Vignettes About My Life on the Farm

The Baby Chicks Are In

If I hadn't ruptured myself when I had whooping cough as a baby, I probably wouldn't be writing about helping raise chicks on our farm. My three brothers worked with Dad helping with the heavy farm work, but I had to help with lighter things, like baby chicks.

We ordered baby chicks from the hatchery so they would arrive in late March. Many things had to be done before they came and there could be no hitches or delay. We were always ready for them.

Our brooder house was portable and could be pulled around with a team of horses. Dad believed new ground was free from disease and each year picked a new site on the edge of a hayfield abutting the door yard to minimize the chore of carrying feed and water.

The brooder house was a frame building about 10 feet square made of home-sawed lumber with a sloping roof almost high enough to let one stand up at the low end. There was one door, one window and a stovepipe hole through the metal roof in the corner. Each year all of the old dirt had to be cleaned out before we could use it. Old wash water with added lye was used to clean the floor and lower walls as they were scrubbed white. Once it dried out, the floor was covered with layers of clean newspaper and we were ready for chicks.

During the off-season the brooder stove was stored in the granary. We uncovered it and carried it out to be set up in the center of the brooder house. It was in two parts – the stove and the hood. The stove was cast iron the size of a five gallon pail. The galvanized sheet iron hood in the shape of a Chinese coolie hat sat on top of the stove. The tight fit at the top combined with its shape kept 200 chicks as warm from the stove as a brood hen.

The stove burned hard (anthracite) coal which we bought in bags to store in the brooder house with some kindling. A thermostat opened and closed the draft and check draft opened enough to keep the fire going. In milder weather the damper might stay closed too long and let the fire go out. That meant starting the fire all over again. We lived in constant dread that the fire would "get away from us" and "cook" the chicks or go out and let them chill. Either way the chicks might suffer injury from which they would never recover.

After the brooder house and stove were ready, the feeders and watering cans had to be scrubbed and scalded to clean away last year's dirt. We fed our chicks milk so there was a special gallon cock feeder to be cleaned, too.

At last we were ready for that card in the mailbox which said, "Your baby chicks are in". We had to go either to the post office or the freight office, pay the freight cost and bring them home in the car. At that season both the post office and the freight office were filled with boxes of chicks in shipment, accompanied by their chirps.

Baby chicks were shipped in special heavy cardboard boxes, punched with rows of dime-shaped holes for ventilation. Each square box was fitted with a cover that had inch wood blocks glued on top to permit stacking and ensure ventilation during shipment. The interior was divided into 4 sections which held 25 chicks each. I liked to lift the cover and hear them chirp as I gently nabbed the downy fuzzballs, but there never seemed to be much time to do this.

A brooder stove

Water in saucers was nearby and as each chick was taken out of the box, its beak was dipped in water and held there for a moment to start the drinking process, I guess. (I brood.) We counted the chicks as they taken from the box and usually found an extra one in each section of the box – good hatchery men gave customers extra measure in case a chick or two might be injured in shipment. When we were through there were 208 chicks staggering around our feet and we stepped very carefully moving to the door so that none were crushed under foot.

Now the steady grind began. Heat, water and food were needed each day and more were consumed with each passing day. All of it had to be carried to them. We started our chicks on oatmeal and then converted to commercial chick starter. MasterMix feeds came in 100 lb. calico bags, large enough to be made into dresses and aprons. When we went for more food we had to get the right kind as well as match the calico of the last bag, or find a better pattern, if possible.

After a month the chicks were ready to be let outside. During the day they frisked about and preened in the spring sunshine and began to eat grass. I had to watch the skies for a sudden rainstorm to be sure they're back inside before it hit. If they got wet a new fire was started to dry them out so they didn't crowd together for warmth and possibly smother some in the process. No matter what the weather was, they had to be shut in at night to protect them from predators. Mother never forgot to check with me at bedtime to be sure the chicks were shut in. I had to make that trip before going to bed even if it were dark and I had washed my feet.

We aimed to raise 200 chicks each year. Ours were Plymouth Rocks or Rhode Island Reds. Chicks were not separated by sex in those days so half were pullets and the rest roosters. Roosters were for eating and pullets added to our laying flock. We didn't mind brown eggs and settled for fewer of them than the white eggs Leghorns laid. We felt Plymouth Rocks or Rhode Island Reds were bigger birds and more flavorful than Leghorns.

Our laying flock produced more than enough eggs for our use. Extras were either sold at the farm or traded in town for groceries. Stores allowed us less than their retail price for the balance against our purchase. Sometimes you received cash back and at other times you paid the difference.

At the time I was caring for baby chicks it was difficult to remember all the good things our chickens did for us.

Howard E. Parr
November 3, 1992

Fiddling Alfalfa

Dad usually was the one to call us each morning just in time to get the chores done before it was time to leave for school—we didn't get up any earlier than we needed to. I was a light sleeper and could hear Dad's joints crack as he got out of bed downstairs, moved around to dress before going to the kitchen. I could hear him shake the range grates, open the top of the range and stuff a few sheets of crumpled newspaper into the firebox. Then he used the butcher knife to shave several slivers of kindling from a chunk of an old cedar fence post which always stood next to the woodbox. When the wind was right during summer months, some smoke perfumed with burning cedar drifted through our upstairs bedroom window.

