I had wanted bees until one day in Gov. Combs’ backyard...

By Philip Case, Published:

All this talk of bees got me to remembering my encounter of The First Kind with three hives of bees when I was a mere sapling of a youth a few years back …

As I’ve written in this space before, I grew up in a middle class neighborhood on the northern edge (then) of Lexington, about a mile from “downtown.” When I got old enough – say 10 or so – Pop bought a gasoline-driven power mower, only the second on our block. He told my brother David and I he would always provide a mower and gas and we could use the mower to make money if we kept our yard cut and trimmed at no cost.

That became the only job I ever had until I went to work for the then-Lexington Leader in the fall of 1967 as a junior at Transylvania University.

As the years rolled by, when I turned 16 and started to drive, the lawn-mowing possibilities expanded beyond just the little yards in our ‘hood. David’s interest went in other ways and he helped out when needed, but by and large the business became mine. I will say, however, over those years we made a lot of money mowing grass – bought our first boat with those earnings … but that’s another tale!

Getting on to the bees.

So it was when some relatives of the late Gov. Bert T. Combs who lived across the street from us – the relatives, not the governor – said Combs needed someone to cut his rather large yard out in a ritzy part of Lexington. He’d provide the mower and gas (not unlike Pop), all I had to do was go out and cut the yard.

I jumped at the chance – and the opportunity to earn $15 for a yard instead of $1.25, and that only when the customer tipped!

Looking back on it now several decades later, the job might not have been worth it at 10 times the price!

And here’s where the bees come in.


Since about the fourth grade, I’d always had an interest in bees after watching a fascinating demonstration beehive in a Gatlinburg junk store. I had subscribed to a bee magazine and tried to talk Mom and Pop into letting me get a hive – stand or “gum” as they were also called – for our backyard.

Scoping out Gov. Combs’ yard I spotted three hives along the back fence, as far from the house as possible. I figured I’d get around to checking them out eventually – just shouldn’t have done it with the mower!

As I mowed – back and forth, back and forth across the yard – I got ever closer to the hives. I could see all were active as clouds of bees hummed about on this hot summer day, not paying much attention to me.

But I kept mowing closer and closer until finally, with the exit chute aimed quite accidentally at the hives, I strafed all three of them with a liberal fusillade of grass that must have sounded alarms all the way to the queen’s own bedchamber!

And “whoa, Momma!” as they say!

In perfect formation they turned and came after me and the mower – which of course I quickly abandoned and made a mad dash for the house. When I arrived at the back porch with only a couple of stings I looked back to see the bees had turned and were attacking the mower, which they thankfully must have thought was at fault.

Had they thought otherwise I might not have been here to share this tale with you. And since this all happened before user safety was much of a concern, the mower didn’t have a cutoff and it just sat there churning away as the little dive bombers sacrificed themselves on the roaring machine still belching grass clippings and gas fumes.


Safely on the porch I took a seat and contemplated what to do next since I wasn’t through mowing and my $15 was in serious jeopardy if I couldn’t retrieve the mower and finish the job. Gov. Combs was away so he wasn’t there to consult.

But as good fortune would have it – not unlike Abraham spotting the ram stuck the bushes just before he sacrificed Isaac – I spotted a bee veil (complete with pith helmet) and bee gloves.

I finished the job thus attired and suffered no further stings although the bees continued for a time to attack the mower.


After that incident, as time passed I let my subscription to the bee journal expire and rapidly lost interest in the apiary arts. In fact it wasn’t until Joel Schrader – pictured with his son Roman elsewhere here today – convinced me to allow him to put three “gums” on our Browns Lane farm that I had further contact with the little yellow dudes.

But how that one ends is a story for another day …

Go out to KSU this weekend and enjoy the workshops. These guys are pros and, who knows, you might want to become one of them. Heck, I might go myself and rekindle that love I lost half a century ago on a hot summer’s day!

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