Articles & Stories

Transplanted Kentuckian Took Root

In Crandon, Wisconsin, In 1934

Herb Cundiff Never Forgot His Kin

At War Creek, Breathitt County, Kentucky

By Robert Cundiff - 2010

Herb Cundiff, son of Dan Cundiff and Amanda Herald Cundiff was born August 10, 1908, at War
Creek, Breathitt County, Kentucky. After a few years working a team of mules on a small, hillside farm, he, like so many other young men from the Eastern Kentucky mountains, traveled North looking for work. After a long, weary train ride, Herb, with his one battered suitcase, arrived in Crandon, Wisconsin, where his older brother, Matt, had settled. Work was there and so was Dorothy Lee, who would be his dear wife for 66 years.

Herb Cundiff, a native of War Creek, Breathitt County, Kentucky, stood in front of his service station located in Crandon, Wisconsin. The business operated under the name of Herb's Service Station from 1934 to 1950 when Herb opened a new station across the street accompanied by a garage and Buick dealership. (Photo courtesy of Robert Cundiff.)

In 1934 Herb opened a very unusual Mobil Oil service station. (Check out the unique architecture in the picture.) According to Herb, when his first customer came in for an oil change, he suddenly realized that he did not own a wrench to remove the plug so that he could drain the oil. The customer, luckily, had a wrench, so the young mechanic was able to do the oil change and earn enough money to buy his own wrench.
The War Creek man operated from this location until August 1, 1950, when his new station opened across the street. He built a garage behind the station and opened a Buick dealership. It was an exciting time for his dad, stepmother, and younger brother when the successful, young businessman from Wisconsin would drive a new Buick down gravel road 541 to visit them on their War Creek farm. He always brought items such as food and clothes from the cold northern state to share with his Kentucky mountain family.

In 1997 Herb Cundiff, at age 89, enjoyed his retirement days at his home in Crandon, Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Robert Cundiff.)

Due to an opening in the economy, Herb expanded his business to include a bulk oil plant that enabled him to supply heating oil to homes and businesses in the area. Residents deeply appreciated his dragging a heavy hose across their snow- covered yards to fill their fuel oil tanks on a cold Wisconsin night. Whether he filled their oil tanks, their gas tanks, or cleaned their windshields, Herb was a perfectionist who did all jobs right. His customers were put first in his business.

LEFT PHOTO: Herb Cundiff (right) stands with his wife, Dorothy; his brother, Matt; and Matt's wife, Jessie, beside his new Buick. The vehicle was parked at the Pine Grove Curve on KY HWY 541, as close as Herb could drive to his dad's home at War Creek, Breathitt County, Kentucky. This photo was taken in 1953. RIGHT PHOTO: In the autumn of 1953, Herb Cundiff (standing) along with his brother, Matt, spent some quality time with their 87-year-old dad, Dan Cundiff, at his farm on War Creek, Breathitt County, Kentucky. Notice the coal shed, the well box, the hand-made chairs, and the farm house. (Photos courtesy of Robert Cundiff.)

Herb Cundiff, a transplanted Breathitt Countain, was greatly loved and appreciated by his wife Dorothy, their four children: Brian, Dan, Ed, and Patricia; their grandchildren; and their great grandchildren. Many Breathitt County relatives from the families of Heralds, Backs, Jetts, Gabbards, Terrys, Griffiths, Howards, and Cundiffs will always have fond memories of Cousin Herb.
When he was asked why he settled in Wisconsin so far away from his Kentucky roots, Herb would get a twinkle in his eyes, and with a sly grin, patiently explain how it happened. On the War Creek farm he had saved his meager earnings and bought himself a brand new pair of "Brogan" shoes. He was so proud of his new shoes that he kept looking down at them, then backing up a step and looking down at them again. He lost count of his looking and backing; so, when he finally stopped and checked his location, he discovered that he had backed all the way into Wisconsin. When he realized how many hundreds of miles he would have to walk to get back to Kentucky, he quickly decided to stay and become a resident of Crandon, Wisconsin.
A month short of age 93, this Eastern Kentuckian, who never forgot his mountain heritage and his Breathitt County kin, and who faithfully served his adopted Wisconsin neighbors, went to his heavenly home to await the "Eternal Reunion" of God's big family.

Herb Cundiff's younger brother, Robert Cundiff, 94 Mill Creek Lawson Road, Jackson, KY 41339, shares this article with our readers.

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