Category Archives: History

Old Stuff Works Good

If we had a farm motto at the old white house, it would probably be “Old stuff works good.” We’re chronic reuse it, re-purpose it, “if it ain’t broke” kind of people. While I’d like to philosophically say that we are hip, nostalgic, and connecting to our past….the truth is, we’re kind of tight wads who like fixable, old farm stuff.

Stephen’s most recent acquisitions have been a 1950’s Allis-Chalmers All Crop Harvester and an old Clipper seed cleaner.

all crop harvester

The All Crop Harvester was produced from the 1930’s – 1960’s and is designed to sweep harvest a wide variety of grains and grasses. It allows farmers to harvest crops on a smaller scale without having to own or rent an industrial sized combine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stephen, after months of looking, ended up finding an All Crop Harvester for sale literally across the street in the barn of a cousin. This thing looked rough and while Stephen was having this weird holy grail moment all I cared about was whether or not it worked.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After a treacherous tractor pull across Pleasant Hill, we got the All Crop Harvester home. Stephen and Poppaw (who is basically a mechanical genius) began tinkering away and before long she was ready for her maiden voyage…well, her maiden voyage after 40 or so years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On a bright, Saturday afternoon they revved up our old tractor, hooked the All Crop Harvester up, and made their way to the soy bean field. Within half an hour every old man in our neighborhood was out by the road waiting to watch the old girl in action.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I stood there dodging fire ant hills, I wondered whether or not that old machine came equipped with a homing beacon for anyone over 75. If I had known, I would have brought a box of crackers and some drinks to sell – maybe start to recoup some of our initial investment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the end of the day, the All Crop Harvester still knows how to get the job done. It may not be pretty, and it may look a bit complicated – but there is a certain beauty in bringing life back to something forgotten. Well, while we certainly aren’t hip, maybe we’re philosophers after all.

Advertisements

The Mighty Skeletor has Fallen

Once upon a time, a mighty post oak stood behind the old White House…big and beautiful, sprawling all over the place. One day, the post oak just got too dang big and had to be cut back. Unfortunately, it did not survive. In its place we were left with….Skeletor.

Skeletor
This is one of the few pictures we have of Skeletor. Generally, I try to edit Skeletor out of photographs since it looks like a giant dead hand sticking out of the ground – hence the name Skeletor.

Our big project this spring is to re-side the 100 year old corn crib (just behind Skeletor there) before it gets too far gone. The plan is to eventually convert it into a greenhouse. I told Stephen that as much as we’ve loved having old Skels in our life these past 5 years….it simply had to go. I didn’t want to risk the tree falling down and taking the corn crib out with it.

A few weeks ago a tree service came out to take Skeletor down and haul it away. We all agreed that this would be a quick job since Skeletor was most likely hollow. Well – we all learned a few things right quick:

  1. Skeletor was not hollow
  2. Skeletor was bigger around than any of our chainsaws could get through
  3. Skeletor was almost too heavy to haul away…even in pieces…even with the tractor

It was sort of a nightmare, but in the end the tree came down, the corn crib was preserved…and now we are left with what I fondly refer to as “Skelestump.” It is better than having a dead-hand tree sticking out of the ground, but it is still a bit unappealing. But, Skelestump is actually useful on occasion….like when you want to have hotdogs or smores.

We pondered several ways to get rid of the stump and finally settled on burning it – as it was the cheapest (free) option. We burned Skelestump for 4 days straight. It was sort of like having our own personal volcano in the backyard. The remains of Skelestump are still pretty impressive…I asked Stephen if he thought we should just give up, surround it with rocks, and turn it in to a fire pit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Right now the plan is to just keep burning what is left on dry weekends until it is mostly gone. The nice thing about this method is that it is free, it is sort of fun, doesn’t take too much energy, and gives us an excuse to eat food off of a stick.

So, if your ever in Pleasant Hill and you see smoke…grab a bag of marshmallows and stop on by. Our backyard is kind of like Motel 6 – we’re keeping the light on for ya.

 

Living in the White House

Living in a white house is like wearing a white shirt to a cookout….its going to get dirty, something dripped on it, and eventually things are going to start looking dull.

The White House has been quite dull for quite a while, its last paint job being well over 10 years ago. After countless storms, winter slush, and a particularly nasty hail storm – that really did a number on our cars – it was in desperate need of a touch up.

Pre-PaintingSo this summer, we scrapped and painted the old white house, and let me tell ya – it’s looking good these days.

My Poppaw is a firm believer that everything – and I literally do mean everything – can be done with the aid of a tractor. So instead of using a good old trusty ladder….we used a front end loader.

Just beam me up Stephen!

I, however, found a much more suitable use for the tractor. It’s surprisingly comfortable and cozy….as long as you don’t mind getting red dirt all over your clothes.

