Life on Small Farm Was Worth It

Life was rough on the small farm in the 1930s


| May 2013



Red Barn

Leonard Rue shares stories of growing up on a run-down farm in the 1930s.

Photo Courtesy iStock Images

When my family moved from Paterson, N.J., and all the conveniences there, to the farm at Manunka Chunk, N.J., where we had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing, it was an adventure to me but a real shock to my mom and two older sisters. I have to give Mom credit, and I do, that she was willing to give up the life she had always known to live on the farm, but it was just another expression of her constant love for Dad.

Dad had always wanted a farm of his own. However, he didn’t live on the farm; we did. Dad was chief engineer on ships, hauling petroleum products around New York Harbor. He was either away for five days and home on weekends, or gone for two weeks and home for one week.

Far from prime

The farm was run-down from neglect when we bought it in November 1935. If it hadn’t been, we probably couldn’t have afforded it. Everything of value had been removed; everything that could be broken was. The fields lay fallow and the only livestock on the place was a small flock of sheep.

Only 56 acres of the 106-acre farm were tillable; the rest were in pasture or woodlands. You had to be careful that you didn’t fall off some of the 56 acres because the hills were so steep. I won’t say we had shorter legs on one side of our bodies but it definitely would have helped. The farm was not prime farming country by any stretch of the imagination. That could have been a factor in it being neglected for so long; someone a long time ago had already starved to death trying to make a living off that land. But I understood exactly how Dad felt: Despite the farm’s drawbacks, and there were many, it was our land.

There was a livable farmhouse, although nothing was level or square; water spilled in any room ran to one corner or the other, and the pitch was different in every room. There was a wraparound porch on two sides of the house but the railing had been burned long before we got there, probably consigned to the stove as kindling. There was an outhouse with the requisite crescent cut into the door and a well-worn path leading to it.

An apple a day

Water for the house was hauled from a hand-dug well lined with stones and covered with a huge square slab of slate. Water was hand-pumped from a pitcher pump that had to be primed with water from a full pail that sat alongside the pump in warm weather or had to be carried out from the house in winter. Woe be to him (or her) who forgot to keep the priming pail full. If there was no priming water in the pail and none in the house, the priming pail had to be filled from a springhouse down in the pasture.