How often do you get an interview with a farmer who’s almost 100 years old? Granted, my grandpa hasn’t worked a farm since 1949, but he’s still a wealth of information!
Read part one of the interview HERE.
Interview With a Farmer Part 2
Born in 1922, my grandfather grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. They raised tomatoes, potatoes, and chickens on the farm. They also had a dairy of ten cows. Many of the veggies, eggs, and milk were all sold. Along with the farm, they had a garden to feed the family, which included a total of 14 kids.
Did you grow everything you ate?
Yup or shot it. I would shoot woodchucks in the summertime. I didn’t like ‘em at all, but that’s what we had in the summertime for meat. Woodchuck. Of course in the fall, I always shot a deer, at least one deer. We raised sweet corn just for ourselves. All the eggs were sold. The only time you got to eat eggs was at Easter time. You got to eat all the eggs you wanted then.
The stuff was all organic naturally. There was some things, like (string) beans, you had to put some poison, I don’t remember what, or otherwise the Japanese beetles would totally destroy them. Always planted a few rows of navy beans. Nothing bothered them hardly. Always wanted to let them get ripe, thrash them in the thrasher, roll them through the fanning mill to blow the dust away. Always had a supply of beans.
Had a couple pigs, because we always butchered one or two in the fall or winter. We lived off the farm. Had to have some meat. We’d butcher a cow, at least one cow or heifer every fall. Always had a couple or three pigs, butchered them.
How did you butcher the pigs?
Pig? Well, we’d get the pig out of the pen and I’d have my .22. I’d get in front of him, get him where we wanted him, about. There is one spot right between the eyes and above, you’d hit a tiny spot like that (dime size) and down they’d go dead. Drag him over where the barrel was with hot water in it with a scaffold over the top with a pully. Pull him up, drop him down in there for so long in the hot water, then turn him around and reverse him and do the same, then start scrapping. You had these scrapers, smaller on the other end, handle in between, to scrap the hair off. You had to scald him a little while to do that.
Did you make your own butter?
No. Most of it (milk) all got bottled up and went to the people who bought it. Same with the chicken eggs. They were sold. We’d take a whole load of wheat to the mill to have flour made. That would be a one day trip. Had to go about 10 to 12 miles by wagon and horses. Dad went into the mill there, he was gone and gone and gone. Finally, I was about that high (3 ft or so), I decided to go home. He come out and I was gone. So he headed back the way we came. There was two ways to go. He went up there, and he found me about a mile away walking.
We’d make cottage cheese, run it through a milk churn to separate the thin part of the milk. That’s what you made cheese out of. But I don’t know what they do anymore. We had milk to drink, for cereal and so on. That was it.
How did you water your garden?
Rain. That was it. (Must have been nice!)
I always hunted for deer. I always shot a couple every year in season. Of course, you’re allowed one deer, but I’d always shoot another one or two for my brothers, who couldn’t hit anything it seemed like. Back in Pennsylvania, I shot one black bear once. They taste alright. Of course, we had the hide tanned. My wife’s sister came down there to visit her the one time. She (his wife) went and got the hide and tossed it to her sister, and scared the hell out of her. It wasn’t a very big black bear, not like these grizzlies up here.
My mother would go deer hunting. We had some property out towards the mountains, about eight miles away. There had been an old sawmill there. There was a pile of sawdust about 20 feet high, and dad built her a little place to sit in there so she could watch the trails coming in. Once a buck came through, she said, “I shot at him,” but all the bullets laid right there. She just worked the lever. That was called buck fever!
November was trapping season. As a child, he trapped possum, rabbits, weasels, and skunks. He says he likes the smell of skunks! It got so his teacher would take his coat and hang it outside during school.
Did you grow any fruit?
We had a small orchard of apples. There was a big cherry tree there. We would go other places sometimes to pick cherries. Mom would can a bunch of black cherries. They were good. The red cherries were sour. Good for pies, but not very good to nibble on. But to get cherreis to can, the black cherries, we’d go 4 to 5 miles away to where people had a big old cherry tree. You could climb up it and pick cherries. Mom canned a lot of everything to feed us 14 kids.
