Richard Shafer Autobiography: toc | previous chapter | next chapter
The Life of Richard Shafer
©1988 Glenn Shafer
CHAPTER VI. THE FARMING YEARS
I tried to make a living farming for over ten years, from the time we bought the farm in 1946 until I started to work in the Caney Post Office in 1955.
The first years we farmed were probably the happiest years of my life. I was happily married, I was beginning a family, and I was my own boss. Our yields wouldn't impress anyone today, but we thought we were doing well. We never had much money, but we were satisfied.
The later years were more difficult. I didn't have as much help after my father died in 1952, and it was harder to be satisfied with the kind of farm living we could make when the rest of the country was moving on to better times. My family was growing, and their demands were greater. Then we were hit by drought in the mid 1950s.
In the end, I had to give up farming. Yet I have never regretted those farming years. They were the years Anna and I began our family, and they were the years I tried to live my dream.
STARTING A FAMILY
When we first moved out to the farm, I said I was going to have ten boys. I was going to fortify the silo so we could fight off the Feds if they wanted to put any of my boys in the army. As it turned out, I didn't have ten boys, but I had four fine children. The first two, Glenn and Delores, were born during our early farming years, in 1946 and 1948. The other two, Roy and Janet, were born later, in 1955 and 1958.
Glenn was born at 12:30 in the afternoon on November 21, 1946, at Anna's mother's house. Anna had gone over there the day before. I remember that when the doctor came, he fell over a load of wood that Anna's brother Dick had left on the front porch. It really hurt him. I was in the next room when Glenn was born, and I stayed that night. My father came up the next morning to do the chores at our house.
Glenn was a healthy baby. He weighed eight pounds. We had quite a discussion about his name. I wanted to give him my own name, Richard Glenn. But Anna didn't think he would enjoy being called "Junior." So we named him Glenn Ray.
It was already getting cold when Glenn was born. We didn't have any heat in the room where he slept, and his milk would freeze in his bottle. He got a real bad cold late in the winter. The doctor said he had pneumonia. That was our first encounter with penicillin. It sure was expensive. I think it cost 90¢ a tablet.
That was a cold winter. It was quite an effort to keep warm. The house was leaky, and there wasn't much wood on the place. What there was we cut with a crosscut.
Glenn was a little late starting to talk, and even after he started talking, he didn't talk much. He didn't need to talk much, because we always knew what he wanted. When he was three years old, he would still grunt and point at the dinner table. I knew what every grunt meant, and I would give him what he wanted. My dad didn't like that at all. He would say, "Make that boy talk. Don't give him anything until he asks for it." I wasn't worried about his talking. I knew he could talk when he wanted to. Mother always told about how she and Daddy finally made Glenn talk. He wanted to go on a car ride with them, and they made him say, "I want to go with Grandpa."
When Glenn was about two and a half, I decided to roughhouse a little with him. He needed to know how to fight. So I got down on the floor and punched and wrestled with him. He caught on so fast that I got scared. Little as he was, he could hurt me. So I put a stop to it. I didn't want a mean kid. Perhaps I stopped too soon. Glenn never would fight back in school when bullies picked on him.
Delores was born at 10:45 in the evening on February 8, 1948. She weighed six pounds and six ounces. She was delivered by Dr. Mike Scimeca, in his hospital on the corner of Fourth and Fawn. He had delivered Glenn, too. He delivered all our children, and he delivered all of them except Glenn in his hospital. We hadn't considered having Glenn in a hospital. We weren't so fond of Mike's father, who had the hospital when Glenn was born, and we couldn't have afforded it then anyway. When Delores came, we had Blue Cross insurance.
We managed to keep Delores warmer. In the fall of 1948, we finally got a 200 gallon propane tank and a little propane space heater, which we set next to Delores's crib. We also got a proper propane cook stove so we could boil her bottles.
I don't remember the winters after the first one being so cold. We made the house tighter by pointing up the foundation, and the propane space heater made a lot of difference. We still weren't as cozy as we might have been, though. I remember how the north wind used to come in under the linoleum in the dining room and lift it up off the floor.
Delores was very much a little girl. There wasn't any tomboy to her. She had a little doll that she carried under her arm everywhere she went, until she wore it out. At the end she was leaving a trail of foam rubber everywhere she went.
Delores was a lot more stubborn than Glenn. I remember how different they were to toilet train. It seemed like you just had to show Glenn what you wanted him to do, and he would do it, but Delores had her own ideas about what she wanted to do. I remember her sitting on that potty just glaring at me. No way she was going to use it. I got so mad at her that I gave her a whipping. That was one of the few whippings of my kids that I ever regretted.
