CGP Community Stories

David Ingalls, December 2, 2013

Title

David Ingalls, December 2, 2013

Subject

You-pick
U-pick
Hartwick Seminary
Dairy farming
Blueberries
Strawberries
Raspberries
Religion
Rodney Ingalls
Cooperstown Dreams Park
Split-rail fences
Barns
Historic Architecture
High School Sports

Description

The Ingalls family has a long history in the Cooperstown area. David Ingalls, part of the third generation to reside on land straddling State Route 28 in Hartwick Seminary, was born on August 1, 1949. Growing up on the hundred and twenty acre farm, Mr. Ingalls helped his father and grandfather raise dairy cows. After the decline of small dairies in the 1960s, the Ingalls farm predominantly grew small fruits, including blueberries and strawberries. Though Mr. Ingalls’ brother sold part of the land to make way for the Cooperstown Dreams Park, David still resides on a hill overlooking Route 28, where he runs a “you-pick” blueberry farm.

While studying Liberal Arts at a college just north of New York City, Mr. Ingalls met the women who would become his wife. He returned to farm during the summers, and says that a love for the farm and for central New York brought him back after graduation. In addition to working on the farm throughout his adult life, he also worked as a K-12 guidance counselor for thirty-five years. He currently resides in a recreated nineteenth-century barn, which he is currently building with his sons.

David Ingalls’ story chronicles the many changes to the landscape of the Cooperstown area in the latter half of the twentieth century. He speaks passionately about the farm and his family; he recalls his brother’s time in Vietnam; and also remembers his father, Rodney Ingalls, who passed away shortly before this interview. He also talks about the next generation of Ingalls and the values he hopes to have instilled in them.

Creator

Drew Radtke

Publisher

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

Date

2013-12-02

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.8 mB
audio/mpeg
28.8 mB
audio/mpeg
10.2 mB
image/jpeg
2.9 mB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

13-09

Coverage

Upstate New York
1949-2013
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

Yes

Interviewer

Drew Radtke

Interviewee

David Ingalls

Location

136 Seminary Road
Milford, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2013

DI = David Ingalls
DR = Drew Radtke

[START OF TRACK 1, 00:00]
DR:
This is the December 2, 2013 interview of Mr. David Ingalls by Drew Radtke for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course, recorded at 136 Seminary Road, Milford, New York. Mr. Ingalls, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today. I’d like to start from the beginning. Can you tell me when and where you were born?

DI:
Yes, I was born on August 1, 1949 and I was born at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown. And I was born at a very early age. The day I was born, I was in a cornfield and my mother was waiting in the truck while my dad finished picking the corn to take it to the restaurants in Cooperstown, the sweet corn. And when he finished, we went to the hospital and I was born.

DR:
So she was waiting in the truck this whole time?

DI:
Yes, for my dad to finish picking the corn. At least that’s the story that my dad tells. And they were going to name me Bill because, on the farm, that’s when all the bills came—on the first of the month. Fortunately, they didn’t.

DR:
So how did they settle on the name David?

DI:
No idea.

DR:
Not a family name?

DI:
My middle name is Edmund. The first Edmund Ingalls came and settled in Massachusetts in 1628 and started a small show factory, made 300 pairs of shoes the first year.

DR:
Wow.

DI:
Edmund Ingalls.

DR:
So have you done a lot of research into your family background?

DI:
We have a book that has almost every Ingalls right down to the last two generations in America, so obviously somebody has, every generation, spent the time to do some catch-up. We are working on Ancestry.com to do some updating and that’s a wonderful resource.

DR:
You mentioned your father working on the farm. Did you grow up on his farm?

DI:
Yes. I grew up on the family farm. It was a dairy farm at that time. It was an era in which dairy farming was prosperous and it was a cow farm—predominantly a cow farm. My father was the fourth generation Ingalls to be born on Christian Hill in the town of Hartwick and his parents brought him down to Hartwick Seminary when he was three in 1922. And specifically driven by the soil, my grandfather’s reason for coming down here was that he was tired of bruised ribs. When you plow hill land, you walk behind horses with a walking plow and when you hit a rock, it throws the plow handles into your ribs and you get bruised ribs. So when he came down here, we had, several hundred feet of topsoil that was six to seven feet deep, of topsoil. There were no rocks, unless someone brought them in. So that was the coming about of Hartwick Seminary.

DR:
And how many acres was that?

DI:
In 1922, there was a hundred twenty acres initially. My grandfather bought it from the bank for $17,500 and it included the largest—not sure if it was Dutch or English—barn, it was a gabled barn, and it included a five bedroom oak and hemlock house right across the street and forty acres of select river-bottom land. And then the rest was hill land and forestland. So they always tried to break it up between forest for firewood and hill land for pasturing and valley land for plowing.

DR:
And what is the purpose of each of those—pastureland, versus…?

DI:
Well, if you are in the dairy business, there is a certain amount of land you need for growing corn that you’re going to silo over or for hay that you’re going to put in a mow. And during spring, summer, and fall, you want to let you cows go out and get their own forage by pastureland. And then you always did a certain amount forestland to cut your firewood for heating and for timbers for building, so it was a good mix.

DR:
How many cows did you have on your farm at any one time?

DI:
We had about fifty-five milk cows, which is a good size farm. It was a two-to-three-man farm during the ’50s and sixties.

DR:
And what were your jobs on the farm?

DI:
[laughs] It was to stand at attention and do whatever assignment you’re given. Actually, growing up, the kids fed the cows; they would sweep in the silage and the manger, clean off the cows, push hay bales down. Whatever needed to be done that would save my grandfather and father some steps. And as kids we tried to stay out of their view so we wouldn’t be recruited into work.

DR:
So I’m sure you, as kids, managed to find a lot of leisure time and leisure activities. What kind of things did you do when you weren’t working?

