Our Memories of Papa's Farm, Page7


Tom Osborne (tlosborne@aol.com)

Page 7



This page started with a question and a story, and ended up with stories and memories from several of the cousins, and a lively discussion of the layout of the farm buildings and the house.  We found  that we all have different memories of different things.  None of the buildings or the house exist today except for the old cellar.  So there are only our memories and a few old pictures which give some clues.  After much discussion we have made three drawings: the layout of the old house (pre-fire); the layout of the new house (post-fire); and the farm buildings.  This story is compiled from inputs from several cousins  and I want to acknowledge and thank all those that contributed, no matter how small.  Some cousins are not on email, so don't even know of our project and would probably have something to contribute if they knew.  Those that contributed are: Mary L. (Burnett) Osborne; Bob, Jim, and Dave Osborne; Sue Terhune; Jim Burnett; Dean Egner; and Randy Burnett.

Papa Burnett was a real farmer; for most of his life he lived and supported his family off the land in basically a single person operation.  There weren't many real farmers then and there are even less now.  Today we marvel that it could be done.  But Mama and Papa worked hard and maintained a reasonable existence, although with no luxuries, and not even some things that we consider essential today.  For most of us it is an interesting and educational glimpse into our past and what life was like for our ancestors.

Papa had a farm near Maxon Mill in West Paducah from about 1912 to 1933.  When they moved to that farm from Lone Oak in about 1912 , he bought the new farm from a Mr. Fenwick.  Papa wanted to make a peach orchard and put a lot of the land into that.  But when the peach crop eventually came in, everyone else had lots of peaches too, the peach prices were low, and he lost money.  Eventually he could not make payments on the farm and lost it back to Mr. Fenwick.  Apparently he still owed Fenwick some money, so they bought the next farm in New Hope in Mama's name so Fenwick wouldn't get it.  Mary L.  thinks that Grandpa Elliott may have helped Mama out with money at times because Uncle Tom Lisenby sometimes came to talk to her about it.  She thinks that Mama may have gotten some of Grandpa Elliotts estate and that may have helped them buy the farm in New Hope.

The new farm was located at the intersection of the New Hope Road and the Massac Church Road, about 5 miles south of Lone Oak, and near the village of Massac.  Both roads were gravel roads.  Across the New Hope Road was the Gholson Farm, owned by Charlie Gholson, and a little larger farm than Papa's.  Any other neighbors were almost a mile away and they had little interaction.  It is the farm on New Hope Road that we all remember.  Mama and Papa lived there the rest of their lives.

Papa raised sweet potatoes, tobacco, cows, and pigs, and a garden with many different kinds of vegetables.  Although he had an old tractor, he mainly used a team of mules for working the farm.  His main cash crops were tobacco and sweet potatoes.  Mama raised chickens and sold eggs from the laying hens and fryers.  They also sold milk, butter and cottage cheese, and vegetables from the garden in the summer.

Once a week, on Saturday, they would load up the old Hudson Terraplane automobile with their goods and go to the farm market in Paducah.  Papa had built a wooden shelf that fit over the back bumper of the Terraplane and that's where he carried most of the goods.   They had several regular customers on the way, so would always stop at their regular customers and sell whatever they could, like eggs and butter, or green beans or butter beans from the garden.  Whatever was left, they sold at the farm market, then bought supplies and groceries for the next week before going back home.

For many years before I grew up and left home, we lived in Lone Oak and Mama and Papa always stopped on their way to town for a short visit and to see if we needed anything.  Our house was the last one on the road, and backing out of our driveway was downhill.  You had to stop, shift into low gear, then release the clutch (no automatic transmissions then) without killing the engine and start uphill.  It was a difficult maneuver.  Papa avoided some of it by backing across the road into a neighbors driveway which was still downhill, but not as much.  With practice he learned to back across, throw the car into low, let out the clutch and start uphill without using the brakes, as they weren't that good going backwards anyway.  The old Terraplane had doors that opened on the front side, and a running board.  One day, as he shifted into low, he missed the gear and couldn't get the car stopped.  Mama bailed out immediately and stood at the top of the driveway yelling "Jim, you stop that!".  Papa rolled down across the neighbors yard and came to a stop against a fence post, with Mama still yelling at him.  Daddy told that story so many times I'll never forget it.

