New Hampshire and "The Farm"

1971 - 1994

Agnes Plummer Farm about 1890

In the summer of 1971 we moved from New Orleans to a farm in Milton, New Hampshire. Located on the "Branch River", so named because it was a branch of the Salmon Falls River, which separates Maine and New Hampshire.

The farm was located in an "unincorporated" part of the township of Milton, which had two "villages", the town of Milton itself, and the village of Milton Mills. We were just about a mile south of the village of Union population about 200, which was actually in the neighboring town of Wakefield. The town line dividing Milton and Wakefield was a few hundred yards from the border of our farm, just a bit beyond the small cemetary which was adjacent to our place. Union held the remnants of several water powered mills and the associated dams on the Branch river.

We were also perhaps three miles from Milton Mills, which lay on the Salmon Falls river itself and was the site of a woolen mill, which had made blankets for the Union during the American Civil War. The old woolen mill was a tannery by the time we moved there, and the last mill in Union, which was still making wooden coat hangers, closed a couple of years after we arrived. It was later torn down and the dam converted to hydrogeneration of electricity. The second mill, downstream from the first, had been a wooden toy factory and was powered by a combination of direct water power from a horizontal water turbine and steam power. The steam was generated in a boiler fired by wooden scrap from the manufacturing floor. A single overhead shaft powered all the machines and when the pond level dropped, the overhead shaft was then switched to steam power by moving over the large leather belt that drove the shaft. The steam engine was a marvel of iron and brass and was was restored by several retired engineers, along with the woodworking machines, but the boiler was embedded in asbestos, which ended the restoration of the mill. The turbine was swapped for a hydrogeneration system and the mill ran on electricity purchased with the money from selling the generated power to the electic company.

The farmhouse, barn and outbuildings looked like this when we bought it in 1971:

South of farmbuildings in 1971
Northside of the farm buildings in 1971

Winter arrived a few months after we did. We had not thought to gather or purchase firewood, and the old, uninsulated, farmhouse was expensive to heat with an oil-fired furnace. We had a small Franklin style fireplace in the living room and managed to buy enough wood that we could huddle about the fire with the doors closed. Much of that winter we lived in our thermal underwear. Here's a picture of the Franklin stove in the living room. It was a life-saver, and the only supplemental heat we had that winter.

the Franklin Stove

Winter looks like this in New Hampshire (pictures from 1970s and 1980s):

Winter 1973 Winter 1973
Winter 1973 Winter 1975
Winter 1980s Winter 1985

Brief History of our Farm - the Plummers and the town of Milton

The farm was in the "town" of Milton, which had two villlages, Milton Mills, and the larger Milton itself. Milton had been the location of at least three ice-making operations in the early part of the 20th century. The Salmon Falls river was dammed to form three ponds, and the town was also known as "Milton Three Ponds". There had been railroad spurs to large wooden ice houses, one for each of the ponds, and the main street had rooming houses for the temporary workers who came in the winter to cut ice, which was stored under sawdust, from the many local saw mills, in the ice houses for shipment by rail to cities in the Boston area. One of the companies was the Lynn Ice Company. After the development of the home refrigerator and commercial ice plants, the traditional ice cutting industry vanished quickly. The three ponds in Milton were gradually developed into summer vacation "cottages", or, to use the New England term, "camps". Many of the owners of the camps by the time we moved there were from the cities near Boston which had been the former customers of the ice companies cutting ice in Milton.

At the time we moved there, the town of Milton had a total population of about 3,500. It had a "representative town meeting" form of government, which meant that a group of three elected "selectmen" conducted the town business between annual town meetings of all the town residents. The town meeting voted on various issues and authorized expenditures, providing guidance to the selectmen, who were also elected at the time of the annual meeting. Living there was a great introduction to democracy as practiced in the rugged individualism of New Hampshire. It was also an introduction to how incredibly talkative the reputedly taciturn "Yankee" is at a town meeting - held in February, when cabin fever is at its peak, and people are desperate for any human contact.

