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Buying A Farm Post by :58147 Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :2107

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Buying A Farm

It began as "a farm," but even before the catalogues arrived it was "the farm." Now we call it "our farm," although the land is still in Spain abutting on the castle. Chiefly, the place is for Michael. The backyard is much too small for him, and too formal. He regards the house with affection, no doubt, but with none of that respect which he has for the backyard. He is, as you might say, thoroughly yard-broken. When he puts his paws against the front door and barks for freedom he would be a harsh person indeed who would refuse to plan a plantation, a large one, for him. Of course, there was H. 3rd to consider, also, but he seemed less restive. Things beyond the borders of a pram are so foreign.

By eliminating Maine, Ohio and all farms priced at more than twenty thousand dollars, we succeeded at length in narrowing the field of selection to three. One, which has the attractive name of Farm No. 97, is in Connecticut. It has "good American neighbors on all sides." It is only half a mile to some village, not specified. Four of the ten acres are tillable and the rest in timber. Since there are at least 250 cords of wood bringing five to six dollars per cord, the author of the catalogue is entirely justified in the use of the phrase "ridiculously low" regarding the price of $1,500. The author of the catalogue goes on to say that "the owner is an aged widow," and we have gathered the impression that the author means to intimate that she is not quite competent. This would explain the ridiculously low price.

However, we wish to defend our motives in favoring Farm No. 97. It was not the opportunity to swindle a widow out of her homestead which tempted us, nor even the cordwood, but a single sentence almost at the bottom of the description. It read, "Aged owner, for quick sale, will include good mare that has paced a mile in 2:20." This would bring the village half a mile away within one minute and ten seconds, while the good American neighbors would be only seconds away.

E---- was the devil's advocate. "The description doesn't tell enough," she complained. "The 2:20 doesn't mean anything unless it says 'track fast, start good, won driving,' or something like that. And I'd like to know who held the watch. I think we ought to know what year it was that she made that mile in 2:20. Doesn't it say that the woman is an aged widow? Doesn't it stand to reason that she must have bought that fast mare some time in her forties, at least? Anyway, 2:20 isn't so very fast for a pacer. Dan Patch did it in less than two minutes."

In default of more definite information about the pacing mare, we turned to a farm called "Coin Money on a Bargain." This is an oyster farm, as it borders two thousand feet on the Patuxent River. The tillage, as the author says, "is loamy and fine for trucking." It is well fruited to apples and grapes. I drew, as I thought, a rather attractive picture of a scene before the big open fireplace in the modern four-room bungalow of "Coin Money on a Bargain." I pictured the group telling stories and roasting apples and stewing grapes and frying oysters over the embers. R---- interrupted to say that, without doubt, just as soon as H. 3rd began to crawl, he would fall into the river with the oysters.

"Yes," said E----, "and Michael would try and eat shells, and they'd disagree with him, like that coal he got hold of last night."

I mentioned the fact that oysters cost from thirty to fifty cents for a half dozen portion, and spoke of the manner in which the shellfish could be crowded along a 2,000-foot front.

"Yes," said E----, aggressively, "but how are you going to get them to market?"

There I had her. "You have forgotten the description," I remarked. "It says the farm is fine for trucking."

But eventually it was a place called Only Nine Hundred Dollars Down to which we turned our attention. It lay up north along the Hudson and a man named George F. Sweetser promised to show it off to purchasers.

In the newspaper advertisement it merely said "George F. Sweetser, Real Estate Agent." Only after his letter came did we realize the sort of man with whom we had to deal. The letter was much more communicative than the advertisement.

The left-hand half of the envelope read: "George F. Sweetser, Storm King on the Hudson, New York. Legalized expert judge of horses, cattle, poultry, fruits, etc.--pomologist and botanist--private scoring and mating poultry--starting judge of races--originator of Buff Brahmas--breeder of prize winning, standard bred poultry, cattle, etc.--superintendent of farm produce and grain at New York State Fair."

I was careful, therefore, to explain my business at the beginning. "I want to see a farm," I said.

"I'm certainly glad to see you coming out this way," said the pomologist. "We want new blood. We want active, hard-working young fellows around here. We got too many amateurs and old fogies. Would you believe it, a lot of fellows around here won't use green fertilizer, even when I tell them about it."

"No?" I said.

"They just want to stick in the old rut and do things the way their grandfathers did before there was a war, Do you know what it is makes things grow?"

"Rain," I suggested, after a long pause.

"Yes, rain, of course," said the originator of Buff Brahmas, "but nitrogen, too. And where do we get nitrogen?"

"It comes from Chile, or Honduras, or some place down that way, doesn't it?" I hazarded.

"No, sir," said the starting judge of races. "Up here in Putnam County we get it right out of the air. That's what green fertilizer does--just brings it right out of the air."

And he reached up and clutched something, as if he was going to bring some down himself and show it to me. Instead, he let the gas drift away and pointed to a farm just across the road from the post-office.

"Do you see that farm over there?"

I nodded.

"Well, that man took my advice and he got 440 bushels of potatoes on two acres."

I tried to think just how far 440 bushels of potatoes might stretch if French fried and placed end to end. It was beyond me.

"That's a lot of potatoes," I murmured.

"I'll say it is," answered Mr. Sweetser. "You know what potatoes were selling for last year?" he said aggressively.

"Not last year," I answered.