DI:
We had a haymow. I think we spent half our childhood climbing up the hay rope and the hay trolley in the center of the barn and swinging from mow to mow and playing hide-and-go-seek and tag in the barn. That was mostly in the off-season. The rest of the year, we had a lot of hills and creeks and we spent a lot of our time camping, building tree forts, building lean-tos, and getting initiated by eating crayfish in the creeks and those kind of things. And damming up the creeks. Creeks and forests were an unlimited source of childhood entertainment. As a matter of fact, during the fifties, early sixties, in the morning my mother would kick us out of the house and say that she didn’t want to see our dirty feet until dinnertime. And my dad would always give us plenty to do on the farm.

DR:
That’s very interesting. Do you have any stories about growing up on the farm or any particular experiences that you remember?

DI:
Well, I remember getting up early and working hard and there was a lot of farm ethics that went around. My dad was quite committed to kids growing up on the farm and you weren’t finished growing up until you left the farm, if you left it at all. It was always good to have the three generations there, because you had my grandfather’s input, and he lived to be in his eighties, and he farmed right up through that time. And then, you know, my dad’s input as well. A lot of emphasis on work ethic. You know, work hard, love the Lord, and tell the truth. They were quite committed to being good farmers and they were very smart about it. Work smarter, not harder. Work smarter. And they were quite thoughtful and planful. They had a good herd. They managed the machinery well; they managed the facilities well. And they enjoyed doing it. They also were farmers who made sure that you got days off and went vacationing. Hence, growing up we went out to Cape Cod for a week, or in later years down to Long Beach Island in New Jersey for a week. So they were farmers who worked and worked hard, but also knew that part of being good farmers was getting off the farm. That wasn’t the only thing they thought of, which was good. So, childhood memories. We did a lot of hiking, too. All of the roads behind our farm from here to Mount Vision were always dirt roads. And we were pretty free. We did get in trouble, once. I remember as an eight year old, me and another buddy, we hiked from here to Mount Vision, which was fifty miles round-trip from seven in the morning to seven at night. And it cost me dearly in family discipline, but we did tell my mother that we were going to hike to Mount Vision. And hike we did. It was a safe era. A lot of the roads belonged to the farmers, and it was a hike to remember.

DR:
You did fifty miles in-

DI:
Thirty miles.
DR:
Thirty miles.
DI:
And all back roads, all dirt roads.

DR:
Sure, sure.

DI:
All the way over to Mount Vision on the other side of the hills.

DR:
Were there a lot of other children who lived in the area here?

DI:
There was a fair number. It was an era in which families were having three and four kids. And the farms were kind of back-to-back from here to Milford and from here to Cooperstown. They were all dairy farms back then. So there were a lot of farm kids. So, we had a lot of time to play with the neighborhood kids. And believe it or not, even though we were from Hartwick Seminary, not Cooperstown, we played a lot of baseball.

DR:
Really?

DI:
Yes. Well, when you had a hay field, you cut them. There’s a lot of open land, and that was always a fun thing to do.

DR:
Now, can you tell me more about your family? How many siblings did you have?

DI:
I had three siblings, an older brother, two years older, a sister two years younger, and a younger brother, who was five years younger, who died at age six. So there was three of us who lived on the farm, grew up, loved the farm. When I say, “loved the farm,” we loved the farm. The only objection I had as I got older was that you had to get up early, you had to work too many hours, you got paid too little. But other than that, you know, I loved the farm.

DR:
So it was a labor of love.

DI:
Yes, to a degree. Farming was hard work. It was physically difficult work. Our farm, though, did split off. We were dairy farmers, but I think my father and grandfather were first of all businessmen and secondly farmers. And my grandfather Harry Ingalls, he had the first milking machine in the township. He had the first tractor. And he had one of the first cars. He always was avant-garde, and he had enough resources that he could afford to take the rest and try new things. And so that was kind of the framework that we grew up with. They were always thinking about how best to get the job done and make money doing it.

DR:
Do you have any specific memories about a time when your father or grandfather were particularly—what’s the word I’m looking for, maybe smart about a specific way they were farming?

DI:
Well, my grandfather, he started a creamery right in our dairy, as did many, many farmers. It was just before I came along that he used to take the horses and go out to Goey Pond, which was the better part of two miles from here and cut ice all winter. And then they would process and bottle milk and deliver it door-to-door in the neighborhood. And as my dad’s generation came along, they started the Cooperstown Dairy in Cooperstown. They had five or six Guernsey farms that brought their milk into the dairy and one Holstein farm. And then they processed and bottle milk and cream was sold door-to-door all through Cooperstown for a generation.

DR:
Those are types of cows for the uninitiated?

DI:
Yeah. Guernsey is a brown and white cow. It’s a middle-sized cow that produced higher butterfat, was a lot more flavorful. Nowadays unless people buy organic milk or buy it from a local farm, which the government is trying to eliminate, they wouldn’t know what good flavored milk tastes like. Now it’s all been homogenized and pasteurized, you know, chalk water. Back then, milk had a lot of different flavors. They were middle-sized cows, and a favorite cow.

DR:
So they would go and sell milk in Cooperstown?

DI:
Yep. They had a processing plant there. During the fifties, I think they had six different trucks that went and delivered milk all over Cooperstown and in the summer up and down the lake door-to-door. [They had] a good name, and my grandfather made money doing it, as did my dad.

DR:
How long was that?

DI:
It went on into the sixties, at which time the government had decided that these small, homegrown, small-town dairies weren’t what the government wanted, and they put all of those small dairies out of business by saying, “Each month, how much profit did you make? Send it in.” Back then, it was seven or eight hundred dollars a month, and it was a milk marketing redistribution. It was a real breach by government; somebody deciding that homegrown milk was not as profitable for the society at large instead of letting the society decide its profitability. So it put all of the small dairies out of business.

