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Having lost his proverbial shirt to the boll weevil while farming cotton, Mr. P.R. Harrell made his first purchase of chickens in 1937, thinking in his impoverished state he could feed them with left over vegetables, etc.

As you may have guessed, the “left-overs” plan didn’t work very well.  A banker in town approved a loan, chicken feed was purchased and the chicken and egg business took off at P.R. Harrell and Sons.

Eggs were peddled from the back of the family Model A.  Sons J.D. and Ed Harrell were involved in the business at its beginning and gradually became full working partners, which remained in effect until Ed left to go into full time ministry around 1984.

In a world where we see small independent business get swallowed up every day, it is encouraging to see P.R. Harrell & Sons still in operation.

Children of the Harrell brothers obtained their first gainful employment experiences in the field of egg gathering.  Egg gathering, for those of you who have never done it, is a true act of defying chickens in order to get at the eggs.  If you are familiar with chickens, you know it would be foolhardy to call it “out-smarting” our feathered and beaked friends.

Memories among cousins and siblings include  a time when the farm housed some 60 to 65 thousand chickens, and the egg gathering was particularly grueling.  An afternoon of work left you covered in dust and debris, with the sense that the smell of the chicken house was forever engraved in your nostrils.

After Mr. P.R. started to experience some modest success with his chickens, he began to branch out to help others get started in business for themselves by supplying their feed and chickens, then purchasing or bartering eggs from them for resale.  This business went as far as Arlington and Damascus.  Becoming commercialized, the Harrells began selling eggs from Bainbridge to Panama City, in Tallahassee and Perry, also to markets in Atlanta and Jacksonville.  Feed had also become quite a business at this time and box car loads of 100 lb. bags were unloaded at night.  The feed bags at the time were the old “dress print” bags which were in great demand among feed customers.  A common complaint was that the lady of the house frequently seemed to want the print at the bottom of the stack to complete some sewing project underway.  The load would be dismantled to procure the desired print.

The industry was completed as the family began a broiler operation, and poultry was dressed in a wash pot out under the oak tree in back of the house.  Small businesses which had received their start from the Harrells returned eggs and broilers until the debt was paid, then sold them back fro a profit.  Mr. Harrell guaranteed 5 cents per chicken unless the market was higher, in which case he would pay market value.

The broilers were packed with ice into wooden barrels and delivered by train or tuck.  One of the first large customers was F.S.U. in Tallahassee.

An intense work load ensued as the family began to purchase broilers to dress in order to meet demand of customers.  Stories are told of gathering chickens at night from tobacco barns, out of trees – literally, wherever they nested.  Hens and turkeys were also dressed for sale, with the occasional duck meeting its end here.

P.R. himself hauled thousands of chickens back home from the north Georgia mountains on a single axle truck.  At their most productive point, they were able to dress 2,000 broilers per-day.

As times changed, around the late 1950s, the broiler operation was discontinued.  Wholesale poultry was purchased for resale from the Tennessee Egg Company in Atlanta.  Chickens were still kept on the premises and eggs were processed and sold until 1980.

The business today is operated by members of the Harrell family as it was in the beginning.  The location is still at the P.R. Harrell homeplace in our community.  J.D. Harrell, Johnny Harrell, and Janice Martin are officers with the same hands-on philosophy with which the company has begun.  In addition to the original fare of poultry and eggs, beef, pork, produce, and most items needed for the food services industry are now marketed and trucked to local establishments and all over south Georgia and north Florida.

Many workers came and went through the years and lots of them felt like family.  As children, we watched our parents and grandparents work until it looked as if their backs would break.  Even when those tired feet were finally resting late at night, we always understood that if a customer called, Daddy was going back to work.  We also had many opportunities to learn work ethic first-hand.  Sometimes our pay was an RC and a Moon Pie, but it was delicious!

The work was awfully hard in the “good ole’ days” – still, somehow those days were mighty sweet.

By S. Harrell Brandt 

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