1940’s – 1960’s
by: Russ Lancaster
**note** I first wrote this story back in 1999 and have since heard from one of Pop's relatives who (of course) knew a different Pop Nettles than the one in my memory. So, without further adieu, I will begin with Veep Nettle's memory of his dad so you will get a truer story than the one I wrote.
**From Veep** Vernon Pinkney Nettles, Sr. ("Pop") was born in Camden, SC in 1906. He moved to Hamlet around 1924 to live with his sister and her husband--Mr. and Mrs. Jessie Howell, Sr. until Uncle Jess got him on the railroad. Being cut off a lot caused him to seek other ventures which lead to his operating a filling station/store on Highway 74 East across from what is now Quality Parts Junk Yard. Rumor has it he may at one time been involved in bootlegging but I never knew it as a fact and he never talked to me about it other than to say he had learned from mistakes of earlier years.
My mother said daddy had a charisma about him and was well liked by most, rich and poor. He worked extremely hard with many long hours to develop his business and eventually opened a taxi stand with his filling station and moved to the corner of Raleigh Street and Hamlet Avenue at the location that was later occupied by the Dinette and McInnis Motors. Later he added the location across the street that you remember next to the bus station. He and my mother ran both for a couple of years and then combined them at the bus station location.
Daddy had a thriving service station-taxi business from the late 30's until 1959 when he suffered a severe heart attack. He never was quite the same after that and his business declined somewhat until his death in 1969. Our family continued to operate the station until 1973 and the taxi until 1981 but it never was the same without "Pop".
Mom (Mildred Hartgrove Thomason Nettles) was a popular RN in Richmond County and together she and daddy raised three children: Jack Thomason ("Jackie Nettles") Class of 1959, Pam Nettles Dillman, Class of 1966, and V.P. (Veep) Nettles, Class of 1970.
Russ, my vivid memories of daddy go back to 1959--prior to that, you've got me beat; but my memories differ some from yours. I was brought up at the service station and worked there from age 14-20.
The cigar in the mouth you mentioned reminds me more of Tug Jones at the Seaboard Filling Station. Daddy enjoyed an occasional cigar, but seldom had one continually in his mouth. The floor of the station was clean and concrete--not wood. I think the Seaboard Filling Station did have an oil soaked wooden floor. Daddy did his share of "sitting" but more often than not was out talking with customers and going on taxi trips.
The "for a price" part of your article must have meant "below wholesale" because he sold brand new Browning and Remington 12 gauge shotguns for $130.00, new Accutron Railroad watches between $70-90, 19" RCA or Zenith TV's for $100.00 when they were going for much more. To this day, I hear stories of how he made sure people had food, heat, transportation and even money when they were down on their luck. When times were hard, you could depend on "Pop". Yes, he would buy and sell similar to a pawn shop, but I never saw or heard of him taking unfair advantage of anyone. Indeed, he would help those most others shunned (e.g. the seedy cab drivers you mentioned). He was always for the underdog and helped all he could but never wanted to be in the limelight.
Just as your dad was synonymous with youth baseball in the 50's and 60's, Pop was in the 40's. He created, managed and financially sponsored the Hamlet Railers. I still have his wool uniform and records where he brought the team uniforms. Stewart Gordon later took over as manager.
Bennett Billingsley still lives in Hamlet and can share some interesting stories about those Railers as a former player.
I remember my father teaching me the value of work and helping others who tried to help themselves. He believed in health care for everyone but detested welfare for anyone but the truly disabled. He loved and provided for young people and if you hung around long, you got a nickname that stuck for life. He often referred to your old boss Anna Page as "Miss Kitty" and himself as "Marshall Dillon". Ex Sheriff Goodman even made him a special deputy.
Yes, he could keep a secret, but more than that he listened well and gave wise advice to those who over the years kept coming back. He was not an "out front" person, but certainly was the wind beneath a lot of wings. Most I knew respected him, local politicians revered him, but all knew "Ol" Pop was a man of his word. He went many a bond for people others would desert. And they usually paid him back in other ways. My only regret is that I had just begun to understand my daddy when he died, I was 17. I really wish you and I both could have known the Pop Nettles of the 30's and 40's. Most of those who really knew him are gone, but some who would have some interesting stories are still around: Edna Ritter (his niece), Peggy Long, Wade Weatherly, Worth Nash, Bennett Billingsley, "Doc" Craven, Betty Freeman, RW Goodman and John Garner to name a few.
By the way Russ, I'm sharing a picture of Pop taken around 1950, he was 5'11" and weighted around 240, after his heart attack, about 185. His trademark was not a cigar, but either a cap or hat, neither of which he wore straight, but with a slight tilt... Thanks for listening Russ... Signed" "Veep" Nettles.
**note** after reading Veep Nettle's fantastic letter regarding Pop Nettles, I feel tempted to retract what I originally wrote as my own. But then a memory of a person is perceived while knowing them and fades as time goes by. I never meant to belittle Pop Nettles in my original story; I certainly considered him a friend. My memory was written in fondness of the man who befriended me but I could never remember him as vividly as his own son. I thank Veep for sharing and hope he sparked some memories for you as he did me. Now you can continue reading below my original story about Pop Nettles but be warned, Veep is a much better writer than I and he did his dad much more justice than I..... Russ Lancaster
First of all, Pop Nettles was around well before 1940 and well after 1969. But my memories of him deal with this particular time span.