The farm itself was all that remained, about 70 acres, of some 1,000 acres formerly owned by one of the Plummer families (Lewis Plummer) and used by them to raise and train oxen for their logging operations on the other large properties they owned in Milton. By the time Lewis Plummer died, the farm was the residence of one of the daughters, Agnes Plummer, the other two daughters having moved away. Agnes never married and lived at the farm, which was by then operated as a dairy, "Plummer's Homestead Dairy".

Here's an aerial view of the farm about 1960. By the time we bought it, the annex to the barn had collapsed and been removed, and the workshed toward the river was in ruins. The hen coop and carriage barn were still standing and in good shape when we arrived.

Aerial view of the Agnes Plummer farm 1960

This is a picture of Lewis Plummer and some of his oxen from the late 1800s. Note the huge pile of firewood in the background.

Lewis Plummer and team of oxen

One of the men who managed the dairy for Agnes was Louis Tibbetts. Louis wrote a wonderful personal and anectodal history of the Village of Union. At last check, his writing is available on the web through a Google search for "Louis Tibbetts" or "A History of Union, New Hampshire". The history is complete through 1992 with a few later updates and is an interesting read.

Louis operated the farm until he moved to Union and ran the general store there. Tibbetts General Store was a real country store, known for the quality of meats he sold and for the "New York Washed Curd Tasty Cheese" he kept on the counter. Still the best cheese in our memory. Louis retired and sold the store shortly before we arrived and the new owners maintained much of the character of the old store as long as they could, but in a few years, it had evolved into more of a convenience store with beer, sodas, and snacks being the bulk of the business. As the mills moved out or closed, the small villages in all the area became bedroom communities, and people commuted to nearby cities, Rochester, Dover, Portsmouth, for work. And did their shopping where they worked. Louis Tibbetts never sold beer because, as he said, "I never saw the need of it.". His successors had no choice in the matter.

There were other effects of the closing of the small mills and the loss of the small farms that supplied the towns. One of the most important, and perhaps most damaging, was that the working men and women of the town were gone all day, every working day. That meant that for example, selectmen were not available to handle problems as they arose and organizations such as the fire department, run by and dependant on volunteers began to wither and die. By the 1990s it was hard to staff the fire departments reliably. In Union, the alarm would sound at the fire house, and after half an hour or so, with no one to respond and silence the alarm, someone from the country store would walk across the street and shut it off. A way of life was passing.

Sometime in the early 1960s Agnes Plummer sold the farm to Charles and Louise Barrett, who ran it as a dairy farm into the late 1960s. Charles was a lumberman by trade, and had operated the New England Box Company saw mill just south of the farm until it succumbed to the declining demand for hardwood for the furniture factories in Massachusetts as those factories moved south to North Carolina in the late 50s and 60s. The Barretts then sold the farm to a developer, who set about subdividing it and selling off the better land piecemeal. We bought as much as we could from the developer and put together 70 acres the hard way.

Fortunately, Charles and Louise had built a home nearby and for years helped us learn to farm. We started with a dozen sheep and big plans for an orchard. We learned to hay, putting it up loose by hand in the barn with the big grapple hooks hoisting it up to the third level to be then forked over into the lofts. We learned a great deal and ate well. We are still grateful for all that Charles and Louise taught us, and speak of them often as we enjoy some favorite recipe or work in our garden. They were wonderful friends and mentors.

Charles Barrett Louise Barrett holding Tom

Our Sheep and related adventures

Looking back, it is hard to remember a reason to start raising sheep. We had planted the first apple trees for our planned orchards, and sheep don't really get along well with little apple trees. They eat them. So having sheep meant lots of fencing to keep them contained and away from the trees. Probably we got the sheep because of our contining interest in weaving and the fiber arts.

We brought a small flock of thirteen sheep from another recent "homesteader" arrival to New Hampshire, who wanted to get rid of them. We soon found out why. There was a Suffolk ram ("Sam") together with twelve ewes of various, largely nondescript lineage. We brought the lot of them home to the farm tied in burlap feed sacks in the back of our Dodge station wagon. Jim, son of Artie and Merce Silverman was visiting us and pressed into service as my assistant on that trip. An experience he is not likely to forget.