In reality, I only spent about half an hour making myself at home in my new favorite nap spot. While Stephen and Poppaw were busy painting the back side of the house, I worked on scrapping the front bannisters.

Let me go ahead and say….any paint scraping by hand ends up being a lot of work with very little benefit to show for your efforts. Plus, you end up with a load of paint chips stuck in your hair and on your face.

So why waste all that time scraping away? Why not just use a common heat and chemical paint remover? Well, there are two really good reasons.

One – we didn’t want to light our house up like a bonfire on a chilly October night. After much research, we discovered that quite a few common chemical paint removers are highly flammable, and solid wood homes of a certain age – like ours – tend to catch on fire.

Two – our chickens do not, sadly, lay golden eggs. The non-flammable water based paint removers are a bit pricey, and were way outside of the budget. We loved our house enough to spruce it up and make sure that we didn’t burn it down in the process, but not enough to go broke on.

The old white house looks a world better these days – almost like a new. There are still some needed repairs to the front porch, but its nice knowing that our major summer project is out of the way and that we are no longer embarrassing the neighbors.

Farmhouse Haunting II

I should have knocked on wood.  Lo and behold, a few days after I wrote a post about ghosts, I had my first ghostly encounter. Of course, it was at night, which seems to be a prerequisite for paranormal experiences—at least according to horror movies and ghost hunting TV shows. What time of night it was exactly, I’m not sure, but I woke up to the sound of laughing.

The laughing wasn’t the ghostly part, but it was strange. Natalie occasionally talks in her sleep, and she was apparently laughing in her sleep then. But instead of her normal laugh, it was a child-like giggle. I asked her if was she was having a funny dream, and she responded, obviously still asleep, with the following: “I’m counting without numbers.”

“Okay, that was kind of funny,” I thought, and knowing she was so averse to mathematics, it seemed reasonable to believe she was dreaming about bypassing numbers. I should have gone back to sleep.

Instead, I rolled over and opened my eyes, and what I saw was an old woman standing beside the bed in front of Natalie. The woman just stood there. I couldn’t see anything except her outline and silhouette, in a smoky-gray color. There was no detail to her face or texture to her clothing, but her outline resembled that of a woman in a traditional dress with an apron tied around her waist, with her hair pinned up in a bun (like Granny, for lack of better example, from The Beverly Hillbillies). A few seconds later, the figure just dissipated.

For the two of three seconds I saw or imagined the figure, I didn’t feel scared or threatened, and the woman didn’t look real enough for me to wonder if an intruder was indeed in the house. It was just strange and surreal. Eventually, I closed my eyes and refused to open them again. The next morning, I asked Natalie if she had any dreams. To my surprise, she said she had a funny dream, but couldn’t remember what it was about.

Why a ghost would appear next to Natalie while she was dreaming a funny dream, I don’t know. Maybe the ghost has a sense of humor. This could explain why she appeared a few days after I wrote about never experiencing ghosts in the house. Or, maybe I had been thinking too much about ghosts and imagined the whole episode. Whether or not it was a figment of my imagination, the woman’s figure had a striking resemblance to  Natalie’s great-great grandmother Ponola. Thankfully, Ponola seems like a very pleasant lady in the pictures of I’ve seen of her.

Of course, we’ll keep you posted if we have any other paranormal activity.

Ponola seems happy enough

Farmhouse Haunting

Occasionally, after people learn that Natalie and I live in an old farmhouse, the topic of conversation turns to ghosts. Apparently, ghosts and farmhouses are closely linked in people’s minds. To date, Natalie and I have never experienced any supernatural behavior in the house, except for that of Chip Coffey (if you’ve never watched Chip Coffey, check out some episodes of Paranormal State or Physic Kids—you’ll laugh.)

Occasionally, the house does smell like Natalie’s great-grandmother, Vicie, or tobacco smoke, yet no one’s smoked in the house for decades. Although the house  creaks and cracks at night, I no longer attribute these noises to dead folks. Still, the noises can be a bit spooky. For me, it didn’t help knowing that Natalie’s great-grandfather was “laid out” in our bedroom. Back then, since they didn’t have funeral homes for visitations, a body was laid out in the home till the funeral. We’ve had quite a few family members laid out in our house…..uncle Abner, however, was resigned to the front porch, that is a funny story for another post.

Great-great-great grandpa Joe Camp standing beside the coffin of his brother Abner

Perhaps the saddest death that occurred in our house was that of Claude, the twelve-year-old son of Natalie’s great-great grandparents, Lawson and Ponola. He died at night of an unknown ailment that caused “flying rheumatism,” or severe pain that “flies” from joint to joint. The very next day, his grieving mother gave birth in the house to another son, Burl. I can’t imagine the emotions that family must have experienced in such a short time.

