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Ashe County vs R.J. Combs

Updated on July 6, 2014

Is it ever going to stop?

The feud between Ashe County and "R.J." Combs has been going on for 6 long years. During this time, the residents of Ashe County have been split down the middle as to who's side they're on.

Some think the Ashe County officials should just leave R.J. alone. After all, he's just an old man living with his brother in the mountains. It's not like he's hurting anyone.

But others think R.J. needs to listen to what the county and the courts are telling him to do with his land. After all, if you bend the rules for one person, you have to bend the rules for everyone.

Generally speaking....

Do you think the government has the right to tell us how to live?

See results

So what's this feud about?

In 2004, Ashe County voted on and passed into law a new Junkyard Ordinance. The regulations in this ordinance affected any residence or business that had more than 6 non-running cars or at least 600 total feet of "junk material". So R.J. Combs joined the over 100 people who suddenly found their homes classified as a junkyard.

Letters were sent out and most complied with the new regulations by either getting rid of the junk or erecting a privacy fence. But R.J. Combs refused to do either. This has led to 6 years of court dates, judgments, fines and penalties. And his property hasn't changed one bit.

I know it looks bad - but like I said, we're in the country.

Boxes, boxes and even more boxes
Boxes, boxes and even more boxes

What do the residents of Ashe County have to say?

In a big city, this probably wouldn't be important. But to the 1,500 residents of Jefferson, North Carolina, it's front page news. Everybody has an opinion and most aren't shy about sharing it.

Even I have an opinion

R.J. lives on a seldom used back road about 15 minutes from town. So most of the residents of Jefferson aren't affected one way or the other by this feud or it's eventual outcome. My family's not that lucky. R.J. Combs is our next door neighbor. I look at his junk every day. I notice when he's added something new. And I notice when he's moved things around. When his cows run the fence, my house is where they come to pass the time. I think this entitles my opinion to carry a little more weight than Joe Schmo's. Here's what I think:

Leave him alone! The county has wasted 6 years trying to get R.J. to comply. He hasn't budged an inch and anyone that knows R.J. knows he never will. He's the very definition of stubborn. Besides, why does it matter that we can see a few junk cars, some scrap metal and a bunch of old boxes while we're driving down the road? It's not like we live in the middle of some posh suburban neighborhood. This is farm country.

What do you think?

Do you think Ashe County should stop pushing R.J. to comply with the county ordinance?

No. They should keep suing him until his property is cleaned up.

No. They should keep suing him until his property is cleaned up.

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    • miaponzo 6 years ago

      I think it's good to have ordinances.. ... they are for a reason... and people should follow them :)

    • CHalloran LM 6 years ago

      I lived in a very small mid-west town for 6 years, and had a neighbor with a yard full of junk. I really don't like it. Yes it's their own yard and they can technically do whatever but, I think it is a little disrespectful to the neighbors. Our county passed a similar law but nobody ever enforced it on anyone. I don't know... am I mean? :-)

    Yes. They should leave him alone. It's a waste of time and money.

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      • darciefrench lm 5 years ago

        Sweet - I love this story. What a blessing for RJ to have you as his neighbour :)

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        If the County was trying to "clean up" why did they leave the card board, the tin cans and all the TRASH? but instead, they took the valuables of these brothers. they took their cars, the living quarters (WITH ALL OF their personal belongings) AND old farm equiptment.. if you ever see these men, they dont have the money to AFFORD a new plow, or anything.. So what was wrong with them keeping their old antiques. WHY did these county officials come in and take away everything MINUS THE TRASH. These 2 old men have lived on this property for years... and years... and someone comes in and takes everything they own? they wouldnt hurt a fly.. if they saw you on the side of the roard... broke down, they would give you the shirt off their back. how can county officials get away with this when there are other properties around this county...and they didnt go after them??? They have picked on these old men for years and years and treated them like they arent worth anything? THEY have RIGHTS! FARM land is exempt from the "LawS" that the county is trying to enforce against! They need to leave these 2 sick men alone.. and find some other stupid project to purse... LIKE beatings and neglect in the high school, academic fraud, eldery abuse in the nursing homes, food for hungry childen and adults, and other stupid rules that no one ever cares to mention.. or "forgets about"..