The first flock of sheep flock in 1978
Sam the Ram

Sam was a pretty good ram, as rams go. He was definitely up to his only task, impregnating the ewes. But we discovered, after a couple of difficult lambing seasons, that Suffolk sheep tend to have large heads, and the many of Sam's lambs had difficult births, ending up in the house as bottle lambs. We swapped Sam off and got a Corriedale ram and soon had much better lambing times. We also got better educated and smarter about raising sheep.

The first year we had the sheep, we did not make any effort to manage the lambing. We just left the ram with the ewes in the late summer and we had lambs dropping in the depth of winter at irregular intervals. We ended up with a couple of lambs in the house on the bottle when they were not adequately cared for by the mother or abandoned.

Here are some pictures of our bottle lambs through the early years.

bottle lamb bottle lamb
bottle lamb bottle lamb
bottle lamb bottle lamb

Later, as we learned more, we were much more organized about lambing. We had raised a black ram lamb, Fred" on the bottle, shown in the picture above, before we learned that the black color is likely a recessive trait. Because we had hopes of having a flock of sheep with fleece of different colors, and kept the lamb, a second ram, to perhaps breed some black progeny. Fred, however, even though still young, when he was put out with the rest of the flock, became agressive, and we decided to butcher him.

Fred was delicious, and we thereafter kept a lamb for ourselves every year, and also converted our thinking from raising sheep for the fleece to raising lambs for the Greek Orthodox Easter celebration. There was a sizable Greek American community in nearby Dover and Somersworth, and a local slaughter house/butcher who catered to their desire for small (30 pound) lambs for the traditional Easter feast. We found we could easily sell all the lambs of that size we could produce.

So we learned to better coordinate the timing of our lambing season. We looked up the date of the following year's Easter, allowed thirty days for the lambs to reach a weight of about thirty pounds, then counted back 5 months, the gestation period of a lamb and came up with a date of desirable conception. Naturally we needed the ram and the ewes to cooperate. The ram was no problem. The ewes, however, needed a little persuasion, as sheep do not have a regular or recurring estrus. Rather, it is the presence and activity of the ram which induces an estrus. So we learned to keep the ram away from the flock for several months, then "flush" the ewes with extra nutrition (more grain) and put the ram in with the ewes. Sure enough, the ewes entered estrus more or less at the same time, and we ended up with a lambing season that lasted 7 to 10 days, instead of a couple of months. And we had plenty of lambs for Easter.

Of course, with sheep comes the obligation to feed them through the long New Hampshire winters. We were delighted to find out, from Charles, that all that "grass" growing in the fields around the farmhouse and barn was actually "hay". Timothy and clover hay. Good for feeding sheep.

We did our first haying in the "old way". We did purchase a hay mower, a used sickle bar mower that attached to the tractor, and an old style "dump rake" . Charles taught us everything we needed to know about haying and led us through the process that first year. He told us when the hay was ready to cut, when the weather had likely stabilized for a few days, long enough to dry the hay, and when the hay was dry enough to put into the barn. We cut the hay and tossed it about a bit while it was drying, then loaded it with hay forks onto the wagon and then into the barn. We backed the hay wagon into the barn and used the old overhead grapple hooks to lift it onto the third level of the barn from where we then forked it by hand onto the hay lofts on each side. Charles showed us how to operate the hay lift and helped us handle all that hay. The next year, we got a "tedder", a machine to stir and toss about the hay to hasten drying. A couple of years of haying by hand made us really appreciate the baler, when we finally got one. Here are some photos of the early days of making hay.
raking the hay haying in 1972
putting the hay in the barn

And here are a couple of shots of haying after we had the baler, which we got in the late 1970s. A baler is something that you develop a love-hate relationship with. When it is working well it is a wonderful, labor saving device. But when the knotters are not working and the machine is too hot to touch in the July sun, and the thunderheads are building up to the south, well, that is a different situation. Along with the baler, we got a new rake, a side delivery rake which was also a tedder. It fluffed up the hay nicely, and then raked it to the side in long windrows for the baler to gobble up and bale. All in all, however, the best equipment purchase was the electic powered hay conveyer, which took the bales up to the second level of the loft, sparing us from having to lift them up to the second story by hand. Next time, the conveyer will be the first item I purchase for haying, not the last. And the baler will be the second.

