The Vermont Years
1942 - 1945
By Frank Boyd
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday December 7th 1941. Your grandfather Vernon, was at that time an ordinance inspector at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York. Fort Hamilton is no longer there, they used it to build the Brooklyn end of the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge to Staten Island. He was offered a commission in the United States Marine Corps as a second lieutenant and he accepted the commission. However, in accepting the commission, there are certain qualifications that have to be met in the Marine Corps, one of which is that everyone, regardless of rank, must qualify as a rifleman and therefore prior to his official commission, he was sent to Parris Island to go through basic training. At that time, he was 35 years old. He went through Marine Corps basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina at the age of 35. He was going through there with a lot of young people, 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, who were volunteering for the Marine Corps as a result of what happened at Pearl Harbor.
At that time, I was going to public school at Brooklyn, New York, PS170 and I think I was in 5th grade if I remember correctly, because I hadn't gone into junior high school yet. In New York, they had public school up to the 6th grade, then you went into junior high school, which was the 7th, 8th and 9th grades, then senior high school was the 10th, 11th and 12th grade. The school year was broken up into semesters. You had the A-semester, which was the early semester in the year and the B-semester, which was the late semester in the year. I think I came out of grade 5-B in June of 1942 and Granddaddy Vernon was away in the service.
Mom was working at a war plant named Arma doing work for the U.S. Navy. She was working at night and was very concerned about me running around the streets of New York by myself and, of course, there was the fear of attack of New York by German forces. U-boats had been sighted off the east coast. A lot of scare going on. So, they loaded me up and sent me up to my grandmother's in White River Junction. Grandma, she was your great grandma, Grandma Ona Belle. At that time, she was married to a man named Wilkinson. My dad's mother, Grandma Ona, had about four or five husbands before she died. Mother used to kid that she wore them out into an early grave. Anyway, I was sent up to White River Junction, Vermont to spend the summer with my grandmother. She didn't particularly want a young snot-nosed kid running around, so what she did was farm me out to one of her second cousin, who was married to a man who had a farm outside of White River Junction, outside of a little town called Quechee, Vermont. So, I went up there and spent the summer of 1942 there. With the result that I wound up staying there until after V-E day, which I believe was in August of 1945, when I was brought home to go to school in New York again and that was for the September 1945 semester. If I remember correctly, I probably would have gone to 8th grade in Junior High School.
My stay at the farm in Vermont was interesting and rather eventful. When I first showed up there, they were all out in the field haying and I had spent some time on small farms around Pennsylvania and knew a little bit about what was going on, but in the eyes of the folks up there, of course, I was a New York City boy. The Adamses who owned this farm, old man Morton Adams, was in his eighties at that time, and Emma, his wife, Mom Adams, I don't know how old she was, but I know that she was somewhat younger than he. They had two boys who were away at the war, Morgan and Harris Adams. They were in the Army Motorcycle Corps. There was a hired girl and there were at least two other boys that were staying there on the farm also. What the Adamses did was they took in and boarded young men and boys, who were, I guess, discipline problems or on welfare or whatever. Mom wound up leaving me there and then eventually your Aunt Peggy as well and she sent the Adamses something like $100 a month for our room and board to take care of us. Of course, the Adamses worked our asses off, or at least mine anyway, the whole time we were there. They were firm believers that you had certain responsibilities and obligations and you had to take care of these things. Now, of course, the family background that I came from this was not unusual for me.
Anyway, when I first met the whole gang, they were out in the field, cutting hay and collecting the hay to go into the barn for the cattle. The Adamses ran a dairy farm and they had about 50-head of cows, which they milked on a regular basis, they sold the milk and it provided them with a little bit of income. They also received some income from New York State for the boy, Vernon, and they received income from my mom. One young fellow, Ben Gunn, I'm not too sure where he came from or what his situation was. I don't know if there was any money paid in for him or not.