Glenn and Delores played together a lot. They didn't have that many chances to play with other kids. When they got to be old enough, they would often walk down to the Sanders' house to pick up our mail. Our mailbox was down there; for some reason the rural mail carrier had never been required to come out further along our road than that. Mrs. Sanders was a widow by the time they were walking down there, and she loved to invite them in and give them cookies.
We always had a lot of cats around, for the kids to play with. When we were milking, we always had a big crowd of cats in the milk barn waiting for their share. I think Delores probably paid more attention to the cats than Glenn did. She really loved cats.
In 1949, we lost a baby. He was born on September 16, 1949, and we named him Harry Dean. He lived for 14 hours. It was a sad time. I took Bonnie to round up three calves to sell to pay the doctor and the hospital and burial expenses. We have put flowers on that baby's grave every year for thirty years.
On Decoration Day in 1948, Anna took the kids and went with her mother to a Mayfield reunion in Hazelton, Kansas. While she was gone, someone dumped an English shepherd on us. She was about to have puppies, and she had eight cute ones right under the front porch. We kept one and named him Spot. We also kept the mother, but she got caught in the mowing machine that summer, and I had to shoot her.
Spot was a great family dog. Friendly and gentle. Glenn and Delores used to pull him around in their wagon, and it got so that he would jump in the wagon whenever they got close to it. Once Glenn got so mad at not being able to use his wagon that he bit Spot in the ear.
Spot loved to take the kids' chocolate chip cookies away from them. Anna would give the kids cookies to get them out of the house, but as soon as they were out, they had to contend with Spot. They would hold the cookies up in air, but he would just knock the two of them down and wallow the cookies away from them. They liked him so much that they didn't mind.
He loved the kids. Several times I saw him go after someone he thought was threatening Glenn. He got me once when I was playing with a lasso. I said, "I'm going to get you now," and I started to lasso Glenn. Spot had my wrist in a second. He must have jumped twenty feet. I gave him a real whipping, and he ran to hide under the old stove that sat on our south porch. That was his stove. He always hid under it during thunderstorms.
In his prime, Spot could catch a rabbit in a dead run. He could only do that for a year or two. For the first couple of years, he would fall all over himself trying, and then he got too old and just wasn't fast enough.
Spot disappeared one summer day in 1954. He got in the habit of eating the calves' feed out of the creep feeders down on the Ward place, and the fellow who lived there at the time threatened to shoot him if he caught him at it again. I suspect that's what he did.
We were busy in the early years. There was milking every morning before breakfast, and again in the evening. There were other chores and field work in between.
Anna cooked on that hot plate for more than two years before we got the cook stove. The hot plate never worked too well. The flame wouldn't burn high enough. I think it was really made for natural gas. But Anna cooked a lot of good meals on it.
Anna didn't really know how to cook when we were married. It wasn't something she had picked up at home. But she soon became a very good cook - much better than my mother.
We had pancakes every morning for breakfast. That was a big point with me. I was going to eat pancakes every day for the rest of my life. We had a light dinner at noon. Our big meal was usually supper.
We always had vegetables and melons in season from the garden. We had plenty of milk. We ate a lot of eggs and a lot of fried chicken. Now and then we would buy some beef or pork. In the first couple of years, before there was a locker plant in Caney, we never butchered any of our own livestock.
We had an old ice cream freezer that my folks had given us. We kept it in the cellar so the slats wouldn't dry up and shrink and fall out. On hot summer days we would get 35¢ worth of ice from town and make ice cream.
We took baths every Saturday night, just like my family had when I was a child. We would set our number three galvanized wash tub in the kitchen and take turns using it. We heated the water by adding a teakettle full of hot water from the stove.
We didn't have many conveniences. We had a hand pump on the cistern just north of the house. The outhouse was a hundred feet or so south of the house. We fanned ourselves by hand in the summer, and we got close to the fire in the winter.
We always heated just the two rooms in the original part of the house, the kitchen and dining room. The wood stove was in the kitchen, and the propane space heater was in the living room. We would close the door to the kitchen after supper in the winter and just sit in the dining room. We often ate popcorn after supper. Sometimes we read in the evening. Anna would take the kids to get books from the public library, and she might get a Zane Grey story for me. Sometimes the whole family played Chinese checkers. We never used the living room much, except when we had the kids' cribs in there. We never heated our bedrooms.
