Old 1969 picture brings up a classic memory for Mildred Pharr, 91Norman Long, who co-owned Long's Texaco, tells story behind photo
When 91-year-old Mildred Pharr opened up this year’s April 9 edition of “The Guide,” a picture on the back page of a woman milking a cow in front of what was then Long’s Texaco at the intersection of U.S. 110 and U.S. 276 in Bethel immediately caught her eye and brought up fresh memories of a fun day at the old store in 1969.
“The woman milking the cow in the picture was me when I was 45 years old,” said Pharr, leaning again her kitchen bar in her current home just a stone’s throw away from the Bethel intersection.
Seeing the old picture prompted Pharr to look for the original old newspaper that boasted that same photo on the front page. Sure enough, she found an original copy of “The Waynesville Mountaineer” newspaper tucked away in an old box in her home – dated March 24, 1969.
“That picture really took me back in time,” said Pharr.
Why did the picture land on the front page of the local paper? Well, there’s a story behind this classic photo.
Norman Long, who owned the store at the time along with his brother Henson Long, said he had the spur-of-the-moment publicity idea of placing a cow in front of his store in an effort to out-do his competitors in the milk price war of the day.
“At that time, we were selling milk at 99 cents a gallon and then the dairies increased the price and all the milk was going up a bit but the big grocery stores in the area like Winn Dixie and A&P announced in the paper that they had reduced their price of milk,” explained Long.
Well, the little country store couldn’t compete with the larger chain store milk prices, so they decided to do a little hillbilly advertising of their own to grab the attention of customers.
“I said to myself, ‘They are not going to under-sell us!” recalled Long. He grabbed a poster board and a marker and made a sign that read: “Free Fresh Milk While It Lasts!” Then he added the word “Pasturized” to bring home the point that the milk was directly from the pasture cow. The words “No Purchase Required” completed the hand-drawn sign.
He borrowed a cow named “Bossie” from neighbor Bruce Conard and taped the sign right on the cow – quite a photogenic cow he thought, so he went on the hunt for a photographer.
“I got on the phone and called and told somebody at the Mountaineer that we had free milk as long as it lasted and they sent their photographer out there and, pretty soon, the place was covered with people stopping to see what was going on,” recalled Long, adding that several women retrieved some big old buckets from the store and formed a line to milk Bossie the cow.
After all, there’s not many things in life for free.
Pharr still recalls the moment when Long asked her to come to the store and milk the cow. “I remember that it was a real chilly March day and some of the women were trying to milk the cow and couldn’t get any milk and I said, ‘Well, it’s easy to milk a cow – I’ve been milking cows since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,’” said Pharr.
When she didn’t have any luck milking the cow either, she finally had to tell the anxious group around her, “Well, this is a dry cow!”
“Some people were mad but most everybody just had a ball with the whole scene,” said Pharr.
“It was more of a publicity attempt than anything else and people were getting a clownish laugh out of it,” Long added.
What’s interesting to those in the county who remember that fun day is that folks in Haywood County are still getting a laugh out of it because an idea that started out as a random publicity stunt on the side of the road became a long-standing memory for many.
“I thought it was interesting that I was 45 years old when the picture first came out and I’m still alive at 91 to see it in the paper again,” said Pharr, noting that her daughter, Sheila, framed the original newspaper article for her as a keepsake.
While Long says he doesn’t exactly remember getting rich off the publicity idea, he does remember laughing a lot that chilly March day in 1969 – and then laughing some more.
And that, according to Pharr and Long, is simple proof that the very best things in life really are free.