As recorded by Joselyn Watkins
Definite imprints are made on a young person staying with them the rest of their lives. Such are the recollections of a senior in our community that reveals information about his growing up years on the farm.
“We used to think that living on a farm particularly in the 1940-1950’s represented hard work and a restrictive life style and that was somewhat true, but let me tell you about the other side-fun, fun.
Spring, summer and fall was the really busy time on the farm involving soil preparation, cultivating and harvesting of hay, beans, wheat, oats and corn. Believe it or not my father believed in doing most of the work with horses. It should be noted that my father held two jobs. He was the Postmaster at the Bath, New York Veterans Administration along with managing his 300 acre farm and raising nine children. Since father chose horses to do the work, we kids saw, and heard the back side of horses for thousands of hours as we plowed, dragged, cultivated and harvested that 300 acres. We envied the next door neighbor who had a tractor and other new “fangled” equipment.
Our responsibilities started with soil preparation and harvesting which required much effort throughout the entire summer and fall. The soil needed to be prepared by Memorial Day with planting of beans (red kidney), and field corn shortly thereafter. The most “boring” jobs involved, dragging and stone picking which involved about 75-100 acres of land. Stone picking is not a common requirement in North Carolina, but in soil left by the receding glaciers of the north: removing stone was necessary. I can still hear the ever present clinking of stones on the metal drags and cultivators. Most farmers planted wheat in the fall thus the name “Winter Wheat”. Oats would be planted in early spring. Harvesting of wheat and oats in the early days required the use of a MD Binder that would cut and sheaf the bundles for threshing. Threshing was a fun event as all the neighbor farmer’s men and boys would get together and share this event. The women would prepare dinners of indescribable tastes and the men would tell farm stories, not always for the ears of the boys.
Beans required much attention-planting, fertilization, and light harrowing. Once the plant was out of the ground, cultivation, spraying and ground hog control was necessary. Spraying for insect control was performed by a local pilot flying a Piper Cub. His best work was done at about 50-100 feet above the ground. Harvesting of the beans required handling the plants at least 9 times before finally bagging them in 100 pound burlap bags ready for market. You may be wondering why ground hog control? Ground hogs love to eat young bean plants and a family of Ma, Pa and 3 or 4 Young’uns could destroy approximately 1 1/2 acres of beans. Many evenings were spent hunting the varmints with my trusty 22.
Hay preparation was a major requirement for farmers who raised animals. Cows, horses, sheep, hogs all needed hay to live through the winter so large acres of land were required. “First cutting” the hay usually started in June in New York State while the second cutting, if available, usually occurred in September. This required mowing, raking, tedding, cocking and loading wagons for transporting to the barn where we unloaded them in the hay mows. Each step required manpower and horses. Allowing for proper drying of the hay was most important so weatherman cooperation was most necessary. If the hay was not dried properly spontaneous combustion could result in a tremendous fire. My father lost two large barns resulting from the hay not being dry enough during a very wet spring and summer. Hard work needed to be rewarded, so between each load of hay my brother and I would drive to a nearby gas station and treat ourselves to an ice cold soda and candy bar. Note: author was a depression baby!
We raised 100-150 sheep which required considerable effort and knowledge. The new born lambs were born in April usually during cold weather. This required making sure that the lambs didn’t freeze and received the ewes quickly. I earned the name of “mid-ewe” as helping the ewe give birth to lambs became my specialty. After lambing came shearing (wool) and this was contracted out to a specialist. Next came the neutering of the bucks (male lambs) and docking of tails for both ewes and bucks. This was not fun. Control of insects (ticks, etc.) in the newly growing wool was next on the agenda. Putting the flock (ewe’s and lambs) out to pasture for the summer was the last major job until fall. But, all the time the flock had to be protected day and night from attacks of dogs and this was a requirement for my brother and myself.
Our dairy provided cash flow for the farm. Our days started about 5:30 am with hand milking, feeding and waste removal. The same progression was repeated about 5:30 pm. WHAT FUN!! Now I know where my short fingers and big knuckles come from. On the good side was the fact that we had “fresh ice cream” all year round.
Each farm had an orchard usually bearing apple, pear, peach and cherries. The entire family participated in this activity by pruning, spraying and picking. Several interesting incidences come to mind regarding this activity. First of all the birds enjoyed fresh fruit particularly the black birds and robins who consumed large quantities of sour cherries. Unfortunately, their digestive systems could not quickly process the fruit. Subsequently, alcohol would form in their delicate innards. We spent many an hour watching drunk birds trying to fly and land. Remember, we didn’t have TVs. Secondly, with fall’s approach it was time to pick up apples for cider making. It seemed like every apple had a small hole and guess what was inside? People claimed that this protein made the cider tasty. Third, cider making provided me my first exposure to alcohol. We would save 2 or 3 barrels of cider for vinegar but, before it had turned to vinegar we kids would lay on the ground next to the barrel with a siphon in the barrel and the other end in our mouths guzzling sweet cider. One fall we had an early freeze and the cold cider tasted even better. Unbeknown was the fact that the cider had formed “Apple Jack” and “whoa” the world had changed. After several feeble attempts to eat dinner one evening after imbibing, I excused myself from the table and retired to bed and slept a total of 10 hours. I don’t believe my “tattling” parents ever knew about that event.
These descriptions of farm life in the olden days is a far cry from today’s activities. Our desire to be the “Food Basket of the World” has led to the marvelous increase in productivity through the contribution of the agriculture community, the farmer, the Land Grant College system, the farm equipment manufacturers and the Federal Government.
Also, I wish not to leave you with the feeling that living on a farm was not fun. It was a good life. We always had time for 4H Clubs, family reunions, church activities, school activities not to mention swimming, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding with the town kids.
In fact, one of my first dates with my wife was giving her a ride on a manure spreader. She promised to marry me if I would just let her off the machine. Is it any wonder that I still love the sweet smell of hay?”