Lawrence Kerr graduated from OAC in 1929. He grew up on a farm in the Dresden area of Kent County. He mentions how he got directed to OAC and comments on College life and staff. After graduation he served for four years as an Assistant Agricultural Representative with the Ontario Department of Agriculture, serving in various counties. In 1934 he purchased a farm property, south of Chatham, which grew into Kerr Farms Ltd.
Lawrence talks about being laid off from the Department of Agriculture and starting a farming business in the middle of the depression. During his farming years he was active in the Kent County Federation of Agriculture, Swine Producers, Sugar Beet Growers and the Seed Corn Growers. He was a member of the Advisory Board recommending the formation of the University of Guelph, and a member of the first Board of Governors for the University. He is quite modest when mentioning his accomplishments.
AudioLawrence Kerr interview
ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
LAWRENCE KERR, OAC ‘29
Ontario Agricultural College, 1929
Interviewed by Ed Brubacher
November 13, 1996
E This is an interview with Mr. Lawrence Kerr of Chatham, Ontario, conducted by Ed Brubacher of the Alumni-in-Action Committee. We’re sitting in Mr. Kerr’s office on his home farm in the Chatham area. Mr. Kerr is a 1929 graduate of the OAC, now the University of Guelph, and he tells me that he had his 90th birthday about 6 weeks ago on October 1st. Mr. Kerr is certainly very active and very alert, so we are pleased to be with him here today. Lawrence, we’ll open it up for you and say where was your original home, where you grew up and then what encouraged you to attend the OAC?
L I was born on a farm northeast of Dresden. I went to high school in Dresden. All through my high school I was aiming at medicine. I had to go to Chatham for two years to get upper school. In Chatham, after my first year, the principal congratulated me on how well I had done on Provincial exams and asked me about my ambitions. I stated that I was going through to be a doctor but that when I got away from the farm, going to Chatham for a week, I got so lonesome for the animals and so lonesome for the crops that I really wasn’t sure whether I wouldn’t be more content to just be a farmer. And, Mr. Sexsmith, the Principal said, “Don’t ever say, ‘just a farmer’!” He advised me that if you were going through for medicine that one of the best avenues to follow was to go to the Ontario Agricultural College. He had a brother-in-law that was on the Faculty of Medicine for the University of Toronto and his brother-in-law told him that the best-grounded students that they got in medicine came from the Ontario Agricultural College. The English was excellent and the science, the practical work, was more helpful to a student in medicine than the people that went through arts or went through science in the University of Toronto.
E I would presume in the fall of 1926, you went to Guelph and what was college life like during those years in the late ‘20’s?
L College life was quite a change for a young man that hadn’t been very far away from the 5th concession of the gore of Camden. To take the train to Guelph was quite an experience and an adventure. And college life was just wonderful. I enjoyed athletics. I enjoyed the courses. Some of the professors, particularly Professor Jerry Ruhnke, Professor Zavitz and Professor Howitt were so challenging. They offered such wonderful new information to a young farm lad. I don’t think I got to Christmas before I had decided that I wanted to be a farmer rather than a doctor.
E Did you specialize in certain areas at the college?
L I specialized in what was then called Animal Husbandry, I think it’s now called Animal Science. It was a splendid, practical course and certainly we were favoured with wonderful staff at the Ontario Agricultural College.
E How much did it cost you to go to college in those days?
L I’m not sure of the exact figures but I think I got through most years, except the last year, for about $400, including everything, room and board, tuition and books.
E And a little bit of entertainment?
L The entertainment would be extra.
E What did you do for entertainment or extra curricular activities at college?
L I was very interested in athletics. The first year that I was there I took part in the mile and was beaten out in the last two or three feet. The the next year I started to train and I did want to win that mile in the next year, which I did, and the year after that I won the three mile and I was also very interested in swimming. It wasn’t a particularly good pool that we had in those days but I certainly enjoyed swimming.
E Did they have much in the way of initiation when you started university or college then?
