Camel Power in Georgia
by Scott Allen of Cartersville, GA
This farm has been in the family since 1946, when my grandparents were pushed out of the Allatoona pass area in Acworth, Georgia! The taming of the Etowah River and the expansion of Allatoona Lake was much more important to the U.S. government and the Corp of Engineers than our family home my grandfather bought and paid for during the Great Depression! I found an ol’ trunk in one of the buildings here on the farm where the official receipts were. Raymond Allen bought back all the buildings on the farm at Allatoona for one dollar including the house, all of the barns and even the outhouse! They did not want him to get hurt tearing those down, then sue the US government I guess!!! They say that Granddad loaded a Model T truck and two teams of mules down so heavy with lumber that you couldn’t tell the wagons from the truck except for the mules! The trip was eighteen or twenty miles if you went through the underpass that sits between Atco, Georgia and Monkeytown (unincorporated mill village where we live now and which is known now as Cartersville), if not, you go around. That added another six miles! Six miles is not much to worry about these days, but with a Model T and two teams of mules it’s a pretty good hike! Not to forget that one team was green broke and had only been driven a few times before the trip! Everyone said “Those green broke mules will never go through that underpass with the load still on!” But I was told when those mules made the underpass their ears were just a flopping and they never looked up. I’ll bet, they were sure glad to pull in off the road three hundred yards past that underpass!
By the time I got on the scene in 1963, cotton was a thing of the past on our farm and the eight kids (aunts and uncles) had started scattering across the country. I can remember them planting some corn with the Super A Farmall and cows. Then just cows by the mid 70’s! My dad worked diligently at keeping cows on the farm and every one else off! By the 80’s Dad had quit trying to farm and keep two full time jobs, raise a family and coon hunt while he was resting! Farming, the way we were doing it, just would not pay the bills. I remember my Dad saying “If the cows just make enough to pay the taxes, at least the farm’s not costing us!” I never questioned this ‘til I started reading a book by Alan Savoy on ‘Holistic Resource Management’. I remember thinking, ”You mean to tell me, you can do this (farming) and pay the bills!!!!” I thought to myself “I’m IN” and I took the plunge; this was after I had tried it the other way! In the early 80’s I was working at an aluminum foundry, shoeing horses, raising a family and trying to farm, same as my father before me. He was a firefighter and shod horses and farmed and coon hunted by night. He was tougher than me because I never got the bug to go out and hunt all night! Anyway, back to the foundry. I had really started pushing the horseshoeing and we had discovered a new vocabulary word by the mid to late 80’s “Farrier”! A Farrier is a Professional horseshoer and the pay is better; I got certified by the A.F.A. (American Farrier Association) and hung up my foundry job and went to work full-time for myself shoeing horses! The horses were good to me and I was pretty good at it, being the third generation Farrier! I started shoeing when I was fourteen years old. That meant by the time I was twenty four I had been on the job ten years and cocky to boot! A client at the time, turned good friend gave me the book “Holistic Resource Management” by Alan Savoy, He said “You should read this, its pretty good stuff” and that’s how “I got started full time farming”. The jist of the book is to figure out how much land you have or can get your hands on. Then figure the square footage, divide that in to how much money you want to make, voila you have your formula for success!! No, it’s not that simple! But it was a start. It did not take long to figure out cotton, cows or corn were not going to cut it as a full-time farmer the way we had been doing it on our eighty acres! One of the quotes from the book was “my Grandfather and my Father did it this way and I’ll do it this way till I go bankrupt too.” I kept this one in mind! None of us went bankrupt but it was a rough way to make a living! My Grandfather did ok and had an eight kid labor pool to help farm. Dad did good with two jobs and me and my sister for a labor pool raising cows to pay the taxes! I just did not want the other two JOB’s! I wanted to be self sufficient and live on my farm!
I started pony rides before I quit the foundry. One day on the fourth of July, I needed rent money and diaper money for that oldest boy of mine, that I think was two years old give or take a little. A client of mine that I shod horses for was doing a few pony rides here and there to support his carriage business and he had mentioned I should do some too. I came up with the idea to carry our pony and a small barrel horse down to the park to see if they would let us do rides the day of the Fourth of July Celebration, no doubt!! Like I said I was cocky and did not know how you are supposed to do things in advance! We walked ourselves to death almost but we had the dough! Nearly double what I was making at the foundry! Now I was up to three jobs and the foundry had to go! As our pony ride business grew, we added in a petting zoo and then a moon walk (inflatable bounce house). A Farrier through the week and “carnie” on the weekends as my Dad so affectionately and fondly enjoyed calling me.