After we got the propane tank, we also replaced our Aladdin coal-oil lamps with two propane lights, one in the dining room and one in the kitchen. We replaced our ice box with a small used propane refrigerator I got at a sale for $66. I had to borrow the money from the bank. We were real proud of that refrigerator. Anna used the freezer to make ice cream for us almost every day.
We were still driving the old '36 Chevrolet pickup that my father had fixed up during the war. It got us around. For a while the brakes were completely out on it. I remember driving it down Jack's hairpin hill. I would stop at the top of the hill, put it in low gear, and let it go. If we were going too fast at the bottom, I would keep on going up Andy Jack's driveway instead of turning, just as I had done on that old bicycle fifteen years before.
Irene sent over an old pedal Singer sewing machine, and Anna did a lot of sewing. She made beautiful clothes out of the cotton bags the chicken feed came in. The prints were really pretty. She would wear a dress for a while, and then she would tear it up and remake it. Anna still loves to sew.
Anna also loves flowers. Aside from some clumps of beautiful blue flags, May Sanders didn't have many flowers in the yard. It's hard to grow flowers when you have chickens. There was a fence around the yard, but it's always a fight to keep the chickens on the other side of it. Anna has had a lot of beautiful flower beds over the years in spite of the chickens.
When we first moved to the farm, there was a wonderful bunch of poppies on top of the cellar just outside the south door of the house. Poppies are annuals, but they reseed themselves every year. Glenn got up an hour before the rest of us one spring morning and went out and broke off every one of the poppy flowers. That was the end of the poppies.
We tended to see our neighbors because we had to collect for the telephone. I remember once we were plowing up some potatoes in the garden by the pond south of the house. Since the rows were so short, Anna was leading the horse while I held the reins. Mrs. Hilliard came over to pay her telephone money, and when she saw what we were doing, she said to me, "So that's how you do it." The joke was that I was making a living by putting my wife to work.
After a few years of being a widow, May Sanders married a friendly fellow named Wills. We would visit back and forth with them. She still really enjoyed visiting with us. When they came up to see us, Mr. Wills would say, "Well, she was having trouble getting around until she got out of the car to come in here, and then she really hopped to."
We went to a show now and then. After Glenn was born, we got Irene to look after him when we wanted to go to a show.
As the kids starting growing up, we began to think about going to church. We made a New Year's resolution to start going at the beginning of 1951, and we did. From then on, we went to Sunday School regularly, though we hardly ever stayed for church after the first few Sundays.
Our Sunday School class was the Clipper Class. It had been organized only a few years before we started going, and most of the members were around our age. The class had a lot of social activities. We had a covered dish picnic at least three or four times a year. Many of the other couples became our good friends. The Fechts and Inmans became especially good friends, people who we visited back and forth with regularly.
Anna got involved in a women's group at church, the Esther group, and she got to be good friends with a lot of other women our age. The group had evening meetings once a month, and I would baby-sit the kids so she could go. That was a new experience for me.
Most of our social life was with family. We often visited the Blundells or my folks in the evening. We didn't mind getting a free meal. We also visited back and forth with Helen and Francis, and with Anna's brother Garold and his wife Eleanor.
We visited the Scotts now and then. We usually had something we needed to talk to them about. Uncle Wiley had a big truck, and in those days he or Charles always hauled my cattle to market. The whole Scott family, Uncle Wiley and Aunt Ethel, Charles and his wife Elizabeth, and the younger boys, Homer and Johnny, still lived on the south place. They still rented it from Grandma Shafer, and the rent was still too high. Charles farmed the 66 acres on the place. Uncle Wiley was still involved in cattle trading, and he raised a lot of asparagus and onions. He had an old mule that plowed the garden for him. It moved so slowly he used to say that he had to set a stake to see if it was moving.
I saw a few of my old friends occasionally. Dale Woods came out for dinner once. Harold McClure was busy farming and pipelining, but he would drop by. He even went horseback riding with me a few times. George Finney set up a radio shop beside Halligan's on Spring Street, and I would drop by and talk to him.
We got a lot of help on the farm from my folks. My dad usually worked the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift at Cotton Valley, and he and my mom would regularly head up to give us a hand after he got off. He didn't drive the tractor very much. He didn't care for the shaking. But he loved repair work. When I was using his old disk, he would fix it almost every day. He and my mother helped us shuck corn. My mother really enjoyed that.
