Barefoot Boy:
A Year in the Life of a 1930s Farm Boy

Raymond Schairer
With Foreword by Sandor Slomovits

The Mischievous Cow

A True Story by Ray Schairer

One Sunday in the late spring of nineteen seventy five, my wife Jane and I were invited to an early evening party. Early evening affairs just weren’t meant for dairy farmers. There was always the milking and chores to do. But, this was a rather special get-together with friends in Chelsea. We decided we would go. I would just have to milk the cows an hour earlier than the usual six-thirty time.

I went to the barn around five o’clock. The cows were laying in the barnyard, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. I noticed one cow, number 21, looking at me as I headed for the barn, and I thought I detected a little something unusual about her actions as I entered the barn to open the stable door facing the barnyard. When I opened that door, number 21 was on her feet facing the rest of the cows, some now getting up. It almost looked to me like she was planning some kind of a trick to play on me. I could almost hear her telling the rest of them that she bet I had something special planned and maybe they could have some fun with me!

I stood in the doorway and called out to them with my usual “Come Boss” invitation. But they didn’t pay any attention to me. They were following number 21, running around the barnyard with their tails flying in the air. They ran right past the stable door, completely ignoring my urgent request to enter the barn.

This went on for several minutes and I was becoming very frustrated. I went out in the barnyard and tried to head them off., to no avail. They simply turned and ran in the other direction. With no one to help me, I just had to stand and watch that number 21 have her fun. I was standing near the large water tank the cows got their water from, and after a time I sat down on the edge of the tank. I felt really defeated. Tears came to my eyes, and I put my head in my hands.

I noticed then that it got quiet. The cows must have stopped running. When I looked up, I saw that number 21 was again facing the other cows. They were all paying attention to her. I was sure she was saying, “I think we have teased him enough. We had better go into our stalls right now.” And, as I sat there, my eyes once again closed, I could hear the sound of their hooves rapidly coming my way. I opened my eyes to see number 21 leading all of them into the cow stable as fast as they could go! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I just watched in amazement as they all went into their proper places and started eating the ground feed before them.

I followed the last one into the stable and proceeded to latch each one’s stanchion. Then I came to number 21. As I slipped in beside her and her neighboring cow, I noticed something. She was not eating her feed! She was the only one that wasn’t. She was also standing very stiff as she watched me come forward to latch the stanchion between her head and shoulders. I realized she was preparing herself for some kind of punishment for what she had done to me. She turned her head a bit more to the right and her big black sparkling eye met mine. I could see she was asking for my forgiveness for what she had instigated with the rest of the cows. With our eyes still meeting, I latched her stanchion. Suddenly I melted under her gaze and I put my left arm around her neck and muttered, “You got me that time.” I gave her a pat on her shoulder as I backed out from between the two cows and I felt her relax and she started to eat her feed.

I could then proceed with the milking and I finished all the other chores in time to make the party in town.

Just another day in the life of a dairy farmer.

The Old Red Fox

A True Story by Ray Schairer

Mother nature has always presented farmers with interesting experiences to put in their memory files. I was no exception. Here’s a memory I have of an old red fox.

This happened on a June evening, sometime in the early Seventies. I had just bought another tractor. It was a big brother to the one I bought in 1958. That was a brand new Massey Ferguson fifty horsepower three point hitch tractor with a mounted three bottom plow. It also had a cultivator that could be attached to the three point hitch. It was quite an improvement over our previous equipment.

The tractor I had just acquired was also a Massey Ferguson, but it had a sixty five horsepower engine and was considerably larger than the one I bought in the Fifties. Also, it had a diesel engine instead of a gas one, like our earlier tractors. It was slightly used. Our neighbor, Alton, had bought it new a couple of years earlier, but didn’t particularly like it, so he put it up for sale. I never did figure out why he didn’t like it, because I did. It had a cab with a roof over it, a windshield and side curtains with windows for protection from the weather, which was great.

