With the involvement of the United States in World War I, the nations citizens became well aware that the resources of our allies were nearly exhausted. Eyes turned to America for necessary food, fuel and supplies to continue the conflict.
In Fayette County, as in other counties throughout the nation, agencies were formed to not only gather clothes for the Belgian war effort, but also to be sure that local residents had enough food and fuel.
To this end, the Fayette County Food Administration was started, with Judge John H. Webb appointed food administrator. It was a volunteer position with a mountain of work involved.
Fields were threshed in rotation and every bushel of grain threshed was accounted for. Sale of sugar and flour was also regulated.
Meatless and wheatless days were observed throughout the nation by proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson, beginning Feb. 4, 1918. Monday and Wednesday were wheatless, days, whereby one meal each day should be prepared without using wheat products.
Tuesday of each week should be meatless, with one meal served without meat. Tuesday and Saturday of each week were to be porkless. Officials in Fayette County reported there was very little hoarding countywide.
Throughout the nation, there was a shortage of fuel. Hundreds of ships with tens of thousands of tons of munitions, food and manufactured goods lay in port on the Atlantic Coast because there was no coal in the bunkers.
Thirty-nine-year old Charles A. Evans was appointed Fayette County fuel administrator. He, in turn, appointed assistants in various communities to help him C.E. Lindhorst of Ramsey, Thomas F. Heckert of St. Elmo and E.H. Halladay of Farina.
Charles was a businessman and well aware of the potential for problems that lay ahead for Fayette County citizens. Charles showed that he was the right man for the right job during the crisis of Jan. 10-11, 1918.
On Friday, Jan. 10, 1918, many of Vandalias coal bins were empty. A gentle snow began to fall. It increased as the day advanced and the temperature began to drop. A terrific wind arose, making one of the worst if not the worst blizzards in the history of Southern Illinois.
By Saturday morning the temperature was -25 degrees. Vandalia was out of coal and something had to be done.
Evans telephoned Superintendent Schaefer of the Pana Coal Co. and told him of the situation. Schaefer said he would gladly provide a car of coal, but the Illinois Central Railroad had reduced freight to a minimum because of drifting snow. They were having trouble keeping the tracks cleared.
Charles then contacted Superintendent Heverns of Illinois Central offices at Clinton, and he said that he would have a car of coal at Vandalia by the first train if the train could reach that point. He then gave the order to hold a freight train at Pana until the tracks to the mines could be cleared of snow and a car of coal procured.
This was done, it being necessary to hold the train for six hours while a force of men cleared the track to the mines. The following day, the car was in Vandalia and the coal allotted to needy families in 500-pound lots.
Evans also organized groups of men to cut a quantity of wood, with it being delivered to needy families.
Charles was succeeded in the position of fuel administrator by F.C. Humphrey, who served in this capacity until fuel supplies became more stable.
Charles Evans was not done serving the people of Vandalia. Six years later, in 1926, he began making plans for a five-story hotel, Evans Hotel, to be built on the corner of Gallatin and Fourth streets.
In 1940 Charles and wife, Josie, donated the Evans Youth Center, also known as the Scout House, to Vandalia. Twenty years later would see the dedication of Evans Public Library.
The man whose efforts saw Vandalia through the fuel crisis of Jan. 10-11, 1918, continued to help his fellow citizens in ways that generations to come would benefit from his vision.