Sunday, August 27, 2006
An Unexpected Treat During the latter part of my first summer on the farm, I was surprised one morning, after loading the milk for delivery, by the appearance of Dad in his old Buick with a boat in tow. The type of boat he had with him is known as a Grand Laker and is a square sterned canoe designed and constructed specifically to ply the large lakes in Maine. These boats, as can be seen in the top photo, are considerably larger than a normal canoe, and the squared-off stern allows an outboard motor to be mounted as in the middle photo. The middle and bottom photos are of the actual lake where we were, unbeknownst to me, about to spend a glorious week together. The middle photo shows a canoe beyond the island visible in the far distance in the bottom photo. The bottom photo shows the narrow mouth of the lake behind the dam where boats are put into the lake. I don't know the exact size of the lake, but it has enough open area that waves of a yard(meter) or more in height aren't rare on windy days. It's precisely for that reason the Grand Laker canoe was developed, as it easily tackles the worst waves and winds the lakes in the area serve up. It also has a shallow draft that enables it to be maneuvered up the shallowest of the streams that feed the lakes. As I ran to greet Dad, my aunt called to me from the pantry doorway. Looking back, I could see she had uncle R's old army surplus duffle bag with her. Seems they had all planned this trip secretly to surprise me, and my aunt had the duffle bag packed and ready to go with enough clothing to last me several days. I was still confused as to what was going on until Dad called to me from the car window to get my things and not to forget my fishing gear. I numbly obeyed and, as I finished piling it all into the car's trunk and the boat, My aunt beckoned me to her one last time and handed me a paper bag filled with fresh bread, rolls, and homemade doughnuts. Running back to the passenger side door, I clambered happily into the huge old vehicle and inquired as to where we were going. I had it in mind that we were headed down the road the six miles or so to the boat landing of the lake where F and R had their cottage. When Dad turned in the yard and entered the highway going in the opposite direction my curiosity grew. Dad urged me to just sit and enjoy the ride and said I'd see where we were headed shortly. I did as instructed, but my puzzlement grew as we passed first by the road to town and the river landing, then several more roads leading to the lakes with which I was familiar. When we passed the road to the lake with the last of the cottages I knew to belong to relatives, pure confusion set in. Finally, Dad turned off on a road that was to be travelled by me almost daily in my teen year summers. At the end of the road is a small settlement and several sporting lodges, along with a public boat landing on the biggest lake in the area. I'd never been there before and at first look I thought it rather funny that we'd come fifty miles or so to enter onto what appeared to be a rather small lake. What I soon realized, was that I was seeing only the narrow strip of water that led to a vast lake, that in turn was connected directly to several more large bodies of water. This narrow bit of water is pictured above, and above it the canoist is at the beginning of the larger area of water. Dad stopped at the boat ramp and we got out to load all our gear into the canoe before putting it into the water. He then undid the canoe's tie-down straps and backed the trailer into the lake, allowing me to wade in and guide it back to the shore beside the ramp so we could safely enter the vessel. After pushing off and paddling out a short way, Dad lowered the outboard motor into the water, pumped the gas bulb on the tank several times, and with a quick pull on the starter cord the motor roared to life. Dad made sure we each had on life vests and then pointed the bow toward the lake that was his goal. I was still under the impression we were going for a one or two night camping trip and that my duffle held R's army surplus tent. As we motored onto the large portion of the lake, the canoe was suddenly subjected to a stiff wind and waves larger than any I'd ever seen on a lake before. They looked more like the waves we saw on the salt water in the Bay of Funday when we went to buy fresh fish on the piers, twenty-five or thirty miles south of the farm. Dad wasn't concerned however, which allowed me to finally relax some and enjoy being on the lake. Our final destination was to prove to be the cottage of one of Dad's co-workers that was ten or more miles up the lake and accessable only by water in summer, and by crossing the lake ice in