Loyd Ratts will turn 103 on Feb. 18. He can still be found in his workshop.

The secret to living a long and healthy life is have good genes, don't drink, don't smoke, don't do drugs and work hard.

That's the secret and its hard to argue with that when Loyd Ratts, who is turning 103 on Feb. 18, did all those things and is busy in his workshop with an acetylene torch making book stands for people who can't hold books to read. Ratts was born on a farm about 10 miles northwest of St. John in the Radium area, just a short distance were he lives now in retirement.

Ratts decided he should retire from farming at age 101. He worked with the farm with his son-in-law Phillip Koelstch.

Ratts spent his life in Stafford County and started working on the family farm when he was rather young. When he was 4-years-old, his dad put him on the seat of a wagon and told him to take it to the grain elevator in St. John. His dad would follow shortly after he finished loading another wagon.

So off Ratts went, not really driving the team but just riding along because the horses knew the way, Ratts said.

He arrived in St. John and people stopped and stared as he rode by on his way to the grain elevator. He arrived, or rather the horses arrived and stopped, waiting for someone to unload the wagon.

"I went right down the Main Street of town. All the foot traffic stopped when I went by," Ratts said.

In a couple of years at age six he was driving horses on the farm and at age 10 started driving tractor. By age 12, he was doing everything the hired men were doing.

Life on the farm back in 1915 when he was born, required a lot more hard work than today. One thing that hasn't changed in all those years is dealing with the weather. Ratts went through the Dust Bowl. His family farmed 2,500 acres in Kearny County during the Dust Bowl era. The wind would come up during the day and the dust would be so thick you could barely see, Ratts said.

During the night, the wind would die down but when morning came, there was still so much dust in the air people could hardly see a quarter of a mile. The dust was very fine, like flour, and it was hard to breathe. Many people and animals died from the dust storms.

The dust storms created a lot of static electricity. If you touched something iron, you would get a shock. It wasn't unusual to see a static charge of lightning go off during a storm. It made driving a real challenge. There was so much static electricity in the air, people used to put drag chains on the their cars to discharge the vehicles so they would start.

Visibility got so bad, they built an electric system with a generator on a tractor to provide lights so they could see in the dust.

"The Dust Bowl was really something," Ratts said. "It's hard for people today to understand how hard it was to make a living and how hard it was to keep food on the table during the Dust Bowl days."

There were, and still are, lots of ways to get injured on the farm. He had a very close call one time with a combine. He was operating a Model K combine and was standing on a platform about 10 feet above the ground. The combine started down a ravine and by a washout, the combine tipped over on its side. Ratts was thrown about 30 feet in the air and came down on his hands and knees. He crawled away on his hands and knees to get away from the combine. He wasn't hurt in the accident but he did get some sand burrs in his hands.

When he was 14 or 15, he went to a picture show with cowboys and horses. One of the cowboys was on a running horse and grabbed the saddle horn and swung off the the horse then swung back on. Ratts decided he could do that and spent a lot of time practicing until the could do the move.

Ratts had two sisters, Thelma, who taught music, and Vida who was a school teacher. In 1932, when he was 17, he and his sisters made a record and it was actually broadcast on the radio.

Ratts graduated from St. John High School in 1932.

For all his time on the farm, he came out of it pretty unharmed. He did get injured at school when a friend of his tried to jump over him, The friend missed and kicked him in the collar bone and broke it.

Before he got married, Ratts built planes for two years at Cessna in Wichita. He also joined the Civil Air Patrol and was an observer in Wichita.

But his roots were on the farm and he went back. Ratts raised two families. He and his first wife Bonnie had four children, Jimmy, Loraine, Vicky and Lana. Bonnie died and he married Betty who already had three children, Brenda, Denise and Doug. Together Betty and Loyd had another child, Terry. Loyd said he was very lucky in marriage both times.

"I can't say enough goo things about the character of my wives and how we got along in marriage," Ratts said.

Loyd worked on a farm with crops and beef cattle and some milk cows. They had 30 head of horses and mules to do the farming. But he spent 46 years operating a mechanic shop, that still stands, on the farm and he was pretty good at it. He has several patents including one for a cable operated door opener for grain bins so no one has to climb the bin to open the door. This was his first patent and he got it when he was just 98.

During his 103 years, he was witness to a lot of history. One of the more memorable events was the Cuban Missile Crisis from Oct. 16 to Oct. 28 in 1962. Russia had placed ICBMs on Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S. mainland and for 12 days, the U.S. and Russia were on the brink of nuclear war.

"We didn't know if we would wake up the next morning to a nuclear war," Ratts said.

The crisis was resolved peacefully and the missiles were withdrawn from Cuba.

For his birthday last year, Ratts got to ride a motorcycle for the first time. Just recently, he got to go aboard the locomotive that was hauling wind generator sections.

As he prepares to turn 103, Ratts said he is in pretty good shape. He went to the doctor and basically, there was nothing wrong. He still has his own teeth, doesn't have arthritis, doesn't get tooth aches are headaches. He likes to read, especially books about the old west. He thinks people should learn history so they won't repeat the same mistakes.

But Ratts isn't stuck in the past. He has a cell phone and you can check him out on Facebook.

Ratts daughter-in-law Barbara Austin lives in Arizona and comes to stay with him a month to a month and a half every year. She helps him when he is working in his shop.

"I'm his assistant," Austin said.

@GaleR_Tribune