We collected the hay. The hay was cut and after it had dried, it was raked up into rows and then it was pitched up into piles, called shocks, and we would go down through the field with this big hay wagon that was drawn by a pair of huge, bloody huge workhorses. I believe they were Morgans, so-called draft horses.
That summer I learned to milk cows, they started me out in the morning with, I don't know, for awhile there, my portion of the load was like five cows every night and every morning. Eventually, I had ten.
We would get up at 5 o'clock in the morning when it was still dark. We would go out to the barn. We would put down feed grain into the troughs for the cows and then we would go around and get our clean buckets and what-have-you and our stools, go off behind our cows and we'd clean and wipe off their bags. If their teats were starting to chap, split or crack, we would rub them down with bag balm and then once we had them all settled down, we would tuck our head, into their flanks and start milking. It was agreat game with the boys and I to see who could get flecks of butter up on the side of the milk bucket with the stream of milk coming out as fast as we would milk them. It would literally churn the milk, which was heavy with butter fat. The cows were chosen for that attribute. They were, I believe, Brown Swiss. At any rate, after we had milked the cows, the milk was taken in and run through the separator and separated into milk and heavy cream, then those cans were taken over to the cool house by a part of the gang.
The boys on the low end of the totem pole usually Vernon and I our job was to take the wheelbarrow and go around to the troughs behind the cows and clean out the cow manure and run it out the back of the barn on a big old ramp that was out there and dump it off over the side into this great big huge pile of cow manure. This cow manure did not go to waste. In the spring, when it became time to plow the ground for putting in the crops, putting in the corn, putting in the hay, that sort of thing, then we would take huge loads of that cow manure in a spreader and the spreader had a conveyor belt built into the bottom of it. This wagon load of cow manure was pulled by horses. You kicked in a lever and when you kicked this lever in place, a gear would turn the conveyor belt and the cow manure would be spread out the back end over the fields. Then, the cow manure would get disk harrowed into the ground to fertilize the ground. We planted corn; we planted various kinds of hay. I think the hay that we used was a hay that was called Timothy.
I would go up every evening and collect the cows and chase them down off the mountain, and they would gather together down at the bottom of the mountain at this big gate that we had They stayed there because there was water in big tanks and there were saltlicks there. Just about sundown, we would open up the gate, chase the cows into the dairy, they would go and get into their stalls. It was amazing; they knew which stall was theirs. They would go into their stalls and you'd lock up the stall and go around and feed them their grain, then it was time for the evening milking.
After the morning milking was over, and we had collected up all the manure and put it on the pile and separated the milk and all those things that we did, then we would go back into the house and have our breakfast. Breakfast would consist of a variety of things, but basically they were poor-boy foods. We would have fried cornmeal mush, pancakes, fried potatoes and fried salt pork. None of the fancy stuffs like orange juice or eggs oranything like that, because eggs could be sold. We did have maple syrup in abundance. We did have honey in abundance, because we made that ourselves, there on the farm. Mom Adams kept bees and we tapped the trees to make maple syrup, and I'll talk more about that later on.
After we'd had our breakfast, we would go out and work in the fields, the various things that were involved; plowing, harrowing, cutting hay and raking hay. These were summertime, farm-type activities.
In the fall of the year, a number of things occurred. One, of course was that I got introduced to a new school and a whole new collection of friends Also, we cut the corn and the corn went to a silage machine and was blown up into huge silos. This silage, or chopped up corn was something that was fed to the cows, much like the hay was. One of the interesting things that occurs here is that this is where we first approach a northeastern type of moonshine; because the cornstalk contains a lot of juice. It is very much like sugar cane, and when you chop it up and blow it up into these round silos, as more and more silage piles on top, the weight literally squeezes the juice out and down into the bottom of the silo. Old man Adams had a rig set up in there where that juice would drip down into big containers and be collected, gallons of it. That juice then was allowed to ferment and turn into, I guess the equivalent of mash or squeezin's as they used to call it, corn squeezin's, and in October, about the middle of the month, we would get our first hard freeze. The old man would put that stuff out in these big stoneware crocks and let it freeze and a clear liquid would come to the top of the crocks and what that clear liquid was, was rough alcohol. He would pour that off and what was left over, got feed to the hogs. We had the happiest hogs, I think, in the world.