DR:
So how did that affect your family?

DI:
You know, my parents were always law-abiding, tax-paying people, but they also felt that, if you were smart, you would minimize your tax liability in every honest way that you could in investments or otherwise. My dad never said, “Watch your back with the government,” but that was a real hurtful thing to my grandparents, my dad’s generation, when you build a wonderful dairy and you have a wonderful response from the community and the government comes along and intentionally decides to put small businesses out of business. Did you want to get political in this conversation, or economic? My dad always paid his taxes up front. But, the resourcefulness—at that point, my dad had gone to Cornell. He did Animal Husbandry as well as Agriculture. So my dad, since we had a wonderful location and wonderful soil, he had started growing sweet corn. And we started a farm stand. And he grew Gladiolus flowers; he had a half-acre of Gladiolus flowers and all sorts of other small vegetables. That initiative really took root in the later sixties, when my sister and I took over for four years as we put ourselves through college. It got to the point where we were milking cows at five in the morning and picking corn at six thirty, and picking forty, fifty, sixty bushels of sweet corn every morning. And my dad being a real good farmer, grew some of the nicest corn in the area. We took the good land, the good location, and expertise and ended up making more on sweet corn and flowers at our farm stand than we did with cows, because the price and the profitability in cows was gradually going down in the later mid-sixties and seventies, the time when most small dairies went out of business. At that point, we had developed the vegetable business and then branched into what became twenty-five acres of you-pick strawberries and eight acres of you-pick blueberries and ten acres of you-pick raspberries. And they became instant goldmines in the area. Every community needs those from their farmers and we did it, did it well, did it right, and did good for the community and for the farmer.

DR:
So how did your family decide on those particular fruits?

DI:
Well, let’s see. When my brother came back from Vietnam, he had spent some time in Washington and outside of Seattle, up in those areas where there are a lot of fruits and vegetables being grown. He came back with the strawberry idea. When I came back to the farm after five years in New York going to school in liberal arts, he sent me to Cornell, and he said to talk to the head of Pomology and Small Fruits and get a recommendation. So I came back with blueberries and raspberries so we honed out a piece of the land and gave it a shot.

DR:
And what year was that?

DI:
Oh, dear, that would have been early seventies for me, late sixties for my brother. I think my brother first when he came back, they did field corn unprofitably and then moved into the strawberries. So that was a great era; a lot of fun there. We had hundreds of people weekly that came in to you-picking of berries. It was an instant hit.

DR:
Were they all people from the local area?

DI:
I would say within a forty-mile radius. There are enough people and, believe it or not, there was still a generation that didn’t mind standing on their heads to pick strawberries. We were concerned when we did you-pick that the generation that used to grow gardens and pick strawberries was passing. We weren’t sure the younger generation would have that kind of [vim] and vigor to get out in the heat of the day and the bugs and the weeds, but we were wrong. Because that generation has now become the generation of the office and they are quite anxious to get out in the garden. Not their own, but somebody else’s.

DR:
Interesting.

DI:
Yes. So, we still have a blueberry field today. My dad and I planted those in ’73. We have a wonderful field of you-pick blueberries and a wonderful clientele of folks who like to come out and pick blueberries in July and August.

DR:
So is your brother still involved?

DI:
He was up until about five years ago, at which time, he had the river bottomland and I had the hill land. He sold his out to Dreams Park. What had happened was about twelve years ago, my father divided the farm in half and gave my brother— he had both sides of the road assessed. Both sides of the road came to about $42,000. So, I got a hundred acres of the hill land, which is wonderful for blueberries.

DR:
Right.

DI:
My brother had about a hundred acres of the river bottomland, which is great for strawberries. He sold his out to the Dreams Park at $20,000 an acre because it was more profitable than working hard growing strawberries. And he bought a little hill land piece and, you know, grew an acre or so. He’s got a little farm stand down there now, but that was more of an economic decision than it was a commitment to agriculture decision.

DR:
So you still live very close to the Dreams Park land.

DI:
Well, it’s across the street. I’m still on the hundred acres on the west side of Route 28, and the Dreams Park is on the other side of the road. Now, I wish it were still a farm down there. But I understand that the county, when agriculture went out, farmers had to make other decisions.

DR:
Did you agree with your brother’s decision at the time?

DI:
[laughs] I agreed that I would have been real happy if he wanted to split the two million with me. I would prefer it if it were agricultural land. I actually didn’t have a vote in the decision; it wasn’t my land. In families, you don’t always tell them what you think, unless you get permission, because then it looks like envy, you know. My land is not for sale. I love the forest, I love growing things, so it will stay in the farming tradition. All four of my sons each have a little piece in agriculture, whether they’re in Seattle, or the World Wildlife Fund in Laos.

DR:
So how many acres do you have here?

DI:
About a hundred acres or so.

DR:
And you use it for not only the blueberries but also-

DI:
I rent some of it out for corn land to keep it tilled. And the rest is forest timberland. So my sons and I have done a lot of logging over the years, both on our land and on other people’s lands. And we really love creation. And I think it’s paid off a lot because my wife and I had four boys, and we worked our boys well in growing things. My kids grew up all through elementary school summers picking raspberries, for example. Some days, it’s all you-pick, but we would pick sometimes a couple hundred pints a day and sell them at the farm stand. And kids—seven, eight, and nine year olds—since child labor laws didn’t apply, and since my kids like to take initiative, they would sell them at the farm stand and always make enough money for summer camps, fall clothes, and anything else.

DR:
I’d like to go back a little ways. You mentioned going off to college in New York. Can you talk a little bit about where you went?

DI:
Yes, it was the later sixties, and it was a difficult time in America’s history.

