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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
Chris joined his Lord October 5th . It had been a struggle for several years. He had an accident a couple of years ago when a mule put him into a barbed wire fence resulting in a terrible infection. Not sure of all the issues, but Chris had been up and down the last couple years. He battled right up to the end, but was ready to move on as he knew the final ride would bring him the joy he experienced roping, being with his family and interacting with young children wherever he went. Chris and I go back a long way and spent many nights together watching temperatures. I could count on him to camp out with me every cold night. There are many stories, some I have shared, about those freeze night events. Chris would keep me from falling asleep and I did the same for him (well he would doze off once in a while!).
God just does not make them any better than Chris Blanton. So many remembrances flow into my brain as I try to write this well deserved tribute. I will start with Fran, a truly remarkable woman that shared more than sixty years with him. She was his flying partner as they were active in flying farmers and met folks from all over the country. She was his rodeo companion as they traveled all over to attend and participate (he did the participating and she did the attending). She looked after Chris in a way that is so caring. She gave him room to do what he loved and was there to share it with him. She cared for him and was by his side when he needed her the most. Chris was most blessed to have Fran by his side ever since their days at Clemson.
The pilot. I have no idea how many hours Chris spent in a plane, but it was a lot. Many of you knew of his yellow Piper that he kept at the nursery. He would take it up to check on projects in the area; a spray crew in Howey, how Roy Hart’s nursery looked, take a County Agent up to take some pictures for a report, etc. He had another plane at the Leesburg airport. I am not into planes so I cannot tell you what make and model. It held 4 and I made several trips in it with Chris. We traveled to Vero one day to check on some grapefruit trees. I believe this was when Star Ruby ‘found’ its way to Florida (another story involving an airplane – I only heard it second hand so will not comment!). On the way over Chris dropped down over Dessert Ranch to check out the deer population. There were small herds scattered over the huge ranch. Those of you that hunt or have hunted the ranch know of the deer population. The Mormans do an excellent job with their land. They operate a first class cow/calf operation and an extensive hunting lease business at the same time. Anyway Chris showed us (John Hey was the third member of the party) lots of deer. As I recall I made some comment about deer and Dessert and he accommodated me with our low level tour. After lunch and visit/discussion with a couple of growers we loaded up to head home. Chris went through all his checks and told us weather was coming in, but he thought we could make it back to Leesburg before it arrived. He thought!! Once airborn and headed west John and I could see dark clouds in front of us. Chris did not appear to be concerned. He made the most of the opportunity telling us he could divert if necessary, but he thought we could make it to Leesburg. He thought!! I can remember coming over Lake Harris in a light rain and was much relived when the wheels touched down just before the storm hit. Chris was right even though he cut it close. I know he would never put us at risk. Somehow I think he just wanted to make the return trip an adventure for John and me. He did!
The bunkhouse. Now Fran loved all of Chris’ cowboy friends, BUT her house was not a place to entertain them when they came to rope. Most of you know that roping was right up there next to family on Chris’s list of loves. The nursery provided a job and funds, but he loved being on a horse with a rope in his hand. He had an arena across from the office on Dead River Road. Tommy Abney raised calves that were used to rope. A bunkhouse was constructed for cowboys and visitors like me. It was a great place with pot bellied stove, a pool table, and a couple of wood rockers on the front ‘porch’ that looked over the roping arena. This was Chris’ ‘man cave’ and was a perfect place for tall tales and fantastic chili. Chris told me the bunkhouse was in equilibrium as they took out as much sand on their boots as they brought in, thus no need for a broom!
The Blazer. Chris had a love for machinery, especially those that transported one from place to place. He always had a small crescent wrench in his pocket. Not sure if he used it to adjust anything in particular, believe it just gave him some comfort like being close to machinery. Anyway Chris found someone that managed to stuff a Detroit diesel (I think it came from an old Speed Sprayer of his) and Road Ranger transmission (no idea where he found it) into a Blazzer! There was no way Chris could hide as everyone in Lake County knew the big cowboy hat in the Blazer that sounded and ran like a dump truck. On a cold night I could hear Chris shift gears all the way down Dead River Road as he traveled to and from my office. Chris also had a Greyhound bus he had converted into a motor home. The décor was rock and roll! He was an Elvis man like most of our generation. Chris would take a group to a monthly gathering in Clermont in Rock and Roll. What a blast to step back to high school and BS with John Kennedy, John Hey, Jim Simpson, Jennings Rou, and others (now the last two did little talking as the first two handled that end of the trip).
I have shared other aspects of Chris Blanton over the years. He was a warm delightful guy to be around. He had a smile and love of young children (would always stop and talk to them whenever an opportunity presented itself). He was always ready to help you anyway he could. He enjoyed life. After the freezes destroyed the nursery Chris spent a few years as an over the road truck driver! He never lost his passion for roping or his family. He was one of a kind. My last comment on a memory of Chris goes back to his daughter (Julie’s) marriage. It was a beautiful event. Chris wore a black cowboy cut suit and could not stop smiling. The bride and groom kissed and headed down the aisle. The mother of the bride followed the wedding party next and her cowboy reached down to pick up his big black 10 gallon Stetson (which she had placed there prior to the service starting). That moment is burned in my mind! Fran still had a tear in her eye and Chris had his smile in 10th gear. Proud parents and lifelong partners.
Fran has shared some remarkable experiences they had. Like the time they spent in the backcountry in Wyoming. Packing in by horse, living in a tent house and enjoying the high country with fellow flying farmer. Then there was the young man they met in the Outback parking lot in Ocala… Tell you what, why don’t you just ask Fran to relate that story and more. I am sure she would love to talk about her cowboy. If you know Fran give her a call and go to lunch. If you do not know Fran, send her a card and share your favorite Chris story, she would dearly love it.
So I close my tribute to my dear friend and freeze watch partner. I am looking at the program from his service and there is a most fantastic picture of Chris and Fran, both have those wonderful smiles that reach out and grab your heart. Keep roping Chris and keep the fire going in that stove. We will join you on that porch you now occupy with the head wrangler, our Lord!
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