I am a pretty good record keeper but I think my notes are nothing compared to my Dad. I treasure his three green farm record books. They are a real trip back in time. They cover his early years as a poultry farmer from late 1950 to January 1953. For that time period, my Dad kept meticulous records of his income and expenses, including details on building a house from scratch. Flipping through the pages you see a month-by-month record of their new life as farmers in Masaryktown.
I wish he was here now to answer some of my questions. How did it all come about? In 1950 my parents left behind Illinois and drove to Florida. Why Florida? Because my grandparents had moved there a year or so before. It was a necessary move for my grandma’s health to get away from the cold, wet northern winters. So Mom, Dad, and my 3-year-old brother Lou packed up the car and traveled south to join them. I was not even in the picture yet. Where would they go? They would settle like my grandparents in a small Slovak community south of Brooksville called Masaryktown. I’m not sure how my grandparents found out about the town. They were of Slovak descent as were most of the residents in this small community which was established almost 100 years ago.
What would Dad do now? He had worked for International Harvester back in Illinois. Among other things, the company sold farm machinery. I can’t imagine leaving a steady job, adjusting to your life after WWII, and then starting something new and different. Dad was 36 years old. What did he know about farming and raising chickens? And there was no house yet. According to Dad’s green book, they paid a rent of $25 per month and put their furniture in storage. Grandpa’s house was much too small for them to share so they must have found something nearby. They would rent for a year until October 1951. Meanwhile, Dad had ideas for his own place. He bought blueprints from a company called Weyerhaeuser 4-Square. They offered detailed plans for models of homes in the 1950’s. All sorts of models and styles. I don’t think Dad had any building skills but he located a friend for carpentry work and another farmer who knew electrical. The three of them took most of a year to build the farmhouse which still stands today. They added a porch to the original 7 room plan. The cost of material and labor ended up nearly double the original estimate of $5,500. It would cost $9,000 in all. I had Dad’s green book to prove it. He used up most of his available cash on expenses for the house and then took out a $3,000 private loan. I’m sure he put any farm profits back into the house. I could imagine them all moving in the unfinished shell by the end of 1951. When I was born the house was done and brand new. See the February 1952 notation of $110 under health expenses. That’s me! $55 went to the doctor. That was Dr. Harvard. He practiced in Brooksville from the 1930s to 1964. He is honored in a mural of town physicians on the rear wall of the Hogan Law Firm downtown. Another $55 went to the hospital. This building is long gone. It’s just an open patch of land on the big curve we all take on our way north into town. That same month $3.55 went for candy and $3.75 for cigars. Right away Mom got a $28 rocking chair. In November they purchased a $16 stroller. Every expense is noted, carefully done in Dad’s own handwriting.
Like many farmers in Masaryktown Dad bought chickens. He read books on the poultry business and learned from other farmers. He started raising laying hens and then selling their eggs. We started with 500 chickens, then we had 1,000, and so on. He cleared land and built four large chicken coops. We would have several thousand chickens when all was finished. It was not a huge farm but enough to keep us busy. A 24/7 job. There were eggs to pick, wash, and grade. Washing was done by sending the eggs through a machine— squirting water and bristle brushes. You had to stand there and feed them in and take them off the other side. Grading was done with another machine. Eggs would go up a belt and then roll down little slides according to size, small to large. Someone had to watch the machine. And the picking of eggs was a daily chore, not once but two or three times. Morning, mid-day, and a small pickup in the afternoon. And you had to count what you picked. I would leave full baskets outside the chicken houses for Dad to carry back to the egg room. In memory, I can see my Dad or my grandma smiling with a full basket of eggs on each arm. That egg room was our main hub for processing, washing, and sorting. Flats of eggs went in cases, then the cooler, and were eventually picked up for market. We would sell some eggs privately and keep others for the stores. People would just drive up the driveway and want to buy eggs. Word of mouth got around that there were eggs to be had for a bargain. Cracked eggs, perfectly good to eat, were just 25 cents per dozen. Store eggs sold for 50 to 60 cents per dozen. People would buy a case of cracked eggs and split them up with all the neighbors. We would take a case to my uncle in Tampa every month. Same thing, it’s for them and their neighbors. My guess is a case contained about 30 dozen eggs.
A. G. Mazourek, a Masaryktown farmer, organized the Hernando Egg Producers in the 1950s. At one time this was possibly the largest egg cooperative in the southeastern United States. Many of our eggs went to Publix Supermarkets. Our farm was not that large but it sure seemed like we had plenty to do. Our chicken houses had openings to fenced outside yards. The chickens could come and go as they pleased during the day. Their wings were clipped to prevent flying over the fence. They were locked up tight at night. We had never heard of free-range chickens but that’s what they were. I still remember going to check on the nests at night with a flashlight. I had to make sure all the chickens went to bed on the inside roosts and stayed out of the nests. Kind of a spooky job on a dark moonless night. Occasionally I would have to summon Dad to take care of an opossum or even a skunk. Not too many animals got away with a meal from our raw eggs. We would keep the farm going until my parent’s retirement in the early 1980s.