I hadn’t used this new tractor much yet, but we had a small piece of land at the west end of our farm, along Mill Creek, that needed plowing for the planting of some late corn for cow feed in August or early September.

With daylight savings time in effect, the summer daylight hours were long. So, after the cows were milked that evening, I told my father I was going to plow this last little piece of ground down by the creek. I would have at least two hours of daylight and, besides, this tractor had lights if I needed to work after dark. My wife, Jane, was going to be away at a meeting, so I figured I’d work late.

I drove the tractor down the driveway, heading west across Parker Road, and then followed a path inside the fence from the main highway. The odor of the burned diesel fuel filled the warm summer evening air as I made my way toward the creek.

The sun was still shining through the tops of the trees lining the creek bank, the rays glancing off the hood of the tractor as I headed west. When I reached the creek bank I stopped for a few moments to map out in my mind just where I would start plowing this piece of ground. Once I reached a decision, I turned the tractor towards the east, dropped the plow to the ground, and started plowing. Even though the ground I was plowing had been very wet just a week ago, the weather we were having had dried the soil to a good plowing consistency.

In just a few minutes I reached the east end of the plot and turned around and headed back to the west bank of the creek. I took a look back at the plow to be sure it was working right and then looked ahead once more towards the creek bank. There, sitting beside some brush along the bank, I spotted an animal sitting on its haunches, watching me come toward it. I thought at first that it was a young dog. But, as I drew closer it rose to its feet and disappeared into the brush. I realized then that I was wrong. It was a fox. Its reddish color and long bushy tail identified it without a doubt in my mind.

I figured that would be the last I would see of the fox. But, I was wrong again. I made three more rounds of plowing and, as I was coming back towards the creek bank the third time around, there he was, once again in plain sight. A ray of sunshine came through a break in the trees along the creek bank and shone right on him. The bright red color of his fur and long brown bushy tail told me it had to be a male.

He didn’t retreat this time as I turned back to the east and again lowered the plow to the ground. I looked out the open back of the cab and could see he was coming out onto the ground I had just plowed. Suddenly he pounced on something, straightened up and sat back on his haunches. I noticed something dangling from his mouth. It was a large field mouse. With a couple of quick gulps he swallowed it. I had plowed up the mouse’s nest and the fox had no trouble capturing the uprooted rodent.

As I continued to the east end, turned around and headed back again, there sat the fox, watching for me to come by and maybe turn up another mouse. The tractor and I went right by him again. He sat on his haunches, watching the plow turn up the good earth. I kept watching him as I went by and, sure enough, the plow turned up another mouse nest, and another mouse ran out. He again pounced and ate it quickly. This clever old fox probably decided right then and there that, despite the noise and the diesel fumes, maybe the tractor and I weren’t such a bad intrusion on his territory after all. This went on for a number of rounds, with the plow turning up several more mice and he eating them all.

The sun had set behind the trees and it was starting to get dark. During the last couple of rounds, when I turned up another mouse, I watched, astonished, as I saw him kill it and then bury it, like a dog does a bone, saving it for another day.

When I turned back to the east the final time to plow the last strip of ground, I went right by him sitting there, not ten feet away, with his fat tummy protruding from all those mice he had eaten. I slowed the tractor and waved to him. And I swear to this day, he had a big smile on his face and lifted a grateful paw to wave goodbye.

I’ve never forgotten that old red fox.

Chasing A Rainbow

I remember a day in the early 1960s, shortly after the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the new I-94 expressway. The ceremony took place on the Parker Road bridge built over the expressway, with then Michigan Governor, G. Mennen Williams, cutting the ribbon. I-94 ran right along our farm’s north boundary, and Parker Road divided our farm in half and continued to the town of Dexter. When I was a boy, I’d often ridden my bike on that road, on my way to Dexter High School.

It was the last of the corn planting season. I had one field left to plow, the one bordered by Parker Road on the west and the new I-94 on the north. Years before, it used to be a pasture field for our cows and sheep, but by then we were farming it as a crop field.