baling the hay bringing in the bales

During the first few years at the farm, we continued to work at Macrame and weaving and writing more books. For more detail on the books written on Macrame and other crafts during the early 1970s and later phamphlets on handweaving see our Publications Page. But we were very busy figuring out how to live on the farm - learning how to heat the place and starting to develop it as a working farm. We planted some apple trees early on, had an enormous garden, and got those of sheep. All these efforts were aimed at becoming relatively self-sufficient and developing a source of income for and from the farm. And soon occupied most of our time. It is said there are only two seasons in New Hampshire: Winter and Getting ready for Winter. That is certainly true on a farm.

The second year, and for many after, we had a large garden. Charles knew the land well and could tell us where the best land for gardening was located. The first couple of years, he plowed and harrowed the garden for us until we got the equipment needed to do it ourselves. Our good teaching from Charles and Louise and our willingness to work very hard more than made up for our lack of knowledge and experience.

The garden produced well and we learned how to "put food by" for the winter. Some things we canned and some we froze, but we harvested and stored enough for the entire year. After we added chickens to the farm, we also had fresh eggs as well as fryers, broilers, and stewing chickens. Later, we raised a hog every year and put up salt pork and lard as well as the pork from that.

The pictures below show the harvest from 1972. There are green beans and wax beans and pickles and saurkraut in jars on the shelves in the root cellar, and bins with potatoes and winter squashes. And tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. We made juice, sauce, soup, ketchup, and green tomato relish. The peas and corn we froze, but we also made corn relish and various pickles with other vegetables from the garden. After several years, we had a Thanksgiving with a large roasting chicken and all the food except coffee, salt, spices, and flour from our garden.

harvest 1972 harvest 1972
potatoes in the bin squash in the bin
tomato harvest 1972 tomato harvest 1972

Here is a photo of the farm as it looked around 1973/74. The 1963 Toyota Land Cruiser, which had traveled from Philadelphia to New Orleans to New Hampshire is in the driveway, and it has been joined by a 1972 Land Cruiser station wagon. The Land Cruiser staton wagon replaced a 1964 Dodge station wagon we had bought in New Orleans, largely for the air conditioning. We kept the Land Cruiser station wagon until 1976 when we traded it in on a Chevy 4WD pick up truck for the farm. It is the only time we have traded in a car for twice what we paid for it, a fact that attests to the rapid rise in prices for those vehicles during those years.

the farm in about 1974

Spring, summer and fall were busy times, and winter was almost welcome as a time to slow down and catch up on other things. But mostly it was time spent keeping the wood stoves full and the ice off the roof(s). We burned about 15 cords of wood each year during most of the time we lived there, sometimes more. Firewood may have been our most important crop.

The first years we spent trying to figure out how to best stay warm in the winter. We did a lot of remodeling and insulating, and added two fireplaces. But the most important thing we did was to experiment with woodstoves that controlled the burning to maximize heat production. We first added a massive enameled cast iron wood stove to the kitchen to use as cookstove as well as a source of heat. This experiment was a failure, as the firebox was too small and there was not good draft control. This was followed by an Ashley Stove, a basic steel barrel stove with a thermostat-controled damper. The device was really simple; a bi-metallic coil that was in the air flow to the air intake of the stove and had one end attached to a small chain that raised or lowered a flap valve on air intake. There was a damper in the stove pipe also, but mostly the combustion was controlled by this arrangement. It did not take long to figure out the proper setting to get a long burn and maximal heat production. The stove was prodigiously ugly, but after the first few cold weeks of winter, we thought it beautiful.

