“I have always been thankful my life span came when it did,” writes Gordon Young, a White Rock farmer who just celebrated his 90th birthday. “Half of my life was with horsepower, the other half with tractor power. We did not realize the dramatic change taking place as it happened over a period of time.”
Young made these observations in a series of stories he’s been writing about his early days in a farm community. As you’ll see from reading this extract from his tales, the changes in farming and farm life in the past half century have indeed been dramatic.
“Before mechanization everything moved at a slower pace. Farmers and neighbors helped each other and socialized; communities had their own schools, and the children were all well acquainted with other children in the community. I guess over the years I have slept in bout one third of the houses in White Rock while visiting my schoolmates. The hall was also a busy spot with Christmas concerts, bean suppers, entertainment shows and the Sons of Temperance, which met weekly.
In those days the young people used to have coasting parties on the mountain at night in the moonlight. We had two ponds that had cabins where we used to skate at night with a bonfire in the middle. Late in my teens (in the 1930s) White Rock had its own skating rink, complete with electric lights and a big cabin. The rink was enclosed, with a board fence and accommodations for spectators to watch the skating parties and hockey games. The rink was where Longs mill now stands.
“Older people used to spend a lot of time visiting. Nobody waited for an invitation (and) everyone was glad to have you come. The women of the community had their community club that met at a different home for each meeting. Often, on a Sunday evening, we would enjoy a hymn sing with music at someone’s home. If we went to help a neighbor, we could plan on a roast beef or corned beef and cabbage dinner.
“All that changed when mechanization came along. The older farmers had no choice but to give up. The younger farmers had to really love their job to stay with it. To stay on the farm you had to mechanize to compete. It did not mean just buying a new tractor. You had to have the equipment to match the tractor. To pay for it all you had to increase production. This meant you had to have more land to keep your equipment busy, more and larger buildings to keep your livestock and equipment.
“Finally, when you had everything where you wanted it, the new tractors came out. They were twice as big with new machinery to match. If you were going to stay in farming, you had to trade and get bigger in order to compete.
“In the end, those who stuck with it found they were the only ones in their community that were farming. These farmers were producing more than all the farmers (in the community) once produced. In the past, if a farmer went to a neighbor to work, he would not think twice about stopping for a hot dinner. Now there is no way you could let two hundred thousand dollars worth of equipments sit idle.
“Mechanization was intended to help farmers; instead it put 70 percent out of business. The rest had a 50 percent chance of succeeding or going bankrupt.”
Young concluded his story on farm life with observations on changes in the environment:
“Fifty years ago, on our way to the woods, we would usually see a fox or two, rabbits running across the road or a partridge flying from the wild apple trees. In the woods there were tracks everywhere. Deer would come late in the day and at night to browse off the tops of the hardwood trees that had been cut. It was a noisy spot with the chatter of squirrels and songbirds everywhere. Today the silence in the woods is deafening. You could walk a mile and not see a track.”