Clyde Roberts celebrates his centennial

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By John Barnhart

    What will you do on your 100th birthday?  Most folks will never see 100 years. Most of those who make it to 100 will not shoot an eight-point buck, with a muzzleloader at a range of 102 yards, like Clyde Roberts did. Roberts tagged four deer this season, all shot with a muzzleloader. His vision is still good, his hands are still steady and his handshake is firm. He still lives on the farm where he was born a century ago, although not in the house in which he was born. That house burned in a fire in the 1940s, and he personally built the house in which he now lives, from lumber that he sawed himself.

    Roberts was born on Oct. 29, 1913. That was only five years after first Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line, and 18 months after the Titanic sank. Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as America’s 28th president that spring and World War I would break out the next summer. Nobody had televisions, or even radios, in their homes because they hadn’t been invented yet.
    Clyde Roberts also personally knew a Confederate veteran. That was his grandfather, John Roberts. John Roberts was wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines, near Richmond, in 1862. He had his thumb blown off. He returned to service and fought in the Battle of Gettysburg a year later. When the war was over, he brought the rifle he used home. Clyde Roberts remembers handling it when he was young. His grandfather warned him not to put a percussion cap on the nipple, near the breach, because the gun was still loaded. This gun was destroyed in the fire that destroyed the family home 70 years ago.
    He also has a War of 1812 veteran in his family. That was his maternal great-grandfather, John Robert Hughes, born in 1793, who served with the Virginia Militia’s 2nd regiment in that war.
    Clyde Roberts went to a one room school, Orrix School, finishing the seventh grade and going no farther. There were no schools nearby where he could have continued his education, so he opted to go to work, getting a job peeling the bark from pulpwood for 10 cents an hour. He was 14 and went to work barefoot and worked 10 hours a day.
    For a long time, he walked wherever he went, and that included going to spend time with his first girlfriend. She lived on the opposite side of Johnson’s Mountain, and Roberts went on foot to see her, walking 10 miles each way.
    “These old legs got a lot of miles on them,” Roberts commented. They still work well enough today to allow him to climb 20-feet up the ladder to the tree stand from which he hunts on his property.
    His days of long hikes ended when he got his first car. It was a 1929 Model A Ford that he bought in Lynchburg for $137. He drove it to Bedford to get his driver’s license — there was no test back then. When he got back to his car, he discovered he had a parking ticket, which cost him 25 cents. He has now    been driving for 75 years and has never gotten a ticket for anything since.
    That car was very spartan. It had no signal lights and the windshield wiper was hand operated. Of course, there was no defroster but Roberts said you could wipe your windshield with an onion, where the wiper was, and that kept the windshield from freezing.

Church is a vital part of his life
    “I accepted the Lord when I was 16-years-old,” Roberts said, describing one of the major events of his life.
    Robert’s father, Jack Roberts, was a devout Baptist and the family regularly attended Bethlehem Baptist Church.
    The church had just had its annual revival service.
    “There were 24 of us who got saved,” he recalled.
    They were all baptized in a nearby creek, which was rather cold as this took place in November. Roberts recalled that there had been a very heavy frost that morning — nearly as thick as a heavy snow.
    “When we got baptized, we sang a song ‘Shall we Gather at the River.’”
    Roberts is still a member in good standing at Bethlehem Baptist.
    “I’m the oldest deacon,” he said.
    Along with his church, he also liked to attend Piney Grove Baptist Church for Sunday evening worship. Piney Grove was a black Baptist church, but white people were welcome, although they had to sit in the back.
    “When they got singing, they’d rock that church,” Roberts recalled.
    The church had no musical instruments and no song books. One person would start singing and everybody would join in. The church did have a bell, however. It was the only church in that area with a bell and Roberts said you could hear it ringing every Sunday morning at 9 a.m.
    That church is gone now. All that’s left are the headstones in the church’s graveyard. When the church was demolished, Roberts purchased a cabinet that had been used to store the church’s books. He still has it.
    “They were really friendly,” Roberts recalled.

Christmas past
    Christmas was a rather spartan affair for a small farm family back then. Jack Roberts earned cash selling a small crop of dark tobacco, calves from the family’s milk cows and meat from hogs. The family also raised turkeys for cash and sold rabbits that they trapped.  Clyde Roberts was the second of Jack and Ocie Roberts’ four children and the kids hung up stockings, to be filled with an apple or two, an orange and a piece of candy.
    “I always wanted a little red wagon,” Roberts recalled.
    He finally got his little red wagon when his daughter, Iris Krantz, gave him one for his 93rd birthday.
    “We always killed hogs in the fall of the year before Christmas,” Roberts recalled.
    When that happened, Roberts would get a hog bladder and blow through a hollow weed to blow it up with air, stretching it out until it was about the size of a beach ball. He would then tie it off and hang it up.
    “Christmas morning I’d jump on that thing and it sounded like a bomb,” he said. “You had to be careful how you jumped on it or it would throw you.”

Neighbors helped each other
    Roberts said all the small farmers would help each other. Large groups would gather to cut fire wood, thrash wheat, cut tobacco, shuck corn or butcher hogs.
    They also sat up at night with the dead. Back then, when a person died, his body was taken to an undertaker to be embalmed, then brought back home. The corpse would lie in state in the house until it was buried. Neighbors would take turns sitting up at night with the body during that time.

Joining the CCC
    Back in the ‘30s Roberts worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for a while. Roberts said that a man came recruiting for the CCC and Roberts, along with Jack Burnette and Roberts’ cousin, Earl Hackworth, decided that it sounded like a good idea as jobs were scarce in Bedford County back then. Without telling their families, the young men headed for Bedford, signed up and boarded a train for Fort Meade, Maryland. On the way, they stopped in Washington D. C. and got a tour of the Capitol. Roberts took a nap on a bench in front of the White House.
    Once at Fort Mead, the young fellows were assigned to shine the shoes of Army officers. These officers told Roberts and Hackworth that they were being prepared for the Army, which frighted Hackworth, who wanted no part of the Army. He sold some of his clothes, bought a train ticket and went home. Roberts was sent to Scottsville.
    When he got to the camp, all Roberts had were the clothes he was wearing and a $2 bill. The $2 bill ended up being stolen.
    Roberts and the other young men were housed in barracks and provided with work uniforms and three meals a day. Their work involved digging ditches with a pick and shovel and he was paid $30 a month for it. After a month, Roberts got homesick and came back to the Bedford County farm.

Working off the farm
    Roberts recalled the first time he got a job paying 35 cents an hour. He had been making $1 a day prior to that and thought he had hit the big time. He also recalled a job where he, with another man, cut mature hardwood trees — three feet in diameter — with a five-foot crosscut saw. He also had a job running a sawmill powered by steam engine and boiler from an old railroad locomotive. This ran a sawmill and planing mill. Running a sawmill is what kept him out of World War II. It was considered a vital civilian job and some of the lumber he sawed was used to build the Radford Arsenal.
    He met the woman he would marry while working cutting lumber. Nadine Hensley was his employer’s daughter. They got married in 1940 and the marriage lasted for 65 years until her death parted them.
    Along with working for employers, Roberts has farmed all his life. This resulted in a serious accident, when he was 90, involving an Angus bull that dislocated his shoulder and broke three of his ribs. Roberts is apparently made of tough stuff because he fully recovered.
    Roberts has hunted all his life. As a boy he hunted small game and as an adult ran coon dogs. He took up deer hunting after retiring from Rubatex in 1979. Now, his son, Mike Roberts, believes he is the oldest active hunter in the U. S.