PILOT MOUNTAIN — It’s not every day that one gets to see a man turn 97 years of age. It’s even rarer to see that same man still actively managing his business.
That’s exactly what family and friends of Sanders McHone got to experience recently when they gathered at his Pilot Mountain business to help him celebrate his 97th birthday.
The setting was a comfortably familiar one for McHone, who has operated Sanders McHone Farm Service in downtown Pilot Mountain for almost half a century. Over that period, he has watched as the town and its economy has changed.
With his business always a vital part of the Surry/Stokes farm community, McHone saw a shift away from downtown commerce and away from farming, especially tobacco farming.
He has continued to persist in the business, offering all types of fertilizer as well as plants, seed, feed, mulch and potting soil. Farms from throughout the region, extending into Virginia, still make their way to Pilot Mountain to purchase seed from McHone.
While he receives help from his daughter and son-in-law, Jo Ann and Dennis Manuel, along with an employee, Keith Johnson, McHone still makes the daily drive from Francisco to oversee the business. While he may now arrive a little later in the day, he still comes to work six days a week and sometimes checks in on Sundays. He handles ordering for the business and sometimes waits on customers. When needed, he’ll still climb atop the fork lift and put it to work.
He easily recalls the 1955 price of 10-10-10 fertilizer as being $2.55 for a 200-pound bag. The same type and size bag now sells for $25.
“Farming will eventually play out, I guess” he said. “Several farms around here have gone out in the past few years.”
McHone was born on Sept. 6, 1920, and grew up helping his family on the same Francisco farm where he resides today. He went on to raise his own crop of tobacco, joining most other farmers in the Francisco community.
He noted that he has lived all but three years and 33 days of his life in Francisco, referring to a stint of service in the Army Infantry during World War II. This time of service includes 195 days spent on the front line.
After his return home, McHone married and began a family. He and Eula Whitt McHone had four children, three daughters and a son. Today, Brenda Anderson, Robin George and Grady McHone still live in the Francisco community while Jo Ann Manuel lives in Pilot Mountain, minutes away from her father’s business. Eula McHone died in 2008, after 62 years of marriage.
In 1955, Sanders McHone had branched out from farming by starting a farm supply business from his home. After establishing his business as a reliable source for farm equipment and supplies, McHone moved it to downtown Pilot Mountain in 1970. He stayed at that location, now occupied by Hardee’s Restaurant, for 11 years.
In 1981, the business moved its line of fertilizer, seed, farm machinery and equipment across downtown to its current location at 607 West Main St. By that time Sanders McHone Farm Service had become a favorite location for many Stokes and Surry farmers, used both as a source for needed supplies and a gathering place for conversation.
While the business may not be as busy as it was in its heyday, it is still a hub of activity on most days.
A regular gathering of McHone’s friends and long-time customers, most of them now retired, can be found among the seed and supplies, sharing stories, memories and laughter. A small table hosts regular Rook card games, with McHone joining in conversation and occasionally the play. Sometimes, regulars will talk and share sodas as they wait patiently for a turn at the table.
“A lot of them have been coming here for years and years,” McHone said. “And some have passed away. I like having them around, and they like being here.”
McHone has no plans for retiring.
“I need to get out,” he explains with a hint of a smile. “If I stay in by myself, I might get lonesome.”