"Well, they were selling for $1.50 a bushel. I told that man over there to hold off a bit, but he didn't take my advice, and later on they sold for $2. It wasn't such bad business, either, at $1.50. Do you know how much 440 bushels at $1.50 are?"

I could do that one, and after awhile I said "$660."

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Sweetser. "And this farm I got for sale is eighty-five acres. Now, suppose you put all that in potatoes. How much could you get?"

"It would be a lot of money," I said, after a vain attempt to work it out in my head.

"Not that I'd advise you to put it all in potatoes. There's cows and corn and berries and pigs. This is lovely country for pigs. You certainly owe it to yourself to have pigs. If I was a young man I'd just do nothing but pigs. And there's alfalfa. You can cut that three times a year, and you get about five tons to the acre. There was a man on a place right next to mine that put four and a half acres into corn and he got $349.70 for it."

"How's the house?" I interrupted.

"Oh, don't you bother about the house," said Mr. Sweetser. "It's comfortable. That's what I'd call it--comfortable. And I allus say you're not buying houses; they don't count for nothing in the long run; you're buying land. Even if that was an elegant house, you'd want to fix it up some way to suit yourself, wouldn't you? I'd like to show you the place this afternoon. There's good corn, and I know you'd enjoy seeing the rye and the pigs. But, you see, I'm kinder pressed for time. I'm superintendent of a big place around here, and I got to look at that, and later on this afternoon I have to register the alien enemies--the women, you know--and to-night there's a meeting of the draft board. I guess I've told you enough, though, about what kind of land it is around here. Just look at this piece right here."

He led the way across the road.

"You wouldn't find finer soil than that if you was to drive all afternoon. Just look at it." And he kicked some of the rocks away so that I could get a closer view.

"Why, the crops alone and the timber ought to pay for this place in a couple of months. Why, I'd just love to buy it myself if I was a young fellow and wasn't so busy. If you come up this way again let me know when to expect you, because I've got to go up and superintend a fair next Thursday, and on Friday I'm judging chickens, and Saturday the school board meets."

It was at this point that fate took a hand in the affairs of the busy Mr. Sweetser for no sooner had we got into the car and started for home than a tire blew out.

I sat down under a tree to advise the real estate agent and watch him fix it. An old man from down the road also came over to watch. He was chewing a straw, and he wore a pair of suspenders called Sampson. I asked about the weather first, and he said, without much interest, that it had been too cool and too rainy. Then he took up the questioning.

"What part of the country are you from?" he inquired.

I said New York, and added New York City.

"Yes; I know," said the farmer. "I've been there. I saw the Hudson-Fulton celebration. I've seen about everything," he said, "I went to the San Francisco Exposition."

I nodded, and he went on: "Chicago was the first stop, and then we went through Kansas. Out of the window you could see wheat and corn all the way along. It was beautiful. And then by and by we came to the Rocky Mountains. They're mighty big mountains, and it took three engines to pull the train up. Sometimes on the curves you could almost touch the engine. Every now and then we'd go through a tunnel. Then we went down south into the big desert. There was nothing there but sagebrush. And they took us up to the Grand Canyon. Did you ever see it?" he asked.

I lied and said yes, but he went on: "The Grand Canyon's 123 miles long and twenty-five miles wide and one mile deep. I grabbed hold of a tree and looked over the edge, and down there at the bottom were all kinds of rocks, red and green and yellow, and there were horses' heads and horses' hoofs and barns and castles and haystacks and everything better than an artist could have done."

"I don't suppose you've seen any of these submarines around here," I interrupted, as a possible diversion.

"Oh, yes; I've seen them," he said; "not here, but out at the San Francisco Exposition. They had submarines and floating mines. They're big. They look like an old-fashioned white turnip, and they float under the water, and when a ship strikes one it blows up. An' they had a big buildin' out at the fair as big as that barn, and in the middle of it was a butter-making machine, and it could turn out more butter in an afternoon than I get off this place in a year. An' there was a Tower of Jewels 425 feet high, and it had 15,635 jewels on it from Persia. And they all shone in the sun. And they had flying machines, too. At night they put lights on 'em, and they went up in the air and turned somersaults over and over again. I wouldn't go up in one of 'em if you was to give me all that meadow land over there.

"After we left the fair we went up north through the spruce forests, and they tell me now that the government's sent 8,000 men up there to cut that spruce and put it into the flying machines, an' I suppose some of those trees I saw are up in the air now turning somersaults.

"We didn't stop agin till we got to Detroit. That's where they make the Fords, Tin Lizzies, they call 'em around here. But I always say, What difference does it make what they call 'em if they can do the work? I always say one of 'em's as good as a horse--as good as two horses. An' then we came back here and I've stuck around for a spell 'cause I think I've seen most everything there is."

By that time the real estate agent had fixed the tire, and we drove away. The man with the Sampson suspenders was looking rather contemptuously at his flock of sheep. They would never get to San Francisco.

I can't remember now just why we didn't buy Only Nine Hundred Dollars Down but somehow or other the decision of the council went against it. Our attention at present is fastened on a place over in New Jersey called One Man Farm Equipped. This, like so many of the attractive bargains in the advertisements, belongs to a widow. As the paragraph in the newspapers has it "Widow left alone will sell farm for $1,000 spot cash." E. thinks that delay in the matter may be fatal because of the cheapness of the price. "How can we tell," is the burden of her plaint, "that they will leave her alone?"

(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Buying A Farm

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