Living on the Farm


As I lived through the great depression I heard about farmers losing their farms some due to overextending themselves during the boom years of the 1920's. I had a working capital of only $400 to get started. This had to be stretched to buy baby chicks and raise them to market age. The money from their sale would finance the next batch.

I vowed that I would never buy anything for the farm or my family if I had to buy it on credit. I would never become a slave to monthly payments or debt. If I needed seed, feed, fertilizer, or even groceries, and hadn't the cash, I would make do without it. I kept that promise through the years in spite of many pressures otherwise, the only exception being the farm itself on which I had the mortgage to pay off.

"Alberta and our Kids [1952] in front of our Farmhouse"

In the house we had running water which came by gravity from a spring far up on the hill. It ran a small stream about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, and furnished water for both the house and barnyard watering-trough.

"Alberta in the Kitchen about 1947 [note water pipe coming down to the sink faucetts]"

In the first few years we had no electricity and used kerosene lamps. We had one lamp that was best to read by. It was called an "Alladin Lamp", which used kerosene but instead of a regular wick it had a cone-shaped "mantle" that became white hot and gave off a very bright light. However, the downside of it was that it could not be left unattended, since it had a tendency to "run up" and fill the house with black smoke and soot.

When working in the barn after dark we carried a kerosene lantern. Great care was taken to hang the lantern from hooks on the barn beams so that it would not be accidentally knocked over. We didn't want to start a Chicago type fire because Mr. Page's cow kicked over a lantern!

We used wood for fuel to heat the house and to cook with. We cut the wood by hand and hauled it up the hill from the woods in wagon or sleigh. Usually we brought limb wood up, unloaded it in the woodshed and sawed it up in the evening. Often we were barely able to keep up with the needed supply, and I remember times when in the morning having no wood left we had to go to the woods right after chores in a snow storm and cut enough wood to keep the house warm that day. It was a continuous "hand to mouth" operation.

Once in a while my Uncle Seward and Grandpa Jones would come to spend a day to help me cut wood. Then another day I would go to their Madison farm and help them. Three men could cut and split quite a lot of wood in a day. Two of us would use the crosscut saw while the other split the blocks with an axe as they came off the log. We kept "changing off" between the easier splitting and the backbreaking sawing.

To fall a tree we sawed straight in on the side toward which we wanted it to fall, and then chopped out a wedge with the axe. Of course then we sawed through the opposite side until it fell.

In later years when we had a tractor we bought a drag saw that mounted on the back of the tractor. It turned out to be rather unsatisfactory and we still cut most of the wood by hand until chain saws started to come into use. Then we occasionally hired some one to come and saw, paying by the hour. The Bach boys who lived on the old Newman farm on what is now called Goff Road, sawed several times for us. They used a monster of a chain saw that took two men to handle. I think it was a Disston saw. It had a long cutter bar and must have weighed 150 pounds or more. However when they set that saw on a log, it would cut down through a three-foot beech as if it were cheese.

Four of the Bach boys lived on the Newman farm, but Cliff and LeRoy did most of our sawing. One time after a storm took down trees at Alberta's childhood camp on Oneida Lake, Alberta's father, LaVerne Jones, hired them to clean up those trees. I always worked with them when they were working in our woods or at the camp. A couple the neighbors along the lakeshore, Mr. House and the Champlins, saw us working and asked us to clean up their fallen trees. We used axes to trim off the branches and the chain saw to cut up the trunks. We made a little extra money from that.

Of course, at first we had no icebox or refrigerator or electric washing machine. We did get an old hand operated washing machine from Grandma Lewis's attic. It was a wooden tub that had a lever about 3 feet long on the side. When someone worked the lever back and forth the paddle inside the tub would agitate the clothes. Your arm became tired working the thing, but it was better than the scrub-board. Then the clothes were run through a hand-cranked wringer.

Water for the laundry, as well as for baths and everything else, was heated on the kitchen wood stove. When the Knapps lived there they had what you might call a flush toilet in a small room off the kitchen. It had no holding tank. When you sat on the toilet seat the water would run in by gravity and when you got up it would stop running. The room had no heat but there was no water stored in a tank to freeze up. Water was not the only thing that seemed to freeze up while you were using that. Because of the small stream of water running in, it was not very satisfactory. We installed a bathroom upstairs soon after we moved in.

Hot water for baths was carried in pails to the bathtub upstairs. Since the spring was located at a high enough elevation to furnish sufficient pressure, cold water did run by gravity to the bathroom on the second floor. So we didn't have to carry the cold water..

Years before we bought the farm the Knapps had installed a water-powered generator located over in the ravine some distance from the house. A turbine type of water wheel powered the generator and produced 110- volt direct current. It was unusual to have that type of generator for most of the gasoline-powered generators that some farmers had were 32volt. Mr. Knapp had given up the use of it because the turbine paddles had become coated with minerals from the water and would not turn fast enough. He apparently had tried everything to remove the mineral coating, including pouring acid into the pipe, but without success. We tried to use it for a while but could get only two or three bulbs to light and they were so dim as to be useless. A few years later someone stole it from its place in the ravine.

Charles E. Page January 2003