Tobacco was a crop that lasted the whole year; the seasons were defined in terms of what stage the tobacco crop was in.  He only raised about two acres because there were allotments on how much you could raise.  If you didn't plant one year, then your allotment would be decreased the next year, so you had to "keep up your allotment".  The cycle started in the spring with the burning of the seed beds.  The seed beds were different plots of land from where the tobacco was planted. He burned the seed beds to kill the weeds so they wouldn't outgrow the frail tobacco plants.  Then the seeds were planted and covered with thin cloth, like cheesecloth, so they wouldn't be hurt by cold weather.  After the plants grew to "slips" then they had to be transplanted to the plot where they would be grown.  This would probably be late spring.

During the summer as the tobacco plants grew, they had to be hoed to keep the weeds out, and they had to be "suckered".  As the leaves grow on the stalk, there are small leaves that sprout from the junction of the main leaf and the stalk.  These are called "suckers" and had to be broken off to keep from sapping strength from the leaves.  It was dirty, time consuming work to go down each stalk and at the junction with each leaf check for a sucker and break it out if there. After a few hours work, your hands would be covered with dust and tobacco gum.  One summer as a young teen, I worked for Papa suckering tobacco and remember it well.

In the late fall, the tobacco plants quit growing and started to turn brown.  It was then time to "cut" the tobacco.  In cutting the tobacco, you stick a tobacco stick in the ground.  You then cut the stalk at the bottom and split the stalk and place it astraddle the stick.  You put about 10 stalks on a 6 foot stick, so that you end up with all the stalks cut and stacked on sticks in the field.  Then you get the wagon and team and bring all the sticks of tobacco into the tobacco barn where the sticks are hung horizontally between rails in the barn and the tobacco is left there to dry for several weeks.

The next step is to "strip" the tobacco, grade it, and tie it.  In stripping, you break the leaves off the stalks, and sort them into different "grades" according to size, color, and leaf quality.  A few leaves are used to make ribbons which are used to tie the bases of several leaves of like quality into bundles.  The best quality brings more money and is used for cigarettes.  The poor quality is used for cigars and pipe tobacco.

Papa did the stripping in the cellar during the winter.  In late winter one years crop would finally be finished and sold, and shortly after it would be time to burn the seedbeds for next years crop.  A never ending job.

Of course, even while working on tobacco, Papa also had to maintain the daily chores of milking cows twice a day; feeding cows, chickens,  pigs, and horses; tending the garden and other crops; getting in the corn; maintaining the farm equipment, and whatever else had to be done.

In addition to tobacco, Papa also raised a large crop of sweet potatoes which had to be dug and stored in the cellar, both for their own use and for sale through the year.  He also raised peanuts and Idaho potatoes, both of which had to be dug.  As I remember, he would use the mule to plow a furrow down the row of peanuts or potatoes, turning the soil over, then we would pull the peanuts or potatoes out of the loose soil, and take them into the cellar for storage.

He raised some pigs, but mainly for their own use for meat and lard.  He butchered his own pigs and salted the bacon and cured the hams.  These hung in the smokehouse or cellar until used.  He raised feed corn for the horses, cows and pigs.  The feed corn was left in the field until dry, then the ears of corn were picked and shucked and put in the corn crib.  The shucks and corn stalks were fed to the animals.  Some of the corn was also used to feed the chickens.

Mama and Papa always honored the Sabbath Day and never worked on Sunday, except for milking the cows.  A typical Sunday was to milk and take care of the animals, go to Sunday School and Church, then have Sunday dinner, often a large special meal for the week.  Then rest in the afternoon and visit with family.  Often Mama and Papa would come to our house for Sunday dinner, and sometimes we would go to their house.  When we didn't get together for Sunday dinner, we would still go to one grandparent or the other for a Sunday afternoon visit.  In the summertime the adults always sat in lawn chairs under the big shade trees in the front yard and talked and us kids roamed around exploring the farm.  In the winter, we all sat in front of the fireplace in the living room and kept the coal fire burning.

Papa was always a staunch Democrat and a strong supporter of Roosevelt and Truman.  He and Daddy always jousted about their political leanings.  During World War II, the government declared that daylight savings time would be in effect all year.  Papa refused to change his watch or acknowledge any different time saying it "was God's time and the government couldn't change it."

Mama and Papa had 20 grandchildren, our generation.  About 8 of those lived in a rural setting, but not on farms, and had some exposure to country life.  The rest were raised in the city.  But almost all of us spent some time with Mama and Papa on the farm during our childhood and early teen years, from a few days at a time to a few weeks at a time.  Some of the older cousins remember the old house and some of the younger one remember the new house.  Mama and Papa were always willing to take us in and let us work with them on the various chores, and help take care of the animals, and work on the crops.  It was a wonderful experience with memories we have always cherished, and we want to share it with our children and their children.


