A new world is dawning with the coming of Spring, 1946.
Robert LaRue b. 1937
I have survived my first winter in the north country. March brings raw Chinook winds and spring runoff. Pristine snow-covered meadows and hillsides turn an ugly brown. Farmsteads and barnyards turn to muck. Icebound creeks and streams flow anew. Spring breakup is underway.
April follows with warm gentle rains. The ground warms and dormant flora takes on a new life. The brown world turns to green. My nine-year-old mind does not yet grasp it, but a new sense of promise stalks the land.
Far away from our small world, factories are retooling from wartime to peacetime production. The deprivations of rationing are ending. Consumer’s pockets are bulging with wartime savings. They are buying everything the factories produce right off the end of production lines. Shiny new cars of every color crowd the highways, even along the rutted gravel roads of Pine Valley. Sparkling white appliances adorn country kitchens for the first time.
As spring farming gets underway, brightly painted new tractors pull plows and harrows through the fields. Mechanization invades the countryside. Pine Valley is coming of age. In the words of one old timer, “Power machinery is taking over.”
Power machinery may be taking over, but somehow it seems to miss us. My parents buy an eighty-acre farm in a place called Dry Creek. Dry Creek is something of a misnomer. The stream flows year around and meanders through a small valley that lies at the base of the mountains north of Pine Valley. A narrow road cuts along the ridge on the west side of the canyon leading up to the valley. It is two miles to the nearest electric power pole. A single phone line serves the three families that populate the valley. That is the extent of modernization that comes with our new estate. Mr. Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration must have missed Dry Creek. We take up a lifestyle more attuned to the nineteenth century than to the twentieth.
Following the move onto the ranch, our first acquisition is a team of draft horses: Babe and Darky. Babe is a well broke mare, about twelve years old. Darky is a three-year-old gelding, broke to lead and that is about all. Dad takes me in the pickup to the ranch where Babe is located. He bridles her, boosts me on bareback, and I ride her to the nearby ranch where Darky is located.
The rancher there hands me Darky’s lead rope, warns me that he spooks a little around machinery, and I am on my own for the next six or so miles to our new home. The warning was not without merit. Every time a car passes, Darky puts on a dance and prance show. But he doesn’t pull away too hard and I manage to hang on. I am relieved to complete the trip, but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when I ride down the hill into our valley.
The model my parents chose for our farming operation dates back to Thomas Jefferson and the yeoman farmer. Following the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Louisiana Purchase, western expansion became a primary machine to drive the new nation’s economy. Jefferson envisioned an agrarian nation made up of small independent farmers owning their own land and farming it without feudal or governmental intervention. This model translated in time to a diversified family farm where the labor was, for the most part, provided by family members and their sustenance provided by the fruits of their labor. This meant growing a large garden, raising hogs, sheep, and cattle, tilling the land and gathering its harvest, tending an orchard and woodlot, and milking a string of dairy cows. These operations fed the family and hopefully provided enough cash to pay the mortgage, taxes, and other needs like clothing, flour, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and so on. The saying was: “The cream check pays for the every day bills and what we ship in the fall keeps the operation going.”
An older couple living in the upper end of Pine Valley has a dairy string of eight mixed cows up for sale. Dad makes a deal to buy them. One morning, he drives us out to the farm where the cows are located. Mom and my brother and sister take the pickup home while Dad and I trail the herd on foot the ten or so miles to home. We now have a means of income. We milk the cows by hand twice a day, pour the milk through a DeLaval cream separator, and store the cream in five-gallon cans in the “horse trough.” The horse trough is a wooden trough fed by by a four-inch water pipe gravity fed from our year around spring. The water temperature is cool enough to store cream for twice weekly pickup without spoiling. The trough provides water to cows as well, but we still call it the horse trough.
My busy summer passes quickly. Hard work does not seem a burden. Adapting to life without modern conveniences is more an adventure than a problem. September arrives, and I start the forth grade in the fifth school in as many years. My new school is in Halfway. It is a four-room school with two grades in each room. My brother starts first grade there. There is no kindergarten in Pine Valley. We walk two miles to the bus stop. There are some other kids from a neighboring ranch who accompany us. They are used to the walk and don’t complain. Post War on the Home Front takes on many forms. We don’t analyze it, we just live it.