Yellow rose of Texas
You wouldn’t think the business of selling roses would be life threatening, would you? Well, then you haven’t heard about Brent Herling’s first job as an industrious 13-year-old growing up in Preston Hollow in the 1970s.
You may know Herling’s name, he is a lifelong Preston Hollow resident who spearheaded the restoration of the mural on Forest Lane in 2014. Lately, he’s been painting a new mural along Marsh Lane at 635. He’s a man who always has to be doing something, it seems — sitting still is not his style.
So as a new teenager with a healthy dose of moxie, he set out to make his way in the world — largely without his parents’ permission. One day, he saw a guy with a bucket of roses in the old FedMart parking lot on Forest Lane, which he peddled to passing cars for 75-cents a dozen. Herling knew he could handle the job, and walked up to the man to ask about work.
Despite his age and lack of a parent, he was hired on the spot. It’s a move indicative of the time, before work permits signed by parents were a requirement. In the early 1970s, Herling wanted a job, they wanted to sell more roses — the deal was done.
“I’m sure it was against child labor laws,” he laughs.
For his first day, men in a truck picked him up one Saturday morning and left him on the corner of Forest and Hillcrest with a sandwich board sign and a bucket of roses. But they weren’t just any roses, they were Tyler roses.
Known as the Rose Capitol of the World, the City of Tyler and the surrounding county put itself on the map with the birth of a lucrative rose-growing industry. The first recorded sale of the fragrant flower took place in 1879 according to the Texas State Historical Association, and the floodgates opened from there. By 1917, they were being shipped across the state, and eventually the country, by train. Business boomed around the turn of the century after years of drought and disease destroyed the area’s peach industry, when orchards were ripped out in favor of roses.
In 1933, Tyler launched the Texas Rose Festival, with its colorful displays reminiscent of the famed New Year’s Rose Parade in Pasadena and the annual crowning of the Rose Queen. Today, visitors flock by the thousands from all over the world to see the floral paradise each October.
Rose production in Tyler’s Smith County peaked in the 1950s, when around 40 billion roses in 600 varieties were harvested each year. By the 1970s, production had slowed due to outside competition, but there was still something special about those roses grown in Texas.
“There must be something in the soil in Tyler,” Herling says. “They smelled like nothing else.”
He said the product was easy to move. He sold 50 to 80 dozen a day, mostly to men who were cruising up the Lane on their way to a date or home to their wives. It was a romantic impulse buy, that at 75 cents (about $4 in today’s dollars), seemed too good to pass up.
“I usually wouldn’t come back home until after dark,” he recalls.
It wasn’t easy work — standing out on the corner in the beating Texas sun. But Herling got to keep about 10 cents of every dozen he sold, plus most people paid their 75-cent bill with $1 and let him keep the quarter in change, boosting his daily take. He made about $18 a day, when minimum wage was $1.10 an hour, so clearly the money was good. It gave him the pocket change needed to buy Burger King meals and trinkets at M.E. Moses toy store, two essentials for a young teen in Preston Hollow.
It was a pretty easy first job overall, up until the aforementioned near-death experience. That happened one day when two cars collided, careening directly into Herling’s path.
“I had to run for my life,” he says.
But it was his parents who eventually put the kibosh on his rose-selling days. They finally got sick of some strange guys in a truck picking their adolescent son up every Saturday.
“One day they showed up and my dad just told them to leave,” he laughs.
Herling kept working all his life, eventually becoming a successful engineer who also makes quirky art out of found objects that can be seen all over his Glen Meadow lawn.