Following are Sue's memories of the old house and the farm.  (The drawings are composites of all of our recollections as we have no pictures of the old house.)

I WAS very young, but even then I had a good eye for a building.  As you drove into the driveway, there was a huge maple tree with low hanging branches on the right side. One of the branches was low enough and springy enough that I could straddle it like a horse and bounce up and down on it. Sort of like a one sided see-saw.

The house was an old farmhouse design with a porch that wrapped around three sides. The back porch was enclosed and had the well and the wash basin on a stand. When it rained, Grandpa would hook up a system of gutters and downspouts to drain the rainwater into the well. On hot days, he would buy a block of ice and drop it down the well to cool the water.

On the left back side of the house was the kitchen with a butter churn, wood cooking stove, table where the grandchildren ate, and (I believe) a counter with pans for washing dishes. I didn't get involved with the clean-up except to take slop to the hogs after dinner which I hated.

There was a dining room where the adults ate and a parlor where we slept and the upright piano that my Mom played in the evening for all to sing around was against the wall. The four of us Johns kids would sleep 4 in the bed, 3 across the top and me across the bottom.  I think there were 2 more bedrooms but I can't quite remember the lay-out.

Outside the "well" porch, Grandma had a huge black kettle that she built a fire under to heat water for laundry or to make soap. Then there was the chicken yard. I was deathly afraid of those chickens and I had to go through the yard to get to the outhouse. It's a wonder I can eat chicken today after watching them run across the yard with their heads chopped off.

My favorite two places were the tobacco barn and the cow barn. I helped tie tobacco leaves one summer and hang them on the drying poles. I loved the smell and the sight the men in the fields and the wagons bringing the leaves in from the field.

Then there was the cow barn with the ladder up to the hay loft where Grandpa would throw feed down to the cows. He used to squirt milk into the cat's mouth or squirt us. He would always let us try to milk but I never could get the darn things to work. Once when my Dad was helping milk, one of the cows kicked the bucket and my Dad went flying back off the stool. We rolled on the ground laughing so hard. He got back at us the next day though. We were taking a walk out to the pond to do some fishing and he stopped by some trees where fruit was hanging from the branches. He picked some and told us how sweet it was. The fruit turned out to be persimmons and our lips stayed puckered for hours.

Once, when I was about 6 or 7, we pulled into the drive around milking time.  I hugged Grandma and asked where Grandpa was. She told me that he was at the barn and had a surprise for me. I ran through the chicken yard and into the barn. I had to stop and let my eyes adjust to the darker interior and then I saw it. There was a cow and a brand new calf in the first stall. She was only a few days old and so cute. I reached through the boards and she came over to me and started sucking on my fingers. Grandpa said babies don't usually leave their mama's side so young so she must be mine. He named her "Suzie" and he told me years later that she turned out to be the best milker he ever had.

I don't remember as much about the house.  But I remember the kitchen on the left side of the house with a small table where Mama and Papa ate.  Mama always left the table set for the next meal with the butter on it, and bread and crackers, and simply covered it all with another table cloth.  I remember the back porch with the wash pan and the cistern where we had to draw up water with a hand pump.  We always washed in the wash pan, which was an old enamel pan about a foot in diameter.  When you were through washing, you simply threw the dirty water out the porch door into the dirt back yard.  They had electricity, but the wiring was minimal and the lights were bare bulbs that hung from the ceiling, giving the rooms a cold bare feeling.  The back porch was lit with a kerosene lantern.  There were also bare bulbs in the barn, cellar, and chicken house.  If you had to go to the outhouse at night, you either had to wait until your eyes got used to the dark, or take a flashlight.

Jim Burnett, who spent the summer with them in 1942 or 1943 remembers the mailing address:  Rural Route 1, Paducah, Ky; and the phone was three rings as it was on a party line.  (Most lines had 4 parties, some had 8; you were real uppity if you had only 2 or a private line.)  Bathing was done in a galvanized wash tub in the living room with hot water from the coal stove in the kitchen brought in in a bucket.


