I Charlie - From Growing Up On An American Farm To Pioneering And Working In Africa. My Life's Journey In My Own Words.
My father moved to fruit farm in Western New York State in 1946 as he wanted his sons to grow up on a farm. The farm was in the town of Newfane and the village was Olcott. Our house was on the shore of Lake Ontario. We had a big barn just close to the house where I played a lot. I was in first grade and my brother and I rode a school bus to Newfane Central School in the village of Newfane. The bus drove all over the north end of the town of Newfane taking 45 minutes to an hour to get to school. The bus ride was fun as we had many friends on the bus. At home I loved playing in a dirt pile in front of the barn where I was building roads and houses and driving my play cars and trucks around the roads I made. When I was 8 I started helping on the farm. Dad made an agreement to pay my brother and me what he would have to pay an adult to do the same amount of work. This was also on the agreement that we each would pay our own way through college. I don’t think we could have had a father more concerned about his sons being properly trained! The farm had Apples, Peaches and Sweet and Sour Cherries. The jobs were simple like hoeing around the new trees to keep the weeds down. I always took part in any repair and construction jobs that had to be done. I loved this! By the time I was 12 years old my father bought me an electric welding machine and I started doing almost all the welding jobs that were needed to be done. I drove tractor and pulled trailers to carry fruit to where they were held for sale and operated the high pressure sprayer to spray insecticides on the trees and a duster used to dust the peach trees when it was raining. Both the duster and the high pressure sprayer took 2 persons to operate with one person driving the tractor and the other moving the spray nozzle or the dusting tube to cover the trees with spray or dust. Later we got a speed sprayer where one person drove the tractor and operated the sprayer also. It had spray nozzles up and down both sides near the back and at the very back it had a big fan which blew out both sides of the sprayer where the nozzles were and carried the spray into the trees.
My father had a heart attack shortly after we moved to the farm so he had to be careful with his activities. A few years later I cut down an old car for him to drive around the farm. I removed the doors and the roof to make it easy for him to get into the car and also view the fruit trees so he could keep track of the condition of the trees (insects and diseases infestations, etc.). We bought a sprinkler irrigation system and I made 3 trailers on which 3 big sprinklers were installed. The sprinklers were mounted on 3 inch pipe and the pipes were 10ft long to get them up above the fruit tree tops. When moving these around with a tractor the sprinkler was laid down facing the back of the trailer. The irrigation pump was installed by the lake where we had a pair of stairs to go down to the lake as the bank was about 20ft. high. The pipe coming from the pump was 6 inches in diameter and was designed with quick couplings on the ends of each 20 ft. length. This pipe had to come up the bank and out to the road where we put it through a culvert under the road. This reminds me that we had a cat that had kittens almost every year. They would almost all be killed crossing the road so eventually she started taking them through the culvert under the road where the irrigation pipe passed. After this started the kittens were not run over so we were constantly giving them away.
A few years after we moved to the farm Dad bought another farm which was right next to our farm. We built a large packing house on the front of that farm which was almost straight across from our house. A large sorting and packing machine about 15 meters long was purchased which handled both the peaches and apples. Almost all of the Alberta peaches and some of the apples were brought to this building for sorting and packing. The peaches were packed out the same day they were picked. This was one more machine to work on and keep operating.
During peach harvest we would pack out a closed, refrigerated 35ft semi-trailer of peaches in bushel baskets every day. Some of these went all the way to Florida where they were immediately purchased because they had a reputation of being the best. Dad made sure they were properly tree ripened which made them sweeter to eat when they became fully ripe. With apples they were done the same. We had both apples to eat and for cooking. The cooking apples were sold directly to canning companies, so we did not have to pack them - just pick and put directly into baskets.
When I was 16 I joined the Army reserves. This was a special program where you joined for 8 years and attended weekly meetings and 2 week summer camps every year and did 6 months active duty after graduating from high school. You were to finish out the rest of the 8 years after active duty. After 4 years they canceled the program. This was wonderful as it allowed me to work on the farm for the whole summer break. I graduated from High School in 1956 and active duty made me go to college, Cornell University, one year later in the fall of 1957. Cornell did not allow freshmen to have cars but as I had been on active duty I was allowed to have a car which helped me go to my reserve meetings. My major in college was Pomology (fruit science). My brother had taken the same path 3 years before me, so all the professors were very happy to see me because my brother was a very very good student. I was not as good but they treated me well and gave me higher marks than they should have. My father worked in the Agricultural Economics Department during the winters.
