Green Days and Roots
Harold H. Stith
Memoirs of Harold Howard Stith, Stith Valley, Meade County, Kentucky
Area map of Stith Valley in 1920s and 1930s.
Farm map of Thomas E. Stith farm 1914-1943.
Church and Religion
Family and Home
Coming of electricity
Butchering and curing meat
Horse Powered Farming
Harold Stith about 1995
I was born on a hot August Saturday afternoon the 5th day, 1916 according to rumor
substantiated by a birth certificate signed by Dr. S.H. Stith, brother to my Daddy, Thomas
E. Stith. My mother was Dona Miller Stith.
I am the eldest of three children of this family having two sisters Elizabeth Enfield and Helen Thomas. Elizabeth is or was born May 8, 1919, and "Tommy" came March 6, 1926.
I am the grandson of Thomas Jefferson Stith, a Civil War veteran, who married Hannah Chase Williams and bought the farm that my dad was born on somewhere around the year 1870 and 1883. Parts of the three tracts he bought came from the Harrison Shumate, John Jones ('72), and Betty Taylor ('83) heirs. He didn't acquire all the tracts at one time apparently, but whenever they became available or when he could afford them. More about that later.
My maternal grand parents were Thomas Foster Miller and Celia Nancy Lamb who lived near Bee Knob Hill in Southern Meade County.
One unusual thing of note about the day of my birth. As I said, I was born on Saturday, so was my Dad and Granddad. My oldest son, Bruce and his son, Chris were also born on a Saturday. That may be some kind of record.
My Dad had six brothers and four sisters. Needless to say, I had plenty of cousins on both sides of the house.
The cold west wind hit us in the face as my sister and I came out of the timber to the pasture field at the top of the hill above the house. We still had a half mile or more before we got to the house and a warm fire. We both hoped that there would be hot rolls and butter for supper as this day was a Friday in January and Mom always baked fresh bread on Fridays.
We had come from Shumate school which turned out at 4:00 PM and we walked a piece with the Shumates until our roads forked. We left the public road and took a private road that followed a wooded ridge skirting basins and hollows generally westward for about a mile or little more home.
The place was approximately a mile long by around a 1/2 that wide, very irregular in shape having various angles and corners, containing 202 acres more or less of hills, ridges, basins and bottoms. There was a hill on both long ends, a ridge from one hill extended west and petered out about midway of the acreage and was more or less surrounded by low ground. The house and other buildings were situated on the lower end of this ridge. A road generally leading northwest gave an outlet in the other direction toward Guston. This was the trading center, post office and rail station. Another road, or pass way rather, led generally southward to the Stith Valley Bewleyville road, however we seldom used this way out to go any where. Others used this means of getting from Breck County to points north and east. The thresher or shredder passed this way when moving on its rounds.
We were somewhat isolated because our farm laid between others on each side of us between the "big road". We also had to pass through or over other people's land to use the access roads we had. There was no problems of trespass. It was never thought of even, because everybody knew everybody and it "the road" passed through woods and consequently crossed land not generally used. Fences had gotten provided for this purpose and the road crew generally provided the gates when they needed replacing.
The farm was hilly, rocky, gullied and had some good land in scattered patches. Between the tillable plots were ridges in timber of some sort, oaks, cedar of a pretty scrubby variety. Some ridge tops were cultivated. Most slopes were eroded, therefore, either in sedge grass and cedar or mostly gullies and rocks. Of the whole 202 acres, 53 acres of it was, considered by the A.C.S., crop land, 70 acres permanent non crop pasture land, that with a lot more money and equipment than we had, could have been turned into crop land. The rest was woods.
My Dad bought the place from his father who had raised 10 children on the place from (1870) when he bought it in 3 or 4 tracts from others, until they had mostly left home. I can understand the shape the farm was in for these reasons. Farming was pretty hard work, with crude equipment, no knowledge of improvement practice if there were means to do so.
I don't know if money was to be made on a farm then. Some did make money but after a living was taken out of the income, there wasn't much left to do with. Granddad did enlarge his house, built new barns, bought land to expand his acreage and I could see signs when I was very young of his being able to buy machinery and improvements. Undoubtedly Grandpa rented acreage near him as I have heard Dad tell about cutting wheat and moving his stock from the Taylor place adjoining his (Dooley place). Summing up, the place was poor and we were poor, but didn't know it. When I was a young boy there were numerous fruit trees in the fields below the house, apples of all kinds to come in early in the summer until late fall. There were a few peach trees on a ridge (east of the homestead) that we called peach tree ridge.
I don't know the full story on these trees but what I do know is that buyers would come through the country barreling apples to ship out and that the culls would be taken to a brandy distillery at Ekron for sale. Meade Co. has a history of several brandy distilleries. Rhodelia, Frymire, Big Bend, Ekron and perhaps others so fruit growing must have been a profitable money crop those days 1890's and 1900's.
Fruit spraying seemed to have been unnecessary at that time. People from miles around would come to our place and pick apples and my Dad as always barreled up 3 barrels to put on cold storage for our winter use. There were a variety of apples, "Rome Beauties, Winesaps, Jonathan, June, Sweet, Early Transplant, Macintosh and others were represented in the orchards.
They all got old and top heavy and were mostly all gone by the time I was grown. I do remember a huge sweet apple tree in the house yard and there was also a sweet cherry whose flavor was unsurpassed. I do not know the name. There was also a pear orchard and grape vines of various kinds. I wish I had been more observant and could remember better what I heard, if I was told. I remember Grandpa Stith but dimly. He left us when I was about 5 years and my dad never did talk much. After I got older I would question him and he wouldn't or couldn't tell me. He was among the youngest of the tribe and it may be that he didn't know.
There were enough signs left when I was grown up to indicate Grandpa was doing alright. The story goes that when Grandpa and Grandma moved to the tract of land that he bought from a Harrison Shumate, there was only a one room cabin and a summer kitchen and log barn (where our garden was). When my Dad bought his bride home there was a 7 room, story and half house with 4 porches, 8 outside doors and it was a split level. The dining room and kitchen was one step down from the rest of the house. It was L shaped, cool in the summertime and surrounded by maple trees and was a very dense shade on the south and west side. It was sometimes hard to go back to the field in the afternoon on that account.
In the house there was a parlor or front room across a hall and isolated from the rest of the house, containing a piano, some hard chairs and a braided type rug on the floor. It was never used except for company and was not heated except when in use.
The living room was also used in later years as a bedroom. It had, aside from the bed for Mom and Dad, 2 rocking chairs, a day bed and a bookcase that was also a desk and radio shelf. This room was heated by a "drum" (sheet iron) wood stove with a pipe running through the room ceiling into a flue upstairs bedroom where Sis and Tom slept.
I had a room over the parlor and it had no heat in the winter. I would sleep warm enough but when I would get up, I grabbed my pants and headed for the living room stove. The coldest place in the house was the hallway.
The dining room had been an open place between the main house and the kitchen at one time. One end of it had been closed off and made into a dining room and had a double window in the north end and a half glass door opposite opening onto a screened-in porch. This porch was a summer living room and a cool place to rest.
The kitchen, a 12 by 12 room having 2 outside doors, a door to the dining room, to the pantry, and 2 windows, and was pretty crowded with a cast iron cooking range, kitchen cabinets, wood table, and a washstand. I don't remember ever being but two chairs in the kitchen, the warmest room. It was strictly a workshop for Mom and many many good meals were concocted in this kitchen.
It was a big old house, sprawling, big loose windows, ill fitting doors but it was home. Aside from the screened side porch, there was a big screened back porch which covered the cistern at one end. We sometimes ate on it in the summer and it caught overshoes, heavy coats and anything else that was going or coming to the house.
Out buildings were scant but adequate. A smoke house with a woodshed attached and behind the woodpile was the 2 hole necessary. This building was erected for the women folk, a place where conferences were held and the Sears Roebuck catalog was studied. The location of the privy was such that if anyone came up to the place or was about the house, a woman could always gather an armload of wood on the way back to the house to avoid any embarrassment on her part. There was also a small chicken house nearby. A chicken house was near the backyard and one old caved in icehouse hole was nearby between the barns and the house.
There were two barns, a 7 stall horse barn with a "gangway" hallway through the middle and a shed on either side. The building was wider than it was long. The best I remember 32 feet long and 46 feet wide. It had a 1/2 pitch roof over a loft above the stables for storing hay. The loft was at least 10 feet from the ground, handy to ride your horse into to get out of the rain but hell to pitch hay into or sacks of grain. It was like numerous other barns of that time, a standard pattern built by Geo. Washington Sipes and was a slight improvement over the pattern of the log barn. Horses or mules were important to the operation of the farm and a place to shelter them and to store their feed and gear was the very first priority.
There was a small 20 x 24 barn that was used to store tobacco in the fall, feed sheep in the winter and in the spring and summer, a place to pen calves that were destined to be vealed.
A corn crib with a wagon shed attached was between the two other barns and made up the buildings necessary to the farm operation.
The farm supported about 35 or-40 head of sheep, 5 to 12 cows, 6 or 7 horses or mules, 2 to 14 or 16 hogs of various sizes, 1 dog, 2 to 11 cats and poultry, 50 to 200 chickens and about 75 turkeys.
Most of the animals on the place had some brains but of the whole, for stupidity, the turkey ranked first and the sheep came in second. Both sheep and turkeys were our main money crop but getting lambs or turkeys raised up to where they would begin to make you anything required patience and dedication beyond the call of duty and a lot of time.
A turkey poult didn't even have sense enough to feed itself when first hatched and even when half grown would sit out in the rain with its head sticking straight up and drown.
A sheep may or may not claim her lamb after she gave birth to it, could die on the slightest provocation, incite dogs to chase and kill it by running at the sight of one, and had colds, maggots in wool and would get dried mud between her hoof toes and die of infection if they weren't closely watched.
For some reason that I can't account we never had geese or guineas. There were a few ducks around once or twice and some bantam chickens that an aunt gave us kids once.
Mom for some reason couldn't tolerate a hound, a female dog, or more than one dog and it had to be a male. I remember only 4 dogs in the 26 years that I lived on the farm. I think Dad would have liked a coon hound. I know I would, but Mom would put her foot down when it came to dogs. "Bill", an English shepherd, was the first dog I remember and he was a wise animal who followed us when we were small and kept between us and any danger. He lasted about 10 years, and was old and deaf and when Dad felled a tree on him and killed him, I cried. The second Bill was a sorry slick haired dog that didn't know much about heading stock but was a fair tree dog, i.e. would hunt and "tree" varmints. The highlight of his life was treeing two raccoons up the same tree one night. Dad was offered 5 dollars for him after that exploit and he turned it down. That was the alpha and omega of Bill's coon hunting career. I am convinced that he accidentally ran those coons up a tree and barked "treed" to get some one to show him what he had got. Bill was shot and killed by a country cousin for barking up the 5th tree for a squirrel that wasn't and never had been there. Success went to his head I think.
Then there was Jane. Jane didn't last long because she was a female. Mom saw that she went. She did.
#4, "Rex", an empty headed 1/2 shepherd 1/2 collie who would bark all night, crazy about teams and wagons and horses. An intelligent stock handler, death on cats and an accomplished fighter. He whipped every dog between home and Guston and home and Garrett. He was crazy.
We had pets. I guess one could call dogs, cats, orphan lambs, colts and chicks pets but there wasn't much affection shown any animal. They were cared for of course but generally they did their own thing and took care of themselves. A cat was allowed in the house sometimes, the dog lived outside and slept on an open porch on the sunny side of the house. He got no shelter and expected none. I tried to tame a young crow once, but it wouldn't eat, just sit and look straight up. We would hunt and gather box turtles and bring them to the house in the summer but they weren't very interesting after the gathering was done and most would go to the garden.
My sister and I learned to ride horses at a very early age. I do remember, when very small, riding a horse behind Dad around over the place and if it was a rainy school day, both Elizabeth and I would ride behind Dad on a horse to school. I don't remember when we first rode solo. There was an old horse named "Joe", a clumsy, windbroken, stumbling, friendly old plug that we could catch anytime and get on him and go to the mailbox or to see a neighbor. He would take you there, would "sidle" up to a gate and let the rider unlatch it and would help you push it shut to refasten, but if he was left hitched somewhere, alone, Joe would slip his bridle off and sometimes go back home leaving his rider stranded. Joe never traveled faster than a stumbling walk therefore if one went for the mail, it would take the better part of an hour to make the two mile trip to the big road and back. His gait was the same speed going from or coming back home.
Joe had one other peculiarity I recall. I started to the mailbox by myself one day, went through the gate to the hill road and Joe balked, wouldn't move a foot. Just flat stood there, until I got Sis to go with. Then he proceeded with no argument. I guess Joe figured if he had to make the trip, he may as well go with a full load.
Horses and mules were the power source on our farm when I lived there. Every piece of machinery, every bit of transportation and everything hauled or dragged was done by horse power. We had a barn full of horses and mules of a quality that couldn't be called outstanding but adequate for the needs. The horse stock consisted of two mules, two horses and colts and fillies and geldings of various ages and description.
The mules were raised from the mares and Dad seemed to prefer mule power as everyone else in the neighborhood did. Mules were harnessed nearly every day except Sunday either used singly or as a team. A horse was saddled as available also everyday. Two teams could be made up and several combinations of mules and horses would be used to carry on various operations on the place.
I grew up liking horses and mules and enjoyed working them. I learned at an early age to ride and drive and in time to train "break" a young horse to ride and work. Dad bought me a saddle, a surplus cavalry saddle, when I was 12 or so. I think I was the only boy in the neighborhood that had his own bridle, saddle and horse. Dad gave me a young fool filly, "Queen", to break. She was a wildcat, nervous, high strung and was good for nothing but a saddle horse, but had unlimited endurance and could throw a pretty good colt.
When she was about two, Dad and I decided to "break" her to harness. We hooked her in with two mules to a section harrow in the middle field and tied her to the "off" mule and started out down the field. Queen flounced, twisted, lunged, fretted, farted, danced and sweated, but couldn't do much but go along. I doubt if she pulled an ounce. At the end of the field, in turning she got a leg over the trace and she came unglued. When the fracas was over, the only part of her harness left on was the hames and collar and bridle. She was shaking, sweating and scared witless. The mules took it all in stride. Dad and I both made a decision that Queen would never make a work animal and there after one could only rattle a chain and she would tremble and shake. She should have been sold or shot right then but we kept her, rode her and raised some colts from her but never worked her. Queen's Mommy, "Fanny" was a 1/2 bronco, a saddle horse beyond carrying on, but harness work was beneath her dignity, anything that had wheels Fanny would work at it, anything she had to drag, harrow, disk, plow, etc. that was a no no.
Fanny had another daughter, "Nell", who was a showman's curiosity. I couldn't tell you if she was a red mare with white spots, or a white horse with red spots. Her colors ran roughly half and half all over her body. Nell had a foot that would accommodate a #5 shoe, stood 16 hands and weighed about 1100 lbs. One eye was blue, the other had no pigment at all, a "glass" eye, and a white face, 4 white feet and spots. When her hide got wet there would be blue rings show around the red spots under the white hair. She had a scanty mane, which was usually roached, and a scanty red and white tail that would get long in the winter but by the end of the summer the tail hair would get whipped down to three feet long. I guess her skin was tender and she would keep her tail in constant motion during fly time. Nell was a melancholy horse and had little personality. She would do a good day's work if the driver made a few concessions, i.e. work her on the "off" side, but she never seemed to get any fun out of life. A sad personality. I wonder if she felt a complex because of her looks.
No one would ever steal her and everybody in the country around knew that Tom Stith or someone in the family was passing through. Nell should have held her head up and walked proudly because of her exclusiveness, but she didn't know that, I guess.
I told about the farm, its buildings, the stock on it and wandered off on specific animals. I rambled off tangent. I will try to get back to basics. Sorry about that.
The maps at the beginning of this dissertation give the location in relation to rest of the world and this was my world until I was coming 6 years old.
The first 6 years of my life consisted of Daddy, Mama and Sis. When I was first conscious of this, I can't pinpoint. They were there and that was all. Sis and I played, fought, "helped" Dad and Mom, and was visited by people called Grandpa and Grandma. At times a bunch of aunts and uncles would visit. "Cousin Wib" and his boys would come help Daddy and sometimes Dad would be gone to help someone. Other people would come and go from when and to I had not the slightest idea. They would appear, stay a while and disappear. I had no knowledge of anywhere else. I would wonder, dream and play in my own world. My imagination would let me into a fantasy land of beings and places no one had ever heard of. When my sister got old enough to follow and do things with me there was two of us in a fantasy land. We didn't know where all these ideas came from and we didn't care. We ran the fields, woods, gullies, rocks, played in the water, got muddy in the mud, climbed trees, camped out, coasted down the hills, ran off. We built playhouses, had chicken funerals, play stories we made up and worked when caught and made to.
I suppose that I have always been contrary to the usual and unconventional. I resented being pushed around and reluctant to discipline and resentful of being controlled. I hated to be forced to work, but if left to my own desires I would in my own way. I never liked the routine of school but if left to my own devices I would learn. I wanted to do things I wasn't allowed to and got into a lot of trouble because of this. If I was told to do something, I would try to find a reason to do or not to do it. That got me into trouble. If an easier way could be found to do a chore, I did it. If it could be ignored, I did that also. I guess I was a firm believer that work and play could be combined and that they both could be make more pleasant but my parents couldn't see it that way. Work was to be done and if any time was left one could play, if the play was within normal limits. Dad especially didn't adhere to this theory. If Monday AM was a workday, so was Tue., Wed., Thu., Fri., and Sat. He always had a chore to do, hot or cold, rain or shine. Sunday was a day of rest and when church and Sunday school was over one could play. There were limits to this also as I found out in much later years. A curfew was imposed on Sunday night, when sunup Monday came, then it was work time and I had better be ready to hit it.
Dad was a workaholic. There was a lot said among the neighbors about industriousness. Being industrious was a commendable trait. One who wouldn't or didn't work was almost black listed or called "sorry". If one worked on work days regardless of whether it amounted to anything or was truly necessary as long as one was toiling he was an industrious man and a dependable person. Woe betide any person doing anything on Sunday, however. Oh, one could do the ordinary chores, but setting tobacco, (that had to be done in season when the ground was ideal), putting up hay to keep it from getting wet or doing any other kind of work of the nature would bring about threats of being thrown out of church or a grand jury indictment.
