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By Emma Smith
Most people would like to be able to vividly recall both the happy times and the difficult, challenging childhood events of their lives. Grandma Moses, a famous primitive artist, began painting at age 75 and, when asked what inspired her, she stated it was scenes from her childhood on a farm in upstate New York. She even placed herself in some of the artwork she created.
Susan Jones is a former Granby resident who can think back to the past a little easier than the rest of us. Her dad worked a dairy farm here in Granby while raising a family during the 1960’s. All the while he kept a diary of each day’s happenings on that farm. The notes of this diary span 33 years from December 1962 to 1996. Susan recently donated this journal to the Salmon Brook Historical Society so that others can get a glimpse into the hardships and jubilations of farming in those days.
Her father, Roger Jones, originally managed a farm in Copake, New York, but wanted to move south to Granby because the owner of that farm was neglecting the animals. He packed up his family of seven in December 1962, drove to Granby and became the manager of Mountain View Farm on Notch Road. Susan told me that the day they arrived to first look at the farm they were like Shriners getting out of the family’s Chevy Corvair. The farm was owned by Doro and Matilda Guarco who were Italian immigrants that wanted to get a start in the new business of dairy farming.
Here are a few entries from that point in time:
12/31/ Monday 62 years end. 10 below and windy 50 mph all nite, snowing some this morning 56 in house. 24 in barn, all water froze up. No tractors out of 6 would start. I started Corvair and silly Ma and
Ed went to work. Hillsdale egg farm. Cold blast all over, 3 below in Hartford. We were thawing water and fixing busted pipes in barn all day, never cleaned barn. Done milking at 9 p.m. 56 in house furnace can’t compete with Copake wind. Some New Year’s Eve.
1/1/63 Tuesday. Happy New Year. Holiday but lots of work. Jim off, had breakfast then 3 big loads manure barn cleaner broke, then spreader broke, then cleaner, then spreader again. Zero this morning, then up to 10, still windy. Done at noon, more or less, took a nap, very pooped. Feeding 2nd cut hay, about bottom of the barrel. Very little eats home. Didn’t get to store last nite, all closed today. Jim bought me a beer, 1st in five years. I have 2 weeks to go, then I go.
1/13/63 Sunday Moving Day. Me and Dave did chores for Fuller this morning. I’m very tired not enough sleep. Packing til 1 am. last nite. Heavy rain this morning of course to snow at 9 am. Bad moving day. Dave’s transmission quit on his 55 Chev last nite, nice time for it. Left it in Hudson. I wish it was Wednesday and we were all moved! More later. Now 9:30 a.m. 10am Don Radcliff came snowing hard and slippery. We loaded a load covered with blankets. Snow slowed up. Norm Farmer came end of the load with his pickup. Don loaded his station wagon full up. Ma loaded Corvair and 3 cats and a dog (Pal). I left at 3 p.m. with big truck load 46 Int. snowing, road got to Granby 5:15. All had a big pot of goulash same as last moving day 5 yrs ago to the day. Same crew except Ray wasn’t here. Betty Radcliffe met us here with eats and helped lots. Then we unloaded and put much of the stuff in building back of the house.
1/18 Friday Things going good but cows are slow milkers, need training, and breeding is way behind. We finish between 6:30 and 7 at nite. Eddie feeds calfs (7) and corn to cows after milking 1 section at a time. 4 sections in barn. Then I push up hay. Feeding Bloomfield Farmers Exchange Grain, cheapest around 69 per ton now, also feeding citrus pulp once a day and molasses, but I will give up molasses. Hay is A no.1. Several 60 and 70 pound cows. Brockway dump truck for manure is very huge but runs good. Holds 2 days from 85 head, sawdust bedding. Dump it on Massachusetts line 1 ½ miles away.
I was amazed at the strength and endurance of Roger, his wife Mary and his entire family. A great deal of the stories depict the frustrations and exhaustion felt by Roger and his sons after a hard day’s work so I asked Susan to tell me what is was like from a younger child’s eyes growing up in such a household.
ES: Can you describe the farm?
SJ: Counting all the fields owned or rented by the Guarcos it was approximately 175 acres in size. There was one main large barn that held about 120 head of cattle, (including calves), and 60-75 Holsteins or milking cows, not far from 4 silos. Our house was a relatively small one-story ranch dwelling that sat at the top of a hill. A larger two-story home owned by the Guarcos rested at the bottom of that same hill. Fields of vegetables grew in various places on the property surrounding the barn and a storage shed for equipment sprung up from one of those fields.
Milking ruled the lives of our family. The cows had to be milked twice a day, (in a process that took four hours), 365 days a year, regardless of weather conditions or major family occasions. This was done by my father, brother and mother.
ES: Can you tell me how you got to school and what you did for fun?
