This column asks the question “Were are they now?” In Stout’s case, the answer is “he is still there,” continuing to work as a locksmith, although he has entrusted much of the business to his son, Sam Stout and Craig Odom, husband of his granddaughter.
Stout provides locksmith services for several banks and credit unions in the region and will be a big help to you if you lose your keys.
But there is a lot more to the life of this 91-year-old, who has been in two wars on two continents, traveled throughout most of the Eastern United States as a truck driver, and several years ago was recognized by Fairview Baptist Church for “75 years of faithful membership.”
Stout was born on Fitzsimmons Hill on Sept. 18, 1927, to T.O. Stout and Stavania Hatcher Stout. He went to Lynn Avenue Elementary School for his first four grades and then went to Range Elementary through the eighth grade. He then became a member of the first freshman class to enter the newly built Elizabethton High School. That building is now known as T.A., Dugger Junior High School.
But most of the boys in his class were more interested in what was going on outside the classroom. World War II was raging throughout the years Stout was in high school and he left school early to enlist like so many other young men had done.
Stout entered service in 1944. By the time he completed training, the war was winding down. He was sent to Europe, but he was only there a short time before Germany surrendered.
The young soldier became part of the United States Constabulary, which was charged with policing the portion of devastated Germany which was in the U.S. zone of occupation. With the economy ruined and the people starving to death, it was a very dangerous place to be. There was a rampant black market and lots off people resorted to crime just to survive. Just as scary, was another mission for Stout’s unit, a walking patrol of the border with the Soviet Red Army. “We had a lot of problems out of the Russians,” Stout said.
Stout remained on active duty from 1944 to 1947. He then returned home, took classes to get his GED, and joined the first Army Reserve company located in the state. It was the 3299th Ordnance Maintenance Co. It was commanded by Capt. J.I. Cornett, who founded his own construction company and would later become mayor of Elizabethton. Stout was a corporal in the unit that would be memorialized with a stone marker placed in the circle of the Carter County Veterans Monument.
Like so many of his fellow World War II veterans, Stout thought his days of war were behind him. But the Army Reserves were quickly activated when war broke out in Korea in September 1950. Stout and his reserve unit was rushed to Fort Bragg, N.C., for some quick training. He said it then went directly to the Pusan perimeter, not even stopping in Japan because of the urgent need. In this war, Stout served with an artillery unit.
As terrible as conditions were in Germany after World War II, he said the people of Korea were in worse shape. Of course, they had nothing to begin with, after being a colony of Japan for a half century. But Stout did not get to know the people, because his artillery battery stayed in the field the entire time he was there.
Stout finally got home again and was discharged from the Army in 1954. That would be the end of his military career.
HIs next career was as a truck driver. He drove for the trucking division of Beaunit Fibers. He transported rayon to every section of the United States east of the Mississippi River. Stout said one of the nice things about the job was that the drivers were always home every weekend. That freedom allowed him to develop his interest in locksmithing into a part-time business in 1966.
His sideline was proving to be successful and eventually, he was able to take a small retirement from the Teamsters Union and begin working as a full-time locksmith around 1980.
His business quickly grew. At one time he provided locksmith services for all the Pizza Huts from Blowing Rock, N.C., to Pigeon Forge. He also began to provide his services to banks in the region.
Stout said he used to have a lot of business unlocking safe deposit boxes. Those boxes worked with two keys. The bank had a key and the customer had a key, but the box would not open without the customer’s key. Stout said the only way to open the box without the key was to drill into to the lock. That destroyed the lock, so a new one had to be installed. He said the steel in the lock was hard, but could be drilled.
Back in those days, he occasionally saw safety deposit boxes filled with gold and silver ingots. He also opened safes that contained gold and silver ingots.
Stout said he no longer sees that kind of treasure. For one thing, people now can purchase their own small safes.
Stout’s love of mechanisms has also kept him employed in another occupation for decades. He serves as a voting machine technician for the Carter County Election Commission. At first he worked on those large mechanical voting machines. He now works on the modern electronic voting machines.
He said his job is to make sure each machine is set up correctly, so that it accurately reports the votes on it and has the correct ballot.
It is an important job, but one that Stout is thinking of giving up before the 2020 election, maybe someone younger might be interested in taking the responsibility.
Stout said he is pleased with how his long life has turned out.
“The Lord has took good care of me all these years, he sure has. I am ready to go,” Stout said with a smile.