When counting his blessings, Allen Hawkins' list is long with employees and friends. Mr. Hawkins, owner of Hawkins Logging Company in Warrenton, has been preparing and sharing Thanksgiving dinner with his employees for 30 years.
Mr. Hawkins, with the help of friends and employees, smoked 85 turkeys this Thanksgiving. Although he has 40 employees, Mr. Hawkins said there were around 200 guests at the dinner table.
Gene Hardy shoveling hot coals under the turkeys.
"Once they come, they usually keep coming back," Mr. Hawkins said.
The tradition began in the early 70's when Mr. Hawkins' father owned the logging company. Mr. Hawkins said the loggers worked on Thanksgiving Day back then, so his mother would cook dinner and take it to the job site. That first year, she baked four turkeys for all the employees, and continued the tradition for several years.
One year, Mr. Hawkins said his mother had to take a trip to her homeland of Ireland, and "my Dad was left with no one to cook the turkeys, so he thought he'd barbecue them in the woods on the job site." Mr. Hawkins said his father barbecued six birds. The next year, the number grew to 30.
"Every year, we would have a few more people to come. The next thing we knew, they were coming from Athens and Atlanta," he said.
Now, the dinner is enjoyed on Wednesday, so employees get Thanksgiving Day off to be with their families. The meal is no longer taken to the work site, but is cooked and served at the Hawkins' hunting cabin on Pylant Crossing. In addition to employees and their families, Mr. Hawkins said foresters and timbermen from Georgia Pacific, International Paper and Huber Corporation also enjoy the meal. Employees' wives prepare all the side dishes.
It takes a lot of help to prepare the meal. Mr. Hawkins said Joe Kitchens organizes the cooks. They start cooking at 5 a.m. The turkeys are purchased from the Bi-Lo in Thomson.
"We really enjoy it. It has gotten to be a handful, but we just love doing it," Mr. Hawkins said.