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Chapter II - Back Where We Started

By dhowell - Posted on 05 January 2013

The Farm House

Farm house, rear, 1960s

We bought the farm from grandpa for $6500 and came back to the Schaible farm in the spring of l924. Grandpa had rented the farm to a family for the two years we were away. It is hard for one today to imagine the mess we stepped into when we moved back. March 1st was only about six weeks short of Floyd's birth, May 20, 1924. (All five of us were thus born in that farmhouse.) Mom didn't discover the house was infested with bedbugs until all our household goods had been moved in. Getting rid of them was no easy task—especially since the house was brick. Apparently bedbugs liked to live in the cracks between window frames and the brick walls and in that position were nearly impossible to kill by fumigation. Some of the procedures used to get all the varmints were as follows: the cracks around the windows and outside doors were covered with tape, infested wooden bedsteads had to be burned, metal beds brought in, and beds set away from the outside walls with the legs set into small cans containing kerosene. This kept the bedbugs from climbing onto the bed to feed on our bodies at night. Every morning each one of us had to pass inspection from Mom before we dressed. If there was evidence of a bedbug bite, the bed was carefully taken apart in the search for the bug. When it was found (always full of blood) it was killed and we went on the same way until the bedbugs had been eliminated by starvation. It was a long and laborious process. And remember, Mom was 7+ months pregnant at the time and taking care of four youngsters under eight years old. Oh, yes, there was the usual farm work to be carried on, too. A man works from sun to sun, a woman's work is never done. How true.

The brick farmhouse was made from Manchester bricks and probably built in the l850s. Originally the kitchen had been set up in the brick structure—probably using an open fireplace for the cooking. When we knew it the kitchen had been moved into a frame wing set on the back of the house, and the original kitchen in the brick portion been converted to a living room. There were three porches on the house—front, west and east, the latter on the rear of the house. There were two doors on each porch which made them very accessible. In the l920s some itinerant photographer took a picture of the house with the colors the bricks were painted at that time. I have never understood why the bricks were painted in the first place, but they were. In later years we painted them grey with the windows and trim in white. As the shutters fell into poor repair, they were removed and discarded.

The frame wing and original kitchen section of the house was one story. The main section of the brick house was a story and a half—the ceilings upstairs sloped down on each side so height was limited —especially for us tall Parrs. Three rooms and an open stairway area made up the upstairs and it was necessary to go through one room to get to another. The front stairway was large with a banister while the back stairway was narrow and steep. Downstairs there was the front parlor, a large room used by the Folks as a bedroom, the living room, a very small dining room and the kitchen. Off the kitchen were the pantry and a large unfinished area we called the "woodshed." That name is misleading since we did not use it to store wood. Usually there was a large woodbox for firewood for the range close to the kitchen door, but the woodshed was primarily used for handling the milk each day. The Galloway separator was there along with the milk pails, cream crocks, churns. Cured hams and bacon hanging in flour sacks were visible on the rafters and gave the place a smokehouse atmosphere to mingle with milk odors. There were always several five gallon pails used to collect skimmed milk and "swill" for the hogs. Swill meant anything that might nourish hogs—dishwater, potato peelings, garbage that wasn't given to the dogs and cats or burned. Each time we headed out to the barn we carried full pails to be mixed with ground grain and poured into the pig trough.

The basement had one stairway from inside the house and another from the outside. Only the section under the main upright of the house was excavated. Most of the floor was concrete. The furnace was located in the center of the house and was the typical octopus installation with several large hot air pipes extending outward and upward to registers in the rooms above. One large thirty inch pipe brought the cold air into the bottom of the furnace jacket. Circulation was by gravity and controlled by louvers in the registers—fully open for maximum heat and closed or partially closed for lesser amounts. We used the furnace to "keep the chill" off the parts of the house not regularly used. A Round Oak heating stove in the living room kept us warm there in winter but was taken down and carried upstairs during the summer so we had more useable space. Mom's South Bend Malleable cooking range stood in the kitchen. In cold months it was always warm there and that is why we tended to congregate there as we came in from outside. The heat and cooking/baking odors were a pleasant welcome. Fuel for the furnace was pitched down the open basement stairway. The range woodbox always seemed to be empty and was kept filled from the woodpile in the yard. Chunks for the Round Oak were carried in from the nearby porch as needed.

