Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Apple Orchard

Every farm had an apple orchard when I was a boy .Most farms were 100 acres in size.Most apple orchards were very close to the house and had 5 or 6 big old apple trees in them.These trees were overgrown and about 40 feet in hight.The trunks would be 2 ½ to 3 feet thick and there were lots  of sucker shoots growing up on the branches.I never knew any farmer to look after these old trees they just let them grow.The trees were never sprayed but continued to produce apples year after year.They would be scabby and wormy,you would bite off the scabs and cut out the worm holes and these old apples tasted really good.It was something to see these full sized trees covered with hundreds of red,yellow or russet coloured apples.Since only a few of these apples were picked the ground would be covered with hundreds of apples beneath the trees and if the pigs were pasturing here they would really enjoy their fill.I remember walking over all these rotting apples.
                Our neighbour had an Astrocan apple tree which grew some of the largest red apples I have seen.They also had two Tolman Sweet apple trees.My uncle had a tolman Sweet ,a Russet and two lovely Snow apple trees growing close to the house.In 1998 there was still one of those old trees behind the house,the others having all rotted away over the years with big branches breaking off under the weight of a lot of apples.Sometimes a big branch had been cut off and the tree started to rot there.It would decay over the years,sometimes a big hole would develop and starlings would build their nest here.The tree would continue to live and bear fruit year after year after you felt sure it would not be able to survive another winter.
                I remember on our farm the apple orchard was farther away from the house in about a four acre field behind the barn.We kept our calves in this field.We had a little chicken house here too, about 10 feet by 12 feet where we used to raise about 300 chickens.We would line the wooden building with card board,put shavings on the floor and put a coil oil brooder stove in for the baby chickens to gather under when we got them home from the hatchery when they were just one day old,a fluffy soft charming yellow  chick.
                The pig pen windows were at the east end of the barn and the manure was thrown out them into this field too.A big pile would develop here over the year until it was time to load it up into the manure spreader and spread it on the fields in late September or October.
                This was the field where we drew the logs up from the bush and piled them,then we would have a logging Bee and buzz saw them into a very big pileof blocks of wood  which became our stove wood for next winter.
                This is the field where there had been at one time a lovely apple orchard.Over the years I watched the trees fall down,rot away ,or get blown down by the wind.I remember climbing all those trees and picking and bagging many apples which we put down in our cellar to eat over the winter.We had a Tolman Sweet tree,two Russet apple trees and a beautiful big Snow apple tree.I remember taking our big heavy 40 foot wooden ladder and putting it up in the snow apple tree and picking these apples.We would wait until there had been a good frost then pick them.They were very juicy,had  white flesh and a red skin that shone brightly after you gave it a good polish on your pant leg.These snow apples were one of my favourites.We would fill 100 pound sacks with apples.Many that were bruised and had fallen to the ground we took to Wellsly to the cider press and brought home apple butter and a wooden barrel of cider.As the days passed the cider would get stronger and stronger and finally turn into vinegar. We did plant two or three apple trees on our farm.They were dwarf trees and we had to wait 4 or 5 years to get apples.On one tree we grafted five different varieties.We planted a spy apple tree on our lawn but we had to wait 10 years before we got any apples.               
                Our neighbour had a grass farm across the road from us.The ditch called the Gilkinson Drain ran through it.At the back of the farm a long way from the road there used to be a house and well and a large apple orchard.I remember the the old spy apple tree in this orchard that we liked to visit every fall.Lightning had hit the tree,the trunk was half rotted away,a branch had split off but was still attached and some new growth reached up to the sky.This branch was usually loadedwith the best spy apples you could eat.It was worth the walk every fall to go back there and fill our pockets with these tasty apples.
                Such were the farm orchards of yesteryear.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Electric Fence