winter. It was this remoteness that had attracted Dad to the cottage when he'd gone ice fishing with his friend the previous winter, and had stayed at the cottage for several days. As it turned out, this helped create one of the best memories I have of that distant time. As we neared the cottage, Dad slowed the canoe and, when he saw it was shallow enough to be safe, instructed me to enter the water and "pull us ashore" as he put it. This was easily done and Dad exited the craft onto the beach and proceeded to pull it up onto the land. After we'd unloaded most of the gear, Dad removed the motor and carried it and the gas tank up onto the porch where there was a crude stand on which to store both. The two of us then pulled the boat completely onto the logs, placed in a row like railroad ties parallel to the water, that served to protect the painted canvass bottom from the rough, rocky beach. I was still awestruck by this turn of events and had a head full of questions, but, knowing Dad, I patiently waited for him to explain things as I knew he would eventually. We entered the camp and Dad told me to unpack my things on the lower of the two bunks in an opening opposite what appeared to be a crude kitchen area. When I had done so, he unpacked his old army duffle onto the top bunk. We then put the items neatly into the four drawers of an old bureau at the foot of the bunks. It was at that time Dad surprised me by pulling several bottles of my favorite soda, Moxie, from his second duffle, followed by jars of homemade jam, a can of coffee, and a large jar of popcorn. He also had several cans of potatos and vegetables for our meals. It was about then I noticed there was no ice box nor ice to fill it, also no electricity of course, so I asked him how we were to cool things like the soda. He led me out of the back door and into the trees a short way to a small, but fairly deep spring that he said was our "refridgerator" for the next week. A week!! I couldn't believe what I'd heard and my head was still reeling as Dad went back to the camp carrying the fishing net he'd retrieved from a tree beside the spring. Back in the cottage he piled the soda bottles, a jar of cream, and a jar filled with home churned butter on the net, tied it into a pouch, and carried it to the spring. Once there, he unwound a rope I'd not noticed from the tree that had held the net and, after tying on the filled net, lowered it into the spring until it rested some ten feet or so down on the bottom. He then led me back to the camp and off into the woods in the opposite direction of the spring until we came upon what was obviously an outhouse. Saying there was only one more thing to show me, we went back to the camp and around to the large rocks down the beach a few hundred feet or so. Following his lead and clambering onto the rocks, I saw what was clearly a compost pile with the peelings of an orange still identifiable on top. Beside it was a small shovel which Dad grabbed, along with one of the many empty cans there, and started digging in the composted matter for fishing worms. Once we'd secured enough worms to keep us from digging more for a bit, we returned to the camp and collected our fishing rods and a small leather pouch with extra hooks and other necessities. Dad set out along the beach, explaining that we'd find a stream in which to fish before long. He was right, and we headed inland up the stream in search of our evening meal. This proved to be easily obtained, as within the space of an hour we had caught several large brook trout and were headed back to the camp. By this time it was early evening and the light in the cottage was becoming dim as we carried in our cleaned fish dinner. As we lit the kerosene lanterns and kindled the fire in the pot-bellied wood stove, it slowly sank into my mind that this was really happening, and that it was going to last a full week before the grind of daily life retook control of our schedules. The next few days were filled with swimming, hiking, fishing from the boat and in the nearby streams, and best of all, evenings alone with Dad. During those quiet evenings, listening to the cries of loons and owls, we popped popcorn in a wire basket, ate fresh fish, and talked about anything and everything. As it turned out, this was to be the first of four such trips, along with an additional two in winter for ice fishing. I think it was these trips when I came to really know the quiet man who was my Dad, and to appreciate the time spent alone with nature. We'd pass hours together withous saying a word, just enjoying the beautiful surroundings and each other's company. That, is the memory I have when I think of Dad, and it's as fresh today as it was then. Take care until next time.