Just before I was 6 in August, my world came to an end. There was a woman Mom called "Tooth" came to our house to stay one June and she was called a school teacher. She and Mom decided that now would be a good time for me to start to school. What in the world was school? Why was it necessary that I go to such a thing as school? If learning to read write and compute sums was ever mentioned or any other reason given, it to my knowledge was never brought up. "Harold, you are going to school". Just like that.
Now "Tooth", I found out later, was named Shelly, Mom's younger sister, was a young girl then. I didn't know that either (I was 5, she was real old, maybe 27), but anyway she would sleep as long as she could, "primp up", i.e. got ready for school and took off in what I thought was a high lope to Shumate school. I attempted a few times to keep up with her, even start before she did, but she would go off and leave me to walk the long mile by myself. I would resent that, get mad, and once came back home. Dad and a leather decided that was the wrong idea. I went. The more Aunt Shelly out-walked me the madder I got. I was between the devil and the deep blue sea. If I went back home it was to get a paddling. If I went to school and got there late, I was laughed at which didn't help my emotional state as I had already started from home angry.
Imagine a young, green 5 year old literally being banished from his small, good uncomplicated world, being forced to go to a smelly, hot uncomfortable room and sit on a hard seat, whose height wouldn't allow your feet to rest on the floor and sit literally hours looking at a book that didn't mean a thing to him. Sitting among 25 or 30 other children from my age to nearly grown, complete strangers and be held prisoner from 8 AM to 4 PM on a sunny summer day. That was hell. I didn't know the reason why I had to go through this misery. I was told to go and that was that. Proof was already impressed on my bottom but it never got to my head.
There was a whole bunch of strangers at school. I recognized Thomas J. who was also in the first grade. He had an advantage over me because he had two brothers in school, George Lewis and Ralph and I knew them. Looking around I saw "Nook" and Eldridge Shumate, I knew them, and Nettie May, their sister, I had seen her at Shumates. There were some more big old boys and girls and some more miserable little kids like me. There was Casper and Leo Kaelin. Where they came from, I had no idea, but Casper sat by me and tried to get me to spell words out of a spelling book. I didn't know some of the words even, let alone how to spell them. There was also a book called a "primer" a silly book that had words in it like "come and go, go and come" etc. It seemed to go like that page after page, so often in fact, that I finally memorized them and could get through the reading class. Reading got better in due time because I discovered that some words, when put together right, told a story. The 3 bears and Goldilocks, for instance, put me back in my fantasy land and there I must have stayed for the rest of my school career.
Arithmetic was hard for me. What made figures so hard for me, I have never found out, but I couldn't get numbers and arithmetic to go right. It hasn't to this day.
English was hard for me to grasp. So was history with its endless dates (numbers again) to remember. I just couldn't do it. It was understood that I was to learn all this stuff but was never told why or how. The word study was never defined to me.
Life at school after I got into the routine wasn't all bad. Around 10 AM there was a break that was called recess when everybody went out to play 15 minutes. At noon, after we devoured our lunch, one could play a whole hour. There was another 15 minute break in the afternoon during summer that we were let out. The school ordeal ended at 4 PM. Afternoon recess was dropped when the days got short.
Small kids played marbles, anti over and some of the girls built play houses around tree trunks or fence corners. Shumate school was almost surrounded by woods. The building stood on top of a ridge, access to the school gained by a dirt road from the "big" road and various points from other directions. There was a path going downhill to a spring at the Hicks place by the "big" road, a path going on up the ridge east, where the Stith boys came from. Another path joined this at the top end of the schoolyard from where three paths in the woods joined from Sig Shacklette place, "Gil" Wright's place and John Williams place, plus another path going directly SE to get into the big road beyond the Hicks place. Other paths at various times from various directions were also used. Crossing other people's property and climbing fences to get to school was common and trespassing wasn't even thought of. The woods around the school belonged to Ike Hicks, Uncle Allen and a man called Will Stith. We had access to all this territory to play and run in during recess.
The school building is still standing. It belongs to Thomas J Stith now as he owns the land that Shumate school was deeded from. When the school was consolidated into Meade Co. schools and bussing was started about 1944 or 45, the land went back to the original deed. There were scores of these one room schools in the county all within walking distance of its pupils. Black people had their own schools and teachers. Trustees, a man for every school, saw to the maintenance, fuel, and the teachers of each school subject to the approval of the county school superintendent. He certified the teachers and doled out their meager salary. The trustee system was somewhat political in that the superintendent picked the trustees who in turn chose the superintendents. The teacher's pay came from the county school taxes. A teacher could get certified as a teacher if she or he could pass an examination given by the school board. If the examination was passed, a certificate was issued allowing a person to teach in the county public schools. Some of the teachers graduated form the 8th grade, passed the examination, got a teacher's certificate and taught in the same school they had graduated from the year before. This practice wasn't too satisfactory, however, because a teacher who had brothers or sisters in the school, or neighbor kids that she taught could cause friction in the neighborhood. Fortunately this practice seldom happened. A teacher was better off for all concerned if he went somewhere else.
Generally there were 8 grades taught at these schools and some 8th graders would attend school and review the 8th grade until they were 16 or 17 years old. High school was seldom considered as they were scarce in the county. There was a two year high school at Big Spring that a few went to and a 4 year high school at Ekron and of course Brandenburg. Transportation to these schools wasn't provided and one had to undergo plenty of hardships to attend. Remember at that time, the county roads were dirt and mud in the winter, so travel was difficult in winter. County one room schools started in June, continued until end of January, 7 months to prevent hardship on the part of those attending because of these factors-and a cold drafty school house.
Roads were necessary in a community to get about from one place to another. The neighborhoods and outlying districts were crisscrossed with roads and trails. They wandered across country following the line of least resistance from one place to another. These roads avoided too steep hills, sought low gaps over hills and sometimes skirted them. When possible roads followed ridges or alongside flats skirting the foot of hills.
Generally the roads followed no pattern only by devious routes meandering from one place to another. Sometimes a road right of way separated farms but mostly went through farms. "Big roads" (public roads) were more or less routes from one town to another used by travelers when possible to travel. Rural mail routs were established along these. Roads were county property. These roads were maintained by a precinct foreman supervised by a district magistrate, who held county owned equipment, sledge hammers, shovels, picks, mattocks, rock drills and maybe a horse drawn grader and drag or both. Work would start on a road in the summer between planting and harvest on the farm, usually in August. Local men would work out part of the Co. tax bill by contributing so much time working on county roads in his voting precinct. A man would get credit for one dollar a day for road work. When his team was used, he was credited 3 dollars a day. Maximum number of days required was 5 or 6 days to meet one's quota. Any one who owned property (land) was required to do 5 or 6 days road work. Later any taxpayer or voter was required to work. I worked on the road 1 year of perhaps 2 before the practice was discontinued.
Private roads like ours was were maintained by the landowner and we had about two miles of our own road to maintain and we spent a lot of time keeping the private road passable especially after we bought a car.
When word was passed by the road overseer that work was to be done on a road, the overseer would assign a crew of 4 or 6 men to a section, usually about a mile at a time, to open ditches, grade a "crown" in the roadbed so that water would drain to the ditches and divert water off the ditches by culverts or a drain through a right of way fence in to a sinkhole or basin. Sometimes this drainage practice would be objected to by a landowner and he would stop the drain coming onto his place but this wasn't often.
As the roadbeds wore down, rock ledges would appear on the hills and would cause a sensation of going down or up stairs in a car or wagon.
In low places where water stood, the road bed would get soft and wheel travel through these places would cut ruts in the road that would get nigh impassable. These reasons brought about the main reason for road repair. Taking a rock drill and one man holding it, another striking the drill, would drill a hole in the rock ledge on the hill, shoot it with dynamite to break up the rocks and a crew would have the broken rock to fill the mudhole at the bottom of the hill. When all this was completed and dirt filled in where the rock was blasted out and the rock fill completed, it looked good, the problem was solved until the next rain and traffic cut ruts, the dirt over the ledge washed out and 2 new mudholes appeared at the end of the fill. Next year the same process was repeated. The ledge was a little farther up the hill and the rock fill was a little longer.
The work was hard labor, softened by men working together, visiting, joking with others and telling rough stories. We managed to get along and would go any time it was necessary to wherever it was needful to go. In summer when the roads were dry, travel was not very difficult. Uncomfortable, yes, dusty and rough but we knew no better. In the winter to move a tobacco crop for instance, we picked a time when the ground was frozen to move a load of tobacco to market. Sometimes 2 hours in a buggy or surrey were required to get to town or church over muddy roads. Four horse teams to a farm wagon were sometimes used to move freight and supplies. Mail usually traveled the route horseback in winter, riding a good stout horse carrying 4 mailbags over 20 miles every day. One person traveling in the winter time usually went on horseback.
In 1920 I was 4 years old, there were a few cars in the country. Uncle Allen I guess was the first car owner that I remember. Cousin Charles Hardaway was another. Automobiles did very well in the summer if they would run, but they were usually jacked up off the ground and blocks put under the axles after Christmas until the first of April and horsepower was used in winter.
Dad bought a car, a model T Ford, in 1923 but he didn't sell his buggy. We used the car a lot and sometimes would pull it up hills and out of mudholes with the team. Generally, though it was put in the shed and left there during January, February and March. As time went on and cars became more common, they were used mostly the year around. Automobiles and their conveniences demanded better roads and we got them a few miles at a time. Every political candidate running at that time would promise better roads and once in a while if elected, he would get a mile or two of gravel road built from some town out in the county. In 1930's more roads were built in rural areas by a gasoline tax put on by the state earmarked "farm to market road funds" by Gov. A. B. (Happy) Chandler and President F. D. Roosevelt instituted a federal plan to put people to work by a Works Progress Administration plan to improve public facilities, and build roads. A road from Guston to Smith school was improved by this plan and a road from Garrett to Stith's Valley (about 5 miles of this) was also widened and graveled. Some roads were improved by private subscriptions. The county agreed to grade and drain its roads and have and spread the stone provided the landowner along the road would get up the money to buy rock to go on it.
By the year 1950, virtually all roads were improved for year around travel and some or most of the state roads were "black topped". Later several county roads were also blacktopped.
These improvements didn't benefit our 2 or more miles of private roadway, we still had to "plow out" to get to a road. Sometimes we would leave the car out at a neighbors on the hard road and ride out or walk from home to the car.
To go anywhere when it was muddy, we would fit the car wheels with tire chains and "plow out" to the hard road, remove the chains and proceed to wherever and on returning, repeat the process to get home. Sound inconvenient? It was, but how could it be any different? We were used to it, "all in a day's work" and far better than a horse or wagon. Besides everybody did the same, the best they could with what they had to do with.
Travel wasn't always limited to prescribed roadways. There were paths and trails leading in various directions convenient to where one wanted to go. There was no road designated as such between our house and the next neighbor's but gates and "gaps" in fences were provided to get from one place to another. Not only the people living nearby used these trails but anyone passing from one part of the country to the other did also. I remember a Bandy girl from the hills of Breck county who taught Smith School coming and going through our place to get to her school. This shortcut saved her 2 or 3 miles travel each way. Of course, she knew the custom of refastening any farm gate that she passed through. That was an unwritten law, "leave it like you found it". If a gate was shut when you went through it, leave it shut. Trespassing across someone else's land wasn't thought of and the exceptions were a crop in the field, too muddy or unruly livestock i.e. mean bull. Everybody respected the others rights and therefore didn't violate them.
The woods we had were left on tops of hills and ridges. Land was cleared to the foot of these hills. The hill sides were usually rocky, therefore couldn't be cultivated and sometimes a narrow belt of trees was left between the flats and a wide topped ridge which may be cultivated. Most wooded ridges had a trail atop them that generally could be traveled by foot, horseback, and sometimes a road wagon. Prior to the stock law, to protect crops by requiring fences, stock ran the outside fields and woods and roads took the line of least resistance, the shortest and best way from one point to another. Crop fields wee fenced generally and the woods left outside and sometimes one could travel a woods road for miles without encountering any fence. No one ever knew who traveled the ridges but anybody could. I don't know if these trails had been public passways before fences or not but they were there and they were used.
In those days each family in the neighborhoods knew each other and in most instances could trace back to a kinship one to another a generation or so back. Farms were passed from father to son etc. The Shumates (Wilbur and his family) were kinfolk and Dad and he swapped work frequently.
Ike Hicks who joined Dad's farm to the east wasn't kin directly but his sister, Nancy, married my Dad's brother, Arvin. Tom Miller, to the west was Mom's first cousin. Pate Dooley was to the south. He wasn't kin and was a new-comer to the country, but he bought his farm from Dad's cousin Edgar Hardaway, who I believed purchased it from Dad's brother Strother.
Then there were the Hardaways, Kaelins, Paynes, Scotts, Williams, Wrights, Shackletts, Stiths, Barnes, Henry Shumate and Wilson Still plus one or two places that had tenants living on their places or nearby farms. The Geo. Cox's were on the fringe of the country I lived in, sometimes "neighbored" with Wib Shumate and was sometimes in our shredding and threshing ring, the Wilsons, Millers and Robert Carmans were on the fringes also. The Dooley outfit and Wilsons leaned toward Bewleyville and Breckinridge county except they were in the same threshing and shredding ring we were. Therefore access to and from these various places were important to everybody's livelihood.
At one time there was a community telephone line from Big Spring to Guston and all these people were connected to these lines and the box holders monitored these telephone lines and paid an operator to work the switchboard. In later years the Guston and Big Spring exchanges were discontinued. From about 1930 or so until 1940 or so there was no connection in Stith Valley to the outside at all. We did keep up the telephone line from Wilbur Shumate's to Uncle Allen's and it was vital to holding the neighborhood together.
I remember the women of the neighborhood all talking to each other midmorning after the morning chores were done. They exchanged news, swapped recipes, visited and if any one was sick or gone to the hospital, that news was also passed on. If anyone needed to borrow or needed to get help to do a chore, the phone was used.
It was decided by the community around 1940 to build a telephone line to Garrett and some donated poles and labor. Money was pooled to buy wire and insulators and one winter the line was built. Each boxholder paid his dues to the operator (Mrs. Will (Lizzie) Walker) who had the switchboard in her house. Mrs. Betty Payne later took the switchboard over and we moved it to her house. Every boxholder on the exchange donated their time and labor to keep the system operating.
The party lines were a good thing. It created and maintained neighborliness. Each
boxholder had a signal to answer to. Magnets in the telephone box which would generate
current to send a signal to the party desired. The only disadvantage was the signal would
go to every box on the line and when the phone rang everybody picked up to listen
regardless of it being his signal (ring). The talking part of the phone system depended on
two batteries which gave out a three volt current and each phone received the voice from
the caller's current. Therefore if one called for instance to Garrett, the power drain on
the caller's phone would make the voice signal so weak that sometimes another person on
the line would relay the message on. It never occurred to anyone listening in to hang up
and the caller didn't expect it either. They thought it was helping. If you wanted to make
a call and someone was talking, one didn't hang up until the other party was finished, you
generally spoke in and got into the conversation. Nobody was irritated because the party
line was being used, one just waited his turn.
World War II came along in 1941 and the economy had begun to pick up from the 1930 decade of depression and the young men all went to the service, the tenant farmers mostly went to the war plants and construction jobs and only the older people were left. During this time the telephone lines gradually deteriorated and became unsatisfactory because of the interference caused by the rural electric lines overhead and unless 2 wire metallic line was constructed, interference was so great that one couldn't talk any great distance on the "crank and holler" telephone.
Rural electricity had been installed in a few communities by 1938 and had gradually expanded to most places by 1942 and had virtually cut out the rural telephone system because of this interference.
A company called the Brandenburg Telephone Company was formed to take over the system at Brandenburg and it gradually expanded its services to the rural areas and other counties and eventually took over the mutual telephone concerns. Garrett was about the last holdout in Meade Co. It had the largest number of box holders of any in the county, over 200. The new dial system plus the fact that people didn't have or take time to maintain these lines, we went to the dial system. In 1944 or 45 the Garrett telephone exchange was moved from Mrs. Betty's to Sam Dowell's and his wife Basilla was operator until 1958 when the remaining box holders voted to kill it and go to the dial system.
The Garrett telephone system had dwindled to 98 or 100 customers by that time and those left couldn't meet Basilla's salary. It was a sad day because another institution had bitten the dust, and we lost some community closeness. Furthermore big business had taken over and eliminated some more of our dependence on each other. With the new dial system, one can call anywhere, any time by land, microwave and satellite and talk and hear anyone anywhere in the world, but get insulated by the impersonal mechanical "buzz-buzz" if the party is talking, gone, dead, phone off cradle or what. You don't know nothing except the thing "buzzed".
The rural phone operator was an information center. She had access to birth announcements, deaths, sickness, emergency calls and had a fantastic memory. There were tragic and funny things that took place in her line of duty that she was in the very center of. A lot of times messages required relaying from one line to another at the switchboard, therefore it behooved her to listen to at least the first part of the conversation. Nowadays people don't understand that. Private lines, closed circuits and such prevent any one else knowing of the business of the caller or callee.
In the day of the party lines, there were no secrets. Any private transactions made were not over the telephone! One example of operator alertness was a time I was going to call a man and asked the operator to call him. She said "I heard him tell someone this morning that he was taking his car to the garage at Garrett, I will try to get him for you there". She did.
Another custom, with a sad impact, was the operator's opening all lines of the switch board and ringing 6 signals. This signal was for all phones to pick up and listen to the operator's announcement, usually a death in the community. Sometimes announcements of other nature would be passed on. Fires, accidents, births were announced over the telephone system and we were all kept informed of the latest local news. We expected it and thought nothing of using this practice. Everybody knew everybody, we depended on each other and loved and had concern for the others.
We lost a great heritage when the local telephone system went away. The modern dial telephone is efficient and trouble free and always available. But only an impersonal, mechanical machine that just does its duty and no more.
Church and religion
Church and religion was as much a part of our life as work, school and recreation. I was brought up Baptist and went to church at Hill Grove almost before I can remember.
Hill Grove Church was located on the edge, I would say, of the community, on the old "Salt River- Hardinsburg Road" about 3 miles west of Garrett. It was established in 1822. When I first remembered it, was in, I believe, its third building on the same site. It is there still.
Both my parents were members there. My father was a deacon, my mother, a Sunday school teacher. At a very early age, I attended Sunday school which was held every Sunday at 10 AM. We only had preaching 1 Sunday a month, on the 4th Sunday, with services and a church business meeting on Sat. preceding at which time business relating to church affairs were discussed and acted upon by the congregation. Items like paying bills, settling differences in the church body, calling preachers, appointing board members and receiving the reports of the association and naming dates of revivals and special days, homecomings, etc. were disposed of at these times.
