MAN FROM NICKEL
LESLIE JONES ASKEY
by Murray Montgomery
years have come and gone since Leslie Jones Askey was born near Old Moulton, in
Gonzales County, Texas – over 97 of them, to be exact.
He was born on
Oct. 12, 1907, to Margaret and John Harrison Askey. He was still quite young when
the family moved to Nickel
and that is where the young man grew up. Known to most folks as “Les,” he went
to the old Nickel High School which was only about a block from his home. “There
were only five kids in our graduating class, four girls and one boy,” said Les.
“I was that lucky boy.” He was also the first boy to graduate from that school,
doing so in 1925 – Les said the school only went up to the tenth grade in those
While yet a teenager, he worked at Thompson’s store. He remembers
that the store had two aisles and was full of all kinds of merchandise including
clothes, hardware, and groceries. It also had a cellar, which was used as a warehouse,
that included a chain hoist to lift the merchandise up to the ground floor. Les
said the cellar would flood every time they got a good rain. He also recalls that
the store was the first in Nickel to have electric lights.
owned about 280 acres right across the road from the aged store which still stands
on FM 532 about five miles west of Moulton – most people know it today as the
old Nickel store.
Recently Les returned to the area for a visit. His son
George and daughter-in-law Joan, as well as George’s nephew Mark Askey, and his
wife Hetomie accompanied him. After stopping at Kloesel’s for lunch, the group
took a tour around Moulton and Nickel; between stops, I was able to visit with
Les, for an hour or so, and he was kind enough to share some of his memories with
man from Nickel – Les Askey stands in front of the old Nickel store where he once
worked while still a teenager. He was raised just across the road from the store
and returned the area recently for a visit and to recall some old memories. –
Photo by Murray Montgomery
a young man growing up at Nickel,
he spent a lot of time with an uncle named George Cooper. “I probably spent as
much or more time with him then I did my own family,” said Les. “I liked being
with him ‘cause he had a truck.” It is apparent that his uncle had a lot of influence
on the young man and Les mentioned him a number of times during our interview.
It seems that about 1926 or 1927 his uncle George had to haul some wool
to the local depot for shipment to Houston.
The railroad agent told them that he was getting ready to close and they would
have to come back the next day. Les said his uncle told the man that they lived
a long way from the station, but that didn’t make any difference to the agent.
“I told my uncle, ‘why in the hell don’t we just haul it to Houston ourselves?’”
But his uncle was afraid they would get lost and so they didn’t try it; but young
Askey knew that he had just got his first taste of the freight-hauling business.
Upon graduation from school Askey said he just sort of “floated around” between
Nickel and San Antonio for four or five years before he finally settled down.
It was during these years that he bought a Model-T Ford truck in San Antonio for
$150 and did a little freight hauling. He got jobs transporting cattle from Gonzales
County to San Antonio. Les said
he has loved trucks ever since.
He settled in San Antonio and took what
jobs he could find to make a living. “I washed dishes and I worked for a meat-packing
company, a trucking company, you name it….” said Askey. But there was little doubt
that he was destined to be in the trucking business, and that would be his trade
from 1927 up until he retired from it in 1960 – he was only out of the business
for a short time from 1929 to around 1933; working as a cattle inspector in Zapata,
During his time in the freight-hauling business, Les Askey owned
or was in partnership with three trucking companies. He owned Victory Truck Line
in the 1940s, and it was during that time that he took on a partner who stole
half a million dollars from him. “I could have had him put in jail,” Askey said,
“but we settled out of court.”
He also owned Hill Country Express which
he later sold to Basse Truck Line, and that company is still in business today.
Then he bought A&B Truck Line from a guy in Corpus. His permit allowed him to
haul freight all the way to the Alaska Territory, before it was part of the United
States. In 1959, he sold A&B and then in 1960 he got out of the trucking business
to pursue other interests. He was still “buying and selling” through 1980.
has many memories of his time spent hauling freight across the country. “We moved
a captured German V-2 rocket from Alamogordo, New Mexico, to Pensacola, Florida,
for the government,” said Askey. “We did a lot of work for the government that
we weren’t allowed to talk about back then.” He recalls carrying freight to Ft.
Hood, Texas, and how his trucks would be taken inside the mountains and unloaded.
Les says those mountains were full of ammunition.
While Les was hauling
for the government, nearly every railroad and trucking company in Texas filed
suit against him – they were envious of the lucrative contracts and wanted a piece
of the action. “They took us to court but we won,” he said.
life, Les Askey has hauled an interesting assortment of items. He mentioned hauling
rice in the El Campo, Texas, area; and even a little moonshine during prohibition
days – then there was that time when he bought over 300 self-contained ice cream
trucks and resold them making an enormous profit. “I had a lot of fun in the trucking
business,” said Askey. “Selling those ice cream trucks got me out of debt; I’ve
got a lot of respect for ice cream, I eat a bunch of it.”
he ventured into the restaurant business for a while. Les said his wife, Doris,
was feeding nearly all of the company drivers out of their home and the men liked
the food so much that they suggested she open her own cafe. They built the establishment
in 1958 on Roosevelt Street in San
Antonio – it was called “Mrs. Askey’s Kitchen” and although it was later sold,
the business is still there and operating as a restaurant under a different name.
Doris Askey passed away in 1999.
Although he spent most of his life in
San Antonio, there is no doubt that Askey’s roots are in this area. He has kinfolk
in Lavaca and Gonzales Counties. He is related to the Askeys from Gonzales
who gained fame years ago raising champion racehorses. “They had two famous horses
called Rebel and Joe Murphy; those horses were shipped to New York and out of
38 races they won 34,” Askey said.
It is safe to say that Les Askey has
accomplished a lot since he left Nickel all those years ago. He loves competition
and when someone tells him that it is impossible to do something, you can bet
he is going to give it a try. He could be considered as the classic example of
an entrepreneur. He doesn’t talk much about being retired; fact is he doesn’t
consider himself retired at all. “I never did quit,” said Les. “I am still piddling
He comes back to Nickel every now and then just to see how things
have changed. Recalling his memories of the old store, Les is still upset about
someone chopping down a huge live oak tree that was standing out front. That happened
many years ago but he can’t understand why anyone would take down such a beautiful
tree. “People around here should have never let them cut that tree down,” he said.
“It wasn’t bothering anybody.”
Les Askey still resides in San Antonio
near the restaurant he once owned and it could be that he is thinking of a way
to crank up another business – that’s what entrepreneurs do you know.