Posted by Mike S at 11:35 PM
Friday, August 18, 2006
Lazy Summer Day This memory, like so many others, just popped into my head unanounced and I thought it might be worth sharing. Although the farm was a place of endless work,uncle R knew everyone needed time away from the daily grind to relax and have a bit of fun. One of my favorite passtimes in those days was to hike to the place deep in the woods where the spring spewed forth a continuous supply of sparkling water. The spring was the sole supplier of water to a small rill that ran through the woods for about four miles in a meandering, sputtering manner. It then crossed the big highway to our east and bubbled along amother half-mile or so to the river. All along the path of the brook were places where the water encountered difficulty overcoming natural obstructions, mainly large rocks. In these places the water would swirl in pools until sufficiently high to go over or around the obstacle. It was in these cool pools that I discovered a sizable number of brook trout along with an occasional perch. Most of these pools were several yards across and as deep as ten feet or so. The stream of water from them would grow in size during the spring run-off, allowing fish from the river to make their way upstream to suitable watery abodes in which to spend their lives. The fish were in great enough quantity and the water clear enough that you could see them swimming peacefully about, unaware that a predator in the form of an eight year old lad lurked above. The best way to lure these tasty swimmers onto my hook was by using a simple casting rod provided by Dad and the wiggly critters found in vast quantities in the manure pile. As there was little in the way of naturally occuring food for the fish other than passing insects, which they snatched in mid-flight during the hours around dawn and dusk, they'd happily attempt to devour the wormy treats I had to offer. Looking back, I can see it really wasn't very sporting to catch them this way, but to a young boy it was pure excitement to hook one large enough to be deemed a "keeper" and successfully wrangle it onto the forest floor. The size limit was six inches and I always carried a six-inch ruler to ensure the legality of my catch, even though no warden was likely to be lurking in the nearby trees. There was no limit or requirement for a young boy to be licensed in those days, but my aunt told me that twelve trout would provide ample food for the supper table, to be augmented by yeast rolls, fresh vegetables, baked old potatos, and fresh berries she'd collect from one of the many berry patches on the farm property. When I say "old potatos", I don't mean in the sense they were spoiled. These potatos were the ones harvested latest in the fall and stored in the storage cellar, which was really a cave the size of a large room we used to store food & milk products. We lined the cave with hay and ice in the winter and it maintained a temperature between 28F-32F year round making it a natural refridgerator. The late potatos were used for baking as they had thick skins and cooked more evenly in the woodstove's oven. I loved those thick skins and I would scoop out the potato flesh within, apply butter, salt, and pepper to the skins and devour them with great pleasure. As I prepared to fish I'd cut a small branch from a tree, strip it of leaves or fronds, and use the twigs sprouting from it as a fish carrier, putting the catch's gills on the small "hooks" formed by the remnants of the sprouting twigs. I also made sure to find a "gum spruce" tree to gather enough spruce gum to chew while in pursuit of supper's main course. My aunt must have been confident of my success as she never prepared meat for the evening meal in anticipation of pan-fried trout. As it turned out, there were always plenty of good size trout to satisfy all the diners. While there are numerous ways to prepare brook trout, my favorite will always be the way followed by my aunt. After I'd cleaned all the fish, she'd take them into the kitchen, and as the rest of the meal neared completion, she'd roll them in a bit of flour with salt added and fry them in bacon fat from the can that was ever-present in the cupboard above the stove. Just a quick turn in the hot fat on each side was sufficient to completely cook the tasty treat. No matter how I've tried in the ensuing years, I've never completely captured the essence of fresh trout fried in that manner. Either my memory is faulty or the combination of wood stove, rendered bacon grease, and anticipation of tasting the rewards of my fishing efforts made the difference. Either way, the smell of fresh water, the spruce gum, the cool forest with its mossy carpet, and the following feast will always stay with me as one of the most enjoyable memories of my long ago youth. Take care and stay well until next time I have the pleasure of sharing a memory or two.
