The Broken Furrow part 3
by Leroy N. Keim of New Castle, PA
There was a steady rain falling in the valley that morning. It had been a bit dry for early June, and hay, which in many years would only now be made, was already safely in the mows and the rain would ensure a second crop in the middle of July, Paul thought as he sipped his coffee, and gazed to the south across the broad lower fields of the farm. He had put two of the lower fields into alfalfa with a nurse crop of oats and just a few pounds of brome grass per acre. Already the oats were nearly eighteen inches tall and when Paul had walked out into the fields a couple of days ago the young alfalfa had been well started and would be a vigorous crop. He wondered about this crop, new to this farm, and thought again how maybe he should have put it on higher ground, but it had worked out in his rotation and he had decided to chance it. All his tenure here he had sowed clover and timothy in rotation with corn, oats and wheat as his father and grandfather had done, but he felt that the alfalfa would benefit the sheep if he could raise it here. Also, he expected to get three cuttings each season instead of the two he usually took from his clover and timothy. He thought wryly of how farming was in so many ways a guessing game, and of how easily ones best plans, especially when based upon someone else’s experience at a different place didn’t yield the same results for you. That was a large part of its interest too, he thought, and why a lifetime wasn’t long enough to learn it all!
Paul’s attention was suddenly arrested by the conversation across the table from him, and he turned and looked at the young man who was sitting there in earnest discussion with Betty. Paul marveled again at the resemblance between the two. Same thick blond hair, same blue eyes the same firm set of chin, and in the young man, broad shoulders, tapering to a slim waist, very capable hands, which had matched Paul’s own, in the easy way in which they had wielded a pitchfork as they cleaned the last of the lambing pens the day before.
Karl Samuel Martin III was Betty’s son from her first marriage. She and Karl II had met at the university in their third year, and two weeks after graduation had been married. He had been tall and dark and something in his manner had reminded Betty of Paul; perhaps it was the same sort of quiet confidence, and a sense of knowing his place, and the form his life would take. Karl was the only son of Karl I, builder of skyscrapers, and developer of downtowns in several major cities along the East Coast! Karl II, after obtaining a Masters Degree in engineering, had been in rotation through every department of his father’s business, preparing him to be CEO of the company, which he became by the time his son was ten. The year his son was twelve he had gone to a project to see for himself how a new concept he had developed was being implemented and there was a crane accident, and he and a superintendent had fallen twelve stories to their deaths.
Soon after this tragedy Betty had received the call about her mother’s health, which had brought her back to the village, and eventually, back into Paul’s life. Karl I had insisted that his grandson remain with him and continue his education in the city schools, which he had done, and just the previous week he had graduated at the top of the senior class of his high school and had been accepted at Ohio State University with an engineering major. He had come to the farm for short periods during those years, and had seemed to enjoy the livestock and caught on quickly to most of the work that was being done. He liked Paul but confided in his mother that Paul needed to see more of the world and get a broader view of things than that valley provided. He himself had spent two summers in Europe, once with his grandmother Martin, and when he had turned sixteen, with a group of young people hiking across several countries for two months. But his mother had sensed a growing uneasiness in Karl in the past year. He had confided in her that he wasn’t so sure about trying to take on his father’s “mantle” at the Martin Development Corp. He had said, “Maybe I’m not the businessman that grandpa and my father were. Maybe I want something different than they did. Would it be too far out to think about preserving something, instead of developing and changing everything you touch? What about the people whose roots go deep into the places we take over, does any of that matter?”