After filling the tea kettle and setting it on the range, Dad went to the back room (called woodshed in spite of the fact that nearly everything but wood was kept there). There he picked up a five gallon pail of swill (usually skimmed milk, potato peelings and dishwater) and a couple clean milk pails. With his hands full, he had to kick the screen door open; at that point he called my name and I had to arouse my three sound sleeping brothers. If Mother called us, it was out of the ordinary and always a half an hour earlier. She only did it when Dad was sick or in the early spring when he fiddled alfalfa.

An exact day for fiddling alfalfa could not be chosen in advance because fiddling had to be done when the ground froze and thawed just right and there was absolutely no wind. When Dad found these conditions at dawn, he set the day and would be at work in the field by the time Mother called us.

The fiddle and alfalfa seed from the granary were picked up by Dad before he walked to the field of wheat which had been planted the previous September and was starting its spring growth.

A fiddle was a hand seeding tool consisting of a couple suspenders holding a canvas bag on a board fastened to a crank driven disc. The bottom of the bag was a six inch square board with an adjustable hole with a shutoff in the center of it; the canvas was tacked round the edge of this board to seal it. The metal disc had four ribs atop it and could be spun with the crank.

About a peck of seed (alfalfa, clover, timothy) was placed in the bag after the size of the bottom hole had been adjusted for the seed to be sown. To fiddle, the operator had to open the hole, spin the crank at a uniform rate and move straight back and forth across the field at a brisk walk. At the edge of the field, the seed was shut off while he paced the distance for the right point for the return walk. This distance had to be just enough to assure there would be neither gaps nor overlaps in the seeding. The disc threw seeds evenly over an area 25 feet wide, as the operator walked, cranked steadily and there was no wind. It didn't take Dad long to finish one of our fields (5 to 10 acres) and join us as we were finishing the chores.

Fiddling alfalfa

Mother Nature finished the rest of the seeding. As the soil thawed and re-froze each day there was enough soil movement (solifluction) to cover the tiny seeds. A gentle rain at the right time helped. Drought or flooding complicated germination so there was lots of checking to see if there was a "good catch". The seedlings grew along with the new grain crop. When we didn't get a good catch, the seed had been wasted and an old hay field might have to be used another year before we could fiddle again to start a new one.

I'm sure Dad had a lot of personal pride when he got a perfect catch—especially in fields along the road for neighbors to see. The uniformity of his new seedlings always amazed me. How did he know the right distances, walking speeds, fan speeds and seed quantities to use?

He still protected new seedlings at harvest time. Shocks of grain were not left on a new field long enough to kill young plants under them. Rather than leaving them there until we could get a rig to thresh them from the field as many others did, we took them to the barn as soon as they were dry enough and put them in the barn or stacked them outside to await threshing day.

Cutting Grain with a Binder

The most complex machine used on our farm in the '30s was the Deering grain binder we used to cut oats, rye, barley, or wheat. Like most of our equipment it probably was purchased at some farm auction when Dad started farming. As long as a used piece of equipment was in running order and the price was right, brand names didn't make much difference. Each inventor-builder felt his design and performance was best and said so in his advertising, but there were no standards for farm machines and for both new and second owners, reasonable performance at an affordable price became the rule of the day.

A Deering grain binder

Grain binders were built for use under widely varying conditions. Some grain stood six feet tall in the field while another variety might be 18 inches high when it was ready to cut. Height of the cutting knife from the ground was adjustable by cranking the wheels up or down as the machine was set up. While grain was being cut, minor adjustments could be made with a lever which tilted the machine forward or backward when going up or down hills. The purpose of all this flexibility was to enable the grain operator to cut all the grain stalks long enough to be bound into bundles and to keep from digging into the ground when going uphill or being above the stalks when going down hill.

Even more adjustments were needed to adjust for variations in the length of the different stalks as they accumulated to form a bundle. Packing arms and a butter were used to form and tie bundles—the end product of the binder. Bundles needed to be tied mid length of the stalks or they wouldn't shock well and some of the grain stalks might fall out. A different lever controlled this and could move the butter closer or further away from the needle and knotter which tied each bundle with binder twine. The size (weight) of bundles could be changed by adjustments in tension on the springs which tripped the knotter when the desired number of stalks had been packed into the butter. Usually all bundles for any type of grain were the same size and settings weren't changed until a different type of grain was to be cut. A slow moving reel hanging just above the cutter bar nudged the newly cut stalks back onto moving canvasses which carried the grain away and into the butter. This reel could be lowered or raised as the length of the grain changed or when going up or down hill to be sure the cut grain always fell on the canvass in about the same spot.

Binder in the field

What has been described above takes place when grain is being cut in a field. However, to get one into a field to cut took a different kind of adjustment. Ours was a five foot binder, that is, it cut a swath that wide. In the cutting position a binder was too wide for the gates. One might think that it would be easier to make wider gates than to make changes in the binder, but that didn't happen. While in storage and when traveling to a harvest field, the binder tongue was attached to the end of the machine—90 degrees different from the wide operating side of the binder but narrow enough to go through a gate. In this position, on special utility wheels called trucks, the binder could only be moved along its path—it could not operate to cut grain.

