Farm Life: Percy Deane

MD-Carlton Nabb on Percy Deane-2x

Percy and Jeannette Dean in their wedding picture, 1941.

The weather had turned cold and the large fields of small grain in North Dorchester were indeed looking good. As I turned down the lane toward the home of Mr. and Mrs. Percy Deane, I could only imagine the many changes that Mr. Deane had witnessed in agriculture during his lifetime. A lifetime that began Oct. 24 of 1918—97 years ago.

Mr. Deane’s father, Alfonso, was a farmer in the Williamsburg area and raised the usual truck crops grown in the area, and also had milk cows. Percy’s father sold milk from their herd throughout Hurlock, and the label on the bottle was “Piney Branch Farm.” Mr. Deane still has one of these quart bottles. The bulk milk was delivered in cans to the milk plant in Hurlock and hauled every day to Philadelphia.

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One day when Percy and his father were digging potatoes, some of Percy’s friends came by and said that they were headed for Dupont’s to get some of those 40 cent per hour jobs. Forty cents an hour was an unbelievable wage, at that time when the top farm wage was $1 a day. Dupont got another farm boy from Hurlock.

However marriage and World War II changed the plans for everyone. Mr. Deane enlisted in the Air Force and spent four years in the service of his country. After training in the U.S., Mr. Deane was shipped overseas on the Queen Mary. He saw duty in Europe & North Africa and was more than ready to come back to the farm. He did not re-enlist.

After the war Mr. Deane and his wife Jeannette came back to Hurlock and started their farming and family. Four daughters were born, however one died at child birth. Three daughters, grandchildren and lots of cats were always at home on the farm. The children visited, the cats stayed.

Besides the usual crop farming, Mr. Deane at various times raised hogs, cattle, ponies and anything “that could make a dollar.” He was one of the first farmers to build a three story chicken house, but it led to one of the most tragic times on his farm. A worker on the farm named Willie was working in the chicken house when either a hurricane or tornado struck. The house collapsed on Willie and killed him. Mr. Deane said he was very upset over this since Willie and he were not only employer and employee but also good friends.

Hurlock in those days was a thriving agricultural community. Tomatoes were canned at the American store canning house, also Harrington Smith, Neilds and even wagon loads were sent to Cambridge for the Phillips Packing Company. Harper & Bateman canned several vegetables.

Hurlock was also the home of one of the biggest International Harvester dealers on the Shore. Brooks & Harry Parker sold many a piece of farm equipment out of their Hurlock store. My father bought the only new tractor he ever had from Parkers – a Farmall 350 that could pull three fourteens of moldboard plows. The mules were just about done but that tractor has been working for years.

I also have the Super M Farmall that Dr. Jimmy Johnson used at his farm at Linkwood. Both tractors are still used for pulling wagons and such around the farm. About forty years ago I was filling the 350 up with gas and I did not cut her off because she had a bad battery. The end of the hose broke and the electric pump kept pumping as I dove away from the flaming tractor. Linkwood-Salem Fire Company saved most of the implement shed and it’s a wonder I didn’t need an ambulance too for my mother, when she looked out the window and saw the tractor in flames. I can remember Sheldon Windsor saying “You’ll cut that engine off next time, won’t you.”

The 350 was completely burnt up and I was ready to drag her in the woods. Freddie Windsor said that he would like her for one of his projects. He pulled her out the lane and up Aireys Road. About three years later Freddie called me up and said he wanted to show me something. When I got to his farm there the 350 sat, purring like a kitten. Freddie only wanted what he had spent on her, and back to North Yarmouth she came.

Mr. Deane said that he liked the Massey Harris equipment line and always went to Cambridge to deal with the Luthy family. Their dealership was at Snows Turn, and Mr. Deans said their equipment and service was tops. I guess Mark Luthy is right back where his old grandpa was.
Thirty-two years ago Mr. Deane retired from farming and now has David Andrews of Clearview Farms till his farms. Mr. Deane remarked how his Massey Harris combine in 1957 had a grain table head of about ten feet, with a grain tank of maybe fifty bushels. When David moves in with his huge planters and combines the work that took weeks to do years ago is now done in a matter of days.

I could not get over how sharp Mr. Deane’s memory was. Both Mr. and Mrs. Deane still live in their home on the farm and have caregivers to help. Both of the Deanes still get around, and as I watched Mr. Deane looking over his fields from his recliner, I could only imagine what he had seen in his lifetime. Before I left he told me that no matter whether you may be rich or poor, we are all on this earth a short time and we all get six feet of dirt at the end.

It sounds to me like we can grow flowers or weeds. The germination is the same, only the genetics are different.

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