Posted by Mike S at 2:04 PM
Friday, August 11, 2006
A Little About Woodlot Work As I mentioned previously, we had woodlots we worked in fall, winter, and processed the cut wood mostly in late spring and summer. From mid-March until late April was a time of very little wood activity due to the mud from the snow-melt. After the ground dried, a week or two was required to remove, repair, and store the snow fencing. Then, a few days to a week or more was spent scouring the fields for the new "rock crop". This consisted of all the rocks pushed up by the freeze/thaw cycle over the fall-spring time frame. The amount of time required was totally dependent on the number and size of the "new" rocks. As we gathered the rocks we'd sort them roughly by size and shape as we loaded the old horse drawn wagon. Again the team amazed me on the first day I drove them to perform this task. As soon as we'd gotten to the farthest reaches of the field to be scoured over, they pulled up beside the first rock we came to with no input from the reins. This intrigued me as they'd ignored all the rocks we'd passed on the way, apparently knowing from past experience that we'd start with the most remote stones and work our way back in. Their actions were always a source of wonderment to me. When we'd gathered enough to lade the old wooden wagon to its capacity weight-wise, we'd head back toward the barn, going along one of the stone walls that enclosed several of our pastures and hayfields. If we came to a spot needing stones put back on the walls from where they'd fallen, or unfinished sections of wall, we'd pull up and do whatever was needed. The newly gathered stones were employed in the construction of new sections, after which we'd remove whatever other fence had been previously installed there. Once this spring task was completed it was time to tackle the trees felled and removed during the fall and winter. These logs were those which hadn't been hauled to one of the mills during the winter, and were partially used for other purposes, one being firewood to sell in town. The pictures above show examples of firewood cut and stacked, balsam fir tips, balsam fir, a bow saw, the axe method of felling trees, a two-man buck saw in use, an early chainsaw of the type R had, and a man using one of those old chainsaws. The balsam firs were used for pulp wood at the paper mill, and the tips saved by my aunt. The tips we gathered for her when we (R and F at that time as I was a tad youngish) felled a balsam fir were processed, as the Indians did, by my aunt and Mrs F. First they'd chop them into smaller bits to allow more of the fragrance to seep out, then they were placed on racks and dried in the oven, using low heat. Afterward they'd use them to stuff pillows or add them to quilts for the aroma and the supposed medicinal value to the respiratory system of the fumes. These would hold their aroma for decades with proper care and refreshing, again using very low heat. We had quilts that had been passed down through many generations that were still aromatic after more than a hundred years. The Indians and early settlers used balsam firs for a number of medicinal purposes up until today, although their modern use isn't as widespread as it once was. There are companies here today still making balsam fir products. At that time, the chainsaw was a new and bulky contraption and awkward to use. It could, however, greatly speed up the felling process. The model R bought was the same as in the photo, and was rather reliable compared to the earlier types. Neither he nor F really took to the machines until near the time when I left the farm, and usually employed the old axe method of tree farming. The way it worked that first year, and several ensuing years, was for R and F to go to the woods to work after morning chores had been done. They would select the trees to harvest one by one, never cutting more than seven to ten per acre at most. They would figure out how much they wished to cut and proceed until they reached their goal. Never did they harvest more than they planned to get more money, as that would ruin their long-range management plan for the lots and leave them poorer in future times. After school I'd harness the Boys and go with F to where they'd cut that day. We'd spend two to three hours hauling the crop of fresh-cut wood to the part of the closest pasture to the barn that had the rockiest soil. It was selected as it wouldn't "mud-up" the same as other places, and could be worked some in the spring, as it would dry out earliest of the fields. They tried to only cut and delimb as much as could be removed during a school-day evening. On the weekend, usually the late hours of Sunday afternoon, I'd harness the team to either the old wagon or the snow skid and myself and F would gather all the limbs that'd been removed. These were used for many purposes, from chipping them to line the pig and goat pen floors, to cutting and drying the larger pieces for kindling/firewood, to be used mostly in the "sugar shed" where maple sap was boiled down in spring. The balsam fir tips were carefully gathered and presented to my aunt as mentioned above. None of the tree was ever wasted, unlike today's fast-paced clear-cutting methods that leave a trail of debris in their wakes. Although good for wildlife and forest growth regeneration, it's rather unsightly. I like to think we were much better stewards of what nature gave us. Looking back, I realize how in-touch we were with the land. After the amount of trees they planned to harvest from all lots worked