Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Small Towns in the South

by James Glaser
March 9, 2007

I had to drive out to Redwood Bay Lumber in Blountstown, which is about 50 miles west of Tallahassee on Highway 20. It is two lanes all the way, and about twenty miles out I could tell that I was out in the country.

Twenty miles out of Tallahassee and you start seeing open land, logging trucks, old beater pickups with sacks of feed or fertilizer in them. You even see guys with cowboy hats on and a lot of Confederate flags covering the back windows of trucks.

The day was beautiful, in the 70's and not a cloud in the sky. As I would cross a bridge, I could see people fishing in boats and from shore. I like driving on smaller highways. The traffic is always less and a bit slower. I am sure that highway was built back maybe 75 years ago, and before that it was a road through the panhandle of Florida.

I saw some nice old houses and some nice new houses. Some very old gas stations with round top windows in front and where the roof line covered the pump island. Stations with only two pumps are pretty old.

Blountstown is small. It is bigger than Northome where I came from, but I am guessing it has a population of 1,500—but I was wrong. When I had to looked it up, the 2,000 census put the population at 2,444 and the 2005 Census estimate is 2,433. So you can see Blountstown is not in the part of Florida that is being affected by the one thousand new people moving in every day.

The town is nice though, clean and neat, and it does have a very nice lumber company. I bought some blood wood, hard maple, vermilion, purple heart, walnut, and two small pieces of rose wood. I could have called and ordered the wood as they deliver to Railroad Square every week, but it is a lot of fun to pick out the boards you want. Every board is rough, and they will plane it right there to whatever thickness you want. The piece of blood wood looked almost yellow when I picked it out, but after coming out of the planer, the color almost exploded into view, being a rich deep red, and thus the name.

The guys at the lumber company couldn't have been nicer. They don't push, they let you look the boards over until you find what you want, and if you ask for something that isn't right there, the will get out the fork lift and start moving pallets of boards so you can get to what you want. Also they are knowledgeable about the wood they sell, and will introduce you to any new wood they have gotten in.

I stopped for coffee and pie before I left, and if it wasn't for the Southern accent, I would have thought I was back home. Guys were talking about problems with their faller-buncher, how the DOT had set up a portable weigh station, and had given one guy a ticket for being over loaded. Loading a log truck can be pretty tricky. You are out in the woods, and you have to guess how much your load weighs. Plus you usually get paid by the weight, so you want to haul right up to the limit, and if you think you can get away with it, for sure you are going to load heavy. Well, this guy got caught, but like he said, "that's all in the cost of doing business."

On the way back I had to stop at a rural library whose building was so impressive. It was square, I would guess 45 feet per side, with a hip roof that would have gone to a point, but it had a twelve foot clear story set on top with windows all around it. I went inside, and it was done in hardwood, with four ornate pillars going all the way to the top in the center of the building, and those pillars supported ends of the hip rafters. It had a standing seam metal roof and tall windows on three sides. There was a covered walkway entrance with a fancy exposed truss system, and the place look really sharp.

It was new, having been built in 2003, and it is a larger version of what I would like to build for a home down here. I'll have to take Wanda out there for a look-see.

If I don't end up out in the country down here, I will end up in some small town, someplace where you can get to know your neighbors. I have only been down here a little over a year, but I have figured out that people in the South are every bit as nice as the ones back home in Northern Minnesota. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding what they are saying, and I doubt if I'll ever get into auto racing, and I don't really need to be near the beach, but I do like it down here. Months and months and months of nice weather is quiet a change from Minnesota. Trying to keep track of all the different kinds of churches can be a chore, and real estate taxes are out of sight, and house insurance can be the cost of a car payment for some folks, and ten thousand dollar an acre land takes a bit of getting used to, but in a while I'll have things figured out.

One thing I do know, you get near the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico, land prices sky rocket, taxes are through the roof, and in some places you can't get insurance at any price. Also, I have figured out that you don't want to buy a house that is built on stilts. I have never been flooded out and don't ever plan to. If I see that a place is in a flood zone, then I am not buying. You would think those places would be dirt cheap, but down here to opposite is true. The closer you are to the water, and the potential for flooding, the higher the price.

The people down here are as nice as anyone up North, but at first I thought not as sharp. Now I've been here a while, and you know what, the people buying that floodplain land are those moving down here from up North. You don't see any old Southern Mansions where these new developments are located, and that is because those old Southerners, didn't like getting flooded out. But I guess they do like making a buck. I think they called the land "bottom land" for a reason.

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