Story - Reflections of the Fifties
By Elliott Domans
I remember growing up in the 1950’s in a small, rural town in northwestern New Jersey. The closest town to ours was only 3 miles away, and there were seven dairy farms in the areas of these two country towns.
We had 5 acres, and because my Dad was a salesman and not a dairy farmer, he let the Bockovens, who owned the Willow Tree Dairy farm most of our land.
One of my earliest farm experiences as a young boy was running into the back field, as Don Bockoven and his dad Frank were making hay.Don would cut the hay with a sickle bar mower attached to his 1946 Farmall M, while Frank pulled a side delivery rake with his 1948 Case row crop.
My sisters and me, and our neighborhood friends used to play in the hayfield, making trails and pretend forts just before the hay was tall enough to be mowed. When that time arrived, we knew we could count on getting a ride on the hay wagon, and help with loading the bails of hay. The best time of all was riding on the hay wagon down the hill to the farm where we would help unload the bails onto a conveyer that carried them up into the hay loft of the huge red barn.
Life was so simple then, none of us realized how complicated things would become over the next twenty or thirty years ! The roads in our town were gravel, and one was even still dirt then ! Cars had running boards, and occasionally we’d get to ride on the running boards of the neighborhood cars coming back up the hill on West Main Street from the center of town. We would hold on to the center door post with the front and back windows rolled down, and away we would go at the breakneck speed of 25 or 30 miles an hour up the hill on the running boards of Frank Dean’s old ‘38 Chevrolet.
The Willow Tree Dairy was where my family got our milk, and every morning Don Bockoven would get into his 1952 Divco milk truck and drive his milk route around town.
The glass quart bottles of milk were kept in a large cooler. They were iced down with cold well water and block ice, and somehow Don always knew how much ice was going to be enough to keep the load of milk cool on a hot summer’s day. There was always a generous supply of cream at the top of each of the milk bottles, and he carried pints and half pints of cream just in case a customer needed more. But my favorite recollection of Don Bockoven’s milk route were the quart bottles of chocolate milk, made fresh each day in the Willow Tree Dairy milk cooler room.
As I got older, and took a summer job on the local road department, I always looked for Don’s Divco milk truck, so I could flag him down and buy a quart of that terrific ice cold chocolate milk…what a treat !
On alternate years, Don and Frank Bockoven would plant corn in our back field, and that always resulted in the greatest hiding mazes a kid could create. When Don would drive up to cut the corn on his M with an International Harvester 2-row corn picker, we would rush out from the house again and help make the corn stalks into stacks. These always made great indian teepees and forts to hide in. Cap pistols and a game of cowboys and indians always followed the corn harvest in the Fall. It was my favorite time of the year !
Fall meant Halloween and carving pumpkins, and filling paper napkins with my Mother’s flour to make flour bombs. Just the right weapon on a dark country road to turn any unsuspecting trick or treater into a powdery goast ! It was all harmless good natured fun, and no one ever took it too seriously or got bent out of shape by getting flour bombed. Of course toilet paper draped all the trees from our neighborhood all the way down into the center of town. The next day on the school bus, which Don’s wife Florence drove, all of us kids could see first hand the toilet paper artistry we had created the night before !
Fall also meant glass gallon jugs of Lou Savage’s homemade apple cider. Lou Savage lived up the hill from us, and had a big apple orchard. He also had a 1948 Farmall Cub that pulled a farm wagon around the orchard so he could collect the ripe apples and put them in wood bushel baskets. He also would let us neighborhood kids help pick the good apples off the ground and put them in the baskets.
This always meant a ride back from the orchard on the wagon to the cider barn where Lou made the most delicious hand pressed cider you ever tasted ! He’d sell it to the neighbors, and anyone else who knew about this terrific Fall nectar for just a dollar a gallon ! My Dad always kept a gallon jug of Lou’s cider on our cold porch, and because it wasn’t pasteurized, you needed to drink it within a week, or it would turn to apple cider vinegar. Our next door neighbors had an apple orchard that Lou kept mowed with his Cub and a #22 sickle bar mower. I’d watch Lou on that Cub mowing around that orchard for what seemed like hours, through the split rail fence.
I guess these early memories have stayed fondly with me all these years. I never did become a farmer, instead I became a salesman like my Dad, and worked as a radio announcer too, but I always promised myself that I’d get a Farmall tractor or two just for the fun of it. Today, I own, and have restored a 1946 McCormick-Deering Farmall M, and a 1948 McCormick-Deering Farmall Cub with a #22 sickle bar mower. I show them at antique tractor and engine shows around the state and drive them around our country roads, just to charge up their batteries…and mine ! Somehow, every time I’m on those tractors, I can travel back and visit those times and people who helped shape my life. They’re GREAT recollections of a much simpler time in our history that won’t ever come again. I’m convinced this is why so many people my age buy old tractors and antique cars and trucks…the time machines of our past!