by lisa rosato
The next day, after a morning of tending to his 61 acres, he stepped into his modest, white farmhouse for lunch.
"When I took the dishes back across to the sink I saw fire coming across the driveway," he said. "It went clear into the ground."
The 79-year-old Bowman and a couple of neighbors who had seen the smoke raced to move the tractors and farm equipment away from the barn as they watched the structure, built by Bowman's father, burn to the ground.
After firefighters from Lisbon, Mount Airy and Damascus put out the blaze, investigators received a tip from a witness who saw three boys running from the barn shortly before it burned. However, those responsible haven't been identified, and the fire is still under investigation, said W. Faron Taylor, deputy state fire marshal.
Through it all, what was most important to Bowman was erecting another barn in its place to complete the farm.
"You have to have a barn on a farm," Bowman said. That's why he has yet to put away his toolbox.
Using tractors, hammers, nails, strong lumber and their own hands, Bowman; his nephew, Edward Bowman Jr.; and his brother-in-law and neighbor, Eugene Mullinix _ all in their 70s _ are raising a new barn that will stand 40 feet by 64 feet wide and 16 feet tall.
"I can't lift a lot," said Roby Bowman, who works on the barn six to seven hours a day. "At 79, it would be difficult but I do what I can."
Since Bowman, whose blue eyes stand out on his tanned and weathered face, still will be bailing hay and selling it to area farmers, his nephew said they had no choice but to rebuild.
"We're all pretty healthy," said Edward Bowman, 71. "You can't go pushing yourself, though. Your body lets you know when you've had enough."
And then there's the tractor equipment, like the large, pea-green John Deere tractor speckled with rust. It used to sit in the barn but is now under a tree in Roby's yard.
The three men started working on the new structure immediately after the old barn burned down. They have poured a cement foundation and have the skeleton of the four walls up. The 70-year-old Mullinix said the trio might have to hire out to complete the next step, putting on the rafters for the roof.
"It's real hard climbing ladders," said Mullinix, who added that there haven't been any injuries. "We have to be careful about what we're doing."
Roby Bowman, who grew up in the 100-year-old house off St. Michael's Road, comes from a family of nine children where farming was the way of life.
Besides hay, his parents used to grow corn and wheat. A wooden grain silo, with worn slats and a rusted metal roof, attached to a small shed in the back yard reflects the earlier years.
Tall oak and maple trees with sturdy trunks stand next to the new barn, which the men expect to have finished in a couple of months.
The three men grew up in the Woodbine area and have been working together all their lives, Mullinix said.
Edward Bowman calls farming the best occupation he's ever known.
"I like the outdoor work," he said with a slight Southern drawl. "I enjoy seeing the crops grow."
Those growing crops soon will have a place to lie once they are bailed. When finished, the new barn will be a shiny crimson, with the wood frame covered by vinyl-covered steel and held together by a metal roof.
A neighbor, 6-year-old Jimmy Wagner, has been overseeing the work of the three men, Edward Bowman said.
"I call him the assistant supervisor," he said with a laugh.
Jimmy helps the men hammer a nail or two and likes to watch the construction.
"It's going to be quite a barn when we get it done," Edward Bowman said. "It's been satisfying work."
E-mail Lisa Rosato at firstname.lastname@example.org.