DR:
Sure.

DI:
Vietnam. And I went to school just north of New York City and majored in liberal arts, for those years. My brother spent two years in Vietnam. And that was also the time of transitioning for farming, too. My dad had gone more from cows. My brother and I joke that, when we both left the farm that year—he went to Vietnam, I went to New York—my father got a barn cleaner and a silo unloader that first year. Now, a silo unloader for readers who don’t know, you pull a rope at the bottom of the silo, and the silo unloader shoots all the silage into a cart. You don’t have to get up there and shovel it all winter like we did when we were growing up in the sixties. And the same with the barn cleaner. It’s a track that goes around the gutters under the cows and takes all the manure out and dumps it into a two-ton manure spreader and you just sit there and sigh and break out a sweat watching it. So those replaced two men. We felt we’d been replaced by the silo unloader and the barn cleaner that year. And my dad, it’s interesting to know, going back to that era, in perspective—he grew up on the farm; he was the only son; my grandfather had two farms and five houses and was a good business. And they were quite prosperous. My dad got a full scholarship for four years at Cornell, came back to the farm for two years, and then enlisted in the Navy. He was in the Navy Air Corps. That was in ’42, during the Second World War. He could have been exempt in that if he was the exclusive farm son, the only son, and the eldest, he could have been exempt from enlistment in the military at that time. And yet he chose to go; broke his parents heart, because he went voluntarily. I think his father said later that, “You did the right thing.” I don’t know if his mother ever forgave him, but he did come home. So he flew in the Navy Air Corps, both in the Atlantic and the Pacific. His job was to find the German [U-boats]. So it was reconnaissance. So going back—in the later sixties, my brother went to Vietnam, I went to school. In the summers, I came back and paid all my tuition through raising and selling sweet corn and vegetables for four years, which was a wonderful way to pay your way through college. So when I got done with four years, I didn’t owe a thing, nor did my sister. So that was good. I stayed on the farm, and I got married. I stayed on the farm partially. At that time, we could make enough of a living for summer, spring, and fall, but not year-round. So I went back to graduate school in education and then went into education and did farming on the side for the next thirty-five years. I can remember—going back a paragraph—my first year back from college. It was hay season. They were long, hard days. My dad and I were about to load hay in the haymow. And, you know, there are two tons of hay bales, and my dad pushed them up the elevator. It’s about ninety-eight degrees in the haymow, and all that hay dust, and you’ve got to stack two tons in about twenty minutes. I can remember saying to my dad before I went up, I said, “Dad, you know, I’m a college boy now. Isn’t this a job for the hired man?” And my dad had a tough side to him. He said, “Well, the hired man was here for the five o’clock milking this morning. Where were you?” And then, he said, “I want you to hear me real clearly. If you are too educated to stack hay bales, you’re too educated for your own good.” So he said, “Get up that mow.” Then he said, “Get rid of that bandana, because there won’t be any hawks living on this farm while your brother is in Vietnam.” The objectors to the war, and we probably all should have been, wore these bandanas around their forehead. Well, mine was a drip strip, for when you were working the mow. But my dad took the metaphor as being from that perspective. And having gone down to New York to go to school. So that was my dad’s political position, coming from a military background, and at that time thinking that we were doing Southeast Asia a favor and the nation a favor by helping the country of Vietnam become an independent, self-determining country. And so my dad—you didn’t have to ask him where he stood on issues like that. But I always had a good relationship with my dad.

DR:
Did he express an opinion when your brother joined the military?

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

DI:
No, he was drafted. Back in that day and age, in the later sixties, we had about a hundred and forty, two hundred and forty five body bags a week coming back. So it was a volatile time for young people, because in that year, you couldn’t vote until you were twenty-one. But you could be drafted at eighteen and go and die. You could buy beer that year at age eighteen. And they turned it around—you can vote at eighteen, but you can’t drink until you are twenty-one. The issue was, how many people for which reason? Drinking and driving, or military? But my dad was always supportive. He did vote politically, carefully. He was always supportive of where the government stood on issues like that, including my brother.

DR:
What about your mother?

DI:
Let’s see. My dad married a city woman. There was a road between—they built a nice new house on one side of the road, and the farm was on the other side, so they kind of respected each other’s terrain. My dad built the house, and my mom, she loved growing things in the yard and flowers, but she never learned to milk cows. Ever. She said, “That’s your father’s side of the road. He should milk the cows. I’m raising kids, and washing clothes, and cooking, and growing flowers.” So they had an agreement. My mother was kind of in-line with—what was Einstein’s comment? He said, when they got married, they agreed that he would handle the big decisions and she would handle the small decisions. After forty years of being married, there were no big decisions. That was my mom and dad. She was a good Irish woman. My dad was a good Scotch-Englishman, whose relationship was a good relationship. Sometimes, farmers get their power from machinery and the animal and business, and women get their power from managing the home. They were a traditional family in that respect.

DR:
Were you closer to your father or your mother growing up?

DI:
It was equal. We were a family that vacationed together. On Sunday nights we would play games together, eat meals together. We were both, pretty close. I got out of hot farm days by going blueberry picking with my mother at a blueberry farm about twenty miles away, which was probably one of the original inspirations for growing blueberries. But I was a good blueberry picker, so I could get off the farm and go pick blueberries and buy ice cream on the way home with my mom. So, those were good times, good memories. My mother, I knew her value. My brother was born first, and they wanted a son. So when he was born, he kind of got the celebration of being the first son. My father was the only son born after two generations. We had all aunts and one uncle who had one son, who had no kids. So it came down to my dad to continue that line in the family Ingalls. So he took a lot of initiative. So he had a son, my brother. That’s what he wanted. And the next child, they really wanted a girl. So, I was born. Then the next child is my sister. So it was always like, “This is our first born son; yes! And then this is our other son; and this is our daughter! We have a daughter.” And so I was almost the in-between son. So to become visible, I did things like—I was good in school. My parents, that was important to them. I was good in music, and that was important to especially my mother. I was good in sports. My dad especially liked sports, so I was able to hone out a little place in the sun through finding the affirmation values of my parents.

