The Ranger’s brother Charlie did most of the horseshoeing and set many a shoe. Uncle Charlie was a little harsh. He expected obedience and may not have believed in ”horse lib,” but he could make and train a horse.
Nellie and Topsy were young horses Papa bought from his brother Wilber, who had a mare name Mabel and had raised these colts, a beautiful pair. Prince was a lovely horse Papa liked very much. We were a large family, and many times cash was not plentiful. Papa would get his supplies on credit at the Frank Thissell store in the village of Bakers Mills. Papa wanted to get the bill paid and made some arrangement for paying them $100 and the horse Prince.
I do not remember now how Uncle Jim Dalaba was involved, but he came for the horse. Papa was away at the time. As Uncle Jim led the horse away, by the turn of the road the horse turned back toward the home with a whinny. We told Papa his, and he felt bad and said, “I wish you hadn’t told me.” How a man loves his horse. There were no extra programs to help the needy then. Papa showed his feelings. His love for his family had to be strong for him to get the food on credit even though that would mean he had to lose his horse. Was this during the Depression days? People today cannot know all the struggles that went into living in the old days on the farm. It was a wonderful and interesting life. It was also very hard in many ways. Our parents were self-sacrificing.
Before “women’s lib” men were the head of the house and the wife a homemaker, and she mothered the children. The couple was a team, and each worked to full capacity, full steam ahead, which brought fulfillment. The long hours spent doing chores also say a lot for the men on the farm.
A warm stable was important. The one I remember best had a trap door that led down from the hay barn floor overhead. From here forks of hay were tossed down for the horse—that saved carrying it. The cows didn’t fare badly either. They had a sliding feed door. This saved going around outside to feed the cows or the horse. A large hook held the floor shut. For years the horse barn opened to the southeast, as did the cow barn door. Later Papa decided to change the horse door. Could it have been because of the muddy barnyard at certain times of the year, a mixture of manure and sand? He could go through the alleyway past the pig pen.
As the loads of hay came from the Willey Place. there were times we girls would wait for a ride home from the fields. When it was haying time we would sometimes ride on top of the load of hay. In one field, where animals worked and helped fertilize the land as they fed, many wild berries grew. We girls stored them on the “Berry Rock” and waited for the men to come home that way.
Um! Was that smell tantalizing for the horse?! Those luscious blackberries! Some grew on bushes with sharp thorns that scratched our legs unmercifully. We did not wear pants even in the berry fields.
There were many ways to prepare the berries: blackberry crow’s nest, hot sweetened blackberries, boiling and adding dumplings. This helped the biscuits go a long way. Then there was the baked crow’s nest, blackberry pies, and many other pies. Some berries were for jam, jellies, and other preserves. We had no electricity on the farm then. No freezing the berries. The tasty thimbleberry we ate and also gooseberries; red currents and white ones; even a few white blackberries!
There was a big barnyard on the farm. At one end was a watering trough, a large log hollowed out to run water for the animals. The cows, horses, and sheep liked the fresh water coming from The Spring on the side of the hill above the house flowing by gravity. The water was piped into the house, too, running day and night.
The winds howled in winter and, as we looked down Edwards Hill Road, we could see the blowing snow playing its games and making us glad to stay inside the house. Besides the heat from the wood stoves, we had our own type of insulation. In the barnyard was a huge manure pile, often replenished. Although “Mr. Rooster” climbed to its top proudly displaying his right to it and giving from there his morning choral salute, it was hardly his doing that the great pile was there. The manure was taken by the shovelful from behind the cows and horses. With a herd of cows, several young stock, and the horses, there was plenty of manure for many purposes beside insulation.
In the fall Papa put up boards around the house, outside, low by the foundation. He drew loads of manure and put it between the boards and the house. It heated and kept out much cold. The aroma did come inside, warm and pungent, but we did have insulation, not store-bought, and we did not freeze. We got used to this banking and its smell by spring. Once Mama had a sprained ankle. The ankle swelled. Warm, fresh cow manure brought down the swelling.
