A tribute to John Leon

Below is a story I found in Ted Spaulding’s most recent donation. It was written by John Leon “Gramp” Spaulding, Ted’s brother. I’ve seen a few stories Gramp wrote but had not seen this story. It’s about growing up on the Chester Town Farm on Route 10 in Gassetts. It’s a pretty good “how to” history.

John Leon in his army uniform. Photo provided.

Remembering the Town Farm Days

To some, it was called “The Town Farm.” Area towns had them to take care of folks that needed a place to live and be taken care of. If they were able to work, they would help out on the farm – either caring for the livestock or working in the house, or caring for the crops and woodlands on the farm. There were cows for milk and cream for the household as well as being shipped to a creamery which was in Bellows Falls. J.M. Giddings of North Springfield carried the milk in 20 and 40-quart milk cans in large bayed trucks.

Sometimes when calves were born they got shipped to the Boston market by Horace Putnam and I.M. and J.J. Fuller. The Fullers were from Ware, Mass. The Putnams were from nearby Springfield. Sometimes we took them to a local dealer at the railroad yard at Chester Depot to John Dorand’s, also a dealer – the Jeffrey Brothers of Chester Depot.

The farmhouse had 16 rooms – a large living room for the inmates (which they were called), a large kitchen to have space to feed all the folks that lived there. The bedroom as a rule had two beds – the men had theirs and the ladies had theirs. The ladies had one bed, mostly. There were seven bedrooms for the inmates and in the caretaker’s area there were four bedrooms, a living room and a bathroom of good size. The house had a large cellar in the caretaker’s area and a small cellar in the other end. That end is where the water tank was and where the garden goods were kept during the winter months, or until they were used. There was a lot of canning in those days. Sometimes they raised hogs for meat to eat during the winter months.

In the large part of the cellar was a big wood-burning furnace which took two-foot wood. In the small cellar was a fair sized furnace, wood or coal burning, but most of the time we used wood. The back ell of the home was a large, closed-in building called the wood shed. The downstairs area was used to keep the short wood for the kitchen cooking range and a chunk stove in the inmates’ living room. There was also a chunk stove in the caretaker’s dining room. The wood for the furnaces was kept in the cellar.

There was a large attic for storage and in the fall we would spread out paper up there and spread the harvest of butternuts to be dried, to be eaten later or use in some of the cooking.

Each summer we had a good-sized garden with most kinds of vegetables, also a large plot on which we planted potatoes for the fall harvest for winter. During the winter we cut wood for the farm. Now this was done with crosscut saws and pulp saws. It was cut four feet long and hauled to the backyard with horse-drawn sleds. We had a large travis sled and also a dray with a bobsled with a pair of horses. We did a one-horse dray that we used in tight places. Then in the spring or fall we would use a one-lung engine saw rig to cut the wood to the size for the stoves. We would also cut logs and sled them down to a skidway with a bobsled. Then a local lumber mill owner would come and truck them off to the mill to saw up – some for the farm use and some to be used by the town and others to be sold to help meet expenses. Sometimes either sled or log roads had to be built to get the truck through the mud!

As I have said before, we used horses so all the farm work was horse-drawn machines. The summer haying: my brother and I would go behind the mower to keep the hay from plugging up the sections. He and I helped out along with some of the men who lived on the farm.

The ladies helped my mother with the cooking and the house work. My dad was in charge of the poor as overseer of the farm. He drove the horses most of the time.

The hay was raked with dump rake, one horse. Sometimes we used a tedder to shake and fluff it up to dry. Then we would tumble the hay up in small stacks to be pitched up on the wagon to be hauled to the barn. At the horse barn it had to be pitched off by hand and mowed away with pitch forks. The hay had to be special for the horses – clean so it would not be dusty – a fine quality of hay.

The hay for the cattle went into a large mow off of a wide barn floor. This was done by a horse hitched to a large, long rope which pulled a fork called a horse fork. You would drive the forks in the hay on the wagon and lock the fork and a rope through pulleys. It would be pulled by a horse and up it went to the ridge pole – hit a track and go into the mow. When it was where you wanted it, you pulled a small rope and that would trip the lock and dump the hay. Then as the horse came back, you pulled the trip rope and the fork returned to the wagon for another fork full.

We had a covered water tub in the middle of the barnyard where the animals got their water. That also had a stove in it to keep the water from freezing in the winter.

In the fall, when we cut corn it was done with a hand corn cutter. It was piled up to be picked up by the wagon to be taken to the silo where we used a one-lung engine to run the ensilage cutter to chop it up for the cows.

The barn had two silos, one outside and one inside. Farm hands had to tread the corn down to keep it tight in the silo so it would not spoil. Sometimes when it was silo filling time, some of the neighbors with horse and wagons would come to help. On those days, Mr. Richardson came from across town, about ten miles. He had a rubber-tired wagon. Them were the good old days!

In the barn was a harness room and grain room. The silo was off the grain room. This room had boxes with lid covers on hinges to keep the grain in for different animals. There was a box that had meal in it, one that had salt in it, and one with the feed for the calves. There was a long bin with a small section for oats for the horses and a large section for the cows.

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