BY JOHN NAGY
Insider Staff Writer
Clyde Watts Auman, who followed in his father’s footsteps as one of Moore County’s premier peach growers, passed away Sunday, Sept. 17 at his home in West End. He was 84.
Like his father T. Clyde Auman, Watts, as friends knew him, farmed peaches across western Moore County. Many of those peaches over the decades filled rail cars headed north to destinations along the Eastern Seaboard.
“Watts was the epitome of a native son of Moore County. He was a man born to farming and a devoted churchman,” said Dudley Crawford, longtime friend of the Auman family and retired pastor of West End Presbyterian Church, where Watts was a member. “He always saw the good in others. A rare breed and a person for all seasons, especially peach season.”
It was a sad moment in Moore County history in 2015 when Watts Auman ultimately closed down the family business after 80 years. He said it was the “right time” to walk away. “There is no looking back.”
Born in Pinehurst on Dec. 10, 1938, Auman was raised on a vast farm in West End that yielded crops of peaches, grapes and countless other types of produce. The Aumans also raised cattle and chickens and planted acres of longleaf pines.
Auman left behind his footprints, literally, in West End. As a toddler, he ran through the wet cement of the packing house his father was building.
The Aumans ran a booming business from their acreage off N.C. 73. Trails of cars could be seen making their way during summers to buy bushel after bushel of peaches.
The orchard phased out shipping peaches up north in refrigerated trucks in the mid-1960s. It became more of a roadside peach stand, but on a grander scale. Customers drove from Raleigh-Durham, Sanford, Pittsboro, Fayetteville and points in between.
T. Clyde Auman, who died in 2000 at age 91, and his six brothers all worked in the family’s peach growing business. After graduating from Jackson Springs High School in 1927, he and his brothers began leasing other orchards on a sharecropper basis.
“They leased orchards from people who were having difficulties,” Watts Auman said in an interview several years ago along with his younger sister, Laura Pitts, who lives in Seven Lakes.
T. Clyde Auman built the family homeplace in 1934. Farming was in the family blood. T. Clyde even named a peach after his wife, “Sweet Sally.”
In the 2015 interview with The Pilot, Pitts said it was a simpler time growing up.
“Times were so different then. There were no frills. It was family, farm, church and school. That was it.”
Except for several years in the Army, Watts Auman spent most of his years in West End. He was president of the national and state peach councils. He served on then-Gov. Jim Hunt’s advisory committee on agriculture, forestry and seafood and on the Federal Reserve of Richmond’s advisory board for agriculture and small business.
Martha Currie Ippoliti and Auman forged a life-long friendship starting in the first grade.
“Watts was just a good friend, always,” she said. “He was kind, and one of the nicest people to know. And he was very faithful. He wasn’t the type that would be your friend one day and be your enemy the next.
“He was an interesting guy who accomplished so much in his life and had such a variety of life. I think of him as a world citizen because not only was he a member of his family and community but also contributed regionally and statewide and in bigger ways to things that matter.”
Auman was active in Moore County politics, the affairs of West End Presbyterian Church and at one point even ran for the Board of Commissioners.
Watts served on the boards of the Moore County Library and Moore County Historical Association. He was active in the county Democratic Party and a candidate for the county board of commissioners.
At its height, the orchard had about 4,000 trees on about 80 acres. The trees produced for about 20 years.
“We had one miracle orchard that lasted 30 years,” Watts Auman recalled.
But over those 80 years, early spring freezes wiped out more than a few crops. Others were badly damaged. The year Auman was born, a spring freeze destroyed the crop.
“It was somewhat risky,” he said of the business. “There were many rough nights watching the thermometer.”
Growing and harvesting peaches was also “very labor intensive.”
Jesse Wimberley lives on the old Speight family farm in West End. The Speights and the Aumans have been neighbors and friends for generations. Wimberly moved back to West End and took over the family farm in the 80s. Wimberly is coordinator of the Sandhills Prescribed Burn Association.
“Watts was an early adapter in understanding the value of conservation along with production. They had to make a living off all that land, but very early on he saw that the two were not exclusive; you could do production forestry, but conservation could be part of it,” he said. “Watts really was a trendsetter for all of us.
“The western edge of Moore County has become a major area of longleaf restoration because of his work and our other neighbor Mike Wilson and all of us working together to put together this puzzle of conservation and production.”
Niece Abigail Scheer remembered her uncle as “my first boss.’
“I think he was the first boss for a lot of people. He had a lot of grace and patience to be a role model for so many young people,” she said. “When I was 14, Watts said to me, ‘It’s time you learned to drive.’ He put me in a beat up farm car, pointed out the gas and brake and sent me off driving around the farm by myself.
“I remember being petrified when I started the drive, and when I returned with the car in no worse shape than when I’d left, I’d gained some confidence in myself.”
Visitation will be held at a place Watts Auman was most comfortable: the Auman packinghouse. It will run on Friday, Sept. 29, from 5- 7 p.m. A memorial service will be Sept. 30, 11 a.m., at West End Presbyterian Church.
Insider editor Maggie Beamguard contributed to this report.