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Family Farm Oral History Project

Interview with Willie Ryan

July 3, 1983

Conducted by Ginny Scott

© 1983 Kentucky Oral History Commission

Kentucky Historical Society

Kentucky Oral History Commission

100 W. Broadway ( Frankfort, KY 40601

502-564-1792 ( (fax) 502-564-0475 (

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The following is an unrehearsed taped interview with Willie Ryan, farmer in Kenton County, Kentucky. The interview was conducted by Ginny Scott, for the Family Farm Project for the Kentucky Oral History Commission. The interview was conducted at Mr. Ryan’s farm on July 3, 1983, at 1:00 P.M.

An Interview with Willie Ryan

Scott: Okay, first Mr. Ryan, I’d like to thank you for letting me come and talk with you today, especially on the holiday. But it’s good timing; at least it’s raining, the rest of the farmers I’ve been found, it’s been dry and they’re having trouble. I’d like to start off…you tell me your name, when you were born, parents’ name, this sort of thing; anything you think of from your childhood.

Ryan: Well, my name is Willie Morris Ryan. I was born July 15, 1915, and my mother’s name was Nellie Morris, my father’s Ryan, and my… father’s name was William Ryan.

Scott: Are you Junior?

Ryan: No, he was William and…I’m …

Scott: And you’re Willie?

Ryan: Willie, that’s right…( ) but I could still sign my name as William, just like he did, but he put a mark under the “M”.

Scott: Hmm. Where’d your parents come from? Are they from here?

Ryan: My dad was raised right here on this place. He left here when he was about 16 years old, and he went to Indiana, worked awhile, slipped off from home, and went up there, and he got sick up there, had typhoid fever, and he came back here and stayed awhile, and then he…he got a chance to go to Texas, and he went to Texas. He didn’t like Texas, and he seen in a radio—in a railroad station, where they said “Go west, young man.” So he went to Oregon, and worked in a logging camp there, and later on went up into Washington state, and there he met my mother.

Scott: Hmm.

Ryan: He worked up there, took up claims up there, back in the mountains of Washington state.

Scott: And brought her back here then?

Ryan: Brought her back here. He was twenty years older than she was.

Scott: Twenty years older?

Ryan: Yeah, I’ve got the first letter that she wrote him.

Scott: Huh. And they came back here on the farm, then?

Ryan: They came back here on, well, where the reservoir of Wolfe Creek Dam is now, down on what we call Westfork of Indian Creek; it’s all covered up with water now. And then he bought this place, where I live, after his mother died. He bought this place…about 260 acres, and he bought it for $350, in 1900.

Scott: For $350?

Ryan: In 1900.

Scott: Oh my goodness! Seems impossible.

Ryan: Sure does.

Scott: What part of the county is this in? What part of Clinton County is it in?

Ryan: Well, we’re in northern section, well, really not completely on the northern, but I guess you’d call it northern section of the county.

Scott: Now you grew up here on the farm then?

Ryan: I grew up down on Indian Creek, until the Wolfcreek Dam was built, and the water run us out, then I moved out here, and…my mother—my dad died whenever I was about 9 years old. My mother married again, and then he died whenever I was 20 or 21 years old, and I had to run this farm and the one down there on the creek.

Scott: But you lived on the creek.

Ryan: Lived on the creek, but run them both.

Scott: When did that fill up?

Ryan: Well, about ‘48 or ‘49, somewhere along in there, I think.

Scott: I think I remember dad working on the dam, down there, and I was just small. How big was the farm down there?

Ryan: It was 450 acres. Now there’s a lot of woods into it, but there’s a lot of bottomland there too.

Scott: And the government bought it?

Ryan: Government bought it, yeah.

Scott: Do you remember for how much?

Ryan: Twenty-two thousand five hundred and fifty dollars.

Scott: They took it.

Ryan: Well…twenty-five or thirty years ago that was pretty fair price.

Scott: Oh was it?

Ryan: Nobody wanted land in the place that was in at that time…no roads in there…no good roads in there.

Scott: And a lot of timber.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: Would they cut the timber off?

Ryan: No….

Scott: Before it filled up… or just?

Ryan: No, they took every bit of it. Of course, they cut where the water line, where the water went, it was all cut off. But the hill land is still there, and…timber’s still on it, they took it all.

Scott: Huh.

