Bill Floyd’s Rough Sleddin’

by Bill Weaver
photo by Cindy Steele

“I was 14 years old before we ever had electricity,” Bill Floyd laughs, remembering what it was like growing up in Brown County during the 1940s. “We had an old radio that played off a car battery. We got to listen to shows like Amos ’n’ Andy, and The Great Gildersleeve. Every Saturday night we’d listen to the Grand Old Opry. My mom loved country music.” At the end of the week his father would switch the battery with the one in the car to recharge it.

“It was kinda rough sledding,” he continues. “We never were hungry—we had a garden—but sometimes it wasn’t the best feed. We ate a lot of potatoes and beans. My dad’s idea of a picnic was for my mom to get up on a Sunday morning and fry a bunch of chicken. We’d go up on a ridge and pick blackberries until noon. Then we’d sit down and eat our chicken and go back to picking blackberries.” His mother would then spend the next several days making jelly and jam. “She never bothered to use quart jars or pints—she canned everything is half gallon jars. People can’t believe that.

“I had two pair of overalls when I was just a little squirt. When my mom was washing one I had the other pair on. Me and my sister, who was two years older, saw this purty little kitty cat down in the field and we tried to catch it. It ended up that it wasn’t a cat, it was a skunk. My momma had just washed one of my overalls, hanging them on the line. So I ended up having to wear one of my sister’s dresses!

“Brown County years ago was no easy life,” he continues. “Kids nowadays can’t comprehend living that way. They just couldn’t survive. Just like that old outhouse near my parent’s house. The kids said, ‘What’s that for anyway?’ My wife told them, ‘That’s their toilet. Instead of a bathroom that’s where they used to go.’ They opened it up and said, ‘Well, how come there are two holes in there?’ My wife said, ‘Just in case one of your friends wanted to go to the bathroom with you,’” he laughs. “They said, ‘Aw, gross!’

“It was pretty rugged,” he says, adding, “I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”

Bill is 72 now and retired from Cummins Engine Company after “42 years and 10 months.” Born on a farm near Yellowwood, his family spent some time on Clay Lick before ending up on the property where he still lives west of Nashville. He was raised with four sisters and one brother, who lives a short piece up the road. “I’m 13½ years older than him. I didn’t think I was going to have any brothers but he finally come home. He was the last one. We never got to be real good buddies until, I don’t know, I was 40 years old.”

Their father was working at Noblitt-Sparks, which would become Arvin Industries, when he was drafted in 1944. Returning from Japan and the Philippians, “He found out this place was for sale. The old man that lived up the road here had used the house for a corn crib. I was just a kid but I told my dad, ‘It looks to me you’d be better off tearing the thing down and start over building a house.’” But his father decided to refurbish the old house instead.

“So I crawled under that thing with block and tackle and everything else. There’s barbed wire holding that house together now. We twisted the wire to hold the walls together, and he put new windows in, new floors. He probably put twice as much money in that house than if he’d built a new one. It’s still a pretty solid old house. I’ve got a workshop in it. I’m about wood the way my brother is about old cars.”

Bill lived in Seymour for awhile but found that he was spending most of his free time helping his parents in Brown County. “My wife said, ‘I don’t know why we don’t just build out there because you spend about 90% of your time there.’” They built a comfortable home on the hill overlooking the old family farm.

“My brother in-law came up to visit us one time,” Bill remembers. “He lives down in the southern part of Kentucky, right along the highway. One morning we were out on the porch drinking coffee and smoking. He couldn’t believe how quiet it was.

“Yeah, I really like it out here. Everybody says, ‘You ought to sell some of that ground,’” he bends to pet the loyal old dog that has followed him down from his home. “I tell them I’m not selling any of it—unless I have to.”