In my childhood days all the farms were mixed farming operations with all kinds of livestock. This meant that each one could be assigned chores, such as putting down the straw and hay for livestock, putting out insilage and feeding the cows, calves or pigs and chickens. Speaking of chickens (a job that became my life’s work), in those days no one expected hens to lay eggs in winter so in the fall, the farmer’s wife would store eggs in large numbers in what was known as water glass for winter use. Just what this was I do not know but it evidently worked. We partitioned off a box stall in the stable with chicken wire for our hens in winter, fed them some wet mash and skim milk and were able to get our hens to lay nearly all winter – something very few people were able to do at that time. Shortly afterwards, a lot of work was done at O.A.C. in Guelph and other colleges in selection of breeding stock and feeds which led up to the high egg strains we have today. Now winter production is a must.
Mother and dad were real thrifty, hard-working people. They had to be to survive and get ahead. They started with 50 acres and later bought another 50 acres alongside it. This was the north half of Lot 3, Concession 11 Ashfield Township. Later, dad bought another 50 acres, the Peter Currie farm, on north half Lot 4, Concession 10 Ashfield. This was the size of the farm when I was a boy. There was a log barn and house on the Currie farm. These were taken down later and the material was used on our home place when the house was fixed over and the barn raised and extended. I was quite young when the main barn was raised by the low posts and stone wall was put under it. Quite a few years later, in 1914, the back barn was raised and extended. The extension work was done by Tom Henderson. The barns were raised by screw jacks manned by neighbour Jack (Hutch) Hutchinson. He was the owner of the jacks and the boss.
The house at home was one-storey with a back kitchen. It consisted of two bedrooms and the parlor in front with the kitchen at the back with a pantry. The cellar way led from the pantry under the back kitchen. Afterward, when we were boys, an upstairs was built over the front part and the house was cemented on the outside. Mr. Cottel from Whitechurch did the carpentry work. This house remained until the 1930s when it was destroyed by fire. We lived in it until Lorne was married in 1922 and we moved up to the Johnnie Johnstone farm. Lorne bought the house in which mother was born – the house on Grandma Johnstone’s farm – and moved it on to our home farm where it still sits. Lorne’s son Jack Farrish lives there now.
When I was in my teens, dad bought 87.5 acres alongside the Currie 50 (this made 137.5 acres). It was owned by Dave Taylor who was then living in Detroit. It was known as the John Spindles Farm. When we bought it, Frank Kelly was living there. He had it rented, was a cripple and could not farm it very good. This is the farm we moved on to after we were married.
Dad also bought 50 acres from Uncle Dave Farrish who moved out west just before Lorne was married. He bought another 100 acres alongside Dave’s from Johnnie Johnstone (mother’s half-brother). This made 387.5 acres total. Dad lived on this farm until he moved to Lucknow a few years before he died.
My school days started at SS #10 Ashfield. This school disappeared with the beginning of Central Schools in Ontario. The pupils were transported to North Ashfield School at Hemlock City near Ashfield Presbyterian Church. As noted earlier, Aunt Martha Johnstone was my first teacher. Other teachers were Lee Cunningham (Mrs. Geo Lane), Margaret Fargey, a buxom lassie with red hair from Hastings County, Bailey Stothers from over on the 9th of Ashfield and Margaret Ritchie from Zion. I tried my Entrance Exams at Kintail School first when 12 years old, stayed home a couple years and went back and tried again and passed at 15 years of age. I remember some of those who tried at the same time were Earl MacDonald, Frank MacLennan, George and Annie Blue, Sadie J.K. MacDonald, Elmer West and Cliff Connell.
I went back to take 5th class work at Public School but shortly after I started, the hired man, Fred Jackson, left to work at Ed Johnstone’s so I had to stop and help with the farm work.
I was always interested in the farm. Dad had a lot of purebred Oxfordshire sheep and it came to be my job to look after the pedigrees. I also looked after the hens with which I had fair success. One day Dad went to a Purebred Shorthorn Sale and bought a purebred heifer. She was white and called “Silver Queen”. The next morning when he brought her home and unloaded her off the wagon, he turned to me and said, “That heifer is to be yours”. This gave me a new interest in farming. I was fortunate she and her offspring had a lot of heifer calves and when I was ready to start farming on my own, I had 12 head of cattle. I had never been paid wages all the years I worked on the farm but these cattle were better to me than money because they gave me an interest in livestock and all other phases of agriculture.