Ryan: We hoped, we was glad they did take it all, we’d hate to have just a little left, back down there. But some of the land…farms, they didn’t take all of it, left them some hill land.

Scott: Just left part of it, and they still own that property.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: So you moved up here in what?

Ryan: I believe ‘46.

Scott: 1946?

Ryan: I moved a couple of years before the dam. My mother wanted to move out here, and she was getting old, and she wanted to live out here, and she had to go to the doctor a lot, and it’s easier to get to the doctor from here than from down there.

Scott: Now how far are you from Albany Hill?

Ryan: Six miles.

Scott: Just six miles. Okay, so you moved here in ’46. When did you…when did you marry?

Ryan: I married in ’42—January 3, 1942.

Scott: So then you had a wife. And what’s her name?

Ryan: Evelyn, Evelyn Thomas. She was a Thomas.

Scott: Is she from here?

Ryan: Yeah, she’s from here.

Scott: And how big was this farm when you moved in?

Ryan: Supposed to be 260 acres, but there’s only about 70 acres, rest of it is woodlands, 70 acres of cropland.

Scott: Do you have any big timber? Do you, have you sold any….

Ryan: Yeah, there’s some timber on it, not real big, no it’s…it’s got quite a bit of timber on it.

Scott: Have you sold any off?

Ryan: I sold some about, oh, 32 or 33 years ago, I sold some.

Scott: What kind was it?

Ryan: Oak. It’s growed back now, and is as big as it was whenever I sold it.

Scott: So you’ve got good money still standing in that timber.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: Will have.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: Well, twenty years ago, say when you moved here in ’46, how many acres did you tend? How many did you cultivate?

Ryan: Well, I have cleared so much, since that time. I cleared about an acre a year, for about five or six years…land that had been grown up. This land, this farm had been rented and people let it grow up, and I cleared, I guess 10 or 12 acres since I’ve built here. Well, I tended…of course a tobacco crop, about an acre of tobacco, and oh, six…five or six acres of corn, and the rest of it’s hay and pasture.

Scott: And that was in ‘46?

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: How much do you have now? How much to you tend now?

Ryan: Well, I only tend about 6 acres of corn, and I have about an acre of tobacco, and the rest of it’s in hay and pasture.

Scott: Well, growing…how’d you raise the crops in ’46? Just tell me about….

Ryan: Well, I done it with a team, I turned the ground and worked it down with the team, and planted it with a team, and cultivated it with a team. Didn’t have no tractor until about 19….oh, I guess, ’48, or ’49.

Scott: Did you raise crops to sell, or did you….

Ryan: No, I just fed most of it.

Scott: What’d you raise, dairy cattle then?

Ryan: No, I, well I first started out with a few dairy cows and we milked and skimmed milk, and sold the cream, for a number of years.

Scott: There was a market here for the cream?

Ryan: Yes, a market for the cream here at that time. Then we went from that end to the dairy cattle. We had Holsteins, we kept them for, until about eight years ago, and we milked and sold milk, until maybe 10 years ago.

Scott: How many did you have? How many cows did you have?

Ryan: Now?

Scott: No then.

Ryan: I milked about 18.

Scott: That’s a lot of dairy cattle.

Ryan: Well, quite a few. We milked a number of years by hand, then we got milkers, of course, and, we quit the hand milking. I couldn’t milk them now by hand that way.

Scott: [Laugh.] Who could?

Ryan: Nobody, I don’t guess.

Scott: Well, the mechanization, the electricity mechanization farm machinery and everything has really made a difference in farming….

Ryan: Whoa, it’s just all-together different…took the hard work out of it.

Scott: Well, how much more can you raise now? How much more land can you tend now than you could, say, 30 or 40 years ago?

Ryan: Well, I could tend five times as much. Seem like, though, that you don’t have as much time to…to prepare land as we used to have, because seems to me like we did then all right without tractors, but, it sure is a lot faster.

Scott: What about expense wise?

Ryan: Well, of course, this a lot more expensive…tractors and equipment is more expensive than farming with a team. Of course you had your team to feed, and a lot of times, you’d feed half your crop out, you made at that time to the team.

Scott: [Laugh]. Well what about the…has the sale of your stuff, say the sale of your cattle and tobacco and everything, that more than covers the….supplies and costs?

