Pulling into the gravel driveway of the Freier Farm on Post road was a highlight of my after school and summer days. Although working on the farm wasn’t always easy work, it was in many ways, the most rewarding. There were always things to learn and do on the farm, and Douglas Freier had one of the best farms I had ever seen in Seneca County.
His farm was laid out with efficiency and purpose by blending the old buildings with the new. There was an old barn to the west of the 200+ year old Victorian house, and just to the north of that was a small tool shack, where I learned to weld on “diggers” to give them extra life. Just a bit west of the little tool shack, there were the grain bins along with the grain dryer, and a larger barn that we would mow away extensive bales of hay.
A little further to the north, there was the shop. The shop was the newest building on the farm, and it housed the massive John Deere combine, the endless bags of Pioneer seed, and just about everything else that one would need to operate a successful farm. (Which in my young eyes, Freier Farm was very successful.)
Through a mutual relationship I met Douglas Freier. I stood on his front stoop on a fall day asking if he would hire me for any kind of odd jobs that the farm was sure to have. I was 14 years old, and could barely haul a bale of hay, let alone have any skills that would make me valuable on a farm. Douglas would change that.
Douglas had hired man named Lars. Lars instantly became my “guardian” showing me “the ropes” of the farm, the do’s and don’ts, and how to fill out my time card. I respected Lars instantly. He had a humble yet firm way about teaching, and having vastly more experience than me in just about everything, he summoned my utmost attention. I’m not sure what Douglas told Lars about me, maybe nothing, maybe he said, “Hey, I hired a young boy that doesn’t know anything about working on a farm, teach him what he needs to know. ” Whatever the case, Lars was the man to know, if you wanted to know what Douglas wanted to get done.
Douglas also had a “maid” as she was known, but she was much more than that. Elisabeth (Lise) would cook us lunch just about everyday, drive the bailing tractors, fill all of our pitchers with iced tea, and tend to everything else the farm needed. She was fun to be around, yet she also received our respect. She had an infectious laugh, and seemed to care for us as if we were her younger brothers.
Working on the Freier Farm was some of the best times of my life. There was always something to learn, something new to do. I guess if you work on a farm, you may take these things for granted, but if you were not used to it, it was like having a new adventure everyday. Some days, we would work on equipment, getting them ready for sowing or harvest or hay seasons. Other days, we would unload semi loads of Pioneer Seed, stack them in the shop and prepare them for sale. There was the endless cleaning of the cow barns (where I learned to operate a Bobcat), the planting of pine trees (we planted a shit load of pines trees), mowing lawns, cleaning grain bins, loading hay trucks, raking hay, mowing hay, feeding the cows, plucking seeds off of velvet leaf that would infest our corn fields, laying field tile, picking rocks (yeah we had to pick a shit ton of rocks in upstate New York), and countless other chores that had to be done on the farm.
One project in particular sticks in my mind. Douglas had purchased an antique John Deere hay rake. It was all rusty and in bad shape. All the teeth on the rake needed replaced or repaired, the tires were non-existent, and all the moving parts were frozen in place.
Douglas put me to task on painting this rake. After considerable amount of hours sanding the metal, and grinding off years of abuse, I was finally ready to give the “ole girl” some primer. After a couple of coats of primer, which was rusty-orange in color, I began to apply the infamous John Deere green and yellow to the ancient machinery. It seemed like months of painting, and everyday my jeans, hands, boots, and Pioneer hat were blazed in John Deere green.
After a few weeks, I was surprised at how well the machine looked! It was then that I knew that Douglas could see the potential in things that I could not. He loved antique tractors, and the “old way” of bailing and mowing loose hay. He honored these ways, which was an amazing reminder of how easy we had it. (even though I often severely complained at the heat and dust in the hay mows!)
On the farm I met some great friends. I had my first beer at Danny’s house. Heard my first song by “KISS” (Heaven’s on Fire) in Paul’s car. Admired the endless energy of Jimmy, and had friendly competitions with Lars, Danny, Jimmy and Paul on who had stacked the best hay wagon, (Lars always won.) I met Douglas’ father and mother, some of his other relatives, and attended Empire Farm Days which quickly became one of my all time favorite things to do!
I was thinking of all this today as I was thinking of Douglas. Have you ever met someone that you admired so much, but was so humble that they never knew they impacted you as much as they did? This was Douglas to me.
I was a 14 year old know-it-nothing. When I tried to say something intelligent, or offer my young opinion, or try to be funny; Douglas would cast a crooked little smile my way and without ever letting me know how little I knew, or how idiotic my thought was, he would simply smile, and laugh a little. But behind his eyes, I could hear him say, “You have so much to learn, young man!”
Douglas led by example, I guess it’s in a farmers blood to do so. Although he could have hired out younger guys to bale hay, and stack wagons, and mow it away, he was always there with us. He didn’t have to walk endless miles of fields picking up rocks, but he did. He never had to pitch thousands of Pioneer seed bags, but he showed us how to stack them without them falling over. He planted a shit load of pine trees with us. Drove around in a baby blue Ford truck, and then an old (’58 I think) black one named “Bob”. He plucked thousands of velvet leaf plants out of the corn fields, and fed the cows with green corn yelling “Commerse!” or something like that to get the cows attention, and always with a brisk walk and a curious smile on his face.
Douglas married Lise and had a family of his own. I never had the pleasure of meeting his children, yet I can see the familiar smile in pictures of them. I can imagine that they had some of the same experiences that I had.
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this blog today. I guess I was thinking of Douglas, and the way he would say a thousand words with just a nod, or a smile. I was thinking of the way he would bound out of his house on early mornings of our work days with his green Pioneer hat on, white T-Shirt, blue jeans, and work boots ready to go. I always wanted to chat, and start slow, however Douglas would shoo me along, and get us started with the day.
Douglas may never be written about, and many may never know him, but to me, and I would imagine a great deal of others, he is something special.
Although you may have never known it, your influence on my life is still remembered. Your patience, and kindness to me will always be remembered. The opportunities you provided, and character that was built while I worked for you still resonates in my life. My friends and my own grown children have heard many stories of my years of working at Freier Farm. They have seen my very old and very faded Pioneer jacket, and hats, and ask if I ever actually wore them! I tell them this was the height of fashion on the farm!
So, thanks Douglas. Thanks for taking a chance on a young guy, and teaching him a few things. Thanks Lars for not killing me! Thanks Lise for remaining a friend and for sharing some great memories to this day on our modern social media streams.
If you’re ever in the Finger Lakes Region, and you happen to be near Post road, you can drive by where many of my young years were influenced and share in part of my world! Just up the road and on the left, you’ll see the gravel driveway that I drove into many a time. You may still see the large tree under which I would park, and sometimes take a noon-hour hiatus. You can see the neatly and well-cared for buildings, and admire the beautiful Victorian aged home. I’m not sure if any of the antiques are still around, but in my mind there stand Minnie Moes, John Deeres, International Harvesters, and maybe even a ’58 Ford bounding around somewhere.
Above all, remember the people that have had influence in your life. Remember how your character was formed. Remember that even though we have bad days, there are good days that greatly offset the bad ones…by amazing people, whose memories brings smiles to our faces.