97-year-old recounts battling malaria for Alcoa

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 24, 2011

ROCKWELL — You can tell by looking at Frank King Jr. that working on his beautiful eastern Rowan County farm and having his sons there with him is reward enough.
It’s dessert to a life now lived 97 years.
By 8:30 a.m. most days, Frank Jr. and the boys, Frank III and Alan, are sizing up that day’s projects on the King Angus Farm, a 200-acre spread reaching to the narrow portions of Dutch Second Creek.
All the King families live on the farm now, which Frank Jr. and Elsie King bought in 1942. They started out with two cows. Today the herd numbers 125, counting the calves.
“Just a hobby,” Frank Jr. understates.
His biggest health issue in recent years has been the macular degeneration making him legally blind. But Frank Jr. sees well enough to drive the tractor during the mowing and raking of hay. He can mend fences and help with the herd’s vaccinations.
He still delights in traveling with his sons over the winding roads that take them to their summer home in Anchor Downs. He and Elsie supervised the construction of the lake house some 30 years ago. Now it’s a popular retreat for everyone — grandchildren and great-grandchildren included.
From the back porch, looking over a wide Crane Creek, Frank Jr. finds it easy to remember a different career, well removed from farming.
You can tell by looking at Frank King Jr. that he enjoyed this part of his life, too.
King points to the old camp across the water where he supervised crews dedicated entirely to mosquito control for High Rock Lake.
Later for Alcoa, he would play key roles in creating the Tuckertown Reservoir, managing thousands of acres of forest, dealing with pier licenses and shoreline management and laying out the lake lots that became Anchor Downs, Crane Cove, Point Harbor and, after retirement, Pebble Point.
People used to say that no one knew Alcoa’s reservoirs, especially High Rock Lake, better than Frank King Jr.
King retired from Alcoa/Badin Works in 1978 after 44 years with the company. He spent most of those years outside and on the move, whether it was in a boat or trekking over farmland, timberland and shorelines.
His biggest satisfaction came when Alcoa decided to open its property along the High Rock Reservoir to residential development. To the company’s credit, he says, the directive came from Pittsburgh headquarters to make lots affordable and to resist any price gouging.
King worked with Hudson and Almond Surveyors of Salisbury in laying out many of the lots with an eye to deep water and soil that would accept septic tanks.
“It was an exciting time,” he says.
Born Dec. 27, 1913, in Chesterfield, S.C., Henry Frank King Jr. was one of nine children — seven girls and two boys. His father, Henry Sr., also was from a family of seven girls and two boys and lived in the same house his entire life.
Besides farming, Frank Sr. was a road builder for the state.
Frank Jr.’s grandfather, Ezekiel “Zeke” King, gained notoriety as a local deputy sheriff. The New York Times documented his 1884 killing of the outlaw Bogan Cash, building on Zeke’s reputation for always getting his man.
Following his high school graduation, Frank Jr. attended a short course in agriculture at Clemson College before joining the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Conway, S.C.
King worked during the day and studied forestry and surveying at night, sending most of the money he earned back home to Chesterfield. In hindsight, the schooling he received through the CCC classes paid dividends later as he advanced through the ranks at Alcoa/Badin Works.
It was the lure of a six-week summer job in 1933 that drew the 20-year-old King to Alcoa’s “permanent camp,” where his older brother, Foster, already was working. The camp was devoted to mosquito control, and Frank Jr. started out as “a field man,” before graduating to supervisor and living on the site.
At the time, the threat of malaria for visitors and the local population was a concern with the new reservoir, built in 1927. “It was really a health hazard,” King says.
Upwards of 40 men combed the lake to dust, spray and burn some mosquito-breeding brush through the week. At night they lived in military-styled barracks off the Crane Creek cove.
Four crews were on the reservoir every day in wooden boats. King remembers his territory being above U.S. 29 and his crew including five other men. The camp cook made each one of them five sandwiches for the day and threw in a cinnamon bun for dessert.
King married a city girl, Elsie Broadway of Salisbury, in 1937. The couple eventually moved to the permanent camp site and lived in its small supervisor’s cottage for five years. Frank III lived there between the ages of 5 and 10 and has fond memories of the time, especially running through the woods and over the shorelines with his pet Doberman.
Frank King Jr. would work out of the permanent camp for close to 20 years.
As the threat of malaria disappeared, Frank Jr. began doing a lot of surveying for Alcoa. “We had a tremendous amount of surplus property,” he recalls, from all the land purchases the company made when it flooded lands for the reservoirs.
Part of his work included surveying the land and determining the boundaries for Tuckertown Lake, which was created in 1962 after about four years of planning and building. During the dam’s construction, King served as an inspector, checking behind the contractors as part of protecting Alcoa’s interests.
Alcoa/Badin works later put King in charge of timber management. He recalls the company’s harvesting of trees and, likewise, its planting of 350,000 replacement pines per year.
After Alcoa hired a full-time forester, it promoted King to property administrator, where he handled the early residential development along High Rock Lake, fielded people’s complaints about fluctuating water levels and approved their requests for pier licenses.
Alan King remembers one of his summer jobs was working for Alcoa and staking out some of the new residential lots — at the height of snake season.
All this time, Frank King Jr. was running his farm, serving as a director on the Rowan County Farm Bureau and Rowan Cattleman’s Association and deliberating on the Rowan County Planning Board.
Meanwhile, Elsie King was fashioning a 50-year career of her own with Wallace Realty. She belonged to the Class of 1930 at Boyden High School (now Salisbury High). The class was the first to have attended the school all four years, and one of her classmates was Leo Wallace.
In school, Elsie was valedictorian, editor of the yearbook and voted “best all-round” and “hardest worker.” Three years after graduating, she went to work for the Wallace company on the recommendation of her school friend.
Frank and Elsie’s children — Frank III, Barbara and Alan — inherited their parents’ drive for success. Frank III fashioned a 37-year career with Sonoco Paper and Packaging Co. in Hartsville, S.C., before moving back to the King Angus Farm.
Barbara and Alan are retired educators. Alan King, a former South Rowan High principal, rose to become assistant superintendent for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
Elsie King died in 2003 at the age of 90. In 2005, Leo Wallace donated $10,000 to Salisbury High in her honor to establish an annual $500 scholarship, given to each year’s valedictorian.
The King lake house in Anchor Downs is now called “Elsie.” Frank III burned her distinctive signature into a wooden sign for the house. It features her trademark “E” and the upward slant her penmanship always had.
You can tell, just by looking at Frank King Jr., that he likes the name.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.