L Yes they did. They had quite a little bit.
E What did they do?
L We had one contest with the second year. We had been advised to wear old clothes and most of us came back with half our underwear and that was about it.
E What did they do?
L We stripped each other. It it was quite a rugged affair. I don’t think it ever has been repeated. Thank goodness.
E I hope the weather wasn’t too cold.
L The weather was excellent.
E Now, from college, you graduated in 1929, what sort of employment did you get?
L I went with the Ontario Agricultural Representative Service. I hadn’t intended it to be that way but in my fourth year and the third football practice, I had a serious accident. I went home and our family doctor took me to the surgeon in Chatham and he advised me that it would be preferable if I waited for a month or a month and a half before I had the necessary operation. I asked him if it would be possible that I could finish my year before the operation and he said that would be just excellent. After the operation, his announcement was that I was not to lift anything heavier than 25 lbs for the first three months. I felt that my accident had been a terrible tragedy, that it kept me out of athletics in my final year, that it was keeping me from going back (to the farm). Father had a farm picked out for me. I was
pleased to have the job with the Ministry of Agriculture and that job turned out to be one of the best postgraduate courses that anybody could have. I was fortunate to be made aware of a book on farm management by C.C.Warren, which was the best text on management that I have ever seen from that day to this. I worked for the Province of Ontario in quite a few counties. I observed how well his principles of farm management worked out and it was an ideal postgraduate course and one that you got paid well for taking.
E Professor Warren, was he a Guelph professor?
L He was a professor at Cornell.
E So then you were working as an Agricultural Representative in several different counties I understand. Where?
L I went first to Bruce. I was sent to Bruce because I had been reputed to be the best sheep man in the year. I had been brought up with sheep. I was fond of sheep and I enjoyed judging sheep. Bruce County, in those days, had a lot of large flocks of sheep, particularly up in the Peninsula.
E And how long were you in Bruce and then where?
L I was in Bruce for 2 years, in Walkerton. I found the people in Bruce County to be the most outgoing, the most friendly, the most wonderful people that I’ve ever come across.
E How did you travel around the county?
L The representative had a car and I had a car. I was very pleased to have a Government car and I think I was very careful with it.
E And what kind of make of car would that be?
L It was a Chevrolet. The one I drove was a 1928 model. The one that the representative drove was a ’29 model.
E. You had reasonable roads that you could get around?
L Bruce County had better roads than Kent had in those days. Kent didn’t have too much surface road and Bruce was all graveled. The roads were good up until the last of November. On the last of November, came a snow and we put our cars up on blocks for the winter. In those days there was no effort made to keep the Provincial highways open.
E Then what did you do all winter, you just can’t sit in the office and do nothing?
L The two years that I was in Bruce County I was in charge of a three months course. The representative officially was in charge but with no road transportation available for automobiles it ended up that we only saw the representative on the opening day and the closing day and I had the responsibility.
E You mentioned this farm management course and did you run that course and teach it?
L I taught the farm management. In fact, there were times when the transportation was so bad that the visiting lecturers didn’t arrive, I had a couple of days that I was the sole lecturer and I think I told them almost everything I knew and a few things that I wasn’t too sure of but they were a splendid bunch of students and they were very patient with a young man that was teaching his first course.
E How many would be in the course?
L I think there were thirty-seven.
E Was it once a week or every day?
L Every day, hours the same as school hours. The course was in Ripley, which was 29 miles away from Walkerton. Through the course I was back to Walkerton at Christmas and I was back on one other occasion when I skied there and back.
E And lots of snow!
L There was lots of snow in Bruce County. It’s there this year, too, I understand.
E Where did you go from there and what was your further experience in the Ag. Rep. Service?
L My next assignment was to York County and this was quite a change. Both counties had excellent Junior Farmer organizations. In my first year, the doctor gave me permission to play softball after I was four months away from my operation. I was fond of softball and enjoyed playing with the boys in the Junior Farmers.
