Erskine’s Feed Store is the oldest family run business in Chester. Richard “Dick” Erskine founded the business in 1952. Erskine’s original location was near the old Yosemite Fire Station. This location was last used as the Chester Family Center. It was about 1960 that the grain store moved to its current location behind the train station in Chester Depot.
The first thing you’ll notice entering the store are the old creaky, well-worn wooden floors. Next you’ll notice the store is stocked from floor to ceiling with feed and grain, cat and dog food, straw, grass seed and vegetable seeds. They carry plant soils, farm tools, work gloves, electric fence, poultry needs and horse and goat supplies.
Clayton Jennison drove truck for Dick Erskine in 1963. Clayton drove the 1962 International Harvester box truck, delivering grain to farmers in the area. Also working at Erskine’s at this time was Henry Wilson. Henry was a carryover from the 19th century and drove a Model A. Talking with Clayton, I was reminded of Henry’s nickname that I had long forgotten. Henry’s nickname was “Spot-cash.”
In 1963 grain came in boxcars on the railroad but not to Chester. Clayton drove to the railroad station in Bellows Falls and manually unloaded the 100-pound bags of grain from the boxcar to Erskine’s truck. They had three days to empty the boxcar or pay a fine.
Clayton told me how he had lost his driver’s license for 20 days. During this time, Spot-cash was driving and Clayton was riding shotgun. They were coming up “Liquidometer Hill”* when the truck began to bog down. The truck had a two-speed rear-axle, something old Spot-cash knew nothing about. Clayton reached over and shifted the rear-axle to the lower gear and the truck powered up the hill.
Clayton explained how he delivered bags of grain to area farms. He delivered to Arthur and Don Farrar, Kingsbury Farm, Leonard Eddy and others.
Talking with Mary (Eddy) Semones, she recounted her memories. Her father, Leonard Eddy, worked for Dick Erskine in the early years at the old location in the 1950s. Leonard worked the counter, loaded customers’ trucks and delivered grain to farmers in the area.
Mary told me what a kind and generous man Dick was. He had charge accounts for many of his customers. Occasionally a farmer would fall behind on his bill. Dick would make an arrangement with those farmers that if they paid something on their account every month he would continue to extend them credit. Dick didn’t want the animals to go hungry and he knew the farmers would catch up when they were able.
Ted Spaulding spoke about his father doing business at the Park & Pollard Feed Store where Erskine’s is now located. Prior to Dick’s opening his own feed store, Dick worked for Park & Pollard and learned the trade. When Dick opened his store in 1952, Ted’s father gave Dick all of his business as did many others in the area. Dick was a highly respected man in the area.
Every spring people went to Dick Erskine’s to get day-old chicks. Danny Clemons remembers going there as a young boy and getting day-old chicks. I remember my mother taking me there when I was very young so I could get chicks. This would have been 1956-1957.
I got 10 chicks and some grain. We kept the chicks behind the woodstove in the kitchen to keep them warm until they were strong enough to be moved to the barn. I loved to hear them peep and would sit for hours watching them. I became attached to my chickens and gave them all names. The only name I remember today is Dumb Cluck. Jimmy the Skunk got Dumb Cluck.
In the 1950s, at the old location, if you showed up with a box on chick day, Dick would give you 10 chicks free, provided you bought 25 pounds of chicken feed. In the left foreground in the photo with this article is Richard Erskine’s feed store. You’ll notice the long line of customers and that they are holding boxes. This was chick day, circa 1955-1957. I may have been in that line with my mother.
If you haven’t been to Erskine’s before, I recommend you pay them a visit. Walk around and take a look at the wide variety they offer. You won’t see a computer and all sales are handwritten on a sales slip. And you’ll meet John Knisley, who has worked there 20 years and is Mike Erskine’s right-hand-man.
*Liquidometer Hill is just north of Bellows Falls on Route 5. It’s the location where you are coming uphill and there’s a passing lane.
This week’s old saying. “Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity.”