This writer and amateur historian was brought up on a very unique Fairfield Farm. Sure, everybody thinks that their experiences are very special, but the Farm I grew up with was much more diverse than you can typically imagine. Yes we grew vegetables for market but we had to do much more than that to earn our yearly living. The following is just a brief look into the Fall and Winter months on the ‘Pollio Farm’ ( 170 Fairfield Road ).
Many late planted crops are obviously hardy and can thrive beyond the first frosts. Parsley, Parsley Root, Escarole, Cabbage, Leeks, Beets and Curley Endive to name a few ( leafy greens and root vegetables are made sweeter by a light frost, so the later you harvest, the better the flavor).
Parsley-Root had to be hand dug with a digging fork ( not fun )
But there’s other things to do in October, and the seasonal workers have already returned home to their Families in Puerto Rico. Huge wooden crates arrive from Holland with the specific bulbs we ordered for the following Easter. Tulips, Hyacinths, and Daffodils all needing to be planted in their pots for excavation in late winter. I say ‘excavation’ because these often need to be dug out with a pickaxe from the frozen ground ( not fun ). From there they go into the Greenhouses where skill and experience controls their blooming on time. This is often more difficult than you can imagine. For example, one year Mother Nature was so consistently sunny and hot everything bloomed two weeks too early. All the proven techniques to slow the bloom could not prevent this disastrous outcome. It was like the 100 year flood in reverse.
Very late in October we also went into Central Pennsylvania to buy our Christmas Trees from Plantations high on the Appalachian mountain slopes that were too steep for corn cultivation. In the 1960’s the Scots Pine ( Scotch Pine ) from Pennsylvania was very popular. The Balsam Fir was the traditional tree that was typically harvested in Maine and Canada. Beautiful Douglas Firs were making their debut back then but were very expensive. You could also buy a Spruce Tree to save a dollar, but then your house would smell like a kitty litter box for three weeks or so.
We would buy the trees from the Planter for about a dollar each, then harvest them, take them down off the mountain, load flat bed trailers, transport to Fairfield 175 miles away, and sell many wholesale. Our partner was Warren Potter a heavy equipment Contractor with two high volume retail tree lots in Livingston. Together we marketed about 2,000 trees per season.
Most Christmas Trees need to be sheared into shape every summer.
The Austrian Pine pictured on the right is a good example of the natural tree shape.
One year we approached a Planter who had a 50 acre Farm with 12,000 trees. These trees were at various stages of maturity. A Scots Pine grows to 7’ in about 7 years. He was hard pressed for cash and offered us the entire Tree Farm with house and barn for $12,000 ! The trees alone were worth that amount. The 50 acre Farm was essentially ‘free’. My Uncle Pasquale ( Pat ) and Partner Warren were flabbergasted. They hustled home and both secured the needed cash. We were now in the Christmas Tree Plantation business. Our wholesale business quadrupled with prices our competition couldn’t touch.
Every tree looks perfect on the farm, and the fresh mountaintop air with the heavy pine fragrance was intoxicating. Our Friend and Partner Warren had all French Canadian heavy equipment operators who worked very hard with little supervision ( Roger, Leo, Buzz, and Gus ). Tell them the desired result and they made it happen. Give them an unrealistic desired result, and they would still make it happen ! They were incredible, and their thick French accents and rowdy after- hour behaviors were constant entertainment for my younger Brother ( Tom ) and I. Without them, I doubt we could have met the challenges of a remote tree plantation.
Another Christmas Tree Plantation Story :
I once thought I was the best 15 year old tractor operator east of the Mississippi. After loading about 100 trees onto a large 4 wheeled trailer on the mountaintop, I had to drive the tractor and trailer straight down the steepest 3⁄4 mile grade you can possibly imagine. The Farmhouse and barn looked like the tiny house and hotel pieces from the Monopoly board game. They weren’t far away, they were way far down. It was no big deal normally: low low gear and brakes usually worked fine. But it started to rain and the mostly clay roadway instantly turned into a slippery grease slide. The wagon weight was pushing the tractor down the mountain at about 20 MPH with no way to slow it down. It seemed like I was picking up speed every second and I was never more terrified in my life. It was like those old movies when someone cuts the brake lines of 007’s car going downhill through the Alps! Somehow, someway, I managed to keep the tractor and trailer upright on the roadway and rode it out. I think Jesus saved me because of what the Dominican Nuns did to me in eight years at Caldwell’s St. Aloysius School :- ) :- ) Lord, no matter how or why, I am still grateful for this small miracle and humbling experience.
We loaded the trees on flatbed trailers by throwing them up by hand ( not fun, the higher the load, the longer the needed throw ) and maximized the height for the long drive home. Actually we loaded them a little too high one time and brought home a collection of telephone and power lines from the Pennsylvania back roads ! I guess a few folks lived like the Amish for a few days after that load went by.
