My dad, George Schmidt, was said by many who knew him to be the “hardest working man in Sanilac County”. He had grown up in the area, did migrant labor with his family, and farmed and worked at Yale Rubber many years.
When he and mother married in 1937 he was working at the GM foundry in Saginaw, MI and living with his sister Louise in Reese. My great-great grandmother on my mother’s side, Mary Tyrell, had a 160-acre farm south of Snover and had someone working it on shares. Things weren’t working out with the present sharecroppers so my father and mother moved to Snover where they worked the farm and milked cows for 1/3 for them and 2/3 for my ggrandmother. They had 2 teams of horses and my dad bought a used “A” Farmall tractor, plow, cultivator, drill and disc for $1,000 from a machinery dealer in Snover. They milked Jersey cattle, which give quite high butterfat content milk, which paid a little more at that time. He also grew sugar beets and navy beans along with hay, corn and oats to feed the cattle. One spring during planting time he didn’t go to bed for 3 days so he could get all the crops in. If he got tired he would go lay down under a tree and sleep for a little while.
I remember them threshing and farmers helping each other during that time as well as at silo filling time. When I was about 6 or 7 I would start staying out of school on silo filling day to drive the tractors for the farmers loading the wagon with shocks of corn. I would drive one tractor and when he had the wagon loaded I would go on to another. It made the job go a little faster.
Dad slowly built up a small heard of his own cattle with his 1/3 share. He also worked in the woods in the winter skidding logs with a team of horses for Buskirk Lumber Co. Some days he would drive the A Farmall (He nicknamed it the “Blitz Buggy” after the German Blitzkrieg) with the beet wagon behind and after work would load up a load of slab wood and sell it for $4 or $5 to make a little extra money.
In later years we kids discovered that we were “poor” in those days but didn’t know it. We wore patched clothes but they were always clean. We always had enough to eat because we had a big garden and mother canned a lot.
One Christmas I remember my dad built us a little wooden barn out of an orange crate and painted it red. It had a gambrel roof and a small round hold in the peak in each end. The back side was open to get things in and out. We sure had a lot of fun with that barn.
When I was about 10 or 12 we had talked about a cutter (a one horse open sleigh) to pull with our pony. One year before Christmas my dad told us we wouldn’t have to throw down any hay from the hay mow or straw for a few days. We didn’t think anything of it then one Saturday a friend was visiting and we went up in the barn. There on the drive, between the haymows, was a bright red 1-horse sleigh with nice red velvet upholstery. We were excited as can be and went racing for the house to tell what we had found. We had snow on the ground at the time so they let us hook up the pony and we went for rides in our new sleigh. In about a week the snow was all gone and we didn’t have any snow at Christmas time but we got to use our sleigh anyway. It was a very exciting and memorable occasion for us kids and I’m sure my dad had as much fun as we did. We also had a team of workhorses and would use one of them sometimes to pull the sleigh.
He saved and bought his own farm, 170 acres about 1-1/2 miles south of where we lived and continued to work my ggrandmother’s 160 acres on shares.
He built a basement house and we moved to the new farm and lived in a basement for a few years. About that time he also went to work for Yale Rubber Company as a press operator. He started working midnights for a few years and my brother Paul and I would get the cows milked in the morning before we went to school as dad got home about 7:20 in the morning from work. He later went on days, 7:00 am to 3:00 pm. The normal routine in the summer with that shift would be we got up about 5 and milked, came in and had breakfast as he gave us the orders for the day. Because I was the oldest it was my hide if things didn’t get done he wanted done that day.
There was a barn, two granaries and two storage sheds on the farm he bought so he converted the barn to a milking barn and built a milkhouse. He moved his Jersey cows there and bought some Holsteins so we were milking cattle two places. We had 3 Surge milking machines and dad and one of us, Paul or me, would go to the other farm while the other one of us got the cows in the barn at home and ready to milk.
One night my dad and I were milking at the old place and were looking out the barn door at someone coming down the road with their horn blowing. We noticed it was our neighbor lady and she turned in the driveway and told us that my brother Paul had tipped the tractor over and was pinned under it. My dad left and I finished milking and mother picked me up later when I finished. As we were getting almost home we saw the tractor being pulled back over and upright. When the accident happened he was near the barn and hollered for my younger brother Fred after he tipped the tractor over and Fred had gone to the get the neighbors. When they got there Paul told them where the hydraulic jack was along with some blocking to jack the tractor up as he was only pinned by one leg. He was able to use the other leg to shut the tractor off when it tipped over as it was still running upside down. The two neighbors were really scared, as they were afraid that when they went to jack the tractor up it might slip and make things worse. They jacked it up and Paul got out without even a broken bone. He had been pinned by the steering column and the ground was soft. The tractor was a “U” Moline, which had a seat that would swing to either side and the swinging seat prevented things from possibly being more serious. Paul had been out getting the cows from the pasture and made a turn and dropped in a small furrow causing the tractor to tip. He was about 13 at the time.
One year dad planted a 25-acre field with navy beans and told my brother and I that if we hoed it twice that summer he would buy us some high tops. Paul and I were probably about 11 and 9 when we did that and we got our high tops in the fall after the beans were harvested. A 25-acre field is really big when you have to hoe the whole thing twice. We also had to hoe thistles around the farm a couple times a year. Dad hated to see weeds.
Dad loved to garden and really had a nice garden with no weeds. He had really nice tomatoes, corn, asparagus, many other vegetables, a strawberry patch, and grapes.
In the earlier years when I was about in the eighth grade he bought a beet harvester and we did our own beets and also did a lot of custom harvesting. He did that for a few years and then sold that and bought a corn and hay chopper. The local man who used to have the silo filler quit filling silos and the neighborhood needed someone to fill silos. We had 3 silos on the 2 places and he would also fill about 12-14 silos for the neighbors every fall. Some falls I would miss quite a bit of school during beet harvest or silo filling time.
Dad was probably the first in the neighborhood to do crop rotation and always was the first in the field in the spring at planting time and the first to harvest.
He eventually stopped farming the 160 acres of my ggrandmother and someone else tried it. That didn’t work out and they wanted to sell some of the land so my dad bought 40 acres near our farm giving him 210 acres.
He used to make his own beer and the neighbors used to love it. I wasn’t fond of it because he didn’t let it settle long enough to get all the yeast to settle out.
He loved humor and seemed to have nicknames for a lot of people such as “Santa Clause”, “Well I’ll be Darned”, and “Squeekie”.
When he was about 63 he sold all the land except for 10 acres where the house and barn were and retired. He had a couple small strokes and then when he was 64 he had a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side and unable to talk. No amount of therapy helped him regain movement or the ability to speak. I remember the day mom and I went to the hospital in Saginaw and they told us that he would never be able to walk or talk again. That was a shocker! My mother took care of him at home for over 7 years and it was really hard on her. We wanted her to put him in a rest home or she was going work herself to death taking care of him. She finally gave in and put him in a medical care facility in Marlette. Unfortunately mother did die before him in January of 1993. Dad lived until December 1994 and died when he was 80 years old. While he was at the medical care facility I would take him out for rides and he would point in the direction he wanted to go. There were times he would try to tell me something and I could not figure out what he was trying to say and it would be hard on both of us. I kept his hair cut and he always looked good and his mind stayed good.
He was a good hard working father who showed us by example how to be a good citizen. He gave us a good home and taught us to work, the best lesson a parent can give. He raised 5 sons and a daughter and all were successful.
By Dick Schmidt