A Picture’s Worth: Butchering Day Redux
“A picture is worth a thousand words” is an oft-heard phrase first coined in 1911 by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane.
In the article Butchering Day Memories From the Farm – Part 1, I mentioned a photo in which I appeared on butchering day at our farm near Limestoneville, Pennsylvania. The photo was found a few days after the article was published, and it has enough details in it to warrant at least one thousand words!
Coincidentally my sister, Barb, found another photo which we think was taken on the same day (Barb’s photo is at the end of the article). Her photo is dated February 1959 whereas mine is not dated. Born in June of 1953, I was five years old, going on six, on that cold February day.
I shared the photo with my siblings. It not only details some interesting things about butchering, but it jogged our memories of the different farm buildings and their uses. An article about farm buildings will appear in a few weeks.
I’m the little guy in the center of the photo. Dressed in my “gum boots”, gloves, a wool coat which I think I remember, and a hat with ear tabs. Mom (Irene) must have put that handkerchief around my face to keep the air warm as I breathed, or maybe it was because of smoke from the fires under the kettles cooking organ meats and scrapple.
There are no kettles over fires in the image, but at the far right one can see a kettle turned upside down with the crow’s foot (stand) on it. There are probably some other men (cousins Myron and Harold) in the shanty with a kettle on the fire in the open hearth.
My father, Homer, is to the left in profile. He is dressed in coveralls which we often called “union alls”. The photo is marked on the back that the other two fellows are my brother Bob, standing on the platform and bent over in front of my father, and Bill Durlin who is to his right. As mentioned in the previous articles on butchering, the Durlin brothers, Bill, Fred, and Bob, often helped with butchering. My brother, Bob, would have been 15, almost 16, years old, since his birthday is in February.
My brother, Bob, and Bill Durlin have chains in their hands since they are rolling the hog carcass out of the vat of hot water (the hog’s hind end and tail are visible over my left shoulder). I cannot be sure if the hog has just been taken out or if they are ready to roll it into the vat.
My guess is they are arranging the chains to put the hog in the vat and another hog has already been in the vat and scraped. On the ground behind my father is lots of hog hair that has been dumped out of the vat after the first pig was scraped. Steam is rising from the scalding water, and it was carried there in milk pails which can be seen in the photo.
There is a cardboard box beside the platform’s leg. Bob tells me that Bill Durlin used to put hot tar in the water to loosen the pig bristles and hair before scraping. Does the box hold the can of tar?
There is a white can with writing on it beside the one milk pail. The writing on the can identifies it as once holding motor oil and it has a bail on it. Most likely, it was used along with the milk pails to carry hot water to the vat. Behind and to the left of Bob is a tripod which has a hog hanging on it. One can just see its feet, so this must be the one that had already been scraped.
The remaining details of the photo bring back lots of memories. The porch on the shanty shows the hand water pump, a bicycle, and two sleds standing up. I remember lots of “stuff” in that area but I cannot make out anything else that can be identified. The smokehouse is behind the tripod, and beside that is a broken down brick bake oven that we used to play on.
There are three trees in the background. The first tree has my sandbox leaning upside down against it. Grandpa Faus (my mother’s father) built it for me. In the winter, the sand was removed, and it was placed at the tree so the floor would not rot. I spent many happy hours in that sandbox. My parents always told me to watch out for “cat dirt” since our ten or more cats loved to use it for their necessary spot!
The cow pasture is beyond the last tree and behind the smokehouse was our garden. It was a huge garden in which my siblings and I had the joy of hoeing weeds in the hot sun! There are so many memories that this photo brings back for me. It caused a lot of discussion with my siblings and my son, Andrew. It is a few seconds from my early life that has given me many hours of pleasure in remembering the past.
Below are some additional family photographs of pig butchering. Myron Cromis and Harold Sechler were first cousins of Homer Hagenbuch. They were “master butchers”.