Bill and Ruth Cochran
In 1944 Ruth joined the Coast Guard, against the advice of her friends who warned her she’d ruin her reputation. Stationed in Miami Beach, she regularly walked the beach, picking up shells. This kindled her lifelong interest in beachcombing. In 1946, Ruth returned to her home in Charlotte, NC area and soon made the acquaintance of Bill Cochran, a handsome Davidson College student, who taught flying lessons. Ruth signed herself up for lessons, soloed, but never got her Pilot’s license. She didn’t need to, because along the way she married her instructor. Bill’s career was the Air Force; after his various hitches he retired a s a colonel, and the couple settled back into civilian life in North Carolina. Working as a flight instructor at a Kinston Flying School, Bill flew over the Outer Banks one day with a student and was hooked mid-air by the charm of the sea. In a very short time he was back with Ruth for her stamp of approval, and soon they were living at Buxton, where they operated a flying service to Ocracoke and opened a small Gift Shop. That first store, located on the main highway shared a duplex with a Barbershop.
On many of his flights to Ocracoke Beaches with sportfishermen, Bill would take Ruth with him so she could beach comb. He’d put me out, she recalled with a smile, and then go another five miles down the beach with his customers. Later on he’d stop back to pick me up. Sometimes, she continued, there wasn’t enough room for me to go along, and Bill would send me out on the highway to stop traffic so he could take off. He was always landing somewhere- on the beach, the highway, by the Coast Guard Station, we had such good times. In 1957, the lure of Ocracoke enticed Ruth and Bill away from Buxton. They moved to the island to operate Stanly Wahab’s Silver Lake Inn, now called the Island Inn. We had so much to learn about running that place, Ruth recalled. In the Winter, she told me, Bill would cook breakfast for their guests. During the season he flew so much that he had no time to cook. Wilbur Gaskill worked in the kitchen, too Gaynelle (Tillet) and Geneva (Odom) were two of our waitresses, and Lizzie Scarborough served as housekeeper.
In addition to operating the Inn and flying or driving hunters, fishermen and shell seekers to the beach, Bill also served as mail carrier for Ocracoke during inclement weather. When it was windy and the Mail Boat couldn’t go, he’d fly the mail in, One time the wind was so strong that I had to go out and hold the wing down while he was warming up the engine, recalls Ruth. About 1960, Ruth and Bill opened an Ocracoke Gift Shop, selling many of the shells and driftwood that they regularly brought home from their beachcombing trips. It was the first gift shop on the island, Wahab Howard built it for us and we paid $45 a month in rent, Ruth also worked as a ticket seller for the Cedar Island Ferry. The ferry office wasn’t far away from the shop, and about half an hour before the ferry was to leave, I’d run over to the ticket office and Bill would come sit in the shop while I sold tickets.
Bill enjoyed collecting shells as much as she did. After they moved to Ocracoke, they spent a lot of time together on the beach in one of their three jeeps. We had names for all of them, One was called The Goose Hunter, one was The Flying Fisherman, and the third was The Beachcomber. You know, I drove them a lot myself, she confided. When we ran the Silver lake Inn, I’d drive folks out to the beach and back then there was a lot of standing water and big puddles. Of course, she went on conspiratorially, I knew how deep the water was, but the other people didn’t. Some of those men-of, their eyes would get so big when they saw me heading into those puddles! The Cochran’s gave up the Silver Lake Inn in 1960, but continued to operate the Gift Shop until 1968 spending the off season in the Florida Keys and buying shell specimens from the fishing boats there. They then retired to the mainland, but shell collecting was in their blood and even there they continued to own and operate a shell shop. Bill Cochran passed away in 1987, Ruth still alive at the time continued to live in her home near the beach. Some of her best specimens are included in the beautiful collection that she donated to the OPS Museum.
During Bill’s many flights over the islands he was able to see some of the shipwrecks that had come uncovered, this is a telegram from the Carroll A Deering wreck that he saw on Ocracoke but then another Hurricane moved it up to Hatteras and he writes; “Sunken ship sails again. Mystery ship, Carroll A. Deering put to sea again during Hurricane Ione. Changed position nine miles, Ocracoke Island to Hatteras Island.”
The Carroll A Deering was a five masted schooner that allegedly ran aground near Diamond Shoals in 1921, found several days later by the coast guard with full sails, dinner prepared with place settings in the galley but not a soul of her 11 man crew on board, only a cat was found roaming the deck of the ship. The lifeboat was gone, the rudder and some important equipment from inside the ship
Mutiny, Pirates perhaps ? This “Ghost Ship” remains a mystery. The coast guard decided to blow her off the shoals with some dynamite so she wouldn’t become a Hazzard to other ships so eventually the bow washed ashore on Ocracoke and stayed there for 34 years…until Hurricane Ione in September 1955 lifter her old rickety boards up and took her 9 miles up the beach in Hatteras for next resting place.
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