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The life and Times of
John & Helen Fuss

John Fuss Jr.

Chapter 6: Life in Emmitsburg During the Depression

Chapter 7: The Move to Locust Grove Farm

Somehow, John managed to accumulate some money.  When J. Rowe Ohler's Estate was settled a few years later, several farms he owned had to be sold.  John purchased the Locust Grove farm of 68 acres at public sale for $1,800.00, borrowing what was necessary from his mother.  This farm was in very poor condition because it had been farmed by tenants for quite a few years.  Some of John's relatives said that it was the poorest farm around and he could never make a living there.  However, it was all that he could afford and he wanted to return to farming on his own, rather than work as a day laborer for someone else.  So, in the spring of 1935, the move to Locust Grove was planned.

John needed equipment to resume full time farming.  A farmer named Charlie Keepers was going out of business and had advertised a sale.  John negotiated the purchase of all of his farming equipment, which included two horses, a wagon with both a standard bed and hay carriages, a grain drill, corn planter, cultivator, mower, hay rake (dump type), spring tooth harrow, and possibly other equipment as well.  The move took place in early April.

Before the move took place, John had a load of hay hauled from the Bishop place to the new farm.  I was four and a half years old at the time, and was riding on the back of the wagon.  The route followed the state highway to the Fuss farm, then up the old lane to the bridge across Middle Creek.  The road was slanted just before this bridge, and somehow the entire load, including the bed itself, tipped over, spilling everything.  I thought I was going to roll down the embankment into the creek.

The move was accomplished with the help of Elmer and Ethel Fuss, Lawson Herring, and Helen's mother and sister.  Three wagons were used to haul all of the family's furniture as well as their personal goods.  I rode with Aunt Emma that day.  The entourage reached the new homestead before dinner.  The cook stove was the first thing set up and the meal prepared.

The new home was a 13 room house that had been built by Peter Graybill in 1820.  He was said to have owned over 1,000 acres of land and was therefore one of the wealthiest men in the county.  It was also said that he had participated in the celebration of Lafayette's return to America in 1824, when he made his visit to Frederick.

The house had a large center hall and open stairway.  There were eight rooms on two floors in the main part of the house.  Walls were brick throughout, supported by stone arches in the basement.  The other five rooms on the back L had been used by the household servants.  A large kitchen took up two rooms on the first floor and contained a walk-in fireplace twelve feet wide and quite deep with a bake oven attached.  The upstairs portion of this section had been separated into three rooms, which were used as sleeping quarters for the household slaves or servants.

Despite its large size and sturdy construction, the house was in a bad state of repair.  John's first task was to install a new roof.  Even on his last trip past the house before he went to live in the nursing home, he recalled how he had used the special equipment that he had borrowed from Wolfe to reach across and clamp the roof together.  The bathroom was installed that same spring at the end of the first floor hall.  Until that time, the family had to use the outhouse at the end of the garden.

Fan lights above the front and side doors were a special feature of the house.  They were similar to those used at the White House in Washington.  I learned much of the information about the history of the old house from Nathan Kershner who had been born in the house in the 1860s and lived there during his youth.  He told me that, after the plasterers completed the work on the White House in Washington, they came to Emmitsburg and plastered the house for Peter Graybill.  I later found a book in the Historical Society in Baltimore which confirmed this account.  A long veranda on the original house had fallen down years before.  Within a few years, John replaced it with a finer and more appropriate porch covering about one-quarter of the distance on the west side.

The water supply on this property was unique.  A series of springs in the Ohler woodland fed down into a reservoir.  This was a circular tank made of stone about six feet deep which stored the water, and was covered by a roof.  Then this water flowed by gravity to the barn and to the house, but it always seemed to me that the water somehow or other flowed uphill in order to make it to the barn.  It was explained that a suction or ram was used, but this operation remained a mystery to me.  The supply of water was always good and, even in dry years, generally was ample to supply all the needs of the farm.

A well had also been dug about 50 feet deep right behind the house.  This water was not used because it was thought for many years that the well had been contaminated.  Then John had the fire company pump it out.  Debris was removed from the well, and the water was tested and found to be fine.  An electric pump was then installed to furnish water to the household.

The first year at Locust Grove was quite difficult for the family.  As the country with still in a Depression, prices remained low.  The farm output was not very great and John did the plowing with just two horses.

