Hog-in-Heaven Wild

Akhlesh Lakhtakia
September 01, 1993

Jock Lauterer

"WHAT I TRY TO TELL MY KIDS—" the ones to whom he's given the School of Communications' $6,000-worth of sturdy, Pentax K-1000 cameras, his 30-or-so photojournalism students "—is you can go to the most humble events, and a good photographer can come away with a stunner."

He watched the kid's grimace with one eye—he swears he did— saw the balloon coming with the other . . . He tries to demonstrate, lifting one eyebrow, swivelling the opposite eye along the edge of his silver-rimmed glasses, but fails, of course. Jock Lauterer's two brown eyes track like anyone else's.

"BACK IN 1969, YOU COULD START a paper for nothing. We started a paper for $10,000. Three people. Eighteen hours a day. No overhead."

Lauterer, as the "Outstanding Male Graduate of the Class of 1967, School of Journalism, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill," took a job in the Blue Ridge Mountains working for "an old woman who owned several community newspapers."

It was the sort of job most journalism students land right out of college, and the kind most are not prepared for. (Lauterer pulls out a witness: The front page of a recent grad's first issue of a tiny home-town tabloid. The grad's own photo smiles out from below the masthead. The lead story begins, There's a new man in town.)

"I was this hotshot photographer out of Chapel Hill." Lauterer returns to his own tale. "Don't tell me how to run a newspaper, I knew!"

He and his publisher, of course, didn't get along. He put it about that he meant to start up a paper of his own. At her Christmas party, two gentlemen approached him. Hear you want to start a newspaper . . . "Three months later," Lauterer recalls, "This Week was born." By 1974, it was "on its feet."

It was "relentlessly local. We carried nothing we didn't write, nothing outside of the county." But, "it was an acceptable alternative, not an off-the-wall paper. It was quickly recognized in the North Carolina press circles as the finest weekly in North Carolina."

And, "it positioned me to meet all these wonderful older people from the mountains. Every Wednesday we'd do a picture page on the second front . . ."A photo and story of Reid Biddix, who still drove his Model A to town, once a week, for groceries. Or Nelle Smith, who kept a groundhog that hibernated in her washing machine ("with Roscoe, every day is Groundhog Day," she said). Or the Padgett family, who kill hogs every year the day after Thanksgiving: "We still hold to the old ways—and I want to learn 'em how to kill hogs," Walt Padgett said of his grandchildren. "The day might come when they'll need to know."

Lauterer's first coffee-table book of these word-and-image portraits, Wouldn't Take Nothin' For My Journey Now, came out in 1980 to wide acclaim; a second volume, Runnin' On Rims, in 1986.



These are the words with which Lauterer describes the years 1974 to '80, when he was a part of the commune "Hogwild." ("I'm not sure we were a commune, but we were a commune-ity," he adds.)

A friend had found this outrageous house, for sale, on 300 acres beside a river called the Rocky Broad, a 10-minute drive from town. He named it "Hogwild.

" "He figured the only way he was going to buy that place was to get other crazies to go in with him." He recruited Lauterer and five more "bellbottomed, ponytailed tie-dyers."

"I would get a log barn and a tenant house"—on 50 acres— "so I said, 'Oh, well . . .'"

HE WANTED HIS CABIN 100 yards from where the structures stood. "The whole process was one of salvage, moving, making one house out of two. I thought it was going to take three months."

For the summer, he and his wife and daughter moved into "a junky little house in town." ("If the town had had a condemnation ordinance, the fire department would've been using it for practice.") "I had seen friends try to live in a construction site," he explains. "I wasn't going to do it. You can't have babies and nails, toddlers and flue liners all mixed up together.

Jock Lauterer

"When it came to be September, and all I had was the log-cabin structure and the roof on . . . no plumbing, no wiring, no floors . . .

"It turned into a four-year saga." He fixed up the town house, worked on the newspaper, worked on the cabin (soon to be named Tom). "When I was there to work on Tom, there were no distractions. The actual building process was like Tai Chi, a moving meditation."