The electric fence was a great invention.The cows and horses respected it.I had to learn to do that too.
            Fencing was a great time for me as a small boy.Every year we had lots to do repairing the old fences,tightening the wires,fixing holes,taking out old broken cedar posts and putting in new ones.Every spring we had to put a new fence across the ditch.The spring floods would break the old one and carry it away so we usually took it up in the fall and set it well back from the ditch bank and tied it up to the fence there,then replaced it in the spring.
            We would load all the fencing tools onto the light wagon,shovels,an axe,a sledge hammer,a heavy iron crow bar,a buck saw,and the post hole digger.This was a one man unit.It looked like a shovel with another shovel attached to it by a lever.There was a smaller curved shovel at the end.You pulled the lever handle up and dropped the two shovels in the hole,then you pushed the lever handle down and pulled the shovels out of the hole. The shovel full of dirt was captured between the two shovels.Open up the lever again and drop the earth on the ground.We would load some cedar post onto the light wagon.We would put on a roll of barbed wire,some heavy brace wire,and some light electric wire.We had an old sap bucket with a wire handle in it we would carry our steeples and nails in this bucket.It held the fencing tools too,a hammer,pinchers and a steeple puller.Our steeple puller was made out of a heavy old file that had been put on the forge,heated red hot and shaped to a sharp pointed end on one side the back of this made round and flat.When you hit the round and flat side with the hammer the pointed end would be driven into the cedar post behind the wire and the steeple so you just had to yank back on the handle and pull the steeple out of the post. This steeple puller was a heavy piece of an old file and it worked well for all the years I was farming.
            Another piece of fencing equipement was the rope block and tackle.It was used to stretch and tighten the wire.There were a couple of steel clamps with a round ring on the end of them.You hooked the clamps onto the wire about 20 feet apart then hooked the ends of the block and tackle to the rings on the ends of the clamps pulled on the rope and tightened the wire fence,then drove the staples tight in the cedar post on the the wires which would hold the wire fence tight.I remember you always had to  untangle the rope on the bock and tackle and set it up straight without any twists in the rope or the rope would bind and you could not get it working.In later years we had a jack all jack with a handle on it .It was a lot easier to use to tighten the fence.
            Once we had all the fencing equipment on the light wagon we would hook the horse to it.Then dad, the hired man and I were ready to go fence  fixing.We would sit on the light wagon and go riding back the long lane,open a gate at the ditch,open a gate on the other side of the ditch bank till we came to the field where we wanted to fix the fence.Our collie dog laddie ,was always running along side the wagon.He might stop at a groundhog’s hole to see if he might catch himself supper.
            I might have been five or six when we went  to work on this electric fence.This was something new to me.It was just one strand of wire attached to the cedar posts with a white insulator nailed to the post and the wire sitting on it .You took a short piece of wire and wired the wire sitting on the insulator so it would not fall off. If the long wire touched the wooden post the current running through the wire fence would be grounded.The power for the electric fence was contained  in a steel box about a foot long eight inches wide and ten inches high.There was a six volt battery in here and the mechanical workings of the fencer.A wire was fastened from the fencer to a steel rod in the ground to ground  the fence.When you turned the fencer on you would hear the steady tick,tick, tick,tick.If you wanted to get through the electric gate you would turn off the fencer then unhook the single wire gate,then hook the gate up again then turn back on the fencer.I guess my dad wanted to play a trick on me and test the fence.As I said I was new to the electric fence.He said pick up this short piece of wire and touch it to the wire fence.I did.I got an electric shot running up one hand and arm and down the other.I said ow ow and jumped from one foot to the other still holding onto the wire. I got a good shock and dad and the hired man got a good laugh.It took me quite a while to realize that I should drop that wire.I guess the cattle got the same shocks as I did because they soon learned like I to respect that one strand of wire fence.I can still remember that sunny day yet.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Old Farm Stove

To: Mike Williscraft
       Assoc. Publisher NIAGARA  THIS WEEK

`           When I came home today my wife said,” Jim I think you might like to read  Mike Williscraft’s article about his nearly 99 year old grandmother who is still living in the home she was born in and her new stove.”
            I said, “Yes I would” I always like to read the articles he writes about where he grew up in the town of Clinton. Ontario.
            I grew up on a farm on the 12th concession of Elma Township, about 5 miles from Atwood Ontario. His story reminded me of the way things were then. I cannot remember when my grandmother did not live with our family. She was a lovely little woman who probably always weighed less than 100 pounds. She helped out a lot with the housework and raising us kids. She read us stories and always tucked us in bed at night.
            I had an aunt too, she was actually my mom’s aunt but we called her Aunt Min and she lived to be 102.She lived in a little house in Listowel when I first knew her and she was probably over 70 then, but she never seemed to change at all in all the years I knew her. Another lady lived with her. Aunt Min was slightly stooped, white haired, wore thick round wire framed glasses and was hard of hearing. In her front room was an old grandfather’s clock that slowly ticked away the hours. It had been brought over from Scotland by the family. As a young women Aunt Min had lived in British Columbia with her husband but when he died in an accident she came back to the family farm beside us with her young son Basil Jolly.Basil was killed in the First World War at the age of 19. The family farm had been taken out from the Crown in 1854.I remember a solid wooden clapboard house with large fur trees on both sides of the long laneway. The house itself was built around the earlier log cabin and was a solid and cozy building.
            The barn on the farm where mother was born was built in 1898 and the white brick two story, 3 bedroom house without any closets in the rooms was built in 1900.
            The farm where I grew up was just two farms down the road.
            I remember 1950 the year your grandmother got her new stove. I thought we must have become rich. Dad traded our 1935 Chevrolet sedan and bought a new Pontiac, a new refrigerator and a new combination electric and wood stove. It was called a Findlay and replaced our former wood stove which had water tanks on the one side where we dipped all our hot water into a pail and took the hot water to the washroom to wash with. We had just gotten the hydro 6 years earlier and now had running water to replace our hand pump.
            When dad came into the house in the evening after winter chores he would always sit in front of the wood stove with his woollen sock feet up on the open oven door and read his newspaper while smoking his pipe sitting in his favorite wooden rocking chair.
            Grandma had a rocking chair which sat by the window and she would sit  rocking in it for hours while knitting our woollen socks, mitts ,scarfs and making patchwork quilts.
            This combination electric and wood stove worked well for years but it too had some electrical problems. After getting it fixed once mother had to turn the oven to off to get it to come on. One of the top burners would only give half the heat but we didn’t seem to need them all anyway.—the farm women were resourceful.
            Dad died when mother was 78 and she continued living on the farm by herself until moving into a retirement home in Listowel at the age of 85.
            We kept the farm as our summer cottage and didn’t change a thing. The same wallpaper was on the rooms, the old linoleum was on the floors, the same old sink was in the pantry, and our trusty old Findlay stove of 1950 was in the kitchen. It was still working well when we sold the farm in 1998.