The Ashley stove was soon replaced with a large Jotul stove, a cast-iron Swedish stove with a tight sealing door and a draft control consisting of a simple rotating valve. The Jotul was wonderful and would burn 12 hours on a load of wood most of the time. When the temperatures fell to 20 degrees below zero (or lower) we did get up at night to reload the stove, but most of the time it lasted 12 hours at night and 6 to 8 hours in the daytime. It worked so well, we got another for the living room and the two together heated the house very well. For a couple of years, they were our only heat, but for the most part, supplemented the oil-fired furnace in the main house.

Later, when we moved the yarnshop to the loft, we added a small Jotul box stove there and it worked as well as the big one in that space. Years on, when we moved the yarn store to the barn, we added a coal stove to that space.

We spent a lot of time and work heating the farm. But, over time, we got better and more efficient at that. In the early 1990s we replaced the old hot air furnace with an oil fired hotwater system with baseboard heat and at that time we moved the Jotul from the living room to my workshop in the barn, keeping the Jotul in the kitchen, the Jotul in the loft, the Ashley in the wood shop, and the coal stove in the yarnshop. By that time, Gene was harvesting just over 15 cords of wood a year from the woodlot, which was self-sustaining. He cut the wood each fall, splitting it and stacking it in the woods to dry for a year. The next fall, we would move the split wood over the creek to the barnyard to dry another year, and move the prior year's stack from the barn yard to the wood room, adjacent to the kitchen. The wood room held just over 15 cords of split wood. We burned a mix of red oak, maple, and ash, with some poplar and pine, the latter to use on days when we needed a quick fire to take the chill off but not a day long fire.

Sand and Gravel

The farm lay on land that had been glaciated in the last ice age. The glaciers had moved across the land, taking the tops off the hills and small mountains, and grinding the rock into sand and gravel that was deposited on the south side of the remaining hills as the glaciers retreated. Our farm had rich and extensive deposits of sand and gravel on both sides of the small river (creek, really) that bisected the farm. Much of the land had been excavated for gravel "borrow pits" in the 1960s during the construction of the part of state Route 16, which had by-passed the villages of Union, Sanbornville, and Wakefield, as it hurried the tourists along to the White Mountains, lakes, and ski areas to the north.

In the 1970s we sold some sand and gravel to a contractor working on more by-passes, this time by-passing Milton. The contractor re-opened the pits and extracted a couple of acres worth of material. The money from the sale of the minerals was most welcome revenue to the farm at that time.

Later in the 1970s and early 1980s a local contractor approached us about re-opening the pits and buying material from us. He wanted to build a bridge across the river instead of fording it, as had been done before, and offered to build a bridge and roads to access the pits in exchage for a discounted price on the material and an exclusive contract. We agreed, and he built the bridge and roads as promised. The accounting he kept on the amount of material being removed, however, was a bit sketchy, but before we needed to confront him about the discrepancies, his business went under, and we were left with a fine bridge and roads, and no obligation to sell any more material.

Later, the abandoned sand pits grew wonderful crops of blackberries along the edges, and made for fun jeep riding.

Andes Yarns - the yarn shop

In short order the sheep led to selling yarn. First we traded fleece for yarn with the Bartlett Mill in Maine and sold yarn from our kitchen. Then we expanded into the second level over the "ell" connecting to the barn. And with more space, we added more types of yarn. The Bartlett yarn was a "woolen" spun yarn, softer and loftier than a "worsted" spun yarn. But the worsrted yarns were stronger and longer lasting, so we added some excellent weaving yarn from Harrisville Designs company in New Hampshire. We also sold their looms and later, added the line of looms and equipment from Schacht Spindle Company. The business grew and we advertised a little.

Then on afternoon, a gentleman named Bill Spratt walked into the loft where the shop was located and visited for a while getting to know us and the business. It turned out he was managing the development of a new yarn company, Elite Yarns, which was and offshoot of the Worley Worsted Mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. Worley had old weaving equipment capable of spinning fancy yarns and of handling mohair. Although the company made most of its revenue from making cotton mop cord, the owner wanted to use that specialized equipment for a new line of yarn. He brought Bill, who had worked for Berrocco yarns for years, in to design and develop the yarn and create a business around it. The yarns were spun mohair and mohair boucle and brushed mohair in current colors and ombre yarns. Bill needed a business to handle his growing mail order business and asked us if we would be willing and able to handle it for him. We agreed and, on a handshake, he arranged to ship us a large inventory of all the colors and blends in the line as well as all the sample cards, stationery, and other supplies we would need. It was a tremendous boost for our shop, giving us an instant mail order business and also a superb inventory on hand in the shop for our local customers.

