Interview with Leonard Brotzman
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Leonard Brotzman
Interviewed by: Wanda Wood
Date of interview: 5 January 1978
Wanda: This is Wanda Wood, interviewing Leonard Brotzman of Brotzman Hill Road in the Town of Chenango. The date is the fifth of January, 1978. Mr. Brotzman, why don’t we start out with the beginning and—ah—can you tell me something about what life was like on the farm when you were a little boy?
Leonard: Well, when I came here it was all farms. You'd be amazed if you could see today the number of the farms there was o'er these hills—
Grace Brotzman [Leonard’s wife]: On Front Street, too.
Grace: It was all farms on Front Street.
Leonard: Oh, well, she don't want two or three of us talkin’ at once. See, she has to transcribe this, and if you talk it balls it up.
Grace: Well, I'll keep my jaw straight. (Laughter).
Wanda: No, no—
Leonard: Well, if you want to say something—heh—hold up your finger, she says. (Laughter.) And in those days it was what we’d call “sustaining farming” now. The farmer's figures could be as near—live off from the farm as they could. So, because money was very scarce—ah—some farmers, especially the small dairies, didn't have enough for them to make a livin’ and so they kept chickens, and every farm that I can remember had an orchard, at least an orchard of apples, and the big crop, outside of hay and grain to support their livestock, was potatoes. Nearly everyone with any size farm raised from three to ten acres of potatoes. And they drew them in to Binghamton with horses—drew them mostly in the fall, because after it got cold, you couldn't take them in or they'd freeze, and the stores, they were mostly independent groceries. The chain stores hadn't come in as we know them today. The A&P was here, but they bought off the local farmers. It was before the days of trucks. And, also buckwheat was quite a crop. And o’er the hills they—I presume there was more farms was run by renters than they was by owners. And they'd raise some potatoes, some buckwheat, and a hog and some beans, and they'd have maybe a team and a cow or two. And they took—they took off. They didn't put anything back. Then the farm got so poor it wouldn’t support them, why, they’d move on and another one would try. That's why we've got so many abandoned farms. And the families were large, and the children would have to look for work elsewhere—and soon that—when we came here in 1906, Binghamton, the cigar factories was the big industry. And then the Endicott Johnson came, and they became gradually built up, and then when World War I came, why, they really expanded. Seems to me about 20,000 workers. And everyone rushed in there to work.
Wanda: Do you remember much about the cigar industry?
Leonard: No I don’t. I know before my time they used to raise tobacco around here. Down Front Street, on what's now the Quinn place and Ruth Wolfe's—they were tobacco farms. They were a high narrow barn and they had boards on them, hinged so they could open it for ventilation, and o'er on what's 369 then—I don't know who owns the place now—the last I knew, it was Dr. Allerton’s. Hull’s owned it years ago, and they said they grew a lot of tobacco.
Wanda: Where the big stone barn is?
Wanda: And the canal was right there,too, wasn't it? Right near by—
Leonard: Yeah. And when I was a boy, quite a lot of old canallers left. We used to like to get them telling canal stories. In fact, Grace is a descendant of the canallers. Her grandparents were on the canal.
Wanda: Well, maybe we can get her to talk about that?
Leonard: She didn't hear you—
Grace: I don’t know much about it.
Wanda: Don’t remember your grandparents?
Grace: All I know is it was the last end of the canallin’ when my grandfather was steerage and my grandmother was cook.
Wanda: What were their names?
Grace: What? Ah, Palmer.
Wanda: Oh—yeah. Connected with the—the family there—the Thomas family. Weren't they relatives of the Thomas family down on Chenango Bridge Road?
Grace: I don't know.
Wanda: Well, that's—
Grace: They might have been. Or, ah—unless she means the Palmers that used to live here, maybe.
Wanda: No—ah—it's a—well, that's another story. But she was a cook on the canal?
Grace: Yeah, my grandmother was.
Wanda: And your grandfather?
Grace: She was an Ackerman before she was married.
Wanda: Do you remember any stories they told you about it?
Grace: No. All I know is every time the Port Crane men and the Chenango Forks men met, they had a fight.
Leonard: (Laughter.) Well, what—one question was, “What was the amusement?” That was amusement to the canallers. This isn’t being recorded, is it?
