How well I remember my first part time job as a hired hand, as well as working on my father’s farm in Camborne. I think I was about fourteen years old and helping a local farmer, Everett Cole whom my father had hired to harvest our wheat and oat crops, and bale the resulting straw. I seem to remember Everett Cole asking my dad if I would be available to work an occasional Saturday to help out his ageing father with some manual labor around his farm. As I was already familiar with most farm tasks I didn’t need a lengthy resume and this turned into a summer holiday job for a year or two until Mr. Luther Cole passed away. Luther (1886-1963) and Lilian Cole (1887-1983) operated a small ‘mixed’ farm nearby on Hamilton Township Sixth Line.
I remember a few acres of hay, wheat and oat crops and an especially large garden south-west of the barns. I think Luther grew enough vegetables for family members and I believe this was the first time I ever saw a potato digger in operation. I do remember endless hours in the hot sun weeding and hoeing corn and every other vegetable you can think of, and lots of potatoes. I still hate hoeing! Their home was a short distance south of the concession road with a small orchard on the east side of the driveway. A clear memory of their house was a large wooden shed attached to the brick house. You entered a long and narrow kitchen to the dinning, and living room with bedrooms on the second floor.
After about a week or two of walking almost ten miles (round trip), I was invited to stay at the farm house during the week. This seemed like a practical idea. With room and board plus my pay of $2.50 a day, receiving no allowance from my parents and being too young to own a car, drink or smoke, this seemed like a good deal. After the first night’s stay, a few problems surfaced. As a teenager I was very shy (and was for many years after) and there was nothing to do in the evening as I didn’t know anyone in this very rural area. The Coles were a very religious couple and it was their custom, an hour after the evening meal, to gather in the living room for their evening prayers and ‘lights out’ soon followed. I guess at that young age it seemed like I would only be working and sleeping the whole summer long. So I opted to return to the long walk twice daily to have the evenings free to hang out with some friends at home. Yeah, I even prayed for an occasional rainy day so I could spend a day goofing off in our own barn, listening to the rain hitting the metal roof and swinging from a ‘Tarzan’ rope from the hay to the straw mow. Unlike today, you didn’t need the weatherman, you could see a rain storm coming the day before it did.
On this farm, opposite from the brick house was at least a two car garage with a loft above it. Was this the home for their Case Row Crop tractor? Row-crop meaning the two front wheels were close together and the tall rear wheels allowed this type of tractor to straddle various rows of farm and garden crops for spraying fertilizer, insecticide application, or for scuffling weeds. This tractor had a hand clutch for changing gears instead of the usual floor pedal and this was a new experience for me! There were two small barns that were separated by the farm yard which contained their water supply. This must have been a very deep well as it supplied the coldest and best water I have ever tasted. The barn on the south side of the farm yard, I can’t ever remember being in for any reason, but the north barn holds many memories for me. From the farm yard you entered a lane south to most of the farm fields.
I think one of my first tasks on this farm was to clean the buildup of manure and straw bedding from the calf pens in the barn. This was no easy task as the job was done every few weeks compared to the cattle gutters which were cleaned twice a day. This job was much easier than on my dads farm where you used a manure fork to fill a wheelbarrow, and then wheeled it out a barn door onto the manure pile outside. In Luther’s barn, you forked the manure into a metal container which was raised to a rail trolley high above the barn floor then pushed out a ‘Dutch door’. Then you’d pull a trip lever to empty the load onto the manure pile for spreading as a fertilizer on the fields in the autumn or spring.
A much easier chore was being sent out to all fields to manually eradicate all the mullens and burdock plants that I could find, as these were considered weeds in any crop. A much easier farm task was searching out all the gopher (woodchuck) holes in the fields as they were a major hazard when run over by farm equipment. Especially a fully loaded hay wagon where the square bales could topple over, necessitating the task of reloading the wagon by hand again! Luther and I would drive the old International half ton truck to the fields, and at each burrow found, would plug one gopher hole with sod (they always had two holes) and insert a flexible hose into the other, from the trucks exhaust pipe. We’d then run the the engine for a few minutes. This would humanly kill them, and the best part was that there was no need to dispose the oversized rodents. Another interesting task on the farm was to head out to the woods to load a few cedar or pine logs onto the farm wagon for a trip to the Whitney Howard saw mill located about a mile away on a lane that today is known as Whitney Howard Road. This saw mill was not a conventional mill powered by water from a mill pond in a stream, but was driven by a vintage farm tractor. The trip here was only to drop off the logs for later sawing. However, it was my first opportunity to watch logs being sawed by Whitney and then stacked properly to air dry.
Another occasional farm task might be replacing a dilapidated fence somewhere in a pasture field which meant removing the rotted old fence posts. Back in the day, good fences were critical to keep farm animals from roaming, and as they say “good fences make good neighbors”. How does the farmer find his lost cow?…He tractor down! or why don’t cows understand what we say? Because it goes in one ear and out the udder! Seriously, most townships actually had ‘fence viewers’ to be sure bylaws were followed. Removing these old posts could mean a lot of hard labor, but not to Luther. By placing a chain at the bottom of the old post and placing another against it with the chain over the top and attaching it to the draw bar of the tractor, all that was needed was to drive the tractor ahead a few feet. This would pull the old post straight up and out of the ground. Now came the hard part, digging a new post hole with a shovel. After unrolling the new wire fence and anchoring it solidly to the first post, the other end was attached to a ‘fence stretcher’ and pulled tight using the tractor. The stretched fence was now stapled at each post and the stretcher was removed. Another ‘slow day’ memory was assisting Mr. Cole to build an elaborate swing set for the enjoyment of his grand children. Using dried lumber stored in the garage loft he built an impressive swing set that likely endured for many years after.
It was about this time in my hired hand life that I had a chance to explore some other odd jobs, the ‘oddest’ being a grave digger. I think it was my brother Ron and I, were once hired by the local church to dig a grave for a recent death in the village. The grave had to be specific specific dimensions and exactly six feet deep, and we would return after the ceremony to fill it back in. Seems to me the pay was twenty-five dollars which we had to split. That was still big money!
My ‘dirtiest’ job was on a tobacco farm in Centreton ‘suckering’ the tobacco plant which involved removing the smaller bottom leaves from the plant. This would cause a buildup of tar on your hands which would make it impossible to eat your lunch, the secret here was to ‘wash’ your hands in the sandy soil from the field, but it paid a dollar an hour! The ‘cleanest’ job was on a tree farm trimming Christmas trees. This job was done standing up (easy on the back) and allowed me to listen to Ewart Timlin and Doug Alderson constantly telling their corny jokes.
Regards, Ranger. Stay tuned for two more chapters of this story coming soon to a post near you!