CANTON – When a series of deadly tornadoes pummeled East Texas in April, the surge of wicked weather caught retired firefighter Chuck Bozeman and wife, Cama, of Canton, a little off guard.
They were entertaining friends after an afternoon of errands when the skies fell dark and rain started to fall. Moments later, the power snapped off.
“We don’t get good cell service so there was no radar, no signal, no TV,” Mrs. Bozeman said. “My husband and one of our friends were standing on the porch, watching the storm. Our son called and reached my husband’s cell phone, because he was standing outside, and told us it was coming … we had about 30 seconds to take cover.”
Everyone, including family Great Dane, Rudy, scrambled in a bathroom closet as the tornado closed in, toppling trees and ripping up outbuildings as it passed.
The Bozemans emerged to find their home in relatively good shape, but the rest of their property – home of the popular YesterLand Farm – transformed.
Hundreds of structures throughout the region were either damaged or destroyed by the storm that left four dead and dozens more injured.
It’s been a long, difficult process to rebuild what nature destroyed, but the couple continues to count their blessings and the opportunity to reset.
“So many people lost so much stuff, some lost their lives,” Bozeman said. “For us, we had an opportunity to rebuild… I think in the long run, it will be better. The tornado just rearranged things.”
READY TO ROLL
YesterLand Farm, 15410 Interstate 20, reopens Sept. 23 for its fall festival and a last-minute scramble is under way to get things ready.
There are newly repaired fixtures to paint, shelves to stock, employees to train, gadgets to test and small details to double check.
Old and new favorites are featured this season, including amusement rides, a corn maze, a pumpkin patch and pig races, to name a few.
There’s also a gift shop, a baby petting zoo, pony rides, gemstone mining, apple cannons and a special section for Halloween chills.
A host of friends, family and employees are helping the couple pull off repairs in time to give guests a meaningful fall experience.
From the outside looking in, it seems to be a labor of love for all concerned.
“I believe the Lord gives us what we need when we need it,” Mrs. Bozeman said. “He has provided for us.”
The farm started, almost by accident, in the mid-1990s.
The couple was living in Dallas and dreamed of a slower paced life for their children, filled with family fun and simple living.
They purchased 32 acres off I-20 in Canton to start Christmas tree farm, based on the assumption people still enjoyed the experience of cutting their own holiday pine.
The hunch proved correct and within a few years, the family was peddling both trees and hay rides.
But still, something was missing.
“We had people driving in from Dallas and Tyler,” Mrs. Bozeman said. “We wanted to make sure they had plenty to do when they got here.”
And then the thought dawned - why not open for fall, too - maybe offer a pumpkin patch and a few more attractions?
Fast-forward a few years and the couple’s original idea of a simple Christmas tree farm seems nowhere to be found.
Of course, there are still trees for sale around Santa’s favorite holiday, but the offerings expanded to include a range of farm-themed activities and goodies.
“Chuck and I like the way things used to be done,” Mrs. Bozeman said. “We like the old stuff. I think people are so connected with their phones these day, it’s getting to where they don’t want to put them down and enjoy each other.”
‘TWISTER TOWN’ OPENS
The April 29 tornado that tore up a massive swath of East Texas may be gone, but not forgotten.
YesterLand now includes a new section, “Twister Town,” which acknowledges the weather event through fanciful imagery inspired from the enduring classic, Wizard of Oz.
Twister Town includes a country store, western backdrops for photos and things to explore, including an emergency siren from the 1950s.
Some familiar sights are revamped, such as the bright red roof atop Bertie’s Barn.
Further inside the farm, guests will find a mouth-watering candy cabin, featuring original artwork by Freda Malone and a kettle for making fudge.
There’s also an outdoor stage for live entertainment, an oversized tee-pee, retooled western village, portable food truck and professional fireworks shows every Saturday night.
In the Halloween section, there are opportunities to target hunt with Big Foot, fire paintballs at swamp zombies and squeal aloud on a rather horrid hayride.
A new terror tunnel, fabricated by the Bozeman’s son, Brock, promises plenty of suspense without the gore.
“I’ve never had an art class,” said a grinning Ms. Malone, who created painted imagery throughout the park. “Chuck (Bozeman) gets the ideas and I make them happen … I pray for God’s guidance and it’s wonderful.”
Construction gurus Larry Byford and Charlie Harris are credited for rounding out the efforts.
YesterLand Farm is open weekends from Sept. 23 to Nov. 5. For hours, ticket prices, directions and other information, call 903-567-2255 or visit www.yesterlandfarm.com .
“This is something we can’t turn off,” Mrs. Bozeman said. “It’s become a part of who we are.”