Our Promised Land

Chapter 8.     OUR FARM


Arthur G. Thayer

Thayer Coat Of Arms

Copyright © 1983 with all rights reserved by Arthur George Thayer



      When Uncle Chris and Dad dug the well at our barn and Dad and I dug the well at our house, we were pleased to find that both wells produced relatively soft water. Using a spade, bucket, and rope, we dug wells five feet in diameter and 20 to 22 feet deep. In the hard pan levels, we used a half stick of dynamite, which would loosen the dirt for 24 to 30 inches. Once dug, cement tiles would be lowered down to form the well. We used Uncle Fred's stump puller to drop the tiles into the well. On the outside of the tile, the gap would be closed with some gravel and then dirt.

      Near the lake a well could be driven with a heavy maul, forcing the pipe and well-point to water level if it was sandy or gravelly ground. But in hard pan, a well-point would disintegrate, tearing the screening so other locations had to be tried. We did find a place where the well-point entered the ground easily and became a flowing well for a lakefront cottage.


Eva on the back porch steps in '41.

Eva on the back porch steps in '41.

The home in the pine trees, Bill's diapers '43.

The home in the pine trees, Bill's diapers '43.

      After the barn was completed, Dad started on the house. Mom and Dad located the house up on a rise amidst pine trees so the trees would protect the house from the west winds that swept across the lake in winter. Again we hauled stone and sand. We dug the basement with the team and a scoop. Dad wanted the first story faced with split stone and it was completed two years later. We moved into the house in 1927.

      In summer the house would be warmed by the sun and the bedrooms would be hot. The house had a large screened - in front porch and at night I would sleep on a cot on the porch where it was cool and refreshing. One Sunday morning in the spring a crow perched on a nearby pine tree and cawed lustily waking everyone. I went into the house, found the shotgun, opened the screen door a bit, located him, and shot him.

      Sundays were a little special. I could sleep an hour later in the morning and, after chores, I was free for the day if I had managed to avoid sunday school and church. It was the time to go boating, hiking, or to see Bill McPherson.


 Mom, Eva, Ruth, Mary and some huckleberries, in 1940s.

Mom, Eva, Ruth, Mary and some huckleberries, in 1940s.

      Haying time was when Dad, with Uncle Chris's help, would make a batch of beer. In a few days there would be a "pop pop" and you would know a few bottles had blown up. We had to be careful, especially when we opened a bottle as the beer would gush all over -- a large glass was definitely needed! There was sediment at the bottom of the bottle. They also made root beer for the kids.

      After haying was over in July, we cut poplar trees, chopped the branches off, and used a horse to drag the tree to the woodpile. The woodpile would be four or five feet high, forty feet wide, and the length of the trees. The tractor and sawing machine sure beat hand sawing. When Dad was building his home, he ordered a furnace with a long firebox. Thus, we could use logs 12 inches in diameter and 32 inches long, which would hold fire all night.

      Mom liked to pick huckleberries so a car-full would go to Hickey Hill or to areas near Oscoda. We knelt on our knees to reach the berries. Mom would pick a big milkpail full while the others picked a few quarts. Some berries would be eaten with sugar and cream and others canned.

      There were "good" birds and "bad" birds. Barn swallows made nests under the eaves of the barn. They were graceful birds and caught flies, mosquitoes, and other flying insects. An occasional hawk would try to catch the young chickens. A hawk would not come if people were near. One evening most of us went out and Dad stayed on the back porch with the shotgun waiting for one particularly bold hawk. It came and Dad shot him.

      A neighbor from Spruce operated a sawmill driven by a steam tractor and made timber, planks or boards. In the late summer, he used that tractor to pull and then operate a thrashing machine, which would travel the surrounding area thrashing grain for the farmers. A team of horses pulled a water tank and each farmer had to supply the wood or pine knots to fire the tractor's firebox. The farmer took care of the dusty straw and had it blown into his barn or out on a stack.

      In the fall Dad would sack five or six bushels of wheat and drive fifteen miles away to Wolf Creek. There the wheat would be ground at a water-powered mill. Dad would return with flour, middlings and bran, which Mom used in making bread, buns, cinnamon rolls, and pies.

