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Steve Chiotakis: It’s not all big in Texas. In tiny Oakwood, only a handful of businesses remain — and perhaps America’s smallest bank. It’s like a visit to the Old West, as Kate Archer Kent of Red River Radio reports.
Kate Archer Kent: Oakwood State Bank customers don’t need account numbers when they approach the iron bars of the teller windows. Just their name will do. For the most part, 84-year-old Roddy Wiley Junior runs the bank just like his daddy did more than a century ago. And he likes it that way.
Roddy Wiley: We got an antique bank, we run by antiques — ’cause everyone in here’s 70 or above.
His 600 or so customers don’t seem to mind Wiley’s yesteryear approach to banking. Then again, they don’t really have a choice — it’s the only bank for 15 miles. But there are advantages. Most transactions are settled with a handshake, and customers often need nothing more than a familiar face to get a loan.
Wiley: Some of ’em that we know real well, unless they get on up we don’t require collateral.
Kent: Like what kind of money are we talking about?
Wiley: Well, $1,200 to $1,500. Which would be little for you but big for here.
Sixty-three-year-old Jonathan Hodges has banked here since he was a boy. He remembers withdrawing a nickel a day for BB pellets. He says even today, withdrawals are expected to come with an explanation.
Jonathan Hodges: The only thing is, you’ve got to be kind of careful because everybody knows your business. Haha.
Wiley’s right hand at the bank is Lela Coates. She’s worked here for more than 50 years. Inside the vault, she points out the handwritten ledgers and microfilm — still in use. The manual check canceling machine is vital to her job. Its perforations spell out “PAID.”
Lela Coates: It’s been here ever since I’ve been here, so it must have come over on the Mayflower! That’s what we tell everybody when they talk about some of our old equipment. What you need to see now is the coin machine that throws out the change.
That would be the Brandt Automatic Cashier circa 1920, an ornate metal contraption with dozens of keys.
Coates: Seventy-five cents worth, I’ll punch.
It’s inevitable the modern world will catch up with the bank. Wiley says when he gets too old, he’ll probably sell to one of the big regional banks.
In the meantime, resiliency rules here. Even the clock on the wall keeps ticking after someone shot through the window and the bullet lodged in the clock face. Wiley taped it up, and it works just fine.
In Oakwood, Texas, I’m Kate Archer Kent for Marketplace.
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