Farmers: ‘The happiest men on earth’


“It seems to me that it would take the most extreme and outrageous poverty, or wealth, or weakness, or lack of curiosity, or ineptitude for reading, watching, and conversation, to make country life dull. There is too much to learn. The variety of knowledge demanded, if you are going to stay off relief, is astonishing.”

Charles Allen Smart, RFD, 1938

Part two

When Charles Allen Smart inherited his aunt’s two farms near Chillicothe, Ohio, in the 1930s, he admits that his Harvard education didn’t aid in his survival.

He was astonished how much a farmer was required to know. “You have to have a working knowledge of some of the principles of genetics, zoology, botany, morphology, agronomy, chemistry, physiology, embryology, pathology, evolution, hygiene, carpentry, mechanics, physics, bookkeeping, accounting, economics, and so on.”

Smart acknowledged that he would learn much more from neighboring farmers than they could ever hope to learn from him, but he realized that “I may actually be enjoying farming more than most farmers. I may be weaker at the start, which is good farming, but I may be stronger at the finish, which is enjoying life.”

He explains with jest, “For instance, I like to look at landscapes, thinking of paintings I have seen or may see. If more farmers could do this, they would spend the old A.A.A. 20 percent of their time simply staring, and production would decrease accordingly. I offer this idea, modestly, to the government. It would also help our farmers to become what – if they only had a little more regimentation and the sweet craziness in the head – they might be, namely, the happiest men on earth.”

A dog’s life. Along with the farms, Smart also inherited his aunt’s dog, Jack, along with money to care for him properly. Smart’s considerable fondness for this dog is evident.

He writes, “Jack was never taught to fetch the cows, and so he still gets too excited, and runs to their heads. However, he is far from useless, because when I go to fetch them, and they are scattered or become so, he can always get them started, and once they are started, they usually head for the barnyard.”

Smart described this dog as “a sable and white collie, with a strain of what they call, in this region, a shepherd. He is larger than most purebred collies, his head is chunkier, and he has more intelligence. He is very sweet-tempered, fastidious, and sensitive, often his spirits are high, but sometimes he succumbs to a certain proud melancholy.”

Dog worship. I feel certain, reading of his description of this dog, that Jack was a sable and white English Shepherd, which were quite popular on southern Ohio farms in the 1930s and 1940s.

After the death of Smart’s aunt, Jack became very attached to his new master, and when Smart married and brought his bride, Peggy, to the farm, the dog became jealous and filled with self-pity. In time, he grew to love Peggy and the cocker spaniels that she brought with her to the farm, “allowing them to worship him” as he so richly deserved.

Smart noted that farming without the dogs would have been considerably more work and much less fun, an opinion I shared wholeheartedly.

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.