Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chapter 107 Trust, but Verify

About this time I came down with another case of bad judgment. One day two guys drifted in  looking for work. We needed workers and they said they would do anything, just give them a chance. I did and they worked pretty well. The one who did most of the talking said the other guy was a preacher and they were starting a new church in Princeton,  about ten miles east of McKinney. After about two months the talker said he noticed a bed and springs with a mattress in the barn. He told me they were sleeping on the floor over at their apartment in Princeton and asked if they could they use the furniture. I agreed and they loaded it up and hauled it off.

After about four months the talker comes in and says the preacher has a kid living in Austin with his ex-wife. The kid was graduating from middle school and his birthday was about the same time. He said the preacher had been crying because he could not get down to Austin to see his kid. He said their car had broken down and could they use the old Oldsmobile we used for a company multi-use vehicle? We let workers use it to go to town for supplies and errands. I was hesitant but finally said it was all right. 

Talker came in the next day and said, "Those two back tires on the Olds are slick." I said, "Go to Thomason Tire and tell Ronnie to put a couple on there for us." The following day, Friday, they left about three in the afternoon. Just as they were leaving the talker rushed in and asked "What if the police stop us?" They had no title-so would I jot down a little note that it was okay for them to take the car to Austin?  BIG red flag, but I was real busy and apparently not thinking so I did as he asked. He rushed out to leave and I rushed into the greenhouse to deal with some problem there.

They were due back late Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday came and I was a little worried. By Friday I knew I had been taken again! I called my buddy who was a deputy sheriff and told him my story. There was a long pause and he said, "You have lost an automobile and that is not all.” I inquired what could be worse. He pointed out my name was on the title and if they ran over someone and killed them I would be libel. I talked to the State, and they said there was nothing I could do but continue to carry liability insurance on the car for years. I carried liability insurance on that car that I did not even have for five years before I chanced to drop coverage. Of course, Charlotte helped me understand I should have told them no when they first asked for a job and of course, as usual, she was right. She never said "I told you so"; it was more a discussion about reality.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Chapter 106 Keep on Truckin'

The greenhouse business continued to expand as we entered into contracts with retail garden chains as well as other stores such as K Mart, Sears Roebuck and various grocery chains. We continued to build houses and finally had 60,000 sq ft of greenhouses. We then bought George’s operation, which was an additional 60,000 sq ft. At our peak, we had 35 people working at each nursery plus we started another operation at Cibolo, Texas near San Antonio.
We had three step vans that delivered plants in Dallas, a 1½-ton truck, and a semi tractor-trailer truck that delivered beyond Dallas. We would load the semi full of plants and our driver would go to Tulsa, then to Oklahoma City, then to Amarillo, Lubbock and Wichita Falls and back to the Nursery. He would back the semi against the loading dock and crawl back to sleep in the sleeper. When we had the semi loaded, he would pull out for the south run. This was to Waco, Austin, San Antonio, Houston and back to the Nursery.
We continued this all spring. In the Nursery business, you sell like crazy from April until July, but the rest of the year is slow. About 70% to 80% of your business is during this period. To try and smooth out this drastic curve, we began to grow plants for florists such as gloxinias and kalanchoes. We also grew about 10,000 poinsettias in 6” pots to be ready for sale each December.
We became known as top fern growers. Texas A&M had us come down to College Station and speak to the Texas Nursery Association on fern production. We also lectured at the research station in Dallas. Neil Sperry had me on his TV show on Saturday mornings to answer questions about fern production. 
The first time Neil invited me to appear on his TV program I loaded up some ferns that morning and started over to the station that I understood was in Grand Prairie. Heading out, I continued east looking for the check points that Neil had given me-until I realized the darn studio was in Ft Worth! Somehow I managed to arrive at the station a few minutes before we were to be on the air. I grabbed my ferns and bolted up the stairs to the studio and slid into the chair next to Neil just as the producer pointed to me and said start talking. I am sure my face was flushed and I was panting like a big dog in August but we made the best of it.
Photo of semi found here
Photo of poinsettia found here
Photo of Neil Sperry at WBAP found here

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chapter 105 The Greenhouse Effect

In 1974 we had a big downturn in the economy; the stock market, the cattle market and the land business all took a hit. Charlotte had her greenhouse full of beautiful plants. A friend of mine who was in the wholesale greenhouse business came out for a visit one day and could not believe how beautiful her plants were. He asked if he could buy some. I asked what price the different plants would bring and told him I would talk to Charlotte and let him know. I started figuring costs and it looked like we could make a pretty good profit.

Charlotte, ever the one to help in any way she could, agreed. I called George the next day and told him we had a deal. We hired a lady, Maurice, from down the road to help us fill orders and work in the greenhouse and she was a real hard worker. Every time George picked up plants Charlotte and Maurice would pot up more a fill the empty space created by the sold plants.

Cartoons from Neil...pretty accurate!
Due to our rapid growth, we decided to build another greenhouse. I had been reading and studying the plant business to try to get educated. Wanting to know more, I had contacted our dear friend Neil Sperry, who was the horticulture expert with Renner Research, a part of the Texas A & M System. I had sold him his farm east of McKinney and also sold him a building in McKinney where he published his magazine. He provided me with even more information. We visited many greenhouse operations around Dallas and in East Texas. We took what we learned and built a second house, this one 30 X 90’ Charlotte and Maurice got busy and filled it up with plants. We called our new business “The Country Greenhouse”.

