June 25th, 2009 by The Lexington Herald-Leader

JUMBO -- It isn't here. Not the town and not the Jumbo School Road. The map clearly shows they both should be here, but we've gone three times past where it says they should be and we've reached Greasy Ridge Road, which, says right here, is too far.

Missed it again.

How do you exactly overlook something Jumbo?

Let's review. The Kentucky Atlas says just past Miracle, there's Jumbo. Not expecting miracles today, just Jumbo. Back it up, dodge the turtle in the road, backtrack. Creep along. Turtle passes us. No Jumbo.

Lincoln County's Ky. 698 is a road with fast-moving vehicles flying by the slow-moving Green River and its low valley of sparsely placed houses and barns. Where the outskirts of the sought-after town are roughly supposed to be, at one end, one finds an old green church that no longer holds services but still proudly announces the time that the Lord used to gather the flock and, at the other, an extremely large Pentecostal church where it looks like the Lord moved to get an audience of hundreds on a much more regular basis.

Something is going on. Or has already left.

Down this road, moving at a clip uncommon to most farm machinery, Ronnie Brown leads a convoy of two tractors. His is the John Deere with the air-conditioned cab. He's from Chicken Bristle. He waves nicely from the cool comfort within and keeps moving. Second in the parade is Robert Wren, in the more conventional Massey-Ferguson open-air variety. He's from Hustonville. They are both going to haul hay - the big rolled kind - that they bundled the day before.

They have to be flagged down for directions.

"Don't know nothing about it," Wren says, when asked about the whereabouts of Jumbo.

Back to the map. Where the map says "Jumbo School Road" in little print, there's a Martin's Trail to the right and a Lewis Road to the left.

Taking Martin's Trail, a search for a school comes up empty. Instead, a city reservoir, a suburban development for roosters, and people who won't leave their houses.

Taking Lewis Road, we hit pay dirt.

Raymond and Alice Lewis woke up one day very recently to discover that all the old folks who knew anything about Jumbo had died, and that they were it.

This explains why Alice, who is president of the Homemakers Club, is hosting a Homemakers' Picnic the next night, just as she has every year for many. But this time she is calling it a community picnic, because "like I was saying to Raymond just last night, there is so much history gone by and it's a whole new world here," she says. "Places stay the same, but time goes on."

Place names stay the same, too, but sometimes people don't notice because, well, their addresses don't reflect reality. Instead, they read like the names of the cities to which they come closest. In this case, Stanford.

And the little towns, no matter how jumbo, get swallowed whole.

It was something Raymond and Alice are setting to fix. They want to meet their new neighbors and, if they ask, to tell them stories about this place.

Alice explains that there's a lot of new folks to do the explaining to: A couple from Maine, another from Cape Cod, a retired minister from Florida. ("Used to be people did a lot to move away from here," says Raymond, the native Jumboite, smiling with pride.)

Maybe they don't even know it's called Jumbo, Alice says with a start. There's nothing left in town that serves to remind.

The Lewises set their minds, right then and there, to the task of remembering. They also set their minds to finding that newspaper edition from 1976 when Mrs. Oscar Mason, God rest her soul, wrote down everything she could remember about the town. That was a good thing, jogs Raymond's memory a bit.

As Raymond tells it, this was all virgin timber and wilderness when Morgan Smith claimed 1,400 acres and began logging through here. He got himself a sawmill and an animal helper to speed the work. When the time came to name the town, the name of the animal seemed to fit the mood nicely.

The animal was an elephant. His name was Jumbo.

The story provokes so many questions but not verification. The whole thing is retold by Mrs. Oscar Mason in black-and-white in the bicentennial special commemorative.

The Green River trickles right through the Lewis family's front yard. The schoolhouse, they say, was right there on the opposite corner on the road now called Martin's Trail.

Raymond's dad went to school there. In fact, Raymond's dad loved school so much that after he finished eighth grade, "he kept wanting to go to school," he says. That was really out of the question in those days, Raymond says, but his grandfather knew that the boy was "more intelligent that the rest of the family" so he let him go back to the school and he took eighth grade two or three times just to get as much as he could out of the teacher.

Raymond was born and raised up in the hollow on land that is now under Stanford's reserve water supply. He knows every inch of the town, wet or dry, by walking it.

His most famous walk happened when he was just 5. He and his Grandpa Lewis had made a trip to the stockyards in his grandpa's cattle truck, and on their way back, something was rattling in the floorboards. His grandfather bent to take a look and, before you knew it, he'd turned over the empty cattle truck.

"It was like it was yesterday," says Raymond, again smiling with the memory. "I'd landed on top of him and I wasn't hurt. We scrambled out together."

His grandfather knew he'd be there awhile straightening the mess, out so he sent the boy home - a mile-and-a-half walk - on his own. Again, he was 5 at the time.

Raymond wasn't supposed to tell his mother what happened. But the next day at church, he was singing really loud about "how I was going to meet my maker soon," he says. Then he told every boy he could about his harrowing adventure in vivid, joyful detail.

Sure, enough, that was his last trip to the stockyards. His mother made sure.

Still, from the distance of six decades, Raymond can "remember how the dust smelled" when the truck came to rest on the side of the road.

For a small town, Jumbo has been plenty busy with serious enterprise. Tobacco grew nicely on it. It fattened cattle and milk cows. Oil has been found under it. The timber business was good for a long time, helping make homes, split rail fences, whiskey barrels. Geodes are still being unearthed along the river's banks.

For a while, it supported the Lewis family grocery and huckster wagon, but the Depression broke the family back then because so much credit was extended.

Raymond says it wasn't like the family was really broke, it was just bending. They withstood.

"My mother was a Miracle," he say. Lots of people by the name of Miracle in these parts, he adds, laughing. That's why the next town over was named Miracle.

The Lewises live on 192 acres, which they bought "because it was a bargain," he says. They recently got their mineral rights back just in case the oil isn't played out. People have gotten back to drilling close by, and they might want to come looking for it on their property.

Now that would be big. Jumbo, even.

Reach Amy Wilson at 859-231-3305 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3305.

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