Looking back.

Our farm has been in the family for 110 years as of 2017. That is a long time. It makes me wonder what Grandpa John Moelker would say if he could see the farm now. In some ways it is the same. The house, the lay of the land, the Grand River winding lazily across the west end of the farm. I’m sure some of it would still be familiar to him. Other things, of course would be vastly different from the farm he worked and knew well.

Untitled-196.jpg

The relationship between a farmer and his farm is an amazing thing. I often compare it to a person and his or her back yard, only bigger. You know where the weeds are in your lawn, which plants flower and when, and how much that one tree has grown since you moved in. You remember where Billy used to jump off the swing set, and where Susie would hide in the corner of the lot when she was angry. Each square foot of space holds a memory if you have lived somewhere for a long time.  For me it is the same, only on a larger scale. Since I have spent so many years on this farm, seeing most or all of it every day, subtle changes stand out to me and memories are everywhere.

 

We pushed out an orchard this year that was planted in 1975. I was 15 years old then. Which means that for most of my life since then, those trees have been under my care. And though it sounds crazy, each of those trees had its own characteristics that I could relate. That one tipped over in the early ’80’s during a hard wind and rain storm. This one, for some reason always produced apples that didn’t get very red. Those two trees always get ripe a few days before the rest. That tree, when it started bearing, was not a Red Delicious like it was suppose to be. It was an Early Blaze. Mislabeled at the nursery that sold it to us. On and on it goes. And it isn’t just trees and orchards that trigger these familiar thoughts. Places on the farm bring up memories too. That hollow tree in the woods that has had raccoons living in it for as long as I can remember. I was standing right here when I shot my first deer. Dad once got his tractor so stuck right here that it took every thing we had to pull it out. We laughed later, much later. It wasn’t funny then. I jumped out of the truck here once to try to stop a runaway wagon before it hit some apple trees. The wagon stopped on it’s own. The truck, however, was not in neutral when I bailed out, and it proceeded to mow down two apple trees before it stopped. I still can’t laugh about that one. The look on Dad’s face? Well let’s just say I didn’t say much the rest of that day!

latest scans0002.jpg

My dad ran this farm for a lot of the 110 years. And Grandpa did too, in the years before that. I’m sure that each of them had their own stories and ideas about interesting spots all over the farm. Funny how one piece of land can, over the years, evoke so many memories, good and bad. I think sometimes that if Grandpa, Dad,and I could sit down together and talk about the farm it would be an amazing conversation. I get tears in my eyes just picturing that scene. So many years of observations, memories and changes. Yet even after 110 years, some of it is still the same. And each day I add more thoughts and memories. Just like you do, in your back yard.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

 

Advertisements

Logging in–oldstyle. Part 3

So when we ended last week, the logs were all cut into boards at the sawmill, and we had hauled them home. Rough-sawn oak, hard and straight. Now we had to cut the boards into the lengths we needed to make the different parts of the apple bins; the bottom, the sides and the ends. Three different sizes were needed. So how to cut them quickly and uniformly? We used a “buzz rig” on our old Ford tractor.

buzz rig

The buzz rig ran off a wide leather belt from a big pulley on the back of the tractor. It had a 30 inch round blade that remained stationary as it spun. A “table” on which the lumber was laid could be rocked forward, pushing the lumber into the blade. Dad had clamped a block on the end of the table so that when the board was up against the block, it would be cut to the right length. It was a noisy job, what with the tractor running at mid throttle and the saw blade “singing” with every cut. It was a dangerous looking rig when it stood still. Even more so when it was running. Dad always did the cutting, and I would stack the finished boards. I guess he didn’t want a son nicknamed “Stubby”

Once the lumber was all cut to lengths, the bin building began. First the bottoms, two thick rails set to width, with boards nailed across them to form a sturdy flat base. Oh, and we used hammers. You know, the old fashioned kind with wooden handles. No air nail guns here! And long spiral nails that were really hard. Dad could pound those nails into the hard oak with a couple of strikes. Me? Well, SOME of them went in straight. He would finish his side and set up the next bottom while I flailed away at my side. I got better at it with time, and he never chided me. He did tease me once in a while though after a particularly stubborn pounding session. By the end of the day my arm felt like rubber and my hand was blistered. And the thumb on my left hand was blue and swollen. Did I mention that I hit the wrong “nail” sometimes? I started wrapping my fingers with electrical tape to soften the blow!

NailsClose

Next we would build the sides. Dad had made a jig that held the corners of the boxes straight and at just the right width. Once again, lots of pounding nails. Then we had to attach the sides to the bottom, keeping everything square. That was a little more difficult, because as he was pounding on his side of the bin the whole thing was moving my way. and I was trying to do the same from my side. We were both trying to start nails on a moving target! When the sides were finally attached to the bottoms, we could finish by putting the end boards on. And you guessed it…more nailing! As I remember, the number of nails in each bin was 174!

