With his long-sleeved plaid shirt, denim overalls and camouflage baseball cap — not to mention his honey-roasted country drawl — 75-year-old Kenneth Vaughan is pretty much the epitome of the Southern farmer.
And after two major medical scares last year, he said he’s plain ecstatic to be out doing what he loves again.
“I had back surgery, and open-heart surgery in November,” the proud owner of Pop’s Fresh Boiled Peanuts and Fresh Pork Skins said while manning his booth Thursday. “This is just the fifth week I’ve been back to work this year.”
Born and raised in Bartow, Vaughan has been operating his roadside business since 2007. Before that, he was a trucker for 40-plus years.
“I had an accident in the truck, and they took me off the truck and they didn’t have any light duty for me so they laid me off,” he recounted. “I was going crazy around the house. My wife said ‘Why don’t you go look at a peanut wagon and maybe get into that?’”
Following his wife’s pep talk, It didn’t take long for Vaughan to purchase a specially-outfitted truck in Dawsonville. And for the last 12 years, his mobile operation has been a community staple in Bartow County.
“I used to sit there down on 411 and the State put me out of business down there,” he said with a laugh. “Then I moved right on down there to the cloverleaf, where the restaurants and stores are at, and I sat there a little over a year and they put me out of business there.”
But Vaughan — or, as he is more commonly known throughout Bartow, simply Pop — seems to have found his anchor at the Advance Auto Parts location at 1444 Joe Frank Harris Parkway, just north of the Highway 41/Grassdale Road junction.
“There’s plenty of traffic here, and you need to be where there’s a lot of traffic,” he said. “I’m out here three days a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
On an abnormally warm — and windy — spring afternoon, Vaughan had to keep a keen eye on some of his wares to prevent them from being swept off his table.
It was a slower day than normal for him — about 15-20 customers, as of about 2 p.m. On some days, he said he’s had more than 100 drop by to purchase his products.
“You can’t hardly tell what it’s going to do, because it depends on the people who come in, and the weather,” he said. “The best months are, say, from May up to the last of October, that’s the best-selling time. But you can’t never tell. Sometimes, they’ll sell better in the wintertime than they do in the summertime.”
Vaughan said he picks up his peanuts at a farmer’s market in Atlanta. On an average week, he said his business usually churns through at least 50 pounds of legumes.
“It’s hard work now, it’s not a gimme,” he said. “On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I work hard cooking all this. But I enjoy that — I’ve been working hard my whole life, and I don’t plan on quitting no time soon.”
He keeps the menu rather simple. There’s two kinds of boiled peanuts — Cajun-style and plain — and three kinds of pork skins; barbecue, plain and salt and vinegar.
At the moment, Vaughan said he had no intentions of expanding the product lineup.
“That’s enough for me,” he said. “I don’t really know what makes them such a good combo. You just got to make sure you’ve got them to where they like them.”
Without giving away any tricks of the trade, Vaughan said one of the secrets to a good batch of boiled peanuts is getting just the right amount of salt on them — and making sure the peanuts remain soft without getting too soggy.
“I taste my product and make sure it’s right,” he said. “My experience, it takes me 10 hours to cook those pots there full of peanuts. You’ve got to keep the temperature up on them, to keep them boiling all the time.”
Although he’s enlisted a longtime friend to operate another Pop’s trailer off Highway 113, Vaughan said he’s not really interested in expanding the business to any other locales in the county. Nor does he intend on doing much venturing outside of Bartow for his business.
“Certain times of the year, I sell up in Calhoun. They have an antique tractor show up there, and I sell there at the fairgrounds,” he said. ”I may go to Rome every once in a while, but other than that? I’m right here in Bartow County.”
Yes, the gig does have its downsides. One fairly recent annoyance, Vaughan said, has been clampdowns by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. “It was pretty good up until here lately,” he said. “But then they made us start putting labels on our pork skins.”
Still, the spry and amicable septuagenarian salesman said he plans on selling his beloved peanuts and pork skins right off Joe Frank Harris Parkway for as long as he’s willing and able to.
“The most enjoyable part is meeting people,” he said. “You meet a lot of different people and talk to people and they get to be your friends, like family and all, and I enjoy talking to people.”
Almost on cue, a motorist commandeering a pick-up truck lays on the horn in tribute to Vaughan’s long-running enterprise. And it isn’t long before another one pulls off on the side of 41 to order a fresh bag of boiled peanuts.
“And I guess they enjoy talking to me,” Vaughan said, “because they come back.”