The other interesting thing was that the old man would continue to refreeze it until eventually, I guess he was down to pretty near straight alcohol that was off of these corn squeezin's.
In the middle to late October, we would get our first snow as well as our first hard freeze. The temperature up there would commonly go down to 20 to 30 degrees below zero. On Valentine's Day, 1943 the temperature in White River Junction went to 63 below zero. It was, I believe at that time, some sort of a record. Anyway, we went to school, regardless of the snow and regardless of the freeze. We would bundle up in warm clothes that came from Sears and Roebucks, Montgomery Ward or various other places and we would walk to school in the morning. From where the house was up to the school was exactly one mile. This year before last, when your aunt Peg and Suzie and I were up there, we went out and found the old house. And, I took the speedometer on the car and I clocked it from the house up to the school and it was 1.10 miles exactly, so it wasn't my imagination. It was a mile too and from school each day.
We would get very heavy snows, very wet snows. The snow would pile up and get very, very thick, and during the day, it would warm up and the sun would beat down and the surface of the snow would melt and then at night it would refreeze. In the morning, when you got up very early, before the sun really got a chance to beat down on it, there was sort of a crust on the top of the snow. You could actually get up and walk on top of that and not break through, if it was thick enough.
We got into a lot of wintertime recreational activities. When there was soft snow, we did some skiing and snow shoeing. We learned how to do that. We did some sledding on the hills, because there were a lot of hills and trails around up there. But when we weren't going to school, on the weekends, we cut trees. There was a lot of timber on the property. Over on the far side there was a slough or a skid that had been built that went down into the Quechee River, which led into the White River, which at White River
Junction ran into the Connecticut River that forms the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. So, what these folks would do, is that they would cut these trees, limb them out and take the logs and skid them and pull them over and put them on that skid and shoot them down into the river and float them down until they could go to the place where there was a guy that collected them. He would cable them and raft them down river somewhere to some big huge sawmill. My understanding was that the timber was used for building ships over at the navy yard in Boston.
That was one of the main activities in the wintertime, when you had daylight and you could work, was cutting trees. We took the tops out of the trees so the logs wouldn't split when they fell. In the cold weather the wood gets very, very hard, and if you leave the top on the tree as it falls, it bends in the middle it will break, split and crack. So, you had to climb up the tree and take the limbs off as you went up. And when you got to the top you had to make a box cut, jump-cut the top out of the tree then you could come down and cut it at the bottom so that the log that was left would fall.
The best animals that we had for pulling those logs over to skid them, was a pair of oxen that the old man had. The thing that was amazing about them was that they were just absolutely brilliant on pulling the load. Where a horse would just lean into the load and try to pull it by brute force, and the weight of the object was such that it would freeze itself to the ground, the oxen would pull from side-to-side. Just automatically, when they heaved into a load, they would pull from side-to-side to break the load free from where it was frozen to the ground.
But, winter went by, we went through the holidays and spring would start to come and with the coming of spring came the making of maple syrup. That was a new experience for me. I had never had anything to do with anything like that before, and it was real interesting.
What we did was, we had a maple grove down on one end of the place. I don't know how many acres it was, but we collected gallons and gallons of maple sap. What you did was, you walked up to a tree at a certain height, and you bored a hole through the bark into the trunk. Then you took this little metal peg which was like a small spigot with a hook on it and you took a hammer and you drove that into the tree, and then you hung a bucket on the hook; and you went around from tree to tree to tree. You just kept on doing that. There were sort of actually natural paths and lanes down through these trees because they had been collecting sap from these trees for years and years and years.
