CGP Community Stories

Robert L. Banta, November 5, 2008

Title

Robert L. Banta, November 5, 2008

Subject

Brooklyn Garden City Long Island, New York George Banta Great Depression Unadilla, New York World War II Shirley Banta Agway Milford, NY New York State Electric Cooperstown, NY Alan (Banta) Catherine (Banta) Marilyn (Banta) Nicky (Banta) Exchange students Juan Bolivia Mercedes Venezuela Dorothea England

Description

Robert Banta was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1923. After living the better part of his childhood in the City—particularly Garden City, on Long Island—he and his family moved upstate when his father bought a farm in the midst of the Great Depression. Mr. Banta and his brother worked on the family farm, not acquiring electricity until 1941. During WWII, many young men stayed on family farms to grow the food necessary for overseas troops and allies. Mr. Banta and his older brother George were among this group, remaining in their home communities and helping their family and elderly neighbors with the day to day tasks of running a farm.

Since the mid-1930s, Mr. Banta has lived in several central New York communities, including Unadilla, Milford, and Cooperstown, the latter since 1956. His career has revolved around various agricultural pursuits: he was employed by Agway until the mid-1960s, when he began work for New York State Electric as a senior agriculture representative, a position he remained at until his retirement in 1986. Mr. Banta and his wife Shirley, who met as teenagers in Unadilla and married in 1946, are the parents of four grown children and four grandchildren; long after their own offspring left the house, however, the couple hosted numerous foreign exchange students (due to Mrs. Banta’s career as a foreign language teacher), an activity that has inspired them to travel extensively. Since his retirement, Mr. Banta has kept busy with repair work on local farms and community buildings, is an active member of the First Baptist Church, and remains an active part of Cooperstown’s social fabric.

Creator

Claire Grothe

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2008-11-5

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Claire Grothe

Interviewee

Robert L. Banta

Location

Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Research and Fieldwork Course (HMUS 520)
Oral History Project
Fall 2008

Interview with Robert (Bob) Banta by Claire Grothe

Interviewer: Grothe, Claire
Interviewee: Banta, Robert (Bob)
Date: November 5, 2008
Location of Interview: Cooperstown, NY

Archive or Library Repository: New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Description:

Robert Banta was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1923. After living the better part of his childhood in the City—particularly Garden City, on Long Island—he and his family moved upstate when his father bought a farm in the midst of the Great Depression. Mr. Banta and his brother worked on the family farm, not acquiring electricity until 1941. During WWII, many young men stayed on family farms to grow the food necessary for overseas troops and allies. Mr. Banta and his older brother George were among this group, remaining in their home communities and helping their family and elderly neighbors with the day to day tasks of running a farm.

Since the mid-1930s, Mr. Banta has lived in several central New York communities, including Unadilla, Milford, and Cooperstown, the latter since 1956. His career has revolved around various agricultural pursuits: he was employed by Agway until the mid-1960s, when he began work for New York State Electric as a senior agriculture representative, a position he remained at until his retirement in 1986. Mr. Banta and his wife Shirley, who met as teenagers in Unadilla and married in 1946, are the parents of four grown children and four grandchildren; long after their own offspring left the house, however, the couple hosted numerous foreign exchange students (due to Mrs. Banta’s career as a foreign language teacher), an activity that has inspired them to travel extensively. Since his retirement, Mr. Banta has kept busy with repair work on local farms and community buildings, is an active member of the First Baptist Church, and remains an active part of Cooperstown’s social fabric.

Key Terms
Brooklyn
Garden City
Long Island, New York
George Banta
Great Depression
Unadilla, New York
World War II
Shirley Banta
Agway
Milford, NY
New York State Electric
Cooperstown, NY
Alan (Banta)
Catherine (Banta)
Marilyn (Banta)
Nicky (Banta)
Exchange students
Juan
Bolivia
Mercedes
Venezuela
Dorothea
England

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2008

RB = Robert Banta
CG = Claire Grothe

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

CG:
This is Claire Grothe, interviewing Robert Banta at his home in Cooperstown, New York. It’s November 5, 2008. So, Mr. Banta, just for the record, would you mind stating your full name?

RB:
Well, my name is Robert L. Banta.

CG:
And is Robert a family name? Were you named after anyone, or…?

RB:
Well, yes…my father named me after an uncle which he favored very much, and because he got him a job in a bank in New York, so I got the name of Robert.

CG:
When and where were you born?

RB:
I was born in Brooklyn in 1923.

CG:
Okay…well, you alluded to your father. What did he do for a living?

RB:
Well, my father was a…worked in Irving Trust in Wall Street, corner of Wall Street and Broadway in New York. He was a teleclerk, for his whole career he worked in…he started out as a young boy, 14 years old doing running jobs for errands, for the bank, for one bank to another and gradually worked his way up to his position.

CG:
And your mother? Did she ever work, or was she just a housewife?

RB:
Oh, yes, she was a…she was a housewife, but she worked with her folks, they had a delicatessen in Ridgewood, NY, and she worked all through high school, baking waffles on Saturday and selling them two for a nickel to earn money for her education.

CG:
So, you were born in Brooklyn. Can you tell…well, do you have any siblings?

RB:
Oh, yes. I have two brothers and two sisters.

CG:
So, are you close? Or were you close?

RB:
Oh, we were when we were growing up; of course, we’re scattered all around now. [laughter] South and so forth.

CG:
So, where do they live?

RB:
Well, a daughter’s in South Carolina…North Carolina, pardon me, and a daughter’s in Rhode Island, and another son is in Phoenix, NY, and another son is in Binghamton.

CG:
Okay. And so…tell me about growing up in Brooklyn.

RB:
Well, this is odd, and may seem odd to you, but I was only a month old when my dad built a house out in Garden City, so my recollections of Brooklyn were…

CG:
Okay. Not much.

RB:
Zilch. [laughter]

CG:
So…well, how was it growing up there?

RB:
Well, we—I went to school in Garden City, which is a suburb down on—in Long Island—until 9th grade, and then my dad bought a farm up in Unadilla and we moved up there.

CG:
So, what hobbies did you have as a kid?

RB:
Oh, when we were kids we had…we flew airplanes, model airplanes, and made a lot of those, and model boats [that were in?] great detail and we used to take them to the—some model shows, and the airplanes were models made out of balsa wood and tissue paper and I remember we’d spend winters, Sunday afternoons, in the sun porch, putting those together, and they actually flew, they had a rubber band propeller, and we had a lot of fun flying them.

CG:
Well, in our first interview, you talked about maybe a couple encounters with famous aviators, specifically Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhardt. Could you talk about that for the tape?

RB:
Well, yes..I was…most people, most people, at least my age, have heard of Lindbergh, Charles A. Lindbergh, and we lived in Garden City and Roosevelt Field was about a mile as the crow flies from our home, and…when Lindbergh was getting ready to take off, my mother had a Model T Ford, and we went over there and we saw the airplane and Lindbergh just before he took off. So…

CG:
Very nice…and you also mentioned Amelia Earhart at some point?

RB:
Oh, yeah…we would…somehow, we would listen to the radio, ‘course there was no television, we would listen to the radio and they would estimate when she would land at Roosevelt Field. And we were, as I say, only a mile or so from there, we’d jump on our bicycles and we’d go all over. [laughter] Literally all over the island, but we’d run over there and…and also we’d be out in the backyards playing with the rest of the kids and the airplane would come over, and we’d recognize her plane, and she’d [START OF TRACK 2, 5:00] go in.

CG:
So, what was your reaction when she disappeared?

RB:
I really don’t remember that much. Of course, we would hear the radio and hear storie about it and everything, but…we heard about the attempts they made, and [there was] Wiley Post and Gaddy[?], that was another…another party who was running around the world, I think, in eight days, and that was quite a record for then, back in those days.