IMG_3564

I don’t know exactly how many of those bins we made, it was in the hundreds over the years I’m sure. But when they were finished, there were rows of gleaming white oak bins lined up in the yard. And the satisfaction he took from starting with a standing tree in the woods, and ending with a finished apple bin was the reward. Persistence, endurance, creativity, and getting your fingers out of the way of a descending hammer. All good lessons for a kid to learn.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

 

Logging in–oldstyle. Part 2

Last time I told about how my dad would cut down trees for lumber to make his own apple bins. When I left off, we had loaded the logs on the truck to take them to the sawmill. The mill we went to was located on the opposite side of the Grand River just about a mile downstream from where we cut the logs. A hundred years earlier they would have just rolled the logs into the river and floated them down to the mill. There were quite a few sawmills along the river up and downstream from Grand Rapids, supplying the furniture industry during that era. Log traffic on the river was common.

StateLibQld_1_42847_Floating_timber_down_the_Tweed_River,_ca._1910

But we were trucking the logs to the sawmill. We drove down Lake Michigan drive, crossed the river by Grand Valley to Allendale, headed south and then back east to the river again. There, back in the woods along the river, was an open-air sawmill run by an old man my dad knew. They would shoot the breeze for half an hour before he would unload the truck. That gave me time to wander around and look at the old sawmill equipment. It looked positively like something from Dr. Suess, but with more straight lines! Rails and hooks and levers and belts were everywhere. Kind of like a mini railroad yard. And right in the middle, a big round saw blade, probably 4-5 feet in diameter. The sawdust around the thing was 2 feet deep! I couldn’t imagine how the whole thing worked.

Dad waited to leave so I could see how the whole contraption worked. The old man would fire up the big gasoline engine and roll a log onto the machine. Then, with deft skill the process would begin. He would work the levers and pulley ropes and the log was moved back and forth through the saw, each pass cutting a slice off with a deafening screech. It was amazing to watch one man control the choreography of  whole process so precisely with such archaic equipment! And no earplugs, guards or safety shutoffs. Obviously OSHA hadn’t been invented yet.

12b89b367cbec38f9a3059fe0ee2e533

A week or so later we would return to the sawmill. Our lumber was neatly stacked off to the side, waiting for us. Layer upon layer of uniform oak boards, cut to the measurements that my dad had ordered. I can still remember the aroma. Not the  smell of treated lumber that you notice in a big box store. This was the delicious scent of freshly cut lumber right out of the forest. Once loaded I remember wondering how a full truckload of logs had shrunken into half a truckload of lumber. Ah yes, the sawdust. And the big pile of trimmings with bark on it that lay off the end of the sawmill.

board

Back at the farm we had to unload and sort the boards into the different sizes for each part of the boxes. But the sawing wasn’t finished yet! Next week I’ll tell how the whole box-building process was completed.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

 

Logging in–oldstyle

We recently took delivery of some new 18 bushel apple bins for holding harvested apples. They are all tucked inside out of the weather waiting for the fall harvest to begin. While walking past them the other day, I was reminded of a time way back in the early 1970’s when my dad, Jim, first began using big bulk bins instead of bushel crates. And made them himself. From scratch. Well, at least from trees that he cut down from our woods along the river on the back of our farm.

IMG_3533

Dad was good with a chainsaw. He could fell a tree pretty much where he wanted it to fall. When I was young I thought maybe he had been a professional logger or something. The neighbors knew it too. When they needed a tree cut down and it was a dicey situation, it was “…better get Jim over here to do it.” So cutting some big oaks for apple bins wasn’t a big deal for  him. The trouble was where they were located. Down along the river which was at the bottom of a steep 150 foot hill. We couldn’t drive a tractor down there, so getting them to the top was a daunting task.

IMG_3519

Dad had a long steel cable that was about an inch thick; it was probably a couple hundred feet long. After the logs were cut into 10 or 12 foot lengths, he would hook a chain around one end and fasten the cable to the chain. The cable went up the hill and was attached to the Allis Chalmers D-17 tractor that was the mainstay of the farm. Then up the hill he would climb to the tractor, leaving me by the log with a “cant hook,” a long wooden handled tool with a large hook on the end. Cant hooks were used to roll a log over on the ground. Then dad would get on the tractor and begin to pull the log.

IMG_3521              IMG_3526

The hill was fairly heavily wooded. Getting a log up to the top without it getting stuck on another standing tree or stump was almost impossible. I followed the log up the hill as it crawled along. I couldn’t see dad, and he couldn’t see or hear me over the noise of the tractor. It was kind of eerie watching the log silently sliding up the hill with no sound of the tractor above. If the log got hung up on a tree I was supposed to yell to dad and warn him. Funny thing is that he never would hear me from where he was. His warning was that the tractor would come to a sudden stop! Then he would appear at the top of the hill. “What happened?” he would shout. “It’s stuck on a tree” I would answer. “Why didn’t you yell?!” I laugh about that now. I didn’t think it was funny then.

