Amish men came to Weaversville
In this continuing series, Mr. John McDevitt, former assistant farm manager of the Allentown State Hospital Farm in Weaversville, continues his recollections from his days at the landmark farm. John recalls:
Speaking of the Northampton and Bath Railroad, the farm used to receive freight car loads of peanut hulls (shells) used for livestock bedding.
How many even remember the railroad? There was also a railroad siding to the west of the crossing.
With so many head of dairy cattle, beef cattle and hogs, it was difficult some years to produce enough bedding. Our primary source of bedding was straw, which is left after harvesting barley, wheat and oats.
We also used to chop and bale corn stover for bedding. Corn stover is chopped-up residual corn stalks that remain after corn picking is finished in the fall. Baling corn stalks was brutal on the equipment that was designed to handle alfalfa.
Another bedding source was the sawmill in Weaversville, owned by Stanley Danner. While the sawmill was still in operation, one or two employees and a group of patients would remove the sawdust, bag it up, haul it back to the farm and use it for bedding. There were a couple of furniture producers in Catasauqua and Allentown where we would also periodically get a load of sawdust.
Some of the other crew during the late 1960s and early 1970s were Frank Bartholomew, farm worker II; Billy Mann, farm worker I; George Walbert, farm worker I; Guy Snyder, truck gardener; Ted Romberger, farm equipment repairman; and George Stein, milk processor.
In addition, there were several conscientious objectors, or 1Ws, the Selective Service draft classification they were assigned. Remember, this was during the Vietnam War era. Most of these employees were Mennonites or some related group, but there were a few Old Order Amish as well.
The Mennonites were generally from Lebanon and Lancaster counties, while the Amish were from Somerset County. They were assigned to work at the hospital for two years in lieu of military service.
Some of the readers may remember seeing Amish men around Weaversville during the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Amish didn’t drive cars or trucks, but they did operate tractors since a driver’s license was not required to run a tractor.
I developed a friendship with a couple of the Amish and still have contact with one today.
At some point following the end of the war, the draft came to an end. That meant our supply of conscientious objectors was no more, so we needed to hire additional farm workers, usually with no farm experience, from the local community. Sometimes this worked well, and other times it was disastrous.
No accounting of the history of the Allentown State Hospital Farm would be complete without including a suitable tribute to Charlie Miller. Charlie began his employment with ASH in 1963 as a farm manager trainee. Charlie had graduated from Penn State with a degree in agricultural economics and rural sociology in 1961.
About 1967, he took over running the farm following the retirement of James “Jim” Mc- Knight. Charlie remained the farm manager until December of 1980, when he took a position with Agway following the decision of the state to discontinue farming operations at state hospitals.
As mentioned earlier, Charlie was the farm manager and was the driving force behind making this operation a success. He had a unique style of management. His goal was to operate the place like a farm and not like it was a part of state government. As a result, the farm was profitable up to the last year or so. He worked tirelessly and zealously to make the operation more productive in spite of dealing with increasingly difficult state bureaucracy, impossible rules and fiscal constraints.
The loss of patient labor following passage of 1974 peonage law was a blow to the operation. Keep in mind the facility had evolved in such a way as to provide lots of hands-on work opportunities to the hospital’s patients.
Charlie came up with a number of solutions to overcome the loss of patient help. Many changes were made to the dairy operation, in which the barns were altered to allow loose housing in place of tie stalls.
The installation of mechanized feeding systems was tried, and then finally the use of a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) feeding system to improve worker efficiency and optimize feed regimens.
The TMR system allowed precise blending of corn silage, hay crop silage, high-moisture ground ear corn, commercial livestock feed grain supplements and mineral supplements in a mixer wagon. The mixer wagon was used to feed a different mix to milk cows, dry cows, young stock and beef cattle.
Remembering former employees in John’s next recollections.