SWITZER — William Anderson Farley walks around his small house pointing out things that are 100 years old or older.
“Here’s a bed that’s probably 100 years old. Solid walnut!” he says, ambling into his bedroom.
He runs his hands down the side of a wooden cabinet with metal vents on its sides.
“That’s over 100 years old. That’s an old-fashioned pie cabinet,” he says.
He’s standing in an alcove that features a soft easy chair. It’s angled so he can gaze out a window onto his back porch. Beside the chair rests another wooden cabinet, narrow and tall.
“This is a solid walnut gun cabinet that’s put together with handmade nails. They quit making handmade nails in 1910,” he says, sounding as authoritative as a Google search.
Bill wasn’t prompted to find all the 100-year-old items in his house, he just started in on it after getting up from his living room sofa.
Were he to look in his bedroom mirror, another one would gaze back at him.
William “Amazing Bill” Farley is 103 years old, to be exact.
“I’ve got perfect health!” he said.
The only medication he takes is a blood thinner.
“About all blood thinner really is, it’s made out of rat poison, whether you know it or not,” he said.
A Google search — Bill himself has never been on the internet — reveals that, yes, Bill is right: the blood thinner Warfarin first came into commercial use in 1948 as a rat poison.
It’s not hard to see why his 78-year-old daughter, Nancy, christened her dad Amazing Bill, a nickname that stuck.
It stuck so hard that if you address a letter to “Amazing Bill, Switzer, WV, 25647,” the local post office knows where to deliver it. The postal carrier has done so lots of times, according to Farley’s niece, Lynn Vance.
She has come to her Uncle Bill’s house to help with details of the interview, since questions must be asked very loudly and with clear enunciation.
“That’s the only thing wrong with me. I’m hard of hearing,” says Bill, tapping one of his ears, which are both plugged with hearing aids.
Despite having aged into triple digits, Bill lives by himself with occasional month-long visits from his daughter, who lives in Ocean City, Maryland.
Amazing Bill is also quite possibly the oldest man still behind the wheel in West Virginia.
“I still drive,” he said. “I’ve got a 2011 Focus, 23,000 miles on it. Like a new one. I go anywhere I want to go.”
Most mornings that means you’ll find him at Janet’s Park and Eat, a few miles away in Logan.
People tend to buy his meals, he said.
And then there is what you might call the annual “Billapalooza,” although Bill, of course, would have no clue as to the reference to the Lollapalooza music festival.
But when he turned 95, his family and friends began throwing a yearly communal birthday celebration in his honor.
It takes place in the fellowship hall at the red brick Switzer Church of God. It’s the church on the right just as you enter town from the east. (If you’re not paying attention and miss the church, you exit the Logan County municipality — population 595, according to the 2010 census — a couple of blinks later).
Each of Bill’s community birthday parties has a theme. Last year, it was the Hatfield-McCoy feud. This year, guests are supposed to come in Western attire.
“It’s a big deal,” said Lynn, who invited a visiting reporter and photographer to attend the event in August. “You’re friends, now.”
But let’s back up to the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
That’s because Bill has several family connections with the Hatfields, many of whom are buried nearby — including the family’s fearsome patriarch, Devil Anse Hatfield — in the Hatfield Cemetery, about 7 miles away in Sarah Ann.
The Blue Goose
Bill and his niece are both seated in the cozy living room of his four-room house.
Bill has dressed up for his interview. He wears a tan suit jacket over a bright-red shirt, a light-colored tie and gold tieclip, a pair of well-polished brown wing-tip shoes and a yellow cap.
Someone who met him at Janet’s Park and Eat called the newspaper to recommend him and his stories as a worthy profile.
After all, how many 103-year-olds with rat poison coursing through their veins, a direct line to the famous feuding Hatfields and a current driver’s license, do you encounter?
The house betrays Bill’s loves. Cincinnati Reds memorabilia is everywhere, including a Reds wall clock, a car license plate that says “No. 1 fan” and bobbleheads of several players, including Johnny Bench.
Every year on his birthday, the church takes him and some friends to a game where the Reds organization — which has gotten to know Bill — gives him and his friends prime real estate seating behind home plate.
A lifelong hunter until he got too rickety for the woods, one of Bill’s living room walls is adorned with antlers of the first buck he ever shot, downed with a hand-crafted shotgun shell.
The walls are also dotted with framed oil paintings done by his wife, Thelma, and Nancy, both natural-born artists, he says.
“She’s been dead 12 years the fifth of May,” Bill says of Thelma, and you can tell the date is a well-worn track in his memory.
He points to a painting of a woman in a long dress and bonnet, bent over and tending something growing in a field.
“This is my wife’s painting. That’s her mother working in the garden,” he says.
On a side table crowded with framed family photographs rests a black-and-white photo of a handsome couple. They are thin and lithe in the way hardscrabble folk were in West Virginia before the rise of fast-food and sedentary living ballooned so many waistlines and bodies across the state.
The photograph shows Tom and Polly Anderson, Bill’s parents, who passed down the longevity gene to their son. Tom lived to age 83, Polly to 97.
Lynn pipes up, “Tell them how you got your name, Uncle Bill.”
Bill’s eyes light up.
“I was named after Devil Anse,” he says.
Devil Anse Hatfield’s given name was William Anderson Hatfield — born 1839, died 1921.
“William Anderson Farley,” says Bill, rattling off his own given name. “Him and my grandfather were good friends on the Browning side of the family.”
That would be on the maternal side of the family, as his mother, Polly, was a Browning before she married a Farley.
