgot and went home without her!”

His uncle owned the gas station across from the entrance of the park. “Cars didn’t take hills like they do now,” he remembers. “They’d get hot, lose their water. One of my jobs was to keep the radiators filled, clean the windshields, and keep the oil bottles filled. Gasoline cost seventeen cents a gallon.”

Dale was born in 1922 in Story where his father worked at the general store with father-in-law J.S. Morrison. “Grandpa Morrison had been in an interurban accident and decided to quit.” Dale’s father bought a nearby farm but soon after decided to move the family back into the cabin on Kelley Hill that Dale’s great-grandfather had built. “My father had been offered a mail carrier drive out of Nashville but my grandfather, Sam Kelley, talked him into coming down to the farm.

“Dad moved the furniture in a wagon. There was a trail that went up through the woods, just about a mile walk, so my mom, my sister, and I walked down while Dad hauled the furniture out on the road. When we came to Green Valley Road it was so muddy that we climbed through the fence down through the pasture.”

Kelley remembers what Saturday nights in Nashville were like in those days. “The merchants got together and helped pay for free movies. They would usually have westerns. The favorite around here was Ken Maynard, who was a Columbus boy.

“First they blocked Main Street and put a projector up at Main and Jefferson. They had some board seats and had a projector in back of them. Quite often the film would break. That was great entertainment for us country people.”

Sometimes the schools had pie suppers, where patrons could bake pies that were then sold to the highest bidder. “I was in the 6th grade and my sister baked a butterscotch pie, which was my favorite. I had fifty cents but a guy outbid me. So I didn’t get that one. Dale Mathis, who was a classmate of mine, told me how to recognize his sister Olive’s. I got it for a quarter,” he laughs. “It was apple.”

Kelley went to college at Purdue. “I was always interested in farming so I decided to take agriculture—poultry husbandry.” During summers he worked as a laborer on farms in Brownsburg where his brother Dwight lived. “For a dollar a day I got up at five o clock, milked, cooled the milk, then went in and had breakfast, then back to work in the fields. We got a full hour off for dinner and then back to work until five. In the busiest times, like haying season, we’d get up at 4:30. That was six days a week.”

One summer Kelley worked at camp Atterbury as a lumber checker. “When they ran out of work on lumber checking I got a job as water inspector. Then they put me on incinerator duty. They had a big sliding door across the top and would dump the garbage on the floor and we would push it into the hole to burn. That floor would get pretty hot sometimes! I decided I’d better go back to school and finish up.

“While I was starting my senior year I intended to sign up for Business English but that class was filled. Another option was a class called Feature Writing. So I did that instead. Professor McKee liked my writing and sent my articles to the student paper to publish. I had a knack for humorous writing, which I’ve lost over the years,” he laughs. “They told me I should go out for poultry journalism.” Kelley submitted a piece to Poultry Tribune, a major publication with a circulation of 300,000, “and they paid me for it.” Soon after he started working for Poultry Supply World. “So that’s how I got into that business.”

After three years Dale was offered a job as associate director of Poultry Tribune in Chicago and soon became advertising manager of Hatchery and Feed magazine, a sister publication. “For various reasons I decided I’d rather be out on the farm so we moved back to Owen County and were going to set up a poultry operation but had a little financial difficulty.” Dale found a job in Elkhart County, “the biggest poultry producing county in the state,” as assistant county agent. Eventually he returned to publishing, buying Poultry Supply World, and moving back to Brown County. “I was going to try and keep the business going but couldn’t do it by myself. That’s when I became a teacher.”

Kelley taught at Nashville High School for eleven years. “I got tired of that and we bought a greenhouse a mile north of Nashville and operated that for nineteen years.” When the opportunity arose he bought a house on the old Kelley farm on Green Valley Road and has lived there with his wife Marguerite ever since.

Looking back on his long life he can honestly say, “I’ve done a little bit of about everything.”