E And how long were you in York?
L I was in York, in Newmarket. I was there for close to two years. In the years that I was there, we had splendid school fairs in North York and Etobicoke and in Scarborough. There was almost solid farming in those three townships. For the last 25 years I don’t believe there has been a farm left in any one of those townships.
E After two years there, where did you go and what did you do?
L After two years there, they began laying off the assistants. There had been about 50 assistants and by March of my second year in York they reduced us to two assistants. We were sent around the Province with varying assignments. I met my fellow assistant, who had been kept on at the Royal Winter Fair. He was a most energetic young man, he came bouncing up and shook hands. He said, “Lawrence, we have nothing to worry about. They couldn’t possibly get along without you and I! They just have to have two ass’s (assistants) to do some of the lurid assignments they’re sending us around the Province to do.” But we did have the advantage of seeing a lot of the Province.
E What was his name, do you remember?
L Ernie McLellan. He was a brilliant person. When we finally got our notice, which was only about 5 months after he made this statement, he went to the College of Education. He went teaching high school and I think in four years he was the Principal of the high school and in another two or three years he was one of the inspectors of high schools.
E So you were given notice that your services were no longer required. That would be in 1933 or ’34?
L 1934. Services terminated with the termination of the three-month short course that I was teaching and I went back to the farm.
E No doubt you got a big severance pay like they give you today?
L We didn’t get any severance pay. I did collect my superannuation money. My father was not as well off at this date as he had been when I graduated. He, unfortunately, had made some major investments in real estate in Detroit, which turned out to be a total catastrophe, and he found himself in debt for the first time in his life. I told him that I thought I would now like to start farming and he said, “What are you going to use for money?” I had been a pretty frugal young man with a lot of Scottish ancestry and when I showed him my bank book he was very much pleased and said, “Well, he would do everything he could to help me start farming.”
E What did he do then? You started farming there and how did you get into farming?
L In the fall of that year we looked at quite a few farms.
E That would be 1934?
L 1934. Father wanted me to start on one close to the home farm. It was heavy clay land and Professor Jerry Ruhnke had certainly convinced me that the future lay in the more loamy types of land and I wanted to be as close to Chatham as I could. I thought it would have more advantages than being located by the smaller town of Dresden. We were able to locate a farm just south of Chatham, which is still the headquarters of Kerr Farms.
We bought that farm at a ridiculously low figure, I think about 1/60th of what it would go for today. It was pretty tough going for me in the first few years. I was in debt to father. I had a large mortgage. I was in debt to two different aunts and one cousin. At the beginning of my second year I just had to have a windmill. I had more steers and I wanted to keep them longer into the season than I had the year before. I had the opportunity to get a windmill set up for $200 and I was forced to give a chattel mortgage on my horses in order to get that $200.
E Now let’s talk a little bit about this farm. First of all, about what size was it, in all arable land, you had steers, you had horses, what other livestock did you have?
L I started with four horses. I farmed for three years without a tractor. In the first year my father came out with his tractor and between the two of us we worked it for as long as you could see. This was in the days before there were lights on tractors. My brother George got anxious for the tractor at home, but father and I had gotten an awful lot done and it gave me a real good start in that first year.
E What did you grow, then, on this land?
L In my first year we grew corn as the chief crop. There was quite a little acreage of wheat on the farm, which turned out pretty well. I grew sugar beets. My father said that the land that I had, Beverly fine sandy loam, would grow wonderful corn and wonderful beans but that I would never grow sugar beets to match the home farm where I had been brought up on, Brookston clay.
E But you showed him you could grow beets?
L In my second year I had prepared a field very, very carefully and I actually came a little bit ahead of the home farm and the home farm never beat me from that day until the factory closed.
E Which was about 20 years ago now or thereabouts?
L The last year that the sugar beet plant actually operated was in 1968.
E So nearly 30 years ago.
L It was a tragedy to the community and certainly a tragedy to Kerr Farms.
