Boyhood Memories

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P.O. Box 6 Wilmington, Vermont 05363

The pictures and articles in the April issue of GEM of the Buckeye digger or tiling machine, bring back memories from my boyhood.

In 1929, when I was four years old, my family moved to the U.S. Morgan Horse Farm at Weybridge, Vermont, where my father worked as a horse trainer. The farm had been donated to the government by the late Colonel Battel, with the stipulation that Morgan horses be propagated there.

Colonel Battel was a man of considerable wealth, and a large property owner in Addison County, Vermont, in the late 1800s. Most of his property was given to Middlebury College at Mid-dlebury, Vermont.

The farm was known locally as 'The Government Farm,' and officially as a U.S. Department of Agriculture Experiment Station. In addition to the Morgan horses, the farm raised a herd of milking shorthorn cattle, and a mixed breed flock of sheep.

Farm work was done with two or three teams of draft horses and a 10-20 McCormick Deering tractor. This was probably the first tractor that I had ever seen.

Stored in the implement shed, where the farm equipment was kept, was a huge (at least it looked huge to me at the time) machine called the ditch digger. As I remember it, it was very similar to the Buckeye diggers pictured.

It had wooden pads on the lags, and large steel front wheels. The engine was a large four cylinder T head type, with two spark plugs in each cylinder. The radiator was in the middle of the machine, behind the engine. There was a large open flywheel on the front of the engine. An iron bar was inserted in this flywheel to start the engine.

The farm had a central water supply. Water was piped to the seven houses on the property, to the various barns, and watering troughs in several pastures.

This digger had probably been used to dig trenches for the water lines. While we resided at the farm, this wonderful machine was brought to life.

Following the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president in 1932, the 'New Deal' program was initiated. This included the National Recovery Act, known as the NRA. My staunch Republican grandfather said it stood for 'Nuts Running America.'

Along with the NRA came other programs such as the CCC and the WPA. The farm received money for improvements under the WPA program. The buildings were all repainted and repaired, a new dairy barn was constructed, and a saw mill with a 15-30 McCormick Deering tractor to run it was purchased.

The digger was used to dig the trench for the water line to the new dairy barn. I remember its being prepared for use. Several of the wooden pads on the lags were replaced.

The digger was also taken to the Middlebury area, where it was used to dig a trench for a water line being laid to a new mink ranch.

When we moved away from the farm in 1935, the digger was again stored in the shed. I have no idea of what may have become of it, but would guess that it was sold for scrap iron during World War II.

Another item of interest to a young boy, also stored in that shed, was a large one cylinder engine, mounted on trucks. It was screen cooled, had a clutch pulley, and at least 10 or possibly 20 horse power in size. It was probably an International. This engine may have been used for belt power on the farm prior to the purchase of the tractor.

The saw mill had been set up on a hill, in the woods, out of sight of any building or road. We would stop by on our way home from school to watch when the mill was operating. Apparently the 15-30 tractor did not provide adequate power for the mill, as an addition was built onto that building, to house this engine. The engine was belted to the mandrel via a shaft extension, and run with the tractor.

Some years ago, the Federal Government got out of the horse raising business. By an act of Congress, the farm was given to the University of Vermont. Morgan horses are still being raised there.

After becoming interested in restoring and collecting old gas engines, I thought about this one. I wondered if, and hope that, it might still be in that building, forgotten. In 1988, after retiring, I returned to the old farm. The old machinery storage shed was gone.

I hiked to the site of the sawmill. The road that led to it was overgrown and barely visible. I did find the site. Only the cement piers that had supported the mill, some decaying boards from the building, and a pile of decayed spruce logs on the railway, possibly the same ones that had been there when we moved away in 1935, remained.

This fine old engine was probably added to the war effort as scrap iron.