Later, after several years of working with Elite and Bill, we asked him why he had picked us to partner with. He replied simply that he needed someone he could trust, and based on our advertising and on meeting us, he trusted us. The relationship lasted for perhaps five or more years, until Bill had grown the business in Lowell and could hire enough staff there to hande the mail order for him. He even had us do a small pamphlet of knitting patterns for Elite. The pictures for the pamphlet were taken at a mohair "ranch" in Texas. Texas was, at that time, the largest mohair producer in the world.

A few years after that, Bill and Elite parted company when the owner's wife wanted to take over the business. It became Elite Specialty Yarns and continues to this day, but not in Lowell. Worley closed down, also, and the yarn is not made there anymore. We lost track of Bill, but will be always grateful to him for a great gift to us and for showing us around the mill and giving us insight into the yarn and textile business.

In a few years after partnering with Elite, we expanded the shop again. In the late 1970s, we renovated the barn to add a large commercial cooler for the apples and at the same time, converted the south - facing side of the barn into retail space. That side had been cattle tie-ups and stalls in the dairy days. We kept the north side for the sheep. By that time we had also added a dairy goat and later we had a mohair goat, also in that space. <.p>

The remodeled south side of the barn was about 1200 square feet and we turned it into a full-fledged yarn shop, specializing in weaving supplies and exotic yarns. Ellen ran the yarn shop, gave knitting, spinning, and weaving lessons, watched the apple stand, and raised the children. We were fortunate to have a series of local young ladies to help with the children. Stacey MacDougal, Mary Pomery, and Kathy Richards were outstanding, and you will often see them in pictures of the children and of the farm.

The left hand picture below shows the yarn shop in the early days, in the loft. The picture on the right shows Gene and Tom weaving on small table looms we made at the farm and sold in the shop.

Yarnshop in the loft teaching Tom to weave

The yarn shop was very successful and we both worked at it, teaching classes as well as selling yarn. Ellen grew a large and loyal customer base. And it certainly was much less capital and labor-intensive than farming.

Here are some pictures of the advertising tri-fold brochure for the farm and the yarn shop, and a bookmark from the shop. And a picture of the sign that hung above the entrance to the "first" shop, on the second floor of the "ell", above the woodshed and the workshops. The sign moved to the "second" shop in the barn, then with us to our various home through the following decades. The sign in the picture below is hanging in the living room of our current apartment.

Yarnshop brochure yarnshop brochure


yarn shop sign

When we went overseas in 1986, we closed the yarn shop and got rid of most of the inventory, although Ellen kept two floor looms, a table loom, a spinning wheel, and plenty of yarn. We hired a young couple to live at the farm and manage it while we were away, with the intent of selling it to them on our return. More later.

Apple Orchards

After first year we were at the farm, we planted about two acres of apple trees. This first planting included many different varieties - the popular varieties -McIntosh, of course, and red delicious, golden delicious, Jonathan, and Rome - but also some older types - Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening, Yellow Transparent, Milton - and some newer one - Paula Red, Macoun. The trees were "semi-dwarf" trees, the parent stock (scion) grafted to a wild-type root stock that would limit growth and keep the trees, with proper management, small enough to manage without ladders. This first planting did well, and began to produce small crops in about 4 years.

