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October 25, 2014

Family chooses tractor-drawn procession as a fitting sendoff for logger

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Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2014 8:01 pm

Funeral services can vary greatly depending on a person’s religious preferences, the cause of death and family’s final wishes.

One Munford resident, James Curtis Watts, took his final ride down Ledbetter Road to Hillcrest Cemetery June 8 on a trailer drawn by a Kubota tractor piloted by his grandson, Ethan McBurnett.

“When he died, we knew he would want a funeral that was a little more country,” daughter Tammy McBurnett said. “It was a tribute to him. It was sort of bittersweet. Daddy was actually driven down his own road to get to the cemetery for his last ride.”

More than 500 people attended the service for Watts, directed by Usrey Funeral Home in Talladega.

Watts, 71, was a third-generation logger and sawmill operator with Watts Sawmill and Logging Inc., a business now run by his two sons, Howard Watts and Rodney Watts.

McBurnett credited her brothers with the idea for their father’s last ride, a process that took more than 12 hours to prepare and more than 16 people to carry the casket.

The trailer used to tow Watts featured logs bordering the outside edges and a raised pedestal in the center.

His casket, made of solid wood and built by Amish craftsmanship, was covered by a spray of flowers and wood with barbed wire entwined with the flowers.

Family members placed the casket atop the pedestal and surrounded it with pine straw, his old logging tools and fresh-cut wood from the sawmill.

While the other seven grandchildren sat atop hay bales next to their grandfather as the two-mile journey down Ledbetter Road began, Ethan sat in the driver’s seat.

“Ethan was taught to drive the tractor when he was 5 years old by daddy,” McBurnett said. “My brother told him, ‘Go as slow as you want on the tractor. We don’t care how far back the traffic gets — this is daddy’s last ride.’”

More than a month later, McBurnett reflected on the memories from the day Watts was carried to his final resting place.

“The procession attracted many people standing on side of the road with hats off as the tractor passed,” McBurnett said. “We weren’t sure if it was going to rain, so they let the hearse ride near the very end. It thundered all around, but it didn’t rain. One of the grandsons never let go of the casket.”

McBurnett said the unique funeral has drawn plenty of attention from others in the community and via social media.

“A lot of people have had the idea to do this, but not many people have the nerve to do it,” McBurnett said. “Now a lot of people say they wish they had done this. I’ve actually shown the pictures to people on Facebook from up north who wanted to see them. They had gotten word and asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing the photos. I guess this wasn’t your typical way out to your final destination.”

Contact Shane Dunaway at sdunaway@dailyhome.com

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