were cut, removed, and stacked in the "wood field", we would set about processing them for sale to the various parties awaiting them. The first to go were the easiest and gave us a bit of a break. These logs, destined for the paper mill, had to be cut into four foot lengths and loaded on the truck for transport to the mill or the river. The final destination was determined by the mill according to their supply. If the mill wood pile was full, we'd haul the wood several extra miles upriver to a dumping dock, where we emptied the truck's cargo into the river using the tilt on the bed. There they'd join other logs on their way floating toward the mill's river pick-up conveyer for ingestion to the paper making process. This was occasionally done in winter if cash was needed for an emergency of some sort. The next to go were the "lumber quality" logs that were cut to twelve foot lengths for the lumber mill. They were hauled to the river at a point above that mill for later processing into two-by-fours and their wooden brethren. The shorter sections of these logs were saved and delivered to the "small products" wood mill for use as dowels, furniture, boxes, etc. Then the remaining wood was cut on F's old saw mill, split, stacked, and then delivered green to various people in the area. They would dry it for a year or more, and then use it for their wood furnaces, stoves, and fireplaces. This required the most work and always lasted well into the summer. It seemed to always be a race to complete the processing of the wood for our fires, always the last, before hay harvest was upon us for the first cutting. Sometimes it would be done only on rainy days when we could work the wood but not the hay. Any way you look at it, life on the farm was always filled with hard, but rewarding, work. One thing I'll carry with me to my grave, is the memory of how good those old rough sheets smelled and felt after a day of school and work, or just work. It was never "just school", as one part of going to school, after tending to the horses, was helping load the milk delivery station wagon and then delivering milk before school. My aunt was invariably the delivery person, and would work out her route so as to deliver the bulk of our goods on the way to dropping me off at school. I guess it was a lot of work for anyone, let alone a kid. But I wasn't alone, as there were loads of farm kids doing similar work each day. We were the only milk delivery farm, but many others delivered other farm products to stores and individuals. It all hinged on the type of farming their families were engaged in. We all had one thing in common though, even as the town kids looked down on us as inferior in some way, we knew among ourselves that we knew more than they could imagine. This work ethic showed itself continually during my working years in others of a similar background. These folks were always dependable and hard working, not that others weren't, it's just that farm-raised folks were ALWAYS that way. Until inspiration strikes again, take care and keep smiling.
Posted by Mike S at 1:10 AM
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Thoughts on "Our" First Real Team Job As I've said in the previous entries, one of my first real "big" regular jobs was to tend to the horses, their stalls, and the "tack room". For those non-farm folk who may browse past here, "tack room" refers to where the reins, harnesses, collars, and related "horse & mule" gear was maintained and stored. Although I was assigned to maintain the tack, I soon realized this was nowhere near as daunting a task as first it appeared. Mostly it involved cleaning, preserving, and doing minor repairs, all of which took less and less time as my familiarity with the items and their varied uses increased. I found that a good system involving immediate cleaning, preserving, and storing of all gear used after each use, no matter how tired one happened to be or what time of day or night, was invaluable. A few minutes spent when tired lessened the backlog I faced when first presented with my new job. R always had a habit of saving it up and then spending one long session doing everything at once. This involved too much anticipation of long hours spent with leather goods to hold my interest as a viable way to go. I guess I ought to explain my choice of accompanying photos before proceeding along with this entry. Where we live is somewhat famous for its occasionally harsh winters. By this, I mean temperatures that can reach -40F below Zero and can also involve fairly large quantities of snow, from first flurries in late September to last flurries around mid-April. This is both good and bad for farming that involves woodlots for added income, as the frozen ground and packable snow offer the opportunity to enter the woods and remove logs on a stable, slippery surface. This makes it ideal for working with horses to "twitch" the logs out a few at a time to where they can be transformed into easier to handle packages. Or, to where tackle can be used to hoist them aboard the truck for transport to the mills. The other benefit is that if you can control where the snow drifts, you somewhat control where the snowmelt goes. The optimal condition is to have as much of the melt as possible go into the ground to replenish the springs, wells, and the water table in general. One means of doing this is by careful study and recording of the winter wind patterns and placement of "snow fencing" to try to control where the snow accumulates in the form of drifts. The way this fencing works is by causing