Looking back on Bob Harrell’s Dateline Georgia stories

The Atlanta journalist wrote about people, places and camping spots along the back roads of Georgia

During the 1970s, journalist Bob Harrell was hard to miss. In addition to daily and Sunday articles in The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution, he was promoted in full page advertisements and drove to his assignments for a time in motor home with his name on the side.

Harrell, who died earlier this year, wrote feature stories and took his own photos at crossroads and small towns from the Okefenokee Swamp to the North Georgia Mountains. In addition to those articles and profiles, written under the label of Dateline Georgia, he also had a long-running Family Camping column in the Sunday Dixie Living section. For a time, he also wrote columns that appeared opposite the Constitution editorial page, along with writers such as Celestine Sibley and Harold Martin.

He came to Atlanta in 1958, after college at the University of Tennessee, service in the Army and newspaper jobs in his native Tennessee at the Elizabethton Star, Kingsport Times-News and the Nashville Banner.

Credit: AJC Archives

Credit: AJC Archives

Bob Harrell retired in 1992. For older readers who may remember and those who are not familiar with his work, here is a sampler of his stories and photos.

Life and death ties bind river, friends - From 1968

Parks Mill, Ga. — If the Seven Island Road has to dead end, I can’t think of a better place than here, at Fred White’s house on the banks of the Oconee River.

Parks Mill? It’s about six miles from Buckhead, the town, not the suburb, in Morgan County. The mill is gone. The Whites still live in the old Parks house. Along with white paint, the house is covered with history.

A few yards upstream is where the Philadelphia to New Orleans road was located. The ferry brought you across until sometime in the 1930s. Here, in the old Parks home in the upstairs bedroom on the left, is where Confederate President Jefferson Davis is reported to have spent the night, barely escaping capture by the Union Army.

Down by the river is where the three-story corn and wheat mill operated, two grinding stones for corn and two for wheat. Here used to be a community of more than 400 people. Today the community is made up of the Whites and Harris Wood on this side of the river and Ed Askew across the river. But if you want to visit with Ed, you have to travel 22 miles.

As the Oconee River flows southward so does it flow in the life stream of Mr. and Mrs. White. For more than 50 years they have lived here as man and wife. For Mr. White, it has been a longer association. His family moved here from Duluth, Minn., in the spring of 1897. His father bought the Park house and farmland.

You are ever mindful of the Oconee, even as a visitor. Now, at low water, it talks gentle. From the front steps you can see the high-water marker on the big tree where mud has washed. The Oconee can speak with authority. The river has many voices. The Whites have heard them all.

In 1887 the Oconee romped outside its banks and took the local saloon. Lock, stock and barrels, it washed half a mile downstream. Then the river must have had a change of heart, for it deposited the saloon on the bank, leaving it high and soggy. All the saloon keeper had to do was chase the structure, walk inside and start serving customers. Mr. White claims the stock might have been watered down somewhat.

Mrs. White looked about her living room and said, “The river has been in our house three times in the 50 years that I’ve been here. I don’t know that I could take it again.”

Eighty-five-year-old Mr. White went back to 1899 in his recollections, saying, “And then I saw it three feet deep right here. Did you ever hear of them tying a house to a tree to keep it from washing away?”

“No.”

“Yes sir, they tied this house to a tree. We’ll go out back and look at that old cedar. But you’ve never seen one bigger.”

Behind the house and a few feet from the back door is a cedar tree which is nine feet, two inches in circumference. It is pampered. The roof is built around it. And if the Oconee should ever get its water up again, I suspect that Mr. White will be looking for that long rope.

There has been tragedy, too. Mr. and Mrs. White lost a 20-month-old son to the river years ago. The youngster somehow crawled through or under the fence in search for his puppies. He fell into the river.

Mrs. White and I stood there on the second story sleeping porch. The whisper of the Oconee seemed to stir a particular memory. She said, “I can remember when we used to put up the visiting preachers right here. Sometimes there would be two of them and I could hear them talking half the night.”

