Orval Grooms still farming at 98
Family roots in farming run deep
Compiled by Carleta Weyrich
One of the fastest growing age groups in farming is the 70 and over group, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics from the last decade. Case in point is Orval Grooms of Adams County, age 98, who cut 50 acres of hay this past summer — three times.
“It’s all I’ve done all of my life,” Grooms said when asked why he was still farming.
Last winter, Orval’s brother, Ivan Grooms of West Union, now age 102, wrote about the family’s history and experience in farming for The People’s Defender publication Reflections of Adams County. The following is the story of three centuries of a way of life like no other, as told by Ivan.
“My history of farming that is recorded goes back to 1777, when my great-great grandfather, Abraham Grooms, came from Gun Powder, Md.,” said Grooms. “He settled at Soldier’s Run in Tiffin Township, Adams County. He found a spring on a hillside where he built a water mill, which he operated for many years.”
Abraham was a large landowner, having bought 506 acres from Robert Rankin and 247 acres from John Killen. He also purchased 320 acres in Tiffin Township in 1810. A miller by trade, he sold many acres to his sons in 1817. Abraham’s son Tiffin also was a large landowner in Adams County, owning around 1,000 acres. He lived and farmed in Beasley Fork all of his life. It was also noted that he was a great musician. His son, John, had 11 children, and many of them were farm owners.
Another son of Tiffin, Leander, (the grandfather of Ivan and Orval) bought what became his family farm on Poplar Ridge Road. He purchased the 162 acres for $770 from two ladies with the surname Thompson. There was a log home on this property. Ivan recalled when the log home was torn down and seeing a team of horses pulling the logs out.
“After the house was torn down, I found a half dime,” he said. “Many Indian darts were also discovered when the land was plowed.”
Afterward, a new home was built by Harry “Doc” Grooms and Allen Trotter. Leander and his son, Wylie (the father of Ivan and Orval), farmed the land together until Wylie’s wife, Bertha, became ill with tuberculosis. Wylie’s first wife, Ida, had died in childbirth. Their son was Harley “Sap” Grooms. He was cared for by his grandmother, Margaret, while Wylie and Bertha took their other two children, Estel and Ocie, to Red Star, Ark. for Bertha’s health. Wylie found work in a sawmill and a grocery store. While there, Ocie became ill and died at the age of two. Four sons were born while they lived in Arkansas — Ivan, Orval, Mac, and Trevis.
Wylie had left the farm in Leander’s care during his absence. However, during that time Leander passed away and another of Leander’s sons was to care for the farm while Wylie was away. After eight years, Wylie, Bertha and the family moved back to their Adams County farm. Ivan recalls riding back on a train. Before the train ride, the boys all got a new pair of shoes. Upon their arrival, they found that the farm had been overgrown from neglect. After they settled back in, a new son, Eugene, was added to the family.
“While growing up in a large family with no modern machinery or money, life was a struggle,” Ivan said. “My parents were unable to support us. This was during the depression of the 1930s. Also, there was a drought which made farming impossible. I was around 20 years old when I and three of my brothers (including Orval) left the farm to search for work. We ended up in Chabney, Illinois on a farm owned by Ira Butler.
“We tilled the land for corn and wheat, and milked cows, for $1/day. After a couple of years, we returned home to help our father on the farm. Farming was very hard labor — we plowed with horses, cut corn by hand, raised tobacco, wheat and chickens.
“The cows were “hand” milked. The milk was kept in milk cans and kept in a cool spring. After we separated the cream and milk, it was taken to the town creamery to be sold.”
In 1936, Ivan married Mable Grooms, and rented the family farm. In 1966, they bought the farm for $10,000. They had three children, and raised cattle, pigs and chickens. The eggs were sold, and the money was a source for the three children’s school clothes. From the beautiful feed sacs that the grain was sold in, the school dresses were made.
There was no inside plumbing or running water. Water was drawn from a well. Wash was done on washboards with homemade lye soap. They cut wood and burned it in a potbellied stove for heat. No electric service was available for many years.
“We depended on Kerosene Lamps,” said Ivan. “When it got dark, we went to bed.”
Butchering day was a big day for the Grooms, and they slaughtered the hogs on their property or at Allen Trotter’s house. From the hogs, they had hams, bacon, and rendered fat for lard.
“To build a fence was a hard job as well,” Ivan said. “I went in the woods and cut the timber, which was typically cedar and locust, and made the posts. My father and I also surveyed farms, and we raised a large vegetable garden for canning.”
Even with all the hard work, there were many happy and enjoyable times. They saw their neighbors and had time to visit. The brothers remained close since Eugene had a farm next to Ivan’s, Mac owned one next to Eugene’s, and the other brothers all lived nearby, Estle being the only one that didn’t farm, as he became a teacher. Parent Teacher Association activities were a joy. There were ice cream socials and pie/cake suppers.
“What a good time we had at the County Fair — the children took their 4-H projects,” Ivan continued. “We also had family picnics, and we always went to church and Sunday School. Since my farmland was joined to the farmland of three of my brothers, we swapped hands helping each other.”
Meanwhile, Orval married Myrtle, and they raised six children. Their farm was near Ivan’s farm and a mile from the farm of their brother Trevis. In addition to growing corn and soybeans, Orval raised tobacco for more than 60 years.
After a few years, life became a little easier for Ivan. He sold his horses and bought a tractor. Electric (REA) became available, bringing lights and a washing machine.
In the midst of his farming, Ivan was called to the ministry while working in a cornfield one day in 1947. He was a pastor for 55 years.
Ivan and Orval also enjoyed music. They, along with their father, grandfather and neighbors all played music for entertainment. Ivan played fiddle, Orval the guitar, their father and grandfather the fiddle. Their brother, Estel, played the trombone in the West Union band. Ivan and Orval still play together for their birthdays, especially performing hymns and Christian songs for their guests.
“I enjoyed farming to it’s fullest extent — even through all the hardships,” Ivan said. “I farmed for many, many years, from the age of 20 to 90 years. I recall climbing up in the barn at age 90 to hang tobacco. Perhaps we couldn’t afford what we would have liked, but we always had food and warm clothing.”
“I always exercised and had good food,” Orval said of his longevity in life, as well as in farming.
Today, Ivan and Orval are the last remaining of the Grooms brothers, and are still independent. Though he now lives in town, Ivan still loves to raise tomatoes, and he enjoys his sunflowers, especially his Dinnerplate, and his Dahlias and Tulips.
About 10 years ago Orval stopped raising row crops and put his cropland down into hay and pasture for his beef cattle. The farm was hit hard by a tornado last year, but that didn’t stop Orval. A neighbor and his son, Russ Grooms, manager of the local IGA, help out on the farm, but Orval keeps working, too.
Even when the cold winds of winter were blowing, Orval said, “I always get the cattle fed.”
(Carleta Weyrich is a staff writer for The People’s Defender in West Union.)