Neil and Lynn Sperry knew us well, especially the way that Charlotte always supported me in every endeavor we ever undertook; some wild, some crazy and a few that seemed impossible. From the Telephone company, to equipment rental business, to apartment houses, to Mini warehouses, to rent houses, to buying land, to the cattle business, to farming, to a woodworking cabinet shop, to greenhouses, to building Early Texas Homes, to building log homes, to building our own homes, to land sales, to Century 21 franchise, to marketing high end subdivisions. She always hung in there somehow and worked shoulder to shoulder with me on every project.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Chapter 104 Pony is as Pony Does

I went over to Blue Ridge to have lunch at the Ranchman's cafe and meditate on what I was going to do about the cow I had tried my best not to buy. The Ranchman's had great hamburgers and a big crock of sweet tea at the back of the dining room. I drank a lot of tea and would always sit at the back so I could just swing around and fill my tea glass whenever I wanted. I was sitting there feeling sorry for myself and there were about six cowboys at the next table. One guy, Slick Williams, was talking loud like he always did and he was bragging on his famous cow pony. “There is not a cow in Collin County that horse can’t catch,” he bragged. My ears pricked up and I listened to each of them tell about how his horse was the better horse.
Finally I leaned over and said that I had a cow that none of them could catch. Slick said, “I’ll just take you up on that and I guarantee you one thing. My horse will have her caught in no time.” I said that I wanted him to catch her, load her up, take her to the sale barn, and asked how much was he going to charge me if he could do it. He said he would take care of her in an hour or so, and it would cost me $50.00. I said, “Deal!” and gave him $50.00 cash.
Slick and four of his cowboy buddies met me at the gate of my place. I pointed out the cattle and said, “You won’t have any trouble picking her out. She’s the high headed one with the XL brand.” They unloaded their horses and were walking around with their spurs a-jingling, twirling their ropes. The five of them were riding together down into the pasture when I left. I drove over to the sale barn. I sat inside watching the cows go through the sale ring for a while and then drove around to the back and parked my pickup along the back fence.
I saw my friend Keith Godugle, the vet, who was pregnancy checking a bunch of cows. I sat on the top fence rail and shot the bull with Keith for quite a while until a great commotion began up at the unloading pen. We heard a lot of noise and yelling and in a minute a big 300-pound guy comes racing down the center passageway, running as fast as he could and right behind him was my high-headed cow. As he rounded the corner by us he hollered,” Watch her boys, she’s snaky!” He climbed up on the fence and as he finally caught his breath he said, "She done tore up Slick's trailer and busted down the fence at the unloading pen! She put everyone over the fence.”

I just quietly climbed down off the fence, got into my pick-up and drove away. I was not about to volunteer that she was my cow. That evening I had a call from Slick. “You owe me some more money. Your cow tore my trailer up and damaged my new saddle. She may have hurt my horse when she almost pulled me down.” As soon he demanded more money, I made up my mind he was not getting another dime from me. If he had called and told me what had happened without demanding I pay him more money, I probably would have volunteered to help with his expenses. I said that we had shook on a deal and I had paid him what he had asked for. I did not owe him any money. He hung up on me and was not a happy camper.

 Photo of Ranchman's cafe found here

Photo of working cow pony found here.

Photo of corral sitting found here.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Chapter103 Spooky Little Cow

I had been buying Charolais off and on whenever I found some good cattle at a fair price. A man had a small herd of about 25 Charolais for sale in Princeton and I went over to take a look at them. The owner was sick and told me to go on down into the pasture to look them over. They looked pretty good, except for one “high-headed” cow that was spooky with a wild look in her eye. She threw her head up and trotted off into the woods when I approached the herd. The rest of the cattle soon followed her.  I went back up to the house and told the man I would buy his herd but I did not want that “high-headed” cow. He said that he would not sell unless I took them all. I said, “Sorry, no deal. If you change your mind here is my card.”
I was at my friend Bill Sportsman’s office about two weeks later. He told me that he had a lease on a place on Sister Grove Creek northwest of Blue Ridge. He said he needed to get “shed” of it and he wanted to do a “walk out” deal. In a “walk out” deal you sold everything on your place and just walked out and left everything in place, taking nothing with you. I told him I would look at it, which I did a few days later. The place was good and fit my needs. It had a nice little farmhouse for Jessie and his family. There was a tractor, a baler and a hay rake, which I needed, and lots of grass for the cows. His cattle were in good shape-most with calves by their sides.
A few days later I told Bill I was interested in taking his deal and he said, “Oh by the way I added a few cows but they are nice ones, even better than the ones you saw already." We negotiated a deal and shook on it. I moved Jessie and his family right in but it was about two weeks before I took him a check and drove over to look at my new acquisition. I drove in and started down into the pasture where the cattle were quietly grazing. As I approached one cow threw her head up and galloped off towards Sister Grove’s tree covered bottom, taking the rest of the herd with her.  “Where did you come from?” I wondered.  I stopped by Bill’s on the way out and asked him where he got that bunch of new cattle. I was floored when he told me, “There was this guy over at Princeton who was sick and had to get rid of his little herd and I bought them from him.” 

Photo of spooky cow found here.

Photo of Sister Grove Creek found here.

Photo of running Charolais found here.