Days Gone By - stories from the past

Ain’t No Spring Chickens, [story, pictures & song] are sure to bring back memories to many in Alabama

(Do you remember mail and chickens being delivered by train? This is a cute story that will bring back memories. Enjoy the song at the end.)


AIN’T NO SPRING CHICKENS

by

Arthur “Art” E. Green

Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, White Leghorns, Bantams and those pretty black-and-white-speckled Dominiques (pronounced by us Dominikers). All these names from long ago conjure up thoughts of spring for me. Spring was time for my parents to decide which chicks we would order for the year. It was somewhat like looking at the seed catalogue.

Sweeten the deal

Each breed of chicken had different characteristics which would make the grown bird unique and useful such as “good layer,” “strong and robust,” “good tender meat,” etc. Big decisions—after all this would be our walking meat and egg market for the year—even our alarm clock. This was in a time when you could sweeten the deal on selling your house if you threw in a good bantam rooster who was a dependable crower at daylight (he would also crow at midnight whatever good that was). We had a blend of all of the above as well as some other breeds over the years.chickens for sale

Box had air holes

After the decision was made and the order placed, the fuzzy yellow peeping baby chicks came by Western of Alabama Railroad to the Tyler train depot enclosed in a yellow cardboard box with circular holes for ventilation all along the sides.

The box was constructed with a number of interior compartments for the babies within. Our order was usually for 100, and the company always included a few extras in case some didn’t make it. Mr. Quarles, the station and postmaster, would send word to us by the rural free delivery postman that our chicks had arrived.Poultry_Train

Big Black Steam Engine roared by

If luck was good when we went to pick up the shipment, I would get to see the big black steam train come roaring by. If there was no freight for Tyler (there was seldom any freight for Tyler), it would just thunder on by in a cloud of steam, smoke, sparks and dust with the steam whistle screaming for the road crossing.

The train would pick up the outgoing mail without stopping by means of a hook on the mail car which retrieved the grey canvas outbound Tyler mail pouch from a tall iron post beside the track.

Hook on train grabbing mail

hook on train grabbing maillg_Making-a-catch

Mail delivered by train

The post had an extension arm where the pouch had been hung by the postmaster to await the scheduled train.

Meanwhile the mail clerk on board would toss the incoming Tyler pouch out the car door where it landed with a dusty tumble in the red dirt road in front of the Tyler depot. Sure hope there were no breakables! At the depot there were always communications “up and down the line” by telegraph key which was also mysterious and fascinating for a kid to watch.

Mail Clerk tossing bundle

Railway_Post_Office_Clerk_in_Mail_Car

Light bulb kept chicks warm

Dad built a brooder coop for the babies which had an electric light bulb to keep them warm. It was a swell brooder coop and looked store bought. It had an enclosed wooden room about eight inches high which contained the warming light bulb and was complete with a little glass window so that you could check on the chicks from time to time.

A sliding door opened to an outside wire enclosure so they could come out to eat and drink when the weather warmed. The entire thing was about eight feet long and stood about three feet high on wooden legs. The chicks would stay in the brooder coop until they were big enough to scratch with the big chickens in the yard.

Typical chicken coop (Library of Congress)

chicken coop

Once my dog, Pete, peed on the coop while there was a short in the wire for the light bulb and got the shock of his life, but then that’s a whole other story.

Sometimes had to fool a hen into laying

We also had a chicken house with a roost and wooden nest boxes filled with straw for the layers. Each nesting box had a wooden ladder up to it for the hens easy access. You had to sometimes fool a hen into laying by placing a glass egg or a smooth stone of the right size in her nest. I guess this was suppose to promote her mother instinct and cause her to lay more.

Chickens are kind of dumb. When I was young, it was my job to gather the eggs. Don’t let anybody tell you that chickens are not protective. They will menacingly fluff up their feathers and peck you if you try to take their eggs. Strong eye contact and a air of authority helps. You should see a six year old making strong eye contact and acting bold before a mean old “settin” hen. It adds new meaning to calling a coward a “chicken.”gathering eggs

Garage became commercial chicken house

Once my sister, Helen, and her husband, Henry, lived with us for a time. Henry talked Daddy into letting him convert our garage into a big commercial chicken house with a kerosene heater, etc. Henry planned to capture the Dallas County chicken market.

He bought 1000 bitties which as usual came by train. My nephew, Charlie, and I were to feed and water the chicks after school every day. Big problems! The chickens caught some sort of disease, and all Charlie and I ever did was bury chickens each day after school. We buried 997 of those chickens. Henry raised only three out of the thousand, and they were tough and not good to eat.