      • Othercatt 5 years ago

        godwillwin, I agree. I just came home from vacation and was shocked to see what they did to his property. I mean, if the county was just wanting to clean up their property, there were plenty of things they could have hauled away other than their antique cars. Heck, the cardboard boxes are easier to get to and they could have taken them without tearing up their land like they did.

      • godwillwin 5 years ago

        They should have left him alone they went in as evil people and destroyed his home and took his cars they done him dirty and the county was wrong by taken there home .there should be justice

      • godwillwin 5 years ago

        ASHE COUNTY HAS WENT TO FAR THEY THIS TIME I WAS PASSING BY AND THEY DESTROYED THAT MANS HOME AND TOOK ALL HIS AND HIS BROTHERS STUFF AND HIS PERSONAL BELONGS OF VALUE THEY WENT INTO HIS PROPERTY AS EVIL DIRTY TERRORIST MINDED TO DESTROY ALL THIS MAN HAD AND THIS IS OUR COUNTY AND THE PEOPLE OVER THIS COUNTY SHOULD SICK OF THERE ACTIONS FOR THIS MAN IS SICK AND YOU ALL HAVE HARRASSED HIM IN EVER WAY POSSIBLE .ASHE COUNTY COULD NEVER BEAT R J COMBS UNTIL HE WAS AT HIS WEAKEST POINT AND IN THE HOSPITAL AND THE COURTS SHOULD HAVE STOPPED ALL PROCEDINGS FOR THE MAN WAS SICK AND FRAIL . FOR THIS COUNTY OF DIRTY LEADERS THERE IS A LEADER OVER ALL MAN KIND AND YOU LEADERS RAN OVER A POOR MAN IN THE COUNTRY THAT HAS NOT BOTHERED NO ONE AND ITS TIME YOU ALL DO JUSTICE FOR THE COUNTY IS WRONG TO TAKE A HOME AND THERE VALUAEABLES AND THERE COLLECTABLE CARS AND ON TOP OF ALL THAT I FEEL THIS COUNTY IS NOT JUSTICE .

      • wayne_luvinlife 6 years ago

        Leave him alone! They have no right to try to tell what to do with his land or not do... I am a clean and order freak with my house and property however, that is my choice! If you don't like what you see...don't look!!!

      • Sunflower Susan 6 years ago

        If it were federal, I'd automatically say the government needs to be out of it. But being this is a county thing, it's harder to say. I believe in freedom as long as you are not hurting anyone. Some people are going to be good neighbors and some are just not... There's no way around it. Ideally, I think the pressure of the neighborhood ought to be enough, without laws. If you have a particularly stubborn individual, who does not want to do his neighbors a favor by cleaning up after themselves, that gets tricky.

        When in a community, you are living with others and there needs to be some sort of order... but this is away from town.

        I suppose I'm leaning toward the county backing off. But I sure wish he would have some compassion on those around him. I'm a farm/country/ranch girl, and we always keep our place looking as neat as we can. It's just plain kindness to others, and good stewardship of what we've been given.

        I wonder if the locals would just show up one day in their work clothes and say, "we're here to help you spruce up a bit, is there anything you'd like done, but have not found the time to do?" I say that with a chuckle, because I suspect its about something else with him, by this time.

        As in the time of the riots... "Can't we all just get along?"

      • GiftsBonanza 6 years ago

        Is it hurting anyone? If not, let him be

      • Othercatt 6 years ago

        Yeah. I always get scared when we drive around those corners. They've been lucky so far, but someday someone is going to run right into them.

        It's funny, I was going to bring that up as something the county should focus on instead of the mess. Them parking in the road is a lot more dangerous than them having a messy yard!

