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Life on the farm in the late 1920

John Geiselman
From his book "Reflections"

Fence Making

Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that build your house. Proverbs 24:27

"The Big Farm" had many rail fences. One fence ran almost a mile on the north side of the road from the Cashman home-stead to the meadow below our house. It also ran from our barn to the Charlie Schwartz homestead on the east, and on the south side from Homer's School on the hill to the Orphanage Road up to the Ed Furney homestead. This type of fence was called a "worm fence", sometimes referred to as the beveled fence, but the proper name was the "stake and rider" fence.

Early in the spring before plowing for corn we worked on the rail fences. One morning "Boss" told Donald to harness up "Maude" and hitch her to the dung sled to haul rails to repair the fence. This type of sled was low to the ground and had very heavy runners. It also had four stakes, two on each side of the sled, to keep the rails from falling off. We would take a crowbar, also called a digging iron, to dig the holes for the rider poles or posts. We also had a maul or sledge to drive the stakes in and wire to fasten the rails together.

The horses pulled the sled to the rail pile, which was along Orphanage Road, to load up the rails we needed to repair the fence. Each broken and rotted rail was replaced with good ones. Sometimes it was required to take a whole section down and start over anew.

The way in which this type of fence was put up is as follows: First we place two flat stones on the ground then we arranged rails on top of them in a zigzag fashion until we had five on top of each other. In each corner we would take two short stakes and drive them in the corner on each side. We then took short pieces of wire and twisted them together at the top with a pair of pliers, then on each side of the short part of the stakes. We took the digging iron and made holes to drive the two stakes in the ground to make a fork. These two stakes formed the rider for the last rail on top of the fence. The last rail is farther apart than the other rails. You can make any height of fence just by adding more rails to each section.

J. Carnahan Smith owned a wood lot in the mountains. Many people owned wood lots at that time. In the fall of the year they would go up to the mountains and cut down chestnut trees to split into rails. They would dry till the next spring when it was time to repair the rail fences. One of these trips would be an all day affair.

The last trip that we ever made for rails was in the early spring of 1927. Donald was not with us at this time. It was Friday evening and "Boss" said, "John, I am going to take you on a very long trip tomorrow. We will be going to the mountains for rails." I was ten, going on eleven, and that was exciting to me to be able to go. "Boss" greased the wheels on the big wagon and checked out the brakes for use on the narrow and steep mountain roads. "Boss" called me early the next morning to feed the horses, help with milking, and feed the cattle. At breakfast Mother said a prayer for our safe journey. As we prepared to leave she gave us lunch she had packed for us to eat while in the mountains.

We went to the barn, geared up the horses, and hitched them to the two-horse wagon. The sun was just coming up as we left the drive way and started down the Barlow-Two Taverns Road. When we arrived at Barlow, we took the Taneytown Road, crossed Rock Creek Bridge, and turned left down Chapel Road. "Boss" drove the team over the many roads that brought us out on the Fairfield Road just east of Fairfield. We took Coldsprings Road and crossed the Fairfield-Orrtanna Road. After passing the Marshall Homestead we were in the mountains. We took a road off Coldsprings Road to the wood lot.

We arrived there just before dinner. The rails were split so "Boss" started loading them. As a young boy the mountains were something different to me. I enjoyed every moment of it. This trip I never forgot. I helped my father as much as I could. When we got tired and hungry we took out the lunch Mother had prepared for us and sat down on some rocks to eat. There was a spring not far away from the wood lot where we got fresh drinking water by kneeling down near the spring. We also got out the horses eating bags, made out of canvas, to hang on the horses head so they could eat. We brought along some oats to put in the bags. After dinner was over we took the feed bags off the horses and led them to the stream for a drink. Then we prepared our-selves for our return trip home.

"Boss" looked at me and said, "I'm going to take you back another trail where we will meet the Mt. Hope Road. I will show you some new country you haven't seen before. You will also see some of the famous Thaddeus Steven's Tapeworm Railroad which goes through this area. We will also go over one of the stone arches or viaducts on our way down the mountain. It is known as one of the best examples of early bridge construction in this section of the country."

On our way we stopped at Lightner's General Store in Mt. Hope. "Boss" was use to stopping here for snacks and drinks while on his many deer hunting trips in the Mt. Hope area. He bought me some candy and I thought it was the best I'd ever had.

Continuing down the mountain "Boss" had to hold the brake so as not to let the heavy load bear too hard on the horses. We returned without any trouble arriving late that spring afternoon. As we pulled up to the rail pile along Orphanage Road to unload, Mother came to see that we arrived home safely. A sup-per of sirloin, gravy, fried onions, and potatoes awaited us when we returned home. It was a long but memorable day hauling rails with "Boss".


Butchering when I was a young boy was a big thing. Our preparation started in early fall by gathering wood. We hitched two horses to the stick wagon and, once in the woods, we cut small dead trees and limbs in 3 1/2 to 4 foot lengths. I always helped to load the wagon. The wood was then stacked in the summer house to be ready for butchering day which was usually on or around New Year's Day. The day before we butchered we would fix the kettles in the fireplace in the summer house using the wood we had brought in earlier. At daybreak, on butchering day, we'd fill the kettles with water and light the fire. This hot water was used in scalding the hogs after they were killed.

We generally butchered two or three hogs. It depended on their size. If they weighed close to 400 pounds a piece we only killed two. We used a 22 cal. rifle or a 32 cal. pistol to shoot the hogs. A man with a sharp butcher knife, called a sticking knife, would stick them trying to pierce the jugular vein. This was done to bleed them out.