Betty’s own view of things had changed so much in the past several years that she hardly knew how to advise her son. She had been adamant that he get a good education and while she had come to love the valley and the farm for herself, was not sure she wanted her son to give up the great potential she saw for him in his father’s world. She was sure he should continue his education as planned, except that she had told him that he might want to change his major in the future if he decided on another career track from the one his grandfather envisioned for him! Earlier she had been glad his visits to the farm were brief as she had felt her own love for it growing as a part of her life with Paul, and she had not wanted to influence him against his grandfathers plans for him. She had come to love the changing seasons and the interest each presented in its turn. The daily work in the fields and among the livestock, seen through Pauls’ eyes, had opened a new world of thought and interest to her! She had first become interested in the chickens as she had discovered the old records kept by Paul’s mother and grandmother over the course of sixty years and to which she was now adding weekly. Coming to see how they fit into the larger farm plan piqued her interest in the other livestock and so she began to study the husbandry of the sheep and hogs and horses as Paul and Schmitt looked after them from day to day. She was beginning to understand Paul’s fascination with their lives and his interest in the breeding of superior animals. Much of the annual production of livestock was sold to other farms for breeding stock, and while the interest in work stock had dropped off steeply for fifteen years or so, there seemed to be a renewed interest in Paul’s horses again, and the young well-started teams were selling quite well!
When Karl had come to the farm the first time for Christmas the year she and Paul were married, he had been very enthusiastic and he had shadowed Paul through the days of vacation and had wanted to stay on and attend the village school, but she had insisted that he must have all the advantages the city could offer him, so he had gone back to his grandparents to finish the school year, and although he came back again for short periods and enjoyed the farm, he never seemed to show as much enthusiasm for it again as he had that first year. He had only come twice for weekends during his senior year and when he had called and said he’d like to work for Paul the whole summer before he went to college, they were both surprised, and Betty could see how pleased Paul was, though he hadn’t said very much at the time. She was pleased because Paul was, and for herself too. She felt she had missed too much of her son’s life since she had come back to the valley, and she had been anxious to have him under her roof for an extended period again.
She had in the early years of her first marriage, admired her father-in-laws, and her husband’s business sense, and drive to be at the top of their chosen profession, but some unease had crept into her mind as she had observed how they needed to bow to politicians and special interests, and how little concern there seemed to be for the lives of people that opposed the developments that would change or destroy communities with long histories at those places. And eventually some paper would report that a certain Betty Martin had argued a case against a proposed project that was planned for a historic district by Martin Development Corp. and there was speculation about division within a family! Karl II and Betty would have spirited discussions around these issues, but both were determined not to allow their increasing differences to destroy their relationship, but young Karl had paid more attention to these discussions and disagreements than either parent had realized! Now Betty was hearing her own thoughts coming out of her son more frequently, and she herself was becoming aware that her love for Paul, and increasingly for the farm, was rooted in some of the philosophical agreements she and Paul had had as young people and were, while fine-tuned by thirty years of experience, still much the same.
Now Karl turned to Paul and asked, “What does a busy farmer do on such a rainy day when he can’t do much outside?” and Paul smiled and said, “This one is going to lie down on that old settle in the corner for an hour, then put on a raincoat and walk over the farm to see the state of the livestock and fields in the rain. Be glad to have you with me if you care to go!”
“I’ll be ready” Karl said. “While you’re resting I want to spend some time in your museum. Some of the stuff in there interests me and I’ve never spent much time with it.”
“I’ll meet you there in a little while,” Paul said, and smiling at Betty he stretched and went to lie down.
After the walk in the rain, which Betty joined, the three of them, after stripping off their wet clothes and putting on dry, all joined in the kitchen to prepare a lunch, at which Karl introduced them to a salad made of herbs he had gathered during their walk over the farm, and to which he added some greens from the kitchen garden just off the back porch.
“Where did you learn that?” Betty exclaimed, “I never knew your interest went beyond eating before!”
“Mostly two years ago, while we were hiking across Europe,” Karl said. “But I’ve been studying food preparation as a hobby, and doing some cooking the last two years. Drove grandpa Martin crazy,” he said, chuckling. “He said if I stuck by him I could have a French woman cooking my food, and a bevy of them feeding me if I wanted!”
After their lunch, Betty excused herself and went to her office to see to some correspondence with a client. The men cleared up the lunch and then settled into the rockers by the east windows.