In the fall and winter, my dad and I would cut wood together. There's a lot of time to talk when you're cutting wood, and we got to know each other better then. It was during those times that he told me about his feelings about his father and about the early history of the greenhouse.
My father didn't always approve of the way I did things on the farm. I never took time to make things neat the way he did. I remember once when he was watching me fix the garden fence with baling wire. He shook his head and said gently, "Anything will do, won't it son?"
The first summer, we borrowed an old binder from Elton to cut the wheat and oats. Daddy fixed it up, and it worked real well, but something was slipping when we were finishing up. Daddy was about to go to the house to get a washer to shim it up, when Elton came around to see if we were about done. He wanted to take the binder over to his place near Niotaze, where his dad and his stepmother were farming. Elton looked at the shaft, and said, "Let's wrap some haywire on it." We laughed. That wasn't the way we did things. But he did it for us, and it worked fine. I used a lot of haywire after that.
Daddy loved to work in the garden. Gardening was a serious matter to him. Sometimes he would arrive when we were fooling around in the garden with the kids, and he would chase them out. "A garden is no place for kids," he would say. We had flowers as well as vegetables in the garden, and there was an old pink rose bush right at the garden gate. Daddy never approved of that rose bush stealing the nutrients that belonged to the vegetables. Every once in a while, he would take his hoe to it. That just made it grow better.
In late May, 1948, my folks had to move to Ottawa, Kansas, about 140 miles north of Caney. Cities Service was cutting down on the gauging work they did at Cotton Valley, but they had a similar job for Daddy in Ottawa. Even then he and my mother came to visit and help out as often as they could, just about every week when the weather was good. Daddy had to work on weekends, but they would come on Monday mornings and go back on Tuesday afternoons. Sometimes they would get in late Sunday in the middle of the night, and go upstairs and go to bed. We would find them there in the morning. In the fall my mother would come for a week or ten days to help shuck corn.
The folks used their '37 Chevrolet to travel between Caney and Ottawa several times, but they soon decided it was inadequate, and they bought a '46 model. They gave us the '37. That was our first car.
In 1951, the Korean War was raising prices, and Daddy and I got some good money for our calves. He sold three nice steers for 36¢ a pound. He must have gotten about $900. He used the money to help pay for a '51 Chevrolet, the first new car he had bought since 1922. He traded in his '46. I think that was the only car he ever traded in.
HELEN AND FRANCIS
In April, 1946, about three weeks after Francis arrived home from the service, he and Helen moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, where they had lived briefly before Francis was drafted. Francis couldn't find a good job there, so in September, 1947, they came back. Francis went to school in Coffeyville on the GI Bill. He and Helen lived in an apartment in Coffeyville. Helen sold sewing machines in the Singer store there, while Francis went to the trade school and junior college. He studied welding and English literature. He was good at welding, but he also liked the idea of working for a newspaper. When the kids weren't in school, they stayed with the folks at Cotton Valley. Helen and Francis were down there a lot, and they also came over to see us a lot.
After my folks moved to Ottawa, we saw even more of Helen and Francis. They were out for dinner almost every Sunday. Francis and I got in the habit of going hunting or fishing every Sunday afternoon. Poor old Francis would get chiggers so bad it was pitiful. He would get eaten up every time we went hunting. But he would still go. We hunted rabbit and squirrel. Once we even went frog hunting. I remember seeing the frog legs jumping in the frying pan.
Once we shot a dozen pigeons down at the barn. We cleaned them, and Helen and Anna cut them up and cooked them. But it turned out that we couldn't stand to eat them. They were tough. Anything as pretty as a dove ought to be good to eat, but I guess you have to get the young ones, the squabs, for eating.
Once Daddy bought an old shotgun for $1.50 at a sale in Ottawa. He brought it down when he came to see us on the train. He said that the conductor told him he could bring it on the train if he took it apart, and that was easy to do. It really had a kick. Francis used to buy shotgun shells for me just to see it kick me. Once I shot an owl off the silo with it, standing at the north door of the house. I didn't kill it with the shot, and I didn't have anything else with me when I ran down to see where it had fallen, so I killed it beating on it with the shotgun. Later I found out that the shotgun had a "Damascus barrel," an old kind of barrel that is too weak to use with modern shells. There was danger of the barrel exploding. Years later, I sold it to Roy Stephens for $5. He wanted it for a mantelpiece.
I remember Helen and Francis visiting one evening in June, 1950, when the communists had just invaded South Korea. We didn't have a radio working in the house, so Francis and I went out and sat in his car and listened to the reports. We hadn't even known where Korea was.