So now what to do? Farrier? Carnie?… and farming! At that time it was the early 90’s and I had thirty head of momma goats (meat goats) that had triplets for the most part and that pushed production up by a third. We also kept forty plus head of cattle that came and went with the seasons, when the rain and grass was good we added cows, when grass got short we sold them quick, (MIG) plus all the other farm animals! Between practicing the Management Intensive Grazing program (MIG) from reading the Stockman Grass Farmer Magazine and my other two jobs, I was still working myself to death! That’s when the chapter in Savoy’s book on “time spent with the family has a cash value” and “what’s it worth to you!” At that time it became important to me! Apparently, it was more important to me than it was to her, because we got divorced and I got the kids, all three!! Now comes the reality check, and “cocky” has left you high and dry! The truth be known, this is about the time I got Alan Savoy’s book and learned about “family and its cash value” and “production by the square foot” the hard way! In four days I sold everything that ate except a long horn cow that my kids raised on a bottle. I gave the cow to my neighbor next door so the kids would have something, as our world had just crumbled! That’s when the holistic resource management book came in handy! I had kids to feed and the livestock had to GO!
When we started building back, family and time spent was on the top of the list as it should be. Farrier work was second and the entertainment business with the animals was third. The idea of these animals must pull their weight plus some, was implemented tougher than before! About 1996 or 97 we learned yet another vocabulary word “Agritourism” and my neighbor gave us Ole’ Checkers (the cow) back! In another chapter in that book it talked about using your head and not your heart to make your decisions on the farm! That meant very few to no pets among other things, and Ole Checkers produced a calf every year till she died years later!
While we were figuring out what and how to do to make the farm pay us more per foot, we kind of stumbled in to the exotic animal business. I had gotten the idea, I was going to close the petting zoo altogether because it was just not pulling its weight! About that same time, the fair was in town and they had a big petting zoo there. It was packed with people buying feed and looking at the animals! I thought to myself why are these people flocking to those animals? Exotic animals were the answer to more than one of the questions that were eluding me and my petting zoo woes! That next spring, I was at a big church in the next town and I had my pony rides and little petting zoo with farm animals in it, still trying to grind out a payday with it. One of the church members asks me, “Do you have a camel?” Being quick on my feet and a little cocky again, I said “Sure, why?” and they said “We want to rent one for our Easter passion play” and I said “What does it pay?” The next thing I did was went and bought a baby camel!! By the time I found and bought our new camel, time was running short. We had ten days to get Sammy Camel ready to go to church, in front of 3500 people a night, for five nights not to mention making costumes! What have we done?!
Now its eleven years and twelve camels, four zebras, African Crested Porcupines and other animals later! We still do a petting zoo, lots of Nativity / Easter work and camel and pony rides. We also do moon walks, Pumpkin Fest (Arts and Craft show), field trips for schools and a mile and a half of Christmas lights at Pettit Creek Farms Educational Learning Center. As for horse shoeing, I haven’t shod a horse for the public in years now! Agritourism is now our full time job here on the farm! We raise animals, show animals, promote the farm, and teach third graders where an egg comes from! Yes, out of a chicken and yes, they really have no idea! We mow hay, bale hay, and haul hay to the farm and use camels to do some of it! We raise babies… camels and zebras to baby goats and sheep, for pets or meat. We even have a mobile chicken house for pasture poultry and a milk cow!
Now we are a full time farming family and our main cash crop is smiles! Yes smiles, when people come here to the farm and learn something new, or they scratch their head and say “I wish I lived off the land” and “If I could stay home and work on my land”! I will catch myself thinking “I can’t wait till I don’t have to leave the farm at all and I can fall off the grid.” So I do understand them wishing and I think once you figure out it’s all about achieving your goals with your sanity then life becomes a little easier!
So what do you do with twelve camels to keep them gentle enough to use? Since you use most of them only a few times a year, having babies does little to keep them gentle but it does help the “cash flow.” That’s important! Now plowing corn does help to keep them quiet but we only have a small garden and a three acre corn field for a maze and animal feed! But when you start pulling wagons, snaking logs, packing trips and camel rides, now that will sure take the starch out of you, as well as the camels! When we only had two camels I built a saddle so we could ride ole Sammy boy in the off season to keep him quiet for the nativities. Then we had four camels and more saddles! Then we sold one camel (cash flow), Moses, to some people in Jamaica, so if you ever go to Jamaica on vacation, go down to the beach and check on Moses for us! From time to time when we tell the story of Moses the camel someone will say, “Hey I rode a camel in Jamaica, I remember hearing that camel’s name!” There again are those smiles that we talked about earlier! Then shortly after that, we had purchased more camels and we are up to six camels! By now I’m getting pretty good at building saddles for camels and it’s not like you can go to the feed store and order “one camel saddle please!” So what to do? We started building camel saddles www.camelsaddlesforsale.com. If you need one, call us and we will build a saddle or some harness for you! Harness! Now that opens a whole new can of worms! I no longer have to find six riders for six camels; we can drive them two at a time! We have driven the camels single, snaking logs for firewood, and then we drove them double on bigger logs! As we progressed, we built the homemade forecart for a single camel or double hitch and we even hook those camels three up! One day while working the camels, jokingly we said we have enough camels to make us a hitch like those Clydesdales “you know the ones”! Then a friend of mine, a few days later, sent me an old show bill, of the Hale’s, eight camel hitch, out of Missouri! Now we got excited! When my boys saw the eight up hitch we started hooking them to our 1934 two camel (horse) John Deere Triumph wagon, fully restored and in the shed waiting on a fresh team to be hitched up after ten years of sitting and waiting! We rolled the old wagon out and watered the wheels to tighten them up and now we were getting ready to build a hitch! All of my kids and most of the neighbor’s kids were raised riding in that old wagon all over Cartersville and Bartow County Georgia, behind a pair of pretty nice Standardbreds! I got them from another client turned friend, John Patterson of Dalton, GA. He owned and trained race horses!