The 8 fenced fields we tilled ranged in size from 5 to 18 acres so we had to go through this process each time we moved to a field and each time we went from one field to another. In addition, two railroads cut through the farm and each crossing had two standard gates. Binder work was done with three horses that needed to be hitched and unhitched to move to the field and to set up for cutting grain.

The tongue was so long that it was removed from the binder in storage and hung on the shed wall. When the binder was needed, the tongue had to be removed from the wall, fitted with the three horse evener and whiffletrees and attached to the binder. Then the binder could be pulled out of the shed and parked under the Maple trees to be prepped for use. There it was possible to install the three canvasses which moved cut grain from the table and up where it could fall into the butter (binder) section of the machine which also had packer arms, a needle, and a knotter. Canvasses were about 40 inches wide with wood slats riveted to them every 8-10 inches. Leather straps bound the ends together to make them into a conveyor. A single canvass on the platform moved cut grain toward the pair used to move the grain up to where it fell into the packers. Canvasses had to be protected from mice and usually were stored hanging on wires from the ceiling of the granary. When repairs were needed it was rough on Mother's Singer sewing machine to patch them, but it had to be done in spite of the needles that might be broken. Straps and buckles were stitched with the awl and riveted as necessary. Canvasses had to be tight in order to move on the driving rollers, so tight that unless loosened at the end of each day in the field, night moisture would shrink them and pull the rivets from the straps.

After the canvasses were in place, the reel was checked for any loose or broken slats, the cutting blade was inspected for loose or missing sections or guards, and the knotter lubricated and threaded with twine from a fresh ball. With a special crank the action of the binder's chains could be operated manually and all points requiring it be lubricated. When everything worked as it should, we were ready to hitch up the team and head for the field. We usually did this late in the afternoon in order to "open out" the field because everything was at its driest then and cut easier. But before the binder could cut grain it had to be changed from the trucks to the traction and operating wheels and this had to be done as soon as you were through the gate in the standing grain.

Horses were unhitched, the tongue removed and placed on the long side of the binder. When the "bull" wheel (traction wheel) was cranked down, it picked up the weight of the binder and helped set the height of the cutting bar. The tongue could then be reattached and used as a lever to get the remaining non-traction wheel in place. When the horses were hooked to the tongue, the floating weight of the machine was on their necks and the bull wheel took the rest. (It took a lot of human muscle to lift the tongue up and snap it onto the harness straps.) After the canvasses were tightened, the reel set, and the butter adjusted for the height of the grain, we were ready to cut again.

Opening out a field was the hardest work to be done. To do this it was necessary to cut around the field at the very outside edge of the grain. The horses and the binder were in standing grain, a full five feet of grain was being cut, the reel was likely to strike branches sticking out from the fence row and the binder action was sluggish from storage. Often there were horse flies in the bushes which irritated the horsed more than usual. Someone had to follow the binder and throw every bundle into the cut area out of the way for the next round which would go the opposite way so you drove in the cut stubble. We were always glad to get this round behind us after many stops and much prodding of the team in its first experience with this most demanding work.

When the first cutting round in the opposite direction was complete, we usually quit for the day and parked the binder for the night. Canvasses always had to be loosened and a canvass cover thrown over the machine especially if it looked stormy. The next day's cutting would be routine as we went round and round the uncut grain dumping bundles into windrows as the rack holding a few was tripped as we drove along. This was probably the hardest work done by our horses because of the power needed to run the binder in the relatively soft ground, the weight of it on their necks, and the heat and flies. Plowing and fitting ground was hard work too, but in the spring it was usually cool and there was no heavy weight hanging on the horse's neck.

Dad usually ran the binder at home, but when I worked for Grandpa Parr (1938) I had to do it alone. Uncle Walter wouldn't operate machines, though he faithfully walked along behind me all day shocking bundles as they were made. His remark when he picked up the last bundle in the field still amuses me: "If I'd 'a known where you was this morning, I'd 'of done you first."

I liked to operate the binder. Sitting high in the air above the machine one could see everything that was going on, reach the control levers to adjust for hill angles and the height of the grain, change the position of the butter when necessary, and keep the reel in the proper position to always nudge the cut grain back onto the platform canvass. If you became too smug and complacent in your lofty perch, something was sure to bring you quickly back to reality. Often it was the realization that you were out of twine and were dumping untied bundles onto the field. At other times it might be a large bunch of green thistles that had plugged the flow of grain and had to be removed with bare hands.

Most of these problems melted away as you cut the field into smaller and smaller rectangles, leaving no uncut grain and only rows of well-tied bundles to be shocked. The best feeling came when you had to restore the binder to its moving position for the trip back to the house. Even the horses seem to share the feeling of satisfaction and moved more swiftly with their lighter burden, for they knew the wait for water, oats, and hay would be short and a long night of rest awaited them.

We Had Scarlet Fever

When I was four years old, "we had scarlet fever." It was one of the dread childhood diseases along with diphtheria, whooping cough, and what we called "hard" measles (Rubeola—Morbilli). We kids ranged in age from seven to one and a half years, and I'm sure as symptoms developed, my Folks consulted the "Doctor Book." In 1915 the R.C. Barnum Company of Cleveland, Ohio published a three part Peoples Home Library. Section one was the People's Home Medical Book, two was Home Recipes, and three was The Home Stock Book to be used for farm animals.

