- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - James Bays has beaten the odds. The Terre Haute man turned 100 on Sunday.

More Americans than ever - about 73,000 - are 100 years old or older, but women account for about eight of every 10 centenarians, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and, at just 77.6, Indiana has the second lowest life expectancy of any state outside the South.

“Yeah,” the Terre Haute native said, slowly drawing out the word - he’s feeling the effects of age.

“I’m so old I can’t cut it anymore,” he said during a birthday open house at the Fowler Park Barn, not far from his home.

Asked the obligatory question about whether he had a secret to longevity, Bays replied simply, “Nah, just railroadin’ is all.”

Bays is a man of few words and, following a stroke and a series of heart attacks, failing memory. Family members helped to tell his story.

While Bays wore several hats during his working years, he spent most of his career as a railroad conductor, serving with several rail lines before retiring from Louisville and Nashville in 1982.

At his last birthday open house in 2008, several of his former railroad colleagues were among the well-wishers but none is around now, said his daughter, Darla Bays, who was quick to interject a secret to his long life.

“A daughter with medical background that keeps kicking him,” she volunteered.

“Bad food and a lot of beer,” son, James Bays Jr. quipped, while noting the job of a freight conductor is not an easy one.

“You run and jump on those trains and run your legs through the ladders,” he said. “He moved around a lot.”

Roberta Bays, James Sr.’s wife of 55 years - his second wife - couldn’t resist joking about his “pure orneriness,” but also offered more serious observations about the key to her husband’s long life.

“The last three or four times he was in the hospital, we thought he was gone, but we brought the preacher in and he prayed for him and he made it out,” she said. “He was having too many heart attacks so they put a pacemaker in.”

Prior to his railroad days, Bays worked, at 16, as a firefighter with the Civilian Conservation Corps in California. He later served with the Works Progress Administration, repaired radios for a time, ran a service station in downtown Terre Haute and owned and operated a fleet of trucks.

When he wasn’t working, he was an avid fisherman but, as his wife and son recalled, he never ate what he caught.

James Jr. recalls accompanying his dad to ponds in Sullivan County and the two would use fish they caught to stock the lake in Fowler Park - property the senior Bays nearly purchased at one point. He also fished in northwestern Vigo County but didn’t always make it home with his catch. He’d give it away to people along the way.

“It’s amazing everything that he’s seen in 100 years - the progress that should have been and hasn’t and the progress that has and should have never been,.” said daughter Carolyn Rader. She cited cellphones as an invention her father has found especially fascinating, though he balks at their cost.

“When you tell him the prices, he goes, ‘Oh, no,’” her husband, James Rader, said.

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star: https://bit.ly/2oqRrzX

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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