“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.
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.
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.
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