Column: Being the Turkey Capital was hard work back in the dayWORTHINGTON — It will be Thanksgiving almost before you know it — Thursday. I was reading that “America’s Thanksgiving menu is becoming more varied.” There will be many steaks grilled for Thanksgiving. Pork chops
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — It will be Thanksgiving almost before you know it — Thursday. I was reading that “America’s Thanksgiving menu is becoming more varied.” There will be many steaks grilled for Thanksgiving. Pork chops. But Paycheck still reigns. Americans will eat more turkey breasts and turkey drumsticks on Thursday than on any other day of the year.
The focus on turkeys this week reminded me of Harold Grave of Ashton, who was memorable in part because he called himself a “turkey cowboy.” Harold told me one afternoon of life and work at the Fredrickson turkey farm west of Worthington, which was widely known in the middle of the 20th century. Through some years, Worthington residents cited the Fredrickson farm to justify a Worthington claim for being Turkey Capital of the World. Harold Grave offered stories of life on a turkey farm in an earlier time.
“We moved west of Worthington,” Harold remembered. “I went to work for Hadley Fredrickson — the turkey farm.
“We had a time. I think I quit him three times. Actually, there was two places. Hadley had one and Babe — they called the son Babe — he had another place there.
“The day I got there I didn’t know beans from buckshot about turkeys. They had some medicine — blue vitriol. Hadley told me, ‘Put one tablespoon with a gallon of water.’
“I put in the blue vitriol. Pretty soon — I never seen anything like it. Every one of those birds was going around in circles. Hadley came along. He wondered what was going on. I told him what I did. He said, ‘A tablespoon with three gallons of water, not one gallon of water.’ I said. ‘Hadley, you told me one gallon of water.’ He said, ‘Ya, I guess I did.’
“Well, then we had to give them water and give them more water. That sobered them up. That brought them out of it.’
Harold’s wife, Caroline, laughed. “He got up at 2 a.m. to see how many birds were dead. They all were all right.”
Harold recalled he worked with turkeys near the heyday of Worthington’s fame as a turkey production center. “I took care of the turkeys. There were two of us. We each had a tenant house. Ten thousand turkeys.
“We had them under shelters. The sides were open. We had to feed them. We’d drive a truck through with oats on. We had to water them. They had a big tank with hoses that reached out to the waterers.
“We started when the turkeys were young: we’d hum to ’em. They got used to that. You’ve always got to be afraid of turkeys stampeding.
“You had to be out in all kinds of weather. If it rained you still had to feed the turkeys.
“But at night, if there was a storm, you had to go out and — we’d hum to ’em. Just walk through and hum. That would quiet them down. Keep the flock quiet.
“One night something spooked ’em.
“We had the toms and the hens all separated. The toms walked a fence down to the ground, just like someone had run over it with a truck.
“The next day we had to separate them again. Toms here, hens there. That was a lot of work.
“They had nine different men that summer. I finally said, ‘The hell with it.’ I quit them in January. We moved to Chamberlain.”
It was Harold Grave’s last experience with poultry. Earlier he was a “chicken cowboy” at the “Houghton Hatchery farms three miles north of Sibley.
“The chicken building — the chicken house — was a hundred and sixty feet long and thirty feet wide. I had to pick up eggs two, three times a day.
“Of course you had to feed and water the chickens. I had to carry all the water in buckets. There was a well … you had to pump.
“One morning our alarm clock went off. I went out to take care of the chickens. I came back in. I said, ‘Caroline, I wonder what’s the matter with those chickens. They won’t get off the roost.’
“Well, here it was two o’clock in the morning. The alarm was changed. When it’s dark you don’t always know, you know.”
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.