Category Archives: technology

“It’s part of growing up on a farm.”

early potato grader

grading potatoes circa 1940 (courtesy Dixon family)

Thom:  Nothing was on pallets back then, like it is now.  Everything was – I mean, we’d take hand trucks and truck ‘em off the truck or truck ‘em on the truck or truck ’em out of the freight car – and nothing palletized, and they’d put down this, for lack of a better word, tar paper on the floor of the trucks, and then you’d have a big conveyor belt going in, and about two heads standing up there, taking whatever size it was, whether it was 50s or 20s or 10s or 5s and stack ‘em, and you always want to stack your ears to the inside so it wouldn’t get caught.

Hume:  You call it air stacking, ‘cause you always wanted the air to be able to move through your load, you know from front to back.  If you stacked it real solid, from side to side, possibility you could go through a heat.  So, you kept where they had the vents in the front of the truck, you would have like little tunnels in between certain bags all the way down that whole row to the back end so air could just pass through.

Thom: That’s the way we had the seed potatoes.  We had ‘em stacked – I remember one time – I wasn’t very old.  And we had unloaded a load of seed potatoes.  We had everything down at the south end of the packing shed down at Capeville and they were over my head, stacked, each 100-pound bag and about that much width between ‘em.  And I was making my way down through to go around and do something, and all of a sudden, I looked down and there was a rat about that long and big as a cat, walking right there, and that just terrified me.

Hume:  Part of growing up on the farm.

Thom: But that made you strong, too, I’ll tell you what.  When Billy Bynum had football practice, and we’d been working on the farm all summer, we were all ready.  Those other guys who hadn’t done anything, hadn’t participated in any activity or exercise …  but David Jones and I – all the farm boys, we were ready to go.

Lee:  Weren’t you telling me … about competitions for lifting?

Thom: Oh yeah, lifting the barrels.  Who could …

Hume: [Or] the front end of the tractors …

Thom:   Uncle Bill could lift the front end of the tractor … .  I could never do that.  And I never had an opportunity – the barrels were before my time.  But it was kind of a competition between all the [men].

Hume: Good natured competition.

Thom:  And if you were the boss-man’s son, you didn’t want to have the reputation of being – you know, “That’s daddy’s boy.  He’s not gonna do anything.”  It’s kind of up to you – whatever they could do, you could do one step better or one step quicker or one step stronger.  So … and that’s generational, ‘cause I’ve heard my daddy and uncle and –

Hume: I was the youngest one, see – I’m like this tall and these guys – they were able to do it, but  I couldn’t pick up anything, until my turn came a few years later.  My daddy – greatest man that walked the earth as far as I’m concerned, next to God, but when he said do something, we just … we had to overdo whatever he said.  I mean you wanted to do it.  As I got older, I was in the Marines in boot camp, and the summer I spent in the boot camp wasn’t as bad as being on the farm during the summer here.  They weren’t bad – I thought, I said, “Lord, I’m on a picnic.”  [laughing]  ‘Cause a lot of the boys I was in the service with, well, they’ve never been away from home before and all that, you know, but it was old stuff – I said, “Lord, I ought to carry these boys home with me.”

From an interview with Hume and Thom Dixon, summer 2010.

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“We growed pretty well every crop you could grow.”

Farmers … didn’t have big acreage, but they always had something coming off.  … Strawberries was the first crop – they come off in the spring.  Then, we have string beans.  We grew two crops of them a year, string beans.  Then, white potatoes.  Then, sweet potatoes.  Then string beans … so we had about five or six different crops, vegetable crops.

We only grew corn enough for to feed the mules.  It was all ear corn.  You had to pick all your corn by hand.  In other words, we break the ear off and shuck it and throw it in the heat and then we pick it up and put it in the horse cart and … then we carry it to the stack, dump it up and then throw it by hand in the stack.  We always picked, went through it, and anything –  little, teeny ears we call nubbins – we fed that to the pigs.   Of course, they were meat for the table in the wintertime.  We’d kill about four or five hogs every year – for family, you know.

So we grew about five, six crops. Strawberries – [my daddy] generally had about three or four acres, and that’s about all he could get picked.  He had to pick them every day.

And then … string beans – they’d grow probably ten acres, maybe more. And then Irish potatoes – he’d have 15, 20 acres of that – depends on what size farm they were growing, but my daddy – he would probably have more than that.

And the sweet potatoes – they usually have 25 acres of them, because all of it’s hand work.  You know, you had to plow them out and scratch them out and throw them in the heat.  Irish potatoes – we actually graded them in the field and put them in barrels and then we shipped them by freight car and carried them through the station about seven barrels, eight barrels at a time.  A barrel of Irish potatoes weighs about 165 pounds.  A lot of the men could handle them by themselves.  But usually two of them would pick it up and put it on the wagon.