A pastor would be called at first for a year and later for an indefinite period. The church members were first required to vote unanimously to call a pastor. After that, each member was asked to subscribe as much as he could afford to pay toward the pastor's salary. These monetary subscriptions were very meager, as little as 4.00 up to maybe 10 or 15 dollars a year. Sometimes a church pastor would be at church and preach 24 times a year for forty of fifty dollars. Members were obligated to entertain and lodge the pastor in their homes during the time he was in the church field. The responsibility of getting the pastor from the train station to the church on 4th Sunday and back to the train Sunday afternoon was part of the obligation also. It wasn't unusual for a pastor, when he left the church, still being owed some of his salary and it was hard for the church to pay off this debt because by that time there was a new pastor to pay.
One must remember that there wasn't much money circulating in those days. It just wasn't made. Nearly all the church members were farmers, and aside from a fair "living" the farmers just didn't handle much money surplus to his needs, therefore the churches stayed a month away from bankruptcy all the time.
I will give one example of how we operated. Henry Shacklett, the church custodian, one time submitted a bill of less than a dollar for a new broom he had bought for the church and 2 gallons of kerosene for the lamps. A collection had to be taken up to pay the bill. I am not sure that the whole amount was collected. For years I was given a penny to give in the Sunday school collection.
The collection plate was passed at every meeting for every need and usually came up short. Don't misunderstand, people weren't selfish, money just wasn't there.
During summer, usually around the last of July or first of August, a revival was held. We called it a protracted meeting, lasting usually about 10 days or two weeks. At this time the pastor, sometimes an evangelist and a song leader also sometimes would converge onto the church field and make a concerted drive for new souls to be saved. We would have morning services, a big dinner at some one's home and the preacher would scour the county for souls to save and after supper at the home where they were going to stay that night, would return to the church where large crowds would gather to hear a long fervent, usually hellfire sermon.
The old folks would dispense with their farm work at this time, visit, eat and talk revival. The young folks would court, and date, sit together during services and bunch up and visit and have a good time. Us young boys would look at all this excitement and hear all these scary sermons and worry about our souls going to hell. Fortunately, all or most of us became converted and were saved.
When the revival was over on the last Sunday, there was usually a climatic sermon and afterward a dinner on the grounds and more food to eat than you ever saw. Tables would be set up under the trees beside the church building and all the women of the congregation would try to outdo the other in providing goodies. The men would try and did ample justice to this bounty. After dinner we would have a song fest, all on an overstuffed stomach.
A week or two later all converts would repair to a neighborhood pond for the baptismal services. A crowd would gather at the pond's edge, the converts dressed in white (girls usually) or clothes that would wash and while the congregation sang, usually, "Shall We Gather At The River" (Beautiful Life) the church pastor would wade out in the water with a staff and set it at the suitable depth and return toward the shore to receive the line of converts who, holding each other's hand, would proceed into the water and be baptized one by one.
I think that when this ordinance was observed that all converts were left to their own devices for I never had any counseling or instruction about being a Christian and what it meant. I think we missed something because of this lack of follow-up. I see now the need for teaching a new Christian what he has done and what is expected of one. Many a Baptist had been "dipped and dropped" and therefore missed being made aware of the true meaning of a Christian.
We attended Sunday school fairly regularly and that is where I received most of my Bible teaching. Bible reading wasn't encouraged at home and very seldom read at home and the only other Bible training we were exposed to was a short lived B.Y.P.U. (Baptist Young People Union) now B.T.U. I don't know how long this lasted but it was supposed to have been held in conjunction with the Sunday services. In later years when the church went to "1/2" time, preaching 2 Sundays a month, we had Sun. evening services. At this time there was a training program set up.
I was a teenager by this time and the boys found out that there were girls and vice versa and I am not at all certain that we gathered at church on Sunday to only study the Bible. At any rate some good must have come from this BTU, because all of us grew up respecting God and man and made good citizens, respected in their community.
The Hill Grove Church went full time, services every Sunday by 1940 and we started a free will offering concept of financing and the church was on a firm financial from then on. It gained in membership and in time built classrooms and made other improvements.
Some of the earlier pastors were not trained preachers but were God-called, well-read men who had experience in speaking the word in an imposing manner. Some had college training, some were going to the Southern Baptist Seminary. Some pastors we had grew to be great men of God. We had one or two pastors who returned to the field for the second time, Bro. Chas. W. Bowles for one, (and) Bro. Evarts B. English who lived on a farm at Garrett and preached both Hill Grove and Buck Grove. I though he and his wife were wonderful people. Juanita and I were married at his home in 1944.
There were several of us boys and girls of approximately the same age that grew up together in the church. Some of these married in later years to the ones who had gone to church. Juanita and I , for one, Norman and Esther, J.C. and Nina Ramsey, Rex and Nellie Ramsey, Ralph and Nellie Stith, Edna and Bill Walker and others, mostly still living in this community.
There were a few families in my neighborhood that went to other churches. There was one Catholic family. There were also several Methodist families who attended the church at Bewleyville. Sometimes we would attend other churches, some, the Baptist and Methodist churches at Bewleyville. I had aunts and uncles in both churches. We would also attend Buck Grove pretty often as Mom and Dad both had kin and friends at this church.
It was a common practice for friends and relations to come to our house or for us to go to their house for a Sunday dinner (noon meal was dinner) and visit in the afternoon. "Company" in this circumstance was impromptu usually, a matter of setting another place at the table and pulling up another chair. This kind of company was the best kind. Just friends and kin gathering at the table and sharing good fellowship.
Family and Home
There were four of us at the time I first remembered anything. There was "Daddy" a big tall man and "Momma" a pretty woman who was everything. Elizabeth "Sister" who is almost 3 years younger than I. Helen Thomas "Tommy" was born when I was 12 years old. Fragments of memories flash by once in a while, when I was very young, maybe 4 or 5, I recall being very sick and getting up from a bed in the living room and walking toward my daddy. I recall being so weak that I fell. When or what the sickness was I can't recall. I do recall hearing my folks tell about the flu epidemic of 1918 and early 20's brought from Europe by WW I soldiers returning home and hundreds dying of the flu.
I also remember riding behind Dad on a horse looking for cows, the thresher at our house and the steam engine puffing and smoking. The steam engine thrills me to this day. A black man "Uncle" Bill Robinson, next neighbor toward Guston, I couldn't figure out a black man. I may have asked him why he was black. There was white haired, white whiskered man called Grand Pa (Stith) who took me fishing for the first time. There was also two people called Grandpa and Grandma Miller, who were Mom's parents. Mom would be in bed and I would have to be quiet and Grandma would do things for Dad and me. Mom seemed to be sick and weak a lot.
Others flashed by in my memory. "Uncle" Ace, a man who was hunched and would always be walking when he came to our place. He had a letter he carried in his hat. He gave it to Dad for him to read. I thought that was funny, carrying a letter in his hat. A man named Edgar Hardaway who put a white stick in his mouth and the stick smoked. A man who came and stayed, seemed like a long time and shot dirt from some trees in the bottom in front of the house and hauled them away somewhere.
A man called "Cousin Wib" and a whole mess of big boys who would help Dad kill hogs. My pulling a small wagon nearly a mile to go help Daddy. Mom carrying Sis in her arms catching up with me and making me with the help of a switch pull both the wagon and Sis in it back home. A tricycle that looked as big as a Buick under the Christmas tree. Sis and I going to the mailbox at Shumate's, staying too long and being sought after by Dad and being herded home with the aid of a switch. Going to the mill with Dad and being scared by the racket that the machinery made. My first train ride from Guston to Brandenburg Station to visit or shop. The huge steam locomotive and the long string of cars behind it crashing, jingling and smoking as it pulled into the station, the big man with a gold watch, sitting a stool down on the ground by the coach steps, the engineer sitting in the engine with his head sticking out the window. Thrills, awe, and wonder all these and more were my first impressions.
I suppose my sister and I had always had the run of the place since I can remember anyway. We had trees, barns, gullies, fields and the house to run in and explore. We had a dog, Bill, who always followed us. He was a good dog. We had cats also.
They wouldn't be pets, just cats, but we played with them. I don't remember when we first learned to climb trees and of course we had playhouses, Sis especially. I had a piece of grassless dirt that was my farm in the lane in front of the house. Somehow we could communicate and what one of us was thinking the other would also. We seemed to agree on what we played and how. We had a lot of games we would make up as we went along. If we were told about a game or if one was read to us, it was immediately put to practice. One instance I recall, golf was described to us by a neighbor who had been "outside' and we learned enough that we had a set of clubs made from sassafras roots, tin cups buried their depth in the ground with rags tied to tobacco sticks for flags and we were in business. We were capable of inventing games too. I have no idea where some of our inspirations came from.
When I got older and my world expanded a little I learned people's names and where they lived. To the north of home was another farm. The Shumates lives there, cousin Wib, cousin "Neva" (Geneva), Violet, Mattie Bliss, Robert, "Nook", Eldridge, Bill, Nettie May, and Clara. They were good neighbors and when I was small, Dad and cousin Wib and his boys would help each other with the heavier farm work or chores that required extra man power. This practice continued until I was almost grown. We would swap work in tobacco, hay and butchering. We would have a rabbit hunt together frequently but we seldom "visited" socially. I don't know why. Dad and Wib were distant cousins.
To our south lived the Pate Dooleys. This family was Pate, Lulu and sons Emmett and Will C. They came from somewhere and bought the place from Edgar Hardaway. Not being kin and from another place, we never got close as we did with some others. The Dooley's "neighbored" with others west toward Bewleyville. We were all in the same shredding and threshing "ring" however. More about that later.
Over toward Shumate school on one of the roads out of where we lived were the Ike Hicks family. "Uncle" Ike, "Aunt" Mary, James, and Erie Margaret and Howard who came on later. This family was no kin but were close friends and good people. Dad and Ike were brothers in law by marriage if one could claim kin by the fact that Dad's brother Arvin, married Ike's sister, Nancy. That made some kind of kinship.
The map in front of this section shows where others lived. We would stay in contact via telephone and on occasion share work with someone else and on occasion borrow or loan items of equipment for special use. Dad didn't have a grain binder so he borrowed Uncle Ike's, on the other hand Dad would take his mower to cut someone else's hay. Work and equipment was swapped around whenever needed.
Farm work was accomplished by man power and mule power put to its best use and need. Sometimes man power was used more than mule power. The first thing toward a tobacco crop required a seedbed to be prepared. This seedbed was a long patch of new ground 9 feet wide by 50, 60, 100 feet long depending on how many tobacco plants one would need. "New ground" was called that because the beds were in the edge of woods that hadn't been used for any other crop. There may have been more reasons for this than the availability of fuel for burning the ground. Perhaps plant disease and insects were less numerous in the woods than in cultivated fields. I will describe plant bed burning to you and what all was involved in completing one to the standards.
After the site was chosen on the sunny side of a slope, the first thing we did was to clear out the small growth of brush and bushes on the site, then one layer of dry brush and or small dead logs were laid on poles running lengthwise of the bed. These poles allowed air to circulate beneath the brush and logs to give the fire a draft. Layers of small logs and brush were applied sometimes on the whole bed and sometimes a pile of brush and logs would only be placed at one end. How one built a fuel pile depended on the available fuel.
Then the bed was completed to the builder's satisfaction, some sort of kindling and light brush was placed at one end and lighted and soon the whole pile would be on fire. We had to take care that the heat from the brush pile didn't set the adjacent undergrowth and brush on fire. Sometimes leaves were raked back 20 or 30 feet from the bed exposing the bare ground to prevent a forest fire. There were occasions, however, when the wind would change and a whirlwind would blow embers outside the fire line and we would have to put it out. Sometimes the wind would "get up" and an uncontrollable fire get started and the whole neighborhood would come in and help put it out. One note: bed burning practices helped the demise of rail fences in this country, a fire would totally destroy a rail fence in nothing flat. Tobacco bed burning was usually nothing more than a job to do like anything else and after the fire got going good, the only thing left to do was to be certain that the fire heated the soil beneath it to a depth of 4 or 5 inches and that all the bed surface received this same amount of heat. We would add fuel from time to time and spread the burning fuel to where the entire area was heated. Plant bed burning took place in late February or early March and on a mild, windless day and it was a pleasure to be outside after being cooped up all winter. This gave the family an occasion for a picnic or cookout. We would bring eggs, potatoes and other food in a basket to the bed site and cook our meal on the bed fire and eat outside on tree stumps or the back of the wagon. This was a treat and fun for us.
I don't know of any other family ever having a tobacco bed picnic. Dad never left a fire unattended in the woods. If there was no picnic planned and lunch time came, one would stay with the fire while the others ate at the house.
The fuel was consumed in 3 or 4 hours and the ground was allowed to cool, embers were raked aside and the ground that was burned was plowed up. We used to dig the ground and loosen it with hoes but somebody discovered that a single shovel plow would do the same job faster. The loosened soil would be cleaned of roots, rocks and raked down to a smooth surface. A certain amount of wood ashes was allowed to mix in with the soil and it was very fine and soft when it was finished and ready for seeding.
The bed then was encircled with planks or logs forming a frame surrounding the seed bed and a ditch dug around this and dirt piled outside the frame to keep out water and wind. The seed, mixed in with a special fertilizer was then hand spread onto the bed and for some reason trodden into the soil by placing one shoe track after the other until the whole surface was tromped down. I guess a yard roller would have done the same thing but we never heard of a yard roller, so we "tromped" it down.
The last thing to do to finish building a plant bed was to put the canvas on. This was a cheese cloth-like cotton covering placed over the bed poles and supported off the ground in the center by a wire running lengthwise of the bed on a simple method of "wickets", pieces of light twigs, bent in the middle and each end pushed in the round to hold the canvas up. In about 3 months the small plants had grown to 4 or 6 inches high and then were transplanted to the field where they would grow to maturity.
The tobacco crop was a year round endeavor and all of it hard work. We generally grew an acre sometimes two and without outside help except planting and harvesting. It was a family enterprise that yielded the main money crop sometimes with very meager results when one counted his labor.
I despised to set tobacco. This was done the hard way. "Hills" were made in the "patch" over fertilizer dropped at the proper distance in a plowed row with a hoe piling dirt over the top of the fertilizer and patting or settling the soil by using the flat of the hoe. There were over 6900 plants set out to the acre and a hill had to made for every one of them. A lot of hoe work. Then we waited until a rain that would wet the ground sufficiently for a transplant to take root and live when it was moved from its bed to the field. When a shower came, we pulled the plants from the bed, placed then in tubs or baskets and transplanted them to the field. This was when the extra help would come in. Women and children would get a basket of plants and proceed down a row dropping plants on each hill and a man or grown boy would follow carrying a short peg, sometimes an end of a hoe or fork handle with a round top about 10 inches long and approach a hill, pick up the dropped plant in one hand, punch a hole in the ground, set the plant to its proper depth and with his peg squeeze dirt or mud around the plant sufficient to its being firmly set in the ground. A certain amount of skill was required to properly set a plant so it would live. Care had to be taken to assure there were no air pockets around the plant root. Neither should the root be doubled up in the hole. Once the procedure was finished on one hill, there was another, and another it seemed like an endless job, and to have someone go along in the next
row and talk, sing, "kid", joke or anything to get ones mind off work was a great help.
Later in my growing years the practice of hilling the ground with a hoe (was phased out). Improved tobacco called white burley was developed and this breed of tobacco was taller, more upright and grew more leaves to the stalk and therefore we could get more plants to the acre. Tobacco fertilizer would be drilled into a row with a one row one horse drawn machine and the plants were placed in the row at approximately 2 foot intervals. Some labor was saved by this method but we still set tobacco with a season. I was grown and had about half left the farm before dry setting became popular. The first method of dry setting was done with a hand carried transplant, a system of a 2 or 3 gallon metal cylinder about 26" long and 8" in diameter with a handle across it at the top, having a valve in the tank bottom and having a 3" cylinder leading from a funnel like opening at the top soldered alongside the water tank leading downward to a pair of pointed steel jaws that could be opened by a squeeze trigger on the machine's handle. To operate, one carried this rig, filled with water, in one hand (loaded with water it weighed about 25 lbs.), set the machine where one wanted a plant, a "dropper" (a boy or girl) could carry plants and drop them into the funnel, root down, the plant would go to the pointed "shoe" which had punched into the loose dirt when it was dropped downward. The operator then pulled the trigger on the handle, the shoe jaws were opened allowing the plant to set on the bottom of the hole made, at the same time the water valve was opened and a cup or so of water ran in on top of the plants root and when the setter was lifted, dirt surrounding the plant fell into the hole and the set plant. The operator released the trigger, the valve and shoe closed and the machine was swung to the next hill and the procedure repeated. This may sound complicated the way I described it but it really wasn't. With a little practice and experience, one could set tobacco at a slow walk at a rate of 35 or 40 plants to the minute and could maintain this pace for hours. This new method didn't dispense with any manpower, to operate one setter, it took two persons. However there was no stooping and wading in a muddy field. Horse drawn plant setters were used on some larger farms. I knew of one over on a farm near Bewleyville. It was long, clumsy, and heavy and still took 3 men to operate it. Not many farmers thought it practical, besides it was costly to buy.
The tobacco belonged to the weed family. It was the most pampered weed that ever before was grown. It required more of our time and labor to grow a tobacco crop to maturity than the combination of all the other crops we raised on the farm. It required more hoe work, according to my Dad than the garden even. After the plants were set and the ground dried, the first thing to do was get into the field with a horse drawn light 5 shovel plow and break up the dry crust formed by tramping on the wet ground when transplanting. It seemed to me that wherever a footprint had been made in the ground, crabgrass and weeds thrived. The war on grass and weeds was never won, but we fought endless battles. Until the plants finally grew big enough for the leaves to shade the ground, hoe work went on. Every 3 or 4 days, one would go through the tobacco cutting out weeds and grass. Between times, we would go through the tobacco looking for worms and other insects and remove them by hand. We practically lived with the stuff. Dad never did plow his tobacco with a wheeled cultivator. Others did and I couldn't understand why Dad always used a single horse drawn plow. It was always hard work.
Farm work other than tobacco also was started in the spring. Corn ground was broken using a 2 horse breaking plow. This was started as soon as the soil thawed and was dry enough to fall apart when turned over, grass seed and spring oats were sown, cows had calves, eggs were set to hatch, the ewes had lambs, some garden was planted, a lettuce bed was burnt and sowed in radishes and lettuce. Seed for cabbage, peppers and tomatoes were sown in this bed near the garden for transplanting into the garden later. Turkeys were watched.
