Jim Jones didn’t expect to be waylaid by a farm writer when he stopped by Remcor, Inc., on the day before his 86th birthday.
He just needed a pump for his spray rig so he could finish spraying thistles in his pastures.
The farm writer didn’t anticipate an opportunity to interview a gentleman who’s been farming on his own since a year before the writer was born or one who’s farming land that’s been in the family since just after the Civil War.
The farm writer introduced himself.
“I get your magazine,” Mr. Jones said. “I read your stories.” He said he probably didn’t have anything useful to write about.
“I don’t know about that,” the writer replied. “The oldest farmer I ever interviewed was 98. His name was Elmo Snelling, from around Plainview.”
“Was that about two or three years back?” Mr. Jones asked. “I remember reading that.”
He made no objections to the writer taking a few notes. He said he’s not growing row crops any longer but runs a herd of about 70 cattle. “We had about 120,” he says, “but we’ve cut down.” Drought didn’t force the cut, he added. “Sometimes we just try to keep a mama cow too long, trying to get one more calf out of her, and some just die.”
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He does recall raising cotton. “We worked mules during World War II,” he said. “We would rarely make a bale per acre. When we made a half-bale, we thought we had hit a homerun.”
He remembers the devastation of the boll weevil. “They used to come out with various things to kill boll weevils,” he said. He remembers one contraption in particular, an implement that fit on the cultivator and included a tray installed below a device that would shake the cotton plant as the cultivator passed. They filled the tray with kerosene and the shaker was supposed to knock boll weevils off the plant and into the kerosene, which killed them.
“The following year folks saw a lot of those trays in farm yards holding water for the chickens,” he chuckled.
Farm in family since 1867
Mr. Jones said his great-grandfather settled on the farm, near Howe, Texas, in 1867. “He died a few months after he came here,” leaving his wife with two small boys. “My great-grandmother took charge of the farm and later married a widower from a nearby farm. He had a daughter. Before they married they arranged for division of the combined farm between the two boys and the girl.”
The sons took over farming their share when they turned 16 or 17. “My grandfather was raised here,” he says. “My father was raised here; I was raised here; and my family was raised here (a son and a daughter).
The farm has been good for the family.
His son is helping on the farm now but had a successful career as a coach and teacher in public schools and for a while at junior college. Teaching seems to run in the family. Two granddaughters and a grandson are teachers. “The youngest boy is a teacher and coach. The oldest boy is studying to be an orthopedic surgeon.”
He said teachers now say their biggest challenge is discipline in the schools. “They have to learn sometimes that they will eventually hit a wall,” he said.
“They need some work to do,” he added.
He recalls that when he was in high school he had plenty to keep him occupied. Johnsongrass was a frequent cure for boredom. “Johnsongrass was a bad problem, and we had to get rid of it,” he said. That meant chopping it out and getting it out of the fields.
Not everything was as hard as chopping Johnsongrass, however. He recalled a promising business opportunity that emerged just after Lake Texoma was built. He and a friend discovered a bait shop above Denison, Okla., that would pay for minnows. “We had a stream full of minnows,” he said. “We bought a new minnow seine and figured on catching minnows and hauling them to Denison. They were paying $10 a thousand.”
They found a wooden barrel, soaked it in the stream, filled it with water and wrangled it into the back of his friend’s car. “We had to take a seat out and remove the door,” he said.
They seined and filled the barrel until about noon and then noticed minnows beginning to rise toward the top so they knew it was time to take off for Denison.
“My friend drove a little too fast,” Mr. Jones said. Water and minnows splashed out of the barrel and onto the floor of the car. “We picked them up and put them back in and delivered them to the bait shop. He paid us, but we didn’t haul any more minnows. We did build a trough in the stream, and they came down and picked them up. But we got out of the minnow-hauling business.”
Probably a good thing. They caught the minnows on Good Friday. They were both enrolled in Austin College and were off for the day. “When my friend got in the car to go to church Easter Sunday, the smell was awful,” Mr. Jones said. “We hadn’t gotten all the minnows out, and the car sat in the sun for more than a day. He sprayed cologne in the car but it didn’t help.”
Eventually, the odor dissipated, he said.
Unreliable weather signs
He also recalled learning the limits of folklore weather signs. One of his relatives was getting ready to “dirty up some cotton,” cultivate it close to put some soil around the stalk to keep it from falling over.
“An aunt said she had heard a whippoorwill down in the holler, and when the whippoorwill makes that certain kind of sound it’s a sign that we are in for a long dry spell. That night they had a big storm, heavy rain, thunder and wind.”
Next morning the relative “put on his overshoes and walked over to his aunt’s house. She was standing on her front porch with her hands on her hips. She pointed to him and said: ‘That was a young, inexperienced whippoorwill.’”
He remembers paddling down the stream with his buddies and tossing rocks at “big nests of black wasps. It was scary when someone hit a nest just over your head.”
Mr. Jones is devoted to Sara, his wife of 67 years. Her health has declined over the past few years, but he has continued to include her in his daily routines. He takes her with him to check on his cattle, to pick up parts in town and he does all he can to make her comfortable. He even took her to his deer stand until this year.
“We would both climb up into the stand and watch for deer,” he recalled. “A few years ago I was concerned that the ladder was too steep for me to get her in the stand so I built a long handicap ramp so we could walk up side by side.”
He has few regrets.
“What’s the name of the person from the Old Testament,” he asked the writer, “the one who lay down with his head on the stone?”
“Was it Esau?” the writer asked, trying to recall Sunday school lessons from too many years back and then quickly dismissed that guess as wrong. Almost simultaneously they looked at each other and said: “Jacob, Jacob’s ladder.” (Later, the writer looked up the reference and found it in Genesis 28: 10-17.)
Mr. Jones explained the reference: “When Jacob woke up, he said, ‘God has been in this place.’ That’s how I feel about my life. God has been in this place.”
The writer had to agree as he bit his lip and choked back a tear.