Agriculture Family of the Year reflects on decades of farming
Ask Bryan and Kathy Caton the best part about farm life and they answer like true West Texans, with short, to-the-point answers straight from the heart.
“Being your own boss,” is Bryan’s West Texas answer. “I love wheat harvest,” is Kathy’s.
Their dedication to farm life was celebrated in February during the annual Texas Farm-Ranch-Wildlife Expo held at the Taylor County Expo Center. The Catons were named the Agriculture Family of the Year by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension at a luncheon sponsored by the Taylor County Extension Ag Committee and Taylor Electric Cooperative.
Unfortunately, Bryan and Kathy weren’t there for the festivities. Icy conditions made it unsafe to drive from their country home near Hamby, but that didn’t mean they didn’t get to celebrate. That same afternoon, U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington came to their home with a U.S. flag and a certificate verifying that it had flown over the U.S. Capitol. They also received a congratulatory letter from Sen. Ted Cruz. And, of course, they got plenty of congratulations from family and friends.
“We were way excited,” said their daughter-in-law, Kim Caton.
This year’s Agriculture Family of the Year, like most other farm families, has seen it all, from tornadoes and severe droughts to bumper crops. The constant thread woven through those ups and downs is a love of the land and the farming way of life.
Bryan and Kathy live in Bryan’s grandparents’ home, so farming has always been a part of his life. His family was living on Oak Street in Abilene when he was born 84 years ago, but he’s a farmer at heart. Kathy, 80, was born in El Paso and grew up in Abilene with her stepfather’s family.
Bryan served in the Navy from 1957 to 1960, stationed in three states, Newfoundland, and the Mediterranean Sea. His last three months were spent on an oil tanker in the Mediterranean, making stops in Italy, Greece, and Spain –not a bad gig.
“I think that was them trying to get me to enlist again,” he said.
But it didn’t work. Bryan came back to Abilene and was working as assistant manager of the Safeway store on Pine Street in 1960 when he met Kathy at a New Year’s Eve party. They were married eight months later, on Aug. 5, 1961.
“He liked me right off,” Kathy noted.
At the time, Kathy worked in her mother’s dress shop but later spent 30 years with Farm & Ranch Western Wear, before moving to Luskey’s-Ryon’s. Kathy loved her job selling western wear, but she also became a skilled farmer, too. Mainly, she drove farm trucks, tractors, and “the lunch wagon.” Working together as a couple on the farm, it seems, is no different from spouses working together in any other job.
“He yelled and I yelled back,” Kathy said. “It turned out alright.”
Bryan and Kathy now live on 6.2 acres around their home, which is considerably less acreage than the family farmed in their heyday. Their son, Browny and his wife, Kim, live down the road on some of the family land. Browny is a welder and Kim is an independent insurance adjuster, but they also do some farming. Browny, named for his grandfather, William Brownlow, has great memories of growing up on the farm.
“It was all special,” he said. Like his mother, he loved wheat harvest.
A daughter, Paula, died in 2007 at age 45. Four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren also got a taste of the best of the agriculture way of life. Riding on the tractor with their granddad and his cooler of snacks was a special time.
“They all loved it,” Kathy said, “and they all still talk about it.”
Those were the fun times, but living on the farm also has it share of bad times. That was especially true in the 1970s when a tornado came roaring through, upending a trailer house on the property where Kathy’s mother lived, lifting the roof from the main house, and sending everyone scurrying into the middle of the house for safety. No one was injured, but there was a lot of damage and some wheat was lost. Other times, recessions devalued everything on the farm, and there were years that droughts caused cracks in the ground big enough to lose tools in.
In August 2021, Bryan had triple bypass heart surgery, followed by more heart issues. He tires easily but still has energy for three chores a day –cooking breakfast, feeding the dogs, and taking cubes of feed to two calves to supplement their hay. Occasionally, Bryan fixes lunch, too, but breakfast is every day without fail. At Kathy’s urging, pancakes and scrambled eggs are most likely on the menu.
“That’s what I like the best,” she said.
By Loretta Fulton
Photos By Shayli Anne Photography