A Self-Sufficient Farm in Armstrong County, PA

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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This story is from Mary Frymoyer, submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.

In the 30s, I can remember walking with my mom about a mile through the last bit of virgin forest in Armstrong County, Pa., to our mailbox. They were all dirt roads then.  Soon just before getting to the mailbox, I heard the putter-putt of the mailman’s Model A Ford coming up the hollow. As he stopped I heard “peep peep” from mom’s order of 100 chicks. At 13, I was helping her dress 60 fryers, by hand, of her annual 100 chicks.

At 4 years old I remember picking yellow blossoms for Gram to make her dandelion wine and picking pennyroyal for some medicinal tea. At that time the butchering was of at least 300-pound hogs. It was done near the big bake oven outside of the summerhouse and a three-log tripod and pulley was used to pull the scalded hogs out of the barrel to put on a table, to scrape the bristle hair off the skin of the hog. I remember that place for both my grandfathers died there, within 30 days of each other that year, pulling those hogs up out of the barrel. My younger brother never saw his grandparents and me only once. Those big hogs were for lard; 200-pound hogs of today wouldn’t do enough.

My folks were hucksters for they did 20 hogs a year and pickled and smoked hams and bacons to sell. They didn’t do a dry cure rub, but used the same ingredients in water in a barrel for a period of time. They also used borax rub on those we kept for ourselves, after smoking and hanging in the granary.

At the bake oven, anytime a fire was built they baked bread. Hot water for washing was done there too. Two big tubs were involved; one with soap, one to rinse, but between-and-after was a lot of hand-wringing. Imagine the work just to wash and dry clothes. My mom was the oldest girl, not blessed with brothers, who was sent to the fields and barn to work as a young girl, so she was strong. She said that the only thing her mother liked about her was her wringing the clothes for she could get more water out of them.

My paternal Gram also had an interesting thing. She would gather wild greens for the table such as purslane, lambs quarters, chickweed, sorrel and mint. I don’t know how it was fixed but it was good.

I remember the log icehouse where there was ice packed in sawdust clear to the roof, done when the deep creek was frozen over hard and they had a sawmill. It was a self-sufficient farm. They also custom thrashed for neighbors with a big thrashing machine and a steam engine that went three miles an hour. It took all day to get to the next farm.  My mother drove it and heaved shocks of wheat onto wagons and into mows and into the machine. No wonder she was so strong.

Her sister was into the house and food work on the farm. They had neighbors gather together during butchering and ice cream-making which they had the ice to do so in summer. My mom, her sister and mother were hunters too. Mom always got her deer. She hunted on the way home from the farm, when I was a baby with Dad carrying me on his shoulders, as they walked 5 miles to their little house from the farm. They worked during the depression, getting a 25-pound sack of flour for the month’s work of the two of them and their noon meal. Dad said I was the only one that got breakfast.

His Model A Ford sat on the bank to get a running start if we needed to go to the doctor for me; even though gas was 25 cents a gallon then. Dad also worked in the woods for a dollar a day in the winter when there was no farm work for him. He said his buddy and he had fun laying the tops of the falling trees in a circle for the tops that were left over and putting a stick on a spot and falling the tree to drive the stake into the ground.

When I was 12, my mom and aunt Jean canned together pick-up loads and that year our house burned in August after mom had 700 quarts of canned food in the cellar and we had with us just the clothes on our backs. My little brother had trouble with milk and the doctor told mom to get a goat. She did and in time we had 25. He grew big and strong on goat’s milk.

Photo Credit: Fotolia/Profotokris

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