E Now you said you farmed with horses and you fed cattle and you utilized the manure from those cattle on the land. You also fertilized and we didn’t have a lot of chemical herbicides in those days. How did you control weeds?
L We had no chemical fertilizers or chemical herbicides. Except, I forget the chemical formula that we used, but it killed everything. It certainly wasn’t suitable for any use that I had at that time. We planted the corn and checked it in so that we could cross cultivate and that was a wonderful help. I even cross-cultivated after the corn was up and in tassel with one horse muzzled and a scuffler that you walked behind. There was a lot of bindweed on the farm, which I was determined to get rid of.
E And did you?
L Yes we did get rid of it. At the present time, on almost 1700 acres, I pay any employee that finds a patch of bindweed two dollars. I spray it two or three times with the most efficient spray available.
E So that’s an incentive for an employee to keep looking. Now you said four years and then you bought a tractor! What make, model and size of tractor would that be?
L At the beginning of my fourth year, I bought a tractor. In my second year I had a neighbour come in for four days. In my third year I rented a tractor for 3 ½ days. The tractor that I bought at the beginning of the fourth season was a McCormick-Deering Farmall tractor on steel wheels, of course. It didn’t have any lights, but in that year I had rented the farm next door and the hired man and I kept it going for about as long as there was daylight. I remember one of the neighbors remarking that we would soon wear out that tractor and I
responded that the tractor didn’t really make you any money unless it was working in the field and we intended to work it for as many hours as we found practical.
E Do you remember about how many horsepower it had or would it pull a two-furrow plow?
L It pulled a two-furrow plow at pretty good speed, about 3 ½ miles and hour.
E And you don’t have many stones on this land, so you didn’t have trouble that way.
L This farm and most of the farms in this district are stone free. If I find a stone, I put it in my pocket, if I can, or lug it off by some means. On the farms that are closest to Chatham, any stones that turn up are there because some careless person got them out where they shouldn’t be. This land is stone free.
E It’s stone free and wonderfully good land. Then I’m sure you’ve spent money improving the land and what would be some of the things that you did?
L The first year I did a lot of soil testing. The higher parts of the land were acid. I was able to get free lime from the sugar factory, from the lime that they used in the refining of the sugar beets. It wasn’t a very good quality. We had to load it by hand and we had to spread it by hand, but I was young and I had been a long-distance runner and that kind of stamina came in very useful.
E Then you went on from there and expanded your farm operations by quite a lot over the years and expanded into different crops and so on. Can you review some of that for us?
L The farm next door came up for sale late in my fourth year. I had two or three good crops and was very pleased with myself but I had to go deeper into debt. I couldn’t let the farm next door get away from me.
E What year was that?
L That would be in 1939. Another farm came for sale that I couldn’t resist a few years after that and unfortunately I delayed marriage. I always said that we were very late in getting married and the reason had been that the male in the case had been a little retarded by death but still retarded.
E What year did you get married?
L In 1944.
E Mary and you had over 50 years of married life and she passed away quite recently.
L We had 51 ¾ years of married life and I always regretted that I hadn’t been bright enough to marry sooner. She was a wonderful wife. Fifty-one and three quarters years and I never heard a cross word from her. She certainly was a genius at handling and influencing the male of the species. She took her time and left things for a day or so when we had differences, if it didn’t make too much difference. She was so wonderfully nice. Mary was so skilled at handling people, she had been a high school teacher for fourteen years and the acclaims that I had from her pupils after her passing were incredible in numbers and in compliments. She
was so adept at handling the male species and so nice that if it didn’t make too much difference, I did try to let her have her way.
E How many children did you have and where are they now?
L We were very fortunate to have a boy and a girl. Our son Bob took over the management of the farm in 1970 and is still doing real well. Our daughter went to Guelph. She worked for the Ministry of Agriculture for a time. Then she worked in industry and now she has three wonderful grandchildren and she still does quite a little bit of work in her speciality.