Wanda: Oh yes.
Leonard: Well, this Palmer that you speak of married John Thomas’s sister, was raised right here. He lived here when we come on the hill. That was Charley, and I understand they were distant relatives of Grace's folks.
Grace: Well, my grandfather and their grandfather was cousins, I guess. Something like that.
Wanda: Well, I wish some of those canallers were still around.
Leonard: There was one, Dick Shaw. When they put the hard road in between the corners—
Grace: They was hard people. I mean they were real fighters, some of them.
Leonard: I guess all of 'em in the old days were.
Grace: Tough, they’s tough.
Leonard: Dick was an old canaller, and Stento put this piece of hard road in on Front Street, and Dick drove team for someone and he boarded with a Mrs. Webb—she kept three or four cows, and then he stayed there and done her chores until he died. And he used to tell us great stories about the canal.
Wanda: I'm sorry he's gone, aren't you? Well, where were we then?
Leonard: We'd got up to where people went to town to work. And that was one thing—that I think changed the face of farming. Well, when I was a boy, it was my father and brother and I at home, and except in haying and such things, we wasn't all needed. And when we was out of school and I worked at whatever I could find, I worked for other farmers. I worked in the ice-houses up to the 'Forks on the railroad. I worked on the road and I worked in the sawmills. And all of us boys done that. We worked at whatever we could get to do. And as the hill farms got poorer, why, it was a poorer living, and then people—they'd see that others in other occupations was making more money—had an easier time—so they drifted away to the cities. And then they has modern machinery come in. One man could do more, why, they begin to buy up the smaller farms. Maybe one man would get four or five of them and work them with the machinery, where it’d give employment to a lot of people before. And another thing that changed farming, I presume, there was as much land used to grow horse feed as there was to feed the people. Well, when the horses was gone, why, there was no market for oats and hay, and that was another thing that caused farming to change. And it gradually went into this trend for bigger farms on the better soils.
Wanda: But you stuck right here, didn't you?
Wanda: You stuck right here?
Leonard: Yeah. (Laughs.) In those days you took what come along. I dropped out of high school in my fourth year. I had eye trouble. I was going back. Wages got up to three dollars a day—what would I need of an education when I could make all that money like that? (Chuckles.)
Wanda: Three dollars a day, oh my.
Leonard: Well, I got a Grange scholarship to Cornell one winter for a short course, and when I came back, this farm, fellow that owned it died. His father was over on the “hill”—the State grabbed it and sold it at auction. And my father bid it off and took part of it and I bought the rest.
Wanda: How many acres?
Leonard: Well, at that time I think—think I had a hundred and nineteen. I’ve bought land since then—got more land, and I’ve sold it and I'm still stuck here. But I won’t be if I ever find a customer with any money. There’s no use having a farm you can’t work yourself, and the house is too big for us. We’d like to sell out here and get a small house and lot, kind of near civilization.
Wanda: Well, how—how have your crops changed over the years? Have there been a lot of changes there, except for the things you've said? You—you've always been a dairy farmer?
Leonard: Well, when I was at home, my people were market gardeners. They came from Pennsylvania with the idea of raising a truck for the Binghamton market. And they had to cut the cloth according to what they could. They bought here on the hills. Land was cheaper. And the trouble up here was, we was about a month later than they was down on the river. By the time our produce got on the market, why, the other price for early stuff was gone. And I remember when from Chenango Bridge—
[Interruption while a neighbor comes to call.]
Wanda: Can you remember where we left off?
Wanda: Doesn't matter. Well, I wonder if you could tell us something about the Grange? I know you’ve been connected with it for many years, haven't you?
Leonard: Well, to get back to the beginning, the Grange—after the Civil War the farmers were in pretty bad shape, and the Commissioner of Agriculture sent a man by the name of Albert Kelly to the South to look the situation o'er. Well, he was a Mason. He got the idea that the farmers ought to have an organization like the Masons, so he went ahead and organized one. And the first Grange, Number One in the United States, was organized at Fredonia in 1868. I think it's still going, for everything I know of. And o’er the years there was a good many Granges been organized and disbanded, and then there will be others organized. I presume in Broome County, let’s see, I think the first Grange here was at Kirkwood in 1874. And I think Binghamton was organized a few years after that, and then that disbanded and reorganized in 1906. Well, the first I knew about the Granges, the big drawing card was that they got feed and groceries at a discount, and some places there were Grange stores. Well, then after GLF was organized, they kinda dropped the feed business and went out of the merchandise business. It was more a social organ.
