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The Clear Fork Series

Clear Fork Creek runs northwest from Coalwood where it empties into the Tug River west of Welch, West Virginia.  Many people refer to that general area of West Virginia as "The Clear Fork."

Jerry Roger Hatmaker has written five books in, what he calls, The Clear Fork Series.  Some of the books were written in conjunction with David Bader.  (By the way, Mr. Hatmaker is known by "Jerry," "Roger," and "J.R.")


2001 Edition

2003 Revised Edition
Book 1 in the series:
The Coalwood Misfits
Jerry Hatmaker with David Bader
Book Summary from Amazon.com: Back in the 1950s when homework was little threat to a kid's good times and after-school sports were still mostly fun, a group of boys grow up together in a small coal mining town in southern West Virginia, camping, fighting fires, flirting and getting in trouble. This community feels the collective obligation to keep setting them right, but not quite as often as they deserve.

By part two of this novel-cum-memoir, it's 1957 and the boys are becoming teenagers, the narrator, Bobby, has discovered the things that boys discover: that girls don't totally find him resistible, that his big brother is really his friend, and that his once cherished nickname has its drawbacks.

Suddenly, thousands of miles away in places they had only read about in their geography books, events are set loose that change their lives and the world itself. Those changes sweep over the earth, and almost immediately stir their little coal camp from its Appalachian slumber. It is the first time they have witnessed world change so up close, so personal. It comes as a sparkling light speeding across the clear autumn skies. Sputnik, that glowing moon of beeping Russian steel, captures their boyish thoughts and channels their energy toward higher goals. For the first time in their lives they look beyond the safety of the ancient mountains to find a noble objective--bringing parity to the space race. And as a result, an elaborate project, as humorous as their earlier adventures, puts them in touch with the supernatural, a web of mysterious people of unknown origin, the shadowy world of politics and national defense, and powerful men in the most secret reaches of the U.S. government.

When we first looked at the back cover of the book The Coalwood Misfits, we were really confused!  (See the text that we bolded in the above book description!)  Here is a book published in 2001 -- three years after Homer Hickam's book Rocket Boys.  Yet The Coalwood Misfits is by a different author but seems to be telling the same story.  What's going on??!!  Again, we were confused, but we read the book.  Here are some things we learned:

1.  The Coalwood Misfits is about a different group of boys than Hickam's Rocket Boys.  In the book, Hickam's Rocket Boys are fictionalized as the Warriormine Missile Agency (instead of the Big Creek Missile Agency.)  In the book, there are several groups of boys in Coalwood who become interested in rockets after the boys of the Warriormine Missile Agency start their rocket launches.  The Misfits are one of the groups that becomes interested in rockets, and they do their own launches totally independent of the Warriormine Missile Agency boys.

[The author told us that, after the launch of Sputnik, there were boys all over the country who were experimenting with rockets.  The fact that was Russians were ahead of the United States in the space race was a cause of great concern.  Everybody wanted to build a successful rocket!]

2.  The Coalwood Misfits bills itself as a "novel-cum-memoir."  It's hard to tell what parts are real and what parts are part of the novel.  We assume a lot of the things really happened as described in the book, but we have no way of knowing for sure.  We also assume that a lot of things are pure fantasy!

3.  There are two editions of the book, one published in 2001, and the revised edition published in 2003.  We would recommend your reading the 2003 revised edition.  It has several new chapters.

4.  We would not recommend this book to children under 12.  The book is a typical boys-will-be-boys novel in which the boys get into a lot of mischief.

5.  The book is funny and well worth the read.  It gives you a lot of tales about living in Coalwood.

6.  Several of the people we have talked to from Coalwood say they can really relate to The Coalwood Misfits.  The kind of adventures and misadventures these boys had, they say, are typical of the things that went on in Coalwood.


Book 2 in the series:
The Kindred Gathering
Jerry Hatmaker and David Bader

Book Summary from Amazon.com: It is 1963, a year when dying coal and steel companies struggle for meager profits, and when a huge easy-to-mine coal deposit is discovered in McDowell County, WV. The CEO of Champion Sheet and Tube is ecstatic at the find until he learns that the deposit is not on corporate land--that the Whitakers, early settlers of southwest Virginia, supposedly hold a land grant and still own the property.

J. Frank Hutson, an egotistical blueblood from New England, and his cronies at Sheet and Tube, and a paid-off state politician and corrupt county judge, scheme to take it. After a sham court battle, the land is awarded to Champion for taxes due, but not before Pappy Whitaker calls a gathering of his kindred to defend his land. His call brings together the most mysterious clans of North America, including the Melungeons. They are a strange group, maybe even a separate race, and they, a history professor, and a rich widow, along with a group of teenage boys, turn the table on J. Frank and his gaggle of expensive lawyers. And once the dust settles, the people of McDowell County and southeast Appalachia will never be the same.