CG:
Well, you mentioned your mother had a Model T Ford. Did a lot of families in your neighborhood have cars at that time? I know you grew up during the Depression…

RB:
Yes, they did. Strange as it seems…well, the Depression started in, you know, ‘bout ’28, ’29, in there, but my mother had a Model T, and they bought that new, and then we had a—Dad ha d a Jordan, and he bought that secondhand, and I remember he paid 275 bucks for that, which in those days was a lot of money. [laughter] But other folks…I had a friend there had—he had a Cadillac and a La Salle. The La Salle, they’ve ceased making today, but the Cadillacs are still being produced. But we used to love to go over and—his name was Rodney Aviñez [?], and we liked to go over and smell those cars in the garage. Boy, they were something! [laughter]

CG:
Well, how was it growing up in the Great Depression? Were you aware that, you know, there was a Depression, or…?

RB:
Yes, yes…we were…we were very much aware of it, but we were very fortunate in [that] my father didn’t lose his job, and many of these folks--as I mentioned, the family with the Cadillac—the father, I guess, was possibly, what little I know about it, he’s probably in Wall Street and stocks and so forth. And he lost his job, and they lost the Cadillac and the La Salle and the whole house. And they moved out to a camp they had, up in Lake George. And it was like it is today, somewhat…they lost—they lost everything.

CG:
Okay, well….do you have, I guess, any insights on the current financial crisis based on what you learned from growing up during those times?

RB:
Well, it’s a little situation today, I guess there—there’s much more money involved; ‘course, back in those days, in the Great Depression, dollars were very, very scarce. [laughter] We used to…run around picking up bottles and so forth, Coke bottles and ginger ale bottles and taking them into the store and getting a nickel a bottle and that’s what we survive for our candy. But today, of course, the—the way the banks operate, they’re pretty liberal in their giveaways. Get ‘em in trouble.

CG:
Well… talk about your—the home in which you were raised… I guess the one on Long Island, at least initially.

RB:
Oh, yes. Yes, we had a—we had a nice home. Dad had the home built, and as I remember back in those days, it cost about eighty-five hundred—eight thousand, five hundred—to build the house. And he had it constructed…and at that time, my grandmother and grandfather lived with us. They had a delicatessen down in Ridgewood, which is part of Brooklyn, and…so we had some of the goodies from the delicatessen and some surplus—they would make potato salad and egg salad and such things to sell. And if there was any surplus, of course, they’d bring it home. So we—we would have it.

CG:
Did you ever work at the delicatessen?

RB:

No, no…we were just little kids, and what we liked to do…I still remember that we’d go and sample all the candies and the cookies that were in their little tins, you know, in the alleyways. So these little—I remember the—there was a soda cracker with raisins in it. Boy, we liked those! [laughter] But…so, we helped ourselves.

CG:
Yeah…so, did you have any sort of job at all before leaving Long Island?

RB:
No, we were…

CG:
…you were young?

RB:
Well, we—we did as we got older. We’d weed gardens for the neighbors, pull weeds in their vegetable garden. And for that, we got a quarter an hour. And the best—or, the worst—job we had [laughter] was for a lady and her husband who were professors at one of the colleges, and every Saturday we would—George and I, my brother, older brother—we’d go over there and we’d roll up all the rugs in the house, take ‘em out on the concrete drive[START OF TRACK 3, 10:00]way, sweep ‘em and beat ‘em and really…[laughter] get ‘em worked over. And then dust all the floors, dust all the furniture, scrub the bathroom and the kitchen by hand, and…that was, you know, right on your hands and knees. And then bring….after you’ve cleaned everything out, then we’d bring the rugs all back in again.

CG:
Wow.

RB:
And that led to a job…in Easter vacation. The owner of the house, he had somebody come and sand the floors upstairs in the bedroom, and then George and I had to sand the corners with a machine [unintelligible]. And we had…plenty of bloody of fingers by the time we got those—all those corners sanded.

CG:
So, were these people your neighbors, or…generally…?

RB:
Just in—in the neighborhood. There were…just a couple blocks away. I was...when you say blocks, just a…a surburban area. Garden City’s…oh, it’s well built now, it’s all built up, it’s a very exclusive section. Very, very exclusive. A plot down there right now for a house, without a house, is a million dollars.

CG:
Wow. Was that—was it that exclusive when you lived there?

RB:
No…no…no, we—when we, when Dad built the house, there was one house alongside of us, and one angled over on the other block, and so there were few—there were a few houses around, but when we went to school, we’d look over at the Stratford[unintelligible] School and…time to go to school, so we’d look…head right out, cross lots and go to school.

CG:
So…talking about school. Did you enjoy school as a kid? [repeating] Did you enjoy school as a kid?

RB:
Oh, yes, yes. Yeah…we had fun, and of course, as I remembered in…I was in, let’s see, sixth grade, I guess it was, and we played a lot of soccer. And we’d go over, get over to school early, and we….when—when we played soccer, we really played. By the time we got into the classroom, we were all sweated up and stains on our knees and everything. [laughter]

CG:
So…did you play soccer a lot as a child? Or was that just kind of a school thing?

RB:
That was just a…catch, you know, get up games there, nothing—nothing special. Well, it—it was an association with school, it was on school property. But, not…not…

CG:
Were you a sports fan generally, were you a fan of the…Brooklyn Dodgers, or anyone?

RB:
Well, we…yes, we…I remember Lou Gehrig, of course, and preferred him. Babe Ruth. And…I didn’t…we didn’t go to any of the games. I mean, Dad didn’t take us to any of the games. But they were right in their prime when…at that age. And so Lou Gehrig was my idol. And later on I did become a first—first base player there. I caught first base.

CG:
For what team?

RB:
Oh, just school, get up teams.

CG:
School. Okay, so what was your favorite subject in school? Did you have a favorite subject?

RB:
Recess.

CG:
Recess? [laughter] Nothing wrong with that.

RB:
No, no. We had…I had…I did well in school, well, for what time I spent on it. [laughter]

CG:
Any particular teachers that stand out in your memory?

RB:
Yeah…Miss London, she was a cranky old…and boy, she was strict. She was very strict.

CG:
So this was…was this just public school you went to? You didn’t go to…

RB:
Oh, yeah.

CG:
Okay.

RB:
Garden City Public Schools. They’re very, very good schools.

CG:
Okay, well…

RB:
Excuse me…in the summertime, they were building a lot of these schools and strange as it may seem, we have Cherry Valley up here, and I went later on…well, I went to sixth and seventh grade, I guess it was, in Cherry Valley School in Garden City. I remember sitting there, looking out at the squirrels, just like “Look at that,” you know, watching squirrels playing while the—while the teacher’s droning away there.

CG:
So, when did you move to the farm?

RB:
I was in ninth grade when we moved up to the farm.

CG:
Okay. That’s kind of a tough age, kind of…

RB:
Yep.

CG:
…that beginning of teenager….how did you feel about that?

RB:
Oh, we...we wanted to get onto the farm. We enjoyed that. But it was…it was a lot of work because we were going to school, we were milking cows. And George and I, my brother and I, had to get up 4:30 every morning and milk the cows, clean the barn, get cleaned up, and catch the school bus.

CG:
And…what…I guess, what precipitated the move to the farm?

RB:
The move to the farm?

CG:
Yes.

RB:
Well, my dad, being a city fellow…and back in the Depression, things were really [START OF TRACK 4, 15:00] tough, and everybody thought, “Oh, let’s get a farm. Let’s get a farm. You’ll always have something to eat.” And this…this was actually the thoughts of many people, and they’d go from, you know, from nothing, at least to a farm where they can grow their food, and have a few animals, and survive. And…but Dad, Dad didn’t think in those terms, I mean, he thought more in terms of having a farm, and…and having livestock and everything and enough to survive on.

CG:
So this was practical, like a practical move, rather than, you know, it was a dream he always had?

