“I helped work my way through college shoveling manure on a dairy farm in Catawba Valley, Virginia.
It was unusually warm on that Monday morning in June 1958 as I sat on that old Case farm tractor staring down the rows of that large corn field on the western border of the Morgan Farm. My mission that day was to cultivate each row exposing the many weeds that had grown during the Spring rains. This would be the last cultivation for the corn crop because in a week the corn stalks would be too high to run the cultivator through the field without damaging the crop.
I sat there thinking about things that had been on my mind since I turned 18 in April while collecting my Andrew Lewis High School diploma in May. Now it was June, and I was back at work on the Morgan Farm where I had worked since age 11. I guess I was at a crossroads in my life pondering what lay ahead for me.
My Daddy had spent nine years at the Catawba Sanatorium and was cured of tuberculosis although it had weakened him greatly. He was still employed at the Sanatorium and had lived full time at home for the past four years. My three sisters were no longer at home, so it was me and Daddy and Mama. I had registered for the Draft, but the Korean War had ceased, and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam would not become active until the early 1960s under President John Kennedy. In the meantime, we were at peace around the world under President Dwight Eisenhower who would end his 8th year in 1960. I felt good about living in the 1950s and still feel that was my best decade ever.
As the tractor started up the silence was broken, and that old Case headed for row number one. Back and forth I would go cultivating headed west until I reached row’s end made the turn and started east. A peace that farming brings came over me as the narrow plow points turned over soil and released that earthy aroma that all farmers know so well. I was at peace and I knew God would direct my path. I loved farming as did my Dad before he got sick and my Grandad Carroll who managed the Sanatorium Farm before his tragic death in 1941. Yes sir, I just might continue to be a farmer.
Cultivating corn is a slow process since speed kills the corn stalks, so it was an endurance effort this day. As I made another turn and headed down a new row, I saw a car stopped on the Creek Road (Blacksburg Road) near the field and someone waving at me. I waved back and stopped as a man made his way towards me. I sat on the tractor and waited not knowing that my life would soon be drastically changed.
The man approaching me was Murphy Scott, whom, along with Jim Peters ran the vocational agriculture program, Future Farmers of America (FFA) at Andrew Lewis High School. Those two men had had a tremendous impact on my life and the lives of many boys throughout Roanoke County, including Catawba. There was a class taught in the Roanoke County Schools called Vocational Agriculture (Voag) and was being offered starting in the ninth grade for boys who chose this course. During the 1940s and 1950s, there were many farm boys attending Andrew Lewis High School.
The emphasis was put on general agriculture, focusing on animal and crop management. The course also involved a Shop class whereas a student would get “hands-on” training in woodworking, welding, blacksmithing, pipe-fitting and how to operate all kinds of machinery. It was designed specifically for boys living and working on farms. A new addition to house the shop had been completed equipped with all the modern machines and tools of that 1950 decade. All boys who took Voag had the option of joining the Future Farmers of America (FFA) which was an organization on a local, state and national level. The FFA offered competition in many areas such a public speaking, conducting meetings, animal projects, etc.
Everyone was required to write and give a speech in front of the class. This was the best thing that ever happened to me as I had been shy being around anyone other than family members. The three year period was a great experience for me in building my confidence and self-esteem. I served as President of the Andrew Lewis Chapter of FFA, and in my Senior year, I was elected State Secretary of the Virginia FFA. So, Murphy Scott, the man walking towards me was a man I would be grateful to for the rest of my life. At that moment I did not realize just how much.
I cut the tractor motor off as the first words were coming out of his mouth in the form of a question: “Are you going to ride that tractor the rest of your life?” I answered that I was just trying to finish the field by day’s end. He looked up at me and said, “Ted, you are going to attend V.P.I. come Fall.” (Virginia Tech University was known as V.P.I. back then). I looked at him and stated what I thought he already knew, that my family could never afford to send me to college. But, Murph had the answers, and he had done his homework.
Without my knowledge, he had been searching for a scholarship for me to attend V.P.I. in Blacksburg. And he had found one that nobody had applied for, and it was for the School of Agriculture. He had all the papers, and all I had to do was fill them out, and he would take me up to Virginia Tech in a couple of days for submission and approval. (That happened, and I was enrolled in the School of Agriculture at Virginia Tech University majoring in Animal Husbandry.) It appeared to be a different man riding that tractor the remainder of the day. After Murphy Scott left, I sat there on the tractor processing what had happened in the past twenty minutes. It seemed surreal, but I knew that my next four years had been laid out and this was the reality of that moment.
