Dairy Farm Lessons

A boy from the Bronx recalls a summer working on a dairy farm and what he learned.

The E.J. Louis farm

The E.J. Louis Farm dates to at least 1929.

Photo courtesy Raymond Glassman

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Due to the extreme shortage of farm labor during World War II, many teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 volunteered to work on farms through the Farm Cadet program administered by the New York Department of Agriculture in the early 1940s.

When I read Leonard Rue’s article (A Year to Forget) in the August 2014 issue of Farm Collector, my experiences in the Farm Cadet program came back to life. Just as Rue described, the dynamics of the “hired man” farm labor force went through significant change during the war years.

We were recruited for the program in our high school and through other sources. The program was a huge success and still exists, in a modified form, today. Cadets were expected to work on a farm for a specified period of time, ranging from a few weeks to two or three months, depending on the assigned farmer’s requirements. First-year cadets in New York were paid $1 per day, plus room and board. The cost of transportation from home to farm and back was paid by the employer.

In 1948, I was a 15-year-old student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in New York City. I met the recruiter, Mr. Foltz, through a classmate who had worked on a farm the previous year. To me, the idea of getting out of the city for the summer and getting paid a dollar a day was manna from heaven.

Off to the farm

So, on the day after school let out for the summer, a classmate and I boarded the train from Grand Central Station to Utica, New York. From there, we traveled to the dairy farm of Ed and Edith Louis in Herkimer County, outside of Utica. I was extremely fortunate to be assigned to that farm. As I learned later that first summer, not all farms and farmers were created equal. Some kids were treated terribly under extremely difficult situations.

The Louises had no children. We were treated like their own family. At the mid-morning break, we ate ice cream made from milk (mostly cream) from their Jersey cow. Mrs. Louis prepared three big, delicious meals a day, accompanied by farm-fresh milk from the dairy.

Lessons learned

All of the farm’s equipment – mower, dump rake, plow and wagons – was powered by a team of horses. Neither Ed nor Edith knew how to drive a car and, in fact, didn’t own one. We pitched hay onto the wagon in the field, and the hay was removed from the wagon with a hay fork pulled by one of the horses that was led by Edith. The fork went to a carrier that slid along a track to the haymow, where the load was released. The hay was then moved to all parts of the mow. That was hot, dusty work and the most unpleasant job on the farm.

Before the summer was over, I learned how to harness and hook up a team of horses and drive the team. I also learned to milk cows. We used a Surge milking machine, but they had to be stripped by hand.

I spent that summer and two more on the Louis dairy farm, and have always been proud that a boy from the Bronx knew what real farm life was about. That being said, like Leonard Rue, I learned a valuable lesson. Being a dairy farmer was a 365-day-a-year job with no time off: Cows had to be milked. I also learned not to be a farmer, but I am forever thankful for the Farm Cadet program. FC

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— Raymond Glassman, 146 Cliff Lane, Bluemont, VA 20135.