A family’s success story
The late Florence Engleman King, who farmed with her husband William near Georgetown, was a prolific writer, I’m told. Her daughter, Zelma King Rumbley of Palmyra, not too long ago found an essay her mother had written in 1964, titled ‘How we paid for our farm’ among some of her parents’ other important papers.
Florence left a copy with me to share with you. Since most young folks getting married today ‘ and the wedding season is fast approaching ‘ expect to move into a new home right away, one with two or three baths, multiple bedrooms, etc., sitting on a 60-foot-square piece of land, I think the Kings’ story will show just how much we take for granted today. And just how little we’ve progressed, after all.
The Kings had six children, Zelma and her five brothers. Florence King wrote neighborhood news for The Corydon Democrat in the 1930s, long before this essay was written, so I don’t think this story has ever been published. Here is a slightly condensed version.
How we paid for our farm
‘In the fall of 1899, my husband bought on my approval 65 acres of limestone upland that had been rented for years and was run down in every way. Fences were all gone except just enough wire to mark the outside lines of the farm.
‘The buildings were all torn down and burned for fuel by tenants, except a log hen house that was ready to fall and a two-room dwelling house that had never known paint or paper in its three score years. There were three good springs suitably located to furnish water for stock on any part of the farm. A good small cistern near the house, about three acres of fruit of various kinds and an ideal location for new buildings, should we ever be able to place them.
‘We moved to this farm in November 1899. Our worldly possessions were one good grade Jersey cow and heifer, one old black cow, two dozen hens, a top buggy and harness, sufficient household and kitchen furniture for two rooms, meat, lard, preserves and canned fruit enough to last us ’til the next season, $200 in cash and a $600 mortgage on the farm.
‘Our encouragements from friends and curious people were few; most of them were discouragements, but we were young with hearts filled with hope, and we were determined to make good.
‘The first thing my husband did was to make a straw shed to shelter our stock. There was a large straw stack on the farm and by using poles and forks cut from the woods nearby, he succeeded in making a large room which sheltered our cows and the two horses we bought before spring …
‘During the winter and early spring, when he was not working for the neighbors for 75 cents a day, he put in every workable day in cleaning up the farm and cutting timber for lumber for a new barn … a few trees were exchanged for a farm wagon and some farm implements, all second hand. The $200 was invested in other used implements, a yearling heifer and the team and harness.
‘We had completed the barn and occupied same by December 1900. Our herd by that time was somewhat increased by young cattle but the old cow had died and the old plug horse gave out and was sold for $2 to a fertilizer company. It was a dear lesson, but one which was worth more to us during the years to follow than most lessons are: We never again bought old stock of any kind.
‘About this time we engaged our butter, eggs and produce to private customers in the city, 12 miles away. We delivered every Tuesday, rain or shine. A good three-year-old mare was bought in February 1901, a good Jersey heifer was added to our herd, a brood sow was purchased and some needed fencing was put up. This gives a ‘pen’ picture of our start and struggles on farming.
‘Needless to say, we could not pay the interest the first year after having so much loss and building a 30- by 40-foot barn with shed and stables at either end …
The next year we succeeded in paying the interest on the $600 mortgage for the first and second year. We built a kitchen and smoke house and installed a cream separator, hand powered …
‘Our private trade in the city increased and satisfied customers clamored for all the butter, eggs, cheese, buttermilk, sweet milk, poultry and farm produce we could take to them once a week. It began to look like by hard work we would not have to give up the farm as our friends advised us to do, but we were discouraged by having to pay out all the money we had, after paying taxes and interest and feed for our cattle, so when we had a chance in 1903 to buy 80 acres at a moderate price, within a distance of half a mile from our house, we bought it, although we had to give a mortgage on both farms to do so. This was a big leap, but we had talked it over and decided it was the only way open to us to better our condition …
‘We had enough feed for our stock the following year, and sold 20 tons of hay besides. From that time on we could make payments on our land … ‘
The Kings continued to increase the size of their farm by scrimping on extras and investing in land with the help of bank mortgages.
‘The farm mortgages had proved a friend and not a boogie-boo, and we were not afraid to give another one. In three years from the date of purchase of the last farm, we were able to wipe out all debts and breathe freely. Our house was comfortably furnished, including a piano for music. We bought an automobile and built a silo.
‘We are proud of our 275 acre farm and all our stock, but the pride and joy that surmounts all is the fine children God gave us …
‘We held our footing and progressed by living within our means. When we took in little money, we spent less. We never bought anything we didn’t need just because it was a bargain; we never went into debt to live.’
I wonder how many, if any, of us could say that today.