“Paul,” Karl said, “tell me about the farm. How does it work, how do you know what to do each day, how does it make money, why do you keep all this livestock, especially the horses?”
Paul laughed. “Good thing you’re going to be here all summer, it’ll probably take that long to answer all those questions! But I’ll do a quick overview right now. The farm works when all its parts are working, an oversimplification to be sure, but essentially true. I don’t know what I should do every day with any absolute certainty, but you learn some things if you spend a lifetime here. Some things work better than others, and I was fortunate to observe two earlier generations here before it became my responsibility. My father, especially, talked to me constantly, sharing his experiences and telling me of his father and grandfather’s ways. The farm has always been a passion for us Wilsons, from my great grandfather’s coming here in 1876! It seems as though their enthusiasm was contagious in each generation, and so it’s been for me! Of course the land itself instructs you, some field is ready to plow before another, the weather, days like this require a different response than dry ones, and of course the seasons each bring their own work. The livestock is a constant, they need our attention every day, but during lambing and farrowing and when a mare foals, I or Schmitt, he’s my hired man you met yesterday, spend an enormous amount of time attending them. Fortunately, by culling out those females who require actual intervention while birthing, we’ve developed a group of females in each species that usually do the job without our hands-on help, but I like to separate each ewe or sow or mare for the birth itself so with two hundred ewes, fifty sows, and sometimes, two or three mares foaling, there’s lots of careful oversight involved, if not actual intervention! Then there are the dogs and chickens, maybe in some ways the most useful of all, certainly in the case of the dogs, underfoot all the time. My great grandfather brought the first of these dogs with him from Scotland when he came and the story is that he walked all the way east to Somerset, Pennsylvania to get a bitch from a famous line of stock dogs raised there on a farm with lots of sheep and cattle. So our dogs, while not pure Border Collies, mostly have been collie types. We’ve always bred for a useful type of dog, paid very little attention to size or color or coat style, but, many people think they’re Borders. I’ve liked a little smaller dog myself, and I like the red ones, but you see it’s a black one lying over there by the hearth, so I’m not as prejudiced as I might sound. These dogs are always with us and are immeasurable help when it comes to handling stock, save us all kinds of walking and running about! We never raise more than one litter a year and the pups are always sold before they’re old enough to go. Every six or seven years we keep one ourselves, one that appeals to us for some reason, especially when they show unusual aptitude early on.
“The chickens have always been in the care of the women of the house” and here Paul smiled broadly. “You know your mother has been really taken with them in the past year or so. She doesn’t want me to do more than supply the bin with feed anymore, and oh yes; she let Schmitt and me clean out the house this spring! But seriously, these chickens have been a steady addition to the farm’s economy for more than the sixty years we’ve been raising this strain of white Wyandottes. The steady, weekly egg sales have ensured that each generation that lives here could buy the essential needs not produced on the farm itself. There has been, so long as I can remember, and according to my mother all her life here, the crock on top of the cupboard into which the egg money was dropped each week, and it was always the prerogative of the lady of the house to use it or save it as she saw fit! Your mother may be the fiercest defender of that crock yet, even though a check from one of her clients in the city is probably larger than the crock’s biyearly accumulation. She’s been turning the egg money into twenty dollar gold pieces periodically, she says that way she can always put her hand on something real and tangible to show what the chickens can do. You saw the two groups of young birds on range in one of the pastures; they’re the cockerels and pullets from this year’s hatch. In February each year I begin to collect the eggs for the year’s hatch, I usually set about two hundred and twenty eggs in March which usually yield a hundred cockerels and as many pullets. They spend four weeks in the brooder house, then if the weather’s moderate in April they are sexed and put into the range shelters you saw in the fields. About October the pullets are starting to lay, so the second year hens are crated, and sold, and the new pullets are placed into their quarters. That way the first year pullets and the one-yearold hens are segregated in each end of the long house and the cycle is perpetuated. The cockerels are penned up in one end of the sheep barn with some removable panels designed for the job and fed on a fattening ration for a month before being processed at a shop down the valley. We put what we will use in the freezer on the porch and the rest go to a retail shop to be sold. Before we process them though, we pick eight or ten of the best ones to be the progenitors of the next generation. You saw the high fences surrounding the two long strips of grass behind the laying house. Each flock of layers gets let out into one of those strips each day and they spend their days scratching in the grass and around the fruit trees, and a wonderful consequence of their activity is that I never have needed to spray those trees and as long as they’re pruned carefully, which Schmitt is an expert at, we have gotten enough fruit for the farm families use and some to sell with almost no other care except the incidental cultivation when one of the strips is plowed up every other year, and the chickens are allowed to scratch in the turned up soil, and then it is reseeded with several clovers and perennial ryegrass to be used by the chickens for two more years.