The Medical Book listed all types of diseases and illnesses, contained color plate illustrations, furnished recipes for medicines, salves, ointments, liniments, and described symptoms, and listed remedies and nursing procedures. My Folks spent many hours perusing this book, learning symptoms of various diseases so they would recognize them when any of us got sick.

I have copied pages from the book for scarlet fever. There was also a full page color plate to show how the scarlet rash looked on a boy's body.

When my Folks felt that we had something too serious for them to handle, they called Doc Scheurer, our Manchester family doctor. He became a legend in this community for his service and was quoted as saying he knew something serious had happened when he received a call from our place. I'm sure that when he responded to our scarlet fever call he soon confirmed Mom's diagnosis, issued his orders and dispensed medicine before tacking the large black and scarlet lettered Quarantine sign on the house. It was called for by law and meant no one could leave or enter until it was removed when the disease had run its course.

Since we lived on a farm, that sign meant more than it would have in town. Dad needed to go outside several times to work and do chores. Technically he was not supposed to reside in the house and do this during quarantine. Possibly because of the economic effect enforcement of this rule would have on our family, coupled with Doc's knowledge of my Folks, he permitted Dad to stay with us and to care for eggs and milk in the back room, quite removed from the sick rooms.

The first floor was turned into a hospital with each of us in a separate room. I lay on a couch in the living room near a porch window. Hazel had a mild case and Les who was still nursing wasn't hit hard. Stanley's mouth and ear was affected. His tongue peeled as if it had been cooked and his ear drained for some time afterwards. I was hit in the kidneys and experienced severe swelling in both legs which developed black blotches on the skin. Pillows under my knees kept me comfortable.
Doc prescribed a mysterious pink powder to be taken with lots of water. I still think the water probably did more good than the powder which may only have been an innocuous concoction he used to get patients to drink the amount of water he wanted them to. I might have been given some Belladonna to help me rest. The Doctor Book recipe listed on a table elsewhere called for: "Put 10 or 15 drops of the third dilution into half a glass of water and give two teaspoons every 1 to 3 hours."

I can recall seeing relatives bring oranges onto the porch and waving to me before they left. I learned later that for a couple days when I was the worst Mom had cried most of the day as she worked because she didn't think I'd make it. The quarantine lasted 6 weeks and that meant lots of nursing care, changed beds, and extra cooking along with all the regular farm house work.

When the quarantine was lifted there was more to be done. All books and non metal toys we had played with were burned. Other items were sterilized, probably in boiling water. Bedding was boiled on the stove before it was washed and hung in the sun. Mattresses were hauled outside, beaten with the carpet beater and left in the sun for a day or two on each side. Braziers of coals were brought into the sick rooms and sulfur was sprinkled on the fire to produce a dense, yellow smoke which was sealed there for a few hours. Then every room was scrubbed thoroughly with strong soap before being returned to its original use.
We were thankful we didn't lose anyone as many families did. The lingering effects on us were not as serious as those whose eyes had been damaged or who had been left with draining ears for life. I'm sure a lot of the aches in my legs as I grew up came from the fever, so did the varicose veins which developed much later. However, I took the aches for granted and, when I complained my Mom told me they were just "growing pains" and would soon go away. You know, I believed that for years and it made me feel better.

Howard E. Parr
June 17, 1987

People's Home Medical Book, page 48

People's Home Medical Book, page 49


Old Maude

Old Maude

Floyd on Old Maude

Our little bay mare
Was known as Old Maude
But some things that she did
You would never applaud.

Like an unannounced stop
Just for toiletry
When the crest of a hill
Loomed up imminently.

And balking in fear
On the slippery, planked bridge
A bob sleigh full of wood
Fresh cut from the ridge.

Or shying in fright
At the loud bumble bee
When mowing the meadow
So its crop could be free.

The rattle snake sound
Unheard but by her,
Made her stop, ears laid back,
Tight down to the fur.

Many good traits, too
Through the years they were there
First Mom's horse for the buggy
Then Brother's toy—not to share.

Floyd and his shay - c 1933

He had his own rig,
A small, shay-like gimmick
Which he used with Old Maude
His father to mimic.

He walked under her belly,
Climbed up her tail,
Our chides to be careful
Never were to avail.

If she hadn't been gentle
And so easily led,
I'm sure we'd have soon
Seen Brother Floyd quite dead.

Yet it seems to me now
Still she'd be with us here
If Dad hadn't gone modern
And bought that John Deere.

Howard E. Parr
April 3, 1986; revised 5/6/

Butchering Hogs

Much of the independence and self-sufficiency of small farmers came from work done by each family to provide its own food and comfort. Few activities demonstrate what had to be done better than butchering hogs—usually in the spring before it warmed up outside. With no refrigeration cool weather was essential to keeping fresh meat until it could be processed later by salt curing, smoking, canning or storage in crocks.

Each family might butcher differently. Lenora's family pooled two or three family's hogs and made a family bee out of butchering. Several men worked at slaughtering and dressing the animals. The women and children helped process the carcasses. Their aim was to finish most of the work in one day, though smoking and curing might take additional time.
In our family we usually killed two two hundred pound hogs. Processing might take several days and curing the hams/bacon took six weeks in salt brine before smoking.

