One man’s journey of remembering the past to living his best life in the present
By Sue Baldani
Elmer “Stub” Estey’s path to becoming a published author started with a century-old diary found in the attic of a house his parents, Elmer and Emily, purchased in Pompey Center, NY, in 1944. The house was quite old too, but perfect for the couple to raise their five children.
It was his four older sisters, all under the age of 12 at the time, who found the diary along with a loaded pistol. Fortunately, their mother took the gun away before anyone got hurt, and as a writer herself, held onto the writings of another.
“My mother was a gifted writer and she was in Who’s Who of American Women,” said Estey. “In addition, I think she just valued history and artifacts such as this.”
From Diary to Book
The diary, started in 1845, titled Daniel W. Holbrook, Memorandum Book of Remarkable Events as they occur, includes Holbrook’s five-year journey (began in 1849) to California to join the Gold Rush. Although the diary is in great shape, the handwriting is very hard to decipher, so reading it is quite a chore. Over 75 years after it was found, Estey decided to type out the entries.
“My initial thought was to get it typed so people, like my sisters, could manage to read it,” he said. When he was finished, the 160 page written diary was about 60 typed pages.
This endeavor led to the creation of his book, Oxcart Gold Rush, published in December of 2022, two years after he started working on it. Interspersed throughout the pages are hand-written copies from the original diary, and excerpts, sketches, newspaper articles and advertisements from history that often align with Holbrook’s travels. One clip describes a new and improved steel plow and an ad for The Pony Express (delivery in 10 days from New York to San Francisco!).
“It helps readers immerse themselves in his time,” said Estey. “I would read something Daniel wrote and it would set me off on a research project. I would do research for a day or two, write a page or two and then boil it down to the essence. I interwove those little entries with his, but very carefully in order to maintain the integrity of what he wrote.”
Estey never imagined authoring a book like this. Educated as an engineer, he spent 30 years as a manager for AT&T and then several years teaching management and consulting at his alma mater, Clarkson University in NY. “I always thought the book I would write would be about that. I was never a history buff, but this diary brought history to life.”
Writing this book, he said, was a great way of honoring Holbrook’s life and remembering history itself. “It’s just one man’s story, but I like the notion that every person’s story is important and adds to our understanding of the past. And, every life touches so many others; he went past a lot of people and I bet he impacted a lot of them.”
He added, “I’m proud of the fact that this book will preserve his story and my research for generations. I’m the son of a storyteller and I’m kind of channeling my mother.”
Estey said he’s a storyteller in his music too. “I’ve always been involved in music. As a teenager, I sang in church choirs and I’ve continued to sing in church choirs for over 60 years.” He also played clarinet and bassoon in his high school band, and was involved in the theater as well.
In college, he learned to play the banjo and a friend of his learned the guitar in order to provide music for their fraternity. “We’re talking about the 60s, so we were singing folk songs in those days. I also learned to play these songs on the guitar.”
One of his favorite memories is being at a Kingston Trio concert. “That was my favorite band – in the 60s they were a very popular folk group,” said Estey. “I knew every word of every song. They didn’t have any seats left in the audience, so they put 12 chairs on stage, and at one point, one of the band members forgot the words, but I just kept on singing. So I can say I sang on stage with the band.”
Later, he became busy with work and family and didn’t learn any new songs for the next 40 or 50 years. “Then I had this idea to go back to it. I got together with several other folks and we formed the Fair Gap band.” At this point, he was 72 years old.
Estey played in the band for about four years, but put music on hold again to serve a three-year term on the board of the homeowner’s association of the Dominion Valley Country Club in Haymarket, where he and his wife reside.
Acting the Part
When he came off the board, instead of music, he went back into theater after a 60 year hiatus. “My son has been active in theater for over 20 years, and I kept saying to myself, ‘I can do this,’” he said. “When you want to do something, you either have to do it or stop talking about it. You can’t sit around and say how great it would’ve been if you tried.”
Today, at the age of 80, Estey is busy acting with the Fauquier Community Theatre in Warrenton. This past February, he was in The Greatest Generation Speaks, a play based on Tom Brokaw’s book by the same name.
“After he wrote The Greatest Generation, people started writing him letters about their experiences during World War II, and he received so many, he wrote this follow up book. It’s essentially comprised of the letters themselves – the stories of these veterans and people who had to stay home while the veterans left, like Rosie the Riveter and other ladies who kept the home fires burning.”
He also performed his bucket-list role in March – the stage manager in Our Town, and was the producer of the show as well. The band, he said, is on permanent hiatus for now.
“You can’t do everything all at once, but you can do things in bites,” said Estey. “That’s how I evolved. I think the key to staying young is to stay active. Find out what you like and then throw yourself into it.”
He’s also very much a family man. He and his wife Nancy have been married for 56 years and have two children, Chris and Kelly. They also have two grandchildren, which is what brought the couple to Haymarket. They were living in North Carolina and driving to Herndon, VA, to visit Kelly and her family quite often, so they decided to move closer.
“I was an avid golfer, so my house hunting plan was to find a golf course I liked and then find a house nearby,” he said. Kelly decided she also loved Haymarket, and the family moved to town as well.
More about Elmer “Stub” Estey and Daniel W. Holbrook can be discovered between the pages ofOxcart Gold Rush, whichcan be found at LogCabinBooks.com.
Other interesting facts:
Origin of the name Stub: His father’s name was Elmer as was his father’s father. His mother wanted to name him Elmer, but his dad would only agree if he could give him a nickname. He chose Stub because he had a friend who was nicknamed Stub.
In kindergarten, when the teacher called out “Elmer,” he didn’t answer. When she asked why, he said because his name was Stub, not Elmer. He would go by this nickname his whole life.
Favorite folk band: The Kingston Trio
Favorite role to play/play to perform in: The stage manager in Our Town
What he likes about living in Haymarket: The golf courses and being near his grandkids.
His favorite thing about writing the book: To make history come alive and to honor Daniel W. Holbrook’s journey.
Where people can buy it: LogCabinBooks.com
Parallels in life:
At the age of 28, Holbrook was elected Pompey’s town clerk, the same age as Estey’s great grandfather when he took on the role. A hundred years after Holbrook’s term, Estey’s mother took on the position.
Holbrook’s father and Estey’s father were both born on June 26.
Holbrook’s son Levi was born exactly a hundred years before Estey.
Written for Haymarket & Gainesville Lifestyle magazine in Virginia.
One thought on “Bringing History to Life”
What an interesting story. Bringing history to life through the diary! This man’s life is filled with so many different things-wonderful!!!
LikeLiked by 1 person