Saturday, August 27, 2016
DOWN ON THE FARM in POLK COUNTY ARKANSAS By Larry Mountainborn Harmon Times were hard in America when the J.I. Case Tractor Company in Racine Wisconsin closed it’s doors, laying Grand Pa off. Grand Ma and Grand Pa knew that as bad as things were they were only going to get worse before the economy turned around, and who knew how long that would take. They chopped the back end off of their ageing Pierce Arrow automobile with an axe, added a saw mill slab flatbed to the bare frame, loaded everything that they owned, and headed back home to Arkansas. They knew that they could “hunker down” and scratch out a living by farming until things got better. Grand Ma’s Sister and her husband, Beulah and Henry Reynolds, were in the same fix, and did the same. Helping each other out, moving slowly over a primitive Midwestern American road system, sleeping nights in their cars, they headed back home where they would stay. One morning just about daylight they were awakened by someone loudly calling, “ham and eggs, ham and eggs !” It was dark when they stopped for the night and unbeknownst to them, they had parked by an asylum. The closer that they got to home the more primitive and crooked the Ouachita Mountain roads became. The search for a place to live brought up lots of possibilities, most of which they couldn’t afford. When they did find the right place, it was a match made in Heaven ! They traded the cut down Pierce Arrow car/truck and fifty dollars for eighty acres with a frame house and a large barn. The previous owner had a promise of a good job in California and he needed the automobile to move out there in and the cash to provide travel funds. A few details about the livestock and some implements were finished up by mail over the following months. The Old House wasn’t much but it was big enough, though it was only an uninsulated single board thickness wall house, it had the inside lined with Newspaper, cardboard and flour paste glue that had been wall papered over. The barn on the other hand was wonderfully built ! As was the style during the era., and, as was the house. The barn was large with a gigantic hay loft and large stalls down each side of a lower level breezeway. A spring fed year around branch ran in front of the house, joining Rock Creek before it ran into the Mountain Fork of the Red River. The junction of Rock Creek and Mountain Fork made the South West corner of the Eighty acres. There was a hand dug well in the front yard and a long covered front porch ran across the front. One year we got a new couch and the old one went out on that porch, Ole Scoop the Rat Terrier, immediately claimed it for his own, and it had to get pretty bad in the winter, to make him want to come in the house. Grand Ma kept wanting it hauled off but I kept begging for it to stay for Scoop. I put a blanket out there and on a rainy day me and old Scoop could really get in a proper Nap ! A hand dug root cellar was out back with a smoke house a few feet away. A large garden spot was to the south of the house and it could be seen from the back kitchen door. The road that came to the house almost ended there, but actually turned into a dim track, that crossed Rock Creek and came out near the present day Boy Scout Camp Pioneer. Dad was in the Navy and when we came back from Hawaii we traveled by train from Long Beach California to Mena, Arkansas, where we were met by Gran ma and Gran Pa in a borrowed rusty International flatbed truck. Soon, I was enrolled in school at the two room Potter School. There was no cafeteria or lunch room. Every one brought their lunch, usually in a syrup bucket or a lard bucket. That is the way syrup and lard was packaged for sale back then. They had a tight metal lid that snapped on to keep insects and so forth out. At lunch time we would grab our lunch bucket’s and sit in the shade of a large red oak tree in the school yard. We had an hour for lunch and it didn’t take long before a baseball game broke out. If no one had a ball we would make one out of tightly tied rags. As a special treat, I would sometimes be given a quarter and would walk up to the dirt road intersection where old school mates of Mom’s, Marcus and Lora, had a general store. Lora would hand slice the lunch meat of my choice, make a thick sandwich from hand sliced bread with a soda pop of my choice and candy bar or banana. There was a dime in change given back to me. Dad was still in the Navy, but processing out, as were tens of thousands of other GI’s. When he finally arrived home after getting out of the Navy, it was by the Kansas City Southern railroad. He tried farming for a while but after the stress of war, the farm life was hard to take for him. America was recovering and big paying jobs were out there. As a certified welder he soon left on a pipeline job. I wanted to stay home so I settled in for the long run and it was just great. Times was still hard in the Ouachita Mountains though things were getting better. We watched excitedly as the Rural Electric Association brought electric lines closer and closer, then one day the power lines came to our house ! A whole new world opened up for us. For months when we had visited neighbors or even at the Potter School, we enjoyed electric lights and we could hardly wait. Yet we were so far out it seemed to take forever. It was several days before a guy from the County seat could come and put a single light bulb in each room with a string hanging down in the center to turn it on with. It would be weeks before we even thought about other things that electricity could do besides provide light. In the early days the power went off fairly often. We clung on to our tried and true coal oil lamps, it was nearly a year before we got our first large, noisy refrigerator. Grand Ma wouldn’t have it in her kitchen. She had it put out on the porch beside the ice box. Then it sat there for almost a week before the electrician could come out and put our first plug in up on the wall above the refrigerator. Any time the weather got bad, Grand Ma pulled the refrigerator’s cord from the wall, she was afraid that it might burn the house down. We never did add any more lights to the house and never added another plug in, that one was enough. In the evenings we would talk about an electric well pump, but that would mean plumbing and it never did happen. I kept on drawing water from the well with a bucket by hand. As more and more folks left the county to follow higher paying jobs, help around the farm became more and more scarce and it was harder for Grand Pa to do everything with just me to help in evenings and on weekends. As was the practice every member of a neighboring household would arrive at the house about daylight with teams, hay rakes or other implements to trade out labor as needed. Then on another day we would go to their farm to work a day. Grand Pa’s old war injury’s and age made it harder and harder to hold up our end of the deal. His injury’s from the world war kept coming back to plague him and there were several stays in the VA hospital. One day while in the County seat at the Court House someone made an offer on the farm. Our days on the farm were coming to a close.