In 1879, two Cooper brothers went west from Augusta County, Va. One was a Civil War veteran. The other one, who was younger, wanted to serve, but the war ended before he came of age.
The leaving was caused by a dispute between the older brother and his father.
“If you think you can make it on your own, go right ahead,” the father advises.
Jump ahead 140 years and several generations of Coopers, and the scene once again returns to Virginia. Of course, all of this springs from the mind of author Jim Meyer, with the final two books of seven on the fictional Cooper family being published this year.
Meyer didn’t start off life aspiring to be a writer. Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., he often visited his grandparents, who lived in Waterloo. His grandfather was a farmer and businessman.
“I would go to the public library and read all about farming because I thought I wanted to be a farmer,” Jim says. “I went to Canton Tech to study agribusiness.”
The Vietnam War got in the way. Jim joined the U.S. Air Force and ended up in Oklahoma.
“I listened to the stories the farmers and ranchers told, and thought I’d get back into the agribusiness later,” he says.
Jim’s next stop was Alaska, where he heard many more Western stories. “People in Alaska come from all over the world,” he says.
Another jump ahead – 50 years – Jim was teaching online courses and working as an assistant to a dean at John Tyler Community College in Chester, Va. And he was dreaming of stories about ranching in the West.
“So, instead of talking into a recorder, or phone, I would get up in the middle of the night, write it all out and go back to bed and sleep like a rock,” he says.
Eventually, Jim filled up a spiral notebook, which led to his first book, “Shoshoni Pass,” the beginning of the Cooper family saga. The stories reflect real life and the many tales Jim heard during his years living in the West.
One story concerns Lucky Cooper, a Wyoming rancher, who has to deliver 400 horses to Omaha, Neb., for the U.S. Army. All of the men in the area are off on the biannual cattle drive, and it’s fall, with the onset of winter just around the corner.
Lucky hires 21 women, teaches them to herd horses, and sets off. Of course, they run into snow, which threatens to put an end to their effort. How they pull victory from the jaws of winter is one of the highlights of the book.
The series, except for the last two books coming out this year, are available on Amazon.
In addition to completing the Cooper family series, Jim also has taken on the job as head of the Central Florida Book & Author Expo, sponsored by the Writers League of The Villages and The Villages Recreation and Parks Department. Scheduled for Dec. 8 at Eisenhower Recreation Center, the Expo has more than 90 authors.
“I was determined to go for 100,” Jim says. “Almost one-third of the authors are from outside The Villages, all across Central Florida, with Pittsburgh and the Carolinas also represented.”
The event will be catered by TooJays and will feature a visit from Santa.
“We’ll have coloring books and crayons for the kids, along with a $2 coupon they can use for any children’s book on sale at the Expo,” Jim says.
One of the attractions, besides doing some holiday shopping, is that the authors will sign their books for buyers.
While Jim is now mainly known as a writer in the Western genre – he terms himself a “Western Heritage Author” – his readers probably don’t know that he once ran a laundry. After his time in the Air Force, he was casting around trying to find the right career move.
“I was working in credit collections for a regional hospital system in Rochester, and doing well, but it wasn’t ideal,” he says.
Visiting his in-laws, Jim saw an ad in the local paper listing a laundromat for sale for only $1,000.
“I knew there had to be a catch, but I called,” he said. “The catch was that the building was part of the deal and that was $35,000.”
He bought the business and immediately saw red.
“The water in the town was blood red because it ran through old, broken pipes and the earth around them was red,” he says.
One customer brought her heirloom bedspread in to be laundered.
“It was white – as white as the driven snow,” Jim remembers. “We washed it. And it came out pink. I was devastated because the lady was very well-known and influential. She could put us out of business.”
He called for help. A laundry operator in New Hampshire came to the rescue.
“He said ‘Don’t dry it. Bring it over wet in a bag,’” Jim says. “He washed it in an Amway product, dried and folded it, and returned it in a plastic bag so the customer could see that it was pure white. After that we had a very successful business.”
After his active Air Force term, Jim stayed with the Air National Guard in New Hampshire and then, when he moved to Virginia, with the Air Force Reserves.
“When Desert Storm came along, I was called up,” Jim says. “I said, ‘You can’t do this to me.’ The sergeant on the line said ‘Well, we’ve done it to 5,000 other people. You’re no different.’”
After a spending couple of months at Pope Air Force Base, the conflict ended. Jim returned to John Tyler Community College and resumed his life.
“Then the Air Force said they had a special program. You have to take a promotion, then retire a week later. I took it,” he says.
Fourteen years ago, Jim moved to The Villages.
“We came to visit with friends in Leesburg and took The Villages trolley tour, looked at three homes, bought one and rented it out,” he says. “Two years later, we retired and moved here full time.”
Today, Jim lives in the Village of Santiago overlooking the polo fields.
After the Book Expo, Jim has several other projects in mind, including a new fiction series and a book on Florida’s “cracker cowboys.” Another venture, one close to his heart, is a book on the history of Virginia told through the historic highway signs.
“There are over 2,000 road signs in Virginia marking a historic person, place or event,” he says. “I’m doing the research now and hope to have it out next year.”
Jim is writing it primarily for his five grandchildren, all of whom live in the Commonwealth.
“I’m doing a Virginia byway history because they’re not learning that history in school, and I want them to know about Virginia,” he says, adding that he hopes to publish it as a spiral-bound book so that he can add updates as he completes more research.
John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. For more information visit www.GoMyStory.com.