It was often said that every part of the hog except the squeal was used and there is a lot of truth in this as one looks at the process.


Butchering day started early when the cast iron kettle (cap. 50 gal.) was set up, filled with water, and a fire started under it to heat the water. After the second stoking of the fire, the water was warming and would be at scalding temperature when needed.

Hogs to be butchered were coaxed to a feeding trough, shot in the forehead with a .22 rifle or slugged with a maul there to render them unconscious. Then their jugular veins were cut with a sharp knife to let them bleed out. (We didn't make blood sausage, so we didn't have to catch a supply of the blood as some folks did.)

It then took a couple good men with meat hooks stuck in the pig's mouth to drag the carcasses to the water kettle area. There a plank work table on saw horses had been set up and an empty 55 gal barrel filled with boiling water leaned against one end of it. From the table the hog was eased down in the water to scald the skin, making it easier to scrape away the hair and dirt after the hog was pulled back up on the table. A hog scraper in each hand was used to scrape off all the hair. (A hog scraper was a hand tool—a metal disc with sharp edges about 4" in diameter with an upright hand grip. One was used in each hand to scrape away most of the hair. Dad then finished up by shaving the few remaining hairs with an old straight razor.)

Scraping hair off scalded hog

Scraping hair off scalded hog

The cleaned carcass was then prepared for hanging by slitting the hind legs to gain access to the tendon in each hind leg. A stout slat of wood was pushed behind each tendon and a rope tied around the wood. We butchered near an apricot tree with low limbs we could use to pull the hog upright as it came off the table. A slit along the belly line from top to bottom released the intestines and gave access to attached organs. Pails of cold water received all of this, the organs (liver, heart, kidneys) in one pail to be eaten) and intestines (large and small in another to be cleaned for use as sausage casings). If there were lacy strips of "leaf" lard, that too was saved for rendering. About the only items of no use were the stomach and lungs. The head was cut off, tongue and jowls removed, to be used made into head cheese later. The tongue went in the liver pail and eventually ended up cooked with them as "pig fry". Jowls were made into bacon.

After the carcass cooled, it was cut into the usual cuts, hams, shoulders, ribs, pig's feet and hocks, pork loins, etc. All extra fat was cut away and kept separate to be rendered into lard, along with the leaf lard mentioned earlier. Leaner trimmings of almost any size, along with varying amounts of fat, were set aside for sausage.


Cool weather allowed us to spread a lot of the work over a few days, sausage grinding and making, lard rendering, and curing the hams, shoulders and bacon. We didn't try to finish all the work in one day as Lenora's family did with their multi-family work bee approach.

Curing our hams and bacon took six weeks. It took a 30 gallon crock to hold four hams, four shoulders, the belly and jowl bacon from the two hogs. Salt brine prepared to a 100 lb. recipe was poured over the meat and weighed down with a large platter and a stone and allowed to stand in the basement for three weeks. Then the meat was removed, salt added to the brine as it was re-heated, the meat re-packed in the crock in reverse order (top on bottom and vice versa) to be covered and allowed to stand for another three weeks. After that, it was ready for smoking. The finished produce needed no refrigeration and usually hung on rafters in the back room covered with recycled 50 lb. flour bags until it was eaten Hams were basted with a mixture of diluted molasses and red pepper to help ward off insects, but I recall no incidents of any spoiled meat.
Lard was an important item for food, preserving and, finally, for soap. As mentioned earlier all extra lard cut from the meat was set aside to be cut into cubes which could be heated in large kettles on the range for rendering. When it was done we called the solid residue cracklings (not unlike today's pork rinds.) The cooled lard was snow white and stored in crocks for use as shortening during the year. Some of it might be used to preserve fried down sausage in storage crocks. Ultimately lard used for frying or produced by frying was collected in a recycle dish kept on the range and known as the soap dish. This discolored fat ultimately was purified somewhat by cooking potato slices in it and then made into laundry or soft soap. Laundry soap was allowed to cool and harden in old cardboard boxes. It was cut into bars just before it became solid. Glycerin was added to some to keep it from hardening—hence soft soap (today's Murphy's Oil Soap).

We did use just about everything from the hog but the squeal, but it was a lot of work for many willing hands in a world without refrigeration or a lot of cash.

Hog Crate

Hogs were difficult to handle in many ways. With their snouts and strength they could push openings in all but the strongest fences and could rip up ground like a plow. They couldn't be led with a leash like cows or horses; they couldn't be driven in groups like sheep. Their bodies were so solid and rotund that there was no easy way to take hold of one and, if you could grab on somehow, to move-control 200-250lbs in rock-like mass was a challenge to even the strongest man. It was easier to build a crate big enough to hold a hog, entice it with food to walk in, shut the gate, and lift it onto a wagon or truck. Larger numbers of hogs went to market by being driven up specially built ramps. At the market another ramp or chute was available for off loading and penning them until they were moved again. It didn't pay for most farmers to build chutes for the few hogs that needed moving, so they used homemade crates to move what they had.

On our farm we used the hog crate when moving a boar from our hog lot to a neighbor's in breeding season. That way every farmer didn't have to feed and put up with a boar just to breed a couple sows once or twice a year.