Wanda: Was it sort of a cooperative venture, you mean, when they had the stores?
Leonard: As I understand it.
Wanda: Well, there was quite a bit of social life combined with that, wasn't there?
Leonard: Yes. It was really—I think—a poor man's organization. It always seemed to flourish best in—ah—Depression times. But it was a farmer's organization, and I think the big trouble with the farm—the Grange in Broome County—is there isn't many farmers left. And I don't know. Us old ones are, ah, passing on, and there's so many other things that the young people don't seem to be interested. One thing, the centralized schools have so much on and then people would rather stay at home and watch television than to go out. I understand that in the states where they're farther away from the big cities the Grange is doing better ‘n it is in the more populous areas. Although Binghamton Grange, I think, is doing good. Sanitaria Springs. A boy from Binghamton Grange—they have a contest, and and one of them was in music. I think he plays the piano, and he must’ve won—been the winner in Broome County and at the State contest, and he went to National Grange down in the Carolinas and won. I think his name is Bob Hall from Port Crane.
Wanda: Was this a scholarship thing, or—?
Leonard: No. Not that.
Wanda: Oh, just a contest.
Leonard: Ayuh. I don't know, there’s a lot of prizes for the winners, what he got. And Missie—what'd Missie Acroni win that time? Do you remember, Grace? That was national, wasn’t it?
Grace: Well, yes, sure it—
Leonard: Her Afri—how d’you pronounce it? Something—African or something they knit?
Leonard: And I think she got a thousand dollars and her Grange, she’s a member of Sherwood Valley, got five hundred and—
Wanda: Do you mean “Afghan”?
Wanda: Yeah, yeah. Well, that's pretty good.
Leonard: Well, I’ve heard a lot say that the Grange was the greatest force for good next to the Church. Probably everybody wouldn't agree… Well, here’s something about farm machinery. Well, only the most prosperous farmers in those days—the bigger farmers might have a reaper and binder, and then there was what they called the drop reaper. It cut the grain and deposited it in a bundle on the ground, but couldn't tie it. But the small farmers used the old-fashioned cradle, and then we raked it up with a hand rake and tied it up in a bundle. And believe me, in those days there wasn't a spear of grain or hay wasted. They waste more today on the big farms than we used to have. And then the tractors begin to come in. About the first ones was the old Fordson. An’ I never see a thing I hated like them. You could crank your head off and still they wouldn’t start unless they felt like it. But they were used in those days mainly as a belt power. The tractors didn't really get out in the fields ’til they got them with rubber tires. An’ the way we sprayed, we were about the first ones around to spray an orchard. We had a force pump in a barrel with a rubber hose and a nozzle. One of us pumped and the other one sprayed.
Wanda: Was that horse-powered?
Leonard: It was man-powered. We drawed it with horses. And we’d spray the apples once or twice. Get nice apples. But now they spray continually, and—
Wanda: That was on your father's farm, right?
Leonard: Ayup. And there was some equipment here or orchard here when I got the farm. I sprayed that and I bought an orchard on the adjoining farm, but they're all pretty well gone. And we probably set a couple hundred new trees, and the deer killed every one of them. We raise them and then the State sells them to hunters. There was a neighbor, Mose Hatch, was raised in a log cabin. When I was a boy, he'd tell me how his father killed the last deer fifty years before that. Then in 1920 there was a pair up here—people come for miles to see them. Well, I wish that one that Old Man Hatch killed, it had been the last one. I think any farmer will—about, will agree with me on that.
Wanda: They say there are more now than there ever were in this country.
Leonard: Ayuh, and I think it's because there's so much abandoned land grew up to second growth. Up in the Adirondacks where they used to go to hunt, why, it’s all big timber, nothing for them to eat. And we stored the apples in the cellar, mostly in barrels and crates. You could keep bees. I never did. My brother was a great hand for bees. He didn't care any more about bees stinging him than a fly lighting on him. A mosquito buzzing'd drive him crazy.
