Skip Navigation

“I’m a Walking Miracle”

Jim Davis of Cunningham Run

Text and photographs by Carl E. Feather

Jim Davis
Jim Davis of Cunningham Run, Harrison County, demonstrates his physical strength. Photograph by Carl E. Feather.

Jim Davis cleared a path through the garage clutter to his weight set, squared off at the dusty iron bar, and firmly planted his hands thereupon. He took a deep breath, and with every muscle in his body working in unison, raised the 500 pounds of metal a few inches above the stand and held it there for an agonizing second.

Grinning at his accomplishment, Jim, 74, picked up a 50 pound block of metal and swung it above his head. He walked outside to a flagpole, grabbed hold of it a few feet above the ground, raised his legs and held himself perpendicular to the pole until he looked like a human flag, flapping in the Harrison County breeze on a warm April afternoon.

Despite this demonstration of physical strength, Jim Davis says his real strength comes from God, who inspires and directs his every task, from building flowers and coal miners out of scrap metal to carving eagles from logs, from writing poems and playing the harmonica to lifting weights and riding motorcycles. “Whatever a person does, I think before you can do anything, you got to ask for God’s help,” he says.

Credit for Jim’s varied talents must also go to the isolated childhood he knew growing up on the family dairy farm on nearby Jones Run. One of seven children born to Alva and Lona Gregory Davis, Jim started life in a log cabin. His given name is Bryan, but he became known as “Jim” to the family as a result of the wrinkled skin he had as a baby.

“My mom and dad lived beside an old fella, Jim. He was wrinkled up like a prune,” Davis says. “I had wrinkled skin, so they called me ‘Old Jim.’ Well, I got quite a few wrinkles now. I tell people that when you got wrinkles, that’s just room to stretch.”

The family made its living from a Holstein herd of about 50 head.

“I had to do a lot of different jobs,” Jim says. “My dad made my education for me. He helped me a lot. A farm is a real good place for kids to grow up on. We practiced our golf swing with a scythe, mowing weeds.”

Jim says one of his uncles played guitar and harmonica. One of those harmonicas fell into Jim’s hands, and he annoyed his mother with his constant efforts to produce music. Finally, his mother got tired of the noise and gave Jim an ultimatum.

“Mom was going to throw the thing away,” he says. “She said ‘If you don’t learn to play that thing right now, it won’t be here when you get up in the morning.’”

Jim took a hymnal off the piano, turned to “He Hideth My Soul,” and played the song perfectly. “She said, ‘The harmonica is yours,’” Jim recalls. He’s been playing the harmonica correctly ever since.

He credits his uncle Gilbert “Gib” for getting him interested in another pastime he’s followed throughout his life, weight lifting. “When I was 16, one night my uncle was showing off. He could hold an anvil in his hand on an outstretched arm. He influenced me to exercise. I was doing 75 pushups every night before I went to bed,” Jim says.

He built up his muscles to the point he could eventually lift a 100 pound bag of dairy feed with one arm and raise it above his head. He converted a portion of a loft in their barn to a gymnasium. “When a guy is out in the country, he learns to entertain himself,” Jim comments.

He took a vocational course in high school, concurrently learning welding, machine trades, and typing. “That way, if I got out of work, I was so well rounded, if they needed something typed, I could type it for them, then I could go out and fix their machinery,” says Jim, who could type a blazing 105 words a minute in his prime.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.