“I don’t really enjoy selling anything but words, wool, and animals that I can’t feed any longer and don’t know very well. I usually make it a point not to pay too much attention to the calves, the steers and the grown wether lams, so that their departure will mean less.”
-Charles Allen Smart, RFD, 1938
Reading of the story of the early months after Charles Smart inherited his aunt’s farm near Chillicothe, Ohio, in the early 1930s, one particular chapter made me cheer for this man.
In my way of thinking, there is nothing worse than wise and seasoned men attempting to take advantage of a man who is green and learning.
Smart was most definitely “wet behind the ears” in the world of agriculture, having inherited this farm in the midst of a literary career after earning a Harvard degree in the 1920s, and all of his neighbors knew it.
Raising cattle. Smart describes a big, white steer that he had been feeding out. When it weighed about 1,100 pounds, he asked the local butcher, Joe Bell, to come take a look at it.
Bell asked what Smart was hoping to get for it, and Smart mentioned the top price at the time, which was $8.50 a hundred. Bell shook his head and said that was too much. He advised Smart to pen the steer and feed him more.
“I did so, for another month, and Bell came out again. He still wouldn’t buy, and wanted me to feed another fortnight, but corn was 85 cents a bushel, and I decided to sell the next Friday at the auction. Bell told me I’d get about $7.50 a hundred.”
Smart and his bride, Peggy, decided to attend the sale, their first. The circus-like atmosphere, with people of all walks of life checking out the bawling pens of animals, absolutely fascinated them. It was to be the first of many auctions they would come to enjoy.
The auction. “Well, that first cold afternoon in March, Peggy and I sat there entranced for five hours before our steer came out. Joe Bell sat directly opposite us. Finally, in came that big white steer, mad as hops and filthy, but looking good. They started him at $8.50, and almost before we knew it, he had been run up to $9.30 and sold.
“Joe Bell’s jaw dropped, and our hearts leapt in our chests. It was as good as any winning touchdown I have ever seen… we got some coffee, said good-bye to our steer, and hurried home rejoicing.
“The next day I ‘happened’ to have to buy some meat at Joe Bell’s shop. He happened to be there, and I tried to act casual about it.”
Smart talks about the thrill of delivering his first calf, which brought out emotions he had never before experienced and he went back to bed exulting.
Feeling good. “Why exulting? We could claim no sort of credit for this, the most banal of nature’s tours de force. This calf wasn’t going to make our fortune; on the contrary, more than likely, sooner or later, he and his fellows would eat us out of house and home.
“I don’t know. Raise livestock yourself, and find out. Look at any farmer, no matter how old, tough, and experienced, when he is taking care of his calves, or lambs, or pigs, or whatnot.
“Look at him, look at the small fry and their mothers, and feel the pulse of something beating. If odd things don’t happen to your own circulation, stay in a penthouse…”
Next week: Learning to fight the weather.