March 1995

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Diaries of T. N. Smith

Kanona, New York


John Rezelman

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February - March 1888

February and March 1888 were marked on T. N. Smith's farm mainly by:

(1) Seasonal farm work and, always, "chores."

(2) Sale and delivery of odd-lot farm products.

(3) Somewhat heightened social activity, visiting friends and relatives.

(4) Church and civic duties involving meetings and deliberations.

In February Smith delivered quarters of farm-slaughtered beef and sold the hide. At this season as nearly throughout the year, he sold small lots of wheat to individuals, 2 or 3 bushels at a time. What could these have been for but to grind or have ground for flour? What bread that must have made! The Staff of Life for sure and delectable besides. On February 7 one S. K. Rose, apparently a produce dealer, left barrels at Smith's. On February 8 "We sort and pack 12 barrels of apples sold to S. K. Rose at $1.20 per barrel." This must have been his entire stored market crop, as he mentions no other apple sales. I recall only one sale of potatoes; apparently stored potatoes were not a big item with him, at least not this season.

He made several trips to the mill himself to have a grist ground, most often for feed. There are the usual notations throughout of weather, sleighing and condition of roads, but not with the concentration and intensity of January.

There is much mention of visitors at the farm and of trips by him and his mother to visit people in the locality. Day trips mostly but occasionally they involved overnight stays. At this stage of his life he was a bachelor, an "old batch" his grandson Stanley affectionately says. His mother made her home with him. He went with her to church very faithfully and took her many places she needed or wished to go. (Relatively late in life he married a young woman and they had 3 children.)

On one occasion in these months he took part in a commission to arbitrate damages done to a farm by the railroad. He also spent time in Kanona as a witness in civil litigation. This must have been in justice's court, as county court would have been in Bath.

He makes no mention of state of health other than "Mother and I have colds," with this brief exception: On March 12, marked "Great Blizzard" he writes, "Am nearly sick all day. Don't go out much. Take Ada to the noon train to go to Bath. Go to Dr. Lawrence's office and have the root of a tooth extracted." A very disagreeable day," he concludes—but the next day is a busy one at "5 below" and "blustery" and his condition is not mentioned. A rapid recovery made, it appears.

I have come across no reference to a veterinarian, but his horses did get taken regularly to a farrier-blacksmith to have shoes reset or replaced.

In March of '88 I think the winter may have been "getting to" Mr. Smith to some degree. On at least 7 separate days in that month he wrote "Do chores only," as if to imply that wasn't much of a day in his farming life. It suggests he thought of them as days lost. They were not lost, though.

In the first 3 months of 1888 his diary records sales of 70 dozen eggs plus other sales where only price, not quantity, is stated. They must have used some eggs themselves in addition. Now take chickens, to begin with. If left to their own choices in winter they would fly up to some high place in the barn and there roost, drowsing and sulking through the long hours of darkness and dim daylight There is no egg production in that lifestyle. It was possible to get eggs in winter back then, particularly from first-year pullets, even without electric lights to lengthen their days, but it took some doing. People tempted and coaxed their hens with hot dishes of cooked mush or whole grains, maybe with table scraps or butchering offal added, to get them stirring around and eating more. They made sure they could drink their fill of water that wouldn't chill their insides, with maybe some buttermilk or skim milk too. Thus coddled, they would respond by laying eggs. No coddling, no eggs. Smith plainly, got eggs. His terse, matter-of-fact accounts of egg delivieries tell us much about him as a poultryman.

In those first 3 months he also sold about 285 pounds of butter besides what they put on their bread and pancakes. Cows were also in a somewhat adverse situation as to milk production. Cows could drink some pretty cold water, but if standing in or by an icy creek or pond in a chilling wind, they hated to do it. With a little warmth in some shelter they liked it much better. Milk is made up mostly of water, so go figure. There were a few silos in 1888, but they were a new idea and very scarce. Lacking silage, cows had only the tail end of last fall's pumpkin crop to vary their dry hay diet. Hay in those days typically had fewer legumes, more grass and was later cut than was best for milk production. Ground feed was most often corn and oats, palatable but not very stimulating and sustaining of milk production. It served to maintain body weight, which was helpful if not overdone. I suspect Smith gave his cows a working over with a curry comb every now and then, which made them feel better if nothing else, and kept him aware of them as individuals. What he could do for them, I suspect he did.

There is an old saying, "The eye of the master fattens the sheep." I feel confident that when he was out doing his chores T. N. Smith's eye was doing its job. Butter backs up that belief.

On March 20 he bought a 2-year old bull. Dangerous bulls were usually older bulls, so farmers often solved the bull security problem by keeping only younger bulls who hadn't lost all humility and become grouchy yet, slaughtering them before they became too mature. "Bull 2 years old, Durham and full blood. $40." Smith describes him. Durham was the old-time name for the Shorthorn breed, once a very popular kind in this region.

A riffle through the comments on March weather indicates there was plenty of cold in it that year, but this did not interfere with or delay the first crop sowing of the season. On March 27 he went to Bath and bought clover seed—medium red at $5.00 per bushel, $6.00 for alsike. He got 144 pounds of red and 30 of alsike. (alsike seeds are much the smaller.) On the 29th, having skipped the deep mud of the 28th, he sowed 4 acres with clover on top of "one inch or less of snow." He sowed clover again on March 30 and finished March 31. He does not say that he sowed it on growing wheat, but that is where it is customarily sown even today. How he did it he doesn't say either. Possibilities are (1) a "spinner" or "cyclone" type seeder operated by hand crank and gearing or a bow, or (2) a "wheelbarrow" seeder (both types are still in use in the 1990's.), or (3) simply broadcast by hand, for which just about nobody today has the necessary skill.

With his first seeds of 1888 in the ground (clover seeds work their way down into it as the ground "honeycombs" with frost on cold mornings), he doesn't say if he has been noticing the change of color of willow twigs or checking for the first signs of life in the skunk cabbage in the swamps—but it's a fair assumption he has. He's ready, no doubt, to find out whether up-coming April means early oat sowing or a dragged-out extension of winter. He knows from experience it could be either.

Index to the diaries
© 1995, John Rezelman
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