E Lawrence, now you have been involved in many activities away from your farm. Can you tell us of some of the things that proved interesting to you and challenging?
L After the first couple of years, I took quite an active part in farm organizations. I was President of the Swine Producers and of the Kent County Federation of Agriculture. I was Vice-President of the Sugar Beet Grower’s Association and of the Seed Corn Grower’s Association, when my doctor shut down on me and said I’d kill myself if I didn’t do more sleeping and less meetings. It was good advice. We had come to a place where we were able to travel and Mary and I both enjoyed traveling very much.
E To where, some places that you remember?
L We have visited 78 different countries and that includes three or four times to the Soviet Union, to China, to Israel, to Greece. Traveling is a disease that gets in your blood and when we were able to turn the farm over to Bob we certainly enjoyed traveling.
E You were involved with the University of Guelph in its early days. Can you tell us a bit about that?
L I was on the Advisory Board that studied the feasibility of establishing a university. We made our recommendations and our committee never met again. After a new Minister of Agriculture was appointed, there was a fresh committee established which had a third of the membership from the first committee and we, again, recommended that Guelph become a university. There were four of us from that first group that were on the first Board of Governors and we did enjoy the work on the Board very, very much.
E This would be in the middle ‘60’s.
L Yes, in the middle ‘60’s.
E Have you been given any awards for special occasions as you remember?
L We have been honoured reasonably well with awards.
E Young people today might be very interested to know if you can.
L I don’t think my memory is equal to naming the different awards that I’ve received.
E You went through a period of time, which we look back on now, called the ‘Dirty Thirties’, and then just nicely coming out of that, you got into the war years and what problems did you
have farming in those periods or living in those periods. What benefits did you realize from those periods that you recall?
L 1934 really was not a good year. I was not used to light land and I made one or two mistakes. My books didn’t show a profit in the first year but I taught a three-months course at a good salary which helped out that year. The second year was 1936. Nineteen thirty-six was the height of the drought years of the ‘Dirty Thirties’. If I remember rightly, the corn crop in Iowa went down to 49% of the 10-year average of Iowa’s corn crop. We’re very fortunate in Kent County. We live in between the lakes and in 1936, every time we began to worry about the dry weather there came a nice shower off Lake St. Clair or off Lake Erie and we had a splendid crop. It really bolstered my moral in the farming business. I would say it was the most successful year financially of all the years that we have experienced. I had a field of oats. For those oats, I had tried to buy certified seed, but the dealer that I had dealt with had run out of certified seed and gave me a wonderful deal on registered seed. The field looked beautiful and I applied for inspection and registration of the field. I was able to sell the oats straight from the machine for 2 ¾ times as much per bushel as I had paid for the registered seed that I had planted. That was the kind of a year that 1936 turned out to be.
E And your corn crop came along well.
L My corn crop came along real well.
E And your beets?
L And the sugar beets, that was the first year that I beat my brother on the home farm.
E You could hire labour quite easily and readily in those days. Do you remember what sort of wages you paid in those days for good help?
L I certainly do. I was able to hire a married man, provide him with a house and his wages were $30 a month. He was real glad to get it and he was the best or the second best of all the employees that I have seen on Kerr Farms. We had a great time working together. He was a great joker. We were always joking about something and he was a good mechanic, which was a wonderful help to Lawrence Kerr. I’ve always said that I was the dumbest mechanic that the Lord every looked down on. I’ve always had to have an employee that was a good mechanic. .
E For that $30 a month, what did he work – 40 hours a week?
L No, he didn’t work 40 hours a week. He worked from 7 ‘til 6 and an awful lot of the time he worked until you couldn’t see at night. I did give him a little extra for the work that he did after 6 o’clock.
E After 6 o’clock. And six days a week?
L Very much 6 days a week and feed the steers every other Sunday.
E So this farm became his life too. How long did he stay with you?