DR:
What sports did you play?

DI:
I did some football, and I wrestled, and I skied. Mostly because wrestling and skiing were winter sports. The farm was pretty demanding in spring, summer, and fall, so off seasons worked just nicely. Plus, when I wrestled and stuff, I got out of cow milking, which was kind of nice.

DR:
Why was that?

DI:
Well, I had to come home from school and milk cows. But if I was wrestling, which was ok with my dad, then someone else got to milk the cows.

DR:
Were you particularly good at any one of those sports?

DI:
I was quite good in mostly skiing and wrestling. I went out for football one season, but it came towards the end of summer. I can remember, it was tough to get your farm work done. I remember every morning we had to show up in late August to the field for the seven o’clock practice in the morning. And I can remember being late every morning. And every minute you’re late, you had to run the hill. So if you’re fifteen minutes late, you had to run the hill up-and-down. It was a punishing penalty for being late. And then I remember after about the second week, we’re all lined up-you know, varsity and junior varsity lined up. And the coach says, “Ingalls, are you a slow learner? Every morning you’re late. What time do you get up?” And I said, “Five o’clock, sir.” He said, “Well, what are you doing between five and seven?” I said, “Well, I’m milking cows.” There were a couple of town boys, and one of them happened to be the head of the football team, and he laughed. I remember my coach going down to him and saying, “So-and-so, what time did you get up?” And he said, “Six-thirty, coach.” And he said, “So, you’re more rested than Ingalls, so why don’t you run his laps for him this morning?” And that made my day. It was kind of farm boys and town boys. So I remember the coach saying, “Look, Ingalls, why didn’t you tell me that the reason you’re late every morning is that you have to hitchhike to school and milk cows before you got here?” I just didn’t think that was a negotiable issue.

DR:
How far away was the school?

DI:
Four and a half miles. Usually, the same kids walked every morning. You could usually get a ride from people going to work, you know?

DR:
Sure.

DI:
Anyways, that was the separating values of education and recreation from work on the farm. Towards the end of the sixties, the farm became more and more difficult because the profit margin got smaller and smaller. So farmers had to work harder, more hours, farm families had to work harder, more hours to generate the resources.

DR:
And what was that like for your family specifically?

DI:
My mother ran the Cooperstown Nursery School for thirty years. In a half day, ten months a year, I think she made more that last year than my dad did milking cows. But since the vegetables and berries were now taking over, I think resourceful people can adjust what they do to follow the economy, so that was a stressful, struggl[ing] time. They made it and did well doing it, but for a while there it was nip and tuck.

DR:
So when you came back from New York, and decided to take over the farm and-

DI:
Or farm with my dad, sure.

DR:
Was that weird for you coming back to your hometown?

DI:
Yes, it was. And my dad said, “Look, you know, we’ve got this plan, and we’ve got this road that runs right by us. You’re going to have to figure out what to do with it.” And I appreciated that. Yep, it was a little change of pace. I always loved the land, so it wasn’t hard coming back and doing what you really like. And hopefully, liberal arts don’t teach you how to be smarter about growing blueberries or raspberries, but they do teach you how to read. College back then wasn’t so focused on teaching you how to make a career. It was the era in which they wanted everyone to go to college thinking that that would be the door to getting a prosperous job. It was a clue, but not the whole story.

DR:
So much of the learning you had to do was by experience, then?

DI:
Absolutely. You’re a fast learner when you spend money and you lose a crop or a variety or something. You get real smart in a hurry.

DR:
Do you have any specific memories of times when you had to kind of learn on the fly like that?

DI:
Oh, dear. I don’t know. I have a lot of memories of milking cows and going out and picking corn in the rain or shine every day, first thing in the morning. We always did take Sunday off. That was wonderful. It was nice to have one day where—well actually, when we were in the dairy business, we only had to do the morning milking and the afternoon milking. So you only had to work six or seven hours. We called it a half-day off, or Sunday’s your day off. Little different than union workers nowadays. I have a memory, I think. I went into education and I worked in agriculture on the side with my dad. When he was in his sixties, the blueberry field was taking over, so I worked with my dad doing the blueberries. I can remember, as my dad got older, when he was eighty-three, I remember one day he was driving in the big four-wheel-drive tractor with a bucket. He was driving eight-ton load of mulch up the hill and he jack-knifed it and caught it around a tree. I can remember that day, I had to get the bulldozer out and pull him out. I can remember saying to my dad, “So, dad, was this an error in judgment or impaired judgment due to your age? You know, one second can cost your life.” About a week or two later, I was on the backside of the blueberries field. Same sized tractor and a load of mulch, and I was coming down and I went to pull into a row on a steep hill and my back tire came off the ground about a foot. Scared me half to death. I was telling my dad about that and he said, “David, that happened to me once.” He said, “Was that an error in judgment or impaired judgment due to your youth and inexperience?” I think I was in my mid fifties at that time, and I think it was an old Reagan comment. But we agreed that if he would let me do the heavy equipment work at eighty-three, then when I was eighty-three I would let my sons do the heavy equipment because heavy equipment and old farmers don’t go well together, in terms of injuries on farms and all. But that was a good crossing that day.

DR:
So you worked in education. Tell me a little bit about that.