Farm house, southeast corner, 1960s. Note rainwater pipe to cistern (right).

A room about 8 by 14 feet was partitioned off behind the furnace to keep it cool. We stored there potatoes (often 40 bushels), turnips, squash, pumpkins and other items needing protection from frost. Heavy shelves along three sides of the room held the winter's supply of canned goods. Mother usually ended up with 400 quarts of fruit, vegetables and meat there. She used many half gallon jars because that much was needed to feed our table of eight. The 40 quarts of sweet corn deserved special mention because it had been canned in August and took 4 hours of cooking in a hot water bath on the range. Hot. Hot. Our 30 gallon meat crocks were also kept here to keep them cool. Bacon, ham and sometimes corned beef were brine cured in them. Pickles were stored there in smaller crocks.

In summer the coolness of the basement was all the refrigeration we had. Pans of partially cooked food were taken downstairs to cool on the floor. Homemade salad dressing was cooled this way. Leftover foods could also be held for a short time this way. Milk or cream was cooled with well water. The 50 degree water was pumped over the containers while the contents were gently stirred.

In many other ways we lived by nature's thermometer. We shed clothes to beat the heat and bundled up in cold weather. Doors and windows were opened to catch all possible cooling breezes. Rockers on porches could be cooling until mosquitoes gathered evenings. We learned to think ahead and be prepared. Extra wood was brought in when we expected cold weather and our schedules were adjusted to make work easier.

In summer the house was closed up to keep it cooler, shades were drawn to keep out the sun and swings on the porches provided relief. On hot days the wood fired range got its only vacation. A good cook had got cooking done early in the morning and let the range fire go out. Supper was warmed on the Perfection kerosene stove in the woodshed.

House Outbuildings

The old outhouse. Still usable for storage.

A short distance apart from the house stood the outhouse and the smokehouse, each a framed building about six by eight feet. A well worn path led out to the two seater outhouse which served as our only permanent toilet facility. The chamber pots, slopjars and buckets used in the house at night had to be carried out to the outhouse—called Mrs. Murphy's house by my Mother for reasons known to her—to be emptied before they were returned to the house for cleaning for the next night's use. The smokehouse was used only once or twice a year to smoke the cured bacon and hams from our butchering. The cured meat was hung from the rafters with loops of twine. Then a small fire was laid on the dirt floor and quickly smothered with wet hickory sawdust to create a dense smoke. After a couple days of good smoking, the meat was browned and ready to be hung in the woodshed until we used it. No refrigeration was needed for this cured and smoked meat. The smoked hams were usually basted with a mixture of molasses and red pepper to repel insects during the storage period.

Our cistern was a jug-shaped, brick-lined, plastered hole in the ground near the kitchen. All water from the roof was piped to collect into the single downspout which led to a hole in the middle of the concrete cover. Water for use in the house was pumped with a pitcher pump installed on the kitchen sink. All water for washing and bathing was pumped into containers and heated on the kitchen range or put in the range reservoir. (see New Fangled Water System)

Drinking water was carried from the windmill, which was midway between the house and the barns. A covered tank made of brick and plastered inside held 20 gallons of fresh well water. When the windmill pumped or we pumped by hand on windless days, the water ran through this tank on its way to the tanks used by the livestock. That way water drunk or taken from the tank for house use was always fresh and cool. When the cistern was empty during the dry summer months all water used in the house had to be carried in. Mom didn't like to use the hard water from the well to wash dishes and clothes. Her homemade soap didn't produce the suds in it that it did in the soft cistern water.

