By Matt Reese
The hum of an electric homemade ice cream maker buzzes in the background as Walter Mayer lowers himself into a chair beneath a shade tree on a sunny summer day. A breeze rustles the leaves above, providing a tranquil respite amid the frenzy of farm activity around him — hay is being baled, steers are being fed in the barn, crops are stretching skyward in the fields and equipment rumbles in and out of the barnyard of his life long home.
Walter recently turned 100 years old and he is enormously satisfied with his more 36,500 days of life on the farm. He has seen fieldwork guided by horses and by satellite. He knows the toil of butchering a steer in the backyard to feed his family and the convenience of picking up a steak at the grocery. He has seen life through the rustic lens of an Ohio Century Farm.
The farm has been in his family scarcely longer than Walter. Walter’s father, John, purchased the 100-acre property in April of 1912 and Walter was born two months later. John’s parents were part of a German settlement in Union County that was first established in 1838 after the group of immigrants traveled to Ohio from Baltimore, Maryland via horse and buggy. John grew up in the area and then purchased the nearby farm. The property already had an existing farmhouse and a barn built in the late 1800s.
On this farm, Walter grew up in one of the most exciting agricultural eras in history.
“We had a few chickens, milk cows, sheep and hogs — a little bit of everything,” he said. “At first, we farmed with horses. But one day one of the horses died and dad announced he was going to town to buy a tractor — a Farmall F-12. We were so proud of that thing. The neighbor wanted us to disk for him and he paid 75 cents an acre, gas cost 18 cents back then.”
In Walter’s youth, eggs were sold for 10 cents a dozen to a man who collected them and resold them in Columbus. Milk was sold to Nestle in Marysville after being stored in milk cans in pits to keep them cool before being picked up. The livestock was butchered in the backyard during the winter months.
John did ditching for drainage installation in the winter as well, and Walter would take the horses into town to pick up the tile. The cold of winter also made Walter’s 4.5-mile walk to school seem longer. He could cut through the fields for a shorter walk, but that would eliminate his chance to hitch a ride.
As Walter grew up and got more involved in the farm, technology began to change the way jobs were done on the farm. In the mid-1930s, Walter had one of the first combines in the area for harvesting wheat. His wife, Ruth, would milk the cows on the days he was out late custom harvesting.
“It was an International pull-type combine with a six-foot cut. Almost every day that thing caught fire and you had to have a fire extinguisher close by,” Walter said. “We started out charging $2.50 an acre for custom harvesting and got up to $5 an acre to harvest.”
The old farmhouse got electricity in 1937 and there was only power during the day. The house was heated with wood and coal and it was usually only one room that was heated. Walter and his wife raised two children, Eugene and Mary, and they can clearly remember the cold winter months.
“We only heated the kitchen most of the time and we heated one other room if company came over,” Mary said. “We had a rubber bathtub that folded up and we moved it into the kitchen for baths in the winter with water we warmed on the wood stove.”
As Eugene got more involved with the farm work in his high school years, dairy and chickens became the main focus.
“I would feed the calves, get hay out of the mow while dad milked and throw silage down — that was a lot of pitching,” he said. “We’d husk corn by hand. That was a winter job and I hated doing that in the cold. We loved the New Idea one-row corn picker when we got it.”
After high school, Eugene went to Ohio State University and then got a job working as an agronomist for nearby Scott’s, where he worked for 38 years. He farmed on evenings and weekends.
Eugene enjoyed his full time job at Scott’s, but his thoughts were always focused on the evolving farm. At the same, Walter had a growing side business of custom hauling livestock that he ran with his wife, Ruth, for 64 years.
“At first, dad and mom had a pick-up and a trailer and would haul livestock to Columbus for neighbors,” Eugene said. “Then they added straight trucks and started hauling to Producers in Marion, Marysville and Mt. Vernon. The two were quite known by their farmer customers and Producers Livestock that they worked together hauling livestock. This turned out to be a 3- to 4-day per week business. Dad sold his truck and livestock trailer on his 85th birthday. My mother Ruth died in November 2000.”
Through the years, the trucks got larger and so did the tractors and equipment. The seeds the Mayers planted improved and the practices they used became more refined and efficient. The changes in the 100 years of the farm have rivaled any previous century.
Today, Eugene’s son, Tony, runs the farm that still produces freezer beef, hay,
corn, soybeans and wheat. They grind their own feed for the cattle, as they have done for years. The farm size has expanded slightly to 114 acres, and more ground is rented. In addition to farming, Tony sells seed for Channel.
There has been much change in Walter’s 100 years on the same farm and in the same house. He has watched his children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren grow up in the shadow of the old barn and upon the land from which he has made his living and legacy.
While sitting under that shade tree on a warm June day with his family all around him enjoying that homemade ice cream on his Ohio Century Farm, Walter gets a twinkle in his eyes. A tractor rumbles by pulling a wagonload of hay and he smiles.
“When I look back on it, I’ve had a pretty good life.”