Waylan Hitchcock’s granddaddy H.I. “Peanut” Elton told him things, specific things like how to judge cattle with dead-eye specifics, the accurate land boundaries in the county and how to tell good dirt from bad and what to do with it.

But most important, he taught him to one way or the other, keep going.

“Whenever he was going to do something, going to an equipment sale or other sales, he took me with him and taught me how to do things and showed me a lot,” Hitchcock said, standing in his barn just outside Tennille, Ga., a barn he constructed around Peanut’s old mule cribs, which were built in 1922.

“So, when I was growing up there were really only two things I kind of wanted: a farm and to have some sons to drag along behind me to show things to,” said Hitchcock, 57.

He got both, the sons (a daughter, too) and the family farm. But it was no straight-arrow shot. The path was as curvy, and as dangerous, as the Washington County backroads that wriggle around the family’s land.

In 1973, taking what he learned from Peanut and his father, J.W. Hitchcock, who ran a store and had some farmland, Hitchcock set out on his own, renting 100 acres from Peanut. “And I just grew from there buying or renting more land,” Hitchcock said.

He married Marie. The farm grew and so did his family. “In my mind with the family, I felt to keep going I needed to keep getting bigger,” he said.

By 1979, he was working more than 1,000 head of cattle and a couple thousand acres of land. “I was a workaholic,” Hitchcock said. “Looking back, already at that time I was doing too much.”

But the riverboat gambler, he admits, started to come out in him.

By the mid-1990s, Hitchcock bet on going even bigger with his operation and was up to 5,000 acres of row crops and still had a large cattle herd. He had invested in irrigation and other improvements for the farm. He was rolling big, leveraged to the hilt and then things started to turn badly. … And the riverboat gambler’s cards got harder to play.

When Hitchcock thinks about it now, he wishes he’d a filed bankruptcy. It would have been the smart business decision. But smart business decisions and ethical ones aren’t always graceful dance partners.

By the mid-1990s, his children, James, Jonathan and Jennifer, were older (James, the oldest, close to graduating high school with plans of parlaying his whiz-kid SAT score into an engineering degree).