Ryan: Oh yeah…yeah that’s right.

Scott: How much did you get for your tobacco, say in ’46. How much per pound?

Ryan: About 35 to 40 cents a pound.

Scott: And that was all handwork, wasn’t it?

Ryan: It was all handwork, that’s right.

Scott: You set it out, pegged it?

Ryan: Yeah, pegged it out. There wasn’t no such thing as tobacco setters, and we’d have to find a season, and prepare our ground, and then wait for a rain, and a lot of times there’d be grass growing when you set the tobacco out. You had a lot of hoe work to do in there.

Scott: And now?

Ryan: Now you fix the ground of the morning, and set your tobacco that afternoon.

Scott: And it has to be dry.

Ryan: Has to be dry.

Scott: How do you prepare your beds? How did you prepare your bed compared to how you prepare them now?

Ryan: At that time, of course, we burnt beds. We sterilized by burning. Now, of course, right now, why they gas, this methyl bromide gas, and kills all the insects and diseases, and germination of all the seed.

Scott: Then sow it. How much does it cost to prepare a bed, to get it ready?

Ryan: I guess I really don’t know what the plastic, you have to use plastic on it. I guess it costs fifty dollars to get the gas and the canvas—I mean the plastic to go over the bed right now, and it don’t include your seed and your covering, which is canvas, and fertilize.

Scott: Well, you got 35 cents in 1946, what did you get last year? What payment?

Ryan: I believe we got a dollar eighty-something, eighty-two, I think.

Scott: That’s quite a rise then.

Ryan: Sure is.

Scott: But you also have your fuel, and….machinery….

Ryan: Oh yeah, everything’s a lot higher, of course and we have electric bills to pay now, and taxes are high, is higher, and fertilizer bills are higher, and labor, if you hire any it’s, it’s triple I guess.

Scott: Do you hire, do you have to hire labor?

Ryan: Yeah, when I have to hire labor to get my hay in. I rent my tobacco out, now, rent it to a fellow and he helps me in my hay too, and I hire him, he’s more help too getting hay in.

Scott: How much do they charge you, a day, by the hour?

Ryan: Well, we hire them by the hour. All I have given this year has been two dollars and a half an hour.

Scott: Hmm. It’s well worth that to….

Ryan: It’s worth it, yeah. You can’t afford to ask people to work for less than that.

Scott: Well, it’s also easier to get people I guess this year, isn’t it?

Ryan: It’s a little easier than it has been. I’ve seen the time when you couldn’t find nobody.

Scott: Now people are more or less looking for jobs.

Ryan: That’s right.

Scott: How long does it take you to get that tobacco in, Mr. Ryan?

Ryan: Well, it’ll take about a little over a day to cut it, and a day or day and a half to get it in.

Scott: How many pounds do you have?

Ryan: I have fourteen hundred and twenty-eight, no, seventy-eight pounds.

Scott: Well, that’s a pretty good cash crop.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s a pretty good cash crop, but I’ve not got a big base, like some of them has.

Scott: Well, how do you get the base?

Ryan: Well, it would depend on what you had growed in the past, and on the poundage, I haven’t made the pounds on acreage that some people have made, and in a way I didn’t get as much poundage.

Scott: So that’s how they decide who gets….

Ryan: That’s how they decide it.

Scott: You don’t have dairy cattle any more then?

Ryan: No, no I’ve got beef cattle.

Scott: How many head of beef cattle do you run?

Ryan: Right now, I’ve got twenty-three cows, and a bull, and then I’ve got, I think about 18 or 20 calves with them.

Scott: How long does it take, do you top those calves out, or….

Ryan: No, I sell them at a feeder calf sale anywhere from 600-800 pounds.

Scott: How long is that? How old are they?

Ryan: Well, I try to get them about eight months old, I guess.

Scott: Do you make a good profit? Is there profit in those?

Ryan: Yeah, really I’ve made more money, clear money, off of beef cattle than I do off of dairy.

Scott: So, you don’t sell hay or corn anymore?

Ryan: Well, sometimes I have too much. I don’t sell very much, but sometimes if I have too much, I’ll sell more than what I can use.

Scott: Do you bale your hay or roll it?

Ryan: Yeah, I bale it—square bales.

Scott: What do you think about the rolls?

