Ron Davis deals the Southern delight
The many motorists hurrying along the highway between Madison and Eatonton each day probably don’t even notice it. After all, the old cinder-block dairy barn seems long forgotten with its faded gray-primer walls, crumbled bare fascia boards and curious assortment of weathered items stacked all over the yard.
But two small, bright yellow signs at the roadside beckon some of them to stop, and inside they find a treasure that keeps them coming back again and again. Whether individual persons or large commercial customers, they hail from just down the road or 70, 80, or even more miles away.
What’s the secret of the barn with signs proclaiming, “Ron’s Pecans”? All the customers seemed to agree – the pecans are delicious and fairly priced, and the various services are not found anywhere for hundreds of miles. But that’s not all -- each person was quick to include how much they liked visiting with the owner himself, Ron Davis.
“You spoil people; we taste your pecans and we come back,” bantered David Swain as he opened the barn door and saw Ron. The Madison resident said he purchased pecans from Ron and took them to family in Florida for the holidays. “Then I came back home and kept thinking about them. So, I said ‘I’m going to go get myself some,’” he laughed. David said this was his first year to visit Ron’s. “Pecans were scarce this year, so I saw Ron’s sign and I dropped by and we got started talking. He told me how he got started and showed me everything. When you treat the customer right, you always get a return.”
Many people buy the shelled pecans, which are sold in zippered freezer bags, ready to be eaten or stored in their home freezer. “Because of their high water content, pecans will last for several years in the freezer,” Ron said.
Other customers bring their own pecans to have the shells either cracked or removed. Last season, one woman told how she brings hers all the way from Cochran because Ron is the only one who removes the shells. A glance at Ron for confirmation revealed, “They crack pecans (shells) in Monticello and in Milledgeville, but all they do is crack them; they don’t shell them. The sheller takes off about 90% of the hull. You’ve still got some hulls to pick out, but it’s a lot easier.”
It’s quite obvious that Ron never meets a stranger. Picking up on any broached subject, he readily strikes up a conversation with everyone who walks in the door, their friendly chat uninhibited by the loud, steady banging of the machines processing the pecans.
“We talk about everything, he’s a good fella’. I’ve been coming to Ron for four or five years to get pecans. I call and tell him I’m coming, and he has them ready,” said John Anderson, who drives to Putnam County from his home in College Park just beyond Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. John said he gives the pecans to fellow church folk in Atlanta, and he also boxes and mails them to family in Ohio. “I’m from Ohio, but my wife is from Columbus, Georgia. They say whenever you come to the South and get that red clay on your feet, you’ll never leave. Well, I came in 1972 and I’m still here and I like it.”
To all newcomers, Ron proudly shows off the three “crackers” -- machines that crack the shells -- and explains how each is set for different-sized nuts and how they work. Each morning, he oils the machines. “They’ve got about 15 oil spouts on them and they don’t retain the oil,” he explained. He turns the machine on, pours the precious Southern commodity into a hopper at the top, and the machine does the rest.
Customers can take the cracked pecans home and finish the job themselves, or for a slightly higher price, Ron takes them into an adjoining room, climbs up on a stepladder or stool and feeds the cracked-shell nuts into a large machine he calls “the sheller.” With three electric motors, the sheller is not at all quiet, but very effective at its job. The pecans exit with the shells removed, yet the nutmeats remain unbroken.
The unassuming businessman became acquainted with the machines years ago when
they were owned by Raymond Gilbert in Madison. “I had taken so many pecans to him that it got to where he wouldn’t even wait on me when I came. He’d just say ‘you know more about it than I do – have at it,’” Ron recalled with amusement. As Raymond reached his late 80s, he began to call on Ron to come over and run the machines for him. Eventually, Ron moved the machines to the old barn on his property in north Putnam County.
Although they aren’t small, the four machines don’t take up much of the large building. The old dairy barn was roofless when Ron purchased it in 1989. He added more rows of cement blocks to the walls to elevate the new roof, and the facility became a warehouse for his fishing tackle distribution business. Numerous cricket buckets and bait buckets still hang from the ceiling over the pecan machines.
For 40 years, Ron sold fishing tackle around lakes Oconee, Sinclair, Jackson, and Lanier. “I bought from the manufacturers and distributed it out to Mom and Pop stores around the lakes. The last store I would work on Lake Oconee was Granite Shoals Marina, and I’d pull my boat with me, and me and Claud Robertson would fish the rest of the day. People said it was a dream job, and I’d say ‘when the fishing is good, then everybody is out fishing so I’m going around selling tackle, but when the fishing is bad, that’s when I’m out fishing,’” he reminisced.
He retired in 2016 and began helping a friend, Thomas Clements, drive tractor trailer loads of pecans from C and C Pecan Farm in Rutledge to a cleaning plant in Davisboro. The cleaning plant separates the pecans from the sticks, leaves, and other debris picked up when harvesting, and separates healthy nuts from unhealthy ones.
Thus began Ron’s interest in pecans which grew into his business on the Madison Road/U.S. Highway 441. How busy he is depends on the size of the year’s crop. Last year was a bumper crop.
“This year, we didn’t have the crop like we had last year,” he noted. “Last year, I went through 45,000 pounds of pecans and was still cracking them in May and June. This year, it’s already over. I went through about 3,500 pounds this year and was glad to have them. People would pull up in their cars or trucks, and I didn’t know if they were bringing me two 5-gallon buckets full or if they had 700 pounds. If I got a bunch and got backed up, I’d just take their phone number and call them when they were ready for pickup. Nobody had to wait overnight except one guy from Farmington. He backed up in here when I was busy and he dropped 600 pounds on me and I said ‘whew, give me your phone number.’ But I had his done the next day and he came and got them.”
Ron’s Pecans is located at 1476 Madison Road, Eatonton. In the summer, he sells homegrown vegetables there. Call him at 706-473-1007.
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Story and photos by Lynn Hobbs, published in the Lakelife January-February 2022 issue.