The only means of transportation in the country when I was a boy at the start of the 20th Century was the horse and buggy or team and wagon in summer and horse and cutter or team and sleigh in winter. When I was a boy, Dad, Grandpa Farrish and I drove from home to Brooksdale, between Stratford and Woodstock, with the horse and buggy in one day. This was where Aunt Maggie Farrish (Mrs. John McLeod) lived. This must have been about 60 miles. I would be about 10 years old because Grandpa died when I was 11. Today this would take about one and a half hours. I suppose this trip took us 12-14 hours to complete but we got there.
In winter we had to wrap up real warm to ride in a cutter or sleigh. Very often before we would start out, a few bricks or blocks of wood were put in the oven and allowed to get real warm. These in turn were wrapped in woolen blankets and put in the bottom of the cutter or sleigh to keep our feet warm. There was also a charcoal heater in which hot coals or hard wood charcoal was placed in a compartment in the heater and these were placed at your feet to keep them warm. Buffalo robes were almost a necessity when riding in the wintertime. Fur coats were also a necessity as were woolen scarves and shawls. Very often in winter the team was hitched to the sleigh and we would go to town to do the shopping. The sleigh box would be well padded with hay. A board would be placed across the box over which would be placed a quilt or blanket to sit on. More quilts, blankets or robes would be put in for wraps and away we would go. With the sleigh bells attached to the harness or the neck yoke, it made a rather pleasant ride if it wasn’t too cold. However, if it happened to turn stormy, it wasn’t so pleasant. In those days we had no way of getting any weather forecasts to tell us what the weather was likely to be in the next few hours. If it got stormy, the roads would likely get bad. There were no roads ploughed until after cars became popular (about 1918).
Most of the fences were made of rails. While very effective as a fence, they were also very efficient at holding the blowing snow. Most winters the roads were filled from fence to fence along the road. Eventually the road got packed and built up in ridges in the centre which allowed the sleighs and cutters to cut off and made travel quite hazardous. Often pitch holes were formed between snow banks. When the cutters or sleighs went into the pitch holes, they were quite hazardous. The horses hated pitch holes because the vehicle would often plunge into them and bite them on the heels. If they went around them, you were likely to get tipped out. They were also bad for breaking the tongues of the harness if the horses were to snap into the harness after going through these holes. It sometimes happened that a whiffletree (crossbar) would be broken in the same manner and you might be left sitting in the cutter and the horse gone on. When the road got high and it was poor footing for the horses, they would sometimes start to crowd. This could be bad because if a team started to crowd, it would only be a short time until they would be in a lather of sweat and tire. If these ridges in the road got real high after a thaw, it was quite common for farmers to hitch a walking plough behind the sleigh and plough these ridges to the side. It was real hard work trying to hang on to the plough handles but did make for better traveling.
While walking to the village of Gorrie, Harold Hyndman asked me to go for a ride. He was going to Harvey Copeland’s place to pick up two truck loads of cattle to take into Gorrie to be sold at the sale. It was much different in the early part of the 20th Century when there were no trucks. If we had one or two head of cattle, they would be taken to the railway station in Lucknow on the wagon as would the hogs but if there were more, we always drove them in a herd the 10 miles to the stockyards to be shipped on the train. Occasionally one or two neighbours would drive their stock together. This would take three or more hours and we had to walk behind them to see that they didn’t go astray down side roads or into farm lanes. Most farm lanes had gates in those days but some didn’t. When we got into Lucknow or Ripley, there was always a problem of side streets and open lawns and gardens. If they were quiet, it wasn’t much of a problem but I remember one time driving a number of cattle in Lucknow and we were just about to turn them up the side street when a woman walked right across in front of them. They got frightened and away they went through gardens and lawns. We had one heck of a time getting them together again and it didn’t make us feel too favourably toward the woman who had caused us all the trouble.
Another time we were driving cattle along the road in front of Greenhill Cemetery, Lucknow. One had been giving us trouble and decided to go back. Uncle Pete Farrish was helping and just as it was going past on the run, he caught it by the horns and it flipped over and broke its neck. We had to go and get the butcher to take it to the slaughter house and have it dressed for meat.
At school there was no organized recreation. However, games were played. Soccer was always popular in Ashfield. When my dad was a young man, I often heard him tell of the Ashfield Rovers, a soccer team organized by a Mr. Kerr who taught school at SS #10. They traveled all over, playing teams as far away as Waterloo where Mr. Kerr came from.
We played some soccer at school but just amongst ourselves and also some baseball with anything we could find for a ball. We also played “Anti Anti Over”, “Pump Pump Pull Away”, tag or anything else someone would hatch up to put in time at recess and noon hour. In winter, it could be a snowball fight, sleigh riding or skating on a pond in somebody’s field nearby. There were no hills to toboggan on.
For some reason I can’t know why now, I spent a lot of time reading books and farm bulletins about crops, farm animals, bugs and birds. I suppose this gave me an interest in agriculture later.