The farm consisted of about 50 acres of land, mostly tillable, and many old farm buildings.  It was not a neat farm as Papa and Mama didn't have time cut weeds and set out flowers.  There were no motorized lawn tools back then; if you wanted to cut weeds, it had to be done with a sling blade or a scythe.  The lawn mower was a reel type push mower.  Consequently, except for the well used paths, there were tall weeds, Sumac and other scrub trees, and bushes between buildings and fences.  For us young kids that made the place even larger and more mysterious with lots of places to explore and find old farm equipment and other things.

Mama and Papa's Farm

As you went out the back of the house, in about 20 feet was a fence and gate into the chicken yard.  The chicken yard had no grass because the chickens roamed around eating every speck of grass or seed.  On the right was the brick cellar, or "root cellar", as David describes it:

What we have labeled the "cellar" I remember Papa calling his "root cellar" many times.   A dark, cool place where potatoes, peanuts, and other root crops were stored.  It also had a loft. I remember some loose hay up there, but mostly old lumber.  Didn't get up there a lot, too many wasps.

Such a definition certainly fit the Burnett cellar.  It had an outer room, which was dug out a couple of feet below ground level with step leading down.  The door was not full size and you had to literally climb in.  In the outer area, he stored some tools there along with buckets and baskets.  In the late fall after tobacco cured, he would sit in the outer room and strip it.  I think it had a wood floor.  Then there was an inner room, perhaps another foot down, separated from the front room by another door and a cement block wall.  In the back room he had produce and on at least one occasion some chunks of ice,  I don't remember the exact timing,  probably spring, but I do remember how cold the room was and wondered where the "ice box" was.  I think it had a dirt floor.

What Papa called his "root cellar" was indeed a cellar from the traditional home steading sense..

To the left through the gate was the "outhouse", a three holer, with old Sears catalogs and magazines for toilet paper, and a bucket of lime.   I don't know why it was a three holer; perhaps for emergencies.  It had no heat and no light, so you didn't linger in the cold weather, and you had to check for wasps and spiders.

Behind the outhouse, (or perhaps in front) was a shed that generally wasn't used much, but may have been a brooder house at times.  Jim Osborne remembers calling it the "skunk house" because once a family of skunks moved in under it and he and Papa had to jack up the whole house and chase them out.  Mama locked them out of the house so they had to undress and take a bath in the yard behind  the house with cold water out of the cistern.

Beyond the cellar was the chicken house.  It was a fairly large building with a dirt floor.  Around the walls were one or two rows of nests; partitioned boxes just big enough for one laying hen with an opening in the front.  At least once a day every day, you had to go "gather eggs", which meant you had to reach into each nest and remove all the eggs you found and put them into a big basket.  It was always fun to see how many eggs you would get.  Sometimes the hens would find their own place to lay, so you had to check various nooks and crannies for more eggs; like an Easter egg hunt every day.  Sometimes the hens would become "sitting hens" and refuse to get out of the nest; they were pretty big and could peck you and that was pretty intimidating.  But somehow you had to chase the hen off the nest and get the eggs;  some particular hens were worse than others.  There were roosters around, so the eggs were fertile and when more chickens were needed, some eggs and a few hens who had "sitting" inclinations were closed up in the brooder house until the chicks hatched.  The chickens were usually fed by throwing corn on the ground in the chicken yard.

To the right between the cellar and the chicken house was the path down to the gate into the barnyard, and across from the gate was the cow barn.  Papa had a few cows, but not a big herd, and the cows were bred and had calves which he sold or raised.  He always milked two or three cows, and they were milked by hand.  Many of us learned to milk cows from Papa.  The barn was also used to store corn and hay.  There were stalls for the mules, and harness for the mules, and parts for the wagons, hay forks, and shovels for cleaning the barn, and lots of other "stuff". We all enjoyed exploring the hay lofts and the stalls and looking at the animals.

Just before you went through the gate into the barnyard was another path on the left that led along the fence down to the workshop. This old photo taken in 1954 shows the barn on the right, the gate on the left, and the flat roofed workshop down on the left.  I loved the workshop because it had lots of interesting tools.  In the middle was a coal fired forge with a bellows, and beside that an anvil.  Papa used the forge to make horse shoes or steel fittings for the wagons or other uses.  Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon visit we would wonder down to the workshop and he would start the fire in the forge and heat up a steel rod until it was red hot and bend it for us.  Beside the entrance to the workshop was an old Fordson tractor with steel wheels.  We could sit on the tractor and operate the spark advance lever and pretend we were driving it.  But I never saw it move.