Orchards and Truck Farms

These recollections are from the 1920s–30s when I was growing up on our farm in Sec. 10, Manchester Township, Michigan. That was a world without many trucks, before extensive use of refrigerated (iced) railroad cars, and one served primarily by rail transit. Fresh fruit and vegetables had to be produced locally and distributed fresh as best it could in small surrounding areas. In this agrarian economy each small farmer family produced what they wanted. In villages like Manchester many residents had their own buggy horse, a cow and some chickens along with a small garden plot to produce some of their own produce.

I am speaking here of the farms specializing in orchards and large production of special produce such as celery, dry onions, carrots, potatoes, radishes, green onions and cabbage to supply on either a retail or wholesale basis the demands of those without gardens in the surrounding area. Some of it was shipped as far as rail transit would allow before spoilage occurred--perhaps Detroit, Ann Arbor, Jackson or Adrian. Oranges, lemons, grapefruit and bananas might stand longer trips, but not perishable fruits and vegetables.


Three local orchards operated around here. Alber Orchard, Higgins and Weinlander Orchard and Schumaker Orchard. Alber was in Freedom Twp. and the other two in Manchester Twp. Higgins and Weinlander operated both an orchard and a truck farm on about 110 acres, an L-shaped farm between the west edge of the Village and Grossman Rd. where it went south along the east side of that road to what is now the Sportsman's Club. Trees covered the higher ground and "marsh" or lower areas drained with tile so the muck could be used to grow vegetables. The orchard was cared for in the winter when it was pruned, early spring when it was sprayed, and late summer and fall during harvest. The truck garden was taken care of during the prime, summer growing season, rounding out a full year of work for the operators. Extra casual labor was needed during both harvest seasons.


The onion field was across the road from the monument in Oak Grove cemetery, behind and west of the barn, part of which still is used for today's Feed Store. Instead of the marsh/pond there today, there was a tillable field of rich black muck, made useable by a well-tended system of drainage tiles. It was plowed with horses and then tended by men with hand tools. Onion seeds were planted with a one-row hand planter. The new sprouts were thinned by hand with a hoe. Hand cultivators pushed along between the rows kept out most of the weeds. Gangs of 10-12 jr. high boys were hired to pull the weeds between onion plants a couple times in summer.(I was one of them and received $1.25 for a 10 hour day of weeding on hands and knees.) When the bulbs had formed and the tops started turning yellow, onions were pulled and left to dry in windrows. At the right time more boys were brought in to top them at 3 cents a bushel so they could be shipped to markets and stores.

Celery, Carrots and Cabbage

Fields of these were along Grossman Road on the lowlands there. Carrots were sown like onions. Cabbage and celery were transplanted as young plants into holes pressed into the ground by spikes on a measuring board. (The Society has a special tool, a dibber or dibble, a cast iron pistol-like tool with a pointed end instead of a barrel, used by Jake Weinlander to punch holes by hand in the small areas that couldn't be marked with the longer measuring boards.) These plants could be cultivated and hoed by hand until mature. At harvest time extra help was needed to trim and pack each bunch of celery and head of cabbage for shipment. (In Old Manchester Village, p.44, crates of celery are shown in front of the cemetery monument.) Additional help was needed and this work was done at a few cents per case or bushel to pack the harvest for shipment by rail.

Apples, Peaches and Cherries

Orchard work during the year dovetailed with truck farm work. Orchards were pruned during the winter. They were sprayed in the early spring. We lived near the orchard and I recall hearing the gasoline engine spray rig through my bedroom window at night when it was operating near us. A horse drawn rig with a wooden water tank went up and down the rows of trees so operators could spray each tree. Water to make the spray mixture was drawn by special arrangement from the Village hydrant near today's Wolf's Westside Auto because the orchard well was too small and slow. Spraying was done in the still of moonlight nights so each tree received a full treatment. Some orchards brought in hives of bees to pollinate the blossoms. Higgins and Weinlander may have had their own bees and produced their own honey, I don't remember, but I'm sure our bees were close enough to do part of the pollination. Once the fruit began to grow, it could be left on its own until harvest in late summer and fall.

This orchard didn't permit "pick your own" but picked ripened fruit and sold it at the store or to local cider mills for juice. (At one time Manchester had an apple drying factory which needed apples to dry, but I don't recall Higgins and Weinlander working with them).

Some varieties of apples were ready for use in late summer while others could withstand early fall frost. Harvest apples were ready for threshers' pies in July, while Spys, Greenings, Wagners, and Steele Reds weren't ready until frost. Apples were sorted as picked and stored in crates in the barn for the steady flow of customers coming to take them away. Mass storage was not needed.

Radishes and Green Onions

Chuck Wurster specialized in these on his smaller truck farm in Bridgewater Twp. Parts of the farm and the buildings remain there today and one of his boys operates a large garden producing vegetables for sale there or at his home in Clinton. The larger fields across the road near a small stream are no longer tilled. Earlier, larger quantities of radishes and green onions were grown there and could be washed with water from the stream before being trucked to market.


The land now held by Du Russels in Freedom was operated by Tom Walton before them but I don't know who raised potatoes there earlier. This flat, rich loam soil produced fine potato crops, and still does. I can't recall other farms specializing in potatoes. I suspect many individual farmers may have over produced potatoes and sold their small surpluses locally. I recall that when my folks worked a farm on shares they grew twice as many potatoes as they needed and delivered half of them to the landlord who sold them. A large number of small farmers doing this would supply lots of potatoes to nearby families without gardens.