The family had two cows when they moved.  The herd was expanded by raising their offspring.  The barn had stalls for seven cows.  A few breeding sheep were purchased that year and this flock also expanded.  A few young chicks were acquired and a laying flock developed.

Prior to marriage, Helen had had vowed that she would not milk any cows.  This had to change when the family moved to the Bishop farm.  When the herd was expanded to seven and later more cows, Helen had to participate regularly in the milking of the cows and did her full share.  All the milking at this time was done by hand.  When John was injured, Helen milked the entire herd with the aid of her young son John.

During this period of time, despite the increase in activity, Helen became heavier.  She weighed only 100 pounds when she married at the age of 26.  By the time she was 40, her weight had increased to at least 150 pounds.  This weight, however, did not deter her from vigorous activity.  When hauling hay to the barn, she regularly took it into the mows and spread it herself.  This was very hot and hard work, and she had to struggle with it.  Helen also took sole responsibility for the raising of the young chickens.  The first year, John's brother Elmer came to cut the wheat, until John was able to buy a used binder.

The farm was located on the Emmitsburg-Harney Road, close to Middle Creek.  The bridge had a plank floor, and was repaired every year or so by county workers.  However, it would always make quite a rattle when vehicles crossed.

In 1936, the property just north of the farm became available for sale.  It was owned by Charles Mort and was called the "Factory Farm" because the carpet factory had been located just upstream on Middle Creek.  The factory had been powered by water to make carpet and other woolen products.  There had once been about ten or more homes located in the area around it.  The factory itself had been situated on the west side of Middle Creek. As a boy, I visited the ruins and foundations of the mill and the homes.

John Fuss purchased the east side of this property and Tyson Welty purchased the west portion.  Both farmers added the new land to their property.  John paid $450.00 for 98 acres of land.  About 20 acres of this was tillable land and the rest was woodland.

A particular feature of this forest was the cedar trees.  Virgin timber had been cut about 70 years before, and a great number of the cedar trees had grown back and were now in their prime.  John sold the rights to these cedars to Mr. Seilik of the Baltimore area, who had two years to cut off all the cedar on this property.  His workmen came and took the trees out by the truckload.  I remember John helping out by using his two horses to pull the trees from inaccessible areas.  For this right, Mr. Seilik paid $300.00.  So the purchase of this land was a good deal, because the sale of the cedar trees almost paid for the total cost of the purchase price.  Mr. Seilik did not complete the work because he was stricken suddenly and died.  His business did not remove all the cedar trees, but picked and chose from certain areas.

A second son, Edward Meade Fuss, was born on October 9, 1937, in the home.  Dr. Cadle again attended.  Carrie Fuss came the very next day to help.  In addition, Emma Ohler, Helen's sister, came every day to assist for a while.  By this time, she was on very good terms with John and Helen.

In 1938, John purchased his first tractor.  It was a Farmall F-12, and it greatly improved efficiency.  The tractor had no attachments, but John also purchased a two share plow to pull behind it.  Before this purchase, one of the hardest jobs for the two horses was pulling the single share plow, and it required a great deal of time to plow a field.  In addition, the tractor was now used to pull the binder which cut the grain.  By 1941, the need for expanded facilities was evident.

The Emmitsburg Railroad had gone out of business, and a salvager named Leo Wetzel had purchased the stock for junk purposes.  A combination passenger-baggage car was available for purchase.  John bought it for $100.00, which was the cost of moving it.  John sawed the car into two pieces and hauled it to the farm, where it was used to house the young chicks for the first few years.  The sides and ceiling were double thickness and well insulated.  A few years earlier, a chicken house had been hauled to the farm from the Wenscholf property, owned by Emma B. Ohler, to be used as a brooder house.

A few years after they moved to the farm, the kerosene stove that was used to keep the chicks warm exploded, causing a fire in the center of the brooder house, which burned a hole in the floor.  Helen sent John Jr. to fetch John who was harrowing in the back of the field.  He did not understand the urgency of the summons and Helen was quite perturbed because she had to put out the fire alone by carrying water.  However, most of the flock of 300 young chickens suffocated from the smoke.  In 1946, an unused chicken house from the Bishop farm, which was still owned by John and Helen, was moved to the Locust Grove farm.