DI:
I worked as a school counselor. I loved rural schools. I worked in Cherry Valley- Springfield and I worked in BOCES in several rural schools. Don’t let the word get out, but education is wonderful for family life. You know, you’re done by 4:30 in the afternoon. If it snows, you don’t have to go to work, and summers you’re off most of the summers. It is wonderful for family life. Especially if you like kids, it works nicely. And it also dovetailed well with farming, because the predominance of work on the farm is in the summer.

DR:
What age groups were you—?

DI:
Well, I did K-12, then I did just high school for a while, then I did just elementary for a while. Generally kids, they’re all snot-nosed and need their shoes ties. Yeah, I loved kids, and I was good with them. If you love kids and knew how to stand on the right side of the fence when you’re relating to the parents—I remember once doing a case study on a young child and the teachers were adamant that they needed to pluck this child out of the mother’s arms and sit him down over here. It was in Cherry Valley, real calm, country town. I remember saying, “Look, have you ever tried to separate a newborn calf from its mother on the other side of a barbed wire fence?” None of them had. And I said, “Look, you respect the mother and you respect the mother-calf relationship and I think we better well act a little more slowly and cautiously, because after all the child does belong to the parent, not us.” Sometimes farming metaphors are good for application to families.

DR:
And so, how long did you stay in education?

DI:
About twenty-five years. Of course my wife and I have four boys, so we have logged a lot of hours growing kids, especially boy kids. Now, when my—this is kind of free association conversation—so, my boys were in high school. Following the tradition of being resourceful with the environment, we started a small business called the Historic Fence Company. Growing up, we always had logged and split black locust, which the Dutch brought into the New World, but it was one of the best fence woods ever. Even as far south as Virginia. So, we started producing fence posts. We split over twenty thousand during their high school and college years. But even more than that, we started producing split rail fences. Before they got out of college, I think we had logged, split, and built over seven miles of four-and-five rail fences. We were the only people doing it, so there was a lot more work than we knew what to do with. So we bought a bulldozer and some equipment and split rail fences for quite a few years. It is a young man’s task. We did have an engineering company produce a twenty-two foot log splitter that we designed, so that the logs, you know, they could follow the grain and be pushed slowly through the grain, and, you know split rails. It made it a lot more profitable and a lot easier.

DR:
That first year, you were doing it by hand?

DI:
Yes. I’d require the boys to do so many rails each week. I can remember my eighth grade son, the one who works for the World Wildlife Fund now—after school that day, he had buried twenty-two wedges, mostly steel but partly wooden wedges in this log, and couldn’t get it split. It was a nice big locust log that had more knots in it that you can imagine. But the kids learned a lot about business and taking initiative. They got paid for whatever they did, you know, like a dollar per rail for splitting. We did exhibits at The Farmers’ Museum Harvest Festival twice in rail splitting. And we started out doing rails for mostly restoration and museums and people with a lot of money, who really appreciated the historic art. According to the New York State historical library, there was an estimated million miles of split rail fences in America in 1800. So clearing the land and splitting rails was a historic art. So we did some research on that and I’ve looked at every book in the historical library on split rail fences and recreated the industry and found out that there was no competition and tremendous demand. You just had to be willing to work hard. The boys and I worked together doing fences and they made a lot of money doing it. Most high school kids back in the late eighties didn’t make ten, fifteen, sixteen dollars an hour. Just picking up a few wedges and a sledgehammer and going out and splitting posts anytime they need the money or the exercise.

DR:
Did you have to hire out any help to do that?

DI:
Nope, we kept it right in the family. Uncle Sam allowed you, at that time, to pay your sons up to twenty-two hundred dollars a year and declare them as an expense without having to pay any withholdings or taxes on it. I ran every penny of that through the sons and they bought their own clothes and their own school lunches. It worked out nicely. I feel that it’s our responsibility to take advantage of the tax laws so that we can stay legal and minimize our liability to Uncle Sam in those respects.

DR:
So how old were your kids then?

DI:
My youngest started at about ten and went right up through, from ten to seventeen. But that was a good avocation. Of course we’re still doing some vegetables and berries on the side, so the kids served their time in the gardens with vegetables and on the hills. If you want to go back about six paragraphs, when I was growing up in the fifties, if you misbehaved, you had to weed the garden. And if you really misbehaved, you had to weed the carrots. And if you’ve ever weeded carrots, boy, it is meticulous and hard work to weed the carrots. And the other thing is, we always had to weed after it rained. Whenever it rained, the next day, muddy or not, all the kids are out in the garden weeding, because that’s when you can pull the weeds up, when it’s rained and the ground is soft. We had a nice garden. Must have been a family of terrible behaving kids, but…

DR:
Did any one of the siblings have to weed the garden more often than others? Are you going to admit to that?

DI:
Probably not. [laughs] My dad was tough on education and discipline. I can remember, going back, I must have been in first or second grade, being sent to the principal’s office. I can remember sitting there, and I heard the secretary call in to the principal, “Do you want to see that Ingalls boy now?” And the principal called back and said, no, “just call his father.” I can remember saying, “but I really want to see the principal.” And I can remember my dad saying to the principal, “don’t worry, it won’t happen again.” I don’t know how he knew, but he knew.

DR:
So like you said, going back a few paragraphs: Can you tell me about meeting your wife and starting a family? Where did you meet your wife?

DI:
I met her at college down in New York and she was from Utica. That was nice because Utica is only fifty miles from Cooperstown. And I met her and started dating her. She first dated my roommate, and that was a helpful introduction. We dated probably three years and got married. She wasn’t from a farm. The first time I brought her to the farm, she claims that she didn’t know beans, and she didn’t. I can remember my dad liking her right off and saying, “I’ll name a cow after you. I always name cows after David’s girlfriends. But there is a little problem. My cows love brown eyes, and you have green eyes. I’ll make an exception.” My dad was complimenting my college girlfriend who had never been on a farm. I don’t know what she thought. A town girl doesn’t consider having a cow named after her to be a compliment. That was my dad.