You asked about the horses especially and I rambled on about all of this other. To me the horses are the heart of the farm, and yet may be the hardest to explain. Perhaps I will be the last generation to use them and raise them here, but I assure you, nothing I do here, excepting my relationship with your mother, gives me more satisfaction than the horses! I could talk about why they make sense as motive power, and I will, but the short answer is simply that I love to work horses. I find great satisfaction in the shared work with these animals, and in the breeding of horses with the temperament, size and style we Wilsons have favored for three generations at least. Some years ago I traveled all the way to France, which is as you may know, the home of the Percheron horses, to look for a stallion that suited my ideas about what a true working horse should be. In my opinion we Americans have ruined our Percherons and others too, with a foolish emphasis on height, at the expense of a broad deep chest, powerful rear quarters and the heavy bone a draft horse needs to do serious farm work for the fifteen to twenty years of useful life that should characterize these horses. We neglected the breeding for superior dispositions that a horse you’re going to partner with for that long should have! Take the grey mares I was using yesterday. They’re full sisters, fourteen and fifteen years old, sired by the horse I bought in France. They weigh eighteen hundred pounds in working condition, are just over sixteen hands tall and have each raised five foals as well as done a world of work on this place. They’re kind, well mannered, anyone who knows anything about driving horses can work them, they’ll stand until told to move, and then pull their hearts out with no fuss. They’ll work with any other horse they’re hitched with, I don’t know how many young horses I’ve started next to them, and because they’re such great workers I’ve stopped raising foals out of them. Those black geldings in the stalls next to them are their sons, both sired by the same horse and born only two weeks apart. Their sire was a little bigger horse owned by a fellow in Ohio whose ideas about the ideal workhorse almost mirror mine. Those horses are five now, seventeen hands tall, and weigh an even ton in working condition. They’re actually a little bigger than I like, but you can’t fault the way they work, and they’re a truly powerful team that will get you through the tough pulls. I’ve turned down some impressive offers for them from pullers, but I’ll never sell them! My young stallion is going to be the right kind I believe, he’s only a rising two year old but he shows great promise. I only have one foal this year from the black mare in the pasture we saw this morning, but I might keep the three year old to breed from in a year or so. She’s the last daughter from my French horse and looks as though she’ll make a good workhorse in time. There are the two grey geldings that are two years old, and a yearling filly. The two year olds will likely be sold next spring, they should be well started by then, and the yearling and this year’s filly should make a team in a couple of years. I’d like to raise a pair of foals each year but I would rather be sure to have four good work horses, ready to go to the field at a moments notice. I’ll start the stallion in late summer when I plow for wheat, after I take the oats off in august. I like to work my stallion, let him know there’s more to life than mares, and I want to be able to handle him even to breed mares, with only a halter. There’s nothing like plowing and other real work to make a stud horse into a real workhorse. And of course I wouldn’t want to breed from a horse that couldn’t be worked!