Pop was an entrepreneur before the any of us ever heard of the word. We just knew him as the man that could get you anything you needed with few questions asked.
He ran a combination service station and taxi service at the corner of Hamlet Avenue and Raleigh Street across from the Pee Dee Bottling Co. and next to the Trailways Bus Station. It was one of the few Shell stations in Hamlet.
The service station was full service (as all were back then). It was a small one-room office type building with a couple of service bays. I never saw any cars in the service bays other than one of his taxis getting an oil change from time to time.
Pop always looked the same to me, from the first time I met him as a young boy until the last time I saw him (that I remember) back in the late 1960’s. He was a portly man with a Peter Lorre type face. He always had a cigar in his mouth.
I don’t know his real first name and doubt if anyone outside his family does. He was just Pop to all of us. I first met him as a 5 or 6 year old kid when my dad had business with him and he bought me a nickel Dr. Pepper soda. I was told his name was "Pop" and never forgot it.
If there was ever an underground in Hamlet, Pop Nettles surely must have at least known of it. His reputation was that if you had trouble buying anything or needed a loan, he could handle things for you for a price. I never saw him sell much gas, it could be found cheaper elsewhere even though he would have those customers that he would carry on credit. They always paid their bills too. There was something about just knowing that if you owed Pop money you had best pay it on time.
As a teen-ager, I worked for a while at the bus station as a soda jerk. That gave me lots of time to get to observe Pop. I saw people in need of a TV set, radio, tires, almost anything go to Pop when they couldn’t get credit anywhere else. He would get them whatever they needed and let them pay over time. He had books on lots of Hamlet folks from the well to do to the poor. It seems like lots of folks had needs that Pop could handle. He kept people’s business quiet too. I never heard him talk about anyone else.
I couldn’t begin to tell you his height. I never saw him stand up. I always saw him in that one room office sitting behind his desk in a big old vinyl covered chair. He was surrounded by papers of all sorts and had his telephone handy. He spent lots of time on that old phone. He had a small file cabinet where he kept whatever records he kept. I’ll bet he had at least half of Hamlet’s citizens on the books somewhere in that old cabinet.
I never heard Pop utter a curse word or belittle anyone. He didn’t appear to be a religious man. He did seem to be secretive but maybe that was his way of keeping business to himself. That may be why he was considered so trustworthy.
His one room office had a wooden floor that was bare of trash. Yet, it looked as if it had never seen a mop. It was old and dark colored and seemed to be somewhat oil soaked. I guess that had to do with it being a service station.
He had three or four men that worked for him forever or so it seemed. I don’t remember their names, in fact, I don’t know that I ever knew their names. They seemed a little dark and seedy to me but they probably weren’t. They never had much to say. They pumped gas, ran errands for Pop and drove his taxis.
As I said, I never saw Pop standing. Nor did I ever see him come or leave that old building. It seems he was always there in the daytime and at night it was as if he just vanished. I don’t know if he drove or was chauffeured. I never saw him stand, walk or even in a car. I do know he lived on the other side of town near Main Street but never saw him anywhere except his service station.
Years have clouded a lot of my memory of Pop Nettles but I know I considered him a friend when I was young. He looked after me when I needed him to and when I would drop by to just talk with him he never seemed to busy to pass the time of day. He was a good man.
I wouldn’t even try to write down any of my Pop Nettles’ memories if I thought he were still alive today. He was too private a person. Even now I respect his privacy and you won’t hear anything bad about him from me. Not that I know something I’m not sharing, he was both open and elusive. My memories of him and that station are only good.
His taxi service was in competition with Eden’s taxi service, which is still in business. I don’t know when Pop Nettles closed his place down or when he quit running taxis. Again, it is as it always was with him. He would be there, then he would be gone.
I don’t know if he is alive today but doubt it. I know you wish I would write more about him and I promise I would if there were more to write. I just don’t want the folks of Hamlet to forget about this man and the favors he may have done them.
Places like Pop Nettle’s service station don’t exist anymore in Hamlet and probably not anywhere else. He was a man of his time. He was a friend that could be depended on when you had no friends. He was a ghost of a character that held a lot of Hamlet’s secrets within himself. He did so quietly.
If any of Pop’s relatives ever read this story, I am sure they will be critical of they way I have pictured him. But it is my memory that I pass on without embellishment. It is my memory of a fine old man that knew how to do a favor and do it quietly.
The old Pop Nettles service station is still standing today, but without the gas pumps and without the taxis. The last time I saw it, it was a small used car sales lot. But I’ll bet Pop Nettles spirit is still there somewhere.
I remember Pop Nettles and that old service station. I remember the taxis and his drivers and helpers. I remember the smell of that old one room office, the floor that reeked a little of oil. I remember the pile of papers on his desk and the old vinyl chair that he so mysteriously occupied all those years. I remember all the folks I saw come and go through his door. And I remember that he knew how to keep a secret. He was a one of a kind character that in his way contributed to the spirit of Hamlet and hopefully I can keep that memory alive for some who never knew him.
Yes, I remember Pop Nettles… and I remember Hamlet.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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