Wanda: Well, he probably had to have them for the apples, didn't he?
Leonard: Well, yes—and we kept 'em. When he was a boy he'd worked where they kept hundreds of colonies. I always thought I'd like to keep bees, but they didn't like me. They say they'll sting anybody that's afraid of them, and they sure knew I was afraid of 'em. But—and that's another thing that's changed—in those days, we got white clover and buckwheat honey. Well, 'bout all you get now is a mixture, mostly of weeds. Back when there was all these cattle o'er these hills—ah—pastures were chewed right down an’ come in to white clover. And everyone raised buckwheat. But we'd plow 'er and put in to potatoes—they winter. I remember when I paid $4.50 school tax on this farm. This year it was o'er six hundred. But the teacher got—I remember six or seven dollars a week, an’ was glad to get a school at that.
Wanda: Where'd you go to school?
Leonard: Well, there was a district school right at the foot of the hill. It’s a house now.
Wanda: Oh, yes—I remember that—yes.
Leonard: And then Chenango Forks was what they called the union school—it was three-year high school—and Grace and I both went there, and then she went to Greene for the last year and graduated. And I started at Whitney Point. But as they say, I “quituated” instead of graduating.
Wanda: How'd you go to school? Did you have to board up there?
Leonard: Well, I boarded in the winter and the rest of the time I walked to Chenango Forks—went up on the nine o'clock train. And then they came back on the—what they called the “freight and accommodation”—old freight train, a passenger car on it. And that came alone, down anytime it felt like it, sometimes eight or nine o'clock at night. And this was a mud road then, down Front Street and up the hill, and we didn't even have a flashlight in them days. And boy, I was late at home until I sure was a man. And then I got a Grange scholarship and went to Cornell one winter—only vacation I ever had. And that was the last year they gave scholarships. Then they started what they called the revolving scholarship fund. They established the fund and would lend it to the students. And I think they're still doing it. Well—the last complaint I heard was they'd only lend so many hundred to each student a year. And the way expenses went up, they had to look for more money.
Wanda: What did you study that—when you went to Cornell? What were your subjects then?
Leonard: Well, we all, as I remember, we had to take a course in chemistry and soils, and one or two other basic things. And then I went in more for fruit growing and poultry raising, and took a course in forestry which was, I think, was the most interesting of any I took. And then I came home and bought this farm and this was more adapted to—in cattle than fruit growing.
Wanda: So you—did you go into the poultry business too, or—?
Leonard: Well, we used to keep a few hundred. But now it's all specialization. It's all poultry or all dairy, or something of the kind, and mainly because it's, probably one of the biggest things was, the farmers can't afford to hire help to compete with industry. 'Cause of minimum wage laws. So they, they've mechanized. One man produces as much as a lot did in the old days, doing it the way we used to. And about milk—there were all these small dairies. They had a half a dozen or more put together and buy a wagon and put a rack on it. Milk went to Binghamton. One man'd take it one day and one the next, and then they'd go it around again. We done that for years.
Wanda: You mean it was peddled in Binghamton that way?
Leonard: No, we took it to the milk companies.
Leonard: We'd draw it from eight to ten dairies on one load. They were all small dairies. And then when they got trucks, why, they went to hiring a truckman to take it in. Today—the can—I don't know of a place that buys canned milk anymore. It's all bulk tanks. And that put a good many small farmers outta business, because on the backroads the bulk truck won't go in unless they produce enough milk to pay 'em for their trouble. There we used to—well, take our canned milk to the main road for them to pick it up. And I don't know whether there's anyone in Binghamton taking milk in for the Crowley’s—whether their bulk tanks empty in Binghamton or not. There's a bulk tank, goes up through here every morning—or I see it every day or two. I don't know as it's every day. Picks up Haskell's, and then it goes up to Bob Walker's, and farther up's George Perry's. I think his goes to the Lea [Dairy Lea] and Eddy Smith go to Crowley's. Now there's four dairies where there used to be twenty-five or thirty. Probably as many cows in the four as there was in all of 'em.
Wanda: Well, do you think it's better or worse?