DR:
You said you dated for about three years. When you married, she made the decision to come here. Was that difficult for her?

DI:
No. It was a little bit of a surprise. Sometimes, if you grow up in the city and if you’re poor, the farm seems like a dream come true. We were more into the vegetables and the berries at the time as opposed to the manure. The manure cows—you virtually need to marry a girl who grew up on a farm because it’s too big of an adjustment to get into that end of the industry. And I was also adapted to doing machinery work, and her brother liked to work on cars. She adjusted just perfectly.

DR:
How long after you were married did the first child come along?

DI:
About two years. On the farm, you usually scheduled—the breeding schedule was usually pretty consecutive. We followed that farming tradition and had four boys in seven years. Go back another paragraph. My dad grew up as a farm kid with a little bit of the silver spoon syndrome. He went to Cornell for four years, flew in the Navy Air Corps. He came back [to his] prosperous farming family, and then in 1952 we had the polio epidemic. My dad contracted polio. So, he went down to the VA hospital [in Havistrar?] for almost two years. We didn’t see him. And my mom, with three kids, was home on the farm. Of course my grandfather gave her his regular paycheck, and then he came back to the farm. He limped the rest of his life, but he was able to walk. So he limped for the next sixty years. It’s tough when you’re off to a great start. Usually an Ivy League education and prosperous parents are kind of a nice way to begin adult life. He never complained. That had a lot to do with his faith as well. Most people would send the next forty years kicking and screaming, because a lot of his colleagues were wheelchair-bound thereafter. But he came back and he built his whole house, logged, and milked cows, and did berries. I don’t know how he did it. He lived to be ninety-four.

DR:
That’s incredible. Your father was interviewed last year as part of this program. He talked quite extensively about the role of religion in his life. I’m curious about the role of religion in your. Does it play a role?

DI:
It’s not genetic. His was a real commitment and the belief in the Judeo-Christian faith in the God of Scriptures. Believing that God has revealed himself in the written word. But you know, equally revealed his nature in creation and in science. You know, I think science is the revelation of God. My dad just loved growing things. He just found a tremendous amount of fulfillment and satisfaction. I think in many ways he felt closest to God when he was just appreciating God’s creation. It’s tough for anybody, regardless of faith convictions, to not appreciate—I guess I look in the eyes of the hundreds of people who come to pick blueberries and I’m always amazed to see things grow. And for people who come really just enjoy them, it does beg the question about, you know, creation and a creator. My dad grew up with a lot of traditional faith, too. My grandma’s side of the family were historic Methodists, teetotaling. I’ll never forget the day my grandfather came home with a script from his physician that said that, in his eighties, he should drink a glass of wine everyday. He was religious about doing that [laughs]. My dad, it wasn’t a big deal. I know he set an example for us. If he hired men on the farm to work, and if they would start swearing or something, he would nicely just turn off the tractor and say, “I think we’re done for the day. You can go home.” He was always very polite and not judgmental, but he usually drew a line. He just didn’t want that around the kids. But it think that’s more cultural than it is a religious—and he always referred to a cow manure as cow manure. I think that was just more of his good etiquette and the way the family kind of grew up. They always grew up, went to church in the community, went to the Lutheran church. It was a good, healthy church. The cornerstone was a good work ethic, but you don’t have to be religious to have a good work ethic; you just want to prosper. But I think my dad thought that that was honoring to God. And, my dad took us to church. We worshiped regularly. And I think he really taught us to ask all the right questions; that you need to. Otherwise, your faith may be your parents’, but it’s not yours. And the existence of God and the relationship to mankind; you want your kids to start asking those questions early on, before they get to be ninety-four and die. Just because it needs to be. It was our faith, not his faith as we grew up, and I always appreciated that. Although he didn’t say, “We’re going to church tomorrow,” it was an expectation all the way up through our later teen years.

DR:
So, sorry, go ahead.

DI:
No, that’s alright.

DR:
No, I was just going to ask if you wanted to say anything else about your father. You seem to have very fond memories of him.

DI:
[pause] Well, his passing was recent, and it was hard. But like he used to say, not everybody gets to live to be ninety-four. And it was a finished life for him, too. He was ready.

DR:
I’m sorry. He seems to have instilled some great values and respect and the value of history and things like that. You have talked quite extensively about your family’s history and the history of the area. Was that an interest that arrived at a young age?

DI:
There was an appreciation for the history of the family and the history of the land through the land, and I think you kind of pick that up. When you have family gathering, and the importance of family and who did the what, when, and in what years—I think when the kids grow up and they hear that, you know you walk the cemetery and stuff, and they tell stories about your great-aunt Olive and all those things. Yeah, I think it instills a lot of that. And I think that’s good. It’s good for the generations so there’s some continuity, and the communication of that.

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

The values were not so tight that the only thing that you could do would be a farmer, but to be a good businessman. While there was the love for the land, my dad had that Western slogan. You’ve heard of the Code of the West. Defend the defenseless, defend the land, and don’t you ever spit in front of women or children. That was my dad’s humorous side of him. My dad had a real dry, lighter sense of humor. It’s important, because when you’re working with animals and machinery, you certainly need to say, “Tomorrow’s another day.” I can remember once when my wife—go back about four paragraphs—when she came to the farm, we were out in the field on our knees planting one day, and it started to rain. Then my wife kind of said to me, “My mom told me when I was growing up, you needed to be smart enough to know when to get out of the rain.” And my dad turns to her and says, “Farmers don’t get out of the rain.” A few minutes later, there was thunder, and he turned to her and said, “but farmers do get out of the thunder.” So, that was the end of that. My dad used to say, “When you only work when the sun shines, you’ll get half your work done.” That was a reasonable perspective for a farmer.

