As I look back to those long-ago days on Muddy Creek, I recall some incidents that folks today might call strange, but really, we just took them in stride with maybe a “tish tish” or a “how ’bout that?”
Take the time Dad had built the new silo and filled it for the first time. He had been told to cut the corn pretty much in the “roasting ear” stage. When he did, the sap soon oozed out around the chute doors and trickled out into the barnyard. In a few days, the hot fall sun heated this potent “corn squeezin’s” to a fermentation stage, and sure enough, the alcohol content got higher and higher.
For a while, it smelled pretty good, too. In fact, one of the silo filling crew sampled it, and found it was getting “a mite strong.” The farm advisor had been spending considerable time at the farm watching this operation. He was much interested in this 60-foot structure: It was the tallest silo yet erected in the county, and some folks thought there was no blower powerful enough to blow cut corn up into it. When he saw the drainage, he cautioned everyone that wood alcohol was poison, and if you drank it, you could very well die, or, at the very least, go blind.
This was during the time of “the noble experiment” of Prohibition, and all the saloons were closed. A great many still harbored the memory of “the good old days.” I suspect that Old Wade had sampled most everything that offered a “kick”: Home brew, white lightning, lemon extract and even canned heat, but this dire warning stayed him for a spell.
I guess the straw that broke the camel’s back was when the old Hampshire sow found an opening in the fence and got to that seepage. She must have sent out a message to all her family, for in a short time, the whole pen of pigs was there slopping up that seepage and enjoying every snort of it. By the time Dad got to them, they were one happy family. Talk about someone making a hog of themselves … those pigs sure did. Dad had to get several of the neighbors to come help drive them back into the pen. In fact, they had to drag a couple back, for they had already passed out, and when Dad remembered what the Farm Advisor had said, he figured he had a bunch of dead or dying hogs on his hands.
An amusing thing happened at this same time when MaMa found one of her full-grown Plymouth Rock roosters laying under the wagon rack and she knew it was dead or was “agonna be,” so rather than let it go to waste, she quickly grabbed it up, tied its feet to a fence post and dry picked that bird for supper. Just as she was getting ready to split him open, that rooster opened his eyes, gave a squawk and started into flopping so hard that he broke the string that she had tied him with, and for a long time, that “naked as a jaybird” rooster ran around the farm. Cross my heart!
Now if that wasn’t enough, sure enough, Wade, the farm hand, couldn’t resist the urge to sample that juice and figured that maybe a little, just a little, diluted with some Muddy Creek water might cure his rumatiz. Anyway, he musta took a snort of it, for he got so deathly sick that Dad took him into old Doc Green and then on to the Weber Sanitarium, where he was stone blind for three days. So far as I know, he remained cold sober for the rest of his life.
I just thought of another “happening” at about the same time.
Dad was getting the Jersey cattle in show shape and planned to take them to the first fair of the season. I think they were going to start at Paris, as it was always one of the early ones. Anyway, Curley had them pretty well groomed and fitted, and had backed up the truck to the chute to load them.
The first two or three walked up the ramp and went in very obligingly, but the big three-year-old bull had other ideas. Talk about being “bull headed”: That bull refused to go more than halfway up the ramp. Now, like most bulls, this one had a brass ring in his nose, but Dad was afraid that the ring might tear out if he was led by that alone, so he had put on a leather halter and a strap around the bull’s neck. He still used the bull staff that was hooked into the ring to keep him under control rather than to lead him. When some gentle tugs on the staff seemed to go unnoticed, a bit of force was applied. In fact, four men shoved, pulled, coaxed, tugged, pleaded, cajoled, prodded, nudged, crowed and beat that bull for an hour to no avail. He was just not interested in going onboard that truck.
Finally, in desperation, Dad said, “Get the fence stretchers: We’ll pull that bull on board.” Now a fence stretcher is a block-and-tackle that multiplies the force exerted on it many times, and is used to lift heavy loads through a series of pulleys. Well, Dad hooked one end to the front end of the truck and the other end to that bull’s halter. Two men started pulling on that rope, and the old bull braced his feet. They pulled some more; the truck rocked, but that bull would not move. A 2×4 with a man on each end was placed across his rear, and two more men pushed on that bull while the block and tackle took up the slack, what little there was. “Pull, pull,” Dad shouted. “Push, push, he’s going, take up the slack; pull, pull!” Suddenly, the bull went down to his knees and slumped down there with his legs hunched up under him.
The men pulled and the men shoved on that bull until finally, he was literally dragged onto the truck. Then Dad noticed some blood trickling out of the bull’s mouth, and noticed he wasn’t breathing. You know what? That bull was so bull headed that he let them break his neck rather than give in and walk onto that truck. And that ain’t no bull. FC
The late Perry Piper was a columnist for newspapers in Indiana and Illinois for more than 12 years. His columns, reprinted here from his memoirs, appear in Farm Collector with the permission of his family.