Still sitting on the tractor, staring at that cornfield, my mind started backtracking to seven years prior in 1951 at age 11 that marked the beginning of my farming experience at the Morgan Farm. I had already been bitten by the farming bug during my earlier years spending summers up at the Garman homeplace where cousin Gene lived with father Paul, mother Stacil and sister Wilma. As boys during our years of 8-10, Gene and I did many different kinds of things on the farm to the extent our size allowed. We helped with haymaking, harvesting, feeding hogs and chickens, gathering firewood, carrying water from the well house to the main house as well as any and all other things deemed necessary. Milking cows twice a day is the most vivid memory I have, probably since that is what we did the most. I learned a lot even at that age from just being exposed to it and asking questions. Gene is still farming on a part of the homeplace as of 2018.
My association with the Jerry Morgan farm started as a result of playing with Johnny Lopez, who lived at the big farmhouse called “The Summit”. He lived there with his mother Ella Lopez and older brother Ralphiel. Ella was kin to the Morgan’s through marriage and lived at The Summit in the time she was a teacher at Catawba School in 1938-39, and 1943-1945. I was around inside the house, in the barns, and on the property on a regular basis. The farm owner Jerry Morgan was called Uncle Jerry by those kin to him and those not kin to him. He was Uncle Jerry in life and after he died in 1974 (age 94), he remains Uncle Jerry in memory to this day.
Interesting History of the Morgan Farm
The Morgan family bought the farm from Captain W.W. Brand in 1904 who resided there with his wife Mary Thomas Brand who was the daughter of Elias Thomas, Sheriff of Roanoke County from 1848-1850. Sheriff Thomas owned the land before Captain Brand buying it. Captain Brand was described as, “a splendid citizen,” active in all church and civic affairs and was for many years superintendent of the Catawba Methodist Church Sunday School. Captain Brand had given the land for the original church to be built on in 1884. That church would remain there for over 75 years until it was razed in 1962.
In 1904 the Brand Farm of about 900 acres would become the Morgan farm. After purchasing the 900-acre farm for approximately $14,000, the Morgans sold the western 300 acres to J.B. Andrews at $50 per acre.
A year after buying the Brand property, the original house burned and the Morgans built a large, nine bedroom farmhouse in 1907, calling it “The Summit”. It would double as a boarding house through the years, as well. Jerry Morgan would oversee the workings of the farm until the early 1970s. He passed away in December of 1974. He, like Captain Brand would be described as a “splendid citizen.”
The Wingate family would purchase the house and farm buildings in 1978 and it opened for business in 1982. It would be called “The Homeplace”, a very successful family style restaurant, but that’s story itself for a future time.
During my time being a part of the Morgan farm from 1951-1962, there was a number of family members living there. George Morgan, a brother to Jerry, was a skilled electrician, wood craftsman, and inventor. He died in 1957. Annie Morgan, an unmarried sister, lived there until her death in 1953. Another unmarried sister, Esther (Essie) Morgan was there and passed away in the same year as brother Jerry, in 1974.
Jerry Morgan had two grandsons, brothers Bill and Landon Bishop who resided there and did the farm work. An unmarried daughter Maxie born five years after the farm’s purchase in 1909 lived there until the farm was sold. She died in 1982.
A black man, Jessee Blaney who lived in the close-by “Colored Town” community was a full-time employee and taught me a lot about farming. He was a fine man and highly respected. Emory Garman worked there in the summertime for several years. I noted earlier that another Morgan relative, Ella Lopez lived there for a few years, along with her two sons.
Needing Some Wheels
In 1951 at age 11, I desired a bicycle, preferably a Schwinn so that I could ride to places like cousin Jimmy Garman’s home, Sanatorium and to nearby farms like the Brillharts and Sanatorium Farm to work and earn money. My chances of getting a bike were about as good as getting a pony, 22 rifle or the many other things that I dreamed about.