I counted 12 bathing suits hanging on the wall. Mrs. White explained, “For our sons and their families.” Two sons, Loring and Charles, live in California. Grayson, the youngest, flies a Skyraider in Vietnam.

Credit: AJC archives

Credit: AJC archives

River sport

A favorite sport of the White generations is floating the Oconee in inner tubes. From Highway 278, a family or two of Whites will take to their inner tubes for an all-day float to grandpop’s house. More fun you’ve never had. They take along fried chicken and trimmings in a dishpan which rides inside an inner tube, while the “dinner” tube is attached a passenger with a rope.

The Whites and their historic home are as much a part of the Oconee River as it is a part of them. Inside, Mrs. White apologized, “I dusted but it doesn’t help much. All the dust comes from the old bricks which they made out in the backyard years ago and then packed between the walls of the house.”

I asked, “Why did they pack bricks between the walls?”

She smiled. “To weight down the house. Otherwise, they were afraid it would wash away.”

Outside the Oconee whispered — or was it a laugh?

Farmer’s friend still strong at 75 - From 1992

Bulletin’ delivers slice of rural Georgia to 250,000 readers

Credit: Kimberly Smith

Credit: Kimberly Smith

The Bible and the “Bulletin” are two literary constants in Mozelle Hughes’s life.

As a girl growing up in rural Carroll County in the 1930s, she listened at night as her mother read to the family for entertainment, alternating between spiritual advice from the Bible and gardening advice from the Farmers & Consumers Market Bulletin.

“She read mostly because my father was blind, but talk was family pleasure, and we all gathered around for the readings,” Mrs. Hughes said. “The Bulletin and I grew up together and still meet every Wednesday after the mail comes. I hope it admits to being four years older than me.”

The Georgia Agriculture Department’s weekly publication does admit its age this year, celebrating 75 years of being many things to many readers. The weekly newspaper is filled with free classified advertisements for everything from farm machinery, cows, horses and pigs to herbs, honey, crafts and dried fruits. It began as a one-page, mimeographed publication in 1917 in a wing of the Capitol.

Since then, it has been called a country Wall Street Journal, a slice of rural Georgia, therapy, an educational tool and a blessing by subscribers, who now number around 250,000.

Today, the publication is 12 pages, with about 90 percent of the space devoted to classified ads. Sometimes, when a special farmland edition is published, the paper expands to 24 pages. The front page is devoted to stories related to agriculture. There are popular features, such as agriculture briefs under “Farm Front,” and recipes, tested by a home economist at the state Agriculture Department.

Readers depend on paper

As letters to the publication indicate, readers have come to depend on the Bulletin:

“Please reinstate [our subscription]. He [her husband] gets mad every week on ‘Market Bulletin Day’ when his does not arrive. Help! Save our marriage!” - Mrs. F. H. Patterson, Dalton.

“I am handicapped and never went to school . . . I used the Bulletin for a reader and a math book and a map of Georgia. I put down box numbers and phone numbers for math. I learned to spell and pronounce many names and places that I might not have. The Bulletin provided the biggest part of my education.” - Evelyn Brock.

“We try and not tinker with the Bulletin,” said Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, whose name appears under the paper’s masthead every week. “Readers see a change in the Bulletin as detracting from its historic properties.”

Mr. Irvin did tinker with the Bulletin once, when he was new to the job in 1969. To the masthead he added “consumers.” Increasingly, more consumers than farmers have read the publication.

But two former governors, Jimmy Carter and George Busbee, got in trouble trying to tinker with the Bulletin. Mr. Carter sought to make it a semi-monthly publication to save money. Mr. Busbee suggested a $1 subscription fee. A flood of negative comments from readers caused both men to drop their proposals almost immediately.

