By Dwayne Langmaid
First of my remembering much of Arnie, and of course Shirl, they were living in half of the little house across from the old North Danville store. Rather tight quarters by today’s standards, but certainly a step-up from the tin-can tiny trailer that had been home. Before that, I’m told Arnie went to the St. Johnsbury Trade School, worked at C. H. Goss, married Shirl in ’42, and then did three years with the Army in Europe until the end of the Big One.
After getting out, Arnie and Shirl bought the tin-can and lived in Springfield where Arnie was a machinist in one of the big shops. A couple years later, we–Hom, Boo, Joe and Snug–started coming along. This prompted the move to Arthur Sanborn’s little house. Arnie mechaniced out back in the garage that still stands there and helped his dad, Burl, in the woods. Wrenching and logging didn’t seem to be making ends meet, so he went to work for Fairbanks Scales, rapidly going through the foundry–drilling to planning to milling and lathe work.
In 1950, Arnie and Shirl bought the farm where Snug and Smitty (Don and Dianne) are now. The place was pretty rough. They, with the help of our grandparents, aunts and uncles, hoed and dug, ripped and tore until in the summer of ’51, we moved in. The old house was plenty big enough, but we didn’t dally running down to the cook stove on nippy mornings.
That’s when the routine started, which lasted for the next 26 years until heart attacks, three years in a row, forced Arnie to quit Fairbanks.
3:45 – 6:00 am: morning chores
6:00 – 6:30 am: wash up and eat breakfast
6:30 – 7:00 am: 30-minute drive to Fairbanks when the road was passable
3:30 – 4:00 pm: drive home
4:00 – ?? pm: fix what broke that day, chores, ballgames, school board meetings, town lister, square dances, occasional cribbage with Earl McReynolds, Howard Byron and Nate Morrill. Weekends, holidays and two-week vacations were for catching up: hauling manure, haying, fixing rag-tag equipment and picnics, etc.
Arnie never has had much tolerance for debt. A few times he considered it a necessary evil; however, as an evil, it was to be shed as quickly as possible.
Arnie and Shirl made living on the farm fun. We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, and even a few rabbits. An ugly rooster and a small bull, which we thought was mean, patrolled the barnyard. To get up to the cow stable we had to sneak around the combination water tub-milk house and race up to the barn door. Arnie showed us how to launch the rooster into next week with a swift boot to his chest. Two or three stout clubs stood by the water tub ready to be carried, and if need be used, to belt the bull in the nose! The bull was all bellow, glare, and bluff and really just played with third-grade minds.
The banty rooster was a different story. Imagine one day screwing your courage up tight. No more running from the 80 lb banty chicken-monster. This kick is going to lift him, sans feathers, to the moon–wait, wait, now! Somehow he side-slipped it. The force landed the brave one on his back in the snow. Thank goodness for the ugly, embarrassing, hated snowsuits Shirl made for us! He couldn’t claw and peck through.
It was hard work, especially for Arnie and Shirl. Arnie figured no man ever drowned in his own sweat. We often whined about the work, but with its completion came a sense of pride and actual fun. Arnie could pick up two cans of milk, walk them out of the barn, down the path to the milk house, flop them in the old cooler, and it looked like child’s play. Believe me, the first time we were able to do it, we were some puffed-up about it. Where was that 80 lb banty rooster when you needed him? Too bad Shirl stewed him!
Arnie believed we should be exposed to the assorted farm equipment at an early age. A lot of the exposure involved shovels, hoes and forks, but motorized rigs were also included. We had an old truck, A New Holland 76 baler, a Ford 8N tractor and assorted implements. The 8N tractor on the huge 76 baler looked like a mouse dragging a football.
The upper corner of a field behind the barn was steeper than a cows face. As we got more cows, we needed the hay from it. There was no way the little tractor would pull the baler up around. The trick to baling it was to go up the more gradual backside across the ever-steepening side hill and then commit to the corner and down you would go. The rules of engagement were: drop the tractor into what Arnie called Grandma, Uncle Fob called bulldog, and we know as first gear; extremely light on the brakes; and do not – I repeat do not touch the clutch unless it started to jackknife in the corner.
Shirl, always the worry wart, couldn’t watch, and we looked on in a mesmerized state. After lessons such as those, we never thought much about hauling manure up Waterman Hill steering with the brakes as the old 8N was so light on front that was the only way to keep her in the road.
We got our sawdust down at the Fairbanks Mill in North Danville. A neighbor, Paul Joyce, rode to work with Arnie. On sawdust day, Arnie would take the old truck down to the mill and back it under the sawdust door. Paul would drive the car down, and off to work they would go. As soon as school got out, we ran down to the mill. The sawyer, Joe, would let us crawl up in the sawdust storage and start filling the truck. The wonderful smell of fresh-cut softwood sawdust falling on you is something you never forget; the same can be said about chopped cow-corn pummeling you in the silo.
It was a proud occurrence when one day we had the sawdust-truck filled before Paul and Arnie got there. Even better was the first time we were allowed to drive the load home. We drove around the farm, why not on the road; just had to make sure you shifted it about right going up McDowell Hill. Listen to the engine, double clutch it and don’t panic. A little grinding never hurt a ‘41 International transmission, and it only tweaked the mind of the adolescent teamster. I believe that could be termed “pre” driver-ed.
The four of us boys were not above creating a few problems. We sometimes would pick on each other and get to roughhousing. More than once, Shirl has accused us of driving her crazy. She is deathly afraid of mice and has been known to climb up on a chair or even the kitchen table to escape the taunting one of the siblings might administer with a dead mouse. Needless to say, we were all very familiar with the shalaylee (shillelagh). Shirl was usually the one to put it to use as Arnie was at Fairbanks working. Many is the time, as she was apportioning out the punishment, we heard “you wait till your father gets home.” Talk about spoiling a perfect day.
Eventually we learned her heart wasn’t in it, and if we caterwauled and wailed enough, she might not mention it to Arnie. I will say, though, if she did mention it, we probably deserved what we got. He could somehow instill us with his disappointment at our behavior, which hurt much more than the occasional shalaylee.
As in all families, our parents went through a dumb phase. About the time we turned 15, Arnie couldn’t tell the forest from the trees. At that age playing basketball, baseball, soccer, chasing girls, someone had to show the old man the light. We didn’t have time for chores and all that petty bull–we were busy!! Bide your time, pick your argument you can set the old man on his duff. Then run!! What a dish of humility when he pulls up beside you and without saying a word, with a look, asks if that was your best shot.
Somehow Arnie always found time for things like horseback riding, ballgames and taking our 4-H animals to the fairs. He would back the old International against a bank on the lawn and load up two or three calves, a couple horses, sometimes a heifer or a cow and off to Lyndonville, or once in a while Barton. The animals would practically have to jump in and it looked like the horses could step over the side boards, but we never had any problems. Seems he felt if you didn’t think an animal would do something wrong, chances were pretty good they wouldn’t.
Arnie always had a knack for doing things about right. Be it tinkering, working, playing, dancing, quick-witted, able to plan and execute on his feet. One time he had a heart attack up in the barn. He told Joe and Snug to run down to the garage, cut the oxy-acetylene welder hose and get the oxygen tank up to him. That form of oxygen is not to be directly inhaled, but he continually passed the hose by his nose and made it through.
Arnie never smoked, drank or swore, or at least didn’t until after his stroke when he developed a respectable sailors vocabulary. I am sure everyone at some time grapples with this; how do you say to a loved one, “Arnie you have done a remarkable job and it’s okay; it’s okay to let go.”
The time is near.