Sunday, November 01, 2015

Things I learned on the farm

# My three year internship

Today we call them internships...back in summers of 1956-57 & 58 it was simply a summer job. Technically, I suppose, there is a difference, but it was during this time that I got educated in the art of dairy husbandry and in farm life.

Yes, we lived on a agricultural lab of sorts, but we were not milking cows by the years referenced above and the farm machinery I had direct access to was limited to a tractor, a sickle-bar mower,  plow, harrow and a hay wagon. But at the end of my freshman year at George Washington I was fortunate enough (not knowing it at the time, of course) to be invited, encouraged, in fact, virtually begged to assist at a modern (for that day) diary of 60 milking Holsteins.

My Brother Dave, ten years older than I and a 1952 graduate of Penn State in Animal Husbandry, was herdsman for the dairy belonging to his father-in-law, Harold Green of Glen Road, Lawernce County, PA. Dave and his wife Tillie and their daughter Margy (now Shuppy for you New Castleites) also lived at the Glen Road farm in the second house from the corner. The elder Greens lived in the beautiful brick house on the corner.

There was a lot of rain that summer, 1956, and “making hay” was tough going. Not only was it difficult to get the hay dry enough to bale and store, it also became problematic in some fields to even get a loaded hay wagon out of the field without getting stuck in the mud. That is where I was pressed into service.

After our team of horses was traded for our first tractor (a 1940 John Deere “B” with hand clutch and all) in about 1947 dad was talked into upgrading to a 1954 JD “40”. While I learned to drive the B, the 40 was “my” tractor. I plowed acres with that beast, well little beast, and mowed pastures for several farmers. I was 15.

The call came for me to come over to Green’s farm to pull hay wagons out of the mud in tandem with their Farmall Super “C”. So off I scooted up Valley Road, up Sunset Valley hill (Eagles Hill), across Mitchell Road to Route 18...and then north to Glen Road (about 2.5 miles total) on my Johnny. Once I got there, I virtually stayed all summer. 

The “need” for a third tractor and operator became a convenience of having an extra hand and another set of wheels that could handle wagons, hay rakes and the like. Besides, working late into evening I could shower at Dave and Tillie’s and crawl into bed there and be ready to go early in the morning. I did not live there permanently, of course, but it sure was nice to have not only a bed available, but also delicious hot meals. Tillie was a great cook.

They were kind to me, especially that first summer, because I was not expected to get up for the morning milking, but quickly had an assignment for evening chores on most days. That first year, 1956, they were still using electric milkers (DeLaVal) and dumping milk into a strainer affixed to a 10 gallon milk can, which then was trucked into the cooler in the milk house. The next two summers we used a pipeline system that was installed in early 1957. My job was to wash the udder of the next cow or two in order to let Dave and J.R. (Dave’s brother-in-law) keep the three milking machines sequenced and ready to go onto the next cow.

As I got more experienced over the second and third summers, I was allowed to actually put the milkers on, determine when the cow was adequately milked and remove the milker. Sounds simple but when you make decisions about the cow’s mammary system you are messing with the economics of the farm. Big stuff for a 16 year old. By this time I became pretty good at milking by hand.

During the winter months my time at the Green farm was limited to occasional visits and acting as a fill-in milker when the elder Greens headed to Florida for a few weeks. In December 1956 Tillie and Dave had a new daughter, Rebecca Jordan (now Becky Godfrey of Burlington Iowa) who came into the world. For reasons I do not recall. Tillie came to our house on Valley Road for a couple of nights before she and Bec headed back to Glen Road.

When school was out in June 1957, there was no question, I reported for duty on Glen Road...tractor and all. You might wonder about the financial arrangements of this internship. Well, it was a barter system. I traded labor and tractor hours for the use of farm equipment for my enterprises on Valley Road and for custom combining and baling. Nobody kept hours or amounts, I just worked and used what I needed or told JR when my crops were ready to harvest. At the end of the second summer Granddad Green thought he still owed me something for the summer’s work, so he gave me a bull calf to make into a steer and fatten for sale. That little Angus-Holstein cross fit right in with my two purebred Polled Hereford heifer/cows. I was in business.

My skills improved in 1957 and when fall came I was asked if I would be willing to feed five or six heifers in our barnyard if the Green operation supplied the feed….well, I was flattered. Sure. So my three bovines were joined by five more, The silage and grain was delivered in burlap sacks and all I had to do was feed it each morning and evening and keep hay in the manger.