The mating urge affected all life in the spring and the "domestic" turkey mated early in the season and laid their eggs. This phenomenon, fortunately, was the only time of the year for a turkey. We had 5 or 6 "hen" turkeys carried over from the fall before that were raised from our own flock. A gobbler was brought from someone else and brought home to his future harem. These turkeys had eaten no less than 25 or 30 bushels of corn during the winter and by spring were full grown and ready to lay eggs and grow another crop. This increase was Mom's money crop. She used it for things she needed and wanted. Turkeys brought a good price and the money derived therefrom was used wisely. But a turkey producer earned every cent.
When it came time for the turkey hens to begin to lay eggs I remember we would mark each hen by tying a colored rag onto the wing of each hen, a different rag for each one. We had "old red string" or "old white string" etc. This was to identify the bird when they hunted for and made a nest. Now a turkey was native to this continent before Columbus and the Indians had hunted them for food, unfortunately they didn't kill them all. The white man thought he captured and domesticated some of them. He didn't. He just though he did. When it comes time for a turkey to lay eggs, then was when she forgot all her domestication and returned to the wild. A turkey hen would take off to the woods or a thicket to build her nest and deposit her eggs. Mom would keep an eye on the hens and when one left the flock to meander toward the woods, she would follow at a distance to find where the nest was. Hours of time would be consumed watching turkeys. A hen seemed to know they were watched and kill time by scratching, pecking the ground and staring off into space until the watcher was distracted or interrupted by something else and she would immediately disappear. Mom would sometimes compel us kids to watch the turkeys and we could lose contact with one with no trouble. It was hard for a kid to keep his or her mind on the job therefore the hen would be gone in the twinkling of an eye. In spite of this however, there would be two hundred or so turkey eggs finally accumulated and these eggs would go under a brooding hen and after 4 weeks they would hatch.
The young poults along with their mother lived in coops provided. The poults had to be hand fed the first few days of their lives. They weren't too heavy on brains and had to be protected from cold drafts, dampness, and predators. Their momma tried to protect them but she, not having much more brains, didn't help much. It wouldn't be long however that they would be large enough to range the field during daylight hours and live off grasshoppers. The young poults were fed in the evening all summer and would come home usually to feed. I said they would come home usually. A turkey when half grown could fly pretty good. They roosted in a large walnut tree at the corner of the garden and would fly out of the tree on waking in the dawn. If they were going away from home or their roost they flew exceedingly well, especially our fences. When it came time to come home they couldn't fly a foot. Perhaps they were too heavy with grasshoppers. Anyway they would get behind a wire fence and walk up and down for hours sticking their heads through the meshes of the fence looking for a hole big enough to get through. Somebody would have to go and open a gate and drive the fool birds through. One could do a fair job of driving turkeys as they stayed bunched up like cattle. We would usually have about 75 to 125 or so full grown turkeys by November when we started feeding them shelled corn to fatten them for the market. It was amazing the amount of shelled corn a flock of turkeys could consume. They were beautiful at this time of year, fully plumed with a glossy bronze tinge to the feathers, marked with a bit of white, and a bright red head and wattles and having a round bright blue eye in the center of each side of their head. Their voices made quite a din, all of them "calling" at the top of their lungs
A turkey buyer would come around before Thanksgiving and bid on the flock and a deal to sell was made, method of delivery was decided on. Sometimes the turkeys were placed in a wagon bed on hay and hauled to a central point where we met a truck. Other times they would be placed in coops and taken directly to market. Three dollars a head was one price I remember getting for turkeys. Mom bought her piano with her turkey money one year.
A flock of sheep was kept on nearly all the farms in my community while I was growing up. The Wib Shumates never had sheep. They were about the only exception. The flocks weren't large, 30 to 50 head per farm. We had about 35 on our place. there was money to be made with sheep, first we got a wool crop in late May, then in June we started marketing the lambs. A ewe would give birth to her lambs starting about late January to mid February. Most of the time she would have twins, sometimes a single, sometimes triplets. A lamb and a half to a ewe was considered a good average i.e. with 30 ewes, one expected 45 lambs.
Sheep required considerable care during lambing time and they were watched and "midwifed" at this time. There was a peculiar fact that I can't account for in that lambs when born would come late in the evening or early in the morning and one had to be on alert at all times during lambing time. This period was usually of short duration however, and would last about 2 or 3 weeks before all the lambs were delivered. A shepherd had to be around when the time came to see that the lambs nostrils were clear, that he could get out of the "sack" and could stand to nurse. If a lamb had trouble during her confinement, she had to have help, if she had a delayed birth, the second lamb waiting too long to be born, the ewe could forget the first one and may not "claim" her lamb and it would starve. A new born lamb had to get the first milk rich in colostrum for it to start its body functions. Sometimes the ewe wouldn't have milk at birth times and the lamb would chill and die very quickly. We would bring the weak lamb to the house, dip him in luke warm water, sometimes gave him milk with a few drops of whiskey in it and he would recover. Meantime its mother may have forgotten her lamb and wouldn't claim it as hers until you milked some milk from her and smeared it on the lamb's hide. Most of the time she would accept her offspring after the treatment. A lamb soon got on his own and in a few days was running, jumping and trying to steal milk from other ewes.
We generally had one or two lambs that were raised on a bottle of milk. A quart bottle fitted with a special nipple and filled with a cow's milk was fed 4 or 5 times daily to the orphan lambs and they believed that their feeder was their parent and would follow after you even into the house if you let them. They made a good pet and were cunning but at the same time a nuisance. Fortunately they soon learned to steal from other ewes and learn to go with the flock.
A lamb would weigh 75 to 85 or 90 lbs. depending on his food after three months of age. His mommy sometimes would wean him by then and they were mostly self-sustaining on grass. Sometimes we fed the lambs grain before market. We shipped them out (sold) at about 85 or 90 lbs. weight.
Sheep shearing time came in the latter part of May when the warm weather had become certain. Dad owned a hand powered, geared, wool clippers, the only ones in the neighborhood at that time. There was a tripod stand from which a pipe leg went upwards to a gear case with a crank on one side and a shaft or spindle on the other. From this gear head, a flexible shaft (picture the arm of a man) the length of the shaft and a third joint where the gear head (clipper) connected. Picture the shoulder joint, elbow, and wrist on your arm and you've got it. The crank was turned by someone at a steady rate and the shaft enclosed in a conduit carried rotary power to the clippers and in the clipper head was an eccentric that transferred the power to a cutter that oscillated from side to side over a coarse toothed comb which cut through the wool very much like your barber's hair clippers. Before this shearing machine, wool was cut from a sheep with hand shears, a slow monotonous job that took days. My Dad was very good as a sheep shearer. He was fast, smooth and could easily control any fractious sheep that was set before him. I have held a watch on him and he could shear a sheep in as little as 5 minutes time.
Dad sheared sheep for others. He would take about 2 or 3 weeks to go to other farms and shear sheep for them. When I got big enough 11 or 12 years old, I would sometimes go with him and learn to turn the machine crank at the proper speed. When Dad went to a place to shear sheep he would require that somebody would catch the sheep, bring it and set it down on its hind end on the pad before Dad touched it.
The sheep owner was also expected to gather fleece off the shearing pad. When he finished shearing one sheep, he expected another to be there in a reasonable time. I remember in one day he sheared eighty head of sheep and that was on two different farms. When I first could remember, Dad got 10 cents apiece for shearing. Not until later did he go to 12 1/2 cents and finally 15 cents. He made a little extra money this way. I later learned to shear sheep and worked at it a season or two but my back wouldn't hold up to the constant stooping and would give out on me before the shearing season was over.
When rural electricity came nearly all sheep raisers bought their own electric clippers.
I can't figure the reason for the end of the sheep raising era in my neighborhood and also in KY. I worked at Bourbon Stockyards at Louisville in 1955 and 1956 and we would weigh 2000 lambs per day in the spring at that time.
By 1962 there weren't but very few flocks in the neighborhood. Now there are none.
I can't remember when I became fascinated with machines. The first steam traction engine I remembered seeing was when I was a very small boy. It belonged to Grandpa Miller and was running a shredder at "Uncle" Bill Dowell's. Uncle Jim Miller was running the engine and he let me climb onto the engine with him. I was thrilled out of my skin. Seeing the piston working back and forth, the flywheel, hearing the puffing of the smoke pipe, smelling the smoke, the grease, the hot metallic smell, seeing the glow of the fire through the dampers on the fire box door. I marveled at the huge drive wheels and the big black boiler. I was forever committed when Uncle Jim blew the steam whistle. Somehow I knew how and why the engine ran. If anybody had ever told me this I don't remember.
Every farm in our neighborhood raised grain of several different varieties. There was corn, followed by winter wheat, rye and barley. These crops were augmented by spring oats. Some farms had all or some of each and these crops comprised a considerable acreage.
The small grain crops, especially wheat were important to each family living on the farms. Wheat was a money crop and some of it was reserved for human consumption. Our bread flour was from wheat of our own raising.
Wheat was sown in the corn stubble after the cornstalks were shocked in the fall and was a cover crop for the land over winter. A common practice those days was a crop rotation of corn, wheat, and hay in that order. After the third year, the ground was broken and the 3 year cycle repeated.
Wheat didn't grow much during winter but would remain green. A wheat grower hoped for a snow covering most of the winter because it seemed to help the wheat to survive the winter.
I know now that the nitrogen in the snow made the wheat stay green. When Springtime came, the wheat, rye, and barley really got going and by June it was heading and the heads were beginning to bloom and fill. When the heads of the wheat filled and had begun to turn from green to gold there was nothing prettier to see than the wheat waving and rolling and swaying under a light summer breeze. Sometimes in late June the time had come to harvest the grain. We didn't have combines in those days. Small grains were cut with a machine called a grain binder. This binder was a climax of ingenuity to my mind. It was pulled across the field by horse power. On one side was a sickle, a platform and a reel. The sickle cut the grain near the ground, the reel revolved overhead knocking the grain backward on to a platform which had a revolving cloth "canvas" which carried the cut stalks to another revolving canvas which carried the stalks up and over to the other side where it was packed in bundles, tied and dumped out on a bundle carrier. Eight or ten bundles could be carried until they could by dumped into a pile and from this pile of bundles a shock could be made of 20 or so bundles and left to finish drying enough so as to thresh the grain from the stalk.
One man would drive the binder team and operate the machine. Sometimes three horses or mules would be used to propel the binder. This team was hitched abreast, 2 of the mules carrying the binder tongue and steering the machine, the other mule was kept separate by a check stick and was only attached to a single tree on the (lines) pulling the binder. I said one man operated the binder and drove the team. This was true in the 3 horse hitch because he held two check lines to control the lead and off tongue team. When a 4 horse hitch was used, generally in tandem, a driver was used. He rode the lead "wheel" mule and had a pair of check-lines going to the swing team to control them. There were no lines on the wheelers. They had to follow the swing team. The driver of this 4 horse team put a saddle on the mule or horse he rode. Several reasons for this. One, a man or boy would have blisters after a day or two of riding bareback on a sweaty mule. Two, he rode the mule working next to the uncut grain where the sickle was and near the reel and (if) he wished to be around he would stay on and not be thrown into the front of this cutter. This 4 horse driving job was usually give to boys because they were of light weight and probably didn't realize the danger and also would be more likely to stick on or jump clear in case the team would get out of control.
I never had a binder team to get out of control while driving, however my dad told of a time when he and his brother were using a 4 horse team to a binder and they passed under a telephone wire. Dad caught the wire with his whip staff when it passed over the team but the staff slipped off the wire and the reel caught it and carried it downward and struck the mule he was riding. the mule naturally jumped, scaring the other and the whole mess took off across the field. Dad could see that they weren't going to run into anything and looked back to assess the damage to the machine. Uncle Fred was hanging to his levis and laughing, the knotter assembly was kicking out wheat bundles unceasingly and they were cutting, as Dad said a wide swath. The team finally got their run out with no damage but a broken telephone wire. They carried the bundles out of the uncut wheat and finished the field. All this was in a regular day's work.
The grain stood in the shock from two to four weeks to cure. Men and boys followed the binder and shocked the bundles standing them on the bottom and leaning them into each other until a compact shock was made. Two extra bundles were spread and bent in such a fashion and placed on top of this shock for a cap. This kept water out of the shock and at the same time prevented birds from getting at too much valuable grain.
I will relate to you a little story that may seem to deviate from the main one that I am telling. In the days before electricity (in the times I am telling you of), fresh meat was rare. Butchering time was long gone, fresh killed chickens were rare. We needed every egg the chickens were laying, there would be no frying sized chickens until July. We were starved for fresh meat. We had lived on cured meat since January.
Now to get back to wheat cutting. A twenty acre field of wheat yielded an enormous bunch of bundles and every bundle had to be picked up and placed into shocks. After 30 or 40 trips around a field two half grown boys were pretty well petered out. We would drag ourselves from one bundle to the other. The afternoon sun got halfway down from zenith to sunset and just hung there, the water jug, fresh from the spring at noon, was 2/3 gone and warm as piss. Our dinner had been digested and absorbed hours ago. The standing grain was getting smaller in area but also the bundles were still accumulating. Lord will this day ever end?
The young rabbits living in the wheat had been steadily retreating toward the center of the uncut grain all day. Suddenly these rabbits discovered that there was left no place to go and made a mad dash to new cover. They would come bursting out of the grain and into the stubble. We boys would sight them and all of a sudden a vast source of adrenaline would gush up from somewhere and lo! a rabbit chase would ensue. We would succeed in catching two or three and pull their heads off, run to the house with our quarry and demand of Mom fresh rabbit, gravy and biscuits for supper. Fresh meat never tasted better.
At long last. Threshing time was here. Now I would get to see the neighbor boys that perhaps I hadn't seen since school was turned out. Now was when I would get to eat dinner at a different place every day. Now was the time I would get to see the steam engine and thresher. I would have the privilege of getting away from the tobacco patch and use a pitchfork instead of a hoe for a few days.
Bob Cox and his threshing rig, a 2 cylinder Frick steam tractor that pulled a Rumley separator and a wagon with a water tank on it, would appear from somewhere to thresh at Tom Wilson's, the first man in our neighborhood threshing ring. The threshing crew was made up of 4 "machine men". (2 thresher men, 1 engineer and fireman, and 1 water hauler) (the farm furnished enough fuel to thresh his crop). This rig was a big one and required 8 wagons with hay frames on them to haul bundles to it for constant operation. There were 2 bundle pitchers to two wagons (8). Two men, farmers, worked around the machine to clean up spilled bundles at the feeder and assist in loading sacked grain. There were 1 or two sackers and 1 old man to tie the sacks and sometimes 2 or 4 extra man to haul the grain to storage. At times also there would be a man to build the straw stack. As few as 20 men or as many as 28 were used around a "set" at threshing time. This labor aside from the "machine men" was volunteers. "I help you, you help me" work was traded off in this manner as long as the threshing was done. The women folks who provided the meals for the crew would trade off to each other likewise.
The threshing machine was set up, leveled facing the wind, the engine belted to it with a 200 foot canvas belt. The wagons were loaded and waiting and when all was ready threshing started. From 8:00 in the AM until sundown for about two weeks, this uproar continued. We worked, played, ate, visited, traded knives, learned to chew and smoke and generally had a good time.
Two wagons, one on each side of the thresher feeder, would unload at the same time, timing the pitching of bundles head first on to the feeder conveyer so as to maintain a consistent steady flow of bundles into the cylinder. When these wagons finished unloading, two more would take their place and the empty wagons would return to the field for another load. This practice was repeated until the field was empty of bundles.
When a farm boy got big enough to go to the thresher, it was understood his first job would be a bundle pitcher. Now a 12 year old boy that was raised on a farm already had more than a speaking acquaintance with a pitchfork. Therefore to be a bundle pitcher he was qualified as to the operation of a fork. Pitching a wheat bundle required a little extra finesse. First the bundle had to land in front of the loader, it wasn't pushed up like hay, it was flipped, given a short pitch when picked up, snapped off the fork tines, and being made to land where the wagon loader wanted it was something else.
The wagon frame was 12 to 14 feet long with "wings" on each side above and over the wheels and a properly loaded bundle wagon was built in layers and the loader would walk the length of his "frame" several times in building a proper load. It behooved the pitcher to know where the man on the wagon was and place the bundles in front of him within reach and not hit him with bundles as he may kick them back off on you. Most of the men would give a "greenhorn" a chance and would venture to give a tip or two to ease the strain. Time was an element and a pitcher and loader had to finish a load quickly. A team of pitchers could load a wagon in 15 minutes, one pitch a shock then the other. Sometimes the loader would holler for us to "cover me up boys" and we would both throw bundles as fast as we could.
It was paramount to everybody to get loaded and back to the thresher and not allow it to be kept waiting. Most men at a thresher crew took pride in doing their job and did not shirk their share. Generally everything ran smoothly. Mr. Cox had been threshing and shredding in this area all his life. He expected to continue and we expected him too. Nobody tried to short change anybody and nobody imposed on anybody.
From Wilsons to Carmens which was on the fringes of the ring to Dooleys we got into our 8 wagon ring. Next the Hardaways, Paynes, Hicks, Williams, Scotts, sometimes Wrights, sometimes W.A. Stith, Wib Shumate and Dad. The ring wouldn't operate the same way all the time. Sometimes we would start at Shumates, us Dooleys, etc. Depended on when the thresher finished in the previous ring.
If a thresher was at somebody's place, a noon meal was served. There were favorite places in the neighborhood to eat. I have a suspicion sometimes that the machine would break down and delay the schedule enough to assure being at one of these favorite places for dinner.
The food was what one would ordinarily have at the table that time of year. Most or all the food was raised on the farm and in season. There was nothing fancy. Just good and lots of it. Mr. Cox wouldn't eat chicken away from home, that is another story, so one could figure on boiled or baked ham, beans, mashed potatoes, cabbage, corn. If there was a salad it would be potato salad but usually there were no salads, there were 2 or 3 kinds of pickles, various relishes, jellies, butter, biscuits, cornbread and light bread, coffee, tea or milk and topped off with pie, cobbler, mostly of peach, cherry, berry, or apple.
We ate at the first or second table. The thresher shutdown, the machine men and the ones who were loaders and some of the pitchers ate first. There was no advantage to eating at the first table. There was just as much at the second table except in a few rare instances. I always looked forward to eating at the Wilsons, Hardaways, Williams, Paynes, Stiths, Hicks. Each cook had something that they excelled at. I will never forget cousin Frances Williams yeast rolls.
