Of Sweat and Soil
Part 5: Beginning Again
By John W. Vander Velden
My Uncle had found a farm in the LaPorte area needing a farmer. Dad flew from Jacksonville to Chicago and then to South Bend. It was the first commercial flights he had taken. I was not yet ten but when he returned and I knew we were going back to Indiana. I remember leaving Florida, leaving William Coughenour, who we, the kids, only called “Boss”. Not out of submission or disrespect, for he was the closest thing to a grandfather I have ever known. I do not know how I understood even at that age that life was about changes, about those we meet, friends we make, places we know, that they are sometimes left behind, but I did.
We could not go directly to our new home. The Baughmans that had farmed the Morrison farm for thirteen years could not move to their new farm three miles down the road as early as expected. All our things loaded on the tarped Dodge remained in my aunt’s and Uncle’s driveway for weeks. Their farm was out of the school district we would attend, so dad drove us to school and back each day.
It was cold. Perhaps not exceptionally, but it had been 80 degrees our last day in Florida. Though we found the snow was exciting, an old friend to which we had returned, we had little ability to deal with it. The old house, parts dated to 1860, on the Morrison Farm, did not have central heat, and the Segler Oil Stove might have been sufficient for Florida was not up to the task. I could see daylight through a hole in the wall in what would become the bedroom I shared with my older brother. Brrrrrrr.
But the buildings were in good repair and ready for the work my father had come to do. With time we adjusted to the different climate. The Landlord, eager to please their new tenants, did much to fix the house. New doors and storm windows and siding made the old place look presentable. Central heat came many years later. But we settled in and though things remained tight, dad began climbing the ladder upward one rug at a time.
Farming was very different in the sixties. So were farms for that matter. The Morrison Farm had hedge fences. Rows of thorny trees, Osage Orange they were called. No kin to the citrus for Florida. There had been a time when the hedges were trimmed twice a year, but that had been long before we arrived on the scene. The unruly thorny rows divided the main part of the farm into small fields. During our tenure the wild tall overgrown hedge rows were taken out one after the other. I remember the hours of “root picking” we spent trying to pick up all the debris the bulldozers missed. Osage Orange roots do not rot quickly and could cause problems with the equipment, rotary hoes in particular. By the time we left the land lay wide open, a half mile by half mile space of fertile land.
To us kid it seemed we had been separated from Indiana for eons. But in the under three years little had changed and dad farmed pretty much like he had before the southern migration of ‘59. Making hay with an A-C roto-baler, was meant for limited labor, and that worked in Westville and it worked the first years back. But loading the barn by rope drawn hooks was tedious and hard. A bale elevator upgraded that part of the operation and a square baler followed when I became old enough to drive a tractor.
The barrel roof barn had thirty-two stalls, and dad milked as many as forty. We carried the milk to the bulk tank by hand, until we could acquire a step-saver, a machine that hauled the milk through a clear plastic hose. Though things remained tight all those years, dad gained ground step by step. Paying for equipment, getting a new tractor, larger silage wagons, a new forage harvester, and a pull type combine was added to the list of purchases. He was progressing and through that progression the dream returned to life.
Perhaps it was when my uncle purchased his own farm in the mid sixties that a new urgency built with in my father and mother. But the dream was yet out of reach.
Life went on and finally the time came when dad and mom felt they could begin the search for their own place. It was 1970 and they met with several realtors, searched ads, and went to see many farms. When they, at last, thought they had found a farm within their budget, after countless trips to the Walkerton area and to bankers ETC, in the 24th hour the deal fell through. By chance a family friend knew of a farm not two miles from the one they had spent more than two years trying to acquire. That was how they met Dr. Eldon Burke, a college professor.
In comparison to the failed attempt, all the legalese was a walk in the park. On my birthday in 1972 dad signed the papers and could say that he and my mom were buying their own farm.
(877 Words) 7-1-2017