The second book, The Kindred Gathering, is definitively a work of fiction -- with a good dose of real history thrown in.  About half of the book takes place in the 1700s.  Parts of the book do take place in 1963 Coalwood and Welch, but the readers won't learn a lot of details of life in Coalwood.  It's still an interesting novel.


2003 Edition

2006 Edition

Book 3 in the series.
Published in 2003 as:
Shoddy and Ox
Jerry Hatmaker

Republished in 2006 as:
Shoddy and Ox:
Trail to Sanctified Mountain

J.R. Hatmaker

Please keep in mind that Shoddy and Ox: Trail to Sanctified Mountain is the
replacement for Shoddy ands Ox (which is out of print due to the print
problems). The new book has been updated, lengthened, and some "vernacular"
has been reduced.)

Book Summary from Amazon.com: During the War of 1812 death makes a visit to the Whitaker and Collins families. The spirits of Micager Whitaker of The Clear Fork and Vardy Collins of Newmans Ridge, old soldiers of the late Revolution, leave forever the hollows and ridges of southwest Virginia and Upper East Tennessee. On their deathbeds each man selects a son to carry on a search for two men--men who had something to do with the drowning deaths of little Samuel Whitaker and Enoch Collins. Micager chooses Oxendine and Vardy selects Shoddy.

Once they link up, Shoddy and Ox go on a frenzied hunt for answers to the mystery of how their brothers died--and who might have been involved. On their way to finding out, they meet a surveyor and a Tennessee ridgemanite, they join the army, Ox marries and unexpectedly both men find themselves fighting with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.

Once mustered out, they begin a new search, one that takes them into the high black mountains of eastern Kentucky. Eventually, they find out the secret of what happened and who did it. They are dumbfounded when the mystery is finally revealed.

J. R. Hatmaker weaves an intricate tale of love and war--and murder. Shoddy and Ox is a spellbinding novel that leaves the reader with a better understanding of the period and a satisfying and delightful ending. The Coalwood Misfits and The Kindred Gathering are other books of The Clear Fork Series.


In the third book, Shoddy and Ox, readers will learn very little information about Coalwood.  The book takes place from 1812 to 1815 mostly in upper east Tennessee, Louisiana and eastern Kentucky. 

Be sure to get the 2006 revised edition.  It corrects a few printing problems that were found in the earlier edition.



This is a mock-up of the book cover.
The actual book cover will be black.
Book 4 in the series:
Murder on the Birdsong
by J.R. Hatmaker

Book Summary from Amazon.com: By 1832 Jack Whitaker had nearly grown into adulthood, smart, sensitive and creative. But Jack had a secret to keep. Something was going on between Jack and Hare-lipped Irish Jim Mullens, a longhunter from Straight Creek, Kentucky. It wasn t until a last visit to Birdsong Hollow that the mystery was exposed in a way that shook to its core the southwest Virginia settlement of Clear Fork. So concerned were officials that the Commonwealth sent a legal representative; and a man from Abingdon was summoned to appear in a Tazwell County court all in the hopes of convicting a local ne'er-do- well for the dastardly killing of a highly regarded citizen of Clear Fork.



About the Authors

J.R. (Jerry) Hatmaker was born and raised in Coalwood, West Virginia. He attended Coalwood Junior High School and graduated from Big Creek High School at War, West Virginia. Later, Mr. Hatmaker graduated from the East European Language and Area Studies Program at Syracuse University. He furthered his education at Mundelein College and the University of Maryland. During a stint in what is now the U.S. Air Force’s Air Intelligence Agency, he won the Air Medal for “sustained aerial flight under extremely hazardous conditions.” After a thirty-year career in retail operations, serving at times as Vice President and Director of Store Operations, he retired in 1996. Mr. Hatmaker has written numerous operating manuals and technical documents, along with books with historical and genealogical topics. The Coalwood Misfits represents his first novel.

Read a longer autobiography of Jerry Roger Hatmaker
(Opens as a Microsoft Word Document)


David E. Bader began his writing career as a U. S. Navy Journalist. In that capacity, he edited several ship’s newspapers, in addition to being assigned to the staff of the Chief of Naval Information at the Pentagon. He has over thirty years of experience as a human resource executive, and organizational consultant. Specializing in leadership development, and partnership learning, he is the author of numerous career management and personal development articles for professional publications. Mr. Bader is currently an Adjunct Instructor at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He is a graduate of Boston University School of Management and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.