The scalding was done in a large barrel or trough. All the hair was then removed. We took a block and tackle and pulled them up to a large beam in the wagon shed. This was done with a single tree or a grappling steel. This would keep their legs apart so as to make it easier to clean and cut properly. We washed them down and got the dirt and excess hair off. At times we had to take a sharp butcher knife and scrape the excess hair off.

The hog's head was cut off and hung nearby so as to have it cleaned and later cut up and cooked for pudding meat. The hog was cut open and the intestines tied off. Many a time, as a young boy, my father would send me out to the straw stack for the binder twine which was used for this purpose.

We would grind a sharp ax and cut the hog down on each side of the back bone. "Gutting" was to take the insides out and remove the heart, liver, and stomach. After the hogs were clean they would let them hang to draw out the animal heat. On a cold day it didn't take long. With the use of a sharp knife to cut the sinew of the legs the hogs were cut down from the single tree or grappling steel. These parts were carried into the summer house and put on a table, called a meat bench, to be cut up. They would cut out the hams, shoulders, sirloin, and side meat and crack the ribs away from the backbone. The hams, shoulders and sides were laid out on the table to later cure. We then took some hot water out of one of the kettles and put it in a tub to scrape the skin and the head. They generally used a small board or shingle shaped piece of smooth wood as a scraping board.

The long strips of fat were put in the kettle to render out for lard. This was something you couldn't do in a hurry. You had to cook all the water out of the fat so it would keep. When the lard was rendered we took a lard can and pressed the fat out in the lard can. We generally put a fine cloth on the spout of the container that it came out of to strain all the cracklings out.

In making scrapple they generally put in some pudding or cracklings which came from the rendered lard, also cornmeal and flour, and then seasoned it with salt and pepper. The scrapple took a long time to cook and required a lot of stirring.

In the meantime someone would clean the intestines. The raw meat or off-fallings that were cut out of the hogs were ground, seasoned with salt and pepper, then stuffed in the casings. The casings were the hog's intestines, cleaned. The lard press was used to stuff the sausage. After the sausage was stuffed I hung it on a pole in the summer house. Later I would help Mother fry it down in the oven of the cook stove in a big iron skillet. It would be cut in small pieces so it could be put in jars. The excess grease, that fried out of the sausage, was poured in the jar to seal it. Then a lid was put on after it cooled. Boy, did that taste good in the summer time!

Butchering day also was a day to play tricks on each other. I often saw a pig tail tied to a person and when they would eat some puddin' meat out of the big iron kettle with the tail fastened to them, someone would say, "I see you are making a pig out of yourself again!" He'd say, "No!", and as everyone was glancing at him, he'd look behind and there was the reason - a real "pig tail" hanging on him. Many times I would stay home from school to butcher. Sometimes they would kill them on a Friday afternoon and butcher them up Saturday. There was always plenty to do and learn on the farm.

When the air was crisp and cold and you got the scent of the wood burning under the kettles in the summer house, you could be sure butchering day was here.

Threshing Time

One of the machines Mother liked to drive was the binder that cut the grain and tied it into sheaves. She would drive the horses in the binder with the check lines very well. The binder had a sheaf carrier to carry the sheaves to a certain place. With a trip-lever she could then drop them. Later they were shocked in the field by Father. While he was shocking, when I was a small boy, I would walk along and pick up the odd sheaves that missed the row and I also brought drinking water out to them.

In about the middle of August it was time to thresh the wheat out of the barn. This occasion I remember very well as a young boy. I was very interested in the steam engines and threshing machines. One late afternoon in August in the distance I heard the whistle on the steam engine blowing a few blasts telling us the threshing machine was moving on the road - coming to our farm to thresh out of the barn. I ran out of the yard fence gate to look in the distance. I could see the steam engine and then the threshing machine or separator with a water wagon hooked on the back coming closer. As it puffed along it turned in our driveway between the barn and buggy shed. I opened the gate for the steam engine to pass through and by mistake I shut it on the threshing machine and broke the gate in two. My fault! Little kids learn! Later "Boss" fixed the gate, and it was there until the barn burned down, in the fall of 1958.

It was a Peerless Steam engine made by the Frick Company of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The engine was run by Burton "Mike" Witherow. He bought the rig in the spring of 1917 from Ed Furney. Mike threshed for many folks in the Barlow area.

Mike pulled his rig in back of the barn and unhooked the water tank. "Boss" opened the barn doors. Mike throttled up the steam engine then pulled the threshing machine up the barn hill. The wheels of the separator were blocked to keep it from drifting back. The steam engine was turned around to have it hooked up and to push it in on the barn floor. "Boss" then put the pin in the tongue of the thresher. Mike slowly put in the clutch and the steam started to advance. With a few puffs the thresher hit the bumping blocks then over into the barn floor he pushed it close to the wooden scaffold ready for it to thresh. "Boss" pulled the pin out of the thresher, and Mike backed the steam engine down the barn bridge and stopped it. "Boss" nailed the blocks down to keep the thresher stationary when in use. He took the long belt from the thresher and put it on one of the pulleys and rolled the other end down the barn bridge to the steam engine. The other end of the belt was hooked to a pulley on the steam engine. Then the threshing would begin.

One person would drop the sheaves into the thresher. It separated the grain from the straw. The grain was stored in the granary and the loose straw was returned to the mow in the barn. There were times when the straw would be piled into a large hay stack in the barn yard. Threshing was very important for it sup-plied feed and bedding for the cattle. This was a big part of the costs when you had a herd.

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