But you want to know why I like my Case tractor? I bought it when it was only a year old and it had been used as a demonstrator by our Case dealer up valley, and I bought a plow and disk with it that spring. It was getting hard to find boys to help on the farm anymore and the threshing rings were breaking up, and the boys didn’t seem to want to learn to shock oats or wheat either, so in June that year I bought a new combine, the same one I still use, a six foot cut on my SC can handle, and that fall a corn picker which I also still use. Five years or so later I bought a baler, I liked the loose hay, but again it was nearly impossible to find someone to help who knew how to spread hay properly in the mow, or even to set the forks on the wagon. But the only time I use a short tongue on a wagon is behind the baler or corn picker. My flat bed wagons all change from short tongue to long pole with one pin, so with those two exceptions – they’re always pulled by horses. I still do all mowing, raking of hay, planting and cultivation with the horses. Disking is probably the hardest work for horses and I do most of it with the tractor. I like to harrow with horses and I don’t believe I’ve ever used the tractor for that.
Maybe I haven’t said so much about the why, but I guess it’s because I want to. Obviously I could do all my work with a tractor. I’ll never understand the mania for bigger and bigger ones I see up and down the valley, but my Case and maybe a forty-horse model with a loader could easily do the work on this farm that I do now with the Case and four horses. I like the versatility of the horses, I can use one, two, three, four or any combination of up to as many as I have ready to use, or Schmitt and I can split them up to use with whatever machines we are using for the job at hand. My father and I used to use two teams a lot, working in the same field at the same task, or perhaps I would be harrowing while he planted, but it offered a lot of opportunity for him to teach me the fine points of our craft and to make the long hours we spent in the fields less lonely. My first wife Linda and I spent a lot of time working out there, each with our own team of two or three. We gave our horses lots of rest while we sat together in a fencerow, or on a machine, talking and just enjoying being together. Of course, just being at work with the horses is for me a great comfort, they’re great companions, not that the farm is ever a lonely place for me, but they add a great dimension to it! I’ve talked about the foals I’ve raised, it’s great to be able to sell three or four thousand dollars worth of horses a year, in fact over the years I believe the horses I’ve sold have covered the cost of the horses I’ve kept! That would be hard to duplicate with tractors from my experience and observation. The horses are fed from the farm; the tractor inputs are all cash purchases. The horses mostly repair themselves, tractor repair is beyond my ability for everything but the simplest maintenance. I’ve been able to do nearly all repairs on my horse driven equipment myself, its simplicity, the obvious relation of parts to each other, allows nearly every farmer to do their own repairs. Much of that is true with the older tractor machinery too, but it seems that the newer machinery is designed in a manner that requires special tools and procedures in its repair. The horse machinery is generally used at lower speeds, and of course less power, so it lasts longer. Lots of stuff built in the twenties and thirties is still in regular use today! Of course you have to spend much more time in the care and harnessing of horses than in the maintenance of a tractor, but if you don’t enjoy caring for livestock, you shouldn’t be in livestock farming! The horse’s manure has been a major factor in this farm’s fertility plan from the first. My horses get out into the fields, you’ve possibly noticed that all my fields are fenced now; a goal I’ve had for years and finally realized a few years back. Now I can turn any of my livestock into any field, so I turn the horses into fields where the coarsest grazing is, for example corn stalk fields after picking the corn. But more on that another time. I was talking about horse manure and wanted to say that I keep horses in their stalls more than I’d have to because I want to collect their manure. I built the covered manure shed at the end of the barn beyond the horse stables. The litter carrier runs between the tie stalls and box stalls and its only the work of minutes to clean out each stall into the carrier tub, and push it out into the manure shed. The quality of the manure as fertilizer when it’s stacked under a roof and only spread on the fields before the soil is worked has increased its value exponentially! It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for the farm’s fertility. I only buy a small quantity of starter fertilizer, probably a hundred twenty pounds per acre on the corn and wheat ground before planting. Otherwise the livestock manure and crop rotations provide the fertility boost the land needs. Of course I lime the fields regularly, I’d rather spend money on lime than fertilizer. It goes further and it allows the growing of the legumes, which provide much of the nitrogen my crops need, which I don’t need to purchase off the farm.
