Simple Twist of Fate

This piece of paper may seem insignificant but I assure you that it tells an interesting story with a very important lesson for me.

Rehanging a door last summer, I found this slip of paper being used as a shim behind a door hinge. The door was attached to a salvaged-from-demolition door frame from a house formerly located at 133 14th Street in East Wheeling. I had salvaged the door frame almost a year and half before ever finding a use for it. I was finally using the door frame at my house, about 10 doors down.

Brian working on his home in East Wheeling.

I’m constantly intrigued by anything I find while working in old buildings. At first I thought nothing of this piece of paper but it still caught my eye and I unfolded it. I saw that it had a “Roast Your Holiday Bird” recipe and thought it to be nothing more than a recipe card. It was only after further inspection that I realized it was, in fact, a gas bill from the Natural Gas Company of West Virginia. The amount owed was $1.46 and the bill was dated December 9, 1941. Not a bad price for being the dead of winter.

The magnitude of my find did not fully sink in until I realized who this bill was addressed to- Benjamin Earl McCulley. An Irish immigrant, electrician and carpenter, and East Wheeling resident who was born in 1885 and died in 1963. My great-grandfather. Needless to say that I only knew of him through stories from my family.

In the off-months Benjamin would work odd jobs. He had walked to work that day from his long-time home at 44 13th Street. While working, something seemed amiss with the lower of the two door hinges. He searched through his tool box to no avail. He needed a shim but knew better than to walk the block home for something so minuscule. He grabbed whatever he had handy and thoughtlessly took this gas bill from his slacks, folded it up, and pinned it between the door jamb and hinge plate with 3 brass flathead screws. Little did he know that 73 years later, his great-grandson would be taking those screws out and trying to piece this story together.

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Brian and his wife Stephanie celebrating after his swearing-in as Wheeling City Councilman.

After much consideration I have decided that this gas bill is exactly the “sign” that some ask for on the tough days. This bill makes me proud to be invested in Wheeling and working tirelessly to make it a better place. If and when I feel discouraged about the difficult tasks before me, I think about this bill and the chain of events that have brought it to my possession.

This gas bill makes me happy to know that the little things in life, such as shimming a door, can have a lasting positive effect. It shows me that some things are meant to be dealt with “the hard way”. It makes me proud to be a 8th generation East Wheeling resident. But above all else, it makes me proud to know that this story was fascinating enough to you that you have made it to the end. Never give up, always do your best, and never be afraid to get your hands dirty.

My grandmother is 86 years old and helped in the interpretation of this story. November 17th would have been B.E. McCulley’s 131st birthday and his story still lives on with her, me, Wheeling, and the people that take the time to remember where they came from.

Brian Wilson and his wife Stephanie are owners of Sterling Restoration and both are graduates of Belmont College’s Building Preservation and Restoration Program. Brian is currently 3rd Ward Councilman for the City of Wheeling.