Hiram Parr's Barn

Fourscore and seven years ago, Hiram and Louisa (Cash) Parr brought me forth to serve part of their needs for the 200 acre farm purchased a few years before. It was an L-shaped farm wrapped around a bend of the Raisin River and extending from E. Austin Road up to Parr Rd to Hogan Road and then east to the township line. Two of the fields were east of the houses along Parr Road in the village.

Hiram Parr, c. 1935

Hiram planted a row of catalpa trees from the village line along Parr Road to Hogan Road. I have enjoyed a spectacular scene of their white flowers each spring for nearly all my years.

I was built as a cow and horse barn. However, when I was brand new and still clean in 1909, the farm workshop next to the granary was spruced up and used as a bedroom by the three Parr boys (Walter, Clayton, and Lowell) during the summer while their new house was under construction.

Feed and grain for the horses and cattle was stored upstairs on the grade floor. In the basement there were four horse stalls and a box stall, a row of stanchions for nine cows and an open basement area for feeder cattle. Under the ramp to my main floor was a large cement tank to store water for the animals. The windmill up at the house could be set running with the water valve switched to fill this tank. Often the windmill ran for a whole day at a time to fill the tank. Water was piped from the main tank to the smaller one built for the horses and cows. A float valve in the tank (similar to what is in a toilet tank today) let in more water as needed. Eventually, another pipe was laid to the 1926 barn where lower tanks were filled in the same way to water the sheep. But, I wasn't a sheep barn and had nothing to do with them.

Underneath the peak of my roof they hung an iron track. It was equipped with a hay car used to unload bulk hay from the wagons and to pull it into the hay mow. One-third of a load of hay was unloaded on each pull and did my rafters and joints creek from the strain. Each sling or double set of harpoon forks lifted about as much hay as is in a large round bale today.
This work could be dangerous. Once when Hiram was driving the horses on the hay rope, he made the mistake of standing in the bite (loop) of the rope as he was bringing the team back to the barn. The hay car safety equipment misfired somehow and the hay plunged back to onto the wagon, jerking the rope back with it. Hiram's feet were caught by the loop of the rope and he plunged backwards to the ground. He suffered a broken shoulder blade and damage to the nerves in his arm from which he never recovered. No wonder he always cautioned his boys and grandsons, "Never stand in the bite of the rope". But that problem arose from store bought equipment attached to me and had nothing to do with my dependability.

Howard Clark was the carpenter-builder for my project. Most of the materials came from the woods on the farm. Clarkie went into the woods the season before I was built to pick out the kinds and sizes of trees needed. Trees were felled, logs cut at the sawmill sawed into beams, plates, rafters, and roof boards. When these came back to the site, they were cut, bored, and fitted to make mortise and tenon joints to hold my frame together.

The siding, cedar shingles, nails and spikes, windows and door hinges and hangers were bought from a hardware store along with that infamous hay car. I was painted red and trimmed with white. Red lead came as powder in wooden kegs. This was mixed with turpentine and linseed oil with lampblack to create the right shade of red. White lead was used to make paint for the trim. When all was completed you could read the following as you stood in from of me: H. Parr 1907.

One of the reasons that I have stood so long has to do with the two-foot stone walls used for my foundation. William Urh Sr. and his sons Fred (Mildred and John's father) and young Bill (Earl and Mae's father) were hired as stone masons. They cut and set the field stones gathered from the farm to form the walls. Uhrs were good masons and later were hired to do the beautiful stone work on the foundations and front porch of the new house. The concrete foundations used for the new barn in 1926 failed years ago and that barn was razed because of it.

I served Hiram until he died in 1940. Son Lowell then bought the farm and I served him until the 70's when he retired to town. We knew that when the state decided to route M-52 through the farm, many changes were to come. And, they did. Farming ceased as I had known it, some of the fields made the right-of-way for the new road and others were stripped to furnish gravel to build causeways. The rest was sold to speculators.

Then the part of the farm where I stood was made an industrial park. I could see the handwriting on the wall. Fortunately I wasn't to be removed by burning is the case with so many barns. Don Limpert was selected to take me down and he uses old barns as recycled material for modern projects. He made me stand naked for several weeks after he removed my siding to be used for barnwood themes somewhere. In mid-May I had to say good-bye when he cut apart part of my frame and gently pulled what was left of me into the old barnyard. No doubt he will disassemble me and, who knows? One of my beams or posts may end up in your home as a fireplace mantel or be used to patch some other barn's rotting frame. I may no longer be a barn, but parts of me will be around Manchester for another four score and ten years, I hope.

By Howard Parr, grandson of Hiram and Louise, along with his brothers and sister: Leslie Parr, Floyd Parr, and Hazel Parr Walker.

(from The Manchester Chronicle, June, 1994)

New Fangled Water Systems on the Farm (c. 1900)

Since writing the description of my grandfather's house for the Historical Society Calendar this year, I have become interested in why he built parts of his house and his farm buildings in the manner that he did. Specifically, I have often wondered who designed the water system for the house and for the farm buildings. I suspect he knew rather in detail what he wanted and hired workers to complete the projects.