Bob Osborne has other memories of Papa's workshop and the old tractors:

There were more that just the one steel wheeled tractor up by the shop, and they were back in a corner of the field.  While Papa was still using the steel wheeled tractor, he would go around the countryside every two or three years and look for "dead" tractors of the same make, and buy them for their scrap value, then drag them home.  In the dead of winter, after all the crops were in and the tobacco was done and sold, he would take the parts he could use from his newly acquired "dead" tractor, and build himself a tractor that he could use for another couple of years.  Once, I recall him telling me the newer one had less wrong with it, so it became his working machine, and he cannibalized his old one to make the "new" one the best he could.  Knowing Papa, I would guess this had happened more than once.  When there was nothing more useful to an old hulk, he would sell it for scrap, and have it hauled off to make room for others.  This was a never ending process.  Every winter he worked out in his favorite place, his workshop, getting everything repaired and prepared for the coming year.  It gave him many, many hours and days of pleasure and satisfaction.  By being so creative and industrious, his farm was always better equipped than ordinarily possible on the very low income level they got by on.

When the steel wheeled tractors gave way to the rubber tired models, he would still work on them all winter including rebuilding the engine if necessary.  They were too new for anyone to scrap any, so he had to make or buy required parts.  Papa was a wonderful craftsman, and I can't recall ever hearing him say a job was too hard for him to do.

All of you kid me about being a "saver" and I plead guilty without hesitation, I learned it the feet of the master-saver-improvisor (Papa)!

Beyond the cow barn was a tobacco barn where the tobacco was hung to dry.  And behind the barns was a small pond and the pig pen, which was bare dirt and of course the pigs made a lot of mud around the pond.  All the wastes from the table and any other scraps were fed to the pigs, and sometimes we had to go down and "slop" the pigs.

Around the fence corner by the workshop was the lane that led to the fields and the big pond.  The fields were grassy and pleasant and open with some low hills and valleys; a pleasant change from the messy dirt barnyard.  Some of the fields were used for field corn for the animals, some for grazing the cows and mules, some for tobacco, and some for hay.  On a pleasant summer Sunday afternoon we often walked back into the fields and to the big fish pond for our Sunday afternoon walk.  Apparently, there were some fish in the pond and some of us went back there fishing.  This picture is of Dean Egner trying his luck fishing in June, 1954.

In the early summer of 1950, the old farm house burned to the ground.  Of course, there were no fire trucks in the country then, so there was nothing anyone could do.  Mama and Papa had been to town and came home just as the fire was at it's peak.  Papa was only able to reach through a window into the "parlor" and grab a drawer out of a dresser, which happened to contain some pictures; otherwise, they lost everything.  A new house was built that summer.  So there are two houses to remember and sort out; the old one and the new one.

They never actually knew what started the fire.  The Gholsons, across the street, first saw smoke coming from the area of the kitchen, but could not get it put out in time.  At the time, Uncle Marvin Elliott, Mama's bachelor brother, was staying with them.  Most of the children always felt that probably Uncle Marvin came in for lunch and dumped his pipe in the kitchen wastebasket before he ate as he had been seen to do.  It probably smoldered a while, then finally set the paper in the wastebasket on fire.


After the fire, Mama and Papa set up housekeeping in the root cellar and lived there for several months while the new house was being built. The picture of the cellar above was actually taken when they were living there.  They hired a local carpenter, Tim Coleman, to help build the new house, all the available relatives and neighbors helped with volunteer labor, and I believe Osborne Lumber Co helped with the materials, and the new house was mostly finished by fall of 1950.  At first it had no bathroom, and a bathroom was added several years later.

The older of us don't remember the new house as well as the younger cousins.  So Dean has drawn a sketch of the new house, which resembles the old one somewhat in the layout.

Mama and Papa's new house after about 1954

The front of the house is the side with the little porch and faces the New Hope road.  The side with the big porch faces the driveway.   Notice that there is still a closed in back porch with a cistern.  We think that later a well may have been drilled and an electric pump added about the time the new bathroom was built.  After many years, the scars of the fire had healed and the trees grown up and the yard was green again.

Mama and Papa lived on the farm raising tobacco, produce, and selling milk and eggs until Papa was 88 years old.  I believe Papa finally got a modern Ford tractor and used it for several years before he died and quit using the mules.  He probably sold the old Terraplane and got a new car, but I don't remember what it was.

After Papa died, Mama lived with Mary L and Carl, and the old farm was sold.The new owners moved the old house to the side and built this new brick house  in the same location.  As of a few years ago, the old cellar was the only recognizable part of the old farm that we all enjoyed so much.

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