RB:
Oh yes, oh yes. We took as soon as we got up to Unadilla there, we took ag, and we had an excellent ag teacher, and our ag courses were actually on the…on the college level. And…our ag teacher went on to become, he had his doctor’s degree in plant pathology, and he raised rhododendrons and some of the flowers and he was very well known, he was an excellent teacher.

CG:
So did you take this in high school? Was this a class you took in high school?
RB:
Oh yeah. Yes.

CG:
Okay.

RB:
And at that time I was, they had…I raised chickens, and we had at that time, we had about 2,000 chickens…layers. And in 1941, I was 13-state Poultry Boy of the Year. And I got a free trip to Harrisburg, and I thought that was great ‘cause that’d be one morning I could, I could sleep. [laughter]

CG:
So what did you do in Harrisburg when you won?

RB:
Well, we had the convention there.

CG:
Oh, okay.

RB:
And they gave out the awards and…in fact, I have the…I could show you the plaque downstairs. I’ve still got it.

CG:
Huh. Very neat. So…how was the transition from this urban lifestyle to this rural lifestyle?

RB:
Oh, we…George—my brother and I—liked it enough, and we—we liked it. I mean, we liked the whole farm life and everything, and the neighbors were good, and we worked together with them and helped them, and...of course, back in those days, George and I were young and physically able, and we…we did help the neighbors a lot. I mean, some of the, some of the neighbors at that time were my age now. [laughter] But…we enjoyed it.

CG:
So…what did you do for fun? You worked a lot, obviously.

RB:
Oh, yes, yes. We’d roller skate.

CG:
Oh, okay.

RB:
And….we’d work like crazy all day and then get chores done at night, and head for Sidney [?] to the roller rink. And…in fact, that’s where my brother met his wife, and Shirley and I used to go down roller skating. We didn’t, at the time, we weren’t going together, but a lot of the kids in school would all go down roller skating at night.

CG:
Okay. Well, we’ll come back to that a little bit…could you tell a little bit more about, like, just like a typical day on the farm?

RB:
Typical day? When we were going to school?

CG:
Mmmhmm.

RB:
Well, as I say, we got up at 4:30, quarter of five, get right down to the barn, and get the cows fed and milked, and…when we first started, we didn’t even have electricity, we were milking them by hand. And then after you got the cows fed and milked, you cleaned the barn. And then we’d tear up the house and get a bite of breakfast and get cleaned up and go to school. And as soon as we got off the school bus, we were...five miles out of town, but the school bus had to go on a roundabout route. And we’d get back on the farm about 4:00 from the school bus. And change your clothes and run down to the barn, start in all over again. And then, if you had any time, you did a little homework. [laughter] Well, the days were long.

CG:
So were teachers strict about homework, or did they understand that kids had obligations?

RB:
Oh, they were very lenient, I will say that. And the ag teacher married the English teacher. And, of course, that provided us with a lot of entertainment, and…

CG:
Scandal?

RB:
…the ag teacher was Auggie, and…we used to have a lot of fun kidding him. He was just—he graduated from Unadilla, and then went to Cornell.

CG:
Wow.

RB:
And…then he came back. And then the English teacher was Miss Kuhn [?] and, of course, they’d go out at night, you know. And then when Auggie would park his car out back of the ag shop, we’d sneak out there and jack up and put a block up under the wheel, and he’d come out and rip it up and wouldn’t go anywhere. [laughter]

CG:
So, you said at first you didn’t have electricity on the farm. When did you get electricity? About when?

RB:
In…I think it was in the fall of ’41.

CG:
And so how did that affect your life?

RB:
Oh, boy, it really changed. And I—it was a good opportunity for me because I [START OF TRACK 5, 20:00] liked electricity, and I did a lot of…of electrical things. In fact, I worked at that, and electrical…we put on heating tape so the pipes wouldn’t freeze, you’ve heard of that, probably. And so, you couldn’t…we didn’t have to carry water to the chickens and the cows…keep it from freezing.

CG:
So…what year did you graduate high school?

RB:
’41.

CG:
’41? Okay. Did you go to college after that, or…?

RB:
Nope, nope. I…my brother started Cornell, and we weren’t of age, quite of age, for the service. And then the war started, and George, my brother, started in ’41, he started Cornell, but then when the war came, everything turned upside down and he came back to the farm…so he had to work the farm there.

CG:
So you stayed on the farm during the war, and worked that, and raised the—raised the food, or…?

RB:
Yeah, we…we…we volunteered. I mean, we said we’d sign up for the draft, which we did, but they said, “Nope. Stay where you are; we need the food.” So, we were…we had quotas, and, oh, so many cows were worth so much and so many chickens. And we each had three times the amount of quota because we had all our own, we did work for all the neighbors, had to help them with their haying, plowing, filling silo, and everything…we were—we were the go-betweens all over the neighborhood.

CG:
So you were fairly comfortable during the war? It wasn’t a hard existence?

RB:
No, no, we had to sacrifice many things. I mean, nothing compared to the boys, but I’d lost two or three of my buddies…right…terrible. And we, you know, it was a tough time. But during that time, you couldn’t buy tires, you’d—you’d go out and you couldn’t tell whether you were gonna get to town or not [unintelligible] and “Bang!” The tires would go. And it was…it was really rough.

CG:
So, were you content to stay home during World War II, or did you feel that, you know, that desire to go out and fight?

RB:
Well, we really left it up to the draft board. I told ‘em, I said, “We’re available,” I said, “The only thing,” I said, “You gotta give us time, at least two weeks, so we can sell the cows off, and the chickens, and everything else,” and they said, “Oh no, you stay right where you are, and…we need the food.” And they really did. And…so it’s ..it was either that or we volunteered and everything, but they told us where we’d…be.

CG:
So, you…let’s see…you weren’t disappointed at all that you couldn’t fight, or…?

RB:
Well, in a way, we…we felt we were doing our share as best we could, you know, producing, as I say, the quotas we had. We didn’t—we didn’t—we didn’t use the farm as a source of dodging the draft, you know.

CG:
Right.

RB:
I mean, we were plenty willing to go, and it was up to them.

CG:
And you said you had friends in the war.

RB:
Oh yeah.

CG:
And you lost a few?

RB:
One of the fellows came down, and…all dressed up. Boy, he was really dressed up. And he came up to me, and I was out in the field working there. He says, “Well Bob,” he says, “I’m heading out.” He was going overseas. I said, “Well, Bud, see you when you come back.” He says, “I’m not coming back.”

CG:
Sorry.

RB:
He never did.

CG:
I’m sorry.

RB:
He was shot down…over France with a Liberator Bomber. That was just one of ‘em.

CG:
That’s terrible. How…how aware were you of what was going on, you know, in the war?

RB:
Oh, we…we had a radio in the barn, and we kept up on it, and…those…fights that—battleship fights out in the Pacific there, with Japan, Japanese and everything, we…heard all them, almost as…as soon as they were going on there.

CG:
So, you…you were pretty well…well-educated about what was going on during the war?

RB:
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

CG:
So, when did you leave the farm?

RB:
Oh, let’s see. I was married in…Shirley and I were married in forty—’48, wasn’t it? Yeah. No…’46, ‘scuse me. ’46…and…and…and we were on the farm then for about three years, and then Shirley and I went on our own. I had my other brother coming up, and the family was [START OF TRACK 6, 25:00] quite large and…we thought it best if we got out and got on our own.

CG:
Okay, so how…how did you meet your wife?

RB:
How’d I meet my wife?

CG:
Yes.