It must have been shortly after that that Helen and Francis returned to Texas. Francis had finished his courses at Coffeyville. When he got back to Corpus Christi, he got a job maintaining and repairing equipment in a chemical factory.
Just after Glenn was born, the Blundells bought Everett Purdue's farm and moved there. We visited them regularly. There were times when we were always having Sunday dinner there. We would eat dinner, and then Anna and her mother would talk, while I gave Elton and Dick and Garold a hand in the field.
Elton was the best farmer I ever knew. He did fix things with baling wire, but he always took good care of his machinery. He plowed a straight row, whether it was with a team or a tractor, and everything he ever did with his crops or livestock was just so. He also had a pretty good sense of humor. "She's doing real well for the shape she's is in," he would say about his cow or horse. That's one saying I picked up from him.
Anna's brother Garold graduated from high school in 1949. We saw quite a bit of him. He was always fixing up some old truck for hauling hay. Once, he and Dick came roaring up the hill to our house with a big truck he had fixed up that didn't even have a cab on it, and it was starting to rain on him. He whipped that truck through the yard and pulled it right into the runway of the barn, out of the rain. He always had a big grin on his face when he did something he was proud of like that.
Garold married Eleanor Adams in July, 1950, right after she graduated from high school. She was the valedictorian of her class. Six weeks later, they moved to Latham, Kansas, where Garold worked on farms and ranches with his two-ton truck. They came back to Caney early in 1951, because Dick had been drafted and the Blundells needed Garold to help on the farm. They lived for a while with Eleanor's mother down on South Fawn Street, just outside of town, and they soon had a couple of kids. We teased them that the trains that went by down there must have kept them awake at night.
Garold loved kids. He would make a big deal over ours whenever he was out working with me. He especially liked Delores. "Doey, Doey, Doey," he called her. After his own older kids, Mark, Gaylene, and Clint, were born, Glenn and Delores would look forward to their visits. There weren't that many chances for Glenn and Delores to play with other kids out on the farm.
Except for a stint in the army, Dick lived at home for many years after Garold was married. He finally got married himself in the early sixties.
For many of those years, Anna's folks took care of a nephew and niece of Elton's, Dennis and Ann Lay. They were exactly the same ages as Glenn and Delores, and the kids loved a chance to go over to Grandma's and play with them. Ann moved to Texas to live with other relatives early in grade school, but Dennis stayed with the Blundells during most of his childhood. He went to the Pleasant Hill School out east of their house instead of the school in town where our kids went, but he went to town for school starting with the seventh grade, and he and Glenn became very close.
A farmer's summers are hectic, but in the winters there is a lot of free time. I used to read some Zane Grey stories, but I didn't really like to spend the wintertime in the house, especially after the kids came and Anna was always fussing with them.
I spent a lot of time in the winter down in the barn, repairing harness in the horse manger. I always enjoyed working with leather.
I also spent a lot of time walking in the winter. I used to look for gold. Leo McClure was something of a treasure hunter, and he had told me stories about the place south of us that had belonged to Homberg, the old Swede my mother dated when she was a girl. Supposedly seven caches of gold had been buried there, in a circle. Someone had dug up one of them, but the other six were still there. The story was that there had been a little settlement of outlaws there. They had gotten the gold in a bank robbery, and they had buried it just before getting wiped out in a gun battle with the law. I think the bank robbery was supposed to have been in Lawrence. Ray Jack's version of the story had Quantrill burying the gold. On the high hill east of our place, there was supposed to be a rock engraved with a turkey's foot and an arrow that pointed to the treasure if you lined it up with the sun on the 21st of June. A lot of people must have heard these stories, because there were a lot of holes dug around there. One year during haying season we watched two or three guys from out of town work there for a couple of days. They had a winch truck and metal detectors, and they dug a hole twenty feet deep.
In 1947, I heard down at Pearsall's elevator that they were going to start a farm school in Caney and that we would be able to get GI Bill money to go. You went to classes one night a week and to a shop class about one afternoon a month. I went to the farm school in Caney for two years; it must have been 1947-48 and 1948-49. Then I skipped a year and went to the farm school in Coffeyville in 1950-51. As I remember, they paid me $97 a month for the whole three years.
The night school at Caney was in a room in the high school. They had a shop fixed up in a building they rented at the elevator. I got kicked out of the school in Caney for speaking my mind. The students in the class had gone together to buy a fanning mill, for cleaning seed, and the guys over at Niotaze started using it for custom work. I asked the instructor when he was going to start paying dividends on it, and he kicked me out.