      To find the nicest Christmas tree in the forest required some deliberation. We'd choose the top of a large tree, climb the tree, cut off the top and carfully bring it down. Once down, it would be too tall. So we would shorten it, only to find we had lost the symmetry. We would then have to wire limbs into the vacant spots and the tree would be trimmed. It was good exercise and we ended up with a beautiful Christmas tree.

      Grandma Balli died on January 20, 1928. Only Mom and Mary traveled to her funeral at Buckwheat Church a half mile from her homestead. Later that year, on May 28th, my sister Ruth Velma arrived. A death and a birth in the same year.

      We would strain, cool, and cap quart bottles of milk and sell it along with vegetables, butter, eggs, and chickens. The calves were scheduled to arrive in May or June so the cows could produce milk for the summer trade. Each morning and evening we moved the veal calves from their pen to the cow stalls. If we tried to lead a calf, he would brace his four feet against us and dragging was as bad as carrying. Dad soon found an easy way -- a push against the forehead of the calf and he would go backwards easily.

      In the early '30s Dad and Mom bought eighty acres of gladed woodland. The southwest corner touched the northeast corner of our 66 acres. We then had more pasture for the cows to forage, which meant we had to hunt them evening and morning.

      The cows seemed to sense the situation. Of course we put cowbells on them, but in vain if they were laying on the ground. Our eight or ten cows would poke along until forcibly encouraged. Often a cow would move its head next to a large bush or stump to "hide", thinking if it couldn't see you, you couldn't see it even though its rump and sides were quite prominent. If Dad or I sicked Collie on the cow, he usually chased the wrong cow causing it to run, which we did not want. Well, Dad bought a BB gun, the cow was a large target, and the sting of a BB would start the cow moving.

      Cultivating and hoeing berries, corn, potatoes or garden vegetables was always work. Quack grass was the hardest weed to control. Chopping it up didn't help any. The roots needed to be laid out on the ground. A horse cultivator that Dad bought from Grandpa did part of the job.

      Even from our start at Chris's house, Mom had a large garden and would sell a large bunch of nice carrots for a nickle. She would buy two hundred leghorn chickens in the spring, the roosters became fryers and the hens produced eggs or were eaten. Every two weeks Mom canvassed Alpena for customers to buy her butter and eggs. I went with her so I could go down to the wharf and envy everyone who had a yacht.

      Cooking hearty food for us, Mom made fried potatoes just right. Cottage cheese came from our skimmed milk. She added cream and served some sort of meat with her homemade bread. Fresh or home canned vegetables and a pie or fruit completed the meal with coffe and milk. Occasionally, Dad, in a bit of a huff, would leave the table, go to the cupboard and get the salt and pepper (he thought the salt and pepper should be on the table). This sort of irked each of them.

      Breakfasts were healthy or at least there was much to eat. Fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, plus cereals would be waiting for us. Dad would start with a bowl of oatmeal with cream and sugar, add to it one or two fried eggs (sunnyside up) with salt, then stir it all into quite a mixture. Perhaps the egg flavor smothered the oatmeal.

      Always very generous, Mom would give food or a meal to needy people. If someone bought a dozen ears of corn, they received thirteen or fourteen. However, there was one woman who moved into a cottage near us who always complained about her lot in life and the world and this really irritated Mom. One day in late summer when she came for pickling cucumbers, Mom sent her to the garden with a basket to pick her own. She returned with the basket overflowing plus some in her lap. Some big yellow ones were obviously overripe. When Mom told her that it was 50 cents, the woman said, "Well they aren't all good ones!" --- Whereupon Mom said, "No, they really aren't," bent over the basket, picked up the top two or three and tossed them into the chicken yard. The woman was speechless and Mom was quite tickled with her coup.



                      Other Chapters

                        1.     Atlantic
                        2.     Silica
                        3.     Oil City
                        4.     Boat Trip
                        5.     Chris's Home
                        6.     Hubbard Lake
                        7.     Hunting and Fishing
                        8.     Our Farm
    Next - - - 9.     Schools
                      10.     The Depression and the 30's
                      11.     Michigan State University
                      12.     Jobs
                      13.     Our Home
                      14.     Boating
                      15.     Trips
                      16.     The Tropics
                      17.     With The Kids
                      18.     It Is Written


                      Thayer Letter


                      Tree Page


Copyright © 2001 with all rights reserved by William V. Thayer

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