DR:
I’d also like to ask—you mentioned to me earlier about your beautiful barn here that you are building. Can you tell me a little more about your inspiration behind building a historic barn from scratch?

DI:
We are members of the New York State Historical Association, so we obviously love the museum. Specifically, the Cooperstown museum. In many ways, they grew up in our barn, I always felt through the years, playing in the mows, and stacking hay bales. So I always appreciated barns. My dad was a good carpenter. He did a lot of furniture making in the winters. That instilled a love for the timber and I love the forest. It only seemed natural to go out and—we had a lot of hemlock on our property, and hemlock was the wood of choice for making the barns in central New York. And then we did a lot of milling, and we have a mill, and a bulldozer, and chainsaws and so we copied a couple of post-and-beam barns in New York State—the kind that had been standing straight after two hundred years. And so we recreated one of them. We’re still in the process of recreating it. We took some of the extra batten and doubled up on the braces, and did a little engineering research on spans and size of beams. That’s where we are now. I remember my youngest son going to school north of Boston. Every time he came home from college he was broke, which all college kids are when they come back. We’d go up in the woods and we’d log. Well you know, Christmas logging, and you’re dragging chains up through the woods. They’re hard days. You’d make a hundred dollars a day. I remember one day when he left to go back to college he said, “Dad, I’m not coming home again until you sell the bulldozer and both chainsaws, because I’m sick and tired of logging”—until he came back in the spring broke again. Now, looking back, he said, “Dad, that was one of the best jobs I had. I learned a lot, I made a lot of money.” You have to get dried off and back into a nice, cushy college classroom to have that perspective.

DR:
Would you like to talk a little bit more about your sons and what they’re doing?

DI:
Yes. My oldest son is an electrician, and loves the farm. He spends about a fourth of his year on the farm. I hire him to do pruning of blueberries, which we do for eight weeks, in March and April. He’s also very personable, so during selling season, he works for me, and I pay him well. So that’s my oldest. My second-born, he’s a builder and contractor. He’s the one who did this post and beam. He’s done three of them. He went to school north of Boston and majored in art. But he was good in math, so he’s very skillful in finished work and beam work. My third son loves agriculture. He is working on his Ph.D. at Cornell in Environmental Science. He’s working for the World Wildlife Fund and is the Country Manager for World Wildlife Projects in the country of Laos. He and his wife went over there eight or nine years ago with the Mennonites. The Mennonites are a very conscientious group. His wife has a degree from the University of London in Public Health and Tropical Medicine. So, they went over there, and she had thirty-nine villages where she did pre-natal care and early childhood care. And he was given ten small towns to teach them alternative agriculture beside lowland and highland rice farming, because they are a very subsistence country. They did that, learned the culture, learned the language real well. They then came back to graduate school and he has worked for World Wildlife for three years, and loves the people and loves agriculture and was good in language. That’s what he’s doing. My youngest works for a small coffee import company. He has been to South America buying coffee beans and worked in the coffee company. He loves the land and is in Seattle with a nice backyard garden. The agriculture piece has, I think, been implanted in their genes, in their genetic makeup, as everybody should be, whether you have a rooftop apartment in Manhattan or in Richmond.

DR:
Well, we’ve been talking for a little over an hour now. Do you have anything else that you’d like to add, like to talk to talk about?

DI:
Oh dear. Come back in another year. Now, agriculture has transitioned a lot with the change in our immediate environment. Farming has gone out, baseball has take over to a large degree; no small industry. Not a lot of people know how to raise beans these days, unfortunately. That’s a concern. My dad always used to say that every kid should grow up on a farm. He believed that. I would agree with him. I think, that was back when kids were assets, not liabilities. They all helped get off and pull a wagon and produce food and do their own sewing. Those things are lost in America. It’s unfortunate that most kids grow up with good manipulative skills due to their Playstations, but aren’t too tied to bugs. In my house, the older sons taught the younger brothers how to—puberty rights—they had to go up to the creek and eat so many crayfish. Nowadays, that probably wouldn’t be appreciated. I’m just remembering that, when his daughter, they sent us her little picture, and she was one and a half eating some creepy crawlers, silk worms out of her bowl. What a country that forages out of the foods for a living, but I think having grown up in this climate and this kind of work, and the work in the mud, the logging and stuff—it made it easier for them to get out of their comfort zone and go to another country that’s undeveloped with very little electricity and very little running water. I’m making some arguments for kids growing up in the environment. I think I every kid should do it, whether it’s a week at camp or on the family farm.

DR:
So what do you think, then, is the best way to educate people about agriculture and where food comes from?

DI:
You know, Israel used to take in a lot of international people to spend a year working on the kibbutz. That approach makes a lot of sense. Culturally, relationally, I think every kid in America should have a backyard garden or spend enough time at Grandma’s or whatever growing things. I think it’s good for a lot of reasons, personally. But, obviously, ninety-nine percent of us can’t grow up on farms. There is a culture in these generations that really appreciates growing things. It’s amazing the number of people who have gardens and stuff. Most of them just haven’t learned that it’s ok to shoot woodchucks when they come eat your garden, or squirrels, and they have to get past that, even if they are vegetarians. I think it’s good for a lot of reasons. I’m doing my best to promote that with the growing blueberries and all these hundreds of people who come out and sweat it out picking fruit in the sunshine. Next summer, you have to come out.

DR:
I will, I will. Well, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and a pleasure meeting you. Thank you so much.

DI:
I wish you the best in the transcription. Feel free to ad-lib if you think that’s what I would have said.

DR:
Thanks.

[END OF TRACK 3, 10:39]

Duration

30:00
30:00
10:39

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Drew Radtke, “David Ingalls, December 2, 2013,” CGP Community Stories, accessed November 17, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/152.