It was after dinner, about one o’clock in the afternoon, when I went to get my tractor and plow ready and headed for the field. It was a nice day, with some cumulous clouds gathering overhead, but a warm June sun shining through the breaks in the clouds.

I turned into the field at the gateway from Parker Road, near the north line fence by the expressway. The field needed plowing. Last year’s hay and grass and weeds were taking over. I decided where to start the first “land,” lowered the plow and started east across the field towards the woodlot at the other end.

We had rain a few days ago, so the soil turned easily for the plow. But, I was not completely content. The noise of the semi trucks roaring up the slight grade of the expressway on my left managed to even drown out the exhaust noise of my own tractor, and I couldn’t help notice the large area that had been cut through our neighbor’s side of the woodlot to allow the expressway to be built. It had destroyed my favorite squirrel hunting area.

When I reached the east end of the field, near the wood lot, I pulled the lever to raise the plow and turned the tractor to head back west. I noticed that the clouds overhead were taking on an ominous appearance. They were no longer beautiful, billowing white clouds, but were turning black. By the time I reached the west end of the field, lightning was arcing back and forth between them. I began debating whether to head for home or stay in the field.

I had a beach size umbrella mounted to the tractor frame, directly behind the seat, mostly to keep the hot sun off me when I was working. I sat there for a few minutes and decided that the clouds would drift by me without too much rain, and the umbrella would provide some protection. So, I turned the tractor back to the east, lowered the plow, and once again started back to the east end of the field.

The cloud directly overhead began letting down a steady light rain as I worked my way across the field, but the umbrella did a good job keeping the rain from drenching me.

Suddenly, the sun burst forth as the cloud moved eastward, with me and the tractor following under it. Then an incredible sight met my eyes. The gentle rain, falling ahead of me suddenly burst into all the colors of a gorgeous rainbow, one end of it traveling just ahead of the tractor as we continued eastward, toward the woodlot.

It took several minutes for the tractor to reach the east end of the field and the woodlot. During those minutes, I soaked up the colors of that rainbow as it danced along ahead of the tractor. When the rainbow reached the woods, the tall trees, laden with fresh new green leaves, seemed to absorb the colors and it suddenly disappeared.

I stopped the tractor, got off, and walked a little way into the woods. A delightful smell of fresh raindrops seemed to come down all around me from the trees overhead. I inhaled it happily for a few minutes. It was hard to leave, but finally, reluctantly, I turned and started back to my tractor, patiently waiting for me, engine idling, emitting the smell of burned diesel that soon all but erased the wonderful aroma I had just enjoyed in the woods.

I mounted the tractor, lowered the plow, and headed back to the west end of the field. Suddenly, I remembered. What about the pot of gold that people say is at the end of the rainbow? I was there, at the end of the rainbow, but I’d found no pot of gold! Where could it be?

As the tractor continued across the field I came up with my answer. The pot of gold must have been at the other end of the rainbow!

Or maybe, the pot of gold was my few moments of special beauty, seeing that rainbow and walking in the sweet-scented woods.

The Old Swimming Hole

For much of my life, the Schairer farm was one of five farms in the square mile formed by four roads between Ann Arbor and Dexter. Marshall Road runs in an east west direction from Parker Road to Baker road. Baker goes north all the way to Dexter and, south of Marshall Road, comes to a dead end at Jackson Road (called Old US 12 in the early days of my life), while Parker Road runs parallel to Baker Road, a mile to the east. Today, in 2009, there is only one large dairy farm, the Breininger’s, left in that area.

There was, and still is, a small creek, Mill Creek, that meanders diagonally in a northeasterly direction across that area and ends up in the Huron River near the town of Dexter, three miles to the north. It’s the creek where I often fished with my grandfather when I was growing up. It was also a great creek for swimming.

There is a bridge over Mill Creek on Marshall Road. This was the place where, in my childhood, us country boys would gather on hot summer nights and follow the foot path trail north from the road, about the length of a football field, to our favorite swimming spot.