RB:
Well, we [laughs]…first thing, I met her on the school bus. She only lived ‘bout three miles away, four miles away. And we rode the same school bus. And, of course, but she… Shirley was a grade ahead—she was in…one grade ahead of me. So…and then I was very good friends with her brother, Bob, she had an older brother. And Bob and I would pal around together and go skating like that. And then…then as time went on, then Shirley…we corresponded, or, you know, knew each other and so forth. And so then, anyway, we—let’s see, I was taking logs down to—to a…a sawmill there, Earl’s Sawmill, happened to be in Wells Bridge. And I had a…a tractor and a wagon, and then when I was coming back with the empty tractor, I got to…off Route 7 there, and started up, and there was Shirley there, walking up the road, so [laughs] so I said, I said, “You want a ride?” and she said, “Yeah, sure.” I said, “Well, jump on,” I said, “Step on the drawbar.” That’s in the back, you know. I said, “Well, just…hang on.” So she almost had to put her arms around me to hang on. Anyway, so we—I drove about two miles and took her up to her house there. So then we got talking…I said, “Well, how ‘bout going to the movies tonight?” She said, “Yeah, okay.” So…we started going together and…so we went together, I guess, for four years. [laughter]

CG:
So, were you friends beforehand?

RB:
Oh, yes, yes. Yeah. Yeah. I was over to her house all the while, and her—her folks, and visiting with them and Bob. And, as I say, her…her brother was…I worked with him, and...

CG:
How did he feel about you dating his little sister?

RB:
[laughs] Oh, no…he…he was…he was glad for that. No, we got along real well.

CG:
Well, that’s good.

RB:
Well, I—I did such things, there were…electricity was coming in then, and as I say I was always…enthused with electricity and what you could do with it and everything, so I—I went over and wired up their farm.

CG:
That’s nice.

RB:
And…the barns, and the house was partially wired, but we put in a pole and got the power in for ‘em. In fact, they had—they had power over there, I guess, before we had power on our farm.

CG:
Well, you alluded to the skating rink a little earlier. Can you tell a little about that, and the other sorts of dates or social activities you…?

RB:
Well, we had…I—I forget now; it wasn’t—it wasn’t much to go skating, though. I don’t know, I—I can’t remember if it was $1 or 50 cents or $1 or whatever. But…we’d…we’d go skating a lot, and, you know, it was—I don’t know that skating, we’d go every night, but maybe Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or so, whatever. And then we’d go to the movies. And…the movies were…I remember, heck, I’d have two dollars in my pocket and go out and go to the movies and then sat and have ice cream after. You know.

CG:
Any favorite movies or movie stars?

RB:
No, we never—I never followed the movies stars much. Well, we did “Gone with the Wind”—you heard of that?

CG:
Oh, yeah.

RB:
Well, that was…everybody thought you had to go to that, so, I don’t know, finally, I guess I—I don’t know whether Shirley… Shirley and I didn’t go to it. I…I guess we…I forgot who I went with…just went to the movies, thought we ought to see it, and so we…one Saturday afternoon, I guess it was. But other than that, we…we just took ‘em random as they came along. And that was down in Oneonta. So…in the old movie theater.

CG:
So, when did you and Shirley start dating? How old were you?

RB:
Oh, boy, let’s see. Let’s see, I was, what, 23 when I got…married her. I don’t know. We went…we went together. Of course, Shirley…Shirley started college, and she was in Middlebury. Have you heard of that?

CG:
Yeah, in Vermont?

RB:
It’s a good school. And…it was a, I guess it was a little shortened version, because it was toward the—toward the end of the war. She got out, I remember, she got out in February and…and then we went, got engaged, and I don’t know, I guess we—I guess we were… [START OF TRACK 7, 30:00] Let’s see, that was in forty—she graduated in ’44, and we were married in ’46, so we were…I mean, we were engaged, I guess, for…three years or something like that.

CG:
So, she went to college. That was fairly unusual back then for women.

RB:
Yeah, and…yes, and through…I mentioned Miss Kuhn, and that was Auggie Care’s [?] wife, they got married. And through Miss Kuhn, and Miss Mason, there were two teachers, and of course Shirley was a farm girl. Her dad—well, I got pictures—and he was…he was also, I’ll show you a little later, pictures that he made and so forth. But…and her dad was, of course, alone on the farm, and doing all the chores, and he couldn’t very well take Shirley anywhere, but he did—finally got her up to Middlebury there, and these…these two teachers, they helped Shirley a lot. They were an English teacher and a French teacher, and they took her up to Middlebury a couple times, and got her enthused over that. It was through them that she got into Middlebury. So…for which she was very thankful. [laughs]

CG:
And what did she study there?

RB:
French.

CG:
French. And she became a French teacher.

RB:
Yes, French teacher. Also, she had a…second course, they call it “secondary,” Spanish.

CG:
Okay.

RB:
And actually, we’ve travelled many countries through these exchange students. We’ve been to Bolivia, Mexico, Venezuela, and…let’s see, what else? The southern—been down to Bolivia twice. And…Shirley can speak Spanish very well, and…and she, of course, speaks French, but she really likes that. I…we…if we get into a Spanish-speaking country, I walk up to a guy and say, “That lady speaks Spanish, you know.”And she gets going, there, and…it’s good.

CG:
That worked. So, while she was in college, you two had kind of a long-distance relationship?

RB:
Yeah, just by letters. Letters back and…back and forth [a lot?]. And…and…and, I’ll tell you a funny one…telephone, but we didn’t have a telephone on the farm. We had—if we wanted to…had a sick cow or something, or needed the vet, whatever, we had to go across the valley, there was a line coming up through there. So…this one night, I finished chores, and I forget what it was, but it something on—I guess it was a movie, that’s what it was. It was…movie of…let’s see, not Cazenovia, but what was that one? Anyway, it was supposed to be a famous movie. So anyway, I sat through part of it, and I said, “Ehh,” I said, “I’ll—I’ll go up, call Shirley.” So…this is up in Oneonta, so I went out and [unintelligible] grabbed the phone, and the operator said, “What number you want?” And I gave her the number, and…so, the line was busy, and so I went up and down the street, walked up and down the street a while, and said, “Well,” and then the…the…the operator made some remark, and…so I hung up, walked down the street, and I said, “Son of a gun, that made me mad.” And I said, “Oh…I’ll go down the street here, get another telephone.” [laughs] And on the chance…on the chance there would be another operator, see? I picked up the phone, and gave the number: “You just called that number!” And the operator was real nasty. So I said, “Yeah, thanks a lot, lady,” and banged the phone up. [laughs]

CG:
So she graduated in ’44, and you got married in ’46.

RB:
Yeah.

CG:
Do you mind if I ask you how you proposed to her?

RB:
Well…well, I guess we…I guess we talked about it some, and then finally, I guess I wrote her a letter. [laughs]

CG:
There you go. It worked up until that point.

RB:
And then I couldn’t wait until I got the answer.

CG:
Aww, that’s great. So…were you nervous about your wedding day? Were you nervous about getting married, or…?

RB:
No…no. We had…we had to do chores and everything, and…on the farm, and we were married April 20th, and…

CG:
What year?

RB:
’46.

CG:
’46. Okay. That’s right.

RB:
And…down in Oneonta, there was a church. And we just had the families—her family and my family and…my grandmother and grandfather were there, and brothers and sister, I guess it was, and…so…it was on the…and we took the train to Albany, and then Montreal, and Quebec, and so…that was…that was good.

CG:
Was that your first time going…travelling outside the United [START OF TRACK 8, 35:00] States? Going to Quebec?

RB:
Yes, I guess—I guess so, yes, I guess it would be. It was kinda comical, you know, things…you didn’t have much money in those days, but anyway—have you ever heard of the Hotel Frontenac? Up in Quebec? Well, we got on a taxi, somehow…we got off the train, and we had to get a taxi. And the taxi pulls right up in front of the Hotel Frontenac, so we got out and a fellow comes, I remember plain as can be, he comes off the steps of the—what do you call ‘em, the porter, I guess? Whatever. And he grabbed my suitcase—I opened the door and started out, and he grabbed my suitcase. And I said, “Hey! Wait a minute!” And I was tugging on it and he was tugging on it, and we were yanking away there, you know, and I said, “No, no,” and I said…We didn’t go to the Frontenac, I mean, that was…that was big money, you know, to us. And Shirley’s roommate in college had gone to this place down around behind the Frontenac, a little rooming house? And so Shirley made arrangements down there, and that’s where we were going. We weren’t going to the Frontenac. After we got our room there, then we came back and just casually walked in, you know, and looked it over, and…walked through the hotel there.