The day that Dad and I hitched the team to the bundle wagon and handed me the lines and told me to go to the thresher was the day I grew ten feet tall. I had reached the height of my ambitions. I was a driver and a bundle loader. I was 14 years old and doing a man's work. I remember that I had some trouble with balancing my first load of bundles and lost a few in transporting them to the thresher. Practical experience though soon taught me to build a well proportioned load that would stay together. Along with running a wagon came additional responsibilities. I had a team to take care of: unhitching the team and watering and feeding them at noon time and rehitching and getting back to the field after dinner. I was responsible for this duty alone. There was no help from others as they had their work to do. No help was expected and none given. A man did what there was to do and he did it.
I lived at the time to see the beginning of the end of custom threshing and shredding and trading work between neighbors to get the job done. The times that I have been telling about were during the late 20's and the 1930's, the depression years.
The depression years didn't affect farm people to a very large extent as most or perhaps all farm people lived off what was produced on the farm. Money was important to the farm people but not vital to a farm operation. The main reason for this was there wasn't much money made on a farm, therefore we adjusted our needs to our income. In the 1930's tobacco sold for 5 to 15 cents per pound sometimes. Hogs $2.50 to 3.00 hwt (hundred pounds), the lamb crop sold for about $3.00 per head, a veal calf brought 20 or $25. A pair of shoes could be bought for a dollar. A suit of clothes 10-12 dollars, a pair of overalls 95 cents, shirt 60 cents. Coffee cost 15 cents lb., 2 pounds 25 cents, sugar cost $4.00 a hundred lbs. Sugar, coffee and spices were about the main items bought at the store. There were a few luxury items bought from time to time. Most of what we ate was home grown.
The economy had begun to perk up by 1940 enough that we could begin to see day light at the end of the tunnel. World War II was eminent. Artificial respiration of the economy had begun to have its effect. Rural electricity had come to some areas. These improvements and other factors drew many from the farm tenant house and (lured) many a farm boy or girl to the city. My sister entered the Baptist Hospital School of Nursing during this time. Construction work at Louisville and especially Fort Knox was taking on every man available to build barracks and motor pools. The draft was instituted and numerous young men went into service.
When the manpower left the farm, it behooved the farmer to retrench and refine his operation. Combines and tractors were brought into being to replace manpower. The improvement of roads and the enlarging of farming operations put the country on the rubber tired wheel thus practically eliminating the use of horsepower for farm work. All these transitions didn't take place at once but it was coming. Most could see the change and prepared for it or sold out and retired.
Some small farms were absorbed by their more prosperous neighbors. Property in Stiths valley changed hands as a result of death in the family or the family selling out and moving to a factory job. Those left during the "war" years rented land from others to produce all they could for the work needs. Later after the war some of these farmers expanded their operations.
Somehow my Dad and I missed out on all this. Dad never quit farming, but neither did he express any desire to expand. His equipment was wearing out and he seldom replaced anything. I could read the handwriting on the wall and I was anxious to get away to a good paying job and get on my own. In 1940 I was 24 years old still living on the farm. I had worked at a few part time jobs with the A.S.C.S. and for other farmers etc. but after being gone for a few weeks, Mom or Dad would complain to me about all the work there was to do and Dad had no help. I would quit and come home to help him hoe tobacco, cut bushes and thistles and plow corn the second or third time like I had always done and I knew it was not going to get any better. I was living there, being fed and bedded, but was getting nowhere and as far as I could see never was.
I worked at the post exchange at Fort Knox after I recovered from my first back operation for about 16 months. One day while at home, Mom again braced me about how hard Dad had to work and she was worried about him. I couldn't see why, he had rented his corn out and only had a tobacco crop that was less than an acre. He still practiced the custom of trading work with the Shumates. However I quit and came home and helped Dad. I got him caught up, I guess and was working by the day at Uncle Allen's when Dad came to me in the field and asked if he traded the farm for a store at Garrett would I help get him started. Thinking at long last I would be free to do my own thing or perhaps a partnership in the business, I said yes. Dad got out of the farming business in 1943.
I spent 5 miserable conscience stricken years working for a meager wage in my Dad's store. During these 5 years he prospered, bought 3 houses in Garrett and retired.
Finally at the age of 28 having nothing else I fell in love and married.
When I was born and had grown enough to start noticing things around me, I was aware of two people who were around the farm and the house that were awful big and they worked and cooked, cut wood and fed me and a smaller being that was around and followed. They were my Daddy, Mother, and Sister. Those very dim memories of playing in the dirt in a tobacco patch behind the "far barn" while Dad and Mom hoed tobacco and Sis in a fence corner sleeping in a basket with "Ole Bill" the dog watching over her. There was a time once of riding on a mower between Dad's feet while cutting hay. I would follow Dad everywhere watching and "helping" and generally getting in the way. I may have talked and asked questions but I don't remember. I did a whole lot of observing and in my play would imitate the things Dad did. Any sort of machine fascinated me. I loved to be around machinery and would study every detail of the machine and observe how it worked and at a very early age learned to use tools well enough to make an imitation in my mind of all sorts of machines and toys to play with. I think I was more imaginative than other boys especially those who had brothers as they had others to play with, whereas I had to proceed for my own amusement. Santa Claus would bring me a little red wagon every Christmas since I could remember and by the next Christmas I was in need of another as the previous one was literally worn out, by having been pulled for miles, coasted down hills, hauled my sister in, hauled dirt, rocks, etc. for building a play house, being turned into a steam engine, truck etc. to fit the need for the moment. The wheels and axles that survived last year's wagon were salvaged to make another conveyance, either a long wagon or a cart to pull behind my new wagon.
I always had help and encouragement on any project I implemented for "Sis" was an able laborer. She would fetch and carry for me and watch me and would be the first to try out a new invention to see if it worked. I.e. She would be the first to ride in a 2 wheel trailer attached behind a tricycle over a hill on its test run to see if it was safe. Needless to say she survived these experiments. If I learned to climb a tree, she did too.
One harrowing experience I recall us doing when Mom had gone to the fields to pick black berries and we were left at home. Somewhere we had seen a radio or maybe had read about one. Anyway we had secured a box that looked the size of a radio set and had put on some knobs and switches and made a speaker out of a cloth covered pan of some sort and assembled the thing. It was a success but for one thing, an antennae. It had to have an antennae for the thing to be authentic. Listen to this. Sis was 7 and I 9 or thereabouts, we got a ball of binder twine, strung it out from upstairs porch and climbed onto the roof of the kitchen and from there to the chimney atop the main house to attach the antennae to the chimney. We had no trouble until Mom returned from the berry patch and caught us installing our antennae. I think both of us got a paddling but the radio worked to our satisfaction. One of us would get behind a hung up sheet and "broadcast" and the other listened to the radio.
Lots of days we played in the barn. A long hallway ran the center length of this barn. It had horse stalls on either side. Big doors were at either end to provide access to the hallway and the space was generally open. The beams for holding the loft up spanned this hallway and were spaced about 10 feet apart. Sis and I would get a 5 foot board about 20" wide and loop ropes on each end and suspend this board from the beams at each end, attach a pull rope to one end of this board and you had a galloping seesaw. By pulling the rope, one could get any number of assorted gyrations from this invention. When the rope was pulled it would flip up at one end and dive downward at the other. It was a huge success until Dad found it out and made us quit because we had failed to weigh the possibilities of a rope breaking and throwing us off and breaking a couple of necks. How and from whence we got these wild imaginations, I never knew. I don't remember any other kid in the neighborhood doing any of these things.
We worked about a week on building a shack in the locust thicket. Never got it finished. We dug a tunnel in a gully in front of the house. Worked at this for a week or two and it was a pretty good tunnel. It didn't cave in however, until we got tired of it. We hauled planks by rope up in the sweet apple tree to make a tree house but abandoned that idea due to a materials shortage. Nobody else that I knew of ever had thought of a tree house.
I suppose our parents kept an eye on us during these projects to be sure, but there wasn't a lot of restrictions put on us. From a very early date we played in the pond a half mile from the house. This pond was over a hill behind a patch of woods and consisted of 2 feet of water and at least 3 feet of mud. We couldn't swim in it but could get awful muddy and would have to submit to a bath when we came out. It had frogs and catfish in it and when we got big enough to catch them, we augmented our diet with froglegs and catfish. I remember dragging logs for a half mile or more once to build a raft and installing a shack on it and embarking on an ocean voyage. I guess we had heard of Huck Finn, anyway with the aid of Ole Joe we dragged a wagon load of fence posts to the shipyard and with stolen nails and pieces of board we constructed the raft and launched it. We had to push it 20 feet away from the shore before it would even float. After it floated, one 12 year old boy would get on it and submerge it. Huck Finn's raft, in the picture we used as a blueprint, floated with 3/4 of the log above the water with two men and a shack on it! So much for displacement of weight and water. This project was abandoned also.
We didn't have any free running springs on our place. There were some wet weather springs in the Bett field but they were seeps and therefore unfit to play in much. The Shumates place had a good running spring and at every opportunity we played in the stream but the Shumate kids were used to this and weren't much interested in building dams and water wheels. However at the Hick's place there were two springs that came out of the hill in front of the house and barn and they were wonderful places to play in and James and Erie Margaret were very cooperative in any ideas that we had. Our families visited with each other frequently and we had a lot of time together. James and I would build a dam across a spring branch with mud and install a water wheel at the dam spillway and it was real interesting to build this and watch a water powered wheel turn. In time water would back up behind the dam and cause the mud dam to break away and we would have to rebuild. James and I agreed that a stone reinforced dam would be more stable, and consequently one was constructed gradually. It was a huge success, so successful, in fact, that it held real good. We even installed two water wheels and they ran beautifully for several days. We later reinforced the dam and built it higher. Unfortunately the higher dam caused the millpond to back up across Uncle Ike's path to the spring above it and one day James was telling me about what had happened to our mill dam. It seemed that Uncle Ike in going to the spring stepped into the millpond over his boot tops and got his feet wet and he kicked at the dam and it being rock-filled, Ike almost broke a toe. James said that his dad didn't limp afterward, but looked like he sure wanted to, but forever afterward spring dams were strictly forbidden across the path.
I told about my first school days earlier in this dissertation but Sis had started to school about the time I had reached the fourth grade. We walked to school usually. If it was raining sometimes Dad would take us on horseback. It was a good country mile to school mostly and there was a considerable hill to climb from home before we reached a ridge that the schoolhouse was on. Somebody, Aunt Shelly, I think, took a short cut through the "holler" going down one side and climbing the other in and out of the ravine. It didn't cut off any distance I discovered later, it was only a straight line. Anyway traveling this path to school became the custom. It was scenic and a beautiful way to go following a path through the woods down the hill into this, then deep silent foggy damp place then climbing a fence onto the Shumate place and climbing the hill to the top of the ridge and back onto the road.
Somewhere Sis and I had read or seen pictures of mountain climbers tied together on ropes and with a spiked pole climbing mountains. One morning when we got up for school there was snow and ice on the ground. Immediately it came to us that mountain climbing equipment was necessary for us to get to school. Therefore we acquired two broom sticks with a nail driven into one end and a length of rope to tie ourselves together and proceeded to school via the hollow. We had numerous incidents descending and ascending the heights that getting to school was incidental. Our imagination sometimes would run wild.
When I was about 12 or so an uncle who lived in Louisville died and he had a 13 year old boy who came to live with us. He stayed about 1 1/2 years. Frank brought a lot of new ideas to the country. He had access to the city movie houses and when he got to the country and saw land, cows and horses, he went nuts. The 200 acre farm immediately expanded to a 200,000 acre ranch, the cow heard increased to a 20,000 head and the horse stock turned into an unlimited herd of cow ponies. He appropriated Dad's saddle and from then on he was Tom Mix. Now all this was new to me, I had read western stories and books, had seen a few western movies but for some reason turning myself into a western hero hadn't occurred to me. Therefore I was putty in Frank's hands, a new frontier was opened and endless fantasies were possible. I played them to the hilt, virtually disregarding the necessary chores whenever possible unless it could be done on horseback. I was Tim McCoy.
Dad got some work out of us at times but Frank and I readily proved the theory of "1 boy, 1 hand, two boys, 1/2 a hand". It took the two of us twice the time to get a job done that one could do. I don't know how Dad could put up with it.
Frank was wild, erratic, overgrown and must have been 1/2 nuts. I don't know what the death of his daddy did to him perhaps he didn't either but he took the lead and instead of me being a regulatory factor, I followed any wild idea he had. I look back on this period in life and can see that I was influenced more than I thought by others and may have ended up with a good many wrong impressions and conclusions. I always have acted upon my impulses instead of reasoning a problem. I do not know where I missed the mark but I never learned to reason a problem out or think it through. I am also very short on forming a logical conclusion of any crisis that would come up in my life.
My dad wasn't much of a talker and when I was a kid eager to learn and know and would ask questions about various things the question would be answered but I seldom got an explanation. Dad wouldn't elaborate. Sometimes I would listen and not hear, in other words, I never trained my mind to analyze what it gathered.
I read a lot and enjoyed reading, still do. sometimes when I read I can get lost in the writer's thoughts but I still don't know how to analyze the writing and get the writer's thoughts out of it and incorporate these thoughts with my own. I can either like it or not, but to agree or disagree, I am incapable of doing so.
The same applies to a game or other contest. I am not much of a contestant as far as winning or excelling. I plain don't have that much concern for excelling or beating the opponent to care if I win or not. I would like to be a leader, I would like to be of some good to mankind, I would like to do something to help others but for some reason, I am afraid to accept responsibility and hesitate to push forward and do. It may be that I am afraid of being a failure. Maybe I am. I almost envy anyone who can fit in a crowd and mingle, mix and be a likable and loving person but something in my makeup prevents this. I am not a talker or a doer.
Perhaps I came by this naturally. My Dad was born and raised and lived on the same farm 60 odd years of his life and therefore hadn't traveled around much. He assumed that everyone was like he was, honest, God fearing and industrious. The people he lived with were of the same sort and they dealt with each other with respect and honesty. A man's word was a man's bond. There was no need for contracts to be drawn up by a lawyer between neighbors. There was no IOUs signed or notes made. A man promised to pay a specified on delivery, it was paid. Work as a favor was exchanged equal time with no mention of time or labor involved. A man helped one to get in a hay crop that took 3 hours one afternoon and you repaid him by helping with his hay crop if it took all day and nothing was said about it.
I was maybe 16 years old before I found out that one could trade his labor for money.
I guess I was pretty "green" when I first got out in the world, for when I started to high school at Brandenburg I was "green" enough to wonder if I should take my drinking cup. I found out that there was a thing called a water fountain that water would run out of when a handle was turned. The same time I discovered a whole mess of kids who had an altogether different lifestyle and a different philosophy of life than I was used to. It was pretty much of a shock to me to be exposed to the difference and I am not sure all my impressions were favorable to me.
Work to live and make a living was the predominating duty of a family living on a farm in the 1920's and most all of one's daylight hours were devoted to the struggle 6 days a week.
My dad excelled at finding things to be done around the place, some of which, nowadays, were found unnecessary. One instance that created extra work was that a furrow had to opened in prepared land with a single shovel plow to plant corn in the furrow. A two horse (mule) single shovel plow, "a jumper" was used for this purpose opening two furrows in one round trip across the field. Dad had a one horse corn planter that would plant one row at a time, two rows in a round trip. One can get the idea of how many miles a man would walk planting corn in a 15 acre field. As if that wasn't enough, when the field was planted we immediately went over the field again and split the middles or plowed a furrow in the (space) between the rows. Why this was thought necessary, I don't know, everybody did it.
When the corn came up there were missing hills. Corn was planted in rows 42" apart in hills averaging 16-20" apart then. If there was too much space between hills a boy with a pocket full of seed corn armed with a hoe, would have the honor of replanting the missing hills. The longest, most lonesome job in the world. Sinkholes and fence rows would sprout an amazing number of corn shoots. Apparently every grain thus planted by a bored boy would thrive. Dad never said much about the displaced corn as he probably had enjoyed the same experience as a boy.
Corn was plowed at least 3 times or until it grew too tall to get through with a cultivator. The last time the corn was run through with a single shovel plow followed by a mower wheel laid flat and dragged between the rows.
There were probably a good many bushels of corn lost per acre by over cultivating and destroying the root system. 30 bushels an acre was a good yield then. Nowadays corn is not plowed and 80 to 100 bushels per acre is not uncommon.
We had horse power to feed and therefore hay was grown. Timothy hay was grown for the horse stock and was cut in late June or July and shocked or stored in the barn loft. Red clover hay was also cut and cured for the sheep. There were other clovers and grains that were developed later. Lespedeza and alfalfa were introduced after the county allowed an extension agent to come into the county. The County agent introduced improved farming practices, lime, fertilizer, purebred livestock, culling our chicken flock and getting rid of non layers. But the crowning achievement of the county extension agent was the introduction of the 4H clubs. My sister and I joined the 4H club led by my first cousin Mrs. Ruth Scott and the meetings were held at the Hall school house. We would ride horseback once a month to these meetings. We had some social events attached to these meetings but the main object was to choose and make a report on various projects that were implemented by the UK experiment station.
These projects included about all farming practices and were subject to the supervision and advice of your leader and county agent. One time I chose chickens for a project and my records I kept showed that I lost money on this project. One time I had tobacco as a project and broke even on it according to my records. The best project that I had was corn. I planted a good variety of corn in one of the bottoms and it measured out 60 odd bushels per acre. I made a talk on this at the annual achievement exercise where we were honored county wide on our projects. The highlight of the 4H year was the 4H camp. I went to 3, I think, Hodgenville one summer and Bardstown and E-town. We would go, a farm truck load of us, on Monday, and get back on the following Friday. We would have classes during the day. I learned to make rope from binder twine at one camp and got exposed to running a form level to lay out terraces and ditches. I quit when I was about 16 and got into a utopia club.
From time to time we would take a break and go to the annual picnic at Sulfur Well at Doe Run Mill on the creek of the same name. This was always on the Fourth of July and everybody in the county and some from the city would make sure that they could get there that day. Friends would renew acquaintances, kinfolk would meet and city cousins would come down from the city to the county. It was a gala occasion to go to these picnics at Sulfur Well. There was a dance floor and I well never forget the thump of the bass fiddle of Ernest Heavrin's band. That bass could be heard above all the noise of the crowd and the creek anywhere on the grounds. There were refreshment stands for all the goodies that a kid liked. Lemonade with real ice, ice cream, hot dogs, cracker jacks and a fish pond-a canvas enclosure with no top where one would put a nickel in a tin cup and hold the cup attached to a pole and line over into the pond and when the line was tugged on, pull it back out and lo! a prize of some small toy. A kid could soon run through his resources at a place like this and would go hunt mom or dad for refinancing. One would come home tired and worn out, dirty but full of goodies.