I remember one time in particular, when I went swimming there on a summer evening with my farm friend, Harold Sias. We had been putting hay in the barn all that afternoon and, after milking the cows in the evening, decided to go swimming to refresh ourselves.

Harold drove us to the side of Marshall Road. We climbed over the road fence and started down the well worn path to the swimming hole. As we walked along, we could hear an occasional bull frog croaking as he perched on a partly sunken tree limb. A little further along the trail we could hear a loud buzzing coming from a nearby large wheat field ready for cutting. It was time for the summer crickets to let us know they were enjoying the evening too.

As we got closer, we could hear the sound of water rushing over and around some large stones lying on the creek bed. The stones created some resistance to the water flowing around them, and increased the speed of the water so that it made a deep impression in the sandy bottom of the creek on the far side of the stones. This created our wonderful swimming hole. It was at least twenty feet wide and thirty feet long and, at its deepest point nearly six feet deep. Great for swimming!

Harold and I pulled off our blue chambray shirts, bib overalls and underwear, and made running jumps into the water. We never wore bathing suits at the swimming hole—we always skinny dipped. Girls, it was known, didn’t use this swimming hole.

But, as we were enjoying the nice, cool water cleaning our hot, and rather dirty bodies, I told Harold a tale I’d heard from some younger boys, about girls visiting the swimming hole.

Apparently, some girls, mostly sisters of those boys, did come along one evening, and surprised the boys while they were in the swimming hole. The girls, the storytellers said, began teasing them while they were submerged in the water. One of the girls even announced that they would all stay until the boys came out of the water!

After a few minutes of this, one of the boys began to walk out of the water, calling out that he was coming and that the rest of the boys would follow. As he continued to wade out of the water, toward the girls standing on the bank of the creek, they started screaming and ran up the path back toward Marshall Road. It was, the boys said, the last time the girls were seen at the old swimming hole.

Harold and I had a good chuckle at the story. The summer night began to draw closer and the mosquitoes were getting pretty nasty. We made our way to the creek bank, got dressed and started back to his car and home. Tomorrow would be another busy day, making hay.

The Reddeman Farm

Jane and I, along with a couple of friends of ours, ate at the Reddeman Farm Golf Course restaurant recently. I suggested we go there, partly because I knew from experience that their food is very good. But I chose that restaurant for other reasons too, one of them being that the Reddeman Farm was located only two miles from where our own family farm used to be. It was southwest of us, along a country gravel road called Jerusalem Road.

(An interesting side note—at least to me: Jerusalem road ends in the very small town of Jerusalem, four miles west of the Reddeman Farm. Michigan’s Jerusalem is about fifteen miles south of Michigan’s Hell—another small town. Chelsea is about halfway between them.)

When it was a working farm years ago, the Reddeman Farm was similar to ours and many others in the area. They raised grain and hay crops and used them to feed their animals; pigs, sheep, cattle and chickens. Like most farms, they had a silo, a tall tube-shaped structure sometimes made of wood, sometimes of concrete, ten to sixteen feet in diameter and as much as thirty feet high, nearly as tall as the peaks of barns. Farmers stored their chopped field corn in silos, for cattle feed.

At the end of every August, or in early September, when the corn was ready for harvesting, farmers pulled their corn binders into the fields and cut the corn and tied it into bundles. Then they’d bring the bundles from the fields with horse-drawn wagons. One man would toss the bundles, usually weighing between thirty and fifty pounds, but sometimes as much as a hundred, from the ground onto the wagon, while another man stacked them in rows on the wagon rack. Then it was on to the silo, where a tractor-powered cutting machine and silo filler would be waiting. They tossed the bundles of corn, stalk end first, onto the conveyor belt of the chopper machine which shredded the corn—ears, stalks, leaves and all—into small pieces. The fan on the silo filler then blew the resulting silage through a ten-inch stovepipe-like tube up and into the silo from the top. Unlike today, most silos didn’t have caps in those days.

