By ERIC HEIKKILA
An interview by Eric Heikkila, 8th grade student. This was originally published in The Guilford Gazette, a long running student produced community newspaper in rural Vermont. We are republishing it now as an excellent example of an oral history project. Learn more about student projects like this.
The first look you get at Bob Gaines you know he has worked hard all his life. I recently interviewed him and found out a lot about him and his work on the Gaines farm today. He believes he has seen a lot of change, in the way we live, in farming, and in the school system. He went to Slate Rock School in Guilford on Route 5 (before it was paved!), where there were about 25 students in his class — although he said the number varied throughout the year. During the fall and spring there weren’t many in attendance because they were at home helping with chores. In the winter many children came because there was nothing else to do. At the time there were about 9 or 10 schools in Guilford all from grades 1 through 8. In the morning the teacher would work with grades 1, 2, and 3 until 10:00, then they were allowed to go outside, while the teacher worked with the older grades. The smaller kids came in at noon and had lessons until 2:00 when they went home. The older kids stayed longer and received more help after 2:00.
Just like now the kids enjoyed an excuse to get out of class. He said they always looked forward to getting the pail of drinking water for the class or getting the Christmas tree in the winter, which took all day. When he graduated, there were 14 others in his class but only one was from his school so he knew no one else.
After graduation he went to high school in Brattleboro. Fewer students were able to attend back then because it cost $100 tuition. The Town of Guilford paid $50 and the parents paid $50. He said he was lucky because his father had a car that he let him use to get to school because there were no buses. After high school, besides working on the farm, he has fought in a war, worked for the electric company and was Master of the Broad Brook Grange. He was president of the Windham County Farm Bureau, served 20 years on the Agriculture Conservation Board for Windham County and six years on the school board (on the planning committee for the school), was an auditor in Guilford and many, many other things I am sure. He served in the U.S. Army for five years, three of which were spent overseas in the Pacific. He feels the service gave him great opportunity to see different parts of the country and the world. He even lived in New Zealand for three months, which he thinks is a beautiful country.
The land for the farm was bought by David Gaines in 1780, when Vermont was not yet a state. The price was paid in British pounds because the United States did not have its own currency. Some of the farm was on “Glebe” land. This was land that was set aside by the King to support the Church of England. The farm paid rent once a year for the right to use the land. The house that now stands on the farm was built by Joel Gaines in 1860. In 1900, Joel also built what was a modern three-story barn at the time. Seven years later in 1907, the barn burned to the ground. The farm has always been passed down through the family. Bob is the seventh generation and his grandsons, Kyle, Bradley, and Joel are the ninth generation.
Bob says farming has changed a lot in his lifetime. For example, everything used to be done with horses and now it’s done with tractors. It has become a lot more “high tech” with all the modern machinery. they didn’t even have electricity until 1946, after World War II. The company that had the contract didn’t have enough workers, so they supplied the materials and the Gaines family and their neighbors had to put up the lines themselves. When he first started out, they milked by hand and now they use milking machines. Corn and hay used to be cut by hand and now there are machines to do that too. It is easier now, he admits, since there’s less hand work but it’s hard to stay in business because the machines cost so much and it’s also hard just to keep the farm up to date. “This is the only industry that buys retail and sells wholesale,” he commented dryly. Another change I found interesting was they used to sell just the cream from the milk and kept the skim to feed the animals and when they started to sell the skim milk the “old timers” thought it was like selling the farm.
Major change came for him and the entire state of Vermont with the construction of Interstate 91. It went right through the Gaines farm and the state had to buy some of their land. He says that the interstate brought people in to ski and vacation. Land which before was very tough to sell even at a low price became very expensive. The whole economy of the state changed.
He likes most all his work on the farm but admitted that milking was his favorite because it brings in the most money. He believes he would have worked for the electric company if he hadn’t been able to farm because that was what he did for a while after WWII, when he got out of the service. The busiest time of the year for him is the spring, trying to beat the clock and get everything done in time so it will be ready for winter.
Bob Gaines is happy with what he’s doing and says
“These are changes that could be made, but I sleep well at night.”
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