Ryan: I don’t know; it’s…of course they’re a labor-saving thing, and they’re a little more trouble to feed, but I think they’re more trouble to feed because you have to haul rolls out to the cattle in the winter time, and cold. A lot of times these old tractors won’t start in cold weather. You can’t get your hay hauled out in the field, the hay feed out in the field all together with them. Waste a lot, too, and besides there’s a lot of it that rots on them rolls.

Scott: Well, I guess a lady told me last week about a conditioner that you buy.

Ryan: Yeah, that….

Scott: Has that helped any, or do you know anything about that?

Ryan: Well, it….it’s just kinda like a roller on a washing machine. It mashes the stems and the juice runs out and it dries a lot quicker.

Scott: Oh, so they dry it, and then they’re not so apt to rot in there.

Ryan: No, and then you can bale it so much quicker, you see—a day quicker. So it means a whole lot sometimes a whole field of hay, if you can get it baled a day sooner.

Scott: Well in ’46, when you started farming here, how did you take care of your hay then?

Ryan: We hauled in loose, and stacked it. Stacked it, and threw all you could in the barn, and didn’t have enough barn room, why you had to have the tobacco barn for your tobacco. We’d stack it and then haul in a stack whenever we needed it.

Scott: If you needed it…

Ryan: At the barn.

Scott: Just stack it up on a pole in there.

Ryan: That’s right. Stack it up where the cattle couldn’t get to it.

Scott: What about the corn? Did you cut corn for the cattle?

Ryan: I have cut a little corn since I’ve been here. I cut…two years, I guess, and it’s… that’s a lot of work, corn cutting.

Scott: How’d you handle that? How….

Ryan: Well, we pulled it off after getting the shock, and then tie the fodder up in bundles, and hauled it out to the cattle. Bundles, tied up in bundles where you could handle it.

Scott: So they’d eat that for feed. And now you have it, I guess you have it picked, now?

Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, have it picked.

Scott: And just leave the stalks in the field.

Ryan: Yeah, turn the cows in after I get picked. Let them pick up what loose corn might be left in the field, and they eat the stalks, some of them.

Scott: Then you just turn the stalks back under.

Ryan: Yeah, turned them back under, yeah, that’s organic.

Scott: It’s good for the land.

Ryan: It’s good for the land, yeah. I’ve got the same field in I’ve had in this is twenty-five years—no twenty-four years.

Scott: Same corn field, same field in corn? Hmm. So you must be doing something right on your field.

Ryan: Well, if you can grow quite a bit of corn to the acre, you’ve got a lot of stalks to go back on it, and keep the structure of the soil built up. Keeps it from getting hard.

Scott: What else do you put on that field? Fertilizer and what else?

Ryan: Yeah, I put fertilizer, mostly according to soil tests.

Scott: Who tests the soil?

Ryan: Well, I get the samples, and take them to the county agent. He sends them to the experimental station for testing.

Scott: Is the county agent a big help to the farmers, here?

Ryan: Yeah he is. He’s a lot of help to the farmers. A lot of people won’t ask him about things, but he can really help you a lot about things.

Scott: And they’re willing to…he’s willing to help you with anything.

Ryan: You might have something wrong with a crop, and call him and he’ll come look at it, and if he don’t know, he’ll get somebody that does know.

Scott: Hmm. So that’s a big help.

Ryan: That’s right.

Scott: Well, how much machinery do you own?

Ryan: Well, I got a couple of tractors, and…small tractors, and I’ve got…oh, several pieces of machinery for them, like a baler, and rake, and mowing machines, and plows, and stuff like that.

Scott: A few thousand dollars in it?

Ryan: Yes, and maybe more [laughing].

Scott: Well, farming has changed a lot.

Ryan: Oh yeah, it’s all together, all together different.

Scott: …in thirty years. I suppose you grew your own food then.

Ryan: Yeah, we have our own beef and our own pork. We never buy beef; I don’t guess we’ve bought any beef in eight or ten years. And occasionally we’ll buy a little sausage or bacon, something like that if we need pork, but most of the time we have our own.

Scott: Never have to buy country hams?

Ryan: No, we never have.

Scott: [Laughs]. And gardens, you raised….

Ryan: Yeah, we have all kinds of garden stuff, more than we can use.

Scott: And you can it?

Ryan: Yeah, and freeze it.

Scott: So you save a lot on your food bill.

