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Vincent “Vinnie” Thull will celebrate his 101st birthday on July 19, 2013. He remembers the Great Depression and many, almost-forgotten facts and places in Fayette County like they were yesterday.
Displaying his sense of humor, he said with a grin, “Trouble is, I don’t remember yesterday very well.”
“Vinnie,” the fifth of 12 children, was gifted with several talents and skills, and led an interesting, full life … and he remembers most of 100 years of it.
In the Early Work Days
Vinnie was born around Ramsey and reared on the farm. As he talked, he held a large collage of photos, including ones of the first farm he bought. Also in the collage are before-and-after photos of a tavern he bought and remodeled into an attractive house, which was the home his children were reared in.
“We farmed and (during the Great Depression) we hoped we would raise enough feed to feed the horses for another year and have silage for the cattle. It was all horse power then, very few tractors.
“Truckers would take the hogs to the East St. Louis Stockyards. A 200-pound hog would bring what 1 pound of bacon costs now. Dad would clear $3 to $3.50 a hog,” he said.
“Everybody lived off the land, and everybody had a cow. The only things you got from the grocery store were sugar, flour and coffee – the rest you raised, or done without it.
“When I was 15, I started working out as a hired hand for neighbors. During the Depression, you couldn’t get a job here,” he said.
An uncle lived in Iowa and he went there for three years for dairy farms.
“I would get laid off for about three months every year and then I’d come home. I worked up around Assumption and Monticello for a while, when I was laid off. I would shuck corn for one and one half cents a bushel.”
About 18 at the time, he was paid $15 a month in Iowa and sent $10 of it home. “If the older kids didn’t work (in 1930-31), our parents would have lost their home,” he said.
His oldest sister was Louise Koehler, who became a registered nurse and was well-known as she worked at Mark Greer/Fayette County Hospital.
“Folks rented and moved a lot then,” he said. “March was moving time. But every time you moved, you got a little poorer, because you left something behind.”
At one time, the family was in Michigan, “Mother didn’t like it there – it was too cold,” he said.
“We moved back here to the German Prairie, and I went to Grissom School. It was about two miles, so we went by horse and buggy. We would pick up neighbor kids and they would put me on top of the buggy.
“One time they hit mud, I fell off, and they ran over my legs with the buggy wheel,” Vinnie said.
“Then we lived in Nokomis and I went to Bowser School. I went to Bayle City School. Daisy Brown was there. It was a long building, a two-room school.
Better Times Ahead
Vinnie was about 20 when, “I got a chance to start working in a garage. I worked at Froom’s Garage in Ramsey, as a mechanic,” he said. “I worked on cars there until 1936.”
Vinnie and Kin Headed to California
“In 1936, a couple of my cousins decided to go to California,” he said. “I got a job in a garage out there right away. The pay was about three times what it was back here and it didn’t cost anymore to live there than it did back here, so I stayed there three years.”
Beginning a Family and Returning Here
Vinnie and Emma Huber of Hillsboro were married in 1939. Vinnie had been working in California. “I came for her, and we went back to California,” he said. “We just stayed there a year. She didn’t mind going there, but she wanted to come back here.”
“When I came back, I worked for Denton Motors in Ramsey for a little while,” he said.
Changes in Occupations and Residence
“Then I decided I wanted to work outside, because my dad had taught me a lot about carpenter work. It was in the late ’40s and ’50s, and that was when building started going good,” he said. “So that is what I’ve done for the last 40 years.”
“I saved up enough money to buy this 110-acre farm for $10 an acre,” he said, while pointing to pictures of it and the barn in the photo collage he held.
“It had been sold two or three times, and I had saved the money. The house is still there, but lightning struck the barn. We lived there 10 years and I got gassed on the silage and had to give that up, so I went to carpenter work all together.” he said.
They sold the farm in 1952 and bought a building south of Ramsey on U.S. Route 51 that had been Bergin’s Tavern. Using his skills as a carpenter, Vinnie built onto the structure to create an attractive, modern home in which he and Emma reared their children. The tavern structure is in the north end of the home.
“I slept in a tavern for 60 years,” he said, laughing.
Vinnie and Emma had nine children – Harold, Merrill, Ed, Robert, Joe, Dale (deceased), Mary, Ann and Fred.
Snapshots of Memories
• When Vinnie went into carpenter work for Ramsey Lumber Co., he made $1 an hour. He estimates that he built over 80 homes and also built on to the Catholic Church, to which he belongs.
• His first car was a 1922 Model T, which cost him $6.50. The top was bad and, “When it rained, we would stop and get a cushion to hold over our heads,” he said.
• There were no nursing homes then and people who had no place to go just lived around with different people. They were called “suitcase women,” as they literally lived out of their suitcase.
“If someone was going to have a baby (for example), a suitcase woman would go stay with the family to help.”
• He talked about a building on Route 51 that was called the county home or the “poor farm.”
He said, “If someone had no family to keep them, they would live there. They (residents) raised a big garden and had a horse and cow.
• At the old state farm (now Vandalia Correctional Center), men would sometimes steal some chickens or throw a brick through a window just to get arrested, so they would be sent there for the winter (for shelter and food).
Emma died two years ago, after a long illness. Vinnie cared for her for two years before she had to enter a nursing home.
He is still active, but said he had a heart attack and had to give up his home in Ramsey. He now lives at Brookstone Estates in Vandalia. His dwelling is pleasant, with many photos.
One of his skills and talents is woodworking, and among his photos is one of several beautiful violins, which Vinnie made for his children. On the table at his chair is a beautifully finished table lamp.
The hands that shucked corn and toiled as a hired hand, farmer, mechanic and carpenter can also play the violin, which he used to do for dances.
His sense of humor is still evident, as was proven when he walked out to get in his car and found a note stuck on it.
The note asked that the person not park in that spot, but to leave it for the elderly and handicapped. Vinnie took the note in and asked, “How old do you have to be to get to park there?”