He remembers the dirt road that the stagecoach ran on many years ago. What is now U.S. Route 185 south, was then a dirt road called Vincennes Road, “because it ran from Vincennes, Ind., to Vandalia, Ill.,” he said.
“I traveled it a lot. The stagecoach would go through here from Vincennes, on the way to Vandalia, and would stop at the old brick house on (U.S.) Route 40. It was an inn, then,” he said.
Clifford Nickels shared these and other memories of his 100 years recently. He was honored with a party celebrating his 100th birthday on Saturday, Jan. 23, at Fayette County Hospital Long Term Care.
Among his amazing recall of his treasury of memories are facts about rural Fayette County that most people today are unaware of.
Born on Jan. 23, 1910, one mile west and one mile south of St. James, Clifford grew up in the area and attended school in St. James at a two-room schoolhouse until he graduated from the eighth grade.
He has many memories of the Four Mile area, where he lived most of his life before he and his wife, Hulda, took up residency at FCH Long Term Care in Vandalia.
Even the story of how Clifford became a resident of Fayette County is one of interest.
Clifford’s mother was (the same as) an orphan, abandoned in St. Louis. Clifford said, “She was picked up and brought out here for the old folks to raise.
“The only history I have on her is from Mac Rush, who brought my mother out from St. Louis. There were two girls and a boy, and their parents just walked off and left them. So he (Rush) picked up my mother and brought her out here to Berry Hill for folks to raise.
“They thought she was about 3 years old; she was too young to tell her name, age or anything. They never knew what happened to the others,” Clifford said.
“Berry Hill was located about where Barnicks live now. The schoolhouse was just east of there, and that is where my mother went to school,” he said.
He remembers when he was 6 or 7 years old, traveling with his dad, a McNess products salesman, in a horse-drawn buggy.
“He would take me along to hold the horse while he would go inside to make his sales, so I had to go with him a lot,” he said.
“We would travel all over the area – Frogtown, Chickenfoot, out to LaClede and up north to Post Oak. I went with him on those old dirt roads.
“We didn’t have Route 40 then,” he said. “There was a road running on the south side of where Route 40 is now, and it was mud holes with brush thrown in them to drive on.
“I would go into Vandalia with my dad and Aunt Dora on that old dirt road, and we would cross that old bridge (over the Kaskaskia River).
“We used to go though there with a team of horses and a spring wagon. Dad used to take us to the Fourth of July celebration in Vandalia on that road. It would be dirty and dusty, and it would be dark when we got home.”
He also remembers the Corduroy Road. “It went across the river bottom. That was our road,” Clifford said.
He fondly recalled, “I used to walk with my grandma, Mary Nickels, to the old Loogootee store to do her trading. “Loogootee was called Slabtown then. She would carry a basket to get what she had to get, what we couldn’t raise on the farm.”
He remembers his grandma telling him about a tribe of Indians who lived near her house.
He also remembers the 1918 flu epidemic. “I was 8 years old,” he said, “It was March 15, 1918, my sister Edna’s (Lovett) birthday. My dad, mother, brother Albert, sisters Cora and Edna, and me – were all sick, in bed with the flu.
“A lot of people died that year, and if it hadn’t been for Dr. C.C. Owen, we probably wouldn’t have pulled through. He had an old Model T touring car, and when someone called, he would get in that old Model T and go down the road past our house. The dust just flew,” Clifford said.
“Dr. Owens also had a team of horses that he hitched up to an open-top buggy. His wife would go out every morning and curry and feed the horses and harness them. If he got a call, she would go out and hitch them up while he got his medicines ready,” Clifford said.
After going through eighth grade at St. James, Clifford went to high school in St. Elmo for a year and a half.
“I had to walk seven miles, morning and night. It got so durn cold, I gave that up,” he said.
He was 15 when he quit school and went to work on the Richardson farm, where he worked for two years. He bought his first car, a Model T, while working for the Richardsons.
Clifford’s interest in cars never waned. He said he kept a list of cars he owned, 19 in all, by the time he was 93.
Clifford married Mary Streuch of Loogootee. They moved to Four Mile area in 1935, “when the Four Mile Store was located where the township house is now,” he said.
Clifford and Mary lived in a two-story house until he built a house in 1940. “There was no electricity there then. We burned coal-oil lamps,” he said.
Clifford worked at the Johnson, Stephens & Shinkle Shoe Factory for Charlie Lowe in the Lasting Room for 35 years, until it closed.
Mary had died, and friends introduced Clifford and Hulda. They were married more than 30 years ago and had enjoyed traveling, were members of the Primetimers group and made crafts for shut-ins.
They now seem very content in their LTC home, and Clifford was enjoying greeting friends and relatives at his party.
He was especially happy to see his brother, Wilbur Nickels, who lives in Parker, Colo., and sister, Mary Jane Marple, from Florida. Another brother, Carl Nickels, was in Floridavand unable to attend, but had visited with Clifford and Hulda earlier.
Clifford was the oldest of 10 children. Deceased are Victor, Cora, Albert, Edna, Lillie and Jim.
Clifford’s took time out to share that his party was “wonderful,” and gave advice for living a long life – “Be good and be careful.”
Good advice – It has worked for Clifford.