Fit For Work
Raylo Smith hit the gym Tuesday, the first step toward getting his strength back and getting back to the work he knows best – laying brick.
He walked through the lobby of Quest 4 Life Wellness Center and rode up the elevator, receiving waves and brief greetings from people already working out. He climbed on the treadmill and started walking. Easy.
Then it was off the treadmill and around the track twice before taking a quick break.
Smith is 96, but he only stopped laying brick in 2008 to stay at home and look after his wife of 72 years, Agnes, who was suffering through pancreatic cancer. He spent four years looking after Agnes before she passed in 2012, and during that time the strength Smith had built from decades of mason work waned.
That’s why he’s walking, to build that strength back up so he can get back to laying bricks. He wants to get his strength built up by the time warm weather returns.
“Laying brick ain’t as hard as this,” he said, sitting down after the first cycle of treadmill and track.
Smith was born in Deep Gap in 1917. His father built a home in an area known as Basin Hollow near Stony Fork, choosing the spot for its spring. It was a home with nothing but woods all around, Smith said.
For the last seven decades, Smith has lived at his small farm in the Miller Hill area of Lenoir. He is a member of Miller Hill Baptist Church, where he has even done some of the brickwork.
His first jobs were farming corn and potatoes and cutting timber with a crosscut saw in Watauga County in the 1930s, before he moved to Lenoir in 1937.
He brought with him a bushel of potatoes, which sold at 25 cents in Watauga County but 50 in Lenoir. In Watauga, he was making 5 cents an hour, but in Lenoir he doubled that wage.
“I had to work pretty hard for a dime an hour,” he said.
He worked rolling logs for Lenoir Veneer Co. When the logs would come in by rail, it was his job to roll them off the rail cars and into the plant to be cut into pieces for furniture. Before long, he was moved upstairs to run a band saw.
He stayed with the company for six years, until World War II broke out. During the war, Smith went back to cutting timber, a job that kept him off the draft lists.
After the war, he and his brother Ramson went into the masonry business together, mostly laying foundations for houses, hundreds of them, but also some business buildings.
His business grew through the years, and eventually Smith took on another partner, George Adderholt, and together they founded Smith and Adderholt, eventually garnering a crew of six employees.
If there’s a thread that connects the different jobs that Smith has done, it’s hard work -- and lots of it, which kept him in good shape, said his son, J.R. Smith.
“All he’s done is work, farm and sleep,” J.R. Smith said, adding that his father has never drunk alcohol or smoked.
The treadmill, the track and possibly some weight training later will help him get back to work again, something he’s completely serious about, J.R. Smith said. But when that time comes, if he needs someone out there mixing up mortar, J.R. Smith said, “I hope he doesn’t make me.”