L That was one of the tragedies of my life. I spoke so highly of him to his father-in-law that his father-in-law assisted him to buy a farm of his own on the first of October of our first year. I certainly missed him.
E Then you got through the ‘30’s and the war years came along when you couldn’t buy machinery or tires or maybe other things. Did you have any problems then that you recall?
L The McCormick-Deering dealer had become a great friend of mine. I had bought the first tractor from him and bought all the machinery that I bought and I was very, very fortunate that when I needed a second tractor he was able to get it for me. He was a wonderful friend, a wonderful advisor. Our biggest trouble was with help in wartime. We didn’t have any trouble until France was invaded and I had four men at that time and I lost three of them within a three week period. I was very, very fortunate that I had three Czechoslovak women that had helped out with the hoeing, had worked periodically, not on a steady basis. They pitched in and did anything that had to be done. I owe my success, possibly my life, to those three ladies. They were just wonderful.
E Do you remember their names?
L Yes, I remember their names. Marianne Checheek, Martha Kupta and nope, the poor old boy’s slipped on that one!
E Then after the war when farming went through a fairly good period of time for a few years, and you expanded.
L Farming went through quite a good period following the war. Things got down in the early ‘70’s to where we weren’t so happy with prices but in ’73, Russia stepped in and bought large quantities of Canadian wheat, American corn and American wheat. Prices bounced up again and stayed good until fairly well into the ‘80’s. Prices have not been as good in recent years. We have found, if it hadn’t been for the seed corn and the tomatoes, it would have been difficult years to show an adequate profit.
E Now, let’s go back and look at how the OAC played a very important part in your life. What do you think that the best things that you gained from the OAC that helped you to make a success of your farm, of your life, and your family?
L The OAC was a priceless experience in developing a broader outlook of the world. It was an even more valuable asset in the knowledge of fertilizers, the knowledge of different techniques that I gained from the OAC. The first year that I farmed there was 30 acres at the back. The neighbors advised me to just let the cattle go back and pasture, but that land was no good. This was sort of a red rag to a bull. I wanted to make it productive. It had some thorn trees, which I dug out after 6 o’clock. My first employee was wonderful with horses and we would hitch onto the thorn trees with a long chain and pull. If the tree didn’t come, I’d leap down into the excavation and chopped at the roots that were showing up while he petted the horses and rubbed under their collars and praised them. He always insisted that I’d be sure it would come on the next try and I think it always did. We had that 30 acres in good shape quite early in the year. It was all worked up by mid-August.
I sent samples and asked for the special attention of Professor Ruhnke of the Soils Department. He phoned me and asked me if it was always as light as the samples that I sent. He made recommendations. He said it was some of the poorest soil that he had ever tested. He recommended very high quantities of fertilizer and he advised me to cut them down to 2/3’s if there was any sign of dryness. But there had come a good rain and he advised that I plant ½ inch deeper than was normally sensible so that there would be lots of moisture to handle this much fertilizer. When I had the fertilizer spread out at the back of the field, I had three of the neighbors come and advise me that if I ever put on that much fertilizer I wouldn’t have any wheat but I had faith in Professor Ruhnke. I left one drill width across the field without fertilizer. I don’t think it yielded anything. What was fertilized produced a splendid crop of wheat. Mr. S.J. Smith of the Chatham Fertilizer Company told me that he sold more than twice as much fertilizer in our community the next year as he had ever sold before. It was a splendid crop.
E And all the other farmers saw it!
L It was in the days of thrashers and when the four neighbors came in with wagons to draw the crop off, they told me that two or three years before, one of the people that had rented the farm, they had drawn the whole crop off on two wagons.
E And you got a good yield.
L I had a splendid yield.
E Here in your office Mr. Kerr or your son’s office, I noticed that computers are very obvious. Did you get into computers when you were still managing the farm or is this something that Bob has brought in?
L This is Bob’s innovation. A computer is a complete mystery to me.