You had to take the spigots out at the end of the maple syrup season. The reason you did was that if you didn't take them out, the sap from the tree would drip out all year round, and that would kill the tree. If you took the spigot out and drove in a little wooden plug, it would heal over in a matter of a few days and the tree would go on about its business.
In any event, we would go around and we would collect up all this tree sap. It was amazing because you would come back to that tree the next day and the bucket would be 3/4, 7/8 full of sap. The sap was clear; looked absolutely like water, but you could take a dipper and dipper up a cup of it and drink it, and it was sweet. If you could have bottled that in its natural state, it would be the most popular soft drink in the world.
Anyway, we collected up that sap. It was poured from the bucket into big tanks that were on the back of the sled pulled by the horses. There was still snow on the ground and we either pulled the sled with horses or with the oxen, which ever were available. We would go around and collect up that sap in these huge tanks and it was taken down to the syrup house. They had great big huge vats in there; there were two or three of them. Sap was siphoned out of the tanks and down into these big tanks that had fires built underneath them, and that tree sap would boil and boil and boil. It boiled and boiled until it got thicker and began to take on the traditional maple syrup color. Now, if you boiled it long enough, what you got was something that crystallized and it became maple sugar. Of course, you had to be an expert on knowing when the right time was for it to be syrup and when it was going from syrup to being maple sugar. One of the things that we used to do as kids, was we would take a dipper of that hot syrup as it was getting close to being finished, and we would walk outside and find a clean place where there was a snow bank. And, we would drizzle that maple syrup over the top of the snow bank and it would chill up and get like a taffy. We would eat that in big long strings like taffy candy. That was our sweet treat.
The syrup, of course, would be taken out of the tanks as one boiled off and was finished, we would be filling up another tank and getting it boiled and somebody would be watching it and taking care of it. The tank that had been finished off, we would ladle out the syrup and put it up in jars and cans and big stone jugs, whatever kind of containers they had that were available, and it was stored.
We had a big huge woodshed behind the house, and that woodshed was a sort of an all-purpose utility storage area. There were shelves along one side, and on those selves were stored our maple syrup and our honey. The other side of the woodshed had nails nailed into the upright posts and on that we hung the chickens and the rabbits and various other things that we'd killed in the fall and cleaned and hung out there. Basically what that was, was our deep freeze. As I said, it would go below freezing about the middle of October, and it didn't get up above freezing until late March or early April, and we would be making our maple syrup in that March, April, May timeframe as the sap started to rise in the trees.
We had apple orchards, and of course, in cold-weather country like that you can grow fantastic apples. Although the growing season is relatively short, we used to grow some really good-looking apples. The old man would take the culls, when we harvested the apples in the fall, the old man would take and go through the culls and usually this was like late September or early October. We would go through the apples and take out the culls, and the culls were crushed up and squeezed and made into apple cider. The applecider, of course, was set aside for the Halloween - Thanksgiving season, and part of the apple cider was allowed to turn and go hard and part of it was stopped-off. Stopping-off meant they put some sort of little chemical crystals in there which stopped the fermentation and it stayed sweet cider.
The other cider was allowed to go hard and once it went hard, the old man would freeze it out, out in the woodshed. The resulting alcoholic content would be cut in sweet apple cider about 50-50, so you wound up with something that was probably 90 to 100 proof and it was what they called apple jack brandy. The old man used to drink a half of a water glass of that every morning, right after he got up. He would then have his hot tea.
That's another thing I might mention, coffee cost money and was hard to come by. Tea for some reason was plentiful and it was cheap. There was always a bucket on the back of the stove that had one or two or three gallons of hot tea sitting in it. That tea got strong and as thick as varnish. We kids used to pour out a cup of that tea, we'd put some honey in it, cut it with a little hot water and stir to get to where it was drinkable. That tea was so damn strong, it put like a film on your teeth. Your teeth almost got to the place where they felt like sandpaper, drinking that stuff.
Copyright © 2001 - Frank Boyd