When we started hooking the camels up, the whole neighborhood showed up and the common consensus was, don’t do it! It’s too nice of a wagon to destroy! After a few days pulling the John Deere with no tragedies, my son decided to hook the big camel geldings to the BIG RED WAGON as we call it! It is a show wagon made in Canada called a Hitch Wagon by Roberts Carriage Co. in Quebec Canada. It weighs 1525 pounds and is for a single or double draft horse hitch at minimum! That should mean two sixteen or seventeen hundred pound camels should do just fine in a parade, doesn’t it?!! Our first parade was in Alpharetta, GA. at the “Old Soldiers Day Parade! We had the Confederate Re-enactment group two cars in front of us firing a volley of 21 gun salutes every city block or so with muzzle loaders no doubt! Behind us was one of those little hot rod cars a ‘Tea bucket” I think, with headers and glass packs of course, and it was good and loud! The camels seemed oblivious and they did fine and we were a hit of the parade with standing ovations!! One group in the crowd, as we drove by said “You win!” and there were countless voices saying “look camels, look look camels!” This was a good day!
Last spring we got the bright idea to plow some corn with one of the camels, so we went to the same shed the wagon was in and drug out the “Planet Jr. one camel cultivating plow” with original wrench wired to the handle! It too, had been sitting there for over twenty years patiently waiting to be called into service, with its original handles and Planet Jr. logo intact! Once again the common consensus from everyone that knew about us hooking up to the plow was, “You’re going to tear that cultivator all to pieces!”
My 86 year old Grandfather said “Son, don’t worry about thinning that corn, those camels are going to do a fine job of it, for you!” We plowed corn and I have some video to prove it, and as soon as I quit running over the corn and learned how to “drive the plow” we didn’t lose any more corn! This year’s corn field should look out because we have in our possession a John Deere two camel single row riding cultivator, fully refurbished with a new tongue in the barn ready to go! Hopefully, the learning curve won’t be as drastic with the riding cultivator and the corn field maze will still be standing! But before we put the corn in the ground, seems only right that we try and use our P & O riding turning plow from Canton Illinois! I have no idea the age of it, but it seems to all be there! I just have no idea how many camels to start with. The biggest thing we ever turned ground with here was a one horse or a camel turning plow! So I need some help! From toe to heel (end to end) of the cutting surface is twenty-seven inches, that’s approximately seventeen inches of straight cutting surface and ten inches of the toe (point) approximately! Forgive me if my terminology is incorrect that just what we called them growing up and it stuck! So if anyone knows where to start I would love to get an email or a phone call! The only other thing we have talked about doing with the camels that may be newsworthy is one of my boys and his wife here on the farm wants to have a formal wedding here (a re-do, for her Grandfather and me, so we get to see it because we missed the first one) and she wants to be brought in with the camels and I think that’s sweet of her and I’m sure it’s the only one in North America done that way! Something else we’d like to try with the camels is a wagon train from Boaz, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama. 190 miles in ten days! Wish us luck and I’ll get pictures! If any of you get close to Georgia and feel like stopping by, you can look up www.camelsaddlesforsale.com or get on You Tube and look up anything by cameldrover (spelled as one word) to see the videos of our camels working! We can’t help you much with driving those horses, but if you need a camel, camel equipment or camel training remember, if we don’t have it we will find someone that does! Thank you and we hope this has been of interest to you.
Scott Allen owner of www.pettitcreekfarms.com
I want to thank the Small Farmer’s Journal for considering our story of our farm, camels and way of life! We want you to know how much we anticipate and enjoy getting each issue of the Journal! I borrowed my first copy, and before I had finished reading it I bought the three year deal of the Journal!
Thanks for what you do!
Scott Allen, Owner, Pettit Creek Farms Educational Learning Center