Bill never met Devil Anse, being just a boy when the scourge of the McCoy clan died.
Bill was born August 17, 1913, in the Mingo County town of Muncie, a few miles from Delbarton.
“My brother told me it was on a Sunday, I don’t know,” Bill says.
Of course, someone who used Google could look up the date to be sure.
But not Bill.
He did come to know a couple of his namesake’s sons, though.
“They run Logan County at one time — they were high sheriffs, Joe and Tennis Hatfield, and they were Devil Anse’s sons.”
A clueless reporter who, unlike Bill, does rely on Google, later learned a “high sheriff” is a designation — borrowed from the British Isles — used in early West Virginia history for an elected officer in a county who was responsible for keeping the peace.
Bill moves on to tell a tale about Tennis, who was born Tennyson Samuel Hatfield, and Don Chafin, the infamous Logan County sheriff at the center of the Battle of Blair Mountain.
“Tennis had a place up Cow Creek, it was called The Blue Goose,” Bill says. “Well, Tennis was paying Don so much a month to let him alone. Let him do what he wanted to — whiskey, gambling. Anything you wanted you get it at The Blue Goose.”
Bad blood developed between the two, Bill says.
“So they fell out. Don sent Tennis to the pen over something. Well, Tennis spent his time in the pen,” he says. “When he come back, he got a bunch of guys to swear against Don Chafin, and he sent Don Chafin to the pen.”
Chafin was released and ended up in Cabell County, Bill says.
“Don wound up living in Huntington. Tennis was bad sick with prostate cancer — he was in the hospital. He sent one of his friends to talk to Don, to ask Don to forgive him,” Bill says. “Don says, ‘Go back and tell him to ask God to forgive him — I’m not gonna forgive him!’”
Bill laughs, maybe a tad ruefully. It’s kind of a sad story, like many of the backstories featuring members of the famous feuding families.
The Hatfield family had a reputation, which, of course, it shared with the McCoys, for being aggressive folks.
Bill never saw it, he said. And, after all, even the long-running feud eventually came to a close.
“They were no different than anyone else to talk to,” he says, remembering. “They was supposed to been mean, but they wasn’t real mean people.”
A lot of changes
Bill grew up as one of nine children, several of whom never made it to adulthood, waylaid by outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and other ailments.
Just like his father, who was born in a Mingo County log cabin that his grandfather built, Bill learned a succession of skills to survive and endure the Depression.
“My father was a blacksmith about when the first mines opened up in Mingo County in Glen Ellen,” he says. “He could make anything out of metal. He could shoe horses, oxen. Make ox yokes. He was a pretty good veterinarian, but he wasn’t licensed.”
Everyone farmed and took their food where they could find it — or nab it.
“If they didn’t farm, they didn’t eat,” he says. “They ate opossum, they ate groundhogs, they ate squirrels. Anything that had four legs on it you could eat, they ate it!”
Bill never finished high school, dropping out in 10th grade.
“No money, no books, nothing to buy my lunch with,” he says. “So I had to drop out of school.”
But he says he was resourceful.
“I had it up here,” he says, pointing to his forehead.
He worked as a weigh boss when coal mines lined the hills around Switzer. He plucked oranges for $1 per bag in Florida orchards. He dug ditches, roofed houses, worked the assembly line at a Flynt, Michigan, General Motors transmission plant.
In the latter years of his working life, he had a painting business and then worked for a TV cable company before finally retiring.
“I’ve done it all,” Bill says.
He says he saw a whole lot of changes in more than a century of living.
He recalls when early cars did not have fuel pumps. As drivers approached a steep grade, they’d turn around and drive in reverse to get over a mountaintop to keep the gasoline flowing downhill into the engine.
One entrepreneurial fellow, who lived near the crest of a steep local mountaintop, saw a business opportunity, Bill recalls.
“There was an old guy there by the name of Browning. Had mules,” he says. “And he’d hook the people’s cars and pull ‘em to the top of the mountain. He made a little money that way.”
There is the inevitable question all centenarians must be asked: How has he come to live so long?
“I never did drink, I never did smoke. No bad habits,” Bill says. “Went to church all my life since I was about 6 years old.”
What would be his advice to someone who wants to live to the century mark and beyond like him?
“Stay off drugs, whiskey and tobacco. That’s what I did,” he says matter-of-factly.
Bill shows his visitors the back rooms where he spends a lot of his down time.
There’s a TV, another easy chair and one of two classic, working rotary-dial phones. One is black, the other bubblegum pink.
Bill points to the black phone, the one he says he used when he agreed to be interviewed with a, “Sure, we can try it” endorsement.
“That’s my first telephone,” he says. “That’s the first one I ever had from the time I got married. I pay $14.55 a month to get to keep it. That’s what I talked to you on.”
Despite the several easy chairs, Bill keeps an active schedule for a 103-year-old.
He has tomatoes and peppers already planted in the garden. Being a child of the Depression, he has kept one most of his life. Peaches are starting to show on his tree out back.
The blue ribbon hung on one wall indicates another sideline. Lynn plays piano, and Bill duets with her on harmonica.
“Me and her team up. We win first place most of the time,” he says.
Last October, they entered a competition at a Fayetteville senior center. That’s where they won the blue ribbon.
“Play your harmonica for them,” Lynn urges her uncle.
It doesn’t take much urging. From his pants pocket, he pulls a harmonica. He whips off a minute-long riff.
What’s that called?
“I don’t know,” says Amazing Bill. “I just make ‘em up as I go.”
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at
304-348-3017 or follow
@douglaseye on Twitter.