We did not even have enough money at times for necessities. I had decided that I would just settle for a pair of Keffer Store, Wolverine high top work shoes since I would be walking a lot. But God was about to smile down on Teddy. Mama told me one day that Uncle Jerry had talked to her about one of their cows having birthed a calf and in doing so had died, leaving a healthy calf behind. When a calf loses its mother, no other cow would nurse it. It happened from time to time on local farms, which required someone to bottle-feed that calf until it could eat solid food. Uncle Jerry said they did not have anyone to deal with raising that orphan calf, but if Teddy wanted to do it, then they would furnish the milk. Like I had to think about that? That calf will be transformed into a new Schwinn bike!
We got a couple of RC Cola bottles, some nipples and my raise-a-calf project started. There was a barn on our property, so everything was set up. The first attempt at bottle-feeding the calf failed since the calf wanted mama cow’s teat not a piece of rubber. Now what?
My mother came to the rescue since she had done this on the Garman farm growing up. First, you have to sprinkle some milk on your fingers and let the calf suck the milk off. When that occurs, trade your fingers for the nippled milk bottle and the calf doesn’t know the difference. Worked perfectly for me and the nursing began. After a couple of weeks, I would gradually start to feed the calf some cow feed purchased at Minor Keffer’s store. Finally, the day came for the calf to go to the market. Landon Bishop, from the Morgan farm, hauled the calf away in the farm truck, and I got a check that would enable me to purchase a bicycle. It was a sharp looking 26” Schwinn bike, and now I had transportation.
During the summer of 1951, I would spend even more time at the Morgan farm and could not get enough of the farming activities. I, also, was asked to do jobs around the farmhouse grounds like, clean out the chicken house and help plant and maintain the huge garden behind the house. I was paid fifty cents per hour. The garden plot was one-half acre in size and required a lot of work to maintain it. A large part of the garden harvest went into canning which filled a huge pantry in the large kitchen area of the house. Other produce was dried or kept in a root cellar. I recall, vividly, the day I was given a bundle of 200 tomato slips to plant. That was a chore and a half to do that. I would stretch a line from one side of the garden to the other so I could lay off a straight row. The plants would be planted in a hill about three feet apart. Each plant got a cup of chicken manure mixed with the soil at the bottom of the hole. After reaching the end of each row, I would carry a bucket of water down that row applying a cup of water to each plant. That was indeed a long day. All in all, I liked to garden and see things I planted pop through the soil crust and eventually, blossom and bear much fruit. The soil in that garden was very productive.
When you go to the Homeplace Restaurant today and park in back, you are parking on that garden spot. Why would the Morgans want such a big garden? I believe every garden in that day and time was oversized. However, it always seemed to get used or preserved in some manner for the future. People then were quick to share when they had a surplus. The Morgan family and those who boarded there ate vegetables year around, whether fresh or preserved. Teachers, circuit preachers, visitors to Catawba Sanatorium all patronized the Summit.
Annie and Essie Morgan were the co-chefs of the farm kitchen, assisted by Maxie and Ella as needed. Annie and Essie always seemed to be in the large kitchen, cooking, frying, and baking. Johnny Lopez and I always had a kitchen visit scheduled for milk and cookies. I have eaten many meals there over the years and I tell people today that the food served by The Homeplace Restaurant always brings back those memories of delicious and plentiful country cuisine.
I developed many skills doing any and all tasks, whether requested by Uncle Jerry or Miss Annie or Essie. Around the farmhouse and yard area, I pruned hedges, mowed grass with a push mower, planted flowers, raked leaves, picked up tree branches and repaired and painted the yard fence. But the allure for me was the farm work. I loved being around the farm machinery, especially the tractor, and all the haymaking equipment. There was a machinery shed/workshop equipped to fix machinery that would break down, which on a farm is almost daily. There was a forge for blacksmithing and an acetylene torch, which they taught me how to use. Due to my young age and skinny body, I would be limited to smaller jobs, but that was fine with me as long as I could be on the farm. You might say I was upward bound physically and vocationally.