There was one short term bonus that came out of Henry’s chicken business. He had purchased a fancy chick heater for the garage/chicken house. This was a big galvanized metal affair which had a central kerosene heater like a drum with eight metal pipes sticking out along the sides in a vertical “U” shape. Then the whole thing was covered with a tepee kind of tin roof which extended almost to the floor and finally a flue pipe was sticking out the top.

It looked like something from Mars

When the chickens all died, Daddy took the tepee roof off and moved it into his and Mom’s bedroom for a heater. The thing looked like something from Mars standing there with those eight arms all glowing red with heat. It also made kind of scary sucking noises. It was something you could have charged admission to see. It really produced the heat but used so much fuel that we couldn’t afford to use it much. Kerosene was expensive—probably 20 cents a gallon then. Luckily it burned itself out soon and developed big holes in those awful looking arms so it was discarded.

Fresh chicken was fast food

I guess this was at the end of an era for America. Without refrigeration there was no way to store meat except to smoke cure or salt it. Fresh chicken from the yard was a regular meal. It was what you would call fast food today.

I once heard that fast food was chasing a chicken for dinner in the yard. All you had to do was catch one, ring its neck, dip it in boiling water to loosen the feathers, pick it, clean it, and fry away. I sure think “Hart’s Fried Chicken” is a great improvement.

I’ll bet the Hart’s folks don’t even look at the chicken catalogue in the spring.

 

 

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About Arthur Art E. Green

Arthur "Art" E. Green grew up at Tyler, AL on US 80 east of Selma. He was born 1937 and now lives in Mobile. His grandfather, John C. Green, served in the Confederate Army in Co. B of the 38th Alabama Infantry.Art is the author of several books, Southerners at War: The 38th Alabama Infantry Volunteers Gracie's Pride: The 43rd Alabama Infantry Volunteers ; Too Little Too Late: Compiled Military Service Records of the 63rd Alabama Infantry CSA with Rosters of Some Companies of the 89th, 94th and 95th Alabama Militia CSA ; Southern Boots and Saddles: The Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry C.S.A., First Regiment Alabama and Florida Cavalry, 1863-1865- the 15th Confederate Cavalry CSA and Mobile Confederates From Shiloh to Spanish Fort: The Story of the 21st Alabama Infantry Volunteers Each contains a abstracted Service Record of each man who served in the regiment.His website is http://www.38thalabama.com

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10 comments

  1. JoAnn Kyzer Doty

    When I was a child, my grandma would have a box of little chicks in the house under a light til they could go outside. They’d be in the room where we slept and we’d look at them first thing in the mornings. Lovely childhood memory of grandmas house.

  2. Dee Shultz

    When I was little my grandmother had a chicken coop that looked a lot like the one above. I was fascinated with the glass egg she put in one of the nests to fool the hen into laying there (she’d think it was her egg). 🙂 Every once in a while gramma would take it in the house and use it to darn socks…. 🙂 🙂

  3. I grew up on my grandparents farm in Conecuh County, AL. We also had a biddie brooder and it was my job to monitor the light bulb heater, and to bury the recently deceased every morning, and there was always a couple.
    When the little chicks were judged old and big enough by my grandma, they were released to fend for themselves among the veterans. And, some did not survive the integration. My job, bury the deceased.
    My pay, room and board, and three eggs to barter when the rolling store came by once each week. I could hear the horn, and would waiit to trade my eggs for a Snickers bar.
    Heaven! Times gone by that my grandkids have trouble believing I do not invent when we talk. Too Bad.

  4. Donald Enfinger

    :).yes brings back memories….

  5. Joyce N Billy Lambert

    I remember the “rolling store”, baby chicks ” Biddy’s” by mail.

  6. Elizabeth Hardee

    Art Green , I’m pretty sure your on this site , hope all is well , by the way I’m Vera Mae Waters , oldest daughter ,

  7. Georgia Brown McKay

    My mama set hens and successfully hatched and raised lots of chickens > She also ordered chickens from Sears & Roebuck and they came to us by regular mail . She would decide she wanted a different kind to add to her flock of chickens ! She also had turkeys ,geese and guinees (sp.) We raised rabbits sometimes !

  8. Love these stories…took me down memory lane with the chickens and the train. I remember racing to the depot in Riverside to see the mail drop and pickup in 1943. Thanks.

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