There was not a county fair in Meade Co. until I got out of high school. However there was a county wide celebration every fall sponsored by the county schools and the board of education that we called a school rally. Competition of various sorts was provided, both athletically and scholastically and posters and handiwork were displayed and judged. The highlight of the whole festivity was the march and yells and songs. Every school in the county would participate in the school march and practice and plan for weeks at our school in preparation for the big day.
Sixty or so schools would gather at the top of the hill at the "Pool house" (where Big O tire co. is now) and line up, 2 abreast by school, with the tallest in front, carrying a banner proudly proclaiming our school name. Sometimes a school would be in costume representing a famous American or such. The march would finally start. The school superintendent and school board and other dignitaries leading off and going down Broadway to Main street, turning down Main street to the water trough and returning to the start. Going down hill was a breeze. With school groups yelling, singing and the short kids running to catch up to their older group. It was fun until we staggered back up Main street to Broadway again, most of the steam had been used up and most of the fires were out, yells and songs were noticeably infrequent and some of the first and second grades had already tired out and straggled. Afterward we attended contests in song, composition, spelling, running, jumping, and generally having a ball. We would come home tired and worn out but happy.
Generally in September several of us would go to the KY state fair at the west end of Louisville. This was my big day and I looked forward to the state fair to get a chance to look at all the farm machinery and especially tractors and engines.
The old fairgrounds was where Roy C. Wayne Supply and the trotting horse race track off Algonquin Parkway is and was a beautiful place with trees, pathways and benches and tables under shade for picnics. The KY State Nursery was situated there also. The forestry branch of the then Dept. of Conservation had an office there. It was a log cabin, I was fascinated by that. Horse shows in the arena, a free show in front of the "grandstand" overlooking the race track and a spectacular fireworks display afterward plus the access to too many hotdogs, soft drinks, bananas, popcorn and excitement. All this was topped by one of the greatest head and belly aches that a kid could handle.
We enjoyed various types of recreation when I was growing up. I didn't know it was recreation, it was just a break in the routine. Every household had some sort of firearm, a shotgun or rifle and sometimes both and perhaps 2 or 3 of each. These guns were as much of a tool as the butcher knife or pitchfork. I am sure that a gun wasn't looked upon as a weapon for protection because a house or barn was never locked. Tools and equipment were left unlocked and nothing was stolen except a few chickens now and then. I grew up around guns and with guns. At a very early age I got an air gun that shot BBs and could shoot frogs and English sparrows and black birds with it. At around 11 or 12 years Dad got me a 22 rifle, a slide action repeater. Dad had a 12 gauge double barreled shotgun that I was about 1/2 afraid of because it almost kicked me flat the first time Dad let me shoot it at a rabbit. I got the rabbit but the thrill went with the shot that killed it. I never got used to the gun's kick even when grown. My Uncle Lauren Miller had a 16 gauge light barrel shot gun that he would let me use sometimes. I think he knew what would happen if I shot. We were squirrel hunting, the dogs treed a squirrel upon a large white oak tree. Lauren handed me his 16 gauge. I was about 13 then and still pretty light. Anyway I put the gun to my shoulder and pointed it up the tree on the squirrel and pulled the trigger. Never in my life did I get such a gun kick. I stood up under the rebound OK but my shoulder and neck was sore for a week afterward. Dad and Lauren laughed. I wanted to cry, it hurt so but I didn't. I never liked that particular gun afterward. I did get the squirrel.
I guess that as guns were as common as the chopping ax, for instance, our training of the use of guns was as simple as using the ax. We were cautioned not to chop a foot, don't fall down on an ax and don't leave it with the sharp edge sticking up. Our gun training was as simple. Don't point a gun at anything that you don't want to shoot, don't carry a gun over your shoulder and "an empty gun won't kill you, thinking one is will".
We knew a gun could kill but it never occurred to us that it could kill humans, unless accidentally. Guns were used to hunt with and were used for that. I loved to hunt and when I got my rifle it went with me constantly. I carried a rifle on the cultivator when plowing corn to shoot at crows. A crow, by the way, could accurately guess the range of a 22 LR (long rifle) as I never shot one while riding the cultivator. I hunted every chance I got and the neighbor boys and I have spent many an hour in the woods and fields hunting rabbits, crows and squirrels. We didn't quail or dove hunt for some reason. Occasionally someone would come in the country to hunt "birds" with a pointer of setter and some of us would hunt with these people but for some reason bird dogs didn't gain any popularity until later. We had farm dogs, stock and watch dogs that would naturally hunt and some were good. A tree dog was highly regarded, so was a possum dog, one which would hunt at night but no one kept a specialized dog on the farm. One man I remember had a yard full of fox hounds which ran the ridge at night, but Mom classed a man with fox hounds as being shiftless or "sorry", so we had to get by with the farm dog as our hunting dog.
Hunting for game was fun and the game we killed augmented the meat on the table.
The same applied to fishing, frogging and turtle hunting. Some called this sport, but to us farm folk, it was a means of supplementing our diet while relieving the monotony of work.
One who discovered a bee tree was filled with anticipation of what was in the tree and a day was picked to cut the tree. Sometimes several trees would be found and a day of bee tree cutting would be celebrated. Armed with saws, axes, tubs, and buckets, a bee hive and a smoker, we would go to the woods about mid morning and start cutting the tree. Sometimes the bees were docile, other times they would almost run you out of the woods. These bees were wild bees, bees that had escaped from a hive and taken up in a tree or probably swarmed from another tree. Getting honey was important, but the main object in cutting a bee tree was to capture the swarm and remove it nearer to the farmstead. The honey and brood combs in a bee tree were usually mixed together. Therefore most tree honey was dark and mixed up with brood especially when a 40 or 50 foot tree was cut and crashed to the ground.
It was an exciting time when the tree was finally cut and fell for both the cutter and the bees. Some bee stings were expected and received but by using the bee smoker constantly the bees calmed down and if one was lucky enough to spot the queen bee you could soon drive the swarm into their new home and by placing some brood cells and honey cells in the hive the bees would generally stay.
The honey we collected was put to a very good use at the dinner table. I ate too much fresh honey while robbing a hive and it made me sick and for a long time I didn't care for honey, until a great uncle, hearing my excuse for not eating honey, said "Put a little salt on your honey and eat a small bit and you'll get to liking it again". It worked.
We had parties and around Christmas and New Years was the week that was party time and visiting time, to go somewhere and spend the day with 2 or 3 families of neighbors. On summer Sundays there were kin and neighbors who would come and eat dinner. Afterward the young people would go gather flowers or berries and the old people would sit in the shade and talk and digest the dinner.
Some of the games we played were drop the handkerchief, fox and the walnut, dare base, and prisoner's base. Crack the whip was pretty dangerous to the smaller kids and especially on ice. In winter when the ice would hold skaters up we would skate for hours. Sometimes some one would announce a skating party and we would gather at a pond and skate and play for hours. Some one would bring popcorn or cookies and later would gather around a bonfire or go to a home and have refreshments.
We were teenagers before we discovered rook cards. There were parties called "Play parties", square dancing with no music. Dancing without the benefit of music was OK but dancing to music was sinful and therefore forbidden. We didn't do it. Anything out of the norm or anything that wasn't customary was talked about and in a few days the word was pretty well passed along in the neighborhood. Therefore there weren't many infractions made of the general rule. Respect for one's elders was paramount. I don't recall any of us neighborhood kids resisting these rules or of very many breaking them.
One game that we boys played at school recess that eliminated any girl participation was "Ole sow". Four or five boys would make a team. To play the game you needed 5 players and 5 holes in the ground, 4 of them in a square with the 5th one in the center of the square, 5 pretty hefty clubs three feet long and one tin can or small bucket. This was the sow. One player was out. He was the man who drove his "sow" with the aid of his club to the "pen" i.e. the hole in the center of the square. Sounds simple doesn't it? Remember the other 4 players? they are standing leaning on their clubs with the ends of each in a hole in each corner. Their intention is to keep you from driving your sow to the pen. Therefore just as you plan to hit the last lick and knock the can into the center hole, one smart alec knocks the sow away. If your shin gets in the way of the club, that is just a hazard of a sow driver. If you can put the end of your club in the opponent's hole while he is swinging, he has to drive the sow back and if he gets past the four and does succeed in getting the sow in the pen and setting his foot on it and saying "1 2 3", he is the winner and can limp off to "books". It was a good game rather hard on tin cans and shins but was one of many such that we knew and played.
Another game that I liked was "Granny" or "Roll the hole". On a flat place was dug out four holes about 4" across. Three holes were about 4 feet apart, the 4th one was further away, this was "Granny". Why it was named such I never knew. To play: 3 feet from hole one was a line drawn in the dirt. This was "dead line". With your taw marble you shot from this line toward hole one. If you failed to make hole one, your opponents took their turn. Whoever made a hole could "span out" from there (a hands length) and shoot for the next hole or one had the option of "killing" his opponent causing him to start over by shooting the opponents taw but only after making the first hole. One "kill" to each player was allowed only after another hole was made. Being the first to reach "granny" with his taw was declared the winner.
A popular marble game was played by men and older boys called ring men. We played this game in a hallway of a barn on rainy, fall or winter days. Four or more could play. Marbles, 5 of them an inch or more in diameter. The best ones were of stone and hand made from limestone about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2" in diameter and were highly prized. Some were made of baked clay and colored. The "taw" could be glass or stone or clay about 3/4 to an inch in diameter.
To play the game, a space was smoothed off in the barn hallway and the ringmen were placed in a square, one at each corner with the fifth marble in the center. The square was about 16" each way. A deadline was drawn in the dust approximately three feet from the square and a taw line about ten feet from the dead line. You shot or pitched your taw from behind this line. Methods of winning the game were agreed upon before beginning to play. We played for the "middler", for corner and middler or "clean ring". If a player on his initial toss, hit and knocked out the middle marble from the ring, he won the game. One had to shoot so as to land his taw forward of the dead line, if not, he lost his turn. When a marble was hit out of the ring, the player could continue shooting until he missed, another would get his turn. One of the game rules allowed a player to "shoot" his opponent thereby eliminating him from the game after getting into the playing area (forward of the dead line). Sometimes 2 players would "partner" one helping the other win the game. This game required practice and skill and some players were good enough to consistently knock out the middle marble during the initial pitch from "taw". Many an hour was killed on rainy days playing this game. I don't know of anyone that even knows how to play, let alone doing it now.
We pitched horseshoes, some played croquet and the only card game that every one played was Rook. Other games (that) were played with cards was flinch, casino and a card matching game--500 rummy. Casino and rummy required a poker deck or "spotted cards" and most homes forbade these playing cards even being brought into the house. "Gambling cards". A game called "jacks" was popular in school recess at "Shumate" one winter, I remember.
When growing up, we took our play where we found it. Sometimes it got rough. Wrestling for one. Corn cob fights could get out of hand. A corn cob fight was nothing more than throwing corn cobs at each other until one or the other got "run out'. A wet, water soaked corn cob could be an almost deadly missile.
Where I grew up were plenty of woods, consequently we learned to hunt, explore and there wasn't a tree, rock ledge, sink hole or cave for miles around that we didn't know about. I would hunt every chance I could get. Guns on Sunday weren't permitted therefore a bunch of us boys and their dogs would go to the woods on Sundays armed with nothing but rocks and a pocket knife. The dogs would put a squirrel up a tree and we would throw rocks until the squirrel left the tree or was knocked out. Generally we would come home with a squirrel or two for supper. For some reason we didn't hunt ground hogs much, cover was too plentiful I guess and we wouldn't see many. Occasionally we would see one run into his burrow and we would try digging or smoking him out. Crow hunting was fun but required some skill and we used shot guns and try to shoot crows on the wing. In May when the young crows left the nest but couldn't fly well one could catch a young one and tie a string to his foot and carry the other end to a blind. With his shotgun ready the hunter would jerk the string attached to the crow foot and the young crow would set up such a clamor that all the crows in the country would gather over the area cawing and flying around. One could get two or three crows sometimes this way before the old ones got wise and left. Usually the young crow-was let go also. Crows weren't bad birds, they were a nuisance. They would pull up young corn to eat the seed grain, occasionally steal one of Mom's chicks, raid a turkey nest for the eggs, etc., but they had a living to make also. We just hated them because they were there.
Our barn, like many others , attracted pigeons and now you seldom see pigeons around farms. They have gone to the city like the (Negroes). We would have a pigeon shoot once in a while. The barn would get full of pigeons. Their feathers and droppings would get in the hay in the barn and just about ruin the feed. We would try shooing the pigeons with shotguns and they couldn't fly any better than a dove. Their flight was erratic and to hit a flying pigeon didn't require skill, if you hit one, it was pure luck. We would dress the kill if it was large enough and Mom would make a pigeon and biscuit pie. It was good, too.
Sometimes a bunch of us would go caving. The country was of cavernous limestone makeup and aside from a few short running springs all the streams had cut their way below the surface of the ground and left caves and sinkholes above. Any hole big enough to get into was explored. Sometimes we would find a pretty good cave, most were not, but the ones that were good were visited time and again.
I learned to know trees, the names and uses of them at an early age and could identify one at a glance. I learned some woods plants and flowers but as Dad couldn't or didn't identify a lot of woods plants and I didn't know very many. Ginseng, for instance, was plentiful where I lived but I couldn't identify it until I left home. Some tenant hands living on farms in the neighborhood augmented their income by digging and drying various roots and herbs.
I would set traps and snares in the winter for varmints to supplement my money for shotgun and rifle shells. I don't know if I had enough left to buy anything else or not. We would hunt rabbits and sell them at the store as trade for gun shells and cartridges. I guess James Hicks and I shot thousands of rounds of 22 longs and long rifles in our boyhood days. We got to be pretty good shots and could name the place on the target and hit it.
Remember this. At that time there were no roads to go any where to if we had a way to get there. We had horses, of course, but one couldn't travel very far horseback in one afternoon, therefore our recreation was where we found it. I loved every bit of it and have a small amount of pity for a youngster today that doesn't enjoy the freedom we had and the things we had. Space to run in, game to hunt and the freedom to roam the whole countryside. If a man looked across his fields and saw a couple of boys hunting or fishing or going swimming, all he would think was "there go them Stith boys or Harold and James or Harold and Bill or some other bunch". He knew we were not going to shoot toward the house, or leave a gate open, or chase his livestock, or ride his fences down. When we crossed the property was pretty much like we found it. Perhaps an apple was copped from his tree or a watermelon taken from his patch but that was-expected. If you happened around his house at meal time he expected you to sit at his table and eat.
I have mentioned before the general layout of the terrain surrounding my home, 2/5 or perhaps more of the land was forested. Generally these forests were on ridges. The land was cleared up to the top of the less steep parts of the hill. Immediately above the cleared ground was a rocky area, above that a ledge and above a ledge a dividing ridge of various widths. These ridges were generally pocked with caves and sinks and these holes and ledges were where varmints lives. So were hollow trees, fence rows and sink holes in and along side fields used by varmints.
We were aware of the wild animals and generally (knowing) where they lived, we would see these varmints frequently. There were foxes, both red and gray, opossums, ground hogs, raccoons and of course squirrels and rabbits; various kinds of birds, from the quail to crow to hawk, all kinds of song birds and barn pigeons, etc. They had their place and fit into their own lifestyle. Foxes would make an occasional raid on Mom's turkey flock and cut out one; a chicken hawk would swoop down on a young flock of chickens and carry off one. Aside from the loss of a few chicks or poults, these varmints weren't too much of a nuisance. However we did hunt them as predators. We would come out second best on these hunts usually, also.
The Hardaway "boys" Truman and Carroll and their cousin Fletcher Scott (see map of neighborhood) had coon and fox hounds, the only ones that doubled as farm dogs also. They loved to hunt coons and chase foxes.
Somewhere on the ridge that separated our small valley from the main Stith's valley lived a large red fox. He or she was a beauty. I had seen it several times early in the morning and late in the evening. It had a red cast to its hair, black nose and feet and a white throat and tail tip. One could approach it closely on horseback if a dog wasn't along and the varmint would lay in wait for the turkeys to come off the roost and try to steal one from the flock at dawn. Sometimes "he" would be sociable. Other times the dog would give chase. Mom would hear via telephone of raids made by a red fox on other flocks. We figured it was the same fox because of the nearness of other raids and the fact that all these raids seemed to center on or near the same ridge and never too far from the woods thereon.
Fletcher and the Hardaways would turn their hounds loose on this fox's trail to give the dogs a run. Where I lived was near the center of the circle made by the fox and the hounds. On a winter afternoon, I would hear the hounds come off the ridge north of the Hardaway place and head NW across the bottom "above" Dooleys to the ridge west of our house. One would hear the hounds go up the ridge to a clearing then later the hounds would come from the woods and east up a branch in the Shumate bottom into the hollow and back to the ridge southeast and the chase would end then about where it started. Now, here is what I observed one time and I will relate it to you like I saw it. There have been numerous stories written of the cruelty of a bunch of hounds chasing one little fox and how the fox was harassed to sometimes death by the cruel hounds.
One evening in late winter I heard the fox hounds leave the south ridge and cross the lower bottom to the NW ridge and could hear the dogs going north on the ridge apparently taking the usual route as before. Thinking I night get a glimpse of the chase, I walked out between the barn and house where I could see the length of the Shumate bottom and I saw the fox come out into the clearing at the top of the bottom and make for the draw. The fox was running, but not hard, he paused before entering the draw and looked back then dropped down in the draw and I could not see him for a while. I kept watching and about halfway up the drain, the fox came out and up on the bottom and stopped and looked back and appeared to be listening for the hounds. They showed from out of the trees and were headed for the draw, on the fox's trail. The fox, apparently assured that the dogs were still chasing him, ran a few yards and apparently found a field mouse trail, followed it a bit and looking back once more, ran from my sight. I listened for the dogs and watched them out of sight also, when finally on the ridge from where the chase began, it ended and I heard a horn calling the dogs home. I am convinced that both the fox and the dogs had a good chase, had their fun and exercise and settled in for a good nights rest for another chase another day. Neither the chasers or the chased seemed to take their part seriously and the hound owner looked forward to another day of hound music.