… Tomatoes – I forgot about that.  We grew a lot of tomatoes and picked green tomatoes, and then we picked the red tomatoes and carried them to the canning factory.  … There was a canning factory in every town … one in Hallwood, one in New Church, three in Pocomoke, one on Chincoteague, one in Greenbackville, one in New Church.  I think there was one in Stockton.

I heard my daddy say – this was in the 30s – he sold ’em for five cent a basket, a five-eight basket.  So I mean, you know, people don’t know what hard times are.

From an interview with Bev Fletcher, spring 2010.

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on horses, mules, and tractors

At the plow, courtesy of the Mason/Holland family

Franklin: You had two mules or two horses, either one.  One of them would work down in the furrow and the other one worked where it hadn’t been plowed.  It would probably be eight inches or ten inches lower, and that’s what we used until … one day people were getting tractors around here and, of course, we boys wanted tractors.  We got tired of walking.

The man who sold horses and mules come around and told my father, he said, “Marion, that’s the first mistake you ever made in your life – trying to buy a tractor.  Tractors gonna be the ruination of agriculture.”

It was the ruination of him, because he was out of business.  We had, that day, we had five mules or horses that we traded in on a tractor.

Everett: We had more than that.  I think we had four horses and Pappy died – Grandfather – and he left us three, so we had seven horses then.

Franklin: Probably did.

Everett: Didn’t have but five stables to put ’em into.  Pop went and traded three of them … no, traded five of them.

Franklin: Traded five of them in one day for this tractor.

Lee: So you could actually trade horses for a tractor?

Everett: Well, you had to pay some.

Franklin: Oh, yeah … they wouldn’t allow you much for those horses, ’cause tractors were coming into the world.  That was … that was around ’35, somewhere in there, wasn’t it?

Everett: Close to – I was about 15.

Franklin: And a tractor was only … it was $600 or $700 for a brand new tractor.  And now – they’re $150,000.

Everett: I think that was around ’38 or ’39 when we got that tractor, wasn’t it?

Franklin: It could have been.  I walked a long time.

Everett: One tractor could do more than twenty horses could do.  … You worked all the year for the horses. You work them in the morning, and you come to the house at lunchtime and you had to pump water – hand pump – and they could drink and drink and drink and drink, and you had to pump all that water and then you had to feed ’em before you could ever go eat your lunch. And the time you went in there and grabbed a little bit to eat, you had to go back and hook ’em back up because it was time to go to work again.  They got a good rest; we didn’t get none.

Franklin: Well, at the same time, you’re going back from breakfast, the first thing you had to do was go in there and feed these mules / horses, so they could eat, and then you had to milk the cows before you come back and eat yours while the mules / horses eat theirs.  One way they had it easier than we did.

Everett: We had to clean the stable about every week.

Franklin: Oh yeah, they had to be clean.

Everett: Pine shats I believe we used.

Franklin: Yeah, pine needles.

from interview with brothers Everett and Franklin Holland, fall 2009.

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on horses and mules

Everett: [We had] horses mostly.

Franklin: Mostly horses. They were cheaper to buy.

Everett: Work ’em six days a week and then we’d ride ’em on Sundays.

Franklin: That was a pleasure. We’d go to church Sunday afternoon and we’d ride the horses that morning, that was going out to Beaverdam Church, and build fires in the wood stove. That was a pleasure.

Audrey: What was the name of that horse? He used to come see me on a horse.  That was before we were married.  I’d hear this horse going bump, bump, bump … and I’d look down and here he’d come on that horse.  It was white with grey.

Franklin: We called it the grey horse.  It was mean as a dog.

Audrey: I lived how far from you?

Franklin: Twelve.  Twelve miles, I guess.  … I’d go through the woods and that kind of stuff. Probably eight miles, something like that.

Lee: And horses were cheaper to buy?

Franklin: Horses were cheaper than mules.

Lee: Why?

Franklin: I often wondered why myself, but a good pair of mules were worth twice as much as a pair of horses.  One thing, horses were more plentiful.

Everett: Mules were dumber, I think.  They go on and do their work, where a horse is getting around it somehow or another.  I remember when I was a child, the old horse there cultivating the corn – and he’d get to the end and see he learned that it was hard to hold the handle, the collar, and he’d put his foot over the chain.  You had to go down there and unhook the chain and put it around.  He’d get time – he’d kill time and he’d get to rest up.

Franklin: That’s the only rest they got, when they made a turn.  Each end of the field, they’d slow right down and make a job of the turn. That’s when they got to rest up.

from an interview with brothers Everett and Franklin Holland & with Franklin’s wife Audrey, fall 2009.