Papa would take the lumber wagon in the spring and take loads of manure to various gardens and his potato and corn chunks, the buckwheat and oat patches. There it was again taken, forkful by forkful with a four-tine dung fork, and slung across the fields. The horses waited for the farmer and, when he urged them, they would move ahead a little. Perhaps three or four loads would be used for each field. Much barnyard manure was used, and the crop yield was very good much of the time. Birds liked to follow horses—for the grains from the manure droppings, and in season the birds used horse hair for building their nests.
The Ranger had many acres of land at Hillmount Farms, some meadow, some pasture land and wood lots, including the sugar bush. The teams know the area well as they traveled together. Horses are knowledgeable, good at remembering. A horse works well to make his living. Not just in raising corn and oats, but in cutting hay. Hour by hour, a farmer or his help rode the mowing machines as the horse pulled it. Much of Hillmount Farms was very hilly and sloping, but, when guided by a person who knew horses and the land, the horse did a good job.
Drawn by two horses, the mowing machine was held by a long pole between the “tongue.” The horses held it up from the ground as it worked its way in its fashion, this way, that way, over rocks at times but carefully so as not to tip over. Always watching the cutter bar so it would miss the rocks or any sizeable bushes. And rocks a-plenty there were. Above the house the land was very sidling, sloping sharply. I remember Alva Washburn driving a team and mowing there one year. He was a good teamer who could also handle a team for moving the hunters over the mountain in deer season.
The cutter bar held many mowing machine knives that went back and forth at considerable speed as the horses drew the machine. The cutter bar could be raised and lowered as necessary while the teamer drove. The main part of the machine was iron. It had its own toolbox with places for the necessary tools for repairs on the job.
The horse rake, with its many teeth, had a seat much higher that the seat on the mowing machine. The driver had to watch closely to dump the hay, which could be rolled into haycocks, or hay tumbles. The old timers really knew how to make the windrows and haycocks look neat in the fields, especially if they were some distance from the barn. These haycocks needed to be lifted up in a big forkful to place on the hayrack on the lumber wagon.
Sometimes the deft teamer would run the rake across the windrows to cut down on the hand-work with hay rakes. At this time, the hay rakes were made by a local man, Delbert Allen. But nowadays his nephew, my husband Earl, makes the hay rakes.
A three-tine fork or hayfork could go deep into the hay tumbles, and the men working loved to show off a little by lifting the hay tumble high over their heads. This was easy if the haycock was well built. If not, the hay would fall apart.
“Making load” was hard work but rewarding. As the men took the load safely to the barn, over the hills and rough farm roads, they felt satisfied in its shape and great height. No use to bring half a load, crossing the same meadow more than necessary. It was a great distance from the back meadow. Papa had 200 acres at Hillmount Farms. Many of those acres were far, far from our barn. The Willey Place had lovely meadows and supplied much good hay. For many years Papa used the barn on the Willey Place to put up his hay, but this meant winter haying to bring it home. Although the Ranger enjoyed this back area of our farm very much, he decided it would be nice to have a second barn closer to the house. This would save handling the hay over again so much—and often in bad weather. It had been hard to break out the snowy roads. A new barn meant we’d have a barn bee, a barn raising. Many men came to help. Women got together to feed the crew. A driveway was left between the two barns, with a large gate, rather than two side by side. We used to watch the horses as they looked over that gate.
Horses always have a problem with flies. Black flies get around their eyes, and deer and horseflies bite hard and buzz around their faces. Raleigh fly spray was welcome relief for them. Papa had a hand sprayer.
Treating horses is often necessary. Once a horse had a badly cut foot. It is the first I remember hearing of blue vitrol. It was put into the cut. I was about eight or nine years old at the time. I remember that a storm was coming. We could see the heat lightning in the east. Elmer and my sister Violet were at the house visiting. They were living in Wevertown then.