E Yet, within your lifetime, you have gone from farming with horses to using computers, I presume, for a lot of record keeping and number crunching.
L I have seen an awful lot of change and I have approved of it. I never want to get like the old man that said, “I’ve seen a lot of changes. I’ve been agin’ every one of them!” I’ve been in favor of almost every one of them.
E But you became noted for keeping many records yourself and I imagine you did this in some type of notebook or pad. Can you tell us about some of the records that you’ve kept over the years?
L My records were mostly kept in large-size diaries. I still keep a diary. Couldn’t get along without it. I’m able to look back and tell you what happened in previous years and 1996 has been the most difficult year that I can remember and my memory of farming conditions goes back quite a little ways, probably back to 1912. I have a clear memory of Haley’s comet in 1910. It hung over the neighbor’s woodlot. I’ll never forget how solemn my grandmother looked when she pronounced that it was a sign of war.
I have an extremely clear memory of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. My grandfather had come from Ireland as a boy of 12. My grandfather was so amazed at the tonnage of the Titanic. He was so interested in the Titanic. He was aware that the founder of the Cunard Line of steamships had come from North Ireland. The family came from North Ireland. He had been born in Halifax and had gone back to Ireland. Grandfather knew all about the Titanic. He repeated over and over again, 43,000 tons.
Grandfather said that the changes in his lifetime had been magnificent. The steamship, the railroad, the telegraph, the grain drill, the grain binder and the thrashing machine, all these things had come in his lifetime. He said we would never see change like that again. The day he made the prediction, he had never seen an automobile closer than half a kilometer away on the county line. He had no idea that there would ever be such a thing as a truck and he certainly had no idea that there would ever be an airplane, or electricity, television, or radios.
I was 8 years old when I remember explaining to my little sister, who was four years younger, what the stakes were for, that they had put in where the posts were to go for the telephone. I don’t know whether she understood very well or not, but certainly it was a wonderful step forward when we got the telephone. There were 11 people on our party line but a lot of people enjoyed the sport of listening in, but my mother never permitted that.
E Then you remember when electricity came through to your farm. Do you remember your first car ride?
L I certainly remember when father bought the first car and the first tractor. My father bought a car as soon as the roads were fit in 1918. It was the first car in the community and when I went to public school after we had gotten the car, there was criticism that it was a new-fangled, impractical machine that wouldn’t work on the muddy roads of our township, that it wouldn’t work in the wintertime, totally impractical. Father bought a tractor later that year. I was with him when he saw the first tractor working. He talked to the man that owned it until the man said, “Well, I’ve got to get this field plowed today!” Father had a tractor ordered within a week. The one we saw was a Fordson that pulled two plows, but father had to have one that pulled three plows, a McCormick-Deering.
In my life’s experience, I’ve had five major tragedies. Four of them have turned out to be blessings. The first was the accident that kept me out of athletics in my last year and kept me from starting a farm in 1929. The man that bought the farm that father had picked out for me, went broke. The farm was sold for less than half of what he had paid for it. I was working for the Government when the market crash came in 1929 and things began to look bad to me so that I stayed on in a Government job for five years and saved my money.
One of the other tragedies that I had, we didn’t have much amusement when I started farming but we, in the winter time, we played cards until half past ten, we had lunch and then we danced until one. Well, on in the winter of my second year; my second year was a good year and I was feeling optimistic; one of the neighbors brought in a young lady from some distance away. We played euchre together several times. She was a wonderful player. Every time I played with her, we won. We danced afterwards and I enjoyed dancing with her. I was very much taken with the young lady. A couple of nights later I phoned her up to see if I
could take her to a wonderful motion picture that was on in Chatham. I got quite a shock. She said that she had been very much attracted to me and she thought maybe I had been attracted to her. She had seen so much tragedy in the farming business that she resolved that she would never marry a farmer and she thought we should not go any further. I thought it was a terrible tragedy. But it would have been a 100 times as severe a tragedy, if I had missed out on Mary.