Many subscribers live in city

Sharp-eyed readers are quick to respond to any mistake in “their” Bulletin, according to Editor Carlton Moore, who leads a staff of seven in assembling material for the publication. When a picture of a wood- burning stove was published atop the recipe column, complaining mail arrived. The firebox was on the right side of the stove in the picture, but such stoves had fireboxes on the left side, the readers pointed out. Sure enough, Mr. Moore discovered, the printer had flopped the negative and the picture was backward.

It is difficult to understand the power of the paper unless you are involved, according to Mr. Moore. He cited a letter from C.A. Brooks of Stone Mountain. Mr. Brooks advertised that he was going to give away farm equipment. He received 706 phone calls in nine hours.

“The popularity of The Bulletin remains high and steady,” Mr. Moore said. “Many of the consumer readers began as farmers who moved to the city and just couldn’t give up on the publication. Also, many of the readers do garden and live in urban areas, so their letters indicate. Probably as important as anything to the paper’s popularity is that the classifieds are a reading adventure for anybody, whether they are interested in agriculture or not.”

If readers are possessive of their Bulletin, they are also sensitive to each other. Some years ago, before Christmas, a reader in a retirement home wrote of having no family and asked readers to send her holiday cards. She received more than 1,000 cards and presents, according to the nursing home.

Fayette barber cuts swath through happy days of yore - From 1990

On the job since 1936, he has plenty of stories

Credit: Bob Harrell

Credit: Bob Harrell

There are few courthouse square businessmen in Fayetteville who have witnessed or heard as much of the passing scene as barbershop owner and operator Earl Brown.

The Fayette County native, 84, has been somewhere on the square cutting hair since 1936. The past 21 years he has snipped from his present shop, just a few doors south of the intersection of Georgia Highways 85 and 54 facing the courthouse.

When Mr. Brown began cutting hair the price was 15 cents and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the main topic of discussion in the barbershop, where the main source of heat was a coal-burning stove that provided warm water for shaving.

The one constant, after all of these years, is Mr. Brown’s steadiness of hand. The price is now $5 for a haircut.

“We were trying to get over President Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression and most of what was said about FDR was of a positive nature,” Mr. Brown said. “It was FDR who got country folks rural electrification and feeling against him wasn’t all that strong.”

What did cause the strongest political talk a barber ever heard was when former Georgia Gov. Eugene Talmadge wanted Sen. Richard Russell’s political office. “I don’t ever recall actual fighting in the barbershop, but the friends and enemies of Gene Talmadge sure did have feelings,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Brown used his hand duster to sweep the stray hairs from the shoulders of his last customer of the day and wished him a good evening. “Some customers talk, others don’t. He never said a word except for how he wanted his hair cut,” Mr. Brown said. “I accommodate ‘em with or without talk. But there just isn’t that much political comment on the floor these days.”

Mr. Brown sat in his prized barber chair, dated 1901 and featuring carved wooden sides. He looked from the huge plate-glass windows at the stalled traffic and wondered: “Where did the time go?”

He remembered when horse-drawn wagons filled about 50 percent of the parking spaces around the courthouse. “I never accepted produce for a haircut or shave, but this shop has been a bragging place,” he said.

The barber pointed to a huge turnip he had grown in his garden and brought to work as an item of interest - if not bragging. “That turnip hadn’t been on display hardly a day when Aubry Renfroe brought in that,” he said. Mr. Brown pointed to a turnip twice the size of his.

Barbershops were community gathering places, Mr. Brown said, as he described another era. “Everybody knew everybody and their business. People got to know people here. I knew all my customers. Now I know just a few. Most of the oldtimers have gone on, just like Herman Holt did the other day.”

Mr. Brown reached for the “Open” sign in the window and reversed it. Then he swept up signs of a day’s work. He swung his old barbershop chair to face the front door, ready for new hair, scalp or chin.

Credit: AJC Archives

Credit: AJC Archives

Credit: AJC Archives

Credit: AJC Archives