By Rick Houser –
Having lived in the tobacco section of Clermont County from day one, I learned early on that rarely did a farm not have an allotted tobacco base to raise. My Dad and then myself looked for farms where the owners had advanced to an age where they had stopped farming themselves and began sharecropping it out. In our case, we would then raise the crop and divide the profits fifty-fifty. We did the labor and the owner supplied the fertilizer, land, and barn, along with the tobacco sticks.
It seemed that with most farms we were able to strike a deal with only the tobacco base left for the farmer could use. The farm had become abandoned in my eyes, as the owners had aged, passed away, or moved to town. Caring for their farm had become a chore they no longer could handle and sadly the farmer’s absence from the land would turn the farm into a sore thumb. The fences and buildings would fall into disrepair, and the fields would become over grown to the point where they became unusable. Sad as this sounds it happened more frequently than most knew.
A very interesting farm to me was the one that was situated directly behind our farm. At one time this farm could be entered from a township road where a creek had to be crossed and then a steep grade managed to reach the old log house and the outbuildings. This was the Cann farm. The drive became so eroded that my Dad went to the back of our farm and installed a gate in the fence line so we could enter that way. It was so much easier. When you crossed over on to their farm, it seemed as if you crossed into a different time zone. One hundred and twenty acres had grown up to where maybe there were five acres that could be plowed. When we entered the farm the first thing that I saw was that we had to pass through a paw paw patch. I must say I had never seen that before or since but I can say I have tasted paw paws. I also learned not to eat too many as they can really mess with you.
It was close to a mile through the fields and trees to the old log cabin and the old tobacco barn. When you came close to these buildings, there was a bend in the trail at the end that stopped you from seeing the buildings and the tobacco patch until you were there. I loved going back there because not only did it take you back in time, but it also took you away from all the sounds of the modern day.
When we were back there setting tobacco or standing in the barn’s doorway stripping tobacco, our labors took on a different feel. The world of hurry seemed to shift into a much slower, steadier pace. When a farm becomes abandoned, the entire farm does also and if it looked grown up around the tobacco patch and buildings, it was that way over it all. I think all the woods probably muzzled the sounds to a degree. I do know with all the woods around us, the cold air was not as cold and there was much less wind and this allowed early sown tobacco beds to germinate earlier and faster.
Dad would put a couple of tobacco beds back by the log house so we could start setting as early as he could. This was a point he passed on to my brother Ben and I. The sooner a crop is out, the sooner it is done and sold.
When we went back to work on the Cann crop, Mom would almost always pack a basket full of lunch and we would spread a blanket and have a picnic. (Complain about all work and no play and my Mom would quickly point out there had been a picnic.) I know one year we were running late near Labor Day cutting tobacco and that day I had a big crew and was pushing hard to complete putting the crops in the barn because the next day I wouldn’t have much of a crew at all. We got back to the Cann crop late in the afternoon and as the men were in the barn hanging tobacco I had gone to the house and Mom and I loaded up a truck load of supper food. The crew was thrilled for the meal and especially that it was being delivered.
Since there wasn’t a blanket or surface to eat on, the crew decided they would take their meal on the rails in the barn. It was quite a sight and they ate as much as farm hands would even on the rails. They praised my Mom who always said “a little flattery goes a long way with me” and it did. I also know that the guys who helped me that day talked about this event many, many times when we later gathered up town in Felicity.
One thing that always seemed to surprise and impress me was that in the first of spring weather, on what had been the garden site at the old house, daffodils bloomed. I don’t mean a few but at least a thousand would bloom and it seemed like there would be more every year if that was possible. The house blocked harsh weather away from the daffodils which was just nature’s way of showing that this abandoned farm had yet to abandon its natural beauty and they were three weeks ahead of the ones out by our house.
I guess since this farm was directly behind us is the reason why I remember so much about it, but we farmed several farms that had ceased being productive. The fences sag out of sight and the buildings weaken to the elements. What had been nice pastures are now covered in grubs. As sad as that sounds, each farm refuses to stop showing its natural beauty, anywhere from rolling land and majestic trees to fantastic views that have to be seen to be appreciated. Don’t feel totally sorry for these farms, but remember they too had a purpose and they always will.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.