Rhonald ‘Julio’ Nickles worked his way to Thomson, though that path wasn’t expected. Originally, Nickles lived in Kentucky.
At first, in his career, Nickles decided to join the Kentucky National Guard.
“It was a whim thing,” he said.
His buddy had decided to join, and so he did too, maybe just to see if he could actually pass basic training, he said. He did and stayed in the service for four years, from 1990 to 1994.
However, Nickles found the military life an ill fit for him. They wanted him to travel a lot. Nickles said he was more of a homebody. Then, there were the restrictions. That played a large factor in him changing his mind about it.
“I guess the uniform bit of it- it just wasn't for me,” he said.
So instead of the military life, Nickles chose the trucker life. In that, he had to travel too but, compared to the military, he said he didn’t have someone telling him to do things. As a trucker, he said he just had a load and destination. One load led to Thomson.
Nickles traveled to Thomson through his work as a trucker. Once he got a taste of the city, he decided to stay.
“I just liked it,” he said.
The hometown feel. The weather. The friendly people. These things, he said, attracted him. Thomson was different, even physically. Flatter, he said. Nickles said he grew up in the mountains, coal country. He also said that his hometown had economic issues.
“That part of Kentucky was suppressed.”
Even when Nickles visits Kentucky now to visit his brother and mother, he said his hometown still is such.
In Thomson, Nickles said he found more opportunities.
“There’s opportunity here,” he said. “ You can go do what you want.”
Nickles didn’t totally detach from Kentucky or who he’d been there though; he still answered the call to help others. Like in Kentucky, he volunteered with the local fire department. He decided to volunteer because he said the department was short and he wanted to help others.
And, in Thomson, Nickles developed in a skillset he had gained from his time as a Kentucky truck driver. He got into the mechanical side by working on his own truck. When he got to Thomson, Nickles started working on other people’s trucks. His work in the area grew from there.
Nickles started his own repair business, called Three Guys Equipment Repair. The three guys, he said, were “me, myself, and I.” More than anything, he said his business handled roadside service helping customers who were stranded on the road.
“You just fixed them and you may never see them again,” he said.
Work went 24 hours, seven days a week. Nickles said he had to stop volunteering at the station to keep up with business.
“It was more time consuming than anything,” he said.
But, he also said it was something he enjoyed.
Then things changed. The recession hit and business slacked. That’s when Nickles said he saw an ad in The McDuffie Progress for a director of maintenance for the city. He answered the ad and got the job, closing the chapter of his life on the repair business. His shop lasted for three years.
Getting used to the city job took a bit for Nickles.
“It was big slow down,” he said.
The hours were more set, unlike his business. However, he said that something is always going on while he’s working in the city’s workshop and that you still have to pace yourself. Nickles said he works on an assorted amount of equipment ranging from a chainsaw to a bulldozer in the Thomson workshop.
“I guess I’m a jack-of-all trades,” he said. “There’s nothing that I can’t sit down and fix.”
Though, Nickles points to newer equipment being a big struggle.
“[With] technology in the trucks now, you just have to stay on top of it,” he said.
He recently took a class on the computers for trucks. Nickles advices young people to study computers.
“That’s where it’s at, but know the basics,” he said.
Nickles said the best part of his work is knowing that he’s keeping things running. Like his jobs before, Nickles said working for the city gave him a way to provide a good service to people. It also provided good benefits like insurance, he said.
“It’s done me well,” he said.
But, Nickles notes the ways that working in repair has taken a toll over the years. He gets back aches. He’s worked for the city of Thomson for 11 years.
“It’s hard work,” he said. “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”
In his younger days, Nickles said he did things like just grabbing items, not thinking about the weight of them or how he was reaching. Because his dad died at the age of 42 from a heart attack, Nickles hadn’t thought deeply about living past that. Nickles is 47 now.
Even though he spoke about taking it easy, even outside of work, he comes back to fixing and creating, part of the country living he’s been drawn to, what he said is his favorite thing about being in Thomson. He and his wife, Pam, live on a farm along a dirt road. They have two horses, a mule, and several dogs. At his home, Nickles said he piddles on things like tractors.
“There’s always plenty to do on a farm,” he said.
But, Nickles often draws back to a particular hobby-sawing. This is what excites him.
“It’s hard work, but it’s my passion,” he said.
Nickles owns his own saw mill, a 33-foot, portable machine that can be set up in 15 minutes. With it, he makes things like countertops, signs, and could even make a whole barn, he said. He said his hobby breaks up the monotony of his days, and he loves making custom stuff especially.
“The bigger, the better,” he said.
His machine is only supposed to cut up to 36 feet, but he’s even cut a 50-foot piece before.
Nickles compares looking at logs to opening a present at Christmas.
“When you open it up, you see the character of the wood. It’s just always a joy,” he said. “That’s my drugs and alcohol.”
Nickles describes himself as a country boy. Whether on the job, in the community, or at home, he finds ways to be hands on. He said he plans to continue working for the city he has come to call home for years longer.
“I’m still a young man,” he said. “I’m only 47. I probably have 20 more years in me.”