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Nicholas 'Nick' Rouster


Posted By: Errin Wilker (email)
Date: 2/3/2013 at 12:48:32

Nick Rouster, 77, of New Albin Straight Out of Old Testament

Old Man Mose ain’t dead…

Any idea that he is departed from this world is ended when 77-year-old bachelor and retired carpenter Nick Rouster appears on the threshold of his old dilapidated shop and living quarters.

Nick reminds others of “some character out of the Old Testament," but a first thought was "By gosh, here comes Moses."

He is oval-faced with high bald forehead framed by unkempt and bushy hair and scraggy whiskers and his beaked nose separate twinkling eyes and a wide-open mouthed grin.

His living quarters are three small and indescribably crowded rooms cluttered with boxes, papers, books, record books and you just name it.

"I don’t like to throw anything away," he says.

He has worked and lived in me same shop here—which he built himself in 1920—-but has always boarded out and now seats twice daily with a member of his family four blocks away.

He emerged shortly before noon from a small darkened room which contained a rumpled bed against one wall and papers stacked ceiling-high and packing boxes along the opposite wall.

He was dressed in striped bib-over-all and gray shirt as he entered the cramped living room and settled himself in an old rocking chair heaped with blankets and coats.

He said, "I get sleepy after eating."

The room contained a wood-burning cooking range, a pile of firewood, tall stand with television set, a row of cupboards, wash stand with water-filled basin and a high-legged wooden stool for the visitor.

"The thing smokes," he commented, pointing to the stove where dust settled thickly around a large pan of water on the open oven door.

The stove puffed a black cloudy circle up from a lid.

The windows were unwashed and cobwebs hung undisturbed in the corners of the drab bare-board walls.

"I don’t dust," he vouched, scraping his boot-shoes on the rough board floor.

Empty chewing tobacco packages and antacid containers were piled high in a large washtub near the middle of the room.

Speaking of tobacco chewing, he said it is one of his hobbies…"since I was 14"…and he adds that he never did care about smoking and brought out a carton of cigarettes left by a drifter 20 years ago to prove it.

The long handle of a dipper protruded from a half-filled water pail on a shelf below the cupboards. Nick carries his water about four blocks.

"It’s not much trouble," he says. "I don’t wash too much anyhow, when I was a kid at home all I had to do was wash,” he adds.

He lifts his five-11 and 160- pound frame from the rocking chair and walks into the third adjoining room, where he seats himself before an old office desk whose drawers are filled with aged and dust-covered papers and records.

As a record keeper he has no peer…

Ask him any question about any event in his own life and most likely he will come up with the answer out of one of his many worn "journals" in which he neatly records daily occurrences.

Nick has recorded, for instance, the weather in his own home town for the past 30 years.

"It’s only a hobby," he says.

He also began collecting stamps 35 years ago and says he now has about 35,000 of them.

He has kept records of all the checks he has ever written, as well as records of the cost and expense of a car he once owned, records of all purchases of chewing tobacco and notes to the penny of interest he paid for a loan he made to get started in business.

Records, papers, magazines and books are heaped high on a pile on the floor in his crowded office. A bare light bulb hangs over the desk, which also holds a modern adding machine.

Nick recalls he used to read and listen to the radio a lot and says he used to tune in on a conversation and read at the same time, then later relate the subject of each.

He was born to Theodore and Kate Rouster Sept. 25, 1892, about six miles south of New Albin along the railroad.

His parents were natives of Luxembourg, who emigrated to the U.S. and met here and were married. His father was a farmer.

"My parents told me they found me up on the hillside under a rock," he says laughingly.

He says he attended country school until he quit at 14, but later finished about half a civil engineering course which he took from a correspondence school.

He recalls helping at home on the farm as a lad and can remember plowing corn when he was 12. He later worked several years as a carpenter. He then was drafted into the Army and served in France.

Nick started his own business in a wagon shop here in October 1919 in which, he says, he "did everything.” He says he did all kinds of carpenter work, including building quite a few cupboards and used a Model T Ford engine to power his woodworking machinery.

"I made my 50 years,” he explains about his retirement last year, "now once in a while I do a little saw filing."

He has three living brothers, John and Peter of New Albin and Jacob of Michigan, and two living sisters, Elizabeth Lamb of La Crosse and Mary Thompson of New Albin.

"I am not much of a mixer," he says. "I don’t go any place much anymore, except for trips to the store, post office and bank and for my two meals a day.”

"I always said when I was a kid that I would never get married until I could support somebody," he explains.

"Well, I ain’t made it yet," he said, and smiled.

~Source: La Crosse Tribune, La Crosse, WI, 12 April 1970.

~Nick Rouster 1892-1977 is buried in St. Joseph cemetery, rural New Albin, IA


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