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The old family farm

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Members of the Towamensing Historical Commission and the program presenter are Malcom Campbell; Tom Newman, vice chairman; Karl Rolappe, secretary-treasurer; presenter Roy Chrisman; Curt Beers; Carol Copeland, chairman; and…
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Members of the Towamensing Historical Commission and the program presenter are Malcom Campbell; Tom Newman, vice chairman; Karl Rolappe, secretary-treasurer; presenter Roy Chrisman; Curt Beers; Carol Copeland, chairman; and Janet Hall.
Published February 19. 2010 05:00PM

For Roy Christman, farming was a family affair.

Christman, who was born along Pohopoco Drive, presented a program a recent meeting of the Towamensing Historical Commission and he spoke of the days in the 1950s and 60s when his family farmed.

Christman owns over 1,000 slides but only brought along 60, plus one each of the local one-room schools. The school pictures were taken shortly after the buildings were decommissioned.

But on this day, he focused primarily on the heritage of farming.

He said the family farm was typical of the Pennsylvania Deutsch farms found in eastern Pennsylvania.

There were cows, pigs, chickens, fruit, wheat for flour - if one crop froze there was always something else. The farms tended to be nearly self-sufficient. "You canned, you butchered, you smoked meat, you had a cool cellar. We even made our own soap. My grandmother did that," he said.

Christman said he grew up on a 460-acre farm, maybe the biggest in Towamensing Township. He said he never liked farming and especially did not understand his father Elwood's liking for horses. His father claimed they were better than tractors for certain crops.

"Look at Curt Beers (who was in attendance). He worked," said Christman. Beers was also a farmer.

One day Christman was out cultivating the long straight rows of corn and decided he could read while cultivating - and finally noticed he had taken out 50 feet of corn.

Elwood would be amused that he was giving a talk about farmers. He said he looked back at combining on a hot, sweaty day with the chaff blowing in his face and remembered why he did not like it. "Now combines are self-propelled and enclosed," he said.

After World War II, chickens became a popular farm crop. Marie White's father converted a bank barn into a chicken house. White was also in the audience.

"But the biggest change was when Beltzville State Park and the dam brought a change to the economy. I have pictures of them tearing down buildings but I don't look at them because it is too painful," said Christman.

He began his slide show with aerial views on which he located his farm and pointed out other interesting sights such as the Kibler School which had been moved onto land provided by Christman's father. Some of the walnut trees that lined the trail to a pasture are still growing. The trail is now the Christman Trail in Beltzville.

The orchards on the aerial view are gone. He pointed to fields that are now rented out. His land is preserved and may revert to open space that will fill in through secession if it is no longer farmed. But it will never be developed.

In one picture, his mother and grandmother were picking peas in the truck patch - a large vegetable garden. The family ran a huckster route in Nesquehoning. A truck is loaded with bright red strawberries and though some went into jam making, most were for the market trade. White's brother, Mahlon Campbell, also raised strawberries and still does.

Often Christman was able to point out children who are now the adults of the township.

Some of the tomato crop was taken to a man who turned it into catsup.

There were brooder houses for young chickens to be sold as meat and the Christmans cared for 1,000 laying chickens.

The family had two cows to provide milk for their own use. A picture shows Rosie standing in the river deep enough to cover the udder. Christman said she was trying to keep the milk cool. Cream would float to the top and it was always nice to get some of it on your cereal.

There were 30 steers sold to Heintzelman's Meat Market in Mahoning and several that were butchered at home.

One-hundred-fifty acres of woodland provided the wood used to build Christman's and his uncles' houses.

Caring for the animals took many different forms. In a picture of Christman's sister, Kay, she is seen holding a piglet near a heat lamp.

Grain was taken to Harry LeVan's near the Sawmill Trail in Beltzville Park, or to Marzen's mill on Pohopoco Drive. It was ground into flour.

Has farming changed?

Well, When Christman goes to the farm show he does not even know what the huge pieces of farm machinery are for. He showed the family hand-husking corn and then using an early cornhusker. But he still uses the tractor in the picture and said he couldn't believe it was an antique when he saw one like it at a fair.

He participated in potato judging at the Farm Show, a contest that is still held.

When he wrote a story about farming for the Carbon County magazine, he had to explain the difference between hay (grass, clover or alfalfa) and straw, the stalks from grain.

Apples were taken to the cider press on Strohl's Valley Road. His uncle Harold took care of 30 to 40 hives of bees - one of which was destroyed by a bear.

"We used wild stuff such as berries, watercress and dandelion," said Christman, adding that he did not like the dandelion.

Birds would nest in the fields and Christmans marked the nests so the birds would be safe from equipment hitting the nests.

There was a sleigh in the barn that Christman intended to sell but his daughter, Rachel, said "You better not dare to sell it."

His final family farm picture was taken at the Lehighton Fair, where a display by Christman Brothers products took first place.

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