Ryan: Yes, we sure do.

Scott: Well, the….

Ryan: Biggest thing we buy is milk.

Scott: Oh, you buy your milk?

Ryan: Buy our milk, that’s the biggest thing.

Scott: You don’t have any…any cows anymore?

Ryan: No, I don’t have cows anymore, I just…whenever I quit, I quit.

Scott: [Laughs] Quit all together, huh?

Ryan: Yeah. Well, you got a cow, you got to, if you want to go somewhere you got to get somebody to milk her, and you….I had that for sixteen to eighteen years milking, so I decided I’d quit. I just quit.

Scott: It just not worth it, is it?

Ryan: No, you get tied down.

Scott: Yeah, just for the milk you get.

Ryan: That’s right.

Scott: Now, I forgot what I was going to ask you…. You all still grow your own garden, you did thirty years ago, and you still grow it now, your own food?

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: Your cash crop is cattle and tobacco. Those are your big cash crops.

Ryan: That’s right.

Scott: You don’t sell any vegetables, or anything?

Ryan: No, occasionally she’ll sell just a little to speak of, just very little.

Scott: Of course, you have your own poultry, I noticed too out there.

Ryan: Yeah, we have…them and sometimes she buys chickens, something like that, but other than that, that’s about all we buy, in the way of meat.

Scott: Well, did you live better, or did it seem to be easier twenty years ago than it is today?

Ryan: So much younger…the work didn’t bother you as bad, and you always wanted something to do, you know, all the time. Of course we have all we can do now, but, twenty years ago, you had to be awful saving with every penny you made, you had to be really careful with it.

Scott: Have you always worked on the farm, you never worked outside?

Ryan: No, I’ve done other work, but just part-time. I’ve done some carpenter work and I used to do a little electrical work, house wiring, things like that, but I’ve dropped all that now.

Scott: But you were farming all the time also?

Ryan: Farming all the time, that’s just on the side.

Scott: Has your wife worked out, or has she….

Ryan: Yeah, she worked at the hospital for two or three years, and then she worked down at Grider Hill dock for about 13 years.

Scott: Oh, so she worked out and took care of the garden too.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s right.

Scott: …so to speak. Well that was a help wasn’t it?

Ryan: Oh it sure was.

Scott: …outside income coming in. If you hadn’t have had that, would it have been a lot harder?

Ryan: Oh yeah, yeah…hard to make ends meet without a little income.

Scott: What about now? If young people starting out buying a farm, say me, could I, of course I’m not young, but could I go out and buy 300 acres, buy the machinery, and cattle, mortgage it, could I do it?

Ryan: I don’t see how you could. I just don’t see how you could.

Scott: Could I even pay the interest on it?

Ryan: I don’t believe you could…because a farmer is going to have good years and bad years. You’re going to have bad years some years, and that’s when really we—I just don’t a farmer can ever get started, unless he inherits quite a bit of it.

Scott: Well, the young…how many children do you have?

Ryan: Just the one.

Scott: One, and what does he do?

Ryan: He’s a teacher at Wayne County High School, and coaching too.

Scott: Will he ever come back and run the farm?

Ryan: Well, I hope that he’ll come back; I don’t know whether he’ll run the farm or not, but this farm has been in the Ryan family for…150 years.

Scott: Oh!

Ryan: And I hope it stays that way.

Scott: Stays that way, I’d say so.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: One hundred and fifty years.

Ryan: One hundred and fifty years…my grandfather…I think…took it up, or maybe part of it, a hundred and fifty years ago. My dad’s been dead a number of years. Born in 1864, so he died at sixty, so he’s been dead a long time.

Scott: And his father owned this farm then?

Ryan: Yes, he owned it before.

Scott: Did he have slaves here, or do you know?

Ryan: Not that I know of, but my grandmother had a brother that was in the Civil War, and I think he fought with the Union Army.

Scott: With the Union Army. Well, Kentucky was kind of split.

Ryan: Yeah, they was.

Scott: …half and half on that.

Ryan: That’s right.

Scott: Well, some people in Clinton County had slaves, a few, very few.

Ryan: I guess so, I really didn’t know.

Scott: I thought maybe with this farm being here that long, and that size, maybe they had had some.

Ryan: My grandfather farmed, different. Now he had a big orchard here.

Scott: Hmm.