One of the things I’m planning for the young stud horse is to use him in the high-wheeled dump cart we were using yesterday to clean out the lambing pens. When the hogs are in the farrowing shed or young shoats on the feeding floor, I use that cart daily to keep those places cleaned out. It’ll add another interest to the stud’s life and help keep him relaxed when he’s in his stall.
“Now,” Paul said, “I’ve said enough for the moment. I’ve got several things I want to do at the barn, and soon it’ll be time to do the feeding and I need to get some new shovels on the cultivator. After this rain I’ll need to cultivate the corn at least once more.”
“I’ll come with you, Paul,” Karl said, jumping up.
“I was hoping you would, I’d like you to change the cultivator shovels,” Paul said. “If you’re going to spend the summer I’d like you to assume the care of the fattening hogs if you will, and everyone who works here needs to learn to work the dogs, so we’ll work on that as we have time.”
Karl grimaced. The hogs weren’t really where he’d like to start, but he only nodded and followed Paul to the farm’s shop. The cultivator Paul had spoken of sat in the middle of the floor and there were new shovels with new bolts to secure them lying beside it.
“You see how the old shovels are placed,” Paul said. “Just put the new ones on in the same way, be sure the bolts are tight when you’re finished,” and here he paused a moment. “I’m pretty fussy about my tools being returned to their place when you’re finished using them.” He gestured to the pegboard above the tool bench. “Every tool has its own place, saves worlds of time the next time you need it,” and Paul smiled and strode away.
“Just a minute,” Karl started to stammer, but Paul was gone. “I’ve never taken anything apart before, never mind not knowing what tool to use or where to find it!” Then he thought, Karl Martin, you’re the son and grandson of engineers, if you can’t figure this out what good are you in the real world? And he thought, I guess Paul would have known all this at my age, plus been well on his way to managing the whole farm and doing its work! Paul said this machinery is simple to understand and repair, and so here he sat down behind the cultivator and studied the new parts and their counterparts on the machine.
An hour later he found Paul adjusting a harness on the young stallion. The horse was cross-tied in the alley between the tie stalls and box stalls. The horse was clearly nervous but Paul was talking quietly to him as he shortened or lengthened a strap on each side of the horse and the horse’s ears were swiveling to hear the quiet voice, and his eyes rolled to watch the movements of Paul’s hands at their work. Karl stood and watched quietly, realizing that he was seeing a master at work in a complicated craft, which he was making appear easy! When Paul was satisfied with his work he unsnapped the cross ties and led the young horse up and down the alley a couple of times, then led him into a tie stall and secured him with a chain to the manger. Coming out of the stall he nodded to Karl and said “Good, he won’t be much trouble when you and I hitch him for the first time later in the summer. Let’s take a look at those new charges of yours out in the hog lot. Going from the horse stable through the sheep barn, they stepped outside into what was now just a light drizzle, and here Paul leaned on the low board fence surrounding a large concrete floored lot full of a big group of half grown pigs, some banging the lids on the self feeders along the fence, some lying in the deep straw under a low sloping roof on the lot’s north side and some engaging in the rough play that young pigs love.
“We bring them here to finish for market,” Paul said. “They’re born in that building there, with each sow having her own pen in which she spends the first two weeks of their lives with them, then they’re turned out into one of the fields with other litters until they’re eight weeks old. For the next month they’re part of that group of young pigs in the shed on the left there. They get into that dirt lot every day and are penned up in the shed at night.
