Basements, Barns & Workshops

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Tank, age four, and already a barn bum. He’s with his cousin Jay, who still farms today.

Basements, barns and workshops are magical places. Youngsters are naturally drawn to them. The allure cannot be denied, and it isn’t even explainable, yet every kid knows these places hold adventure, curiosity and wonderment. Adults even find these places irresistible, remembering the fun they had playing and exploring them as kids.

Tank’s mom and uncle Gary standing in front of the barn
after picking cherries. I’m sure grandma made a pie or two,
and then canned the cherries for later. They were delicious.

Barns

I was lucky. Growing up, I wasn’t rich by any means, but through family, I was rich in resources. Both grandparents and five of six uncles were dairy farmers. I had a lot of access to barns, cows, horses, hogs and chickens, and started making solo trips to the barn around age 4 when visiting my grandparents. I guess I was an authentic barn bum, always bumming around them whenever I could.

I soon learned the value of barn boots, or maybe it was my parents? Every time we made the 2.5-hour drive back home, the aroma of recycled alfalfa wafted in the air from my tennis shoes. I was in the barn so much I never noticed it.

During milking, the barn was a flurry of activity as I watched my pap and uncles milk the cows. The Holsteins were lined up neatly in their stalls, waiting to be milked of their burden. I’d watch my uncles wash their udders with an iodine solution and then put the milkers on them. The milk flowed from the milkers to 2” glass tubes above, leading into a large tank in the milk house.

The tank was emptied every other day via a milk truck. Lifting the lid to the tank, it was scary seeing all the milk in the huge vat. There was a lot of it! We’d skim the cream off the top sometimes to make homemade ice cream with homemade chocolate fudge. Talk about a treat on a hot summer day.

Every kid also loves calves! They were just like big, clumsy dogs and had their own area in the barn. Bottle-feeding them milk was always fun, as well as having them suck your fingers. For finicky calves, Pap fed them Rice Krispies to stimulate their appetite.

As I got older, I’d help as much as I could in the barn. I’d scrap the walks of manure, carry bales of hay and do any other chore to help. During summers, I was the gopher as my uncles baled hay. They’d send me down to the house to get lemonade from my grandmother as they filled the hay barn.

Hay barns were the first jungle gym. Climbing the bales to the top, jumping off them and wrestling my brother was good fun. One time, I was swallowed by a hay hole headfirst. I went down to my knees, arms pinned to my side. I screamed for my brother to pull me out. Although scared, we both laughed hard after I was freed. That’s how it was back then.

Workshops

My Pap Baker had a workshop he called the tractor shed. Inside were the large wrenches, hammers and other tools needed for working on tractors. There was also a large, heavy workbench made from hand-hewn logs. Bolted on were various grinders and a drill press. And there was a large 55-gallon oil drum with a spout you’d pump to get oil.

Upstairs was used for storing excess corn and grain, which would trickle through the rafters onto the workbench, giving the whole shop an aroma of grease, oil and grain. I can still smell it! I learned a lot in that shop. Did you know a bench grinder can eat a pocketknife blade in about 2 seconds when you’re trying to give it a razor-sharp edge?

It was fun watching my pap and uncles fixing tractors, wagons and other farm equipment with these tools. I also learned colorful language at times, as you can imagine. Probably the biggest lesson it taught me was just because something is broken doesn’t mean you can’t fix it.

After my pap died and grandma went to her retirement cottage, I got a few of pap’s tools and cherish them more than anything. They’re a reminder to try and fix it yourself before calling somebody else.

Basements & Attics

Basements are nothing more than museums telling a story by way of people’s belongings. Every deer season had the same start for me. After making the 2.5-hour drive, I’d open the door, and the aroma of pan-seared pork chops, baked potatoes, and rolls mixed in a waft of hot air would hit my face.

Grandma would be in her flowery apron, beads of perspiration on her brow, as I gave her a big hug as I have always done since I was a kid. This was my traditional Sunday night dinner before buck season, one my Pap enjoyed as well before he died.

Tank’s uncle Jerry driving the tractor. Everyone pitched in,
no matter how old … or young.

Dinner & A Show

After dinner, I’d always go downstairs to the cellar to look at Pap’s “stuff.” His red/black plaid Woolrich coat hung from a wood peg with his last hunting license still pinned on back. The coat smelled musty from being in the damp basement. My eyes focused on his gun rack and spotted his Savage Model 99.

It was lifted from the cabinet as I ran my fingers across the stock and barrel, thinking of all the places Pap had carried it while hunting deer, caribou, mule deer and antelope. The stock was worn to bare wood in most places. The bluing was black and worn with calico patches of silver from age, sweat, blood and years of hard use in the harshest weather.

I’d work the lever a few times, then oil the gun out of habit, keeping it slick and rust-free. I’d peer through the scope at an antelope head on the far wall from one of Pap’s hunts. Next to the gun cabinet was a desk. On top were years-old issues of Pennsylvania Game News.

I read through the dank, slightly moldy stack of decades-old magazines and re-read my favorite stories from over the years. Before I knew it, it was time for bed. But I’d always stop at the large chest freezer for a peek to see if Grandma had any Christmas cookies made. She’d usually start making them the day after Thanksgiving. And there they are, stuffed in plastic ice cream containers. I’d pinch a couple for “good luck” and head upstairs.

Sleep didn’t come easy; it never does from the anticipation of opening day. Looking at Pap’s stuff would have me thinking of the past and all the good times I’ve experienced over the years. Then, I’d finally doze off … sleeping soundly and content from a lifetime of memories made in the barn, tractor shed and basement of my grandparent’s farm.

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