Ryan: The old farm nearly was an orchard, and he made apple brandy. That’s how he made his living.

Scott: Sold apple brandy?

Ryan: Sold apple brandy.

Scott: Hmm.

Ryan: And the old furnace, you can still see the old furnace down here in the hollow below the spring where he had his still.

Scott: Run the brandy off. Did he ever make vinegar, I wonder?

Ryan: I guess they did.

Scott: And sold vinegar.

Ryan: He had an awful good orchard, one of the best they said in this section of the state.

Scott: None of that’s left here.

Ryan: No, this…I don’t think there’s a tree left. There’s one pear tree down there now.

Scott: Hmm.

Ryan: I cut an old pear tree over here a few years ago that was over a hundred years old, of course, it wasn’t any good. I counted up the years of growth on it, and it was over a hundred years old.

Scott: Oh my goodness, and that was one of his….

Ryan: Yes, it was.

Scott: …. or a branch of one of his.

Ryan: Sugar pear.

Scott: Well, people don’t have orchards like that….

Ryan: No.

Scott: They don’t farm anymore even, do they?

Ryan: No they don’t. But I’ll tell you there’s more diseases now and more insects, and things, you have to do a lot of spraying, in order to raise….

Scott: To raise your own fruit.

Ryan: That’s right. We have a few trees; have had some awful good crops, but really not much for a few years. We’ve had trees that have died out, and got old.

Scott: Not anything that you could make a living on?

Ryan: No, I don’t think you could. If you was to go into it big, why you might, but it’d be…. I know they do in places over in Russell County, you know they got a lot of orchards over in there.

Scott: And that’s their main business.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: Of course, I’m not sure that land could be farmed anyway.

Ryan: No, it’s too hillside.

Scott: …too hilly and everything. What about the politicians in the county, Mr. Ryan? Have the elected officials done anything to help small farmers?

Ryan: Well, not that I really know of. I don’t think they have any connections, much. They have a few times helped farmers on roads, and stuff that maybe they need, but outside of that, I don’t think they….

Scott: That’s about all the local can do, isn’t it?

Ryan: That’s about all they can do, yeah.

Scott: What about the state politicians? Has there been anything done to help the farmers, in the last, say, ten, fifteen years?

Ryan: Not that I can recall. Now of course we have the…we got a lot of roads built under two governors, and outside of that we’d been on gravel roads, dirt roads yet, I guess.

Scott: [Laughs] Who were those governors?

Ryan: Well, Governor Happy Chandler helped this part of the state, considerably. He blacktopped a lot of roads, and then, this Fifth District, in here, you know, always goes Republican, has ever since the Civil War. All except Wayne County goes Democratic, the last year or two, but anyway when Louis Nunn was governor, he blacktopped all these little roads out through here. That really helped.

Scott: Helped out, helped a lot.

Ryan: Helped us. He didn’t do that all over the state, I understand, but this Fifth District, you know, it’s what Lexington.

Scott: He’s kind of partial to them, wasn’t he?

Ryan: That’s right.

Scott: What about national? Have there been any decisions made nationally that has helped the farmers?

Ryan: Oh yes, years ago, whenever Roosevelt was elected, the first time, I remember that. He was…he really helped the farmers out.

Scott: What did he do that helped?

Ryan: Well, you couldn’t sell your corn. It wasn’t worth anything, and your hogs was so cheap. He paid you not to grow any corn; he paid you not to raise any hogs, and paid for what hogs you had raised, and the price just jumped up. Helped the farmer out a lot. Don’t know how he’d made it without it.

Scott: Kept them from sinking, really.

Ryan: That’s right.

Scott: Well, do you grow hogs now?

Ryan: No, I quit a few years ago; it’s a great big job. Hogs has so many diseases, it’s, they’re really hard to raise.

Scott: Is there good money in them, though?

Ryan: There has been, up till now. Of course, all I raised was feeder pigs, but right now these feeder pigs don’t look too good. A lot of them say they’re going out.

Scott: Well, what about this soil bank?

Ryan: There’s a lot of them that’s signed up on it, signed their corn base up, and not putting out any corn. I don’t know…what affect it’s going to have. I’m thinking it’s going to be whole lot of affect this year, because a lot of these corn counties down in western Kentucky hasn’t got no corn out, because of so much rain, and then, a lot of them soil banked and putting out half their crop, I think it will put corn up. And if it does, it’s going to hurt the people that’s raising hogs, because hogs is not that high.