The Veterans' Administration sent me a letter that said I would have to go to Pittsburgh and take tests if I wanted to continue. I did, and the fellow up there who graded it told me he would recommend me to continue if that was what I wanted, but he personally felt I was wasting my time. He said my score was about that of a junior in college - too good for farm school. He said that if he were in my shoes he would use the money to go to college.
I learned a good deal from the farm school. I learned how to think about rations, and things like that. I did like the instructor at Coffeyville a lot better than the one in Caney, partly because he had beef cattle on his mind instead of milk cows and chickens. We had milk cows and chickens, but I was always more interested in beef cattle.
There was always a water problem on our place. I can remember Alf Sanders hauling water past the greenhouse with a team and wagon when I was a kid. There wasn't a good well or a good pond on the place. All we had was a cistern that collected water from the roof of the house, a well north of the barn that would last about three weeks in dry weather, and a little pond south of the house. We often had to haul water for the chickens and the livestock. The very first summer, we had to haul water for about three weeks. My dad found me a 100-gallon round tank somewhere, and I used it on the old Chevy pickup.
We got the water from a fire hydrant down on the east side of town, between Third and Fourth on Vine. The city furnished me a length of fire hose and a wrench and charged me 10¢ a load. I kept track and paid at City Hall once a month. Anna and I remember how the fire hose jumped out of the tank once when I turned it on. The pickup's back window was missing, and Glenn was standing in the cab seat watching. He got a good dousing.
In July of 1948 I had the Folk brothers from Tyro build a pond in the middle of the back 40. It was supposed to be a big pond, and I was figuring on it costing a lot of money. But they only worked there for a day, and I was busy haying and didn't get back to see what they were doing. It was smaller than I intended. They didn't build it right, and it always leaked terribly. Apparently they had a bigger job they wanted to get on to. They sent me a bill for $130, and I paid it.
Early in the spring of 1951, I paid the Carter brothers to build a large pond for me. The Carters, Tom and Curt, were a pair of farmers who were building a local ranching empire. By that time they owned the land south of us, and they later bought Wink Edwards's place on the east. They had their own bulldozer because they did a lot of pond-building and land-clearing. My dad chose the site for the pond, just west of the old road that divided the back 40 from the 80 the house is on. Floyd Berry ran the bulldozer, and he knew what he was doing. I know he did a good job, because I took the time to sit and watch him. The pond never leaked.
That pond took care of the cattle in the pasture, but it didn't solve our water problem up at the house and barn. I still had to haul water. I hauled it until I built a pond just north of the barn in the mid '60s.
THE JACKSON PLACE
In 1950 Anna and I paid off what we owed the Sanders for our part of the farm. Then, early in 1951, we bought the 80 acres just north of us from John Jackson. It was the back part of the old Jack place, where my Grandmother Esson had died in 1918.
Jackson had lived on the place at one time, but when we bought the 80 from him he was running a restaurant in Coffeyville. We knew his renters hadn't been working out, so we went over to Coffeyville to see if he would be interested in selling the 80. He thought it over, and a few days later he came over and told us his terms. The price was $3,500, $100 down and $400 a year plus 6% interest. My dad used to joke about my buying a place for $100 down. I think he was a little disappointed that we had not talked to him and my mother before we bought it.
The 80 acres consisted of about 34 acres of farmland and about the same amount of pasture; the rest was creek. There was a good pond over on the west side of the pasture. The first year I put most of the cropland into corn. It didn't do too badly, except for the part that I planted real late. I was still planting on Decoration Day. The last I planted was in the eight-acre field in the northeast corner. It only made a couple of wagon-loads of corn.
I still remember vividly Glenn's getting lost while we were picking corn in that field that fall. We were picking late that day, with Bonnie and Beauty pulling the wagon. Queen was lame. Glenn had been trailing behind the wagon, and we just left him behind. We did a lot of hollering and looking. We finally heard him answering, so his grandfather stayed to look for him while I took the wagon to the house. That was a big event in the family.
MY FATHER'S DEATH
Late in 1951, my dad helped me trim a small locust tree right behind the cellar. We were trimming the branches that were in the way of the clothes line. He was standing on the second step of a step ladder. The ladder jerked forward, and he fell forward so that his shin cracked against the next step on the ladder. It really hurt him, because he rolled on the ground and tears came to his eyes. I had never seen tears in his eyes before. Then he rubbed his leg and said it didn't hurt so much.
