Work To &Thru College
One of my first memories was following my father around doing the chores as soon as he would let me. I had all of my parents attention as Sue had not yet joined our family. She joined when I was four. I rode the snow plow (an A frame) as he pulled it along the paths to the coops and barn. This is how I learned the letter “A”. I used to sew with mother. With her training I even embroidered a "K" on my pajamas. This was how I learned the letter “K”. Every night we would read mother goose stories. I had most if not all of the nursery rhymes memorized. If I could not remember a story I would lay awake all night. Often mom would have to help me get the rhyme correct so I could sleep.
Our main focus in life was the chickens and cows. Our yard had a small three room house, an out house, a garage, a root cellar, a granary, two double coops, a barn, a pigpen, and some smaller pens for bantam roosters. The coops were the largest and most costly buildings and the the barn was a close second. Each of the coops consisted of two rooms for chickens with a hall in between. Each room of the coops had running water trough on the front or south wall. The large windows at the front of the coops were to let in light with clear blinds to keep the winter cold out. The back or North side of the coops had roosts for sleeping and small windows at ground level that were opened in the summer to allow ventilation. The wall next to the hall had nests where the chickens would lay their eggs. These nests could be opened from the hall to gather the eggs. Two other taps were available for drinking water, one in the corral for the cows and the other in the yard near the house.
Probably sooner than mom and dad wanted I started collecting or "gathering eggs" from the nests and putting them in the bucket. An egg was almost worth a nickel at a time when full grown men were working for a dollar a day. I learned to count during this activity. Soon by twos, then threes, and finally by fours as my hands grew. At first we had two cows and then just old Bossie and then none. Bossie was a registered Holstein with the characteristic black spots on white background, the other cow was Jersey/Guernsey brown color. Bossie was a tremendous cow often giving two 16 quart buckets of milk morning and night. That was all the milk we could use and more which the milk man would pick up regularly. Dad always set out a saucer of milk for Skippy our cat and on occasions would squirt milk across the barn and into our mouths.
One of the first jobs that I was assigned to do on my own was cleaning coops. Dad was very good at teaching me how to do a job. I had worked along side of him learning the job but now I was to be in charge. Cleaning coops was easy to understand but hard to do. The first step was to remove all of the straw and manure from the coop using a fork and shovel then second sweep the floor clean with the broom, and third apply new clean straw. The only hard part was the roosts at the back of the coops.
The roosts at the back of the coop consisted of 5 or 6 sections that could be lifted up to clean under. I disliked this part of the job because there was a strong ammonia smell and it seemed that I always got mites all over me. To this day I don’t know if I really had mites crawling on me or if it was my imagination. At night time the chickens would sleep setting on the railing in neat rows. The underside of the frame was covered with chicken wire to prevent chickens from getting under the roost. This tended to keep them out of the major portion of their manure or “patuger” as Boyd called it. This highly valued fertilizer was high in nitrogen and smelled strongly of ammonia. Each section of the roost could be lifted from the front and propped up with a board to allow one to clean under the roost. Some times we would clean only under the roosts and others both the roost and the coop. The manure and dirty straw would be piled outside near door or window of the coop. Coops near the house had a window that could be opened to discharge manure and coops away from the house had a door at the east end. Bales of new straw were retrieved from the barn and used to cover the clean floors. Darwin Haskell brought us straw in exchange for the manure which he would haul away to use on his farm.
Dad put me in charge of cleaning but clearly explained to Glenn Ray Spencer and I what was expected. We would work hard at cleaning the coops and then have a thorough evaluation of the final job. If you have heard the clean and green lecture that Steven Covey gave his son about the lawn, you would appreciate this clean and dry lecture by my father. Dad was very good at explaining what was needed and he gave us room to succeed. There were four coops that needed cleaning so we had time to get it right. This was a good job and we were paid by the job not the hour. I have no idea how much we were paid but we felt like we were rich on payday. We had made a promise with a hand-shake, which we completed. We had learned the value of finishing a project.