My grandparents were about a mile from where I lived. A little farther going by road, but when I’d go over there, I’d go straight across the swamp, cause they had a good blueberry patch down in the low ground, you know, huckleberry bushes as high as the ceiling. You’d have to try each one cause they all tasted a little bit different. I liked those.
My uncle would go down to Maryland, he had a truck and would come back totally loaded full of watermelons. They’d buy them for less than a nickle a piece. Ate watermelons until I thought I’d die.
Did you can a lot of foods?
Canned everything. Lots. Fourteen kids ate a lot. We’d go over about 10-15 miles to the west from where we lived. They grew a lot of peas over there. Well, they’d go through and mow it and rake it up. Afterwards you could go in and, sprouts or anything that’s still laying around, we’d get out peas that way mostly. You could buy some also from the farmers that raised all the peas. But everything was canned. In quart or 2 quart bottles.
How did you preserve your meat?
Canned it. Somewhere along there, there was a freezer building that you could rent a box down about a mile from home, and you could rent one of those and keep your frozen stuff in it.
Was there running water in the farmhouse?
The well was just outside the door and you pumped it. It was a hand dug well.
With 14 kids, how big was the house?
Not nearly big enough. There was one major bedroom that had three or four beds, double beds. My room had one double bed. A couple of my sisters had another bigger room that they slept in. Had five brothers, more girls than boys. Most girls had to help do something, if you could get them away from the old piano. I don’t think they ever helped milk cows. They were all milked by hand by Dad, Mom and me mostly.
I had a couple of lazy sisters. There was an old piano in the house. The lazy ones would be pecking away at the piano. They didn’t know how to play really, never took any lessons, but they would spend a lot of time there. (Hehehehehehe)
What kind of cook stove did you have in the house?
It was wood or coal. It had an oven and, right above the firebox, there were two burners. You could take a little thing that would hook in what they were sitting in to open the firebox totally. That heated the house also. So it would be stoked with coal in the evening, then dampered down so it would last all night and put out some heat. Of course, it got cold sometimes in the winter time. There was a crack in my bedroom, a little crack, so if it was snowing and blowing, I’d have a little tiny pile of snow inside there.
What about WWII?
Well, I was exempt. I worked on a farm raising food back in Pennsylvania, so I was exempt from going. I ran a tractor 80 hours in one week. Now that’s a lot of hours. At 3 -4 o’clock in the morning, I’d be out there cultivating some sort of vegetable. At about 3 o’clock in the morning, I’d be out there cultivating, and I’d see frost out there on the little plants, I thought, “Oh shoot.” About 4 o’clock, it warmed up and started to rain, so it never hurt any of the plants.
Did you know the Great Depression was happening while it was happening?
Oh yes. We were out in the country, about 25 miles out of Wilkes-Barre. Many people out of work up that way. So they had the WPA, Workers Progressive Association, or something like that, that they would, the only dump trucks were not very big, but they would have seats in it and load it up with people, and bring them out to the country to work on the roads, cracking rocks or hauling rocks, because the roads were pretty muddy and so forth. They got paid something by the government, but it wasn’t very much. They’d have a truckload of men, drop them off, and about half of them would head for the woods and they’d play poker. The others worked.
On the time he broke his leg:
I rolled a tree on top of me. The tree was a big oak tree. Up about 12-15 feet, there was three or four branches that took off. My brother and I, we started cutting out on the ends, cutting them down into 8 foot lengths, big enough to take them to the sawmill to make boards out of them. Never thinking, the tree was laying where two branches come out, I cut right through there, and the trunk rolled and hit me right on top of the head, and shot back. I twisted away and when it finally got around to above my knee, it snapped it. The ambulance, there was a little ambulance in the area, a mile away, they took me to the hospital. Mom said it was pretty crowded. They got me out of the hospital too soon. It wasn’t set yet (the bone), not really. I started building a bone all around my leg there, trying to form another joint. A year later, in January, the doctor got a specialist out of New York, and I was in the hospital all day while they chiseled all that extra bone off. They put a big rod in my leg, inside the bone, and kept me there until… that was in January, they kept me there until the last day of June. So I was on crutches all that one summer, about, and fall.
Don’t forget to check out Part One and subscribe so you don’t miss Part Three – All about moving to Alaska!