For the first few years at Locust Grove, kerosene lamps and candles served as the only lighting.  In 1938, John purchased a used Delco light plant, as it was called, from the Fleming family.  This was a gasoline engine which generated electricity which was then stored in batteries.  The gasoline engine ran an hour or two every two or three days for the light supplied in the house.

Cooley Coombs of Emmitsburg was the electrician who installed the wires in the house.  He complained that it was one of the most difficult houses he ever had to work in, because all of the walls were solid brick.  I well remember the first night when the switch was thrown to turn on the electric light.  It seemed so bright when compared to the kerosene lamp that had been used.

In 1941, the Potomac Edison Company built a power line out the Taneytown Road.  The company contacted John about building a line from the road up to his house.  He would have to pay a $6.00 per month base rate plus a large additional amount to run the line the more than one-half mile from the Taneytown Road.  So John refused to sign.

Then the Rural Electrification Association, which was providing electricity in the southern section of Adams County, PA, was ready to put a line along Harney Road.  Potomac Edison very quickly came back and built a line which went right by John's house.  The charge on this line was only $3.12 per month for the basic amount of about 100 kilowatts per month.  It was amazing what competition did.  It should be noted that very few consumers used the basic amount of electricity each month, even on farms.

According to Robert McNair, the old barn on the farm was built in 1797.  This was the same year that the barn on his own farm had been built, as well as the barn at the Gulden place nearby.  These three barns were all within two miles of each other, and were all of stone construction, right up to the very peak of the roof.  The barn was about 40 feet by 80 feet and quite high, with an overjet in front covering part of the barnyard.

When the Fuss family moved to the farm, the lower portion was arranged from east to west with a (1) sheep stable, (2) cow stable with seven stalls, (3) two large stalls for steers, bull, etc. and (4) horse stable with three stalls.

The entrance to the upper part of the barn was unusual in that access was down a hill.  This arrangement of building into the side of a hill made it very warm in the winter time and cool in the summer.

In addition, the second floor had the normal hay mows on each side and two large barn floors onto which the wagons were driven.  The barn was quite high, but the roof in the back sloped almost down to ground level on each side of the barn floors.

The west side accommodated the granary and the east side originally contained an ice house.  As it was built into the side of the hill, this supposedly made an excellent place to store ice.  Mr. Kershner indicated that his family was able to keep ice all through the summer.  This ice was obtained from the nearby dam on Middle Creek.

The ice house section had been modified by J. Rowe Ohler in the 1920s while he owned the property.  The ice house was removed and a wooden silo built up through it.  While this was an improvement to provide better feed for the livestock, especially the dairy cows, it seriously weakened the structure of the barn.  The stone wall across the back no longer anchored the high stone wall on the east side.  As a result, this wall was already leaning when John acquired the property.

Soon thereafter, he placed braces from the wall to the interior framework to help to stabilize and hold the wall in.  This solution was successful for a number of years.  In the early 1950s, more work was done on this problem when the barn was filled with hay.  Tyson Welty and his sons were helping with this work when the jack slipped out.  A beam fell down and sruck John on the forehead.  He was knocked unconscious for a short period, and was taken to the doctor for stitches, which healed in a few days.  Earlier renovations took place in the lower part of the barn.

The dairy herd had been expanded to the capacity of seven cows housed in old wooden stalls.  The milk was sold to Hershey Creamery Company and hauled to Biglerville, PA. The rear portion of the horse stable was converted to four separate pens for brood sows.

In 1942, the size of the barnyard was reduced.  The former sheep pen was cemented and nine metal stanchions were installed in order to erect a new milkhouse.  This qualified the farm to ship fluid milk, and it was then sent to the receiving plant in Emmitsburg.

During this period, the principal crops were a rotation of corn, wheat, and hay.  A small acreage was also planted in barley, oats, and occasionally soybeans.  Some of the corn was cut into silage for the silo and the rest put on shocks to husk by hand.  All of the grain was fed to the livestock and chickens.  There were usually three or four brood sows whose litters were fattened, a flock of 20 to 40 sheep, ten to eleven dairy cows, and several hundred laying hens.  Geese, ducks, and guineas were also raised occassionally, but were not of significance.

The road through the farm was made of rough dirt and stone.  In 1947, it was macadamized from the Taneytown Road to just beyond the Fuss farm building, and was completed to Harney a few years thereafter.

Read Chapter 8: Life for the Family in the 1940's

Read other chapters in the life and times of John and Helen Fuss

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