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on getting married during wartime

Franklin: We got married, we had nowhere to go, no money to go with.  And she was 19 and I was 20, and we lived with my mother and father for five years.  Then we moved down here and been here ever since.  On a farm.

Lee: What year were you all married?

Audrey: ’43.

Lee: ’43.  During World War II?

Audrey: Mm-hmm.  And we got married on Christmas Day.  Don’t never do that.  Everybody said, “Why did you get married on Christmas Day?”  And Franklin said, “That was the only day I could get off.”

Lee: Is that true?

Franklin: That’s about the truth, ’cause … it was from daybreak to sundown, six days a week, and the next day you were at church, every Sunday, unlike it is today.

Everett: Back in them days, you didn’t have electricity.  Had no radio.

Franklin: No.

Everett: You just ate and worked and went to bed.

Franklin: I remember the first speech I ever heard on a radio was when Roosevelt declared war.

Everett: Do you remember where you were?

Franklin: Huh?

Everett: Do you remember where you were when they bombed Pearl Harbor?

Franklin: The school.

Everett: No, I’m talking about the day he made the speech – we were over on Chincoteague.  That was on Saturday.  … We were over there on Chincoteague, went over there  to get something.  Stopped there at the store, and there was a radio going. We didn’t have a radio then.  No, I guess we did have one by then.

Franklin: I was thinking about that remark. …  I’ll think about it after a while.

Audrey: Our first TV we got was in 1952.  That was when our last son was born. We got this TV, and I was tickled to death.  I come home from the hospital, and a TV was sitting in the corner.  When we first got married, it was wartime.  And we, of course, wanted furniture and I wanted a living room suite – it had no springs in it.  And I got one table for the dining room, and that table went like a swayback mule.  It just done like that.  It was no good. All those things we wanted,  they weren’t worth buying.  But we bought ’em and made out with it.  I think we were happier than today, more than a lot of young ones are.  We didn’t have a whole lot, but we enjoyed ourselves.

Franklin: What do they call them?  Now people call them the “good old days”, but they weren’t so good.  They were rough.

Audrey: We had to work for them.

Franklin: Twelve, thirteen, fifteen hours a day.

from an interview with Franklin &  Audrey Holland and Everett Holland, fall 2009.

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very few people, when I was a boy, had tractors

[They] had horses and wagons.  [would] load them in the field and take them out to the broker. Unload them and back to the fields to reload. Horses and mules. Very few people, when I was a boy, had tractors. Very few.  We had one guy by the name of Brooks Horton, he used to go around plowing land for different people, and he had tractors.  Charged so much a acre.

And then eventually we got an old tractor, and that was a lifesaver.

There’s a lot of people, small farmers, had Model A Ford cars and stuff like that – they’d cut them in two and make them shorter and make a tractor out of them.  They pulled, you know, like a tractor.  Because it was short, you could turn in the field.  That’s why they cut them off.  Cut them in two and put them back together – shorter.  It was a mini old Model A cut up during them times.  There’s a lot of people wish they had them now.

They got rid of them once the tractor got a little bit plentiful.  You know, most people sold them for junk.

from an interview with Ernest Finney, summer 2009.

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“Put the plant in this way …”

Frances Latimer, circa 1978

Frances Latimer, Cobb Station farm, circa 1958 (courtesy of the Latimer family)

[Daddy] hired a person when he could, but there were times when he couldn’t hire anybody and it was my mom and my oldest brother and daddy. There wasn’t much help.

Somebody didn’t come to work one day and Daddy wanted me to work on a transplanter, and I was playing the piano. I was grouchy and sullen. I was a teenager. So I went out. And he said, “okay, sit here. Put the plant in this way, and it’ll go in the ground.” I said, “okay.” I turned it that way.

So, all of the plants were – the leaves were down and the roots were up. And he turned around and he looked and every other plant, alternate plants, the roots were up, ’cause there was somebody else riding it with me, right?

He knew it was me. So he stopped, and he said, “Bea.” He said, “Turn it this way.” He never raised his voice. I’m serious. I never heard him yell. I never heard him say ugly things. So, I said, “okay.” I put them in roots up …

You could tell if you looked [at what you were doing]. I wasn’t looking. Did you want me to look? The roots were up, the leaves were down. And he got off the tractor that time and was serious and he had plants in his hands. He said, “I never beat you with a plant. I never beat you. But I’m going to today. Now you’re not stupid. You can do this. Put them in the right way.” “Yes, Daddy.” I put them in the right way.

Putting them in the right way meant that I knew what I was doing before. I hadn’t really planned to do it, but after I started it, it seemed like fun.

from an interview with Frances Latimer, summer 2009

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