When Dad spent hours building a classic barn for a Christmas gift, we kids were lucky in several ways. First of all, he is not a carpenter by nature. Baling wire and masking tape are his fix-it preferences, but he held a productive family farm together for decades, so maybe he was hiding his engineering talents. On that Christmas morning years ago, we found a beautiful red barn with white trim—and a hinged haymow door that had us baling the carpet and hoisting small Lincoln logs we used for hay bales.
My brothers and I were fortunate in other ways. Johnson’s Hardware in our small town and the Ben Franklin store in the nearby county seat had basic farm toys—cabless tractors, a wagon or two, a few plastic Holstein cows. We could usually find packets of white plastic fence and during the holidays, the bigger store might have something exotic like a four-row planter.
But the offerings were basic, so we had to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Erector set pieces provided some props, and we could use small boxes, marbles, thread spools, or other items to make grain feeders, pig sheds, or water tanks. On special occasions, we used jelly beans or M&M’s for grain, but not surprisingly, the yield was mighty small by the time those loads made it to market.
Our animals looked like early versions of genetic engineering gone bad. They were mismatched sizes, several were bent from being stepped on, and at times I imagine a horse or camel was used to fill out the cattle herd in the pasture. The tractors weren’t much better. Enough of the tire rubber came off you’d think we were in the steel wheel era, and most of them had scrapes or mud left over from the summer when we’d set up a farm in the lane.
On winter days, we could work in 70 degree comfort as sun rays slanted in through the large picture window. Most of the cattle grazed comfortably in one spot unless my younger brother ran through the room and did a five-year-old’s version of cow-tipping. We probably had to move the operation to the “South Forty” at times when Mom and Dad needed the living room, but some type of farming occurred on the carpet until the spring thaw arrived.
Now, when I check the Internet or walk through kids’ stores, I see plenty of the basic “Old Macdonald’s Farms” for the little ones, and an impressive variety of machines ranging from classics to high-tech monsters. But with fewer family farms dotting the countryside, I wonder if the “let’s play farm” experiences are the same. Old-style windmills, slatted corn cribs, and small, square hay bales are probably found only in the relics section on eBay. And now that we see so few pigs, chickens, or even cattle in the open air, I’d imagine the Christmas morning carpet is covered with less livestock--and many more action figures or discarded video game boxes.
I can understand. Even most farm kids aren’t going to ask for a confinement building or a liquid manure spreader for Christmas. Then again, you never know. I recall occasionally spreading shredded paper manure on the carpet after cleaning the pens in that classic red barn. We must have stepped in it too. Seems that once you’ve lived on a farm, it’s awfully hard to scrape the lifestyle and good memories off your boots.
by dan gogerty (barn photo from facebook.com; carpet photo from aquietlifeinaloudhouse.blogspot)