Leonard: Well—(Laughs)—I kinda think I like the old way best, but I know that it wouldn't be very practical, the way conditions are today.
Wanda: Especially for the wages, right?
Leonard: But I will say that those small farmers, the ones that owned their farms, the government didn't have a mortgage on them for more'n they was worth. Some of my friends hear that remark, they'll grate their teeth. (Laughter.) We didn't have much in those days, but what we had was ours. One question in here about apple varieties—do we want to go into—?
Wanda: Oh yes, I'd love to pick up that—do you remember?
Leonard: On the place where I was born, they were—the fences were stone walls. There was apple trees all around it—I think the biggest apple trees I ever seen, and was as nice apples. We never heard of spraying. We—ah—gathered what we wanted, and the rest fell off and laid there. And some of the bigger orchards a little later, the buyers come in and buy them and hire a gang to pack 'em in barrels and send them somewhere, to cities. And then we got all kinds of insects and diseases, and they had to spray.
Wanda: Do you remember some of the names of those old varieties that you can't find anymore?
Leonard: Well, back in the old days, those old varieties were seedlings—came up themselves and happened to be a good apple, then somebody discovered them and went to propagating them. Today, most of the new varieties are a manmade variety. They cross two or three varieties with—ah—to get the kind of apple they want. O'er to Geneva, they have an orchard with a thousand varieties they use for show and in this business, creating new apples. The old-fashioned apples—I can remember the Yellow Transparent come first and the Red Astrakan, then there was Sweet and Sour Harvest—they're not too well known around here—and Tompkins County King. They were an awful good apple. I don't know where they let 'em slip, but nobody has 'em. One time the Baldwin, there was more of them raised than anything else. And the Northern Spy for years was a main apple. Then there was the Rhode Island and the Northwestern Greenings—they were more cooking apples—and the Roxbury Russet, that used to keep 'til the next summer. And I don't know of where there's hardly a tree or any of them anymore, except the Northern Spy, and they're used more for processing. And we had the Pound Sweet and the Talman Sweet and the Rambo and the Hubbardson Nonesuch. Lord Nelson, the Spitzenburg, Jonathan, Grime's Golden. I think quite a lot of those varieties came from England and Europe.
Wanda: The names sound that way.
Leonard: And they, ah—the apple, I understand, is a native of the Near East. They were brought to this country. But today—why, the statistics show Red Delicious—there's more of them raised. But in the stores everybody wants McIntosh. They know the name—and I—
Wanda: That's about the only two names you hear anymore.
Leonard: And I've seen a lot of things sold for McIntosh that didn't even faintly resemble 'em. I was reading the other day, a list of apples that they've developed o'er to Geneva. Some of them I don't know and never seen. But one of the first ones they developed was the Cortland. That's a cross between the—ah—I think the McIntosh an’ the Ben Davis. Cortland's a wonderful apple. An’ the Ben Davis—(Laughter)—oh boy. I'd as soon eat a chip any day. (Chuckles.) But at one time when I was a boy they set out a lot of them. That was the days before refrigeration, and they would keep to send across the ocean.
Wanda: (Laughs.) I can imagine so.
Leonard: They was too poor to rot!
Wanda: Did you ever cook them, Mrs.—ah—Brotzman?
Grace: What—the Ben Davis? Yeah, I cooked 'em.
Wanda: How did you do it?
Grace: I think we—I think we've even baked them, didn't we, Leonard?
Leonard: Seems though.
Wanda: That's the only way I've ever heard that you could get 'em soft, was to bake them.
Leonard: We used to use them when we was short of other apples.
Grace: My mother—sometimes the frost would get the other apples and we had just the Ben Davis. We used 'em. There isn't a Ben Davis tree left, is there?
Leonard: Why, up on that Hatch orchard there's one that had a few left—last year. And we had a white apple. And the Stood orchard was set for Spitzenburg, but they turned out to be this white apple with the red cheek—I think they called 'em the Belmont—and we sold hundreds of bushels of those. Today, you couldn't get people to look at 'em. But fruit is somethin’ that's particular about the ground. This place is quite clay-ey, and apples don't do good in that. And also the west wind hits in here. I never had too much luck with cane berries. I think because the wind's so cold. Across the road where it's sheltered and in shale soil, fruit done wonders and we raised acres of berries. We used to pick berries—be five or six of us every day, and my brother drawed them to Binghamton with the horses.