CG:
So…oh, sorry…did you have something else to say?

RB:
No, that’s it.

CG:
Okay, so you came back to Unadilla, after the honeymoon?

RB:
Yeah, we were—we were gone a week.

CG:
Okay. And where did you live?

RB:
I was building a house. We built the house and…and, ‘course, Shirley was still…she had stayed…going to Bainbridge, it was 11 miles away. And the principal said, if you’re teaching here, you’re going to live here.” And she had to rent a room, and she stayed in Bainbridge.

CG:
Oh, wow. What was that like?

RB:
Well, it was…here it is, 11 miles away, but she had to stay there. And weekends she’d come home. And she’d get on the train, and from—you know where Bainbridge is, probably, just down the road here—anyway, it’s two stops on the train: Bainbridge, Sidney, Unadilla, and Wells Bridge. It…and that was it. And Unadilla was, she had actually, only two stops. But…and then I’d pick her up at 4:00 or so on Friday afternoon.

CG:
Wow.

RB:
So…and then I could…she…I could…I could go see her. I’d go see her in the middle of the week, and…went, but…she had to stay there. See, she graduated , it was an accelerated course, and she graduated in…February, I guess it was. Yeah, February, instead of in June or, you know, normal periods. So it was…accelerated.

CG:
So how long did that...that kind of distance last, or how long did she live apart from you?

RB:
Well, she—she taught…then she taught for …and that continued the following year, she had to do that. And they—they wouldn’t—they wouldn’t let her…the principal there, he was a strict guy, and either…either you did that, or else you were out of a job.

CG:
Yeah.

RB:
And…and then she got the whole sum of $1400 for a year of teaching. That was her salary for a year. For teachers.

CG:
How did—how—what—was that a good salary back then? Or was that…?

RB:
I’ll put it this way…it was…it was fair. It wasn’t…but, like, you know, you…prices back then were very, very low. So…

CG:
So, how did she eventually get to live back with you?

RB:
Well, then…

CG:
Did she quit?

RB:
…then our first…first child came…Alan was born. He was born ’48. So…and then, Shirley—let’s see, how’d that work out?—she…she took….he was born in…he was born in April, and then she went back to teaching. And then she taught after that, from then on, off and on.

CG:
Did she enjoy teaching, or was she doing it, kind of, for monetary or financial reasons?

RB:
Oh, yes, yes. Oh, yes, she enjoyed teaching. She’s—she’s—she is a very good teacher. And she was, and she still is. But…no, she went on, and…so then she stayed home when the kids came, and [START OF TRACK 9, 40:00] spread out there for a while, and then when Nicky, our younger son, when he started school, we were living here, and when he started school, then she—all of a sudden, a job opened up in Cherry Valley, so that she could go to work, and she’d be home. Nicky, he was a real…excitable kid. Anyway, that’s another story. But anyway, he’d be home just about the time Shirley got home, see, from the bus. So that worked out pretty well.

CG:
That’s good. Just…could you, just for reference, could you give me, like, the birth order of your children, and kind of, their…their birthdates, or…?

RB:
Yeah. It was Alan, Alan was the first one. And then Catherine, [a] girl, came two years later. And then Marilyn, another girl…think she was born in ’50 or so. And then Nicky was the last one. So…

CG:
So…did you always want to be a father, or was that something…?

RB:
Oh, yes, yeah. Oh, yeah. I…I love kids. I love the babies there, I…well, when—when Alan was born, of course, then, in those days, you stayed in the hospital ten days, you know. And so anyway, we brought him home, and he was…he was born in January 13. And when we brought him home, it was about 20 or 30 below 0. It was terrible.

CG:
Yeah.

RB:
And…so, we had the house partially built. W e had [it] heated and everything and a lot of, you know, interior work to finish off and so forth [unintelligible] there. So we brought him home and he weighed ten, three.

CG:
Wow. Big baby.

RB:
So he was half grown. It was a terrible night. I told Shirley, I said, “You go upstairs in our bedroom”—we had the bedroom upstairs—and, in fact, I guess you climbed a ladder to get up there, I think. But anyway, I say, “You go upstairs and stay warm, and I’ll stay down here alongside him.” So we put him to bed, and I guess I gave him an extra slug of milk that night. [laughs] Anyway 2 o’clock he woke up, and he started in fretting, so I didn’t wake Shirley, I just…I changed his diaper, and shook him a little, and sang to him, and we both went back to sleep. And he never did—after that, he…he slept right through.

CG:
So you were a very hands-on father?

RB:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’d change the diapers and clean up after ‘em and everything.

CG:
So, what were their personalities like as kids?

RB:
Oh, they varied. Alan was…he was very…very calm and easy to get along with, and…and very…he’s…very smart, intelligent, and, and then he’s…let’s see, he graduated from Clarkson, and then he was an engineer. But then he’s—right now, he’s 60 years old. So…let’s see. And then Catherine, first girl, was…she was…she was bouncy, she was sharp, and…different personality, but…and then Marilyn. Marilyn is an individual. And she’s a—she’s in the process now of designing a house, and they may build a home over here. We hope they do. But...in the next three years or so. But she’s…she’s an individual, and…and then Nick is…Nick is a little different type. He’s a little wilder. And he’d…when he was growing up, all kinds of things happened. Well, for instance, we…when we first had the house, in order to save Shirley running up and down stairs, we had the dryer—clothes dryer—here. So Shirley’s working around here, and Nick was crawling around, running around, and…just as a tot, you know…and, so what does he do? He opens the door in the clothes dryer, and the clothes dryer has a tumbler…

CG:
Yeah?

RB:
…with a whole bunch of holes in it? Well, he grabbed his—what, Tinkertoys, is it…the little wooden sticks?—and he…Shirley didn’t know what he was doing, and she…he…playing, he was very quiet, and he goes and sticks a lot of—whole bunch of sticks in there. And then, I don’t know, he finally finished up with it and got away from it, and…Shirley comes along with a batch of diapers or something , threw ‘em in, you know, and turned the switch on. Pssssht! Crash.

CG:
Yeah. Crash.

RB:
And…and the sticks went right around, wiped out a whole element on the thing, tore the electric element right out.

CG:
Oh no…any other…[START OF TRACK 10, 45:00]

RB:
Such things as that.

CG:
Any other funny kid stories?

RB:
Oh, yes. Shirley—Shirley went out the back door, and went around on the porch there, out through there, and when she got back, she…she found out she’d been locked out. He locked the door. Then he—then he walked over to the window, and laughing out at her, you know, and I guess it was cold out there. And I’ve forgotten—forgot how she…she threatened him with something. I forgot what it was. And finally, she coaxed him, and finally he went over…he opened the door.

CG:
So…when did you move fro m Unadilla to here?

RB:
Oh, we…let’s see, we—first we moved out, and I went to work for GLF at the time, it was Agway, the predecessor. And…over in Fort Plain…peddling fuel oil and gasoline up to farmers. And…on the fuel truck. And then…then I did that for a while, and then we—we had a store down in Milford, down below here, and…Agway store, GLF at the time. And then in, let’s see 1956, yeah, ’56, we built the house here, and we moved up here, and I worked for 11 years down here in town in the…in the Agway store.

CG:
Okay, so you just moved from, kind of, one Agway to the other?

RB:
Yeah…yeah, right.

CG:
Okay, so that was the reason for the move?

RB:
And then…that was in ’56, and [we] built the house here.

CG:
So you’ve been here ever since. Over 50 years.

RB:
Yeah. Yep.