The water system in the house depended on rain water and since this was stored in a cistern it was often called cistern water. Eaves troughs were constructed to drain from all sides of the house into the masonry cistern which was built into a corner of the basement. The exterior walls in a corner provided half the enclosure; stone walls two feet thick were built to complete the rectangle. The inside surface of all walls was plastered to make them waterproof.


Before electric water pumps became available another part of the system was built within a small room on the second floor. It was called a tank room because a galvanized tank was installed there. The bottom of the tank was about three feet above the upstairs floor level. Thus, all plumbing fixtures in the house were below the water level in this tank. This assured constant water pressure. Some of the eves were designed to fill this tank; there was also a hand operated force pump in the basement which was used to pump cistern water into the tank as needed.

The cook stove was also part of the water system. A range coil was installed next to the firebox and plumbed into the system. Pressured water kept this coil filled and when the range was fired, the heated water rose to fill the nearby range tank. From this tank heated cistern water was available as needed throughout the house.

Toilets were flushed from this system and the water was available to fill the hot water boiler used to heat the house. The only water need not filled by this system was drinking water. This was supplied from the well which was drilled just outside the back door for convenience. Another system was installed for drinking water and it served both the house and the farm buildings where the animals were housed.

A large windmill was installed above the well. It was built high enough to extend above the house roof so wind from any direction could operate it. This system used a pump which was made to force water under pressure. There was a control lever which could be switched to pump a pail of water for the house or to pump water to a large tank near the barn.

The barn tank was built of concrete and located under the drive ramp to the main barn floor. It probably held 10,000 gallons of water. The windmill could pump all day and not overfill the tank.

From the main tank pipes were laid two or three smaller tanks placed at lower levels. One of these was placed high enough to be used by cows and horses. The others were low enough to be used by sheep. About the only animals not served were hogs and poultry.

The system was relatively automatic if you remembered to set the windmill running. At each small tank a valve was placed at the end of the supply pipe near the bottom of the tank. From the valve a strong wire was attached to a float which was set at the water level desired. Pressure on the float shut off this valve at the water level desired; when animals drank water, the float dropped to allow water to re-fill the tank.

Both these water systems were energy efficient and easy to use. They were dependable through many years of use and needed virtually no attention. I think of this sometimes when the power goes off and we are "out of water."

Howard E. Parr
February 12, 1986

Jesse Walker's Barn Raising

Hazel's notes about logs required and timber dimensions

Lumber list for the barn

Susan and Nancy playing on timbers

Stockpile of timbers awaiting assembly

Nov 1, 1949 – Raising the first bent (A bent refers to one assembled section of a barn frame)

First bent, almost in place

First bent, end view

Cross members connecting bents

Second and third bents up

Four bents in place with plates by the end of the day (Nov 1, 1949)

Rafters going up, Nov 2, 1949

Siding begins

Milking parlor addition (cement block)

Unknown, Ella Kemner, Alta Parr, Clella Simpson, Rena Girbach, Arnold

The new barn and addition


Education of a Farmer

Dad's time pre-dated formal, structured educational programs to prepare farmers for their life's work. A boy who wanted to stay on the farm most often grew up on one. There he learned from his family members as well as others with whom he associated. Dad was such a boy and his parents were successful at farming as well as patient, good teachers.

State Agricultural Colleges began throughout the country with the passage of the Morril Act in 1864 which provided subsidies to get them started. In Michigan a new college and farm campus was started near Lansing, known as Michigan State Agricultural College. Its special purposes included training in farm methods and management, preparatory courses for veterinarians, vocational agricultural teachers, home economics teachers, as well as short courses (held during winter months) for farmers in specialized areas (shop training in wood and metal working, animal and plant husbandry, to name a few). Bulletins from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were fed through these colleges to inform and educate about good farm practices and innovations.

Uncle Walter attended such a course in 1911 and Dad spent the winter of 1913 there in a course in Farm Mechanics, practical work in woodworking and metal working skills which might be useful to a farmer. Floyd later attended, specializing in poultry as I remember it.

Clayton standing 6th from left

Dad took advantage of many other ways to gain knowledge about improvements in farming. He subscribed to magazines such as Successful Farming, Country Gentlemen, and The Michigan Farmer. He continued to learn from the U.S. Ag. Bulletins on a wide variety of subjects as they came along. He belonged to the National Grange organization. Local, County, and State Fairs offered competition to exhibit the best in what was then largely an agricultural show. The better (more productive/profitable) breeds of farm animals, plant types, and farming practices could come to his attention and be tried out on the farm. For example, when he found that the champion butterfat producing cow was a Holstein, we began adding them to our herd. He gave Stanley his first dairy animal and her name was Fannie Sieges, so named when she was registered in the Holstein-Friesian system. Her heifer calves from that registered line were added to our herd as time went on.

Added information about what worked on farms was available in less formal ways. Dad's "visits" to town on Saturday night might uncover what a neighbor was doing. Our annual visits with relatives in Charlotte and Toledo also were an opportunity to exchange ideas and discover helpful practices. The quiet hours spent working in gangs during threshing and silo filling provided added exchanges which might provide new ideas or evidence of bad experience.

It took a willing and energetic person to use all the means at hand to learn about good farming, and Dad was such a person.

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