Wanda: How did he sell them? House to house?
Leonard: No. mostly to stores. We never did do too much retail business—took too much time. But we did used to have customers in the fall of the year. They'd put in potatoes an’ apples an’ onions an’ everything like that. They'd last all winter. Where if you'd unload a whole load, why, it paid. But our—most of our customers would be what was called independent grocers. We'd supplied them wholesale an’ then they'd retail 'em. And then—I think the first chain store in Binghamton, the American store came in Washington Street. Potatoes, I know, was $1.75 an’ they brought 'em in on trucks from somewhere. They'd evidently bought 'em cheaper—dollar and a quarter. And that pretty well ended growing the many potatoes around here. Why, in the old days they used to car 'em. Load aft—carload after carload. Chenango Bridge. Whitney Point. You remember Mart Foote?
Wanda: Oh—I do.
Leonard: Why, Mart was a buyer for some company—potatoes and apples.
Wanda: Is that right?
Leonard: He used to go out in the lake country and buy a whole orchard of apples an’ hire men to pick 'em and car them.
Leonard: I guess that about runs out of questions here.
Wanda: Well, we've got a little time left.
Leonard: Well—asking about the Grange—and the Farm Bureau—that was organized here in 1911. The first one in the United States—the Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware-Lackawanna, and I forgot what else sponsored it.
Wanda: The Farm Bureau, you mean?
Leonard: Well, what was Farm Bureau then's the Extension Service now. It was the Farm Bureau for a good many years. John Baron was the first agent. He had Broome County, part of Susquehanna, and he had a horse and buggy. And then it was Ed Minns—he’d been a professor at Cornell, and they did get him a car. He'd bought a place down to Nimmonsburg—I think Carl St. John owned it later. And Baron—he went on. He was a professor at Cornell later, and then there was—Eastman—I think an Eastman. I've known every one of the Farm Bureau men. I was a committeeman for about fifty years. We used to go out and solicit people to join. I think the dues at first were a dollar, and then they worked up—seems to me to five—and then they dropped back to three. And one thing we discovered—the people that could’ve benefited from it most was the ones it was the hardest to get to join. And I think that the Farm Bureau was—well, they brought what—the new things to the farmers. And the better farmers today are the ones that went along with them. And the others are—huh—like the buffalo and the passenger pigeon.
Wanda: (Laughs). That's a good comparison.
Leonard: And then they got the bright idea of calling that the Extension Service and organizing the Farm Bureau, because it was being supported by public money and there'd be bills come up that they wanted to work for, and they couldn't do that as long as they was supported by public money. So—they called that part of it “Extension Service” and then they organized the Farm Bureau, which could not receive any public money. Although they work for different things. I've always been with the Extension. I belonged to the Farm Bureau for a few years, but when I sold the dairy I dropped out.
Wanda: So you have no dairy now?
Leonard: Well, I've got one cow and four or five heavy young cattle. The neighbor's got beef cattle here and does the haying.
Wanda: Well—that's good.
Leonard: I was going to send the old cow to the auction on a Monday, but she freshened on Friday. She wasn't in very good shape to send to the auction, so I've still got her. I tied the calf 'side of her and told him to go to it, but he's lazy—he makes me help.
Wanda: Well, you're lucky to have a—one cow, even.
Leonard: Well—one cow ties you down as tight as that whole barnful.
Wanda: Does it?
Leonard: And that's really why I was getting rid of her, too, but—if I can't be here to milk her—Grace’s got past it, and where do you get someone to milk her?
Wanda: Well—if you didn't gad so much, you wouldn't have to worry about those problems.
Leonard: It ain’t the gadding that worries me, it's trips to the hospital.
Wanda: Well, I want to thank you. Have you got anything else you want to put on here?
Leonard: No. I've probably put on too much now.
Wanda: How about it, Mrs. Brotzman?
Grace: I haven't got anything.
Wanda: Well, I guess we're kinda talked out, aren’t we? But I do thank you, and I thank you for your hospitality. It's been a pleasure.
Leonard: Well, it's been a pleasure to talk with you.