Lloyd Bright Continues The Hope Tradition Of Giant Watermelons

By Staff, 08/23/20 11:17 PM

It was an unseasonably cool August morning when I got to make my most recent trip to the Bright watermelon patch east of Hope.  As I climbed between Lloyd Bright and his sister Barbara Jones, I thought about the other trips which started in the summer of 1988 when I covered a Japanese tv crew filming in the patch.  On that day, myself (for KXAR) and Tim Estes (for the Hope Star) rode in the bed of a pick-up to the fabled piece of ground.  That was the first time I met Mr. Ivan Bright.  I was excited beyond belief to see the watermelon legend and to see the place where so much history has been made, history that literally brought our community international acclaim.

I was blessed to visit the patch many more times through the years including the chance to help pick a melon that could have been a world’s record.  I say “could have been” because at just a little over 262 pound, it did break the old record.  Lloyd picked it as a “reserve” as he had a bigger melon coming along.  I was there a few days later when that bigger melon was picked.  It weighed in at over 268 pounds and captured the third world record for the Bright family.  That day, Lloyd smiled more than I’d ever seen.  His dad was with us at the Farm Store when we weighed it in as was Elmer Smith.  Me?  I was beside myself!  I had seen Hope history made!

This year, Lloyd has at least two good ones coming on.  Our picture shows you one that’s around 190 pounds.  I also took a picture of Lloyd beside one of the structures that protects his melons.  The cloth covers a frame and allows light in while protecting the melon from all manor of pests.

Lloyd hopes to have a big melon to take to a watermelon weigh-off in Republic, Missouri this fall.  Of course a lot can happen between now and then but he certainly has a good start on producing a large melon for the competition.

This year has had it’s challenges with all the rain.  “I have a bumper crop of grass and weeds,” laughs Lloyd.  “Even though I’ve used a herbicide, the extra rain we got later in the season helped that grass to emerge.”  Lloyd says moisture hasn’t been a problem.

“They’ll grow from now until up in October,” says Lloyd.  “This variety grows to a good weight and then just keeps growing…they’ll slow down but they’ll keep growing….if we have more days like this week where the temperature is say 85 or 90, that’s just perfect for a watermelon…gets a 110, they don’t totally shut but they really slow up…maybe we’ll have some more good weather like we’re having this week,” says Lloyd.

Lloyd says one of the problems this year is we’ve gotten 3 inches one day and then a day or two later gotten that much or more.  He says it probably doesn’t affect the watermelon as much as it does the weeds and a few weeks later that slows down the watermelons.  “Watermelons like water but it works out best if you can add your own water,” he says…then chuckles…”I guess we’ve had a little too much.”

Giant watermelons have been grown since 1917 when druggist John S. Gibson offered a cash prize for the biggest melon.  Gibson, whose store operated on Elm where Elm Street Marketplace now is, started a frenzy of competition which brought about the first watermelon festival in 1926 and continues to this day with Lloyd Bright’s melons.

This is a good time for growers of giant watermelons.  “The pumpkin growers had a lot of success growing big pumpkins.  The idea place for them is the New England area.  You get down to states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kentucky, those pumpkin growers found they couldn’t compete with the New England growers…a lot of them switched to watermelons and they’ve done well…the current world’s record of 350 pounds was grown in the Smoky Mountains area of Tennessee,” says Lloyd.  “It used to be there were just one or two contests but now there are a lot of contests.  There’s some really good growers who spend a lot of time on it, seven days a week…get up in the morning, check their watermelons…come home after work go to the backyard…they’re just growing five or six but they do them on a very high level, even to the point where most of them now grow ’em on scales that are built to fit under the frame they grow on,” says Lloyd.  “Once they get them off the ground on a frame, they’re not going to rot on the bottom and they’re gonna grow all summer.  By the time October gets here, there’ll be a lot of growers that’ll have them over 300 pounds.  That’s beyond what you’re going to do in a regular field.  They take it seriously,” says Lloyd.  Lloyd still sells seeds to many of these growers.

There are several of Lloyd’s big melons in public places in Hope.  That includes melons at the Best Western, the Holiday Inn Express, and the Hampton Inn.  There’s also a large Bright melon in his sister’s store, BeDazzled, at 104 South Main downtown.  The public is welcome to stop by any of these spots to view the melons.

The Bright Family has been growing giant melons since the 1970’s and took their first local award about 1974.  By the end of that decade they grew the first 200 pounder and their most recent world’s record came in 2005.

Our community owes a lot to the Bright family.  Their melons have given Hope an identity that is known literally around the world.  And the Brights have been gentlemen watermelon growers.  They’ve brought honor to their home town and Hempstead County and for that we should all be proud.