CG:
Wow.

RB:
52 years.

CG:
So…you mentioned that your younger daughter was thinking of building a house here, and you built a house, and your father built a house. Is that, kind of…?

RB:
Well, my dad…when I say Dad built the house, of course, he contracted for it. I mean, he—he—he wasn’t like me, I—this house, I actually built a lot of it. I—I worked down here in the store…we lived in Milford at the time, and I worked down and—come back, come up here and work ‘til 12 o’clock every night, and Saturday and Sunday, and…built the…well, there’s the fireplace here and wired it and insulated it and everything.

CG:
So you’re a handyman?

RB:
Yeah. Welder.

CG:
And why—why’d you want—why’d you feel the need to build a house? Did you just want…[to] design it to your own specifications, or…?

RB:
Oh, I—I would never…I—I would never …I would…I don’t believe in renting. And we did rent, like, down in Milford there, we—for a couple years we rented, and over when I was over in Fort Plain, but no…I don’t…I don’t believe in renting. I want to have my own home and what I—what I put into it, you know. It’ll…it…you can…you can rent…

CG:
Didn’t want to move into a house?

RB:
Well, you—you can rent for…years, and all you can show is a bunch of rental receipts, and nothing that, you know, no equity to build.

CG:
And you couldn’t…didn’t…didn’t find a house, or couldn’t find a house that you just, like a freestanding house, that you just wanted to buy, was for sale?

RB:
Yes…it just happened that I worked down here in the store, and Ed Stevens was the owner of the store, and he was also a director of the bank. I mean, he had—he had some money. Or his father did. And then there was another fellow that was president of the bank. He was from Fly Creek. And…he had a house over there he wanted to…get rid of. So they said, “Oh, here.” And the house was $11,000. And so they—I said, “All right. We’ll go and look at it.” Well, the house, I looked at it, and Shirley said, “Rob,” she said, “Get Jim O’Shea,” who was a friend of mine, and he was—he knew a lot of stuff, and [s]he says, “You take Jim over, and let him look at that house.” I said, “[unintelligible],” so I did. One Sunday morning we went over and…and Jim took a look at it, and he says, “Bob,” he says, “Stay away from it.” And, if you know anything about building, there was—we looked up at the roof, and it was about four layers of shingles, hanging over there, you know, patched up, and the kitchen—the kitchen, the floor went just like that [motions as if it was slanted], and if you’d…well, you wouldn’t…if you dropped an egg, it would…it would slide right over…

CG:
Roll down?

RB:
…and he says, “Don’t touch it.” So I went back to the—I went back to the bank, or the—Ed Stevens there. I said, “Ed,” I said, “If you give me $10,000, loan me $10,000, I’ll [START OF TRACK 11, 50:00] build my own house.” “Well,” he says, “I guess we’ll have to talk to the bank about that.” So…anyway, he…he said he’d co-sign for me, but whether he did or not, I don’t know. But anyway, we bought this piece of ground, 9.1 acres, for $1000.

CG:
Wow.

RB:
And then built the house, and…put in [the] septic tank, drilled the well, and tha’s $10,000.

CG:
Wow. How long did it take you to build it?

RB:
Oh, we—we built…oh, period…let’s see, I started…I started in the summertime there, I guess it was, and then worked right through, we got all closed in and we moved in in March, the following March there, so…get—get the heat in and everything, you know, and gradually finish it off.

CG:
Well, I know you’re currently a member of the Baptist church. That’s how we got in touch with you—were you raised Baptist?

RB:
No, I was actually born…born and raised Lutheran, and I was baptized Lutheran and everything and the family’s Lutheran. Our—my family actually was German-Dutch and, on my dad’s side, and—and on Mom’s side, they were Danish. Jensen, from Norway…Denmark. And we went over there. We went to Denmark one time, Denmark and Norway. Anyway, I said, “Gee, I wonder where Nan and Pop came from.” Well, we finally located the place, and I said, “Are there any Jensens around here?” And the fellow laughs and he says, “Well, see that road over there?” He says, “That whole road, right straight through, are all Jensens.”

CG:
Wow.

RB:
I said, “I guess I won’t bother to try and look.” And, of course, my grandfather was a—he was a sailor on—when I say sailor, he was on the four-masted schooners, the big boats, the big sailing ships? Sailed all over the world, China and around the Cape of Good Hope there and everything. And he could tie knots in all kinds of, you know, for the—and he’d—he’d climb up; heck, when he was 75, 80 years old, and he’d climb a ladder, and go up on the roof, and..[laughs]

CG:
Did he have any good stories about that? That sounds like a really interesting…

RB:
Yeah, oh yeah. He used to tell stories there, but…the fun—one I can remember, they had friends, or—I call ‘em friends—in China, and they pulled in there, and of course, lights, you know, there are no street lights or anything, and this Chinese came out to meet him and taken him into where they were going to stay, and as they walked into this house there, whatever it was, and the fellow stumbled on a pig laying crossways [in the road?]. And Pop says, “Well,” he says, “We did sleep there ,” but he said there was pigs running around the house too.

CG:
Well, and you—you and your wife have travelled quite a bit, I know, from our first meeting. You’ve got quite a list of countries you’ve been to.

RB:
Yeah, we’ve travelled from…well, from…[unintelligible] Norway, Denmark, and some of the—we didn’t—I guess we get [unintelligible] from Sweden once…much, but…then we went to England, we had a good visit in England, and that was the last place, couple—few years ago. And this was through the exchange students, and Shirley got acquainted with them, and Dorothea and…I…I postponed England, I said I wouldn’t go to England, because, you know, fog and rain all the while. Well, finally, they convinced us to go over there, and we were over there a month, and the only time it rained was the day we started for the airplane to fly home. And England was beautiful. And the countryside, as we rode on the train there, no…no signs, no advertising signs or anything on the roads, and it was—it was beautiful countryside. And if you want to drive fast, why don’t you get in with a lady from England…when you go down the road 120 miles an hour.

CG:
Yeah.

RB:
So…and…we were really cruising.

CG:
Well, I guess…could you explain a little bit more about the, like, exchange student program that your wife was involved in, and kind of give…?

RB:
Well, actually, this—our home here—was not oversized, and we only have one bathroom, and…which is adequate for us in our [unintelligible]. But it was kind of hard to have students, or some extra people around, but Shirley was always—she’d bring these kids home from the school for weekends, and they’d stay over, and [START OF TRACK 12, 55:00] so we got acquainted with ‘em that way, with , well, folks from Bolivia—Juan and his—he , funny, he was a young fellow, and he worked on a farm up in Cherry Valley there, and they—they were—these folks were anxious to get him because he’s a good worker. And he—they’d keep him home from school to clean their barn. Anyway, and so we got acquainted with them, and we went to Bolivia, and we stayed down there with them for a month. And then, he and his family would come in and drop in here and visit with us and then we—we went down there two different times, for a month at time, and it was…it was great. The poverty is kinda rough down there, but he was an airplane pilot, and…in the Bolivian Airlines, it was a small airlines, but…we’d get up in the airplanes, on a 727, and all—we’d get off the ground, up in the air, and all of a sudden the door—pilot door would open up, “Hey Bob! Shirley! Come here! Come here!” So we’d go up and sit behind the pilot and co-pilot.

CG:
Are you still in touch with him?

RB:
Oh, yeah. Yes, it’s…it’s too bad, but he did…he…he quit flying down there because they had the poverty level down there was really bad, and his wages, even as a pilot, were very low. Nothing compared to the pilots here in the United States. Just…a pittance, you might say. And so anyway, he came up, and now they’re in Virginia, and he has children and grandchildren, and we’ve—we’ve talked to him on the phone, correspond, and…but as the situation is, he’s a—he’s a full-fledged pilot, but you can’t come into another country like the United States and walk right in, push another pilot out, and so he’s had—he’s had to do another work around. He’s a good, very good worker. But it’s too bad, he couldn’t follow that.