Scott: It’s going to jump sky high, isn’t it?

Ryan: That’s right. They’ll finally get scarce.

Scott: Well, would it help you any?

Ryan: No, not necessarily, because I just about feed all my corn out.

Scott: So, it’s just the people that raise that big corn crop to sell.

Ryan: That’s right…grain farming.

Scott: Well, the primary source of your income, is that tobacco or cattle, which one?�Ryan: Cattle. Cattle’s, yeah, three times as much as tobacco does.

Scott: And how often do you sell those feeder calves?

Ryan: Well, I sell some in the fall, September, and then, really the best time I’ve ever sold any was in February, and I’d been feeding some people some beefs. I have some regular customers that we sell some along in November, first of December.

Scott: And you sell those privately?

Ryan: Sell them privately. I feed them out for them, and they take them then. There’s a feeder calf sale in April, and I sold some in April this year. Some in February too.

Scott: Well, how much profit do you make, on say…on an average of one calf.

Ryan: That’s hard to say. That’s just hard to say. I’d say I make 300 or 400 dollars on calves. Three hundred dollars I’d say, because if I keep them up to 600 pounds, why, they’ll bring four something.

Scott: So that’s good money.

Ryan: That, to me it is.

Scott: Well, what’s going to happen then to all these little farms?

Ryan: Well, I don’t know. That’s hard to say. The, all these little farmers are not trying, not taking care of their land. They could make a lot more on it if they would. A lot of people, I know some farms, that they never expect anything off of it but tobacco. And they’re just letting the rest of the farm go, and grow up where they could had some cattle in there and raise their tobacco too. But they just let them go, and depend on that tobacco. It’s helped farmers and it’s hurt some of them too.

Scott: [Tape interruption.] So growing, raising cattle, serves a two-fold purpose, doesn’t it, for small farmers, if they raise them.

Ryan: Keeps your farm cleaned up, and income too.

Scott: Well, if you didn’t have yours, it would take a lot of time to keep it as clean as it is, wouldn’t it?

Ryan: Oh yeah, you can’t…constant mowing all the time.

Scott: Constantly. Well, when you were young, living on a farm, what did you do for recreation, when you were, say, sixteen or seventeen?

Ryan: Why we was all the time going somewhere—walking, riding horseback, go for miles. Biggest place was going to church somewhere. That’s all the gatherings there was. We lived so farm from town; we never went to town very often. We lived about fifteen miles from town. We’d go to churches, revivals; it was just someplace to go.

Scott: What about the schools? Did they have…you know social…

Ryan: I enjoyed going to school.

Scott: Where did you go to school?

Ryan: I went to Westport of Indian Creek.

Scott: One room school?�Ryan: One room school, yeah.

Scott: Were there a lot of social-type functions at the school?

Ryan: No, no, not very much.

Scott: Didn’t have box suppers?

Ryan: Oh, we’d have box suppers, that was a big day. Make up a little money, and buy volleyball, or something like that, you know, but it didn’t make up much. You’d make up six or eight dollars; well that was a lot. Girls would fix the boxes and take them; they’d bring 15 or 20 cents.

Scott: [Laughs]. And all that money went back into the school?

Ryan: All of it went back into the school to buy playground equipment.

Scott: Well, for recreation now…is it still the churches?

Ryan: No, no, I’m ashamed to say it’s not churches. You can’t get people to go to church anymore, and they…it’s fishing, or hunting, right around here, and different fairs, and stuff like that. They just, they don’t go to church. People went to church then because they wanted somewhere to go, where they’re together. But now they go do the other things.

Scott: So it didn’t have that much to do with religion?

Ryan: No, it wasn’t religion. They didn’t go on religion part of it. They just wanted to have somewhere to go.

Scott: For social….

Ryan: That’s right.

Scott: Well now, this going fishing, hunting, this type of thing, is this the only generation, or is this your generation too?

Ryan: It’s…it’s mixed. There’s not too many at my age that fishes, but the more younger ones does. Fewer ones go fishing.

Scott: Young people here, do young people have a tendency to stay here, or do they….

Ryan: No, no I don’t. We at one time had I guess twenty young people in Sunday School, in one Sunday School class, and they’re all gone now.