a vacuum and backswirl effect, which causes the blowing snow to accumulate in piles on the downwind side of the fence. The top photo pair shows snow fence of the type we used back then and the resulting drifts. Although not taken here, the photo may well have been, as it shows drifts we would consider mid-winter size. The next shows installed fencing, the next the way it came in rolls. We needed the pastures and fields open in the spring and summer for grazing, hay, and crops. This meant the fences were installed each September/October before the first hard freeze hit and were removed, repaired, and stowed each spring as soon as the fields were dry enough to support a wooded-wheeled wagon. The next is an example of a horse collar and then a wagon very similar to those we used. Uncle R had this thing about auto-tired wagons being too much trouble with flats and all. The last is included for a twofold reason, to show horses in working harness and to show the amount of harness involved just to work the horses.(out of order, sorry) One thing I couldn't find was an example of R's homemade "winter work-horse boots" as he called them. These were made of leather with inserts in the bottom that attached firmly to the winter shoes he either copied or designed himself. I just accepted them as normal to all horses in winter and never really thought about it until looking fruitlessy for an example photo. The bottoms were of very thick and rigid leather with short studs on the bottoms for grip on icy patches. These not only gave the horses good stability on the ice, but protected the hoofs and lower legs from constant contact with the deep snow to some extent. After one or two trips down a trail the snow would become fairly firmly packed until the next storm. The weeks immediately following my arrival just happened to come at what R called the "slow season" when , other than routine milking, slaughtering, delivering, apple picking, hay shuffling, silo filling, etc, there was very little to do. So, we installed the snow fences according to R's pattern book and the predictions in R's weather "bibles", The Farmer's Almanac and The Old Farmer's Almanac. These are two separate publications, and R would sit evenings and average out what they, local papers, and the radio predicted, then arrive at his best guess for the days ahead. Surprisingly, it seemed to be pretty accurate, as I can remember very few times when we were caught unaware of a coming big weather event. The day we were to start, I fed, watered, and hitched the big beasties to our old wagon and proceeded to the out-building where the fencing was stored to find, to my surprise, F waiting for me, sitting on one of the rolls of fence he'd wrestled from the shed. He told me where to park the wagon, which was totally unnecessary as the team had already stopped in the proper position for loading. This was my first confirmation of what I'd suspected for the few short days I'd been around the "Boys" as R and everyone referred to them. They were in charge of me. I might have done the hitching, feeding, etc, and even held the reins, but control was not to be mine until they trusted me not to screw things up for them. This worked out well over the first months, saving me and them injury and needless correcting of mistakes. Once again, looking back later, I realized this was R's way of training me to be useful without adding to his already full workload. In doing this he actually lessened the load on himself to the point that when I left he hired a local lad to live and work on the farm and perform most of the tasks I'd been doing. He couldn't afford to pay enough to get anyone to fully replace me, especially as I worked for room and board only. And the occasional evening use of the farm truck to chase girls in town. As we finished (mostly F finished) loading the wagon as high as practical, R appeared as if by magic, carrying "field lunches" to substitute for breakfast, dinner, and provide a light pre-supper snack. Thus ready, we rode away from the pre-dawn light, heralding another sunny day, toward the western-most fields beyond the pond to lay the south row of fence on R's farm. By working steadily, except for taking on food or water in brief pauses, we managed to lay a full six wagonloads of the snow inhibiting wood and wire concoction. We finished as the last light of dusk lit my work unhitching the team. This continued after school and on weekends for almost three weeks before the last of the, by now despised, fence and metal poles found themselves in the proper areas for them to do their duty against the blowing snows. This also presaged my first venture into wagon repair and sleigh preparation. As an added note, I decided one Saturday to try out my theory of my not being required to operate the team. To my utter astonishment, as soon as I lay down the traces they stopped, snorted, and refused to move until I repossessed the leads. Even though they knew exactly what to do without any guidance from me, they refused to abandon a fellow team member, no matter how inconsequential that member's part was. I like to think it offended their sense of symetry, in a horsey sort of way. Not sure where this rambling tale will wind next as it seems to come to me at the oddest times. Sometimes a smell, a television image, or some other stimulis sparks the process. Sometimes it's more a result of my own daydreaming while avoiding gainful labor of any sort. Whatever does it, I've learned it's totally unpredictable, so we'll both be surprised I guess. Take care and stay happy.
