The torch has been passed at Randall Orchards in Standish.

Following the death of Dick Randall, 75, on July 16, from a rare lung disease, his youngest son, Robert “T-Bone” Randall, 48, a longtime supervisor at Shaw Bros. construction firm in Gorham, has assumed ownership of the 7,500-tree orchard, which sits on roughly 500 acres of property on Route 25.

This summer, T-Bone Randall and his wife, Julie, moved into the white 1776 farmhouse purchased by his great-grandfather, Edgar, 110 years ago – the same house with the same master bedroom where Dick Randall was born and died.

Randall has quit his job at Shaw Brothers to run the orchard full time and for the long term. He acknowledges it will be difficult to stand in for his father, an intense worker who at one point was simultaneously vice president of the former Saunders Brothers dowel company in Westbrook, owner of an airplane advertising company and the owner of Randall Orchards.

“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” T-Bone Randall said. “Everybody tells me that, which I know. He was a seven-day-a-week worker his whole life.”

At the orchard, Randall’s management responsibilities will go beyond his father’s. He will not only run the business side of the operation, but also will oversee the management of the property – a huge task that Dick Randall relegated to overseer Scott Neal, of Porter, for the past 33 years.

Before he died, Dick Randall asked Neal, who intends to go into partial retirement in the near future, to train a new overseer. But Neal declined, insisting that he would only train T-Bone to oversee the property.

“T-Bone was supposed to work at Shaw Brothers and he was going to own this place,” Neal said. “I was going to be the one taking care of fit. I would be the overseer and Dick had visions of me training somebody else to actually take my place down the road so T-Bone could stay at Shaw’s Brothers and somebody else could take my place.”

Neal said he was concerned that a new overseer would likely “run the place right into the ground.”

“I told him I’m not training anybody besides T-Bone because he’s going to be the only one who cares,” Neal said. “He will. He does care. To me, as long as I know somebody’s caring about the place I’m going to show them every possible thing that I know. He’s got a grip on it and I can see he’s got a grip on it.”

Dick Randall begrudgingly accepted the arrangement, according to Neal. In mid-August, T-Bone Randall began working 12 to 13 hours a day, seven days a week, running the orchard. Neal is training him how to spray pesticides, mow and operate machinery.

“Learning the apple industry is the biggest thing,” Neal said. “He’s learning integrated pest management, learning how to control fungus, learning how to control insects, how to grow the apples, that’s going to be a big step for him because that takes years to learn. Stuff like that is going to be the biggest thing for him to do.”

Randall said he is well aware of what he has agreed to do, and he plans to keep at it in coming decades.

“I know what I’m in for,” he said. “I wouldn’t have agreed to do it if I wasn’t ready for it.”

Dick Randall inherited the orchard in the late 1970s, when the local apple industry was suffering from economic trends related to globalization and the growing use of apple concentrate from China, according to Neal. In the 1980s, Randall massively expanded the size of the orchard, added a cider mill, and arranged a deal to sell the cider at Hannaford Supermarket. According to his longtime friend, Bill Ciccarone of Falmouth, Randall revived the operation.

“He definitely turned it around,” Ciccarone said. “It’s just the fact that he added many more thousands of trees. If you drive in the road you see how everything is trimmed and mowed. He made the place a showplace, besides making it a successful apple business.”

In 2014, Dick Randall placed an agricultural conservation easement on about 300 acres of the property, protecting 297 acres of farmland and forest on the property. In tandem with a December 2011 conservation easement, which protects 185 acres of mostly wooded property, there are 482 acres protected on the property. The thought that his family farm would be converted into a subdivision appalled Randall.

“I could have developed this land when my father died,” Randall said, in an interview last year. “I could have been the richest guy around. That isn’t what I was put on earth to do – squander your inheritance.”

Randall said his goal is to maintain the orchard and the current arrangements as much as possible.

“We’re going to keep it the same,” he said. “It will be a farm. The only changes we’ll make are the changes we have to make. We’re going to keep it a farm, and keep it an apple orchard, obviously.”

According to Neal, who said Dick Randall’s death has left an “empty space” at the orchard, Randall will need to start making new capital investments in the coming years to maintain the operation.

“It’s going to be a couple years before T-Bone realizes what he’s got here, what he’s facing, and the changes he wants to make, because this is getting a little run down,” Neal said. “The packing house, the cider mill, the trucks and the storage, all of it’s getting old, all of it’s getting run down.”

“I don’t see this farm going downhill,” Neal added. “The only thing that can kill you is mother nature and the government.”

Ciccarone described the task facing Randall as a “big challenge.”

“Dick worked harder than anybody I’ve ever known. The fact that he was running Saunders Brothers, air ads and Randall Orchards all at the same time tells you how hard he worked,” Ciccarone said. “For anybody to work that hard it takes a pretty special person. That was Dick. If it needed to be done, he did it. It didn’t make a difference how long it took or how many hours a day it took – he did it. He was just a worker beyond belief. That’s got to be a tough thing for anyone to do, and we’re going to have to wait and see if T-Bone can do it or not.”

Robert “T-Bone” Randall sits on the John Deere tractor that belonged to his father, Dick, at Randall Orchards in Standish. Dick Randall died July 16.Staff photo by Ezra SilkThe late Dick Randall, in 2012, at Randall Orchards, which has been in the Randall family for more than 100 years.File photo

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