This is part 13 in a series of essays about when I was a young man (30+ years ago) trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world. Click HERE to go back to the beginning of the series.
In the early fall of 1977, having worked the summer months helping to restore an old building in Vermont, I knew I wanted to be a carpenter. With that in mind, I decided that I should go to the State University of New York at Alfred for their building trades program. But it was too late in the year to get in, and I didn’t have enough money for tuition.
So I was back home in New York, thinking about what to do next. My stepfather told me that a local farmer we knew needed a hired hand. The farmer’s name was Mr. Badman. We knew the Badman family from a local church we had once attended (read The Sermon I’ll Never Forget) and I had helped them in the past during summer haying. Mr. Badman and two of his sons ran their dairy and crop farm. But one son had taken a job in a factory. Thus, they needed some help and I got myself a full-time job on their farm.
Mr. Badman had grown up on the farm and took the operation over from his father. His elderly mother still lived in the house by the dairy barn, while Mr. Badman’s family lived a couple of stone throws down and across the road. They milked around 60 cows.
The Badman’s were the thriftiest farmers I’ve ever known. I don’t think they borrowed money. In 1977 they had two pickup trucks. One was a 1940’s era Dodge that Mr. Badman’s father had bought new. The other was a 1960’s era Chevy. They had several old Farmall H tractors that they put to good use. Mr. Badman’s oldest son is maybe six years older than I am and he bought a good-size, nearby farm of his own when he was still in high school. Today, their operation appears to be no larger than it was 30 years ago, and it supports three families. Most other small-scale dairy farmers in the area have gone out of business.
The Badman’s were the hardest working people I had ever known. They were up early in the morning and worked long days, six days a week. Sundays they did only the necessary chores and milking. I never knew them to have any interests outside the farm, except church. They were at church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night Bible Study, and on other special occasions. Otherwise, they were wedded to the never-ending work of their farm.
As for me, I worked six days a week. Sundays were my day off. The farm was a couple miles from my house. When the weather was good, I rode my bike to work and home. When the winter snow came, I walked. I’ll never forget walking to work in the early darkness on cold, winter mornings. And I walked home in total darkness on snow-drifted roads many times. No matter how bad the snow was, I walked. Sometimes, in the winter, when the town snow plow went by, the driver would stop and give me a ride most of the way home.
My job was to help with chores. I fed the calves. I got hay bales down from the barn and fed them to the cows. I climbed the silo every morning and forked down silage to feed the cows. I fed the dry cows in another barn. And then there was the manure. Cows make a lot of manure.
Each day the gutter behind the cows had to be emptied. A chain-drive gutter cleaner would slowly move the contents outside and into a manure spreader. But an addition on the end of the barn housed maybe 16 more cows and there was no gutter cleaner there. So I was the gutter cleaner.
Every morning after milking I would fork the sopping wet waste into a wheelbarrow and wheel it into the main barn where I dumped it into the gutter with the cleaner. It amounted to several heaping wheelbarrow loads, and then I would use a narrow scoop shovel to lift out as much of the remaining urine in the bottom of the gutter. During the winter, when the cows stayed in the barn all day, this gutter cleaning was performed in very close proximity to the rear ends of the beasts. After getting slapped in the face by a manure-soaked cow’s tail, I learned the importance of always keeping my mouth shut when doing that job.
I had a love-hate relationship with the cows. I didn’t like the mess thay made. I didn’t like their slobbering mouths, wet noses, and hot breath on me as I made my way along the narrow feeding area between their stanchioned heads and the old, whitewashed stone foundation walls of the barn.
But during the cold winter months, when I stayed in the barn to eat my lunch (peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, usually), the cows were good to have around. I discovered that if I fluffed up some fresh straw beside a big Holstein cow that was lying down and contentedly chewing its cud, and then sat in the straw with my back up against the back of the critter, it was like sitting against a warm heater.
So, yes, I lounged with the cows and we ate lunch together. The noon break was a welcome respite that I looked forward to.
To be continued....
Click HERE to go to Part 14 of this series
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