Part of my responsibility was to observe the heifers to see if they were pregnant and if not, to notify the “mother-ship” farm to get her to a bull or call the artificial inseminator. Most of the time the yearlings  placed in my care were pregnant, but there were two or three occasions over the two winters that I fed replacements that I had to call for the inseminator to stop by our Valley Road farm. In that case, I would segregate the heifer into the former milking area in our old barn and wait for ‘service.” We weren’t always successful on the first try so, 21 days later I had to be watching to see if we could do better the next time. The goal is to have young heifers give birth by their second birthday. The gestation period for a cow is about nine months so that means she should be bred by the 12th through the 15th month of age...and those were the ages of “my” girls.

The last summer, 1958, I had my license which gave me even more freedom. I was dating a girl who went to Neshannock and rather than taking her home to meet my parents, I took her to Dave and Tillie’s to meet my other family. I had a car (1951 Studebaker) and enough energy left over after a hard day farming to go on an occasional date. Dave shaved my hair off at the beginning of that summer and it grew back just enough by August so that my senior pictures didn’t look like i was bald. My mother was concerned about that, too.

My body of farming knowledge was growing by leaps and bounds. When it came time for me to apply for college there was really no decision. I was heading to Penn State to study agriculture. Probably one of the last NeCaHi grads to do so.

By the fall of 1958...the beginning of my senior year at NCHS...I had more stories to tell my lunch table mates about farming than they cared to hear. A few names I recall: John Bender, Barry Ralph, Steve Myers, Bob Ward, Bill Richards, and more...John Bertucci, Roger Izzo, They seemed to like the stories of blood and gore and anything that had to do with the reproductive cycle of a cow. There were stories about A.I. and my favorite was when I had to wrap binder twine around the hooves of a baby calf and pull it out of its mother.

This was not all about cows and farming, it was just as much about family. I was a teen uncle to two delightful girls that were always there to tease and play with. Looking back, there were some real bonding moments, not only with them, but with their Green family cousins (Liza, Buddy and Luanne Green, Mary Ruth and Shelly Zeigler.) I spent lots of time listening to JR telling stories about his hitch in the Navy and I thought then, that was where I would want to serve. Dave, JR and I sang hymns as a trio at several churches in the area. JR’s wife, Janet (Bartley of New Wilmington) was an accomplished pianist and acted as our booking agent.

Dave was assigned as a pastor to a couple of Methodist churches in Southern Lawrence County and was making plans to attend seminary in Washington, D. C. starting in the summer of 1959, so I knew life was going to change following my graduation in June. The work assignments of the farm would be cut back, my “summer residence” would go away and I would lose my second family.

However, all through the winter of my senior year, I fed replacement heifers for Greens and expanded my herd and welcomed two more Polled Hereford calves. My last summer home, 1959, I did little farming. I was getting ready to go to college and had to sell my herd and wrap up things around the farm. I hung out at Uncle Walt’s at Parks Town waiting for a certain girl to get off work there so I could take her home. I spent money on the batting machines feeding my hidden desire to play baseball. Working on the farm as I did limited my social and athletic life. Oh, I sang in Concert Choir, attended State Chorus two years and won State solo contest in 1958, but I did not participate in any team sports, nor did I socialize in wider circles. My neighborhood buddies were Russ George, Suzanne Winter and her friends Mimi Baldof and Cookie Storch...we did go to the movies once in awhile.

I showed one of my Polled Herefords at the Farm Show two years running and got to know a wider range of 4-H kids, most in Laurel Area: Mel Boher and Gary Gibson are two names that I can remember. 

I identified as a farmer most of the time except when I was singing arias at the New Castle Music Club or trying to impress some girl that I should not have been chasing. I say that because I realized even then that my life’s partner would not come from the city but would be a girl who also had lived in the country and experienced many of the things I had as a kid. She would have to be family oriented to the point of may be even being boring by many standards, because that is all I knew. And in 1961 I found such a girl, from Scott Township, and pursued her until we married in 1965. God bless you, Aleene Kneram Lutz

I owe much to my many mentors of those important years of my life...the Green Family...Dave, Tillie and kids, my parents who were patient and supporting in my many agricultural endeavors, my buddy Russ George and his parents...we wasted a lot of time in their  basement and goofing around like teenagers do. And I have to add, Suzanne Winter...I told her this a couple of years ago...she showed me such enduring friendship as she paid me a visit on horseback when my dad suddenly died in 1962. She was a schoolmate from the beginning at Walmo, a neighbor, 4-H club member and someone whom I rode horses with from time to time.

Thanks to all of you...

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