Sometimes the horses were left in the meadows to roam and feed. One such night some young hunter saw the eyes of a horse and shot. It was one of Papa’s horses, not a deer. I am not finding fault with the hunter. Maybe he needed some meat. We needed some too. I did not feel guilty when we had venison. State-protected animals such as coyotes and bears desetroyed our sheep, which were a cash crop. It was so bad we had to sell whole flocks.
The Ranger did some teaming for hunting parties, using his team and wagon to pack them into their hunting camp. One was the Schaefer hunting party. Later Paul Schaefer started the Cataract Club hunting party. Papa even guided for them. At the Dalaba reunion in 1980, Paul told how it was “fifty-five years ago John Dalaba guided for us, and I got my first bear, at age 16.” Paul Schaefer died in July 1996.
Some hunting parties were moved over the Eleventh Mountain by team. One time, after moving one party, the Ranger returned and moved in the Cataract Club or Schaefer party. What a long day, leaving early and returning late. Some others moved parties on Sundays. The Ranger usually did not. Mama was a devout Christian and believed in keeping a day holy for the Lord. Routine business ended. No sewing, no reading of catalogs or magazines, no hammering. Although Papa was not a professor at the time, he respected Mama. But one morning Papa got up early and quietly slipped out of the house. He did the chores and hitched the horses. As quietly as possible he drove the horses past the house and down the driveway.
Later Papa told how the wagon squeaked, and he felt guilty. He purposed not to go teaming on Sunday again. He may have lost opportunities, but I honor his great decision. We must give honor and worship, remembering God’s way.
There were times when my father John, Jim, and Charlie, all brothers, and Kate Harrington went with several teams for hunting parties. Going up the mountain wasn’t easy. Sometimes it was necessary to double up when going up the mountain. Kate told of the kindness of my father in helping when she needed help. She was a widow trying to make a living for her family. She had a home, which she used as a hunter’s place. A hunter’s paradise it sounded.
Ed Richards is now advanced in age. He tells of Kate Harrington helping in the hunting and doing her chores later. He said that when he was there he held the light for her to milk by. Kate told that at one time Ed came with a friend and said, “I have traveled 203 miles to bring my friend to meet you and have some of your biscuits.” I met Ed Richards at a “Hunter’s Banquet” at the home of Paul Schaefer in Schenectady. Ed is a friend of some in the Cataract Club. This same club is still operating. Many of the old crew, including Paul Schaefer, are now gone.
The early Schaefer Club included Ed Hans. This hunting party was so nice to the Ranger’s family. Not only did they give us some of the camp food left over, but they remembered the Dalaba family with gifts of toys and clothes at Christmas. Once Papa’s brother Jim was very ill and was sent to Schenectady for medical help. While Uncle Jim was there the Schaefer family remembered him with kindness and a place to stay—“because he was John’s brother”—they told Mama later. The Schaefer’s said they thought a lot of my father.
One of the many lessons and skills the Ranger taught in bringing up his family was caring for animals. His sons, my brothers Lynden and Oliver, learned farm work and how to drive horses. Horses also have become a great part of my family. My husband Earl does many of the things Ranger Bowback once did. He even continued with the rubber boots for chores and working with the horse team.
Of course, Earl also gleans some of the horse scent, but he does not bank our house with manure for winter insulation now! Papa, Ranger, John…gone but not forgotten.
Reverend Daisy Mavis Dalaba Allen wrote these essays as a part of her 1997 book Ranger Bowback: An Adirondack Farmer, about life on a farm in Baker’s Mills in Johnsburg, NY in the early 20th century. Selections from the book are published here with the permission of the Allen family. Special thanks to Kjerstia Allen, Ed Zahniser, Evelyn Schaefer Greene, and Jan Reelitz for making this available for publication. To order a copy of Ranger Bowback: An Adirondack Farmer, send $10 to Kjerstia Allen, PO Box 47, Bakers Mills, NY 12811.