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Weekly 150: George Warren Barksdale

Mechanic, Pilot and Firefighter

Posted 9/15/20

George Warren Barksdale was born in 1920 in the Crawley Store community between McKenzie and Greenfield. Before long the family moved to the Liberty Community about four miles from Greenfield. It was …

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Weekly 150: George Warren Barksdale

Mechanic, Pilot and Firefighter

Posted

George Warren Barksdale was born in 1920 in the Crawley Store community between McKenzie and Greenfield. Before long the family moved to the Liberty Community about four miles from Greenfield. It was in Liberty, his father, George Sr., took a job as a driver for a piano tuner.

After the tuner’s circuit was complete, the family moved for the third time in less than a year.

Arriving in McKenzie, George took a job as a mechanic and his mother, Pauline, worked making pills for Dr. Elinor. There were six children in the Barksdale family, Warren, Wilbern, Wendell, Willard, Kenneth and Mary Frances.

At an early age, Warren took an interest in automobiles. In a 2002 interview, he recalled learning to drive around the age of seven and was driving on his own by the time he turned 12.

“When I was 12 years old, I was driving to Memphis and wouldn’t hardly see one car,” he said.

When the McKenzie school burned, Warren was in high school and his classes moved to the McTyeire Institute which later became Webb School. With a skill for mechanics, he was fortunate enough to have class on the subject in school and study under his father who was working for the local Ford dealership. When George was sent to Memphis for advanced training, Warren would skip school to go with his father.

“A round trip ticket by train was $4 and the hotel was $4 a night,” he said, admitting wages were low as well and jobs hard to come by in the rural area of McKenzie, even before the Great Depression took hold. He recalled working at “anything that came by. I baled hay, plowed corn, picked cotton, I did it all, even dug ditches.”

Outside of school, one place to gather with friends and meet new people was at revivals. In this time, teens got together on humid summer afternoons and evenings in unairconditioned churches to attend the meetings.

“They [Enon Baptist Church] always waited ‘til the last of August cause they figured they would sweat the hell out of you,” Warren recalled.

It was at one of these revivals, Warren met 16-year-old Brooxie.

“Back then everybody knew everybody in Huntingdon, Gleason and McKenzie,” Warren said, explaining how he met Brooxie through, some friends she was “hanging out with.”

The two married in November 1937 when both were 17 years old. Warren often joked he married Brooxie because her last name was Penny. The couple went on to have four children: Shirley, Alice, Kenneth and Janice.

Early in their marriage, Warren worked various jobs including helping in the construction of what would become Tri-County Motors Company on the corner of Main and Cedar Street. Brooxie stayed home and helped raise their children.

He eventually began working as a mechanic, first working for local dealerships and independently for himself at Barksdale’s Auto Service. During World War II, he taught welding in the evening at Tri-County Motors to farmers and G.I.s.

“Back then so many farmers had nobody to do their work, so the government decided to teach them to keep up their own equipment,” he explained on how he began teaching the program.

Between work and raising a family, Warren pursued his boyhood dream of learning to fly. In 1955, he earned his pilot’s license and joined the Civil Air Patrol. Warren drove to Memphis and bought an airplane.

He then built an airport in Greenfield, where, during the night flights, he would set smudge pots along the runway to land by. Brooxie told the story, “I flew with him to Nashville one time and he told me we ran out of gas right over the river.” Warren affirmed they did run out of gas, but they were able to coast in safely.

By the time the children were in high school, Warren was operating his auto service full time with Brooxie keeping the books. In 1965, he started teaching auto mechanics at the technical school in McKenzie.

“I was the second instructor they hired,” he recalled. When he had a heart attack, the school hired Jerry Bush as an assistant who stayed on for the remainder of Warren’s 23-year career.

In 1987 at the age of 67, he decided to retire instead of working up into his 70s as he had originally planned.

“I really enjoyed it, the only reason I quit was because the concrete floor got my knees, walking 8, 9, 10 hours a day and then night classes too.”

For 52 years, Warren was part of the McKenzie Fire Department. He said, “When I started we had five people in the Fire Department. Whoever was on the street and saw, came and helped; that’s how we fought fires. I got in it that way and joined up in 1939.”

His job description with the department was set by then Fire Chief Luther Brewer. Warren was to drive the fire engine, keep the truck going and operate the pump. Drawing on his mechanical ability, Warren reconfigured a fire truck designed to fight fires outside the city limits where there were no fire hydrants. He did so by outfitting a trailer with a 3,000-gallon gasoline tank converted to haul water, complete with an American LaFrance fire pump.

Health issues (two strokes, open heart surgery twice and three bouts against cancer) slowed Warren in his later years but enjoyed life to its fullest. He and Brooxie traveled a great deal in their retirement; including visits to Hawaii, Alaska and Canada.

On September 30, 2002, Warren died at the age of 81. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

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