At about that time, we planted an additional five acres, about 2500 trees. This expansion was to be a variety of apple called Milton, similar to a MacIndosh, and chosen more for the name than the quality of the apple. After growing the trees for three years, the first fruit showed that they were not the variety they were supposed to be. The nursery from which I had purchased the trees had shipped another variety. So they shipped replacement trees and we replanted. This time, the variety was a Spur MacIntosh. After the third growing season, when the trees had formed the lower whorl of branches that would carry most of the fruit, we had a severe winter with lots of snow. The snow accumulated to 2 to 3 feet high in the new orchard and then, after a bit of freezing rain followed by a deep freeze, forming a thick layer of ice on top of the snow. A February thaw followed, which melted the snow below the ice causing the ice to drop about a foot or more, shearing off the main lower scaffold branches of the trees. Which meant the process of growing and training them had to start again, for the second time.

Despite all the setbacks, we continued to expand the orchard, planting another 7 acres in the 1980s using a different rootstock and an even denser planting of 800 trees to the acre. We also began a small nursery and Gene learned how to propagate apple trees by budding. Budding is a form of grafting in which just the axillary bud, at the base of a leaf, is used for the donor stock. It is thinly sliced off the donor branch and inserted into a superficial cut in the recipient rootstock. It is faster and easier than traditional grafting, and produces a fine result. The budding is done in late summer, after the buds have formed. The rootstock, with the bud in place, is grown through the fall and winter and in the spring, once the bud sprouts and the desired donor stock is growing well, the rootstock above the graft site is romoved. Although Gene grew the nursery stock for replacement trees for the orchards, we also sold them.

In 1985 we got an opportunity to work abroad, in Saudi Arabia, and decided to take advantage of the chance to travel and work for a guaranteed income. We hired a couple to run the farm in our absence, which was to be at least two years, and ended up a bit more. We paid the couple a salary and provided a budget to cover most of the costs of continuing the running of the orchards. We closed the yarn shop, put most of our household goods in storage, and set off on an adventure. That adventure is chronicled in the Saudi Arabia Page. While there, we lived in a large city (Riyadh) in a desert, where it was warm and sunny pretty much all the year. It also afforded great opportunity for travel.

When we returned, we decided to conclude the farming operation for many reasons. Mostly, the reasons were economic. Although we had been producing enough income from the orchards to cover running costs, there was not enough to cover the costs of capital - the costs of replacing equipment and the costs of paying the mortgage and taxes. Equipment that had cost $2,000 in 1971 was costing $20,000 to $30,000 and more by 1987. Taxes were also increasing, as in New Hampshire, property tax is the only source of revenue for local governments, and the public schools were, at that time, almost entirely funded by each township. We realized that, although it was a good life, we were spending money to keep it going, money that would be needed for the children's' college education. And although we enjoyed the farming way of life, our kids did not. Plus, after two years of sunshine, we were tired of the cold and the long, dark winter. It was also getting harder as we got older to maintain the property and to cut the wood for each winter. Two years in the sun of the "desert kingdom" and living in an urban metropolis had given us a glimpse of another way of life.

When we fist returned home, we spent a lot of time and money remodeling the farmhouse. We replaced windows, adding larger windows to the south facing side, and re-sided the house and the ell in cedar. At this time, we also replaced the heating system, and the roof, and remodeled the interior. We had custom interior doors made to match the originals, built custom kitchen cabinets and replaced the kitchen counter tops with tile. We finally had the house the way we wanted it. Cozy warm in winter, and in good enough shape to keep maintenance low. Gene went back to school to get a business degree (MBA) and Ellen worked full time as a high school librarian. Gene had fun with antique jeeps and continued with his ship modeling, which he had resumed while overseas. Ellen continued her fiber arts and the children went back to school.

But things were not the same. We found the cold and dark winters over-long. The kids found the local public schools were not up to the standards of the American School in Riyadh. We tried some private and alternative schools for the kids, but in the end, we no longer fit in our former home.

Then began a serious job search, and in 1994, we left for Ardmore, Oklahoma, to live and work in a small city and try the urban life in a warmer climate. We could not sell the farm until 1999 and then sold it at a great loss. In the years since we first moved there, it seemed the romance of living the farming life had diminished. It certainly had for us. The lessons we learned there, and the memories made, however, are without price.

