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Malcolm and Fran Smith share memorable episodes

By JUDITH LINDER-ASHAKIH • Oct 11, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Malcolm Smith immediately introduced his wife, Fran, saying “Mom and I have been together 69 years.

“We were married on the first of January 1949,” he said.

Mom Fran interjected to set the scene. “Right away I said, ‘The kitchen is my domain.’”

“So she cooked and baked pies and sewed dresses. She stayed up all night one Easter making five dresses for our five daughters,” her husband added.

“And I had a big garden,” Mom added as Dad finished her sentence, “and mowed the lawn for the most part.”

Malcolm Smith gestured with his arm including the barns and fields next to the house as he said, “my mother and her mother were raised here on this farm.”

“Grandmother's father was Harrison McConnell. His deed goes back to 1874. Harry died in this house. Both my grandfathers and my father were full-time farmers. It was the only thing to do.”

But Smith wanted to be a big-league baseball player.

“I played mostly shortstop or infield, second or third base. My wife and I graduated together the same year, 1944, from North Fairfield,” he said.

World War II was still going on. Looking back at the era, Smith sighed.

“Things were limited; gas was rationed, food, rubber tires. Machinery had to have a permit, if you were eligible to buy during the war. They stopped making cars early 1942. Dad had a hired man and he bought a new Plymouth Coupe, brand new 1942, one of the last ones made. In 1946 when new cars came out after the war I ordered one from the Chevrolet dealer in Norwalk but never did get one there. Got it from Sparks Chevrolet in Monroeville in 1948. Had to wait, wait and wait for that,” he said.

Born in 1926, Smith grew up on a farm in Greenfield Township working with his father, caring for sheep, lots of hogs, some beef cattle and a few milk cows.

“We had cows up till the mid-50s. I always milked by hand, six to nine cows,” he said with a laugh, recalling his father’s method of milking with his thumbs in the air.

His very first job at age 8 or 9 was to stand on the top board of the hay rack to drive the horses as his father loaded the wagon. That wagon pulled the hay loader, dropping hay on the wagon. His father took it and smoothed it evenly over the load. At the barn, hay would be loaded on a sling. Horses then pulled ropes hoisting it up into the mow to store for winter feed.

“Carl Bower had a Baker tractor and Baker threshing machine, made in Wasseon, Ohio. Threshers moved from farm to farm,” Smith said. “When they came for the job, the tractor was pulling the machine. Then the tractor backed up about 30 feet from the thresher. Next they had to level it by digging a hole or put it on a plank. A wide belt would be connected, criss-crossed, to run the thresher.”

The field of grain, wheat, barley, oats already was shocked and dry. Teams of horses with wagons full of sheaves pulled up side of the thresher and crew members, two to each wagon, would pitch bundles of grain heads first into the thresher. From there the separated grain went into bags.

“One of the hardest day's work I ever got into was at Webber’s farm, a mile west from us,” Smith said, shaking his head.

He was one of three men carrying the 90-pound bags of wheat into the barn from the threshing machine. One man filled each bag, slapped on the next empty bag while Smith and one other man took turns hurrying up the ramp into the granary, dumped the grain in and rushed back with the empty bag for the bagger to refill it.

“I was about 16 or 17 and holy smokes, how I did work. We should have had another carrier. Lots of times the bagger would get hold of the bottom of the bag and help boost it on your shoulder. The bins had boards about 10 inches wide so when the grain got to that you'd put in another board 'till it got up to eye level,” he said.

Back and forth they went all day.

Speaking of such hot and heavy work reminded Smith of how these crews of up to 15 or more who helped get in the harvest were fed.

“Dad set up two wash tubs outside, one to wash the dirt off and one for rinsing. The table would stretch out across the entire room, 12 to 15 feet. Mom used to make dinner for the crew.”

Mom Fran hadn’t grown up on a farm and learned from watching Malcolm’s mother how to cook for so many.

“You’d start in the morning and you didn’t use paper plates, you used dishes and then you’d be washing them. Pies were made the same day, enough to feed a bunch of hungry men. Me and Malcolm’s mother and one daughter and sometimes a couple of extra girls helped, but she stayed in the kitchen all day long. We cooked lots of potatoes and vegetables, meat and made gravy for 15 men or so,” Fran Smith said.

By 1960 times were changing though the Smiths still were using at least five horses to do about half the farming.

“Now everybody's got bigger tractors and equipment, farming more acres,” Malcolm said. “I've seen a world of change, from hand-work to all by machines and electronics. But you need to adjust to change. It's not always easy. Me, I never backed away from work — work is always good. I was born to be a farmer.”

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