It is a long time since I was a boy. No doubt memory does not justify the attempt to give many details. When I was a small boy eight, nine or ten years of age I had what I now call a "toy farm", which was not more than ten feet square. It was always so situated that it could easily be enlarged. I used stone fences four or five inches in height to enclose the several fields. I do not recall building any semblance of house or barn. My interest was in having choice cattle and horses. For cattle I collected round stones two or three inches in diameter. I spent hours searching for them in the bed of a shallow creek that ran through father's farm. When I found two that were smooth, round, and of equal size these were called a team of oxen and placed in one of the toy fields. The round stones of unequal size which were called cows were placed in another field.
I searched the woods sometimes for days for limbs of trees that somewhat resembled the outline of a horse. With a jackknife I whittled an imitation of a horse's head, attaching it to the form I had selected. Sometimes other parts were added. When each of the two forms of about the same size were worked into a fancied resemblance to a horse I placed the two side by side calling them a span.
I used a crooked stick, crudely resembling one of father's plows, for preparing a field for a crop of grain. I did not try to use the stone oxen or wooden horses to do the plowing. The plowing was hand work. I recall having gone to my father's granary for seed buckwheat. I may
have borrowed a little corn. The grain never ripened. The joy was derived from the plowing and the sowing. The toy farm grew enough grass to make haying possible. Mother's shears were borrowed for cutting the grass and crude rakes and forks were made out of nearby trees. The grass was spread, raked when dry, and put into "cocks" that were finally stacked.
My reason for writing the foregoing is to tell the reader one of the ways the small boy on the farm, sixty years ago, spent a part of his play time. Neighbor boys indulged in this form of amusement and not infrequently we traded horses, cattle, and farm implements.
If the toy farm was near a brook, I set about building a dam. In those days a dam without a waterwheel aroused very little interest. I was born with limited mechanical capacity, consequently I was forced to depend upon my playmates for assistance. I may add that father was without mechanical ingenuity. I may further remark that he never rendered me any assistance in carrying out my plans, except to see that I finished every piece of play work I undertook. Occasionally I inveigled my sisters into help me manage my toy farm.
From neighbor boys I learned something about the toys that they made.
I worked a long time on a toy threshing machine. I made a small cylinder of wood six or eight inches long and three or four inches in diameter. Small nails were symmetrically driven into the cylinder, extending out from
one third to one half inch. This cylinder was enclosed in a box, that I thought resembled the real machine of the day which was made to revolve by the motor power furnished by two horses walking continuously on a revolving tread. The motor power I used was father's grindstone. Cotton twine constituted the belt which was placed round the grindstone and attached to a spool placed at one end of the cylinder. I could usually coax one of my sisters to turn the grindstone while I fed green maple leaves into the box containing the rapidly revolving cylinder. Father preserved for many years this toy threshing machine.
It is clearly evident to me now that my farm environment determined the character of my amusement.
It is needless to say that I made my own carts, wagons, and sleds. Occasionally father would offer to furnish the material permitting me to use his tools, provided I was religiously particular about returning them to their established habitat.
I recall one somewhat painful experience in making a sled. I had asked father to purchase a sled for me to play with. As usual he wisely refused. However, he gave suitable material saying, "Make your own." I worked days and days, determined to make the swiftest running sled in the whole neighborhood. The reader should remember that "riding down hill" in winter was then as now an exciting sport. I was sure that my sled would attract the attention of neighboring girls and that a ride on it would make me immensely popular. When my work was finished I was
sorely disappointed over my father's attitude since he commanded me to give my own sisters the lion's share of rides.
In this age a boy is deprived of the priceless education that comes from having to use his own initiative in making his own toys and instruments for amusement. The joy of making things frequently surpasses the joy attached to using them. Not even manual training in our public schools can equal in benefits the experience I enjoyed on the old farm.
A small river which flows into the Susquahana ran though the valley a half mile distant from my father's farm. In this river were eels, bull heads, suckers, pickerel, and chubs. In the summer I frequently joined a group of boys who in the early evening set hooks for eels. We baited the hooks with small fish caught in nearby brooks. These hooks were attached to lines, eight or ten feet in length, tied on small elder poles. The poles were stuck into the bank after the bait had been cast into the middle of the river. These hooks were sometimes placed several rods apart along the banks of the river for a mile or two. Every two hours all night long we went up and down the banks examining our hooks, and if necessary rebaiting them. We frequently returned to our homes in the morning laden with eels apportioned among us according to the number of hooks, lines, and amount of bait furnished.
Some of these fishing groups made considerable progress in the direction of labor. Two or three boys would be appointed to make the rounds of examining the hooks while the others slept under a primitive tent made of brush.
Of course these all night workers received extra pay in fish. After my sisters were large enough I organized my own fishing company and by that method I was the gainer. For my sisters, helping to fish was great sport.
When I was twelve years of age, father purchased a second-hand smooth bore rifle. Such a gun would shoot either ball or shot. At that time we used percussion caps that caused explosion by means of a hammer. It was necessary to keep these caps dry if we expected the pulling of the trigger to be of any avail. Every hour not spent in farm drudgery found me in the woods and fields hunting squirrels, rabbits, partridges, and quails. When I first carried this gun I could not shoot without resting the gun on some object, the limb of a tree, a stump, or a fence. My first luck was in shooting a partridge. For days and days this achievement fed my inordinate vanity. I never learned to use a dog in hunting birds and rabbits. Until I was twenty-one this old gun was a good excuse for tramping miles and miles in the woods and fields.
On father's farm there were many woodchucks. For several years of my boyhood I trapped these animals. Occasionally I caught a young one. Mother would ask permission to cook it saying, "I can give you a dish that you will enjoy." She tried the experiment again and again without convincing me that the dish was other than plain woodchuck. The fact that I enjoyed killing these animals is probably conclusive proof that I was at least a semi-savage.
I put this gun to many uses. I recall spending, in the aggregate, many days shooting pickerel. I have walked miles along the banks of that little river searching for fish basking in the sunshine where the water was other than shallow. From father I had learned that I must aim below the fish if I expected to kill it. In other words he told me to allow for the refraction of light. In this sport I was fairly successful.
In winter, father would induce my grandfather to take his net and join us in fishing through the ice. As I now recall, the net, six or seven feet square, was attached to four supports meeting above the center, and it was suspended on a pole from this meeting point. A hole just a little larger than the net was cut in the ice. The net was placed in this hole on the bottom of the river. Father and I would take an axe or heavy stick, walk down the river a few rods, then come back pounding on the ice. The fish swimming ahead were captured when they were over the net.