The chopped corn would gradually ferment in the silos. Cows liked the resulting silage. Silos came into common use in the Thirties, when tractor powered machines made it possible to fill them this way.

We did not have a silo on the Schairer farm. My father, and later I, decided that it was not the way we would store our feed corn. We shucked the corn in the field, tearing the ears off the stalks, and stored the corn, still on the cob, in the corn bin in our barn. Then we’d bring the corn stalk bundles from the field and build a big corn stack by the barnyard fence. We’d throw bundles over the fence for the animals to eat as needed. Some years we’d leave the bundles out in the field and bring them in a few shocks at a time. In the spring we would take the uneaten stalks from the barnyard back to the fields and plow them under.

Every week during the winter we took some of the corn from our crib over to the Dexter Cooperative Company. They’d grind up our corn, cob and all, and also our oats, in their mill. We’d bring back twenty bags of ground feed and that would last our eight or ten cows a week. Later, when we had more cows, the McCalla Feed Service would come to our farm with a portable mill on a truck, and grind the corn right there blow it into a bin in our barn.

But just because the Schairer farm did not have a silo, didn’t mean I didn’t help at silo-filling time at neighboring farms, including at the Reddeman’s.

When the silos were being filled, most farmers wanted to have the chopped corn packed down so the silo would hold more. Since I was not a big guy—I weighed 125 pounds in those days—and flinging fifty pound bundles of corn all day was not easy for me, packing down the silage became my task.

Silos have a steel ladder attached along their sides, all the way up to the top. Ever five or six feet along those ladders, there are also small removable doors, just big enough for a person. When the silo was full, it was through those doors, starting from the top, that the silage was taken out and thrown down to feed the animals. (Today’s silos are all automated, both the filling and the unloading.)

At the beginning of the silo-filling process, when the silo was still empty, I’d crawl in through the door closest to the ground and someone would lock the door back into place from the outside. Inside the silo a flexible tube was attached to the metal tube of the silo filler, and with the aid of a couple of ropes I could direct the silage as it was blown into the silo and came down from the top. Of course, despite that system, some silage still sometimes landed on my head!

I spread the silage with a pitchfork and walked around on it, packing it down. Sometimes there’d be two of us in there doing that, but a lot of the time I was the only one. It took pretty much all day to fill up a silo. We only stopped for lunch. If I needed to get out of the silo at any time, I’d holler and someone would come up the ladder and undo a door at whatever level I might be, and let me out.

When the silo was all filled with the chopped corn I could stand on the very top and see the entire countryside from my vantage point thirty feet up in the air. What a glorious sight!

On the other hand, I recall that there were no guard rails of any kind at the top of the silos. In fact, some farmers added a rickety four foot snow-fence around the top, so they could store more silage. It’s a wonder I never fell off as I tromped around on top of the silage. The good Lord looked out for me, I guess, while I looked out over His beautiful creation. Sometimes I felt I could reach up and touch the clouds as they sailed by overhead.

Which brings me back to the real reason I suggested we eat out at the Reddeman Farm Golf Course Restaurant. It meant that our friends, and Jane and I, could look out from the restaurant’s large windows facing out across the open land still harboring many of the trees I remember from my early farming days. As I looked toward the north end of the golf course I could still see the big red barn with the silo beside it, just like it looked fifty years ago. Oh, the memories it brings back!

Even though it’s no longer a working farm, I am very happy that the Lima Township Board let the golf course become a reality, thus preserving the land in a more or less natural state.

But, besides enjoying the view, we were also there to eat. The food brought to mind the wonderful home-cooked meals the farmers’ wives put before us when we helped with the silo filling. As good as the Reddeman Farms Restaurant menu is, it can never match those feasts.

We ate, visited, reminisced, and finally noticed that the sun was setting and the trees on the golf course were casting long shadows. It was time to go home, savoring the meal and the memories.