We had been planning to go over to cut a sycamore that was threatening the dam in the pond on the north 80 before he returned to Ottawa. I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted we go ahead and do it. So I drove the little Case over there, pulling the hayrack with him and the crosscut saw on it. Glenn says he was with us, too. We cut down the tree. Even then Daddy could outsaw me. But his leg was hurting him.
He finally went to the doctor in Ottawa a few days later. By then his problem was a blood clot, and in those days there wasn't much they could do about blood clots except hope they would dissolve on their own. The danger was that the clots would break away and cause a heart attack or stroke. He was up and down for a couple of months after that. He would work for a while and then end up in bed with his leg swelled and hurting. He recovered from one small heart attack, but a second one killed him on February 20, 1952.
That night Elton drove me up to Ottawa so I could drive my mother home the next day. We sent Elton back with the washing machine and some other belongings in his pickup. Aunt Vivian came up that evening on the bus. My mother never went back to Ottawa. She moved right into the house on East Second Street. They had already been using the house for their visits to Caney.
The funeral cost about $800. I felt at the time that my mother spent too much. I was with her when she chose the coffin. Sport Graves, Caney's undertaker, showed her one that I thought was fine, but he said, "No you don't want that one. Harry was a broad man. You don't want him to look cramped up like that." So she bought a much more expensive coffin. I still think that undertakers take advantage of people, but as I get older, it doesn't seem so bad to me to spend money on funerals. I was at one the other day where the coffin seemed pretty cheap.
My father was 59 when he died, and my mother was 52. She got $7,000 from his insurance policy, and she had the car and the house. I suppose they might have had a few hundred dollars in the bank. She also got back what Daddy had paid into the Cities Service pension fund, about $500. He hadn't worked for them long enough to get a pension. She did get $50 a month as the widow of a World War I veteran. She didn't start getting a social security pension until ten years later, when she was 62.
She also had the interest in the farm. About nine or ten of the cattle on the place must have been hers and Daddy's when he died. While Daddy was alive he had helped me with some of the expenses and the taxes, and his return for that and his labor was what he got by selling his cattle. After Daddy died, I continued to take care of Mother's cattle, even though she wasn't able to help with the expenses or taxes. I even paid income tax on what hers made. I was glad to do it. I think owning part of the farm gave her a sense of security. She finally sold us her share of the farm in the early '60s, about the time she got her social security pension and inherited some money from her sister. Looking back, I figured she made about $300 a year off the farm during those ten years.
Things looked good on the farm the first few years. Most of the crops were good. The pigs were good. We did OK with the milk and eggs. By the standards we had grown up with, we were doing well, and after the army, it didn't take much to make life look good to me.
Things still looked good in the fall of 1948. With the money I got for baling hay and for going to farm school, we paid for the hay baler and still had a thousand dollars left at the end of the summer. I felt confident enough to borrow to buy a little Case tractor.
We didn't have so much money to spend in 1949, though. That was the year I didn't go to farm school, and we missed the $97 a month. We went over to the Coffeyville fair with Floyd Schwanebeck, my old army buddy, when he and his wife were here that August, and I remember I didn't have more than five or six dollars to my name. Anna and Floyd's wife sat in the car while he and I went to the rodeo.
The next few years after that were mixed. The Korean war raised prices in 1951, especially for cattle. But it also raised wages. I always knew you couldn't make it unless you got the other fellow to work for you, and I was hoping to get to the point where I could hire a little help, but wages went up to the point where that was hopeless.
The situation felt worse because the rest of the country was doing so well. We were accumulating cattle and land, but we didn't have the money to spend that other people had. Most of the people I had grown up with were working for wages, and they were living well. Everybody had a job. There still weren't any jobs in Caney, but people could find jobs in Coffeyville and Independence.
Charles and Wiley Ralph Scott were making good money at the Continental Can plant in Coffeyville. Charles and his wife were both working there. Charles was a crew chief.
Many of the people I grew up with had real good jobs in Bartlesville with Phillips, the oil company that has its headquarters there. Sam Marion, a Caney man, was in the personnel department there, and he would offer a job to anybody from Caney who was half-way qualified. He offered me a job as a shop foreman at the Phillips plant in Borger, Texas. Later, about 1951 or '52, Dick Quiet offered me a good job in the division of Phillips that looked for oil overseas. I wasn't interested in either job. I didn't want to move to Texas or travel around the world.