CG:
And was he your first exchange student?

RB:
Possibly, and…one of the first. And then Mercedes, she was a stewardess, and her husband at the time was a pilot, but he was—she flew the commercials back and forth to Miami and all over. And her husband was a—you call ‘em a…a private…private pilot for, I’m trying to say, industry or office personnels like that. Private jets, you know, ‘cause they’ve been around. And…but then, since then, they separated, and then…but her children have since gone to school, and—she had two girls, I guess it was—and they’ve grown up. They have been grown up.

CG:
And where is she from? What country is she from?

RB:
That was Venezuela. And, of course, what helps, I mean, Shirley can converse with—if we go into those countries, you know, I’m not lost because she can speak with any of them. And they’re very—they’re very good, I mean, we could…heck, we could drop things and go down there and they’d welcome us and we could stay there a month anywhere with them. But the poverty is—is really…it’s tough down in those places. When you go into the—just in my—if you go…every…every day, they have fresh break, you know, and…and there’s always some left over. And then, when you go out in a country and cut through the backwoods there, you break pieces of bread out and throw it out to the kids and the dogs out by the side of the road. You know, it’s…it’s tough.

CG:
Yeah…so, were most of your exchange students from Spanish-speaking countries, or did you have some French-speaking students?

RB:
Oh, yes, there were…oh, yes. Shirley, of course, I mean, taught French. And yeah, there’s quite a few who are—quite a few of those. And…and…German. Dorothea, who was a German girl, and was…boy, talk about different things happening. Her mother was quite an—equestrian, is that it?

CG:
Horses?

RB:
Horses…horse lady? And…and they, her husband, they separated, but anyway, here…back now, it was a few years. She got thrown off the horse and killed.

CG:
Oh, no.

RB:
And…and she’s…Dorothea is German, and she’s a doctor, but she couldn’t get a job in [START OF TRACK 13, 60:00] Germany, I mean, they were overloaded, I guess, so she went to England, and she always wanted to go back to her hometown. But she married a Lithuanian who was also a doctor, and so—and they have children coming along, they’re doing very well, but they’re in Liverpool, I guess it is, England, now. And—but…she can’t …she still can’t go back to Germany. I mean, they have restrictions on that.

CG:
And so, I guess, what countries did you visit like, kind of, related to the exchange student program? And then which ones did you visit…?

RB:
Well, France. We…we…we were over there a short…of course, Shirley…one summer, she had to be over there 9 weeks, and…well, you probably understand the—what is it?—to get—towards her degree.

CG:
Yeah.

RB:
The…what do you call it?

CG:
Study abroad.

RB:
Yeah…summer school, whatever it was. And that was—that was in France. And she was over there. And …and she made friends over there, and we—we visited France. Germany, Denmark, let’s see, and then…down in the southern countries, the…Venezuela and…for Mercedes, and Juan and…so we’ve been around to quite a few of ‘em.

CG:
And how long did you participate, kind of, in this host parent program? I mean, how long did you host international students?

RB:
The—the kids?

CG:
Mmhmm.

RB:
Oh, gosh.

CG:
Or what years?

RB:
Oh, over the years, probably , oh gosh, 15, 20 years are…different ones.

CG:
When did you, like, do you know when you began and when you ended? Like, when you stopped?

RB:
Well, no, I couldn’t exactly put a date on that. But Shirley could.

CG:
And then you visited a number of countries that weren’t related to, you know, former students. What were some of those…?

RB:
Well, the—the first one we went to, Denmark, was because Shirley’s brother was in the Air Force or NATO, and he was stationed over there. So…so that was in…in Denmark. And then we went…went to Norway and…back and forth, we would, of course, the…North Sea, I guess it is, one night there in the boat from Copenhagen. So…and then, let’s see, we had—when we were down in Bolivia—Juan, he was—he liked to travel, and we got in a beat-up old Volkswagen, and we went over roads that…and one of the roads after we—after he came back, was listed in one of the papers, National Geographic or one of those, as the worst road in—in the world. And you’re going over the mountains, and not a guardrail in sight. And you wind down through, and cruising along, and…and you look down, and there’s nothing between you and , you know, the valley, [a?] couple miles below. And the trucks break down there, and they have to repair ‘em right on the side of the road, and every time they stop with—with these big 18-wheelers, they put a stone behind each wheel. And then, when they get it all fixed, the driver jumps in; of course, it starts up, and he doesn’t pick up the stones, all these big cobble rocks, you know, like this, right in the middle of the road. So you come around a curve and you don’t know where you’re going..

CG:
Is there any place in particular that was, like, your favorite? Your favorite destination?

RB:
Oh, I—I enjoyed the—you devil. I’m looking at that squirrel. He’s trying to get up that thing, that crazy…..eeeeyyup. Son of a gun. Wait until I tell Shirley he made it. Nope, there he goes…he goes…it’s a—it’s an expandable thing, and it drops down, but he went right up it there for a while. [He’s referring to a squirrel climbing in the garden outside the window.] I liked any of ‘em, they were all nice, and…England was especially nice there, and the countryside and…and what fascinated me were the—the farming areas. Of course, I’m interested in farming. They had beautiful farmers over there, and then they had canals running right alongside—alongside the railroad. They’re very, very small…I don’t…they aren’t…canals, you know, something to—this wide, ‘bout six or eight feet wide, and it had these narrow boats, they’re long and narrow, and as you saw, they could slide past. And they had, you’d go along, and my wife sat, through the window, and sometimes it’d cross under the railroad, and then back and forth, and then you’d get to a spot where they had a whole [START OF TRACK 14, 65:00] bunch of ‘em—they ran ‘em out. And I guess you could—you could stretch out and sleep on ’em at night and everything, but it was a form of tourist attraction there, it was very nice [?]. And the—but the roads there—they’re—in England, they’re treacherous, and you go down and there’ll be a building, a stone building, and here’ s a road and here’s a building like this, and there’s no—you’re—there’s just no place to go.

CG:
Right.

RB:
And they can’t widen the road, because you’d have to plow through half the building.

CG:
So, just kind of going back to your life in the United States, you worked for Agway, and then you worked for New York State Electric?

RB:
Right.

CG:
And when did you start working for them?

RB:
In 1965.


CG:
Okay. And you worked for them until you retirement?

RB:
Until ’86.

CG:
‘til ’86…is that when you retired?

RB:
Yeah.

CG:
Okay. And…

RB:
I was Senior Ag Rep. Working with farmers on—see, at that time, ’65, right along in there, was when they farm—you know what bolt tanks are?

CG:
No, I do not.

RB:
For milk? Well, you’ve heard of the milk cans, haven’t you?

CG:
Yeah.

RB:
The 40-quart milk cans? And farmers would—big farm, you had 20 or more of those cans that rattled around, and you threw ‘em on a truck, take ‘em to the creamery, and then dump ‘em in down there. Well, then, in ’65 they put—brought in bolt tanks, so that when the farmer milks, they have a pipeline milker, and it sucks the milk from the cow, and right through the pipeline into the tank. And then the big tanker truck—you’ve seen these big tractor trailers?—you can see ‘em…a lot of ‘em on the roads…you’ll see ‘em backed into a farm. Well, they back up, hook up a pump, and then empty out that tank, and that—then, there…my brother has one down there with a whole 1400 gallons, or something like that. It’s a big..it’ll hold 2…2 or 3 days’ milk, according to the size of the dairy. So…and that’s…a lot of ‘em changed over that, and then of course with that, the electric company had to increase the size of the transformers…to provide power. And a lot of these farms, they had very small services, because all they—all they did years ago was—they were glad to get lights in the barn. There were no barn cleaners, and at this time, they put in barn cleaners, hay dryers, bolt tanks, and a lot of electrical usage.

CG:
Okay. And then your kids were growing up, I guess, during this point.