Trees were a big part of the Christmas business, but we also hand made about 150 grave blankets and wreaths every year. Uncle Pat was the creative master of the grave blankets and it took a couple of seasons of apprenticeship for brother Tom and I to make them to his high standards. But selling trees retail at our Route 46 Roadstand was our primary duty. As youngsters, we earned good tips tying trees to the tops of cars and closing car trunks with sisal twine.
Wreaths were made by crimping balsam greens onto a metal frame. Later pre-made wreaths were bought from Canada in bales.
We had a large sign “Scotch Pines - Any Tree $4.95”. This price was about $2.00 - $ 3.00 below Suler’s Roadstand who was then our primary competitor. They had nice trees too, but not so nice prices. Fairfield Home and Garden opened later in 1967 and soon got into the Christmas business in a big way.
About 6:00 pm Christmas Eve the sales season was done. Everything not sold would soon be destroyed. The only people still shopping for trees etc. were bargain hunters and procrastinators. So Uncle Pat told Tom and I ‘anything you sell – the money is yours’. What an incentive. Anyone who arrived left with a car full of Trees, wreaths, roping, etc. We were super salesmen, we kept lowering the prices until they said ‘yes’. We made a small fortune, and Uncle Pat knew it was all going into our savings accounts.
So the tulips are growing underground and the Christmas trees already flew in Pennsylvania , so what else is there for Farmers to do this time of year? Snow Plowing.
Virtually every Farmer has some sort of plow, grader blade, or ‘bucket loader’ to clear snow from their yard and roadways. We were no different and had a plow on our best tractor that was also fitted with heavy chains. For traction ballast we had the large rear tires filled with a concentrated calcium chloride/water solution. It was great for plowing snow but the driver was totally unprotected from the elements. ( Tom and I learned this ‘man vs. nature’ thing at a very young age ).
As the industrial section grew around us, the need for parking lot snow plowing grew quickly. It wasn’t long before we had about 15 good accounts on Spielman Road, Gloria Lane, Kulick Road and Plog Road. A second tractor with a grader blade was added, but we eventually bought a large refrigerated truck from Bordens Dairy and fitted it with a new plow. Now at least we had one plow with a heated cab.
Uncle Pat went to every Fairfield Township equipment auction, and bought trucks for very little cash. These trucks were not pretty, but they ran well and all had snow plows. We actually had ‘spare’ snow plow trucks. This was important because something always breaks in the middle of the night and there’s no time for repairs. Especially when fifteen Clients expect to see their lots cleared by 7:00 am.
I’m providing all this detail because reliability and your reputation is crucial in this business. Every time someone local bought a 4 wheel drive pickup truck with plow, they called on our industrial accounts and low balled our rates by about $ 5 per snow. With our 15 + years of dependability we only lost one account this way. Solbern Co. on Kulick Road.
By now we’re in 1978 and one of the greatest N.J. hurricane blizzards dumps 36” of snow on Fairfield in two days ( Feb 5 and 6 ). The State shut down completely and all vehicles were ordered off the roads. Even our big refrigerated truck with tons of ballast and full chains could only make a single pass through any lot. But Uncle Pat had an ace up his sleeve like no one else. He called his Friend Warren Potter who sent a huge CAT 944 earth mover down from his yard in Roxbury N.J.
This is what was needed to remove the 36” of snow in 1978. Our Accounts were the only ones plowed out the next morning. The ‘low ballers’ were nowhere to be found and not answering their phones.
The big CAT, piloted by one of those Canadians, ‘roughed out’ our lots and we cleaned up any remaining residue. The roads were still virtually impassable, but our parking lots were perfectly clear. At 7:00 am that morning we were having coffee and the phone rings. Guess who ? It’s Bernie Eisenberg from Solbern the guy who was saving $ 5 per snow. Sorry Bernie – no can do.
Soon our farm laborers from Puerto Rico would be calling for us to ‘air mail’ them plane tickets to Newark. This signals the end of winter on the farm.
SNOW WAY !
Once a local Contractor acquaintance of ours stopped by during a snowfall and asked us if he could plow out one of our Kulick Road accounts for free. How crazy is that ? We reluctantly agreed, as he assured us it was for a good reason. Later that day we saw the results of the ‘good reason’. Evidently his customer across the street was refusing to pay for previous snow plowing services. So he used all the snow from our clients lot to totally block the driveway of his non- paying client across the way. Ouch. I think we would have refused him if we knew his motive ahead of time. But it’s still funny in a way. Try that today and see what happens.
Dedicated to ‘Uncle Pat’ Pollio..............Paul Pollio November 29, 2018