End Of The Line For A Breed Of Legendary Witlessness

State's Remaining Turkey Farm Closes

December 26, 1990|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

It's true. Turkeys are dumb as people say.

Just listen to Bill Schramm, whose family can find no workers to help run the last turkey farm in the state after 47 years.

"They're always trying to commit suicide one way or another," he said Christmas Eve, as longtime customers filed into the Pasadena farm to pick up the last of their fresh birds.

It's not just that turkeys stare open-mouthed into the rain until they drown.

No, they're more willful than that -- they'll run en masse to their deaths.

"It's the same thing with airplanes," said Bill's mother, Evelyn Schramm. "They hide in a corner and get on top of one another and smother one another. Yeah, they are dumb."

Turkeys are dumb even when they show some initiative.

"They're curious," Bill said. "I go in there to catch them to kill them, and they keep coming no matter how many I take out. They never figure it out until the last couple are left. Then they're hard to catch."

Several hundred thousand turkeys have provided a good life for three generations of Schramms, who have worked the 213-acre family farm off Mountain Road since 1909.

Since Bill's grandfather, Peter Schramm, began producing about 1,000 toms and hens in 1944, the farm has grown, with a peak production of 12,000 turkeys in some years.

But nobody is left to continue the business, which