This is the time of the year when people of the farming community look back on past years and talk about the ones that were especially good and years that were not quite as good, but seldom bad. For many years of my life, much reminiscing was done during Farm-City Week, which has been celebrated during the five days before Thanksgiving in mid-November. As members of Sugar Hill Grange, we joined with members of the Brockway Kaimanns (previously Kiwanis) and scheduled our dinners at local restaurants, churches, etc. that were well-known for setting up good food.
One year the program would feature an agricultural theme and the next year it would be centered on an industrial or community business subject. As the local Grange lost membership through aging of its members and eventually merged with Roseville Grange, west of Brookville, and Kaimanns turned to other community activities, Farm-City drifted off the agenda. For a while the theme was picked up by the high school FFA (Future Farmers of America) as a school activity. The Jefferson County Farm Bureau has initiated an annual tour to a site with special interest in an agricultural theme taking guests behind the scene to find out how things work, and then serve a lunch on site. The 2019 tour was held at The Farmers Inn near Sigel, but the times keep a-changing.
With the installation of robotics in industry, few human hands leave their fingerprints and DNA on finished products. They are exceptions on the line. Many of today’s workers spend their whole day at keyboards and electronic controls overseeing the machines. And it doesn’t mean that hardly anyone has a job any more. It does means that the type of work has changed. I believe that no machine, even the smartest robot, can install itself and maintain itself. It may cry out with an electronic alarm when something goes wrong, but a human has to answer the call and respond to make evaluations, adjustments, and repairs as needed. Long before the robotics are installed in any factory, a human has to identify a problem or a need, and then set out to design and build a solution to fill that need. That’s pretty much the story in industry today.
There have been a lot of changes in country life as well. When I was a toddler, many years ago, there was a team of workhorses on our farm, although they left shortly after I arrived on the scene. We always had some milk cows in the barn and a steer that we were raising for our own beef. My mother kept chickens in the coop for fresh eggs most months of the year, and a ready supply of freshly plucked chicken for Sunday dinner any time company came along. My dad bought a couple of little pigs in the spring, chopped and slopped them all summer, and then butchered them when cold weather came on in the fall. Every farm in the neighborhood was the same. We all shared the work, too, visiting our neighbors on those “special” days when they needed a few extra hands to get some “special” job accomplished.
Today, all branches of agriculture have been affected by changes in the producing, the marketing, and the selling of the finished products – the food to feed the people of our country and the world. Large corporate farms are now carrying the production load. They must be doing a good job of it because the grocery shelves are fully loaded with the things my wife needs to set food before me at least three times a day. Times have changed in the country. Each week, when my wife or I walk out of the grocery store with several gallons of milk and several dozens of eggs, we willingly admit to our friends that we’ve just finished our chores for this day!
I went to school and church in Brockway as I was growing up, and it was really the only town that I knew much about. There was Jim Tobin’s Hardware Store where a boy could buy a new pocket knife along with advice on how to whittle from clerk Charlie Haag; Dick Gillung’s Drug Store with the penny candy and Eskimo Pies in the chest freezer; Beadle & Co.’s Clothing Store for the basics of pants and shirts, underwear and socks. Then there was Raymond Snyder’s Ben Franklin Store for a new tablet and pencil or other school supplies; and Hemphill & Millers where I was always fitted for shoes by Harry Taylor or Jenny Tortorella while Jim Marshall watched from the back at his big desk while he puffed away on a big cigar.
If the soles of my shoes wore out, I took them to Sam Melillo’s Shoe Shop and he re-treaded them. There was Silvio Regotti’s Barber Shop where the guys could watch the ladies pass through to his wife Margaret’s beauty shop in the obvious need of hair repair and emerge a few hours later looking like “Mrs. America.” Most of this action took place within a few blocks right in the heart of town. It was only the little grocery stores that were scattered around other parts of town for the convenience of the neighbors in that area. Most of them were famous for some specialty – the best meat, the best ground coffee, the best bread, etc.
We only went to DuBois in those days, as a special treat. My dad, the automobile driver of our family, must not have been much interested in shopping since my mother and I usually took the Richie bus. If there were more to DuBois than Long Avenue and Brady Street, I never saw it. It didn’t really matter because I had saved up my coins for a round through the 5 & 10s on Long Avenue and there were a lot of them: J.G. McCrorys, J.J. Newberrys, A.C. Turners, and F.W. Woolworths, practically side by side. It was a little boy’s version of heaven on earth. Then we’d go to the Quick Lunch, B & J Restaurant, or belly up to the soda fountain at Cowdrick’s Drug for lunch, and soon it was time to board the bus for the ride back to Brockway.
Brookville might as well have been as far away as Pittsburgh in those days. We did manage to get there on our annual visit to Fuzzy and Deacon’s place. They were the Work brothers and lived on South Main Street just below the hospital. They were “cousins” to my dad and theirs was always an interesting place to visit, full of good stories from the “old days.” It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I finally made a trip to Brookville without my parents. I was an advertisement salesman for the “Dawn,” our school yearbook.
In those days, part of the production cost was raised by selling ads for the back of the book and teams of seniors were allowed to take days off now and then to travel to neighboring towns for a genuine learning experience. Mike Cope borrowed his dad’s beautiful two-tone blue Pontiac Chieftain with the lighted Indian’s head as a hood ornament, to provide our transportation. Kids used to be allowed to do things like that, and Mike was certainly a reliable and safe chauffeur for us. I believe that he never went over 35 miles an hour (or so) until he grew up and joined the Air Force and began to fly airplanes.
The faculty business advisor for the yearbook was Caroline Longwell in my day, and she provided our sales team with a list from the past. We scurried up and down the hills of Brookville selling ads to businesses like L.A. Leathers Car Dealership, Country Club Ice Cream, Gladstone Carmalt the Realtor, the Work Funeral Home, and the American Hotel, among others. Then we headed for Hilton’s or the Dixie Diner for lunch. Our ads must not have brought enough business, since none of those are still around. There were others with familiar names like Brookville Equipment and DeMotte’s Garage that can still be seen and ones like Dan Smith’s Candy that still operates, but under a new ownership.
Times have changed in Brookville, in DuBois, in Brockway, and all the other communities around the area as residents drive off to the outlying malls in search of big name brands and little price tags. We talk about the “Good Old Days” but we also talk about the “Good New Days” and how comfortable we have things for today’s world. There are definite advantages to both worlds but I’m satisfied with my life as I have it now. I’m very comfortable in today’s world of mechanized industry, large farming operations, and shopping centers, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking and talking about the past.