Farm Life: The Barnyard

The hand pump that provided water for the cows.

The hand pump that provided water for the cows.

Over the course of many years I have usually started my day by going out the back door of the farmhouse and walking into the barnyard to begin the work day. The barnyard at home has not changed a great deal over time, simply because the inhabitants have not changed a great deal over time.

The one big event that did change the daily life on the farm was the ability to have electricity run from the county road up the farm lane. When the electric lines came up the farm lane about 1952 that was the beginning of the Nabb family’s major jump into modern civilization. We could milk our cows with machines, we could have lights for the sheds and house, it was unbelievable the way everyday life changed. When Dad could finally get the money together to get the electric poles set up the half mile lane from Drawbridge Road it was a happy day indeed.

Some things could not change right away simply because the money was not there. The cows came first and the DeLaval milkers and electric motor for the water pump and milk can cooler was placed in the small “milk house.” Water that the old hand pump had provided for the cows and horses now flowed through a pipe. Priming the hand pump for the house and barns was usually the first task of the day. It took many a stroke to provide enough water for the livestock plus the needs of the farmhouse. The milk cooler could hold six cans of milk that Mr. Guy Henry would pick up every morning at the end of the lane. The cans of milk were delivered to the transfer station in Hurlock and then to Philadelphia by either train or truck.

The cooler could also hold several watermelons during the hot summer days when hauling hay and tomatoes were the main jobs. There was a big old butcher knife that stayed on the wall of the milk house that we used to bleed the hogs and steers after they were put down. We used that same knife to cut open the big Charleston Greys, and after we heard the opening crack of the melon, it was all hands for the heart. The blade was always sharp and usually clean.

Mom now was able to have running water in the kitchen. Although the bathroom would come later, the ability to have hot water in the house was a real step up. Not having to keep the old Home Comfort wood stove going to heat water in the summer months was a blessing. Aunt Hester Height, the old colored lady that helped Mom, never did like the electric stove. I can always remember how when the irons on the wood stove got hot enough Aunt Hester would spit on them to make sure they were ready to iron the clothes.

When I was just a little thing I would get out the storybook about Popeye on the Riverboat and Aunt Hester would tell me just about the same story over and over. Of course the fact that she could not read or write made little difference to me. When I fell asleep in her lap it was about the only time I was still. When she was killed at Wye Mills in an automobile accident a big part of my world was gone.

There was so much manual labor back in those days involved in farming. The barnyard was the main street of the farm. The farmhouse was surrounded by a four board wooden fence that was white-washed every year. The gate leading up to the house opened up on each side to two giant white oaks that provided shade and later, when they started to fail, their openings made homes for critters like squirrels, coons and every year a pair of wood ducks.

On the other side of the lane was the old tin garage for the car and the small chicken house that I still have in back of home. Next came the biggest black walnut tree on the farm. Every fall the walnuts would be picked up off the ground and placed on sheets of tin in the lane. The hulls came off after several weeks of traffic but you could still never get the stain off your hands. Christmas time, the tins full of applesauce cakes with the meats of the walnuts made it all worthwhile.

The next barns were the sheds that held the horses, calves and straw. The old Massey Harris baler kicked out the hay for feed and the straw for bedding. You never really knew how big the bales would come out of the machine but you could be assured that if the old Wisconsin motor stopped for any reason you just as well walk away if she was hot. I cranked that engine so much blisters would get on my hands.

Another way to bed the cows up in the winter was with the corn stalks after the ears of corn were husked off and then taken to the grain mill. Marsh grass also made good bedding, the only trouble with stalks and grass was that when you cleaned the stable out in the spring the fork went in by your foot and the manure was still hanging on six feet away.

On the other side of the yard was the machinery shed and the old milking barn. The barnyard was indeed a busy place. If my older brother George made me mad and I came out of the house with my Daisy air rifle he could not outrun the BB and I in turn could not outrun the whipping he gave me. I was usually a good boy. Mom had an old banty rooster that was the king of the barnyard — he was about as mean as they come. About the only way that I could get past him was going fast on my Sears & Roebuck bike.

Since I had to go by him several times a day, he didn’t like me. Well this one time on my going through the barnyard the rooster got his head hung in my spoke. The hens flew, the banty rooster flew — but not too far. Old buddy floated down the Transquaking River that night and I covered up the barnyard blood with dirt. I told Mom there was a fox around the next day. You should never lie to your mother, especially when you brother tells her what really happened later.

The barnyard holds so many memories over the years, many seem to dim with time, but not all grow faint. At 2 or 3 years of age how could a farm kid with bare feet forget how it felt to walk behind a cow after the animal got rid of the morning feed. It was so warm and soft it just spread between the toes like butter. However, when you ran in the house you came out faster than you went in.

I remember the time when I was about 12 that I jumped over the fence at the holding pen and as I started to walk, a pitch fork came along with me. I’ve still got the old three prong straw fork that went through my gum boot and foot just as clean as a whistle. When I pulled it out blood filled that boot up. The needle that Dr. Hanks gave me that day looked just as long as the ones Dr. Hastings used on the cows. I still believe they were the same.

As I got older there were many events of stupidity that only I could do. Got between a 2,000 lb. Holstein bull and a cow that was in heat. I flew through the air with the greatest of ease, but did land on the other side of the fence. Besides, he was not interested in me anymore.

The one event in the barnyard that took place where I could barely get off the ground occurred when I was grown and farming with George. George had bought a 40-foot trailer from Harold Willey after the Rendering Company decided to get rid of it. The cab and trailer was hooked up and sitting in the yard with a load of soybeans. I decided to climb the ladder on the trailer to take a look at the beans.

When I got to the top of the ladder and put my hand over to grab the rim I discovered that this trailer rim was about a foot long in length at the top. The only thing my hand grabbed was flat metal which was very slippery. I fell straight back from the top of the trailer and landed on the metal bar that held the mud flaps. My hip and thigh struck the crossbar full force and I could hardly walk. About the next day my leg started to get black and continued to a get a deeper hue for several days.

About four days later I stopped by Roger Adams’s to find out if Roger Jr. was coming home from work at the county barn that night, since I needed some welding done. Roger asked me why I was limping so bad and I told him what happened. I pulled down my pants and Roger said that was about as bad a bruise as he had ever seen.

As I was getting ready to leave, Roger’s wife Betty came home from work at the hospital. Roger told her how I was hurt and wanted me to show my hip and leg. I laughed and told Roger that I was not going to pull my pants down in front of his wife. Roger said, “O hell boy. Betty is a registered nurse and she won’t get shook up by anything she sees and besides she might want you to go to a doctor.”

Miss Betty said she should take a look just in case there may have been a blood clot. I finally pulled my pants down again and she told me it looked bad and I should go to the doctor as soon as possible. Betty turned to go down the hall and she laughed and told Roger, “there certainly wasn’t nothing to get shook up about.”

Roger almost fell off the chair laughing. I ran out the back door, tripped over the dog laying on the step and fell down again. I threw that old Ford pickup in gear and flew down Indian Bone Road. I never did go to the doctor.

I still start my day in the same barnyard. I move across a lot slower and seem to always have my head down. Usually I am always looking for old nails that come out of the wagons and tin sheds over the years. I’m not good at remembering names and dates anymore unless they entered my life years ago. I put a wrench down in the shop, come back an hour later and can’t find its resting place until the next day.

I keep hearing people say how times have changed. Indeed — time has not changed, it’s just the people that fill the void. I’ll keep looking down, maybe I’ll find a lucky penny.

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