RB:
Oh, yeah.

CG:
They all—did—how many of them married and had kids?

RB:
Well, let’s see. Alan—Alan married, and he had two kids. Catherine married, but she didn’t have any children. And…Marilyn, they two girls, neither one had children. And Nick was married, and he had two children. So there are four grandchildren.

CG:
And how old are they now?

RB:
Yeah, we…the…our oldest granddaughter is probably, I think she’s 31. She’s teaching now, married and she’s down in Tennessee. Memphis. And, let’s see—oh, and—oh, and Neil, her brother, is—he isn’t married, but he’s teaching up in…what are the…small…small college up in Rochester. He—he—they—each one has their master’s degree. Well, I guess maybe—Beth almost had hers, maybe she’s got it now, but she was in the process of it.

CG:
And…sorry, did you have anything else to say? Sorry, I didn’t want to cut you off.

RB:
Nope. No…and, let’s see, and then…well, Nick…well, that was—that was a kid—Nick had the two, so that’s it. Yeah.

CG:
And so, when they were growing up, did they live near you, or did they grow up far away?

RB:
No, they—no, they—at the, no, they all went away to school and everything, and there were—after school was over, high school, they evaporated into the…

CG:
But…growing up before? Like, up through high school, they grew up close to you? You basically saw them grow up?

RB:
Oh yeah, they were—oh yeah, they were—they were around, sure. They were…but…now they’re scattered all over.

CG:
So were you—were your—was being a grandparent like being a father, or were you hands-on with the grandkids, or…how was it different?

RB:
Well, we had a—tell you the truth, we…we had—the kids, the grandchildren were quite a ways away, and we [START OF TRACK 15, 70:00] didn’t see too much of ‘em, but we can see ‘em when we can.

CG:
When they were growing up, were you close with them?

RB:
No, not really—well, Nick, at one time, he was down there in Milford, so we were close there for a while. But they had to go where the jobs were, and…you know how that is.

CG:
Right. Well, so you’ve been retired since 1986. What sorts of things have you been doing in the 22 years since then?

RB:
Well, I’ve been on the Soil and Water Board down here, as chairman for that for, I don’t know, something like 36 years. [laughs] So…so I…I do quite a lot of work for that, and…it’s for the county…Soil and Water Board for Otsego County.

CG:
So, what sorts of things do you in…with that?

RB:
For that? I was down there yesterday, and I was talking to the..our district manager there in the office, and then there’s a secretary and there’s another fellow working on farm plans, Troy. And then, let’s see, and Ryan…he’s in charge of the spreader, where they spread the—the grass seed, to squirt it through a hose with…with the fertilizer pellets and stuff. It’s a big truck, and…and Scott was telling me—I think they did 86 different jobs this—this summer. For counties, for—the county roads and town roads and private work. So…[we?] keeps us busy with that. And 18 years ago, we built the new building down here…you…have you seen that, down in the back, River Road here?

CG:
I don’t believe so.

RB:
It’s down…oh, it’s…let’s see, it’s down past the…well, you turn off…are you familiar around here at all? You turn off from where you go to the—to the jail and the county...just beyond that is a building sitting down there.

CG:
Okay

RB:
So we’ve had that building up for…18 years ago, we put it up. And..we were…we were involved with the soil and water, they were involved with—they’re going to…a new process..they’re going to treat the fluent that comes out of the discharge pipes down here, the—the—where the dumping—where the sewer connects to the disposal unit. And they’re gonna pipe that over into what they call a wetland, and it’s all treated—it—with ultraviolet rays, and maybe some chlorine. But they’re gonna pipe it over in there, and let it flood out through there and drain down through, and they’ll filter that water so it come—pretty—almost pure going into the Susquehanna. So that’s…that’s how much we’ll be doing on that, to make it better.

CG:
And I know you—you’re—you kinda stay active, that your wife…and I know when I visited you the first time, you were splitting wood or something in the back, I know. So…you manage to stay…?

RB:
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yesterday I was out with a chainsaw, and—and my neighbors, and…then, well, then yesterday I went over and helped Dennis there. It was kind of—funny thing, they’re…during the storm, a birch tree fell over. So Dennis hooked onto it with a skid steer and pulled it out and cut it up somewhat, and I was helping him there, and hooking the chain on. So then we—we finished up, and…we needed this chain, about six feet long to…extend the chain there, and Dennis said, “I had it right here. I had it right here, and I don’t know where it went.” And we looked and looked and looked, and he said, he says, “Did you—you didn’t see anybody take it, did you?” And I—I laughed, and I said, “Gee, I’ve been standing here, I don’t think anybody took it.” So we looked back and forth, a number of times, in the high grass, and everything, and then I said, “Dennis,” I said, “It must be up on the hill,” where he pulled this tree up. Well, we got up there, and just as I got up there and looked, and Dennis was right alongside me, he says, “There it is!” And the doggone chain—he’d dragged this tree, backwards, up the hill, and…as the…it has what we call a grab hook, for hooking the chain, and one of the branches hooked onto that and dragged the chain up, and here it was on the hill. So, it was, “Well, that solves a mystery.” We looked and looked and couldn’t figure out where that chain just disappeared in thin air. And there it was…he backed up through it, ad just a chance in a million, it hooked on like that. [START OF TRACK 16, 75:00] So we—I help Dennis quite a lot on his underground house over here—you probably know where it is here, right across the road. It’s an underground house, a dome, so…last—this past summer—last summer—we mixed a lot of concrete, I mean, we had to mix it by hand with a small mixer, you—not ready mixed, in other words. Ready mixed is a [unintelligible]…dump it in. But this had to be mixed by—with a small mixer, and then dump it into this tub that I had, and it was skid steer [?], and then I’d go up on top of the hill, right up around the cupola on there, and then dump the concrete in where we needed it. So that was…that was a lot of work. We had good luck doing it, anyway…with his backhoe. So…

CG:
So you’re active in, kind of, community, kind of, service and government?

RB:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, we…well, I do a lot of the—not a lot of it, but the repair work down at the Soil and Water there, and…when the lights go out, and you gotta repair ‘em, so forth. And somewhat, the plumbing and…I did do the plowing down there, and mowing, but now they got somebody to do that. And there’s church work to do, and…in the Baptist church there, and…off and on.

CG:
What kind of stuff do you at the church?

RB:
Down—down in the church?

CG:
Mmmhmm.

RB:
Anything that comes along. I…I don’t know, they seem to think I’m the head dishwasher, so…I —we have a Thanksgiving dinner this…this Sunday, I guess it is. So…I wash dishes and…and, well, different odds and ends. Some electrical, whatever happens down there, we work on it. There’s always something to do. So…

CG:
Well, that’s all about—that’s about all I have. If you have any other final thoughts, though, or…?

RB:
No, I guess if I…

CG:
We’re coming up on an hour and a half, so…

RB:
You got an hour and a half?

CG:
We were…about an hour and fifteen minutes, so…

RB:
That all right?

CG:
Yeah, oh, that’s completely fine. But if there are any other thoughts.

RB:
No, not that I can think of, I mean, I—is that still on?

CG:
Yeah.

RB:
I—I don’t like to bore people with stories. I could—I could tell you many stories about the Depression, or everything, but that’s kinda…boring, maybe, to people. I mean, people that—the things that happened then, Claire, people can’t…cant visualize it today. And I hope we never see such situations like that, but…you never can tell. Keep our fingers crossed.

CG:
Absolutely.

RB:
Hope…hope things go all right.

CG:
Well, thank you very much for your time.

RB:
Well, I hope I answered a few of your questions, and didn’t bore you too much.

CG:
Oh, no, it was great. Anyway, thank you very much, and that will conclude the interview, I guess. [END OF TRACK 16, 78:11]

Files

Citation

Claire Grothe, “Robert L. Banta, November 5, 2008,” CGP Community Stories, accessed October 17, 2019, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/12.