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Christian livelihood among PA Dutch farm families has usually been an extension of their brotherly love for man and beast, especially the animals who are dependent on man’s humanitarian belief in a Divine Creator; upon which our Civilization has become very humane in the United States. My wife cannot help but be amused when we retire in the evening, and I grab some cat treats in the kitchen to go upstairs and call our house cats, one by one, to go to sleep. The youngest stray cat named, “Sister,” does not have to be called twice, before she passes me on the formal staircase going up to sleep in my bedroom.
Accustomed to bedding my farm animals down years ago in the snowy Oley mountains, when I first took over my great uncle Fred Bieber’s farm near the Pricetown Ridge, we had a very amusing incident after I moved my work horses to his barn from my mother’s farm at Macungie. It seems that my mother had spoiled “Thunder” and “Lightning” (two, large Clydesdale breeds) by giving them extra feed in the evening whenever the two of them made a loud noise banging at their stalls with their iron horseshoes, to get her attention, not being satisfied with their allotment of clipped oats in the evening.
In actuality, Thunder and Lightning did not belong to me at all! Farmer, John Fox, of Bernville who drove doc Shoemaker’s Conestoga wagon around at the Kutztown Folk Festival had a six horse team of horses where Lightning and Thunder had the wheel horse position to pull the huge Conestoga wagon. The other four farm horses were used to pull the fox’s farm and John could not really afford to feed and stable Thunder and Lightning. So after the summer folk festival was over kind harded me told John that I would feed and stable them until the next summer’s folk festival if I could hook them up to my own antique wagons and buggies. Besides, my mother’s barn at Macungie was empty since they did not have a working farm.
A congenial farmer who helped me out with historical pageants for the Lehigh County Historical Society, Mr. Fox honestly needed my help boarding these two horses until next year’s Kutztown Folk Festival came around when Alfred Shoemaker would again want to show the public a six horse Conestoga team in action. But admittedly, I became fond of these two Clydesdale breeds boarding them for John!
I always made sure my animals had food the night before but being transferred to a new barn and location in the Oley hills, the following morning when I stopped in to check on them, I discovered that a huge bag of oats had been dumped in their feed trough. Looking perturbed at such an accident, where the colorful feed bag material was missing, I wondered what the horses might have done with it? But these were clipped oats, their favorite, and the both of them seemed to have adjusted to their different horse stalls. Finally, my uncle came out to the barn from his house since my agreement was that he could remain living on the farm.
In a mischievous PA Dutch mood Fred looked at the spilled bag of oats and said to me, “The Hexes must have done it!” however, later my mother said that Lightning and Thunder, my two wagon horses must have made such a noise in the barn with their horse hoofs against the feedway wall that Fred dumped the bag of clipped oats in order that they might not damage their stall, and give him peace and quiet. But the mystery about the missing feed bag material in which the clipped oats were bagged, was later solved when my uncle Fred had made a shirt out of this feed bag material. Thus my ornery horses got their extra oats that night, and Fred had got the feed bag to sew a homemade shirt out of it, just like the old days.
A gentleman farmer I did not actually raise crops on this eighty acre farm, but used the barn and wagon shed in Rockland Township to house my collection of wagons and antique buggies. Thunder and Lightning were huge draft horses who could pull their weight in grain when hooked up to one of my vintage Conestoga wagons.
But one should not over feed work horses, for they never get full and will eat beyond the state in which their health is jeopardized. However, there are plenty of stray cats and some decent dogs in animal shelters deserving of being a household buddy to senior citizens or young children as the winter months become more frigid this year!!
A good natured horse farmer that still operated his Bernville farm with large draft horses. John Fox was one of the last Berks County horse farmers that Dr. Alfred Shoemaker could count on to demonstrate his wagons and horse drawn carriages at the Kutztown Folk Festival. John could give his team of horses commands that they instantly carried out, even when they were hauling a very large Conestoga wagon, which he personally owned. Each horse he owned had its own personality, and they responded to his teamster demands.
Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.