PRESTON, Ky. (AP) — Don't call it a bologna sandwich.
At Blevin's Grocery in rural Bath County, the affordable lunch staple is known as a Preston Steak Sandwich. Regulars, otherwise known as loafers, at the country store watch Rube Blevins crafting up a Preston Steak Sandwich and declare, "He makes the best one in town."
The farming community of Preston has changed a lot since the days when farmers raised tobacco and paid their grocery bills once a year after selling their crops, although the country store that still serves as a meeting place for many has somehow resisted time. The top shelves are lined with trophies for everything from bowling and horseshoes to raccoon hunting and big bass, left there by their owners who have since passed away. Behind the counter where Rube and Helen Blevins make the bologna sandwiches, or ham sandwiches for those who prefer the more expensive lunch, a framed 8x10 photo reminds of the day when "Hee Haw" cast member Roni Stoneman got married on the store's front porch in 1987. Not far away, photos of Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama share a spot. In the space reserved for regular customers to sit and trade stories, a vintage KING-O-HEAT coal stove awaits cold weather.
"I've never had another address than Preston," Helen Blevins said, explaining the store was also the community's post office for years, although they gave up their 40366 zip code a few years ago and now have Owingsville on their mail. Blevins said she and her husband have been taking care of customers at the old store "going on 43 years," and the grocery has been in business for more than eight decades.
"It was never closed for business," she said, noting there have been different owners through the years, but the shop simply changed hands and continued to welcome everyone in the community.
During most weeks, Rube Blevins, who was Kentucky's champion horseshoe pitcher in 1981 and 1982, said he uses two rolls of Kahn's-brand bologna for their signature Preston Steak Sandwiches, although they use much more when they go into high gear and put practically everyone in the family to work during the community's annual Court Days celebration. Their customers tend to enjoy the sandwiches along with a Little Debbie snack cake and wash the meal down with a cold bottle of Ale-8-One, which they prefer in the returnable glass bottles, his wife said.
The store's sandwiches are made when ordered and follow a simple recipe of two slices of bread, a piece of American cheese and a thick slice of the local favorite bologna made by Kahn's, topped with a generous shake of salt. "The works here is either Miracle Whip or mustard," she said with a chuckle, explaining they do offer everyone a free slice of tomato when someone grows them and brings them in for the cause.
"But, a bologna sandwich with the works in the wintertime here is Miracle Whip or Mustard," she said, adding nearly everyone prefers the salad-dressing spread to the yellow stuff.
Packaged with a small bag of chips and a can of Ale-8, the meal totals up to $2.50 — $3.50 if the customer wants ham instead of Preston steak.
Helen Blevins says they aren't trying to get rich at their business, and measures their success based on the harder times they both experienced during their younger days.
"We were not rich, but we did eat well, raise kids and was warm in the winter," she said.
The store stopped selling gasoline 15 to 20 years ago, the Blevinses said, and they now only stock the two cigarette brands their customers prefer — Marlboro and Tahoe.
"We used to have every brand," she said, pointing to an old cigarette rack near the cash register. Smoking is still allowed in the store, although Rube Blevins said nearly everyone in the one-time tobacco-farming community seems to have passed away or kicked the habit.
Thursday, the Blevins welcomed Ashland residents and railroad veterans Tom Hilgendorf and Eddie Sloan inside for a Preston Steak Sandwich and a chance to remember the days when two trains went west and two went east through the town every day.
"Oh, those trains. We really miss those trains," she said, recalling a time when you could flag a train down for a ride using a lantern or flashlight and hearing the engineer respond with three blasts on the whistle to indicate the train would pick them up. Helen Blevins said she has lived on both sides of the train tracks, and as a child considered the local train station part of her personal property.
"I felt like that depot was really mine," she said with a grin.
Sloan and Hilgendorf discovered the little country store was still in business and making sandwiches while driving along the path the trains used to take. Sloan, who worked as a conductor for C&O Railroad, said crews used to stop the train in Preston and grab something to eat at Blevin's Grocery as part of their eastbound runs.
"It's pretty much the same," Sloan said. "We just stopped there and got a sandwich and got back on. We would eat between there and our next stop, which was usually Morehead."
Information from: The Independent, http://www.dailyindependent.com