Snyder Farm celebrates a century

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Robert Snyder stands in front of his barn, which is packed with bales of hay. 

WESTERLO — Robert Snyder is a man of deep commitments and constant values.

At 84, he owns and runs the farm where he was born and raised.

“It’s my life,” he says simply when asked what has kept him at it all these years.

He looks spry as he proudly shows off his barn complex, complete with silo and equipment shed. The original barn, with hand-hewn beams, is sweet with the smell of baled hay. A two-day-old calf rests comfortably in a nearby shed.

The farm is just down the road from Snyders Corners, named for his grandparents, George and Viola Snyder, who raised Golden Guernseys there. They also ran a sawmill powered with water, and built a dance hall and general store. All those structures are now just memories.

Mr. Snyder also served as a Westerlo councilman for 48 years.

“I liked meeting the people,” said Mr. Snyder. “I covered the whole town campaigning.” A Democrat, he went on, “I know a lot of Republicans. They voted for me, too.”

He remembers meeting at the Modern Woodmen’s Hall before there was a town building. For the town garage, he said, “We had an old barn we kept the truck in. We worked up, piece by piece.”

Mr. Snyder’s wife, Ruth, called The Enterprise because the Snyder Farm has just completed its 100th year. She wrote up a brief history for the occasion and read it out loud on Saturday as she sat at their kitchen table.

The table stands in front of a picture window that frames acres of carefully tended fields with beef cattle feeding in the foreground.

“The farm is as far as you can see,” said Mrs. Snyder, gesturing toward the window.

Close to the house are bird feeders, which on Saturday hosted several chickadees and a bright red male cardinal.

On the wide windowsill is a toy that Mr. Snyder had as a boy — three iron horses pull a faded red wagon. That single toy inspired an entire collection of miniature horse-drawn vehicles that fill the windowsill.

Mr. and Mrs. Snyder had both lost their spouses when they met on a bus trip to the South.

“He was with his two sisters and brother-in-law. I was with a lady from our Rensselaerville Seniors group,” Mrs. Snyder recalled. She asked, “Do you think he’s related to the Snyders on County Route 1? My oldest sister was born in the Snyder house.”

Her parents, it turned out, had worked for Mr. Snyder’s father and mother. “I quizzed the ladies,” Mrs. Snyder said and she found out Mr. Snyder was a good man.

They didn’t wait long to marry. The couple met in 2002 and married in 2003.

“You don’t want to wait when you’ve got someone who can cook,” said Mr. Snyder.

Mrs. Snyder likes cooking on the woodburning cookstove in their home and she also likes the heat it puts out.

Mr. Snyder has one daughter who lives nearby and Mrs. Snyder, who is 83, has two sons with grown children. Her sons are retired from work but they will always be her “boys.”

Snyder Farm

“It was 1918 when Walter and Christine Snyder bought the farm on Albany County Route 1, about one mile west of Westerlo,” reads Mrs. Snyder. “They raised chickens, harvested honey, and milked cows.” The Snyders took dressed chickens, honey, eggs, and butter to the market in Albany.

They also raised nine children on the farm. Mr. Snyder was the youngest boy. All of the kids pitched in and helped with the farming.

Mr. Snyder recalled, “We all sat together at the table to eat, 11 of us. It was an old-fashioned table that stretched out.”

The Snyders ate food they had raised themselves. Potatoes were kept “down in the cellar” and, said Mr. Snyder, “We always had pigs and chickens to eat.”

His mother was a good cook. “She’d make pancakes on the wood stove,” said Mr. Snyder.

Mr. Snyder’s brother George was drafted into the Army and served in World War II through D-Day. “He came home tired,” recalled Mr. Snyder.

His brother Fred joined the Navy when he was 17. “He got hit with a destroyer and went back out to fight again,” said Mr. Snyder.

His brother Henry fought in Korea. “He drove a tank. He came back all right,” said Mr. Snyder, adding, “They liked to drink a lot. They did it to get their courage up.”

Mr. Snyder’s father, Walter, was also a veteran, having served in World War I. All four of the Snyders who served in the military — Walter and his sons George, Fred, and Henry — are to be honored with banners as part of Westerlo’s Hometown Heroes program, said Mrs. Snyder.

Mr. Snyder’s brother John, the oldest, helped on the farm and also worked for the county on the roads and plowing snow.

Mr. Snyder’s four sisters — Viola, Mary, Ann, and Catherine — all married, Mr. Snyder said.

Mr. Snyder took over the farm in the 1950s. “My good buddy and brother-in-law, Alvin Latham, liked to drive the tractor and bale the hay. I had to mow and rake it. I always planted corn and oats to feed my animals.”

For four decades, until 1990, Mr. Snyder rose early every day to milk his cows. He shipped milk for over 40 years.

As local farmers were going out of business, he bought land from two adjoining farms. He now owns about 300 acres. “I had to clear a lot of land,” he said.

In the 1990s, Mr. Snyder changed from dairy to beef farming — “I couldn’t get help,” he says, explaining why he made the switch. He now has about 70 beef animals. He still plants corn and oats and does hay every year. For the last two years, his two nephews have helped him.

“It’s hard,” Mr. Snyder says of farming. “But the tractor does a lot now.”

“We’ve come from little tractors to big tractors,” said Mr. Snyder.

“From loose hay to baled hay,” said Mrs. Snyder.

He recently had his original tractor, a 1947 Allis Chalmers, restored to its original orange glory — “all new rims, a new paint job, all the details like it was new,” said Mr. Snyder. “I took it to the Westerlo parade for the bicentennial.”

While he used to get up at 5 every morning to milk his cows, he now “sleeps in” till 7. “The cows are waiting to be fed,” he said.

In the winter, he feeds them grain. “I just had two little calves,” Mr. Snyder said on Saturday. “The mom took and hid one. They don’t want nobody bothering them.”

Mr. Snyder put the newborn calf inside because of the freezing rain expected Saturday night.

Every day, he makes sure the water hole isn’t frozen and, if it is, he chops it open with an ax.

“I’ve had offers to work at Hannays,” he said of the local hose-reel manufacturer, “or to work for the state, but I stuck with farming … I like it.”

Mr. Snyder, over the years, has painted his barn by hand with a brush three times. He and his father built a large addition to the barn, using recycled lumber from the old Army depot.

When his parents bought the farm in 2018, they shingled the roof. “I had to tear it off and put tin on,” Mr. Snyder said.

He worked with two men, putting on the tin roof that still protects his barn. The other two were wary of climbing up to the peak to put the final piece of tin in place.

“I threw a rope over the edge and told the boys, ‘Hang on,’” recalled Mr. Snyder with a grin.

Asked what he envisions for the future of the Snyder Farm, Mr. Snyder answers, referring to his nephews, “I will probably turn it over to one of the boys. I’m not going to give it away. I worked too hard.”

Mr. Snyder concludes the tour of his farm with a question, “You know what they say?”

He answers himself, “As goes the farm, so goes the nation.”

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