Tractors to roll in Turin Saturday
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Lisle Bowers got his first beef cow - for a 4-H project - at the age of 15. Ever since, beef cattle have been a part of his life.
Bowers, 83, will be the parade grand marshal Saturday at this year's Turin Antique Farm Power Show and Tractor Pull. The parade rolls through Turin starting 10 a.m.
'I was honored for them to ask me to do that,' he said. But he was shocked. He's gone to the tractor pull nearly every year, and has had some tractors in the parade. His grandson has pulled in the past, and for Bowers, 'I usually see a few people who it's the only time of the year that I see them.'
But he never considered being named grand marshal.
When his father, Ralph Bowers, bought him that cow, Bowers had already been farming for years. 'I grew up working from the time I could walk. I started plowing a mule when I was 7 years old,' he said. 'From the time I could walk I wanted to make every step my daddy did.' That was the same year they got their first tractor.
His parents owned a small farm and raised everything they ate, as well as cotton. They had plenty left over. 'We'd sell vegetables to local stores in Newnan, plus they had a little curb market that we would go to twice a week in the summertime and sell vegetables.' They had several dairy cows and would sell little jars of 'coffee cream.' They would also slaughter the bull calves to eat.
They only ever needed four food items from a store: salt, sugar, coffee and wheat flour.
Ralph Bowers would occasionally hire someone to help out during a busy time. But for the most part, the farm was run by the family: mom Lucille Graves Bowers, Bowers, and his brother and two sisters.
His mom canned fruits and vegetables. They cured their meat and saved lard. 'Back then, we had never heard of cooking oil - everything was cooked with lard,' he said. 'I didn't know what loaf bread was until I went to college.'
When the Bowers got their first Frigidaire, it had an ice maker, but no place for frozen food.
If you wanted to freeze anything, you took it to John Wood's freezer locker in Newnan - located where the Coweta Administration Building is now. Wood would process beef for freezing, and people could freeze anything else they wanted. You'd rent your own 'locker' that would go into the big freezer.
Because there's no real way to preserve beef, other than freezing, there were also 'beef clubs' in the county. Someone in the club would slaughter a cow each Friday, and the meat would be distributed to all members of the club. That way, people could eat it before it went bad.
'When I was growing up, Coweta County was still very much a rural, agricultural county,' Bowers said. 'Cotton was your main crop.'
'The way this county has changed from then until now, and the way everything else has changed … it's unbelievable what has happened.'
In the 1930s and '40s, 'we had a lot of big farms. And most of your big farmers grew cotton and peaches. Both of them took a lot of hard labor and you could use the same labor for both crops.'
In 1941, Coweta saw its biggest peach harvest ever. That summer, Bowers and his mother worked in his uncle Rhodes Johnson's peach packing shed. Bowers was 11. He and another boy worked pasting labels on baskets and stamping their lids. He was paid 10 cents an hour.
One day, he made $1.50. It was a Saturday, and Rhodes Johnson had a lot of peaches. He asked all the workers if they could come in that Sunday because the peaches had to be packed or they would ruin.
'My mother was very much opposed to working on Sunday,' Bowers said. So she suggested that they just work through the night until the job was done. 'He said, 'If that suits all the workers that's fine.'' So they worked past midnight - a 15-hour shift.
'Now they'd put somebody under the jail if they worked children like that,' Bowers said. 'But we didn't know any different.'
'We were poor, but everybody else was in that same situation,' Bowers said. 'And we didn't have television to show all these things and make us want it. We didn't realize we were poor,' he said. 'I don't ever remember us not having enough to eat.'
Bowers graduated from Newnan High School (there were only 11 grades back then) and headed to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. During his second year at ABAC, tragedy struck. His father was killed in a tractor accident.
So Bowers headed back to Coweta to work the family farm. He stayed there until 1954, while also working a few years at Manufacturer's National Bank.
In 1954, Bowers became the manager of LHB Bar Ranch, also known as the Gordy Farm. Bowers managed the beef cattle outfit for 25 years and then leased it from Mr. Gordy for about four years. He and wife June's three children, Joy, Jan, and Sam, were all born at the ranch.
There, they raised champion Charolais cattle. Bowers has a wall covered with grand champion banners, ribbons and plaques from his years of showing the Charolais all over the country. 'Every year, we had a grand champion sometime or the other.' The only show they didn't have a grand champion at was the Houston Fat Stock Show. But a bull he had raised did win that show - the year after they sold him.
During his time at the Gordy farm, Bowers received the Agri-Leader of the Year award from the Atlanta Metro Agribusiness Council.
He was also a founding member of the Coweta Cattlemen's Association.
All three of his children were in 4-H and showed cattle. Then, tragedy struck the family again when Joy, who was 15 at the time, was in a car accident and suffered debilitating injuries and brain damage.
The LHB Bar ranch closed in 1979, and Bowers and his family bought the Rockhouse Farm outside Senoia. He had beef cattle and got into the dairy business for about a year. He then sold that, and the dairy barn he built is now part of Bud Butcher's, now the only dairy operation in Coweta.
In the mid '70s, Bowers got into real estate, and son Sam followed him into the business. They focus on large tracts of land. 'All I handle is land. We don't fool with houses,' he said.
In 1970, Bowers joined the Coweta County Board of Education and served there for 20 years.
'I enjoyed working on the school board because I felt like it was doing some good for everybody,' he said.
All through the years, he still raised beef cattle. 'Up until three or four years ago, my wife had never bought a piece of beef in the store at all,' he said. What she does buy 'isn't as good as what I produce myself.' The main reason is he usually grain feeds his cattle until they grade prime. Currently, he has about a dozen cattle at a farm located off Gordon Road. Right now, they cross breed Charolais and Angus, because crossbreeds grow faster.
He's seen many changes in his years.
'The changes that I have seen in this county - and not only in this county but in everything, in agriculture and business and everything else that I have seen in my lifetime - it's just hard to realize,' Bowers said.