Friends and Relatives and Visitors

When we first bought the farm, we bought it together with a dear friend, Betty, from New Orleans. After about half a year, however, it became just to difficult to make decisions and plan for expenditures collaboratively so we divided things up. Betty took the carriage barn, had it moved to a parcel next to the farmhouse which was then deeded to her, and she remodeled it into a lovely second home. We were then left to develop the bulk of the farmland as we wished.

Dale Schwichtenbeerg was a student at Hamline University and working in fiber arts. He wanted to learn Macrame, and in a conversation with Mike Price, our sculptor friend from New Orleans who had taking a teaching position at Hamline in 1970,Mike suggested he contact us to arrange a study residence with us in New Hampshire. Dale stayed with us for a while, went back and finished college and later returned to live with us for several years. In the interim, he had worked for a time as a printing assistant to Mauricio Lasansky, the renowned print maker, who had founded and chaired the Printmaking department at University of Iowa. Dale wanted to establish a fine art printmaking studio in New Hampshire and set up a printing press in our garage for a time, but did not find enough business in rural New Hampshire to make a living. While he lived with us he helped out on the farm and we hung his many Lasanksky prints on our walls. He had obtained "artist proofs" of each of the prints he had assisted with printing the edition, so there was an impressive collection. He also introduced us to the work of Leonardo Lasansky, Mauricio's son, who was professor in the Art Department at Hamline University. But in time, with no printing business developing, Dale moved on, press, prints, and all. Here are some pictures of Dale over those several years. You can see how Tom has grown when you compare the pictures. And the addition of Robert assisting Tom in washing Dale's car. Fortunately, Dale was a very patient man.

Dale Schwichtenberg Dale with Tom

Christmas with Dale kids washing Dale's car

Dale was not the only student we had stay with us. Edith Andersen, from Copenhagen, also stayed with us several months to learn some of our Macrame techniques, and we learned a number of her Danish knitting techniques. Here's a shot of Edith at the farm.

Below the picture of Edith, there is a collection of pictures of various friends and neighbors, often pictures taken at birthday parties or holiday occasions. The pictures include friends Holly, Hilde, Rhonda ("Woodsie"), Anna and Inge, a colleague, Sue, and neighbors Glenn and Lorraine, Charles and Louise, and visiting family. The last pictures show our brother-in-law, Marc, with Ellen and a load of firewood, and a photos of Ellen with her mother, Clara, and her aunt Edna and the kids, also with firewood in the background.

Edith Anderson

Holly and Glenn Hilde with kids

Woodsie Anna Inga with Tom

Sue Louise and Stacy

Lorraine with Tom 1977

Glen and Lorraine

Marc with firewood Clara and Edna

Visit with a Vampire

Some time after our return from Saudi Arabia, while in New Hampshire, Gene met and struck up a conversation with a commercial airline pilot for American Airlines, who was soon to test out with the FAA in a Vampire jet to certify to fly it. He invited us to the test trial, and we had a wonderful time looking over this interesting early military jet and watching the test flight. It was a two-seater, and the FAA guy had to go along for the trial flight, so none of us got to fly, but that was fine. We also met the owner of the plane and learned from him a bit about the world of those folks who collect old "war birds".

The Vampire was made by DeHavilland in the late 40s and 50s and was one of the first operational military jet aircraft. It was pretty primitive by today's standards, with an engine that had little power, resulting in a very slow, smooth taxi and take off. The air frame also had wooden parts, especially the nose. The plane had twin tail booms with the engine in the center of the main wing.

Vampire Vampire

The Vampire was used by many countries, and one of those countries was Saudi Arabia. The Vampire was one of the first aircraft used by the Royal Saudi Air Force, and is enshrined by being mounted in one of the "sculptures" in the "roundabouts" in Jeddah.

Vampire on pylon in Jeddah


When we returned from Saudi Arabia, we closed down the farming operation and had more time to enjoy simply living at the farm. We renovated the house for the third or fourth time and developed the wood lot so we could supplement the heating systems with wood stoves. We got a jeep to use around the farm, especially in the wood lot, where a full size pickup was too big to thread through the forest. And that started us on a long love affair with jeeps. To see more about that, just go here.