Wayne Byers' Apple Stand
A pickup truck pulled in front of Wayne Byers' apple stand, and the couple inside peered out their passenger window at the 14 boxes of apples on Byers' trailer.
They were window shopping on the 105 Bypass in the middle of October. The sun was shining, but the wind was blowing. It was chilly.
Byers, wearing his Appalachian State ball cap and hoodie, rose from his chair and stood beside his apples.
The couple looked and looked, and finally got out of their truck.
"You can't taste the apples from sitting in there," Byers said.
Byers says he's been selling produce in the High Country since before the Tomato Shack, and his customer base is about 50/50 between locals and visitors to the area, he said.
For the past five years, Joann and Robert Halleran, of Huntersville, have stopped by the apple stand in route to visiting their daughter in Banner Elk.
"The apples are always good," Joann said. "I'm assuming they are fresher and picked from these North Carolina mountains and not from someplace like Peru."
And they are. Byers deals with N.C. orchards in Rutherfordton, Hendersonville, and Brushy Mountain. He calls the orchards ahead of time before picking the apples up.
"I call them up and go down there when they're ready," Byers said. "That way I know they are right out of the field - ain't been in no cooler."
He is adamant about not refrigerating apples.
"You want an apple that has been kept naturally cool," he said. "They have a much longer shelf life."
Around the first of November, Byers' shuts down his apple stand. From there, he will prepare for the Christmas tree season. For the past 12 years, he has traveled to Charlotte to sell Christmas trees from Hawk Mountain Tree Farm in Foscoe.
"I try to change as the seasons change, out of produce and into apples, then into Christmas trees, keeps me busy year round," Byers said. "If I sit down, I'm going to die."
Byers was born in Charlotte in 1936, a year after his father bought land in Foscoe. After graduating high school at Cove Creek, he spent the next eight-and-a-half years in the Air Force. As a bombardier, he flew B-52's during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
After the military, he moved to Champaign, Ill. There, he opened a television store with a couple of partners. After the store grew, he sold his stake of the company and said, "I'm going back to the mountains."
He has worked various jobs since he moved back to the High Country. He was the first security guard to work at Lees-McRae College. He has built log homes for a living. The past 13 years, though, he has been driving a school bus five hours a day for Watauga High School.
Asked if Byers is able to make a living selling produce, he said, "Well, it makes living easier. You're going to see a lot of people my age that are going to have to supplement their income doing something else."
The apple stand is a family-run operation. Tom James, his son-in-law, works the lot on the bypass with Byers, while Maria, his wife, works a lot near Shulls Mill Road on N.C. 105. Daniel, his grandson, also helps out.
Each weekend, James is out there with Byers, loading apples on and off the trailer or helping with customers - whatever needs to be done.
"I do it to help him out, and I do it to spend time with him," James said. "Not only is he my father in law, but he is probably my closest friend."
Sometimes, when business is slow, they just sit and watch the traffic, and wait for some one to pull up and ask for directions. "If we had 50 cents for every direction we gave, by God, we'd be retired," Byers said.