Posted by Mike S at 12:36 PM
Thursday, August 03, 2006
More Information About The Farms I got thinking, after a discussion of the subject with my wife, about how more background information might be needed to properly set forth the surroundings and the buildings in which much of my time as a youth was spent. I've already given a description of the farms areas as best I could, without being too boring I hope. I feel, however, more detail is needed as to the type of equipment and workspaces that were involved in maintaining the farm equipment in proper working order. For those of you not intimately familiar with farm life, the importance of constantly available farm machinery may not be readily apparent. Let me use a bad analogy here if I may attempt it; not having a ready to use hay "tender" to turn the hay from the previous evening's cutting, is like having a five gallon container of ice cream and only room in the freezer for one quart. By the time you make room in the freezer, something's going to be lost, either ice cream or frozen goods, maybe both. If you can't turn the hay to the sun and dry the "underside" of the hay rows, you can't bale it, as it'd still be wet. At any rate, as poor as the analogy may be, you should get the picture I hope. Not a good situation. At the time I was growing up, money for repairs, parts, new equipment, etc was not only scarce, it was usually non-existant. Yes, fuel was cheap, with gas and diesel in the twenty-five cents a gallon range. Many, many things cost much less then, including the milk, butter, eggs, and produce we sold to raise money. As an example, our milk sold higher than the milk from more commercial sources, yet was only twenty-three cents a quart delivered daily. At that rate it took over four quarts of delivered milk to raise a dollar. So money was dear, as not even three-fourths of that was profit. R told me it took delivery of three quarts of milk to be able to profit partially from the sale of the fourth. For this reason, farmers at that time (and many still today) had to be as much repairman, animal doctor, inventor, and many other trades as farmer, in order to make a living, or at least not lose too much money each year. Small farmers operated in this frugal way so as to compete with larger, better funded farm operations. Today it's even worse financially. The photos above aren't the equipment we actually had, or the barn, etc. They are in all ways very close to what we had, or even identical, as in the case of the tractors. I'll be showing more photos with each post from now on if possible, and they'll be the same, similar but not exact in most cases. The top photos are of a VERY similar blacksmith shop as was situated at the far end of the equipment shed. It was an old building close to, but not part of, the equipment shed. The next is an example of the small, gasoline engine powered washing machine my aunt used, she actually had two of them, both very old. The barn complex I chose mostly for the fact it's the same style as the milk/hay barn. The attached buildings such as the silo are similar but smaller. We also had a double tower silo. We also had far more additional buildings. Then there's an example of the type of small, one or two cylinder, gas engines we used to power the baler, hay bale conveyer, etc. We also had a few very old stationary engines that powered field water pumps, the generator, and the welder/generator units, and could be relocated, with a lot of effort, to where they were needed. Today's farmer is aided by the newer "all-in-one" tractor systems, portable mini-generators and pumps, and most of all electricity. Let me wander into the area of NO electricity for a bit. The reason we had no power for so long is complicated. Firstly, when I originally went to the farm to stay, all that was available was 25hz service, which wasn't adequate to run a lot of the newer equipment of the time. Not having "older" electric machinery, R decided to wait a few years until the local power provider switched over to 60hz and get newer farm aids then. Secondly, where the farm was situated was quite a distance from the nearest user of electric power. That would have been the service station down at the intersection, about five miles east. This meant the installation of several transformers, power poles, and transmission lines would be required, at a cost borne very unevenly between the power company and user(s). As ourselves, F, and the farm up the road a piece would be the only customers for miles around, this would have been a big investment at that time. This was further complicated by the fact that the third farm involved was owned by an elderly man, whose sons had moved "away" in search of higher paying jobs and a "better life" for their families. Looking back, I wonder if their's was a "better" life or not. We were pretty poor most times, we just didn't know it, as we always had homes, food, heat, and a full life. At any rate, he was loathe to invest in any "new-generation deviltry" (his actual words as I heard him tell R & F no)that wasn't going to improve his lot in life any, as he was retiring & selling his livestock. This put the onus on R, F, and my Dad, who was also hesitant. The decision was finally made to wait for the "new" 60hz service and save as much as possible until then in