Scott: Why is that?

Ryan: They can make more money somewhere else.

Scott: So they don’t want to settle down and farm?

Ryan: They don’t want to settle down and farm, they’re not going to do it. There’s not enough in it for them.

Scott: Well, when you retire, what will happen to your farm?

Ryan: I don’t know.

Scott: Like every small farmer.

Ryan: Yeah, a small farmer. Oh, I’ll just rent out, I guess, I’ll have to.

Scott: But no young person can buy one?

Ryan: I don’t see how they can, as high as this land is, and then that’s just half the expense. Then get the equipment, and you’ve got to have livestock on it. You’ve got all that stuff to buy. Unless he’s worked somewhere and make a lot of money and can go back into, and buy it, and be out of debt when he buys it, I don’t see how he can do it.

Scott: How much of this farmland an acre about?

Ryan: Well, it ought to bring 400 dollars an acre, I’d say, woodland and all.

Scott: So that’s a big mortgage for someone.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: Big mortgage. They closed the county schools, they closed the little schools, but you said there wasn’t that much that…social stuff….

Ryan: I may be wrong, I am about a lot of things, but I believe that’s one of the mistakes that the state did.

Scott: Why?

Ryan: They tell me they had so much troubles, in the grade schools when they all get together. There’s too many things…people know the good ones learn too many things from the bad ones.

Scott: And you didn’t have that in the little schools?

Ryan: No, we didn’t have that in the little schools. Maybe there’d be one rotten egg in the bunch, but we didn’t get too much trouble ( ).

Scott: Teacher was able to handle that.

Ryan: Able to handle it.

Scott: The role of parents has changed too, hasn’t it?

Ryan: Oh yeah, they don’t want their children corrected now, and back then, if you got a whipping at school, you got another when you come home.

Scott: {Laughs]. That was you, and your son too, I imagine.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s right.

Scott: But that doesn’t happen anymore….

Ryan: They wouldn’t tell it, if you got one at school, you’d be afraid to tell it, because you we’re afraid we’d get one when we got home too.

Scott: [Laughs].

Ryan: But now, if a teacher touches a child now, why, liable to get sued.

Scott: You don’t think they learn as much then?

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: Don’t learn as much as they did then.

Ryan: I don’t know. Of course we only went to school, we started in school went six or seven months. We’d go six months one year and next year seven months. We’d start in July, lot of times, and be out Christmas.

Scott: In time to help strip tobacco.

Ryan: Yeah, lot of times. We’d strip tobacco, and get wood in…things for the winter. And lot of them had to be pulled out to help with the fall workdays, when you really should have been going to school. And the teachers just taught, they taught the eight hours. They didn’t take no time off when like school was ending, they wouldn’t be having school half a day, or everything. Even the last day was until four o’clock, and then that was the last day of school.

Scott: If you got a Friday afternoon off for a ballgame, you really felt good, didn’t you?

Ryan: Oh yeah. We had big excitement then.

Scott: [Laughs]. And you said your son’s a teacher…and coaches.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: Is he in high school?

Ryan: Yeah, he teaches in high school. He’s a biology teacher and coaches girls’ basketball and boys’ baseball games.

Scott: How large was the school you attended here, do you remember?

Ryan: About well…about thirty enrollment.

Scott: In all grades?

Ryan: Yeah, in all grades.

Scott: And the consolidated school here has how many?

Ryan: Oh, I couldn’t tell you.

Scott: Hundreds.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: It’s a bad situation all around. I know you said this is about two hundred and sixty-five acres?

Ryan: Two hundred and sixty-one acres is what it says. I don’t whether there’s that much of it or not, but that’s what it says.

Scott: That’s a big farm for someone to take and come in and take over and run.

Ryan: Yeah, well of course you just forget about the woodland, because you don’t do anything to it, but the other keeps you pretty busy.

Scott: And the cattle?

Ryan: Yeah, the cattle too.

Scott: Well, I can’t think of anything else. I think I’ve touched on everything, unless there’s something you’d like to add, Mr. Ryan.

Ryan: I can’t think of anything more that would be of any interest.

Scott: Well, it sure has been interesting, and I certainly appreciate it.

Ryan: Glad to do it.

Scott: It’s been a big help for me.


©Kentucky Oral History Commission Kentucky Historical Society


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