My big break comes as opportunity knocks
The farm had two trucks: A long bed pickup truck that Landon used to haul milk cans to Roanoke three days a week and a flatbed larger truck for hauling hay bales during haymaking time. The big truck was once a school bus. I assume it was discarded in favor of a more modern bus and sold by Roanoke County schools at auction. The Morgans had bought the old school bus and removed the enclosed part consisting of sides, roof, front, and back. The “naked” bus then would become a flatbed with a driver’s seat and a hood over the motor. A frame was built just behind the driver’s seat the width of the truck and five feet high. This would allow rectangular hay bales to be stacked on the truck starting at the front frame and moving backward the length of the bed. When finished it looked and functioned like a flatbed truck. It was a straight drive of course with a clutch and a gear shift that stood tall off the floor.
Usually, there were only two people hauling hay which had one downside. Someone would have to drive the truck to each bale in the row, stop, get out and pick up the bale tossing it on the truck for whoever was there to do stacking. I was about to get my driving lessons a little early in life. The plan was to put me in the driver’s seat on a cushion so that I could reach the brake and clutch. I may have been skinny, but I had long legs so reaching the pedals was no big deal. They would put it in gear, and the truck would creep along in low gear with the clutch released. All I had to do was steer the truck to the next bale. When the truck was loaded, I would press the clutch down and push the brake down and put the truck out of gear. Someone else would drive the truck to the barn to unload it.
Uncle Jerry found out about me driving the truck and wanted to put a stop to it for fear I would get hurt, but after seeing me do it and always on flat ground, he relented. In a year’s time, I was able to handle the truck pretty much like a pro. Two year’s later at age thirteen I was driving the truck and the tractor.
At age fifteen I was able to use all the machinery, including all the haymaking equipment, plow, disc, harrow, plus the seed drill. In 1957, at age 17 I was put in charge of all the crop work. This would be my most busy year of all not only on the Morgan farm but on the Brillhart farm and at Keffer’s store as well.
I remember, vividly, putting up hay from the field near Catawba creek that was called the meadow. It always had a thick hay crop. For reasons I cannot remember, Bill and Landon were not available. I mowed the meadow, raked the field into windrows and after it dried, I hitched up the baler and baled the entire field. I would then get the old school bus “truck” out and haul load after load to the big barn beside the road. That was the hardest I ever worked at the Morgan farm. Surprising what all you can do when you are that age.
New Modern Milk Barn Built
In 1950 a new 30-cow milking parlor had been installed in a rectangular cinder block building. This new milking system contained a six-can milking cooler, hot water heater, and milking machines, making the whole twice a day milking process much more efficient. Cleanup and maintenance time was cut in half. I never was involved in the dairy aspect of the farm, which was handled by the Bishop brothers, Landon and Bill (mostly Bill). Operating a 30-cow dairy operation was very time consuming, which did not permit Landon and Bill to be of much help with the crops, especially haymaking. Landon made three trips a week to Roanoke to deliver the milk to the processor. Although not directly involved in the dairy part, I would be responsible for an important byproduct. Animal waste!
Job Description: Animal Waste Removal- 50 cents per hour.
It was the first job (and the last job) I would ever have where I started at the top and worked my way down! Let me explain. Dairy cows have to be milked every single day and twice a day. That’s it, and it is non-negotiable.
In the late Spring until late Fall after each milking, the cows would return to pasture for grazing. However during the cold weather months, unable to be pastured, the cattle would return to an enclosed barn for shelter and hay that was harvested in the summer. During those winter months, they would eat, sleep and go to the bathroom in that barn. The amount of liquid and solid waste they deposited would mix with the hay strewn about building slowly but surely a rising level of manure from the barn floor up. This accumulation of manure occurred since the barn was, in essence, a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom for the herd. That was the cause. The effect was about three feet of manure on the floor that had to be removed and spread on the pasture farm fields. That would be my responsibility.
Landon and Bill thought it was funny, mainly because they would not have to do it. Uncle Jerry looked at it the first day and felt sorry for me; I suppose because he raised my pay from fifty to seventy-five cents per hour. I did manage to get in about twenty-five hours in a week’s time.
The process involved backing the manure spreader up to an open window on the barn’s east side and fork/shovel the manure out the window into the spreader. When the spreader was filled up, I would drive the tractor -pulled spreader to a field and spread it. That was not a pleasant experience when the wind was blowing hard. Bottom line, it was a humbling experience.