Farm Outbuildings

Buildings not described elsewhere were clustered around in what was called the farmyard or dooryard. All of the nearby fields were fenced and had gates giving access to the farmyard area. That way each field in turn could be used for pasture.

Barns, silo and windmill from northwest

We had two barns—one for horses and cattle and another for the sheep. The horsebarn was built in l899 and we used to hear stories about the workmen coming out in their Army uniforms to finish the building before they had to report for duty in the Spanish-American war. It was a hastily built, cheap building with what was called "balloon" construction. There were no mortise and tenon beams running across the middle spans to hold it together as was true in better, framed barns. The outside walls were held up by canted beams at regular intervals running from floor joists to the plates and reinforced by steel rods held in place under the floor by steel plates and tightened by a turnbuckle. The whole upper part of the barn was one open area and there was no drivefloor. Hay was pulled in through a large door in one end of the barn from the wagon parked outside the barn for unloading. In the lower part of the barn there were four house stalls, a box stall for animals which needed to be kept separate at times. We had stanchions for about 8 cows in the middle of the ground floor and the rest of the barn was open for steers and hogs. A platform was built of heavy timbers at the north end of the barn to hold a large strawstack. That way there was a warm place for animals to be sheltered during the windy winter days.

The sheep barn stood about 30 feet away from the horse barn and the area in between was fenced for barnyard animals. Dad remodeled the sheep barn when he came back and bought the farm in l924. He felt the need for more space for his sheep and put a gambrel roof and a lean-to onto the barn. The enlarged barn was about 48 x 30 feet in area and had space for 100 ewes and their lambs each year as well as for enough fodder and grain for them. It had a drive floor used by the wagons when we unloaded hay in that barn. There was also area in the lean-to upstairs for storing the corn binder and some other tools. A small workshop was also built there for farm use. The grindstone was there to be cranked one of us boys when Dad sharpened the mower knives, corn knives, scythes, etc.

Aerial view, buildings, dooryard & orchard (note lane and cement silo)

The space between the two barns contained the large, concrete water tank for large animals with a gate on each side of it to permit traffic in and out as necessary. Another smaller lean-to was attached to the south side of the sheep barn and used as our henhouse. A fence built of old roofboards from the sheep barn enclosed the remainder of the barnyard area so if we wished, livestock could be kept outside in good weather. Four gates in all served the barnyard to let animals in and out and to allow us to enter with a team of horses and the manure spreader.

On a knoll in the center of the farm yard stood the windmill. A wooden platform covered the 65 foot, open well. The well was lined with special brick to prevent cave-ins. These brick were trapezoidal in shape, laid at the surface of the hole layer by layer, settling down as dirt was removed under them as men dug to find water. Pressure from the dirt around the hole kept them in place and they remained as long as the well was in use.

Perkins windmill (wood)

Our first windmill was made of wood and was a Perkins mill. (There is one just like it today at the Waterloo Farm Museum nearby—3/99). When the wood sections of the original mill rotted, we put in a metal mill—Baker, I believe it was. From the pump water flowed into a small brick tank from which drinking water could be dipped or baled for our use. The rest of the water overflowed and ran down hill to the concrete horse tank between the barns. Pipes ran from the bottom of this tank to lower metal tanks in the sheep barn. Floats in the smaller tanks kept them full as long as the large tank had water enough. A ground level concrete tank near the well had to be filled by hand for the chickens. In later years we added a 6 x 8 foot milk house behind the brick tank. There water ran through another tank built large enough to hold two ten-gallon cans of milk cooled by the well water as it ran through to the horse tank.