SJ: We had to walk down the hill and up the road for about a half a mile to the bus stop. I went to Wells Road School and class sizes were pretty much like those in place today. After school was the best time for me because then I could run all over the farm and hike in the woods. Since I was one of the few girls in the neighborhood there were times when I entertained myself by just throwing a ball on the roof of our house and catching it. In the summer when school was out it was pure bliss. Those days I could drive the tractor around the farm and gladly move hay when necessary or carry things from one place to another for my dad. It seemed like we always had numerous cats, kittens and a dog with puppies to play with. Wintertime meant sledding for hours and playing in the snow.
ES: What were meals like?
SJ: My dad, who lived to be 89, ate 4 eggs every morning with a few slices of ham. During the day he simply drank coffee and Pepsi until dinnertime rolled around. The rest of us ate cereal and sandwiches for lunch; snacks were an unknown entity. A large pot of water filled with peeled potatoes sat on the stove every day. For dinner we ate a wide variety of vegetables including corn, squash, and string beans but rarely any meat or eggs. Meat was only served on special occasions and since we did not have chickens on the farm, eggs were not included in meals. Milk, however, was plentiful and served unpasteurized.
Our kitchen was rectangular in shape with green linoleum—designed to look like tile—on the floor and walls. My dad had a large desk stuffed with papers that seemed to form a frame around his small TV. This sat in a corner of the room not too far from the refrigerator and when he wasn’t farming we knew he could be at that desk writing or looking at bills. Attached to the refrigerator was a coin box where my parents inserted quarters in order to pay for the electrical usage of this appliance. A telephone with a black dial hung on the wall, and in the center of the room was our table topped with red Formica and held in place with shiny silver legs. This was where we ate our vegetable stews.
ES: What was your most powerful memory?
SJ: One night when I was nearly 12 years old and the entire family was sound asleep my sister got up to get a glass of water from the kitchen sink. It must have been about 1 or 2 a.m. She looked out the kitchen window at huge glowing lights in the sky and repetitively screamed, “The barn is on fire!” The incidents that followed happened so fast that it all seemed surreal. My father and brother David ran out to get the cows out of the barn as quickly as was humanly possible. Meanwhile my mother, two sisters and I began to collect our clothes and belongings from the bedrooms in an effort to load them into the family car should the fire spread to the house. Outside we could really experience the heat from that fire as cinders fell on us and on the house while we worked. The smell of smoke was overpowering. I remember not feeling afraid, since no one panicked, but worried. My family had moved several times in my short lifespan and I didn’t want to leave Granby.
The fire trucks came and immediately sprayed the milk house that was the part of the barn that housed the machinery used for milking the cows. Fortunately this equipment was saved; however, the rest of the barn caved in, fell to the ground and seemed to disappear into clouds of smoke and ash. It took nearly 20 years to rebuild that barn. In the meantime the Guarcos rented a barn in East Granby for all of the cows and my dad and my brother David became commuter farmers.
The morning after that fire I went to school wearing the same charred clothes from working outside while the barn burned.
ES: How did your parents celebrate Christmas?
SJ: My dad liked to spend money but he could repair a car, tractor, or milking machine and keep it running for decades. Shopping malls were not yet in existence; however, there was a Zayre’s department store not too far from Granby. Zayre’s was similar to Sears but a bit smaller, so going shopping on the weekends wasn’t as entertaining and enjoyable as it is today. The exception to this rule was Christmas time when my dad would drive wherever he had to all the while behaving like a man plunging into grave debt. We had a huge tree from one of the fields, turkey, cookies and all the usual holiday treats. The year that comes to mind now is when I was about seven. All I wanted was a trumpet or a football since most of the kids in the neighborhood were boys and I wanted to fit in. When it was time to make my request I caved in to peer pressure and advertising, then blurted out, “a doll!”
Leave it to my dad to find the most expensive Walking Jane Doll the stores could sell. It was about 2 ½ feet tall and when you held its arms it would walk across the floor. Most girls would think they had just acquired an object made only for royalty, but I still daydreamed about throwing a powerful forward pass with a regulation-size football. At days end though, it all seemed worthwhile because I could see my father through the corner of my eye looking on with joy as I guided that doll across the living room.
ES: What do you miss about those days?
SJ: Freedom. I miss the feeling that I could do whatever I wanted when I wanted. As soon as school let out there seemed to be no boundaries to the fun I could have with just a small measure of imagination.
Emma Smith has been a resident of Granby for 33 years. She has worked many years as a Speech and Language Pathologist. These days she paints with acrylics and writes a travel blog:
Susan Jones resides in Middletown. It took her two years to type out the 1,800-page diary. She is semi-retired and working part time as an insurance claims manager. On her free days she enjoys golf, pickle ball, and researching her genealogy.
A few of the diaries Roger Jones kept of his farming life in Granby. Jones’s daughter Susan transcribed the 33 years of entries and donated it to the Salmon Brook Historical Society. Roger Jones, right, and son Dave show off a new sign for the farm. The 1966 barn fire. Roger Jones had a penchant for colorful shirts, according to his daughter, Susan.