In my freshmen year one of the first courses I took was Farm Mechanization which I did not have to study at all for, because I had done almost everything covered in the course practically at home on the farm which made learning the theory very easy. From this I learned that practical experience was very important for learning.
Working on the family farm I learned to find something to do when I ran out of the assigned work and to take responsibilities, to cooperate with others and to have no prejudices as I worked with 20 Jamaican laborers each summer.
My father died during my junior year and my father had told Mother and some close friends that if he died before his sons were through college the farm was to be sold! I was heartbroken when the farm was sold! I was going to school to be ready to take over the farm! My brother had changed his ideas on his profession and continued school to be a preacher. He was a wonderful preacher, as he helped the poor and the blacks and anybody needing help or encouragement. He was wonderful!! What am I going to do?
I married Martha Sayre at the end of my junior year and bought a used trailer home which was already set up in a trailer park in Ithaca close to the university. In my senior year I worked part time (during my free time) in the Agricultural Engineering Workshop where I welded and operated the metal lathe and milling machine, which I had learned to operate in my first term Agriculture Mechanization course. We built agricultural machines to be tested. The next year when we graduated I decided to start a degree in engineering which I did. Half way through the first term a family friend, George Lamont came to Ithaca to ask me to come work on his farm taking care of the machinery and running the cold storage. I wasn’t doing as well as I should with the courses, so I decided to take the job. I enjoyed every minute on that farm. Lamont’s farm was much larger than our farm was and it had fruit and row crops. One of the first things I did was to build a large workshop. It had an electric welder and a drill press. I asked George if I could buy a metal lathe and a vertical milling machine and put them in the shop which he agreed to. I had operated these in the Agricultural Engineering work shop at Cornell. I was able to carry out most of the repairs on the farm. I ran the controlled atmosphere cold storage for apples, where there were 3 separate rooms. The first two rooms were there when I started work. They were made of concrete block. The third room I designed and built. It was taller and wider than the 2 block rooms. I used metal sheets instead of block. I did all the loading of the rooms using a forklift. I worked there for 6 years. I quit because I was in the hospital for 3 months and the doctors discovered I had Hochkins disease. Our first daughter was born while I was in the hospital. I was told I had maximum of 5 years to live, (this was in 1966). This was wonderful as it changed my life. I thought - what can I do for humanity in 5 or less years. I could become a preacher but that would take 3 years in school and I might be dead by then. To this day I do not know why I decided to do my master’s degree in engineering, which would take 3 years, I did it and while doing my Masters we adopted a hard to place child, a girl 7 months old whose mother is white and her father is black and went on to do my Ph.D. Which I started and stopped when my wife and I found the Bahá’í Faith and decided to go to Africa and teach the Faith. We went to Kenya and I got a job teaching Agricultural Engineering at Edgerton College. My wife got hired to teach home economics there also. We put our children in a local school and the older one began being sick every morning and we discovered this was because of the rough discipline used in the school. We found a British boarding school close by and put them both in the school. The school fees went up every year and after five and a half years we ran out of money and could not travel out on the weekends to teach the Faith. So I applied for an international job. Shortly I received a letter from the International Institute of Tropical Agricultural (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria asking if I would like to work for them. I did not know this company and went to see someone who had worked in West Africa to ask if he knew anything about this company. He said yes and if they offer me a job I should take it without question.
I was invited to go to Nigeria for interview. Which I did and was given the job of head of the Agricultural Engineering Department which was designing equipment for the small scale farmer. This was exactly what I wanted to do, with all my heart. I took the job! There are 16 agricultural institutes like IITA in the developing world. 4 of them have Agricultural Engineering programs. The agricultural economists decided that mechanization was not appropriate for small scale farmers and had all the engineering departments closed down. This was after 8 years. I was given a year to find another job. Nothing showed up! So I took a job with a very small company. I had helped some of the young men working with me set up to manufacture some of the equipment we had designed as farmers and government officials were interested in buying. The name of the company was Let’s Farm Nig. LTD. I worked with this company for 9 years and went broke as I was supporting it with my money. A Flour Mill offered me a job and I took it. They hired me as an Expatriate. This job lasted for 15 years when they retired me and rehired me as a patriot when I had received my citizenship. This lasted for only 3 years due to the company having financial difficulties. The MD called me in and told me he could not let all these people go and keep me as I was 75 years old and the Union would cause him plenty trouble about me being too old. So I retired and am still in Nigeria teaching the Faith. My success in life has been almost 100% due to my growing up on a Farm.