I lived one winter in the river bottom above Brandenburg where Olin is now, and heard Jim Biggerstoff's hounds chasing a fox for three days from off the river hills across the bottom again and again. I heard Everett Powell, who lived on the Thad Wilson place, (who) saw both the fox and the hounds one time and they were so tired that they were all walking, the fox followed by the hounds but the chase was still on. Perhaps it was a game with them also.
On winter evenings some of us would go "possum" hunting. Equipped with a lantern, flashlight, rifle and the dogs we would take to the fields and woods. The dogs would be hunting a trail, we hoped. Sometimes, when taking a break, we would listen for the dogs and sometimes we would hear them panting, sitting just outside the rim of light from the lanterns, wondering when we were going back to the house, other times we would hear the dogs barking "treed" a long way off. We would give chase, running into trees, gullies and getting slapped in the face by a tree limb being held by the guy in front of you and turned loose of just before you could grab it. When the tree was reached and breath caught up again, anticipation and hopes ran high. "Whose got the flashlight?" "Shine up in the tree." "See what's up there!" Sometimes there would be a coon, maybe two, mostly a pint sized possum, sometimes a big possum or a house cat out hunting and hearing the dogs, took to a tree. The hunt and the treeing was the climax. The varmint was the bonus. Sometimes these hunts were successful and would net 3 or 4 good pelts to cure for sale. Some guys supplemented their income hunting and trapping in winter.
One time while hunting with a bunch of school friends from Brandenburg, 3 or more girls were in the bunch, came home with us for the weekend and we decided to go hunting on Friday night. It seemed as if the Shumate girls and Bill were along also. We left the house and proceeded through a grown up field heading for the woods when the dogs gave chase to something and caught it on the ground. It was a skunk. The dogs failed to make an immediate kill and the city girls ran right into the midst of the fracas and got a full dose. The hunt was immediately terminated and the most of the balance of the night was spent in standing in a smudge made of cedar smoke to dilute the skunk odor. The girls and Sis spent most of Saturday washing themselves and their clothes in vinegar water and on Monday one could still detect a faint skunk odor around where we were.
The coming of electricity, the end of drudgery. 1937-1950
It would be hard for members of the now generation to comprehend living without the benefit of refrigeration, light, electric heat and air conditioning and hot and cold running water. These and other conveniences that we take as a matter of course now days were not so old that many of us in our 60's remember the not so good old days and the drudgery that we encountered to live.
Everyone living in the country and small villages enjoyed the same living conditions and these were fairly simple and only the bare essentials were required to thus live and make a living. We knew no better and it was not possible for it to get better therefore, we didn't fret about it and did with what we had to do with.
Our home were heated with wood grown on the farm and a wood burning range was used to cook our food and heat our bath water. A fire was built outdoors in the warmer weather under an iron kettle filled with water and our clothes were boiled in this with homemade lye soap to loosen the dirt. The clothes were then scrubbed clean on a wash board or at best a hand or foot powered washing machine and hung on a clothesline for the sun to dry.
Two or three meals a day winter and summer were cooked on a wood burning stove which was also fired up to heat the smoothing irons to press the clothes. Any food processing, canning, was also done on this wood burning cooking stove.
The housewife's base of operation was the farm kitchen and the cooking stove was the most prominent part of the kitchen. The food we ate was raised on the place prepared and cooked and the surplus was canned and processed on the wood range. Food that wasn't canned or processed was either dried, cured or stored in the cellar and buried in straw lined holes in the garden or backyard. Nearly everyone had fruit trees, grape and berry vines and access to some wild fruits and berries. All this was used and or preserved for winter use in some fashion or manner. We raised our own meat-- pork was the staple meat. One 200 lb. hog, per person in the family, was butchered and cured for winter use. We rendered the surplus fat and trimmings for shortening and sausage was made and canned or smoked and cured. The fresh cuts and organs were consumed immediately but hams, shoulders and sides were cured various ways and used at leisure. My dad was an excellent butcher and he had good success with his meat carving.- Butchering time began about Thanksgiving Day and we usually killed one or two hogs then. The latter butchering was near the end of December if the temperature was right, 40-50 deg. for a few days was considered right. Dad wouldn't want his fresh killed meat to freeze and he would never kill unless the temp. was just about freezing or a little above. He would cut the carcass into 6 pieces, i.e. the shoulders, sides and hams and lay them out flat overnight and let the meat cool out before trimming and shaping. He always turned out an attractive looking cut of trimmed meat and I seldom, if ever, failed to have a tender sweet tasting bacon or ham. Mom's sugar cured hams couldn't be beat by any ham seen since. After curing 6 or 8 weeks the hams and bacon would be remove from the cure and washed in warm water and sprinkled with a preserving compound and sometimes smoked with hickory or apple wood for 3 days and rewrapped and hung from the beams in the smoke house and forgot about until needed.
There was no more fresh meat, and (aside) from rabbits, squirrels and an occasional old hen, until frying chicken time around July first.
Everyone kept chickens. A flock of chickens, hens and roosters had the run of the place and generally pecked up their own living with the help of a few grains of home grown corn to supplement their diet. The chickens had a house with roosts and nest boxes. It was a cold drafty unheated shed and eggs in winter were very rare because thy used all their food to just survive.
In spring when all the rest of the birds would lay eggs the hens would also and sometimes we had a surplus of eggs and would get to eat a few. Mom accumulated 4 or 5 settings of eggs and would place 12 or 15 eggs under a broody hen and hatch chicks. These chicks would run outside with their mother and be fed and sheltered. After 8 or 10 weeks these survivors were large enough to make fried chickens out of. We usually had fried chickens around the 4th of July along with the first tomatoes from the garden. As there were no means of freezing or curing chickens, all were dressed when needed and one had to bring on a second or third hatch to provide for a constant supply of frying size chickens. Visiting preachers and uncles and cousins from the city seemed to always know when the chickens got to frying size and would come to consume them. The surviving chickens were kept to perpetuate the species next year.
In later years we developed a wood fired brooder type of stove and ordered day old chicks via mail order from an Indiana hatchery. One could get a hundred of these chicks in a box for about $5.00 and place them in a warm house and feed them a growing mash, especially designed for this purpose, and grew a fryer to 2 1/2 or 3 lbs. in about 8 weeks.
One seldom sees many chickens on a farm now unless the farm specializes in chickens 10,000 or 100,000 at a time.
We raised and kept milk cows and used home grown milk for family use and from this came cream, butter and buttermilk and clabber cheese. To keep milk cool and to prevent souring, it was kept in crocks or stone jars in the spring house or in our case, hung on a platform suspended partway in the cistern that stored our drinking water. To some this may sound odd but storing milk and butter was a problem that was solved thusly. It worked. I recall Grandma Miller's milk was always "blinky" because the cellar she stored her milk in was not quite cool enough. It wasn't good.
Our lights after dark, especially in winter, were kerosene lamps which gave out a feeble yellow glow of light about 6 or 8 feet from its source. There was a lamp for every room sometimes a lamp would be carried from one room to another. A daily ritual was to clean the chimney, trim the wick and fill with kerosene. Us kids would study by this light and Mom and Dad would read the newspaper by it. It was a dim feeble light but sufficient. My sisters had a curling iron that was heated by putting the iron over the flame to "frizzle' their hair.
Kerosene lamps could be dangerous and nowadays there would be endless pages of precautions and instructions as to the operation of one and anyone under 12 years old would probably be denied the privilege of filling and lighting one let alone being allowed to move it or use it away from where adults were, but at a very early age we kids were using lamps and kerosene lanterns and when I was 4 or 5 years old an aunt gave me a #1/2 Dietz lantern for Christmas and I would light, fill and carry it when I was out after dark. I still have this lantern. As I have before stated, we seemed to be allowed to use tools and do things that we thought we could handle at a very early age.
I bought a battery powered radio about 1937 or so . It was the best radio I have ever owned. It got stations from Denver to New York and from Texas to Michigan and furnished us with endless hours of good entertainment.
We lived and worked in this environment with entertainment as we found it. Summertime was work time and we would start at daylight and quit at dark, sit and rest a few minutes after supper and go to bed as soon as it got dark to rest and sleep until dawn and get at it again. As there was no air conditioning and fans, we slept where it was a cool breeze. I slept on a porch up stairs mostly. One summer I had a cot in the grape arbor in the yard. Usually one was so tired he could sleep anywhere.
Baths were frequent in the summertime mostly because dust and grime had to be removed before getting into bed. They would be taken usually outside standing in a #2 washtub in cold water or if you thought about putting some water in a container that AM and leaving it in the sun all day, one could take a bath with warm water.
Saturday night baths were a wintertime ritual. Water would be heated in the cooking stove reservoir while supper was being prepared and a tub would be carried in and set in the middle of the kitchen and a bath was taken, new fresh underwear was laid out, fresh overalls were put on the next day and one was good for another week. I don't remember if anyone had "B. O." or not. Everybody smelled alike as far as I knew.
There came a rumor in the county about 1937 of rural electricity being established by a federal agency so as to provide electric current to farm people and small towns. Everybody was skeptical about this because it was impossible for current to be run out in the county where homes were half mile or more apart. We couldn't afford it even if it happened.
A co-op was formed in Meade Co. and a loan was approved and granted, construction of lines were started and about 28 miles of elect. power lines were built. It came into Stith Valley as far as the Hardaway place from across the field from Big Spring road at Hall school to Uncle Allen's place. It was a 66000 volt AC line and Uncle Allen, Sig Shacklette, John Williams, F.M. Scott, Roy Payne, Ike Hicks and Carroll and Truman Hardaway were the first houses wired in our neighborhood. Two years later another loan was procured and more feeder lines were built. I recall the day that the line from Dooley's place was surveyed and staked out to our house past it to Wilbur and Henry Shumate's place. A few weeks later the line was constructed along the survey and we had George Neff to wire our house for electricity. I helped. The whole job including the light fixtures and bulbs cost the huge sum of $60.00. I am not kidding about the cost. Sixty dollars in the 1930's was a lot of money. Mom's turkey money paid for it.
We got electricity power turned on in July of 1939. I remember waiting until dark and we turned on every light in the house and went outside and looked at it in awe and wonder. Dad said "It looks like a hotel". I guess it did. I don't remember seeing a hotel but the brightest lights in the world showed from every window and it looked wonderful.
A minimum charge of $3.00 per month for 40 kilowatts was the initial rate. We bought a washing machine and refrigerator the first thing. It was a great feeling to have iced tea anytime you wanted it. Ice water to carry to field and ice cream. Every recipe for ice cream known was tried and tested. Milk, cream, and butter was cool and fresh refrigerated. Jello could be made in summer even. The millennium had arrived. I traded my battery radio for an electric one and haven't had a real good radio since.
We didn't buy too many appliances but Mom did get an iron and an electric toaster perhaps, but we were so thrilled with what we had and they were so much of an improvement over what we had used that we needed nothing else.
We never dreamed of farm people using freezers, cooking on electric ranges and hot plates and having air conditioning to sleep by. First off, some of these things hadn't been invented and if they were available, we couldn't afford them. Thus far we had come a long way and there was not much change in farm lifestyle until after World War II. Now we would be totally helpless if the electric current would go off and stay off any length of time. Our house would get cold, we would have no water, we couldn't cook, the frozen food would thaw, refrigerated food would spoil and the biggest tragedy of all, the T.V. wouldn't work.
Butchering and Curing Meat
I recall a time or two when our neighborhood formed a "beef club". When October arrived and the days were dry and sunny and the frost was imminent, insects had slowed their activities, it was a curing time of ripened fruits of our crops. Therefore the beef club got active. Eight families usually made up a club or ring, each agreeing to butcher a calf or cow one time during the 8 week duration of the period.
Someone was in charge of keeping record of the beef distributed: the weight and the part each party received each week and agreements were made by the parties involved as to the size and weight of each animal killed and the difference computed and paid off in cash to equalize the responsibility. They also agreed on weight limits of each animal killed. They usually ran from 600 to 800 lbs. per animal, that is those we butchered were, as I remember it.
The butchering was done on a Friday afternoon by the one who furnished it and to speed up the process, a neighbor or two would come to help. The cow would be stunned, bled and when pronounced dead, we started skinning the hind legs and finding the big leader above the hock, run a crowbar or some heavy pipe through both legs and start hoisting the carcass on a 3-legged tripod of 12 or 14' 2 x 4s in such a way that as the hide was pulled off, the carcass was hanging free and the entrails could then be removed. The feet and tail and head were removed and the backbones sawed apart lengthwise, then you had two halves. These were laid on a table and cut apart between the 11th and 12th rib into quarters, each quarter being about equal weight. It took an expert to halve the quarters into 1/8ths, but one man, Fletcher Scott, was the best I ever saw as the wt. seldom varied more than 2 pounds between each eighth. Records were kept of who got what; i.e. top half of fore quarter, bottom half of same, top half of hindquarter etc. One never got the same piece twice. But at the end of the 8 weeks that cattle were butchered, a family would have consumed a whole cow.
In 1930's, there was no refrigeration so the beef was hung in a cool dark place and shrouded in cheese cloth and a chunk cut off as needed. The meat would dry on the surface and if properly cooled would keep well and as it was naturally aged and cured, and believed to have a better taste.
There would be steaks, roasts and plain boiled or fried beef, if you wished some ground, (put) it in sausage grinder for hamburger. When the beef got down to only what was left on the bone, we chipped this off and made hash which was good.
Facts about the beef that we used:
A 600 lb. calf would dress out about 1/2. That was almost true in most instances. A beef type of Shorthorn, Hereford, Angus etc. may dress out slightly more. Dairy types Jersey, Holstein, etc. would dress generally 1/2. Beef from a dairy cow to me was a better quality beef but the tallow (fat) especially was yellow and there was no difference in the quality of the fat, but most people who killed beef were used to the white tallow of a beef type animal.
Beef will cure or dry more readily than pork, because beef fat is distributed within the muscle tissue and in a thin layer under the skin and can easily be separated from the layers of muscle.
Beef cut in these steps and cured and dried with salt and pepper can be eaten raw (jerky) or cooked with vegetables.
Hog butchering- Pork Curing
When the month of November was turned over on the calendar, all growing of crops, gardens and plant life had ceased and the vegetables we used were harvested and stored. It was time to think of butchering and curing one's winter meat generally or mostly pork as it could be cured and processed in various ways. We raised our hogs and fed them on corn that we also grew on the farm.
The pigs we used for butchering were born in May of that year and ran with their mother sow 6 to 8 weeks and by then were 40 lb. shoats which were fed on skin milk and ground wheat or ear corn if there was any new corn. Come about late September 6 pigs were kept out for feeding for our meat, the rest were shipped to market.
By this time, late Nov., these animals weighed from approx. 225-240 lbs., a weight my father considered an ideal weight. We butchered one around Thanksgiving usually on Thanksgiving afternoon. It seems that us and the Shumate neighbors would have a rabbit hunt in the morning and plan to butcher a hog that afternoon.
The hog or hogs were taken away from feed the night before however allowed water in preparation for this. We built a fire under a big iron kettle filled with water and (it) was heating while planks were hunted up and laid on a pair of saw horses. A 55 gallon barrel was procured and leaned along side the platform and a pole laid head high in a tree or two forked posts, knives sharpened, buckets and tubs got together. The meat house had been cleaned and readied before hand.
The water had started to boil, everything was ready so go get the hog. All four of us went to the hog pen, one man got out a mule already harnessed and hooked him to a low sled and led it out to the hog pen where maybe the animal had already been shot, stuck and ready to roll over on the sled to take to the scalding platform.
The butchering job had been done by us and the Shumates so many times that it was monotonous to watch. Not much time was spent arguing or deciding who was going to do what. The boiling water was dipped out of the kettle and poured in the barrel, 2 buckets of boiling water to one of cold water in proportion until the barrel was bout half full of 180-185 deg. water. The hog carcass was placed head first into the barrel, allowed to rest there about 30 seconds, then taken by the back legs and sloshed up and down 3 or three times at the same time turning it completely around in the barrel and pulled out and let "air" awhile. One could take hold of a fore foot and press his palm against the dew claw and push on it. If it slipped off, the scald was good and we started removing the hair or most of it. Someone added another bucket of hot water to the barrel, stirred it, the carcass was rinsed and the other half of the carcass was scalded the same way and then the hair was all removed and scraped until the skin was bereft of any hair.
In the meantime, one man or boy refilled the kettle, sometimes we had two kettles, chunked up the fire and swept of the platform. After the carcass was hung, it was again washed, scraped and thoroughly cleaned and allowed to dry. Sometimes the head was removed before hanging on the pole because washing made it wet underneath the scaffold. Also the carcass weighed less and if any blood was left inside it had an opportunity to drain out. While one man was removing the entrails another was getting water hot, the other two went to get another hog and the process was repeated in this manner until completed.
When all carcasses were cleaned, dressed (gutted), the platform was washed, the fires allowed to die, water poured out, perhaps platform moved to a dryer place, the cutting up began. The carcass was placed on the platform, a cut made down the-back, turned on its back and with an ax the back bone was chopped loose from the hams and ribs and shoulders, cutting as close to the backbone as possible. A good job, with a few cuts, would be able to lift out the backbone in one piece and you would have two halves of the carcass.
Leaf fat on the intestine side of the ribs was peeled out and placed in a container provided and the loin strip removed in a single step and laid on a clean surface (carried into the kitchen usually), ribs were peeled from the side and cut in 3 or 4 places along the length and placed in a clean place, then a cut was made just forward of the ham and behind the shoulders. You then had six pieces of untrimmed meat which was placed on tables in the meat house to be cooled until the next day.
In the meantime, the head was butchered out, the liver, heart, sweetbread (pancreas) was separated from the entrails and the fat on the entrails removed and the entrails and lungs were discarded.
The jowl was cut from the head, lower jaw removed and the brain cavity opened and brain removed and laid to be used for head cheese or souse. The feet were used also or eaten as such.
Not much of the carcass was wasted and we were hungry for fresh meat and it was soon consumed. We had fresh liver and heart cooked and a thickening made of flour and milk with pepper and salt on biscuits was just downright good. Fried liver and onions was hard to beat also. Mom cold packed the ribs and tenderloin in jars and sealed until a special occasion or for a quick meal or in case of unexpected company.
Curing and preserving--making sausage.