The Apricot Tree (r-l, part of the smoke house, E barn gable above it, granary, end of W barn w/C H Parr, milk house and windmill, side delivery hay rake, some of the woodpile and a rabbit cage)

Nearby was a building which formerly had been a photographic studio in town. It was moved to the farm and set up on concrete-filled 12" tiles to make it suitable as a granary. The old skylight was covered and a doorway and sliding door put into one side of it for our use. After we stopped taking our grain to the mill in town to be ground for animal feed, we put a belt driven grinder in there and located it so the belt could come out the large door to the engine which drove it. We also added a bin to hold the meal which was ground periodically. The hens were usually fed from the granary by throwing a shovel of grain their way. Meal and oats had to be carried to the barn for the larger animals. Eventually a lean-to corncrib was built on the end of the granary to add to the capacity of the free standing crib behind the granary.

Stationary 5-horse gasoline engine (note steel carriage wheels and handle)

A toolshed-garage completed the major buildings in the dooryard. It was about 18 x30 feet with a sloping roof. Our first cars were stored in one end of it while the rest was used to store binders, plows and the Fairbanks-Morse 5H gasoline engine used to buzz wood and grind feed. In the fall there were usually 10 to l5 bushels of apples stored there for winter use. Dad usually went by each day on the way out to do chores and picked up his apple snack. He could pick from several varieties which had been laid in for the winter—Jonathan, Steele Red, Baldwin, Canada Red, Northern Spy. Mother's Greenings were there also, but these were for pies. When blankets and fur robes would no longer protect them from freezing, they were moved into the basement. As we came to have more than one car another lean-to was put on the end of the building for the new one.

The Orchard and Garden

Our two acre orchard and garden were close by and fenced off. In summer hogs were kept in the orchard along with sheep bucks when they weren't needed for breeding. A small hog house was built there to provide shade. In winter the hogs were kept in the barnyard and could sleep warmly under the strawstack.

Some of our fruit trees were in the orchard and some in the garden. We had Early Richmond and Mount Morenci sour cherry trees a long with a sweet cherry tree in the garden. There were also some grape vines, a quince bush, black and red raspberry bushes, and a couple peach trees. The orchard included Tollman Sweet, Dutchess, Wealthy, Northern Spy, and Crab Apple trees. Two Bartlett Pear trees were just outside the orchard. An apricot tree stood between the house and the granary. We piled our buzz wood around the apricot tree during the winter to await the spring wood buzzing bee. Only later did we discover why we usually had more apricots than our neighbors. The piled wood shaded the roots from the early spring sun and kept the tree from blooming so early that frost killed the fruit as usually happened with apricot trees in Michigan. We had half a dozen large hard Maple trees around the house and yard for shade, along with a couple Elms, a Cedar and a Black Walnut tree. Later on some of the evergreens brother Stanley had planted were moved into the dooryard to remind us of him. (During the '30's and the CCC tree planting era, Stanley planted a row of trees from the Jackson track to the back of the farm—almost 3/4 of a mile—along the west boundary of the farm. Many of them didn't make it because of railroad fires, lack of water or, in some cases, too much water and the wrong kind of soil for evergreens.)

Farm Fields

From the back of the barnyard two gates opened into lanes. One ran east and the other lane ran north to serve the rest of the fields, the pastures and the woods. This lane crossed two railroad tracks before it got to the back fields. Each track had two gates which had to be opened and closed each time we crossed. We lived by the train timetables to avoid the 20 trains passing each day. Whether we were taking animals to pasture or coming through with a load of hay or grain, the ritual was the same. Get off and open both gates, get on and cross the track, get off and close both gates and climb back to move on. When one adds traffic for hauling manure, hauling buzz wood from the woods or just taking machinery and animals back and forth, there was a lot of gate opening and closing. The railroad section hands maintained the gates but we had to handle them carefully so no damage occurred. It was a constant hassle as I remember it. But we did enjoy watching the trains go by and having the engineers and firemen wave to us as they went. The north, or Jackson track as we called it, went up a fairly steep grade as it went through our farm. This made the steam engines work harder and I always enjoyed the sharp sounds of their chugs as they went up the hill. At night one could see in the ever present steam reflections of the roaring boiler fires as the fireman opened the fire door often to heave on shovel after shovel of coal to maintain the extra power needed to climb the hill.