Time jumpers remember a world with ice boxes, meat slaughtered on the farm, and no chemicals

On Feb. 4, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg. This column keeps stating that those who get up early enjoy the best part of the day. Tuesday morning, while it was still dark, the morning had the aroma and feel of spring even though it was only the 4th of February. The Old Men of the Mountain arriving early commented on this little fact.

One OF mentioned that, even though he has given up making his own maple syrup, he knows of a couple of people who are already tapping the trees. A few of the OFs thought this was a tad early because there is the rest of February to go and winter, this OF thinks, is not done yet.

However, the tree tapper said that late February is a good time to start, and these guys are only a couple of weeks early, and the weather reports look like it is a good time to get started.

There! OF lesson for the day.


One OF said he had to defend the rest of the OFs because he was with friends, who were with friends of the friends, at a house gathering. One friend introduced the OF and mentioned he was in the group of Old Men of the Mountain.

The OF said the friend of the friend OF kind of looked down his nose and said the OMOTM was just a social club. The OF informed him we are in no way a social club!

We don’t review books, or even read books, we have no agenda, no dues are collected, we don’t get dressed up, we don’t gossip, we show up if we want to, and we don’t take on civic projects. Actually, we just go and have breakfast.

We act just like how a couple of guys would act if they went over to your house and had coffee and a Danish. We are anything but a social club. The OF said this guy didn’t know what to say; he just had a quizzical look come over his face and he walked away without saying any more.

Taking a spill

One thing (well, maybe more than one) the OFs have in common is a collective fear of falling. Unfortunately, one OF did just that.

Going from his house to the barn, he slipped and fell on the ice. This was not a hard thing to do because like most driveways these short little roads to the barn are rutted and at this time of year the ruts are filled with frozen water — better known as ice.

The OF said his foot slipped on the ice in a rut and he fell backwards and hit his head. All the OFs know the skin on the head is very thin and it doesn’t take much for this skin to split, and so it did.

The OF said the blood was running down his face. He didn’t want to go back to the house because his wife would panic and call the ambulance, so he went on to the barn and took care of his wound with a clean shop rag.

The OF was at the breakfast bright-eyed and alert — none the worse for wear.

One OF said that cracks on the head are better off if they bleed; that way they don’t swell up and hurt for weeks.

Now and then

The OFs at one end of the table discussed a lot of what life was like in the past and what they did. The bump on the head, this scribe thinks, is what prompted this conversation.

The OFs said we are all lucky to be here and to be the ages the OFs have come to be. The bumps and scrapes the OFs had as youngsters left many of the OFs, if not all of them, with scars. 

Years ago, the OFs on the farm were particularly lucky working around open drive shafts, uncased whirling gears, and open power drives of all kinds. The OFs were only 9 or 10 years old (some maybe as old as 14) and they were driving tractors, trucks, and even horses.

One OF said, when he was a youngster, he remembers being able to handle two bags of oats from the combine like there was nothing to it, and each bag was close to 100 pounds. “Now,” the OF said, “it is an effort to pick up a medium-size bag of dog food, let alone one of the big boxes of kitty litter.”

Then an OF said he thinks winters have changed. He remembers winters being quite different. The OFs talked about getting ice from ponds and putting this ice in an ice house. Years ago, ice was very important.

We had ice boxes, not refrigerators, and we needed ice year-round to put in the milk coolers. Life certainly was different. One OF said they covered their ice with sawdust, and others said they used straw and old hay, or hay that had gotten wet and couldn’t be used.

The OFs also talked about how they ate, and they agreed it was pretty darn good. Almost all those who were on the Hill (or anywhere else essentially) said they would raise pigs and keep one aside for butchering.

The same principle was used with cows, particularly a heifer that had what was called “yellow bodies,” which meant it could not be bred. Chickens — same thing. (Chickens are the only living things we eat before they are born and after they are dead.) One OF remembers that a heifer’s meat was so tender knives were unnecessary.

The OFs did not worry about chemicals because there weren’t any. One OF said he never knew it was a problem until he was 60 years old.

Sometimes it is fun to time jump from 60 or 70 or 80 years ago until now with people who have first-hand knowledge, not people 30 years old trying to tell us what it was like and how we should live today. Let them wait until they are 80 — if they make it.

The OFs who have made it, and still have most of their mental faculties, gathering as a group and not a social club were: Roger Chapman, Miner Stevens, John Rossmann, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Rick LaGrange, Jake Lederman, Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Jami Daiah, Russ Pokorny, Glen Walsh, Glenn Patterson, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Paul Whitbeck, Lou Schenck, Gerry Irwin, Mace Porter, Herb Bahrmann, Elwood Vanderbilt, Fred Crounse, Mike Willsey, Erin Bradt, Ray Bradt, Harold Grippen, and me.