Chapter XL. A Visit to Houghton Farm

Houghton Farm, distant a few miles, is a magnificent estate of about one thousand acres, and the outbuildings upon it are princely in comparison with anything I could erect. They had been constructed, however, on practical and scientific principles, and I hoped that a visit might suggest to me some useful points. Sound principles might be applied, in a modest way, to even such a structure as would come within my means. At any rate, a visit to such a farm would be full of interest and pleasure. So we dug away at the potatoes, and worked like ants in gathering them, until we had nearly a hundred bushels stored. As they were only fifty cents a bushel, I resolved to keep them until the following winter and spring, when I might need money more than at present, and also get better prices.

Then, one bright day toward the end of August, we all started, after an early dinner, for the farm, Junior going with us as usual. We had been told that the large-minded and liberal owner of this model farm welcomed visitors, and so we had no doubts as to our reception. Nor were we disappointed when, having skirted broad, rich fields for some distance, we turned to the right down a long, wide lane, bordered by beautiful shrubbery, and leading to the great buildings, which were numbered conspicuously. We were courteously met by Major Alvord, the agent in charge of the entire estate. I explained the object of my visit, and he kindly gave us a few moments, showing us through the different barns and stables. Our eyes grew large with wonder as we saw the complete appliances for carrying on an immense stock-farm. The summer crops had been gathered, and we exclaimed at the hundreds of tons of hay, fodder, and straw stored in the mows.

"We use a ton of hay daily, after the pasture season is over," remarked our guide.

When we came to look at the sleek Jersey cows and calves, with their fawn-like faces, our admiration knew no bounds. We examined the stalls in which could stand thirty-four cows. Over each was the name of the occupant, all blood animals of the purest breed, with a pedigree which might put to shame many newly rich people displaying coats-of-arms. The children went into ecstasies over the pretty, innocent faces of the Jersey calves, and Mousie said they were "nice enough to kiss." Then we were shown the great, thick-necked, black- headed Jersey bull, and could scarcely believe our ears when told that he, his mother, and six brothers represented values amounting to about a hundred thousand dollars.

We next visited a great Norman mare, as big as two ordinary horses, and the large, clumsy colt at her side; then admired beautiful stallions with fiery eyes and arching necks; also the superb carriage-horses, and the sleek, strong work animals. Their stalls were finely finished in Georgia pine. Soon afterward, Bobsey went wild over the fat little Essex pigs, black as coals, but making the whitest and sweetest of pork.

"Possess your soul in patience, Bobsey," I said. "With our barn, I am going to make a sty, and then we will have some pigs."

I had had no good place for them thus far, and felt that we had attempted enough for beginners. Moreover, I could not endure to keep pigs in the muddy pens in ordinary use, feeling that we could never eat the pork produced under such conditions.

The milk-house and dairy were examined, and we thought of the oceans of milk that had passed through them.

A visit to "Crusoe Island" entertained the children more than anything else. A mountain stream had been dammed so as to make an island. On the surrounding waters were fleets of water-fowl, ducks and geese of various breeds, and, chief in interest, a flock of Canada wild-geese, domesticated. Here we could look closely at these great wild migrants that, spring and fall, pass and repass high up in the sky, in flocks, flying in the form of a harrow or the two sides of a triangle, meanwhile sending out cries that, in the distance, sound strange and weird.

Leaving my wife and children admiring these birds and their rustic houses on the island, I went with Major Alvord to his offices, and saw the fine scientific appliances for carrying on agricultural experiments designed to extend the range of accurate and practical knowledge. Not only was the great farm planted and reaped, blood stock grown and improved by careful breeding, but, accompanying all this labor, was maintained a careful system of experiments tending to develop and establish that supreme science--the successful culture of the soil. Major Alvord evidently deserved his reputation for doing the work thoroughly and intelligently, and I was glad to think that there were men in the land, like the proprietor of Houghton Farm, who are willing to spend thousands annually in enriching the rural classes by bringing within their reach the knowledge that is power.

After a visit to the sheep and poultry departments, each occupying a large farm by itself, we felt that we had seen much to think and talk over.

It was hard to get Winnie away from the poultry-houses and yards, where each celebrated breed was kept scrupulously by itself. There were a thousand hens, besides innumerable young chickens. We were also shown incubators, which, in spring, hatch little chickens by hundreds.

"Think of fifteen hundred eggs at a sitting, Winnie!" I cried; "that's quite a contrast to the number that you put under one of your biddies at home."

"I don't care," replied the child; "we've raised over a hundred chickens since we began."

"Yes, indeed," I said. "That for you--for you have seen to it all chiefly--is a greater success than anything here."

I was thoughtful as we drove home, and at last my wife held out a penny.

"No," I said, laughing; "my thoughts shall not cost you even that. What I have seen to-day has made clearer what I have believed before. There are two distinct ways of securing success in outdoor work. One is ours, and the other is after the plan of Houghton Farm. Ours is the only one possible for us--that of working a small place and performing the labor, as far as possible, ourselves. If I had played 'boss,' as Bagley sometimes calls me, and hired the labor which we have done ourselves, the children meanwhile idle, we should soon come to a disastrous end in our country experiment. The fact that we have all worked hard, and wisely, too, in the main, and have employed extra help only when there was more than we could do, will explain our account-book; that is, the balance in our favor. I believe that one of the chief causes of failure on the part of people in our circumstances is, that they employ help to do what they should have done themselves, and that it doesn't and can't pay small farmers and fruit-growers to attempt much beyond what they can take care of, most of the year, with their own hands. Then there's the other method--that of large capital carrying things on as we have seen to-day. The farm then becomes like a great factory or mercantile house. There must be at the head of everything a large organizing brain capable of introducing and enforcing thorough system, and of skilfully directing labor and investment, so as to secure the most from the least outlay. A farm such as we have just seen would be like a bottomless pit for money in bungling, careless hands."

"I'm content with our own little place and modest ways," said my wife. "I never wish our affairs to grow so large that we can't talk them over every night, if so inclined."

"Well," I replied, "I feel as you do. I never should have made a great merchant in town, and I am content to be a small farmer in the country, sailing close to shore in snug canvas, with no danger of sudden wreck keeping me awake nights. The insurance money will be available in a few days, and we shall begin building at once."

The next day Merton and I cleared away the rest of the debris in and around the foundations of the barn, and before night the first load of lumber arrived from the carpenter who had taken the contract.

This forerunner of bustling workmen, and all the mystery of fashioning crude material into something looking like the plan over which we had all pored so often, was more interesting to the children than the construction of Solomon's temple.

"To-morrow the stone-masons come," I said at supper, "and by October we are promised a new barn."