PILOT MOUNTAIN — After spending 60 years in the farm supply store business, 92-year-old Sanders McHone continues to do what he loves best by providing seed and feed to man and beast in an old-fashioned environment.
Cooling fans circulate the hot summer heat in the open air store where patrons still buy drinks so cold from an old soda machine they have pieces of ice in them.
At Sanders McHone Farm Service, old fashioned planting guides are posted, but in-depth farming questions are still answered by McHone personally.
Behind the old checkout counter stand rows of bags filled with seeds, some”old-timey” varieties.
The old varieties are becoming harder to get, said McHone.
Store inventory rarely changes. If it works for the customer, McHone said it works for him.
After an old green weighing unit or metal scale is used to calculate the cost of a purchase, a cat named Snowball, often helps to close the transaction.
Snowball became part of the family business after McHone adopted the abandoned cat and put her to work.
Now, Snowball routinely meets and greets customers, guards the feed, and sometimes jumps on the counter demanding a pet on the head as part of tradition.
McHone said farming is something he has known and enjoyed all his life.
“I’ve been doing it since I was a young-un,” he said.
He especially appreciated getting back to farming at home after serving on the front lines in Germany during World War II, he said.
These days, talking to his customers and driving the forklift are two of his favorite work activities.
He said he enjoys bird-watching on his time off, so he carries plenty of bird seed.
Wanting people to have what they need to farm at a reasonable price is how McHone got started in business.
McHone grew up on a farm in Stokes County and opened his first fertilizer business in 1955.
McHone said his wife, Eula, once enjoyed working the store and farming with him. Today, daughter Jo Ann and son-in-law Dennis Manuel help out along with employees, Paige Honeycutt and Keith Johnson.
Some locals have been Sanders McHone Farm Service customers for more than 50 years. Patrons stop in sometimes for a cold drink or just to talk.
McHone said the farming industry has brought change over the years.
“Its not like it used to be,” he said.
He recalled a positive change in his lifetime as being when the tractor became available to the small farmer.
McHone said he still drives an old Massey-Ferguson on his farm at home.
“I usually plant potatoes, beans and corn,” said McHone.
He was quick to point out that half-runners are his favorite beans, silver queen, his favorite corn and Kennebec, his favorite potato.
He said he favors keeping several “old time” vegetable varieties in the store. He named some as: white half-runners and Kentucky wonder beans, Marglobe and Rutledge tomatoes, Brown, Colossal and Carolina crowder peas; and purple top turnips.
After years of experience in the field of farming, the old fertilizer expert relayed a tried and true tip for the general farmer.
The regular standard 3-9-9 fertilizer is still the best there is for growing vegetables, said McHone.