I felt a part of the Morgan family during my decade-long association with them. And they treated me like one of their own. I had many a meal there and ate some good food that Miss Annie and Miss Essie prepared. I am one of the few living now that enjoyed home cooked meals at the Summit and The Homeplace. Both then and now are deserving of five stars.
Miss Essie worked in the post office of which Uncle Jerry served as postmaster. This was when the PO was located in Keffer’s Store. Not sure if Miss Annie worked in the post office at times or not.
Maxie, Uncle Jerry’s daughter, was the youngest and very friendly and outgoing, maybe a little hyper at times. She was a dedicated churchgoer and worker. We had ice cream suppers at the school for church fundraisers and Maxie’s specialty was pimento cheese sandwiches. She made her own pimento cheese and made the thickest sandwiches you ever saw. You got your money’s worth and then some. Maxie was always interesting to be around.
Uncle Jerry’s brother George was a genius in my opinion. He could make just about anything and fix everything. In the new dairy barn, he designed and installed all the electrical work and lighting. He made a wood lathe that was pedal operated and taught me how to use it. George said he wanted me to have it when he died, but that somehow did not happen. He was a very interesting person to talk to.
Landon and Bill Bishop were brothers and with limited education. Bill, in particular, was challenged although he had the major responsibility of the milking parlor operation. The two brothers argued all the time it seemed but never got mad or physical. Bill was always against what I was for. I would argue with him at times because he expected it. Whenever alone he would engage in self-dialogue, which is another way to say “talking to oneself.” I enjoyed working with them and got along fine especially when I would make them laugh.
Landon was never stressed about anything, always predictable, regardless of any situation. He and Bill shared a room at the farmhouse and ate their meals there. Landon would haul the full milk cans to Roanoke on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to sell the raw milk to the processor. He would bring back the empty cans to be refilled during the next two days before taking another load to Roanoke.
There were times when my Mama would need to go to Roanoke and she would ride with Landon and come back home with him later in the day. I remember riding with her and Landon on some of those trips. Landon would drop us off downtown and Mama would put me in the Rialto movie theater where I would watch a western, cartoons, etc. until she came and got me so we could ride back to Catawba with Landon. Sometimes we would ride the Abbott bus and do the same thing. I liked that because I got to see movies which was a treat for sure. And Mama got to do her shopping.
When I was actively trapping and had accumulated some hides to sell, Landon would take them to Roanoke and sell them for me. I guess the modern name for Landon today would be Uber driver.
I treated the farm like I was a family member. I did most all of my hunting on the mountain part of the Morgan farm. Mostly squirrels, but grouse and deer also. I was a trapper for several years, ninety percent of the time on the Morgan farm property and creek. I trapped the creek for mink and muskrat and the fields for skunks. I got sent home when in the seventh grade for going to school with skunk odor on me. I stopped trapping skunks after that——-at Mama’s request!
I fished and did frogging on Catawba Creek, but fishing was hit and miss. Got frogs pretty easily and Mama would fry frog legs. Yes, they do flop around in the skillet when cooking.
Our church youth and neighborhood kids would enjoy the Morgan farm for sleigh riding every winter. The hills there were perfect for sleighing and building bonfires. The Methodist Youth Fellowship would have sledding parties with hot dogs and marshmallows roasted on a stick.
When doing this article on the Morgan Farm, my thoughts wandered back to those who had been there before, namely, the Catawba Indians. I hunted, fished and trapped where the Native Americans did. I farmed where the first settlers including Captain Brand did. Native Americans have always felt that one would have a kinship to the earth. I experienced that to the fullest. It will always be special to me that I experienced those years on the Morgan farm. I would have welcomed living in the 1800s but I guess I came as close to it as I could have. What a blessing the Morgan Farm was to me, thanks to Uncle Jerry.
The Morgan Home, Catawba, Virginia
John “William” Morgan married “Sallie”, Sarah Adeline Wysong, on July 5, 1870.
They had nine children, Ellen, Nancy, Willie, Francis, Jerry, Annie, George, John, and Essie.
The family moved from Dublin, Pulaski County VA after the 1900 census but prior to the 1910 census.
John William died January 12, 1911, age 78. Sallie died April 25, 1944. They are buried at the Morgan Cemetery in Catawba.
~Photo credits – Dawn Johnsson
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