            Your article Mike brought back many memories. Thanks for writing it.
            I may send these memories along to my grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

            I have lived in Grimsby with my wife Pamela and family since 1969.


Jim Love
Written Friday January 12, 2007

The Old Chopping Mill

            I walked by the Chopping Mill in the small town I live in today. It is located right beside the creek, the water was low and flowing quickly, and probably at one time it was dammed up and provided water power for the mill. The air carried the strong heavy scent of ground grain.
            It got me thinking of the old chopping mill in the town of Atwood where I grew up. This mill was a large high building right beside the railway tracks. Opposite it was The Blacksmith Shop. Neither building is there now but I remember riding our work horse Molly to the shop to be shod. It was quite thrilling to be considered old enough to ride the horse to Atwood and watch the blacksmith remove the old shoes, shape the horses hooves and fit the new shoes on her feet. The shop was a low building with smoke darkened windows. The forge was in the corner of the building, fine coal heaped on the fire and glowing red hot. Sparks flew when the blacksmith hammered the red hot iron shoe on the anvil to shape it to fit Molly’s hoof. I marveled at the strength of the man wearing his dirty leather apron when he picked up the horse’s hoof and nailed the shoe in place.
            In the 1940’s my uncle worked at the mill for a while. Our farm was about 4 miles from the chopping mill and in the fall and winter, on Saturdays, we used to load sacks of grain from our granary onto our trailer to take to the mill where it was chopped and mixed with supplements which we fed to our cows. Our trailer was a sturdy old wooden trailer big enough to load a cow into. The wheels came from an old 1928 Chevrolet and had wooden spokes. We had wooden racks to put on the trailer which were 6 feet high. I can remember painting the trailer a bright red. We still had it in 1998 when we sold the farm and the wooden spokes on those narrow rimmed tires were still solid and strong. That trailer was used a lot. It carried many a load of grain. Every time dad got a new car the first thing he would do was get a trailer hitch put on it to haul around our old wooden red trailer.
            It was heavy work lifting those 100 pound sacks of grain. I used to like to watch as the men threw the sacks off the trailer and up onto the dolly on the wooden platform outside the chopping mill. Then they pushed the dolly to a trap door on the floor of the mill. The string was untied on the bag and the grain was dumped down the hole. The grain was carried by little cups on the leather belted elevator up to a holding bin. The ingredients were mixed with the grain which then flowed down a wooden chute by gravity and the grain was chopped into cattle feed. Then it was carried by more elevators to another holding bin. From there it flowed down another wooden chute where it was bagged into the 100 pound sacks of flour. A man stood at the inverted Y shaped chute and tied off one bag while the other bag was being filled with chop. It was dusty here. He would lift the bag up bounce it a bit to settle the chop then with a quick one hand motion tie off the bag with the string. I got to learn this skill too over the years. After the bag was tied off he would throw it on the dolly which would hold all of the farmer’s grain. Then the load of chop would be rolled to a large room in the mill to stay until the farmer came along to collect it.
            It was fairly noisy in the mill with all the belts pulleys and elevators running. It certainly was dusty and you could smell the chop and taste the dust in your throat. Standing on the mill floor you could look away up to the high roof and see all the holding bins. My uncle let me climb up the long wooden ladder to the top and look down at the scene below. It was a scary climb.
            After the chop was loaded onto the trailer dad would go into the office to pay the bill. You went through a couple of glass doors up to a long counter. It was quite in here as the noise from the mill floor was deadened. Behind the counter was a bulletin board with pieces of paper pinned to it. There were also some big calendars hanging on the wall. There was an area at one end of the room where the farmers could sit around a big wood stove and chat and visit while they waited for the chopping to be completed.
            My aunt lived in town and she gave my sister and me piano lessons. Every Saturday we went for our music lessons while the grain was being chopped. These are my memories of the old chopping mill.