An addition from Natalie:

Though many people cringe at the number of people that have been laid out here, and that at least one person has died in the house – it really doesn’t bother me. My Poppaw and his father were just two of the many babies born in this house, my mom spent time here as a child, I used to play in the back yard when I was little. This house has LIVED, it’s seen life through multiple generations, joyous times, sad times, hard times. This house’s story is so complete, yet so circular and never ending, and I take comfort in the fact that it’s been here all this time observing, watching us change – we’re all so different, yet still so much the same.

Old House vs. Storm

Recently, I’ve been watching Storm Chasers, the show where lunatics try to intercept tornadoes and live to speak about it. After a tornado dissipates, the storm chasers often ride through the aftermath and survey damage. Depending on the strength of the tornado, damage ranges from a few downed limbs to completely flattened towns.

Of course, if our old farmhouse were, Lord forbid, in the path of a tornado, it wouldn’t stand a chance. During thunderstorms, Natalie says it’s both a comfort and concern to know our house is 118 years old. It’s weathered worse storms than this, she’ll say, but then again it was a bit younger when it did.

The house is your typical old farmhouse, built by a cotton farmer, Natalie’s great-great grandfather, out of old hand-hewn timber. In the inner layers of the plaster, we can still see animal hair, the predominate binding agent used in plaster in the 1800s. Apparently, the animal hair was effective, as our house still stands over 100 years later. Still, sometimes in the midst of a severe  thunderstorm, the fact that our house is held together by hand-hewn timbers and animal hair is a little disconcerting. Hopefully, a big, bad tornado, will never huff and puff and blow our house built of sticks in.

The backsides of our walls still have animal hair in the plaster

Interestingly, the original boards and timbers have stood the test of time better than the brick chimneys. About 10 years ago, Natalie’s Poppaw cut down the two main chimneys down and closed them up. Unfortunately, the mortar was crumbling and the chimneys were unstable.

The chimneys and fireplaces are now out of commission

If ever caught in the path of a bad storm, we only have the lone closet for protection from windows. It’s amazing to think that this one closet, about the size of a phone booth, once accommodated a family of nine. In the past, what clothes folks had were apparently kept in wardrobes and trunks. In any event, when a strong thunderstorm rolls through, Natalie goes into emergency mode, and we crouch down in the closet with couch cushions over us.

So far, so good. Although the house sometimes sounds like it’s getting ready to blast off in thunderstorms, we’re all, house included, still firmly on the ground.

Fledgling Farmers

Natalie’s great-great grandparents

My wife, Natalie, and I live in a white clapboard farmhouse built in the 1800s, and slowly but surely, we’re learning about farm life—by trial and error, by research, by watching my wife’s Poppaw.  He lives next door, and we rent the farmhouse from him.

My wife’s Poppaw comes from a long line of farmers, living in Shelby, NC, the self-proclaimed “City of Pleasant Living.” His grandfather built our house in 1893, when just about every square inch of the region was farmed for cotton. Now widespread cotton fields and ubiquitous fiber mills are gone.  But Shelby is still a pleasant place to live.

On some evenings, from the front porch, we watch three goats play beside a stoic quarter horse. The goats and horse live together in the pasture of our neighbor, Asa. We watch barn swallows hunt insects over the pasture, as the sky changes from blue, to pink, to purple. And as the sun retreats over Asa’s red barn, we talk about our dreams of raising sheep and alpacas, of selling produce and eggs at the Shelby farmer’s market.

My wife and I are in our mid-twenties, and we were raised in a generation mostly separated from the farm. Sure, our families had gardens, but food came from the grocery store and our parents’ livelihoods came from jobs unrelated to the soil.  Unlike our parents, who were born of cotton and tobacco farmers and who can remember the horses and cows and chickens, my wife and I remember other stuff—like my video game Age of Empires, in which tiny medieval farmers plow and harvest fields at the right-click of a mouse.

To say the least, we’re a little detached from farm life. But we’re trying. Although Natalie and I will probably never quit our day jobs, we like working in the garden and raising chickens in our free time. Indeed, in the past year, we’ve learned about several old farmstead activities, like making lye soap.  At an arts and crafts sale at a local university, our Bishop’s Tallow: Handcrafted, Hand-milled Soap was one of the biggest sellers there. After creating several fragrant varieties, from milk and honey to lavender and rosemary soap, we learned that soap-making is mostly a down and dirty process and that rendering tallow (a euphemism for purifying beef fat) renders the kitchen smelly, at least until you wise up and do it outside.

Wising up is what we’re trying to do. We like living in an old farmhouse. We like learning that deer aren’t eating our tomato plants, but cutworms are. And who would have thought that night crawlers aren’t the best composting worms because at night they have a tendency to crawl out of the compost bin and dry up on the floor? Indeed, while living in this old farmhouse and trying our hand at hobby farming, we’ve learned a lot from making mistakes. Most importantly, we’ve learned to have fun making them.