He kept a journal ("With no thought of a book," he avers. "I didn't realize this was a book until '86."). Took scads of photos ("because I'm a compulsive documentarian"). When blanked on a topic for his newspaper column, he wrote about the house. ("A newspaper friend said, 'You're the only reporter I know who can put up one log and get 20 inches out of it.'")

He did not name the cabin. That was his four-year-old son: "Years later, when we were leaving, my son turned around in the car and said, 'Who named Ruby?'—; the dog.

"And I said, 'I named Ruby.'

"'Who named Slicky Mountain?'

"'Your sister did.'

"'Well, who named Silver Creek?'

"'I guess I named that, too.'

"'Who named Hogwild?'

"'My buddy, Bill Byers.'

"'Well, I haven't got to name nothin' nothin'!'

"'What did you want to name?'

"'Does the cabin have a name?'

"'No. What do you want to name the cabin?'


Lauterer shakes his head and laughs. "Just Tom. Tom Bombadil. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son. Tom the irascible old curmudgeon of a log cabin soul. It was perfect."

THE RELENTLESSLY LOCAL This Week served a community of 10,000 for nine years before going daily in 1978. In 1980, making "lots of money, but no fun," Lauterer left to start up a new weekly 30 miles away. (The other two founders? "Those guys are still there. They are wealthy beyond usefulness.")

Thirty miles was too far to commute from Tom.

Lauterer abandoned the cabin, having lived in it only two years, to a series of renters that would stretch, though he'd never have imagined it, more than 10 years.

The new weekly did well until the 1982-83 depression—"If you'd lived in Marion, North Carolina," Lauterer notes, "you'd have called it that, too"—which "more or less wiped out the town. That newspaper got in bad trouble," he says. "I was lucky to sell it and get out.

"That's when the marriage went under too."

Unemployed, unattached, he "got a call from UNC. They said, 'Come teach.' I said, 'I'll be right down.'" Lauterer taught newswriting and photojournalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then those (with some PR on the side) at Brevard College in North Carolina, before coming to Penn State to "jumpstart" a photojournalism program in 1991.

In all that time, "I rented Tom. I never went down there. I knew it would break my heart."

THE BOOK, Hogwild: A Back-to-the-Land Saga, took longer than the house (five-and-a-half years, mostly summers). It was "constructed"— he laughs—"much like the house," from bits and pieces of other things. It reads like a journal, ending in 1978, "with the so-called completion" of Tom: "This was not a house made by a master craftsman," Lauterer concludes. "I was so inexperienced. I was so naive . . . If I can do this, then anybody with one whit of commitment can do it."

But there's an epilogue.

In the summer of 1992, Lauterer took a Mac down to Tom, set it up on the sun porch, and began to write. "What happened to all my old buddies, the old tie-dyers? They were all still there. But they had Jeep Cherokees. TV's and VCR's. Andersen Window-walls. There was a regulation tennis court on the commune. And swimming pools.

"But look at me—I'm an assistant professor at a major northeastern research university. I wear a tie to work everyday. I wear Dockers, Rockports. I was driving a Jeep Cherokee, too. "

The book has a bittersweet, but good, ending. It says something about our generation."

It's a $12.95, 6-by-9-inch paperback, "the kind of book I want some crazed person in the woods to stick in a backpack, to write in the margins of. This is not an art-photography book. The photo-reproduction quality is not impressive. These photos are more illustrations than 'my photography' in holy terms.

"Runnin' On Rims cost $24.95 and, while that's a nice book, it's a coffee-table book.

"I learned something from that."

Lauterer's next book, he says, will be on community journalism, "a textbook, field guide, and survival guide."

Jock Lauterer, 47, is assistant professor of journalism in the School of Communications, 18 Carnegie Building, University Park, PA 16802; 814-863-7990. Hogwild: A Back-to-the-Land Saga was published by The Appalachian Consortium Press, 1993; Runnin' On Rims, by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1986; Wouldn't Take Nothin' for My Journey Now, by the University of North Carolina Press, 1980. Lauterer is faculty adviser to The Penn State Journalist and on the board of directors of Penn State's independent student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. Portrait by former Collegian photographer Yana Balson, November 1991.

Last Updated September 01, 1993