Pork was a meat that could be cured and would keep for a good period of time without refrigeration if properly done. First off, my dad did not butcher big, old hogs. The ones we put up weighed about 200-225 lbs. and were about 5 or 6 months old. As I have before mentioned, the carcass was relieved of ribs, feet, head, backbone and reduced to six pieces per carcass-two shoulders, 2 sides and two hams. These were placed flat on a table not touching in the smoke house overnight to cool. The ideal temperature is between 30 & 40 degrees, not allowing the meat to freeze but to thoroughly cool. Hence the idea of a small, not too fat hog.
The next morning, dad would, with the well sharpened knives and a meat saw would trim or dress up the meat for curing. Generally he would start on the sides, 2 square pieces about 18-20" X 2" thick, a whole side from the middle of the back to the middle of the belly. He would take off the about 5" of the top fat and cut a strip about the same off the belly, always taking enough off to not have the teats on the bacon. He would then trim the 2 ends even, having a slab of bacon 20 or so inches long by 12 or 14" wide, a nice piece of meat.
The portions cut from bacon would then be taken to the cutting table to (reduce to) inch or so cubes to cook for lard. In the meantime, the shoulders and hams were trimmed, removed of excess fat and lean. The top of the shoulders, he cut off taking the tip of the shoulder blade and the shoulder trimmed into a 8 X 10" or 10 X 12" or so square with the fore leg to the knee left on. These were usually salted in plain salt as were the sides. The hams were trimmed of excess lean and fat and the pelvis bone was sawed off as far as was feasible without losing too much lean meat. The hock was left on, the foot cut off above the gambrel joint. The top of the ham was rounded, a patch of skin left on the side and leg but hardly any fat showed. These hams were allowed to cool again the next night if the temp remained in the upper 30's or low 40's. More about this later.
The shoulder and ham trimmings were thrown into a #2 wash tub while the trimming was going on and if the fat cutter, usually my older sister and I did this, we would clear off the table and start on the tub of trimmings separating the fat from the lean in strips that were small enough to go through the meat grinder, being careful to remove all bone and gristle. We weighed or estimated the amount of meat to be ground and blended fat with lean about 1/4 to 3/4 (guessed weight). Too much fat made the sausage get "old" too quick and too lean meat would not cook juicy.
Sausage was allowed to stay cool while grinding because it would go through the mill better, but after grinding was kept in a warm room usually the kitchen until soft enough to add seasoning. Salt, pepper and sage was worked in and tried for taste until it was right in our opinion. Some of the sausage (about 8-10 lbs. perhaps ) was fried down, partly cooked and canned in glass jars and placed in a water bath and cooked for 1 1/2 hours. When cooked, the jars were placed on a shelf, top down, and the grease would cool and keep the sausage "sweet". Fresh sausage was packed in cotton bags and sometimes we would get beef casings (cow's small intestine) from the packing house and we would have to soak them and turn them outside in and with a 4 or 5 foot strip over the snout of the lard press we would fill the press with meat and stuff the casing into 6" lengths. It took a little skill to do this but we got to stuffing about half of our sausage in beef casings and smoking it over a hickory fire. Then when smoked, dipped the sausage in hot water with paraffin floating on top and the sausage with wax would keep well until it was all gone.
The sausage in bags was used immediately for breakfast mostly with an extra cake or two for school lunch. The sausage we made was good hot or cold.
While the sausage process was going on in the kitchen, Dad would have a small fire going outside and in a 20 lb. cast iron kettle on a stand cooking the fat into lard. We kept a very slow fire and it would take 2, 2 1/2 hours to cook out all the fat stirring steadily until rendered grease would show up among the fat particles. You never got in a hurry cooking lard because scorched fat was the vilest smelling ingredient one could encounter in a biscuit or bread or cake. We did all our cooking with lard, even fried chicken was cooked in lard, hence sweet white lard was important and ours always was.
When all the lard possible was cooked out of the fat meat, you tested it by getting a piece of fat on the end of your stirring paddle and pressing it between that and the side of the kettle. If no fat, or not much, was squeezed out, it was ready to press. The lard press was brought out, fastened to the platform we butchered on, the kettle of fat and the cracklings moved off the fire near the press, 50 lb. lard cans cleaned and dried were brought out and set under the spout of the press. A piece of cheese cloth tied over the top of the lard and and fat and cracklings were dipped up and poured in the press. When the press filled with the cracklings, pressure was applied by means of a screw pushing a piston and squeezed the last remnant of lard out of the cooked fat meat. The cake of dried fat removed from the press and you started dipping and filing again until finished. The lard cans were capped and stored until needed.
The cake of cracklings of which there were several, were sometimes run thorough the sausage mill and stored to mix with corn batter to make crackling corn bread.
The day is about done except the meat. Shoulders and bacons are laid in a salt box in layers kept apart by narrow wood slats with a fair amount of plain salt covering it. This meat was left in salt from 4 to 6 weeks depending on the temperature. If the temp. was above freezing or didn't stay frozen long 4 weeks was enough and otherwise it was left in the salt layer. When removed from salt the bacons were dipped in warm water to remove excess salt and sprinkled with a mixture of borax and red pepper to discourage skippers (maggots caused by flies laying eggs on meat). We never had this trouble because our bacon was placed in clean cotton sacks and care was taken to see that there were no holes in the sacks, and hung up in the coolest place one could.
Shoulders were given the same treatment but were usually consumed early before fly time, because of the large amount of bone in the shoulder along with considerable fat, wouldn't keep very well. We ate a good many dried beans between winter and the spring garden and many a shoulder hock went into the bean pot along with the beans.
Hams were treated with a cure made of equal parts of brown sugar and salt. One cup sugar/cup salt and to this about 2 table spoons of ground black pepper mixed and rubbed into and (then) spread on a brown paper placed over a cloth piece of which was large enough to wrap the ham in. Paper was folded over the ham after applying the cure and without disturbing the package, the cloth was placed and sewn tight around the ham and then placed in another cotton sack and hung, hock down, in the meat house to cure 6 or 8 weeks. Unless the ham was to be smoked, it remained in this package until used.
If one wanted to smoke the hams, the wrappings were removed, the hams washed in warm water and a slot cut in the skin part at the top of the ham and a wire or cord was looped in the slit to hand it, again hock downward. A tub or iron kettle partially filled with wood ashes was set in the center of the meat house under the meat hung about 6 feet above, and a chip fire of hickory, apple or sassafras or a combination was kept smoldering, not burning, for 3 or 4 days until the meat took on a russets color, a dark red.
The smoking process took time and one had to keep watch on the smoldering fire and not let it blaze, but it added a flavor that can't compare with anything. It may have also been a skipper retardant. When smoked to satisfaction, the meat was replaced in a clean cotton bag and hung until needed.
The methods my dad used to butcher and cure our seasoned meat was always good to eat and the process was successful from the stand point of never any spoilage. Mom could cut a ham or bacon side and know that it would be good. There is not any use to going to all the work and time to butcher and process meat if you don't use care and cleanliness to insure an attractive product.
Hogs--pork--not a native animal to the U.S. Probably imported by the Dutch and Germans during the early settlements. Hogs are easy to raise, compact and about all the carcass can be used and cured to keep without refrigeration. A female can have two litters from 3 to 12 a year and if plenty of food available can reach 200 lbs. in 5 or 6 months. They are and omnivorous animal therefore easily fed and can live off the land but can return quickly to the primitive state when allowed to run wild.
A country homestead was a complete unit in itself. Having of course a dwelling for the folks to live in, plus barns. Horse barns, cow barns, sheep and tobacco curing barn, a shop, corn cribs, wagon sheds, chicken houses, hog houses, meat house, wood shed and sometimes just a shed, an extra building somewhere around the place that was used for storage for hand tools, seed, old furniture or just to play in for kids. There was another structure that was of vital importance to be included in the assortment of farm buildings. The privy- outhouse - comference room- or simply john.
Some of these little buildings were a masterpiece of workmanship. They could be a miniature copy of the house, painted and weather boarded with a trellis and vine, a rough sided 4' by 6' building with wide cracks between the planks with a flimsy craggy door. Others were sided and stripped cracks, a gabled roof and a tight door that could be fastened inside as well as out.
The inside furnishings consisted of anything from a bench, about chair high, with a rough square hole in the seat to a seat of smooth boards with oval holes smoothed and planed for comfort. I even saw one that had a ground hog hide tacked over the seat with the appropriate hole in the center for the convenience of the user. Sometimes a lining of cardboard boxes and papered over with remnants of what the rooms in the house were papered with and even a picture on the wall. However this was an exception rather than a rule. The outhouse purpose was necessarily functional and the idea was to get the job done and get out. Especially important if the day was cold and windy one could soon finish the chore but he or she could also have a firm idea how to dress for the climate.
Sears Roebuck put out two catalogs about 8 or 9" X 12" and 2" thick. One spring and summer, the other fall and winter. Last year's catalog was banished to the privy and its pages were used in the finishing of the process, instead of toilet paper. (Us country folks never saw toilet paper unless we went to the city to visit kin, they mostly had bathrooms.)
If one was comfortable and had time or was affected with a condition that required effort and concentration he could improve on his education by reading the catalogs. Probably many a young teenager discovered what was worn under women's outerwear while meditating in the privy. Many a world problem was discussed by a mother and her young teen daughter and a father and son could come to an understanding about the son's latest escapade, while having their pants down. There is an expression to that effect that described and embarrassing position.
A privy was usually located at the corner of the garden or beyond the wood shed and half hidden by other structures but mainly always in direct line from the back door in case it had to be found at night. The one we had was past the woodshed and the clothesline. When, if a lady of the house was out, when and unexpected caller came, she could always gather an armload of cooking wood to stall any questions, like "Where were you?"
The eggs I refer to were chicken eggs, called "hen eggs". We raised chickens as every farm family, 30 or 50 or more, all with a sufficient set of roosters, usually one to every 10 or 15 hens.
These hens laid eggs profusely in the springtime and a hen laid 15 or 20 and then would become "broody" i.e. prone to set. A nest was prepared and 12 or 15 eggs would be placed under the broody hen and she would incubate for 3 weeks (21 days) and the eggs would hatch a bunch of chicks. Sometimes as many as 5 or more hens would be setting at the same time and possibly there would be a whole bunch of young chicks at one time. These were fed and sheltered and grown. The roosters of the young were fried and the pullets to grow into adults for the next crop of hens.
One would think that from the number of laying hens, one would have all the eggs one could eat. We did, on occasion, have eggs to eat. Mom made lots of one egg cakes, custards, would make an egg sauce for cooked rice with cream sugar in it and on Easter for breakfast we had a tradition of all the eggs for breakfast the way you wanted them cooked. In the main though, the eggs were kept in a cool place until market day and were then carried to the store and traded for needed groceries in lieu of cash, which was generally always scarce around my home. Therefore and egg for a meal, breakfast, was usually a treat.
My dad loved to eat eggs and once in a great while he and I would find a hen nest in the barn with sometimes 6 or more eggs in it. Dad wouldn't report this find to the house. Instead, when we and the Shumate boys would go fishing at nights in our pond, Dad would gather these "barn" eggs in a basket and take it to the pond, dip up some water in the egg bucket and set it over a fire and boil them and we would gorge on eggs with salt until we got full of eggs for once.
Horse Powered Farming
From the time I began remembering anything until the late 1940's and early 50's, horses and mules were the beasts of burden in farm living. They were the power to pull plows, planters, cultivators, binders, movers and the wagon to haul the harvest to storage or market. Horse power was the power for transport either by buggy or surrey or a saddle.
I always rode horseback if I had any distance to travel alone. If more than two, a buggy or surrey, 2 seated carriage was put to use. A man and boy would double up horseback one in the saddle and one on a pad in back of the saddle. Two or three kids could all pile on one horse. If Mom went along 2 horses were hitched to the surrey.
We had a barn full of horse stock. Not all were horses. Mules and colts were included in the term horses. There were usually 2 mules, 2 mares and filly colt or horse colt or two. The mares produced a colt nearly every year and when breeding the mares in the spring, a decision was made whether she be covered by a stallion or a jack, therefore a colt would sometimes be a mule colt.
We preferred, as many others, to work mules and usually all work teams I recall were teams of mules. A colt could be trained to lead, stand hitched and a few commands before he was a year old, weaned from his momma at about 6/8 months and had his freedom to grow to a collar by the third year. From then on during his lifetime he would have work harness put on nearly every day of his life up to and including 20 years or more.
Mules and horse teams along with their masters worked the farm, from preparing the land for planting, plowing a two horse walking plow one furrow at a time around a 20 acre field (many a mile many an hour), dragging it down to smooth it, disking or harrowing and making a seed bed, planting with a horse (mule), pulling planters or grain drill and cultivating corn to keep weeds and grass down until the corn grew high enough to shade the ground, then weeds and grass wouldn't give any more trouble. We let the corn finish growing and started cutting hay with a mule drawn mower; hay cured and was rolled in windrows by a horse powered hay rake. Then the mules were hooked to a wagon with a hay frame on it and the hay was loaded and hauled to a rick or the barn and stored. In the mean time one or two mules were used singly to plow cane patches, tobacco patches and the garden. Sometime during this time we hooked a team of mules to the hay wagon and helped the neighbors thresh grain in an 8 or 10 farm ring. We would help others, they in turn would help get our grain in.
These mule and horse teams never seemed to mind working every day, they were fed well, cared for and given ample rest and on Sat. night and Sundays they were allowed to run on grass and graze and loaf. I never saw that they resented being brought in to the barn Mon. AM to be harnessed for another weeks work.
Mule teams especially, were prone to develop tricks and habits to lighten their work. Some were aggravating and some funny but all of them had some quirk of behavior that all you could do is bear it. Plowing or breaking ground was a constant drag as the plow scooted under the ground about 4 to 6" and turned the (sod) over. In plowing a field one started on the outer edge and continued around and around until the field was finished-. Making square turns at the corners, the plow ran out of the unbroken ground and the mules would turn 90 degrees to start the next furrow. The mules soon learned that when the plow was going to pull out of the sod, so just before they got to the end, had an urge to stop thus causing the man to have to lift the plow around to start the next furrow, while they got a few seconds to stop and rest. There was no way that I could even out think them and get the plow placed where I wanted it before they stopped. Another trick was to play like they were afraid of sinkholes or gullies or an underground rock and it took a lot of diplomacy on the plower's part to let them do what they would but not try to force them otherwise they would get more determined than ever to aggravate you.
A mule could also tell time. A neighbor always rung her "dinner bell" about 12:30 and you could hear it a mile. A mule in our pasture could hear it too. Whenever the mules were expecting it to ring they would lag back going to the far end of the field and if it rang when coming to the near end of the field they would suddenly step up. If they doubted that their driver heard the bell one would bray.
We watered the mules before noon feeding time and would also offer them water before returning to afternoon work. A mule would put his nose into the water ever so long but if you watched he would never swallow at all. Just another trick to delay going back to work. One mule would stop while emptying his bladder, the other would stand and hold hers and stop a few steps further along and do the same thing thus killing another minute or so. A team would stand at a thresher while a person was unloading his load of bundles until they decided that you should be unloaded by now and suddenly leave the rig unless you caught it in time.
A mule seldom balked in my experience but had a mighty strong opinion of how much he wanted to pull and would paw his front hoof or twist his head around as if to look at you and say by d---, that's enough.
One summer I took a pair of green mules to the log woods loading and hauling logs to the mill. In a very short time they learned to pull and roll logs on the sled, stop, back, etc. and could find their way out of the timber without hanging or turning the load over and stop at the log landing. They wouldn't come back to you of course but they would stop and wait for you.
A one inch by one inch by 4 1/2 foot long stick of oak or other similar wood that was rived from a tree suitably designated to hang cut tobacco on for the purpose of hanging across 2 poles in a tobacco barn for the tobacco to dry or cure.
There were several hundred of these tobacco sticks on every farm that raised tobacco. As it took 800 to 900 to hang the cut plants, usually 5 to 6 plants to the sick, and there were 4000 to 5000 plants to the acre of ground.
The tobacco stick was used for that purpose only about 3 months. Other times they were ricked atop the tobacco barn tier poles which gets me into my story. Being of strong wood and dried and straight they were handy for a number of chores around the place. They were used by us kids for stick horses. My sister and I had a whole stable of stick horses. We even had a stable for them, an old chicken house no longer in use and no roof. We had put a strip of cloth, torn from a discarded garment, tied at one end of the stick for bridles and had them named. We and visiting cousins and neighbor kids, who had any imagination could have a barrel of fun with horse races and ride for miles for fun. Boys would ride a while and suddenly a stick horse would be a sword and we would play three musketeers, or it would turn into a gun and would be cowboys and Indians or Deerslayer or long hunter or soldier.
It was told by someone who knew about my grandmother when her children were young and
she would go calling, that her tribe of kids, of all sizes, went along. It was fun for the
young to go, but if it was any distance back home the smaller ones, after visiting, play,
would be too tired to walk. So it was carry me Mommy. She was probably carrying one or two
anyway so it was said she would mount the tired ones on a stick horse and the kid(s) would
exuberantly ride the rest of the way home. Grandmother probably never heard the word
psychology but she knew how it worked!
Another use for tobacco sticks was that one could use them to made small 4 X 4 foot pens set on bricks or rocks to sift out baby chicks that ran loose with mother hen from their mother so they could get at food and eat without most of it being consumed by mom. Twenty or thirty sticks were laid one atop another forming a square pen and sometimes more sticks or planks (if you had them) forming a top and a feed trough place inside. The chicks could creep through the cracks of this pen and dine unmolested.
Chicks were hatched from eggs as usually from the hen that laid them. Roosters ran with the flock to assure the eggs were fertile. When hatched 15 or so chicks were allowed to run with their mother and it was up to the little fellows to keep up. Therefore they were to be fed to grow faster.
Sometime especially about May a hen chicken would have laid her quota of eggs and go broody ( i.e., her body temperature would go into a stage where it was capable of hatching an egg). Don't ask me why or how, it's natural I guess in order to perpetuate the species.
Sometimes so many hens would go "broody" there weren't enough nests left to allow the ones still laying eggs to find a nest. So we had to build a place to isolate these broody hens to a place where they could cool off, so what would be a good place to put them in? Build a tobacco stick pen where it would be cool and confine them in it until they cooled OK.
Tobacco sticks were used as tomato stakes, walking sticks, stakes to indicate where trees and shrubs to plant, indicate and to be a flower row, etc.
They were always handy to lay across joists to hang hams or sausage in the smoke house, a stick to dry onions or other vegetables, door props, lodge poles for a blanket teepee or any place a playhouse fence was needed. It's a wonder there were enough extra to hang the farmer's money crop on.