      • BelindaBlevins 6 years ago

        It is a waste of time and money, but they should not park in the road the way they do.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        As a 'new' resident of the USA, this is one of the things that I miss about my home country. We dont get harrassed by city officials to the same extent. I say leave the old bugger alone! His property should have been 'grandfathered' as he has been there, that way, before the law came into being. Let it stand for new residents/properties.

      • Linda Hahn 6 years ago from California

        This debate opens into a whole what do we do with the socially unacceptable?

      • Othercatt 6 years ago

        I think they're wasting time and money. They should just let it rest.

      $200,000+

      The county is fining R.J. Combs

      $50 a day until he cleans up the mess. His total fines so far add up to over $200,000!

      Sometimes I think the Ashe County officials have something against R.J. and Tommy. In addition to the whole junkyard feud, the county also went after their cattle. Two years ago R.J. and Tommy were arrested and charged with 16 counts of animal cruelty. In addition, all 17 of their cattle were seized and "relocated". The animal control officials alleged that the two brothers were neglecting the animals by not providing them with food and water.

      I'll tell you right now, it was a bunch of bull (pun intended). Although they own some of the ugliest cattle I've ever seen, they've always provided food and water. In fact, one of the counties complaints is the hay that's stacked too close to the road. The case was eventually dismissed and the cattle were returned, along with a big bill from the veterinarian who checked them over when they were taken.

      Do you think Ashe County is bordering on harassment?

      See results

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Property rights are basic. The government should not be able to tell us what to do with our own property. That said, I wish we would all be good neighbors and consider the golden rule in the way we use our property. Kudos, Othercat, for this unique and thought-provoking lens.

        • Frischy profile image

          Frischy 5 years ago from Kentucky, USA

          In most counties I think the area close to the road needs to stay clear so the county can mow. I was surprised to see they have stored stuff in this right-of-way area. If the old men are sick and the property has gotten this way due to some incapacity on their part, then perhaps the county would get further by assisting them in taking care of the place rather than bullying them. I do not know the whole story, but it sounds terrible that the county went in and removed their home and belongings. Where I live we call that theft. I think that is awful!

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          I agree. i think people should leave these men alone...and MIND THEIR OWN BUSINESS.. clean up their own house, their own property.. and learn how to TREAT innocent human beings. just because they are different doesnt make it right for them to be the target of all this HARRASSMENT.

        • simplyoasis profile image

          simplyoasis 6 years ago

          Frankly people need to mind their own business instead of meddling and trying to tell others what they can do with and on their own property ... as long as he's paid for his land, continues paying taxes, and isn't doing anything that can bring harm to others then leave the man alone. I know I wouldn't appreciate someone telling me what I can and can't have on my own land! The rules might differ inside city limits but pushing like it out in the country is ludicrous IMO.

        • Sunflower Susan profile image

          Sunflower Susan 6 years ago

          Just that I'm sorry this is happening to everyone. Governments can be extremely power-hungry. It really takes a lot of work for humans to overcome selfish tendencies and simply love one another as we should. One day, things will be right.

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          GiftsBonanza 6 years ago

          Interesting story... but don't think there will be a happy ending

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          miaponzo 6 years ago

          This is crazy! I have never heard about anything like this before!

        • SandyMertens profile image

          Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

          Interesting topic. Lucky I have never had this problem.

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          Ruthi 6 years ago

          Quite an interesting lens topic! I've mixed feelings about a "junkyard" view, but that's my personal view, and I don't think it matters. I do feel that what your neighbor does with his own land is his own darned business. It is sad, too, to know that in the end the county will win and probably collect the land as payment. Your neighbor is lucky to have you on his side.

        • lemonsqueezy lm profile image

          lemonsqueezy lm 6 years ago

          I understand the reason for the ordinance. I would hate to see the whole county turn to junk. Really? Where does it end? However, a nice compromise would have been to grandfather in the current residences. That way, current people can leave their yards alone, but things won't get worse because newcomers will have to be tidier.