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Faces of Cotton

Meet the Hollingsworths

Robert and Karen Hollingsworth Claude, Texas

By Kara Bishop

Three-year-old Robert Hollingsworth gets up early Saturday morning. It’s time to check on his crops. He pulls his little boots on and heads outside to start up his tricycle. He’s planted some wheat and hay grazer in some rows he set up in the front yard, much to his daddy’s dismay. It’s wet and muddy this morning — a little too treacherous for a tricycle ride. Little Robert stares at his trike and thinks. He has to check his crops, and while he could just walk the ten feet over there, his daddy always drives out to the farm. So, he needs to drive out to his just like daddy does it.

Suddenly it comes to him. He finds some baling wire out in the garage and wraps his front tricycle tire in wire. He’ll cut some deep ruts in the yard, but he won’t get stuck. After all,

his horse needs hay so he must press on. At three years old, Robert has all the makings of an ingenious steward of the land. Just like his daddy.

Farming is all he knows and is all he has ever wanted to do. With 280 acres of land that his great-grandfather homesteaded in 1906, he dreamed of farming it like his father and grandfather before him.

But the challenges that plague farmers today were roadblocks for young producers like Robert back then as well. Access to land, crop prices and input costs kept Robert from making a true living off the land. He went to work for the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) in Panhandle, Texas, in 1982.

Stretched Thin
While he had a full-time job, Robert still wanted to farm. It was a punishing schedule during planting and harvest seasons.

8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – work at TXDOT
7:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. – plow or plant at the farm
2:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m. – nap, shower and get ready for work

When he had a spare moment, he worked on his sons’ race cars and took them to races on the weekends.

“If I could get four hours of sleep a night, I felt pretty lucky,” he said.

Robert may have been stretched thin, but that didn’t make him mediocre. For TXDOT, he invented a lay-down machine that fits on the front of a maintainer for paving roads. Robert’s invention would lay the road automatically with very little shovel work involved. His lay-down contraption became a model and showpiece for other districts to copy and implement into their processes. Because his innovation reduced man hours and manpower needed, the state of Texas saved $30 million annually on road systems.

He competed in state and national events with his invention — and won, giving the $10,000 in proceeds to the West Texas A&M engineering program.

Second Chance
On January 1, 2009, Robert transferred to the Groom TXDOT office and became Karen’s boss.

Neither Robert nor Karen could have imagined their union taking place. Both were convinced they’d never marry again. Both were content with that.

Finding each other just happened.

“It was from the Lord,” Robert said.

“It was weird,” Karen added. “The first time we held hands, I just knew I had the right person. I would have married him right then had he asked me to.”

When Karen’s job in Groom became a district-wide position, she transferred to the Pampa office. Robert and Karen began dating at that time and married in 2010.

Enjoying the Reward
Today Robert and Karen live in a beautiful red barndominium they built five years ago after almost a decade of sketching, designing and dreaming.

“We laugh together, we cry together, we play hard, we work hard, and we just enjoy life.” Robert said. “The Lord has blessed us and provided all we have ever needed.”

They farm dryland milo, wheat, cotton and run a few cows. They love spending time with their grandchildren and the RV life — when time allows — working together, and playing pickle ball.

It took Robert years to acquire the land, equipment and assets needed to make farming work full time. He retired from TXDOT in 2012 and now does what he’s always wanted to do. Farm the land. While driving to a section outside of Claude, he said, “It took me 28 years to put this section of land together. I bought it piece by piece and had a couple of half circles sold out from under me a couple of times, but I finally got it.”

During Thanksgiving in 2016, Robert and Karen decided they were going to try growing cotton. Karen printed everything out she could find on it and made a book for Robert to study by the fire in the winter.

“I would cuss those boys around me for growing cotton, because I hated it so much,” Robert added. “We were grain farmers, so, when we decided it was a good idea to implement cotton into our rotation, I ate a lot of crow and apologized to every one of those guys. Cotton was just something we never thought we would grow, in fact, my dad would be rolling in his grave if he knew we were farming it today.”

Their 2017 crop was the best cotton crop they’ve harvested so far, producing 2.9 bales per acre of dryland cotton that year.

“The biggest things we learned were to not be afraid to plant that cotton seed a little deeper and to use plant growth regulator,” Karen said.

People often seem surprised at how well Robert and Karen work together. It’s not your typical husband/wife dynamic. But it’s not every day two people get a second chance at love, either. They’re grateful for each other and never take it for granted. They do it all, just the two of them, planting, spraying, harvesting year after year after year.

“We laugh together, we cry together, we play hard, we work hard, and we just enjoy life.” Robert said. “The Lord has blessed us and provided all we have ever needed.”The cotton they planted in late April came up and is still going strong.

“I have faith that the Lord will provide what I need,” Robert said. “He’s taken great care of me so far.”

You can’t ‘out-give’ the Lord.

You can tithe all you want to, but no matter how much you give Him, He’ll give you back ten-fold. And He always has.