Remembering his days as Berryville's blacksmith
BERRYVILLE ---- Floyd Priest has lived in Berryville for 85 years, and seen major changes in the little town where he grew up with dirt roads, walking to school every day after milking the cow, and watching with wonder as his step-father made agricultural tools and other fascinating things at his blacksmith shop on North Springfield Street.
Today, at age 90, he sees the huge growth in traffic, commerce, population and a different atmosphere, but he still would never live anywhere but Berryville.
"When I was a boy I could walk from the blacksmith shop to the square and never meet a car," he said.
"There was no Tyson's, no Wal-Mart, it was all just fields. I used to put my cows in the field where Carroll Electric is now.
"But the square was poppin' back then, it was busy," with all the hardware, mercantile and grocery store activity at the center of town.
"There was a flour mill, but no post office. You took your mail to the store near Poynor Drug."
"I've seen a lot of changes. I've seen this town grow from 1,100 to almost 5,000, but I'm still just glad to live here for the rest of my time. I have no desire to live anywhere else because I love the people. I'm a Mason and in Rotary. I'm a church man, at Southern Heights Baptist Church, which is very important to me."
Floyd W. Priest was born Feb. 6, 1914, in Washington state, but his father William Priest died when Floyd was just four years old, after the family moved to a 125-acre farm near Oak Grove in the Yocum community.
"Back then, there was nothing available to help a woman on her own, so we moved to her sister's in Berryville when I was five."
His mother Mae (McCollough) Priest later married Lewis Doss, who started the Berryville Blacksmith Shop that became Berryville Machine Shop, which still stands today on Springfield Street as Jackson Machinery.
"I started welding when I was 13, and I'd work in the blacksmith shop before school and after, and I'd walk to school and walk home for dinner and then walk back to school. Today, the kids all drive."
During the Great Depression and World War II, Floyd said, "Times were hard. We all had to work. I had to milk cows too. One cow in the pasture used to watch me real close, and she'd run a mile and I'd pound my fist because I was going to be late for school."
During the war, Floyd's skills were too valuable to allow him to join the armed forces, because the blacksmith shop was a vital place that did the work the county needed for agriculture.
"I was building everything for the farmers. My step-father, who was very good to me, was a blacksmith, and I grew up there in a house just north of the shop, and I spent a lot of time watching him and learning. I got a lot of exercise. We shooed horses, fixed and built wagons, many things. He became ill in 1948, and I took over and converted from a blacksmith to a machine shop and metal fabrication," Floyd recalls.
"We fabricated stainless steel for Kraft Foods when it was here, and when word got around we were making things for a lot of their operations and for all the farmers.Berryville Machine was the place to go," he said.
Floyd invented a walnut huller, and a Bermuda grass spreader, "but I never got any patents. My theory was, get it going good, sell all you can, and let somebody else worry about it," he said.
The shop became very successful, and Floyd sold it to Jack Jackson in 1980, retiring at age 65 with his wife, Elizabeth (Snow) Priest. He married his first wife, Mable (Farmer) Priest, in 1939. She passed after 51 years of marriage. He knew Elizabeth Snow most of his life, and has been married to her for 12 and a half years.
Floyd accomplished a few other notable things in Berryville, such as serving 20 years on the Planning Commission and recruiting a young Tim McKinney to get involved in civic work.
"And Tim just kept on a goin'," Floyd said with a smile.
Mayor Tim McKinney has been in office for more than 10 years.
McKinney said, "He recruited me for the Planning Commission. He's a rock, a good, solid person and a very Christian man who I wish I could be more like myself. He did a lot of good for this city in his quiet way ---- a great decision-maker without flamboyance."
Floyd has a son, Dr. Wayne Priest, a chiropractor in Berryville; and a daughter, Charlotte Linch, a retired teacher in Dardanelle. He has six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.