Warner, Homer - Memories 2004

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Homer Warner: Memories 2004

Homer and Sandy Warner

During the forties and fifties nearly all of the farms in the Helderberg’s were operating farms. Most of the farms were small dairy farms, with Cole Hill Farm at around fifty cows being the largest in the immediate area. Our farm, at the north end of Warner’s Lake was among the smaller farms with about fifteen milk cows and several hundred chickens. We milked by hand and shipped our milk to Albany in milk cans, of ten gallons each. None of the dairy farms had bulk milk tanks on the farm, as they came later. We never had a bulk tank, as my father retired at about the time bulk tanks were required. Our milk was sold to Normans Kill Dairy in Albany, but there were several dairies in Albany and Schenectady that were processing milk for home delivery. All of them are gone now. Our eggs were packed in thirty dozen crates and sold to local grocery stores. A few were sold to homeowners.

Our farm was somewhat unique because my father was still using draft horses for much of the farm work. Nearly all of the other farmers were using tractors. As a boy, one of my first morning chores was to climb the hillside pasture, near what is now Shultz Hofbrau, to find and bring in the two draft horses, Molly and Jerry. This was not an easy job because they didn't come willingly, but I always got it done.

Most of the haying was done with the horses. One of my first experiences driving the horses was sitting in front of the hay wagon, with my father loading the loose hay as it was pitched on the wagon by my two older brothers. Sometimes, I rode on the back of one of the horses, rather than sit on the wagon. Later, I learned to drive the horses for mowing and raking, as well as many other things. Once the hay wagon was loaded it was hauled up the ramp to the second floor of the dairy barn. The hay was then pitched off, by hand, and mowed away. Once, one of the horses put a leg through one of floor planks and was stuck there until it could be lifted out. That was quite an experience. Fortunately, haying has become easier. We did have an Allis Chalmers tractor for the heavy work of plowing and fitting the land. It was not equipped with an electric starter, so once you got it started you made sure you were finished with it before it was shut off. Sometimes, if it stalled under a heavy load, like plowing, it might not start until after it cooled off. I learned to crank this machine at an early age without getting hurt, as it sometimes kicked back on the crank. My neighbor was not so lucky, as he broke his arm while trying to start it. At this time, our neighbors the Strevells, were still taking in summer boarders. Some of the boarders came from Albany, but some came from as far away as New York City. Sometimes they included kids our age, who often came over to the farm to see what that was all about. While we were not up to speed with the city kids in many ways, there were lots of things about the farm that we made sure they learned the hard way. Electric fences, is one that comes to mind and milking cows, especially the ones that kicked, is another.

In the winter, if the roads were drifted shut and driving a vehicle was out of the question, my father would often hitch up the team to the bob sleigh. He would then drive the team to East Berne to pick up dairy feed at Ed Pitcher's mill, which was still in operation. He might also go over to the grocery store for supplies. I often thought he really did this for show, rather than out of necessity. Also in the winter there was ice cutting on Warner's Lake, which occurred right on the north end of the lake in front of our house. They had a sled of some kind, rigged up with a gas- powered buzz saw, which could be lowered down into the ice so that it would cut the ice into blocks as it was pushed along the ice. The ice blocks were then moved along in channels by pike poles until they were near the shore. At the shore they had set up a raised platform that included an inclined elevator. This lifted the blocks of ice by a chain, much like a hay bale elevator works today. Power for the elevator was provided by an automobile. It had the rear end jacked up, a flat belt was run over one rear tire, and then the belt was run over a pulley at the elevator to power it. Once the ice blocks were on the platform they could be loaded into trucks.

Our milk hauler used to also be in the business of hauling ice, and he would return to our place in the afternoon and haul out truckloads of ice. I don't know where it went. But, I do know that we filled our own icehouse, and then sold the blocks to summer residents, as many of them did not have electric refrigerators. The ice was packed in sawdust to keep it from melting and sticking together. The icehouse still exists, although my father moved it across the road to use for other purposes after the ice cutting stopped. We often went down on the ice to watch this operation and sometimes would try riding on the blocks of ice. I don't ever recall falling in the water, but I know my mother was not real happy with the idea. In the early fifties my father traded in the old Allis Chalmers tractor and got a newer model that included an electric starter and hydraulics. He also bought a tractor mower and baler. Life on the farm was getting easier. At about the same time, our horse, Jerry died and my father decided, with great difficulty, that it was time to give up farming with horses. Our neighbors were no longer taking in boarders, and the ice operation was only a memory, never to be seen again.