Remembering Mack Henson

Published 8:00 am Friday, March 4, 2022

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I lost a nearly lifelong friend recently, with the passing of Mack Henson. Mack was a younger brother of one of my closest friends in Tryon School, the late John Earl Henson. Mack was in my younger brother Bill’s class; Mack and John Earl’s Uncle Clarence were also in my class.  

Mack told me about riding as a boy on the bulldozers moving the 50,000 yards (Mack’s estimate) of earth to straighten out the railroad and eliminate the wood trestle over Vaughn’s Creek. I had wondered how they could plan the work to allow the morning trains to go over the trestle and the afternoon trains to go over the new fill dirt. Mack was happy to put me in his pickup truck and show me.

On another day I met him in the little Esso station at the foot of McClure Hill. The station had been operated by his grandfather until he died; Mack had put a lot of effort into its restoration and upkeep.   Highway 176 had split the McClure land, hence the name given by locals to the hill. The McClures were the parents of Mack’s mother.

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 Roy Williams had helped Mack with the restoration by providing several needed artifacts to make it authentic, including the tall gas pump between the brick pillars in front. I am drawing details from a column I wrote in 2007 about “a gas station to cherish.” We called them “Fillin’ Stations” when I was a boy; this one has a sign on the front proclaiming it as such!

Inside one can find interesting stuff from the bygone era represented by this station: the kerosene tank with a hand pump on top, another for bulk motor oil; a rubber container for distilled battery water, rubber because acidic water was often pulled back into the syringe used to add water to car batteries; and a quaint machine for dialing up local attractions with the miles to them and route to take to find them.

The gas station was just one of many public offerings Mack provided to enrich our lives. He put on an annual “feed” (everyone invited!) at his farm. He graded many a driveway, including one for a new house built by my Aunt Mildred on Rippy Hill.

A little dogwood tree was going to be a victim, so Mack asked her where she wanted it. He then scooped it up, including lots of dirt around its roots, and deposited it in a hole he had scooped out at its new location. The tree never knew it had been moved!

Mack had had his work cut out for him in getting his Dad to buy a used loader. Mack and John Earl had always loaded river sand into the family dump truck with shovels in hand. Their father, Virgil, operated on a cash basis, never going into debt for anything. 

Mack made enough money with the used loader to buy a new one of greater capability. Soon he was building Interstate highways. He told me of placing the rocks for controlling drainage, pressing them into place with the loader bucket. Contract said “by hand;” Mack said his hands were on the loader levers!

I also did a column about Mack that I called “Maestro of the Loader Levers.” In it I admired Mack’s mastery of those levers and the other controls of the loader . . . his work went smoothly as he drove the loader without any of the fits and starts characterized by some other operators.

My brother Bill had greatly enjoyed driving the Marine Corps bulldozers to “bust up ammo boxes.” When he told Mack about this, he invited Bill to drive one of his big tracked vehicles lined up in his shop building.

Sure hate to bid farewell to Mack, but he leaves me with a lot of fond memories.                

Garland would like to hear from you at 828-859-7041 or