order not to go into debt to install it. Debt was highly frowned upon by many of those who survived the depression and its associated bank failures. R, F, and Dad really distrusted banks and bankers. Next is (like) the old , and in my opinion best in many ways, 1934 International Harvester Company F20 tractor. It was powered by a four cylinder gas engine and had a belt pully and power-take-off attachment. This was always my choice to do almost anything requiring the use of machinery. Next is (like) F's 1949 John Deere M that he bought when he first ran into scheduling conflicts with the use of the old F20 of R. This was an unusual J-D as it had vertical cylinders versus the usual horizontal J-D configuration. To me, it was always just shy of adequate in performing the tasks required of it, and almost as slow as what had become to be known as "Mike's Team". To say that hearing R, F, Dad, and others use this term to describe the big beasties I shovelled after filled me with pride, would be a gross understatement. Even though I thought more in terms of Pete and Jake being in charge of me. Sort of big, hay-powered, stubborn, city-boy sitters, as it took quite a long time for me to feel fully part of the farm. After several months of hard work and callouses I felt a part though, thanks in a great part by R's always letting me try and fail/succeed at things as long as I wasn't in danger of hurting myself or anything else. And last, but not least, as far as R was concerned, is a 1956 IHC F-100 like the one R farmed with until he died one day "checking the fields" on it. He liked it mostly as it had more powered atttachments that allowed his aging body to work more easily. Now you've seen an example of the equipment used, let me give you a brief overview of the type maintenance we performed to keep it all going. In the equipment shed was an area we called the "garage spot" where we performed routine upkeep, such as oil changes, spark plug & belt changes, grease jobs, etc. Next to it was a spot used only for more serious mechanical surgery, such as engine or transmission overhaul, small engine overhaul, pump re-building, etc. We did these things regularly, as needed, on everything from the oldest hit-and-miss gas/kerosene fueled engines, tractor-truck-car engines, to electric motors/generators, etc. Nothing went to a repair shop if there was even the slightest chance we could repair it, and no parts were purchased if we could make the parts cheaper. Of course, many things were beyond even our capabilities. This meant close figuring out of possible temporary work-arounds, parts/repair cost, and how long before we could afford it. If it was a major expense, it called for a "meeting" of R, F, and Dad. My aunt and F's wife were always part of these meetings, MM was never a part. She was a rare visitor and only with Dad, as she wasn't particularly well thought of. My sister was in this catagory as well. Besides, they both abhorred the farm as being filthy and populated by peons. Although I wasn't able to find adequately similar photos, there was a small machine shop with milling machine, shaper, lathe, and other equipment the men had purchased Army Surplus, that ran off the diesel-engine stationary generator/welder that was installed outside the shed in its own small enclosure. This unit could have powered the whole farm, but R had figured out the costs involved, and nixed the idea as impractical. In this shop we could, and did, manufacture almost anything we needed, as well as welding up broken parts. The blacksmith shop provided the means of making those things not easily made by machine, such as horseshoes, horseshoe nails, wagon wheel rims, chisels, etc. This came in handy as we re-shod the horses ourselves, and we beat-up a buncha wagon wheels, plows, and other stuff on what seemed a regular basis. This wasn't from abuse, just the natural rigors endured by active farm equipment anywhere. Uncle R continued providing these services to friends long after he sold off the last of the cows when he was in his late seventies. He died several years later in his eighties, after divesting himself of most all his holdings. F passed on around the same time, and my aunt, being the last on the farm, sold the rest and moved into a nursing home where she still resides at this writing. She's entered the early stages of dementia and is somewhat stuck in her youth in her mind. She did recognoze me the last visit though. All but a couple of my cousins have passed on or moved away. Some stayed there and aged prematurely working in the paper mill or wood mills. Others logged or fished until they could afford to retire their worn-out bodies. Even I have physical problems now that limit my activities somewhat. All this makes me wonder, if maybe the old ways on the farms weren't far more healthy, as they required a diet of fresh meat and vegetables, plenty of exercise, all the fresh air you could stand, regular sleeping patterns, and most of all, less stress in so many ways. Even money woes weren't crippling emotionally,as you just learned to adapt to the situation at hand. Next visit, I hope to delve into some of my earlier experiences, as Pete and Jake train me to perform horse-powered work around the farm and woods. Until then, take care and keep smiling.
Posted by Mike S at 11:56 PM