During this time we select gilts, that’s the young females, we want to keep for ourselves, I’ll show you more about that soon, and there are always some sold for breeding stock to other growers from that group too, after which they come here to finish out to two hundred and twenty to fifty pounds, at which time they’re collected by a commission buyer who supplies packing houses in the Midwest. It takes about six months from farrowing to finish, so during that time this place fills up and empties out once, with the cycle being repeated twice a year. With you being here for the summer you’ll likely see the finish of this cycle in August. Be good for you to see the results of your work before you leave! Here’s what you do, check these feeders twice a day, I’ll show you where the feed for them is stored. Never allow them to become completely empty but keep the feed fresh, they usually see to that! See that the water is flowing in each of the waterers on each end of the lot, and that the straw stays deep and clean under the roof. Clean the manure out each day. Hogs always use the same area for their deposits and you see I’ve run the litter carrier track out into the lot to simplify that chore, but it’s a chore and probably the smelliest one on the farm. That’s why we keep that old coat and several pairs of gloves hanging inside the barn door. Just to be used while doing that chore, keeps most of the smell away from the house and you’ll get used to it,” and here he chuckled a bit, and then said, “seriously it’s a great resource for the land, hogs eating such a concentrated ration of grains produce some of the most valuable manures, only beat by chickens that produce more nitrogen than they do. The scoop shovels, forks and a wheelbarrow are inside the door there. By the way, the scales we weigh them on is through that alleyway there. Weigh ten or twelve of them every week and record their weight on the pad in the box and keep me informed as to their progress. I’ll check with you every once in a while but I’ll depend on you to see to them.”
“Wait a minute,” Karl said, “How will I know if there’s a problem or if I’m doing something wrong?”
“You’ll know because you’re going to study them. Spend the next half hour leaning on the fence and watching them. They’re fine now, if you fix what you see in your mind you’ll notice when something goes wrong. Just study them, they’ll teach you how to see when there’s a problem! After awhile you’ll just walk through here and a quick glance around will tell you what you need to know. In fact, by the time they’re sold you’ll know a lot of these hogs individually at a glance, although right now they look so much alike to you, I guess.” And Paul was gone, leaving Karl slightly breathless, but he turned to the fence and the set of his jaw revealed what Paul had seen in him, but of which he was still unaware. He never asked me if I’d gotten the cultivator shovels changed, Karl thought, he just assumed I would be able to do it! I always imagined I could do anything a farmer could do, but there’s a world of stuff to learn. I guess it’s just ignorance on our part that makes us imagine that farming is a simple job that anyone not smart enough to be in a profession or business can do! I wonder how my father would have fared here? I can see why my mother admires Paul so much; he and my late father are an awful lot alike in their straightforward direct ways, their attention to detail, their interest in their work and in their assumption that others can see what they see, and carry it out on their own initiative. My dad was always giving me things to do that I thought I didn’t understand and you know, I usually managed! I guess I can do this too!
And so it went through that summer. Karl’s hands became rougher, his face and arms bronzed, his blond hair bleached in the sun. He studied his changes in the hog lot until he could see their individual characteristics, he could look at them as he walked through the area and see how they were doing. He got to guessing their weights until he could usually come within ten pounds of what the scale showed. He helped to move livestock, the dogs began to pay attention to his most subtle movements as he indicated his wishes to them as they moved the sheep from field to field or fold. He learned the idiosyncrasies of the Case tractor and the baler as he and Paul and Schmitt moved slowly up and down the long windrows of hay. He stacked, what sometimes seemed like endless bales of hay, on wagons and in the cavernous mow of the bank barn. He drove the grey mares to mow hay following Paul or Schmitt driving the black geldings ahead of him. He raked hay with the same two mares, he learned their ways and they his, until he almost imagined they responded to him as they did to the others. He worked with young horses, brushing and currying their coats to a high shine. They combined the wheat and later the oats and baled the straw. He helped his mother in the garden, hoeing or weeding, while she picked or pulled the produce, or at slack moments helped her and Tilly, she was Schmitt’s wife, who like her husband only spoke a little English, to prepare the vegetables to can or freeze.