In the fall of 1952 I went to work at Continental Can. I think it was Charles Scott who suggested I try to get on there. They were hiring hundreds of people the day I went over.
I worked that winter in the main hangar, where they were building flaps for the wings on B-47 bombers. They shipped the flaps to Wichita, where the bombers were built. I drilled holes for a few days, and then they put me to work straightening the flap edges with a hammer. I was good at that, and they had me do it for quite a while. I worked with a crew that was mostly women. They were busy assembling things inside the flaps. Women were good for that job because they had small hands. Later, I was put on a crew that was assembling disposable gasoline tanks with high-shear rivets.
I worked the four to midnight shift. I usually got home about 1:15 in the morning. I brought home about $48 a week.
Anna and the kids did the milking, and they made money, even though the corn crop had failed that summer and we had to buy most of our feed. We did have some alfalfa, and I paid $30 or $35 for a little hammer mill to grind it with. We put the mill in a little building down by the barn that we had moved up from Cotton Valley. Daddy had built it there for milking. I didn't want to grind in the barn because Garold and Dick had told me stories about people burning down their barns by getting stray pieces of baling wire heated up in a hammer mill.
Not long after I started work at Continental Can, Anna drove the 1937 Chevrolet into the ditch on the way to town. I bought a 1942 Ford from Toner for about $160. I only paid $35 down. After I had it a week or two, I drove it to work. It smoked so bad on the way back that I didn't even stop at home. I drove it straight back to Toner's and parked it. I told them they could have it back, and if they didn't want to give me my money back, they could still have it. I wasn't going to get in it again. They didn't want to have me go off like that, so they tried to find something else to sell me. I ended up driving away with a 1948 Chevrolet pickup and owing them $765 plus interest.
I always thought of the job at Continental Can as temporary. I figured I would buy a lot of fertilizer. In those years I was never interested in having a lot of money just to buy a car or something. For me a car was just transportation. Delores never understood that. She used to ask, "Why don't we get a new car?" I told her that wasn't what I wanted.
Of course, 90% of the people who worked at Continental Can were farmers like me who were just trying to make ends meet. We all knew that building airplanes wouldn't last. Once the Korean War was over, the country wouldn't need many airplanes.
In the spring of 1953, I managed to plant my crops while I was working at Continental Can. When summer came, I asked to get off to hay. They had agreed to let me when I had hired on. But when I asked, they refused. So I quit.
They hired me back that fall. I talked to the same fellow in personnel who had dealt with me before. He looked at my record and said, "You quit on us, but you had a real good score." They graded their workers all the time.
That fall and winter I worked mostly in the carpentry shop, building crates. The only problem was that we sometimes had to work outside in the cold at night, unloading box cars. I also had some friction with a crew chief who was always trying to get me to do the sawing. I think it started as a favor to me, because everybody thought sawing was a good job. But every time he put me to sawing, somebody would want to trade jobs with me, and I usually would, just to get along. Then the crew chief would be mad because I hadn't stayed where he put me.
Sometimes, when we were a little short on work, they would put me on John McClure's maintenance crew. John was Leo's brother, and he was good to work for. When there wasn't much to do, he would just have us hide out half the night.
Then there was a big lay-off in the spring of 1954. I was one of the ones they laid off, but they called me back the next morning and offered me a job in the paint shop. A week of the fumes there was enough for me, and I asked to go back to the manufacturing side. They didn't have a place there for me, but they offered to put me in anodizing. I had no idea what that was, so I said I would try it. It was worse than the painting. Earl Metcalf was on that crew, and on top of the chemicals and fumes, I had to listen to his dirty language for eight hours at a stretch. I quit again.
The early '50s were drought years all across the midwest. The worst years for us were '53 and '54. It was really dry.
In 1954 I lost money on my books for the first time. My corn looked good in June, but it didn't make an ear. I only got a little wheat that year. The hay only made 25 ton. I had to borrow $1,900 from my mother just to pay the taxes and make the payments on the Jackson place. It was just a burnt-up year.
For a year from the spring of 1954 until the summer of 1955, I didn't work off the farm. I tried to get on at Continental Can again in the fall of '54, but they wouldn't hire me back. It wasn't what I wanted to do anyway. I wanted to make it on the farm. But the times were discouraging.
Richard Shafer Autobiography: toc | previous chapter | next chapter
back to top
home | c.v. | courses | books | articles | personal
|Site created by: Janet Shafer Designs www.janetshafer.com|