Sometimes I could get it rolled free by myself. Sometimes dad would have to come down and help me. But by the end of the day there were logs on top of the hill and we were both  tired. And I was hoarse from yelling so much. Dad would load the logs on our flatbed truck with the rear-mounted forklift on the tractor. It was good that mom wasn’t there to see the front wheels of the tractor come off the ground under the weight of the heavy log on the back. That wouldn’t have gone well. And the next day…well, I’ll write about that next time!

dadlogtruck

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Christmas reflections

It is just a few days before Christmas. I don’t know why, but this week always marks the passage of a year for me. Even more so than the Old Year’s/New Year’s celebration. The busy Christmas shopping at our market and bakery, the making of fruit baskets, gift baskets, and boxes for shipping, all ends at Christmas Eve. After all the anticipation of the holidays and the frenzy of shopping and shipping deadlines, the last customer has been helped and it seems too quiet, too calm. What lies ahead now is a long winter of tree pruning, a very solitary task.

basket

I enjoy the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We settle into a holiday season where our usual selling of apples is punctuated by unique requests for special gifts for friends and family, both near and far away. It is fun to interact and imagine someone opening a box of Honeycrisp apples in Texas, or a salsa sampler in Colorado. Or a business associate receiving a gift basket of goodies from the bakery and market. I guess that bringing joy to people is what gives me a lot of satisfaction throughout the season.

When I was young, Christmas was a time of such excitement and anticipation! As a kid I probably didn’t think so much about giving gifts as I did getting them. And it was so fun to get to Christmas day! What would be under the tree? We rarely knew what was coming, and that made it all the more fun! Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars, or a new Flexible Flyer sled, how much better could it get? Even the new blue jeans, dark, dark blue and so stiff that they would almost stand up by themselves (and abrasive to wear for the first couple weeks!) Winter boots, hats, or mittens were a staple too. And all were thoroughly tested out before the day’s end.

sled

Now that I am older, I think the giving part is more fun. Maybe that’s why I like to work in the market in December. Whenever someone leaves holding a gift basket or box, I feel a little like I’m giving it too. What fun! Whoever said it more blessed to give than receive was right. And I’ll bet they were older too.

I hope this Christmas is a joyful one for all of you. I hope that whatever your circumstances, you get to treasure time together with family and friends, giving and receiving and sharing with one another. And I hope that together we all celebrate and receive the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ. Because besides being the reason we celebrate this time of year, He is the best example of giving and receiving that we could ever have.

Merry Christmas! And have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Thanks for the memories

Thanksgiving. You know the history. The holiday was established way back when the pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in 1621. So for a farmer it has a special meaning that ties us closely to the original celebration. Perhaps we farmers just feel a little more pilgrimmy(is that a word?) on Thanksgiving Day.

I always am annoyed by the way the marketing folks have twisted the purpose of the celebration. Words like “Thanksgetting” and “Thanksgathering” are substituted to try to sell products and change the focus of the day. It’s all about turkey and football and shopping it seems. Kinda drives me crazy. Why can’t we just have a day to thank our Creator for sustaining us through another year? Isn’t that why the holiday was established, after all? Ok, enough already. I’m starting to sound like Andy Rooney.

Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday for me. Perhaps because I grew up on a farm it did have that added sense of celebration. But 30 years ago this Thanksgiving week my dad, Jim Moelker, passed away after a very short battle with a very aggressive cancer. It was tough for all of us to lose him, and even though it has been a long time I can still remember that day as though it was yesterday. It made for a very difficult Thanksgiving week that year, and though time has eased the loss over the years, there is always a tinge of sadness attached to the season for me now. It didn’t seem fair at the time, and though my sense of “fair” has matured over the years it still touches my heart. Dad was a man who taught by example more than by words, and my knowledge of growing fruit for the most part came from him. He and my mom sacrificed a lot to raise us five children and teach us what was right. I don’t think we ever realized that at the time though. Working beside him every day created a different dynamic for me. Not only as father and son, but also teacher and student and perhaps even boss and employee? But we also fished, hunted and snowmobiled together and I learned a lot of life lessons from him. A multi-faceted relationship to say the least!

Jim and Tom July 1983

Jim and Tom July 1981

The years since dad passed have taught me that thanksgiving isn’t just a reaction we feel quickly when we receive something we like. It goes much deeper than that. It is a peace, a quiet calmness that comes from knowing that whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, God is there too, working on our behalf. And while we can’t always see it, I certainly didn’t back then, that knowledge can keep us truly thankful in good times or bad. Isn’t that what the holiday is really about?

So I hope you take some time to reflect on the people in your life this Thanksgiving season. They have been put there for a reason, and in many ways, great and small, they are a blessing to you. And take time to be a blessing to them too!

scan0023

In memory of Jim Moelker 1924-1986

Have a fruitful (and thankful) week!

Tom Moelker