In the long summer evenings he would sometimes sit with Schmitt and Tilly and they would talk in a combination of English and German they developed to converse in, and he would hear the stories of their years of growing up in East Germany. Sometimes all of them would walk over the hill to the river on the other side for a picnic by the riverbank. And always there was conversation about their daily work, the livestock, the crops and fields, community events and world issues. The work of the farm went well that summer with the addition of Karl’s help. He was always ready to jump up to help one of the others with a job and took on extra chores usually done by Paul or Schmitt. Twice Karl drove to the city to spend a few days with his grandparents, and would come back quiet and thoughtful for a few days, and never said much about his time away. Once in late summer he drove to the campus at Ohio State and came back with the news that he had arranged to begin his studies in the second semester as he wished to remain at the farm to see the fall harvest and spend the holidays. Betty protested that he should take more time to think about that, and he simply said “I have” and the set of his jaw told them that it would be useless to argue the point. Paul only nodded and said nothing.
It was September and Paul and Karl and Schmitt had taken the black team hitched to the corn binder into a five acre field, where they had on the previous day cut two rows around the field with corn knives and had set the cut corn up along the fence to make room for the binder to work. During the morning Paul or Schmitt had cut corn with the binder while Karl and the other who was not driving the team began setting up the bundles in shocks across the field. While Paul and Karl were shocking the corn, Paul explained that he would allow this corn to dry in the shocks until January or February, depending on the weather, when they would haul the bundles in and run them through the husker shredder, so that the dry fodder could be used for bedding for the livestock, as it was superior to straw for moisture retention, and all of the livestock ate a little of it.
In the afternoon Karl harnessed the grey mares and hitched them to the binder while Schmitt used the black horses in the grain drill to sow a cover crop of rye between the corn shocks. There was still about an acre to cut and shock when Paul said. “You cut, you’ve seen how we did it. I’ll start setting the corn up.”
Karl nodded and climbing into the seat on the binder turned the mares into the first row. Cutting steadily, Karl was finished in just over an hour. Stopping the mares at the edge of the field and laying the lines off to the side, Karl joined Paul in setting up the rest of the shocks. They were finished by three o’clock and walked together to the end of the field where the grey mares were waiting patiently.
Paul and Karl leaned on the brace of the fence corner and watched the black horses and drill coming down along the last row of shocks and Karl said, “Paul I didn’t tell you everything about my trip to Ohio State last month. I signed up for a two-year course in soil science instead of the four-year engineering course I was planning for, that is, what Grandpa planned for me. I want to be a farmer, Paul, I suspected it when I first came here but I decided a couple of years ago that it probably wasn’t possible for me, but then last year I decided if you’d have me, I’d spend this summer here and maybe I’d know for sure. Well, I think I know now. I don’t know how or where I’ll do it and I’m not assuming anything from you, you understand, but I’d sure like to spend my free time here while I’m in school and when that’s over maybe I’ll know what’s possible.”
“Karl,” Paul said, “I can’t say anything without your mother, you know, but sometime this place will have to be someone else’s. It’s never had a mortgage hanging over it, which has allowed us to make improvements and additions, which might not be so easy somewhere else, and there might be a way to make that happen again. There’s a lot of things that you and I’d have to work out if you decided to farm here, but for sure you can come and stay whenever you want to, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have! Schmitt and Tilly must always have a place as long as they want it, but they’re too much my age to expect them to be our heir to this place. I’ve been thinking about how to pay you for your work this summer. I know you’re provided for, your tuition and so on through your father’s endowment, but I’ve helped a few young folks in their quest to farm and I’d like to get you started off on the right foot. If you really want to farm I’ll give you that pair of mares there. They’ll be yours, but can stay here and we’ll use them as always, but they’ll go with you, if you decide to farm elsewhere! But I’ve never taken care of another man’s horses much, so if you mean what you say, maybe you’d better see to them!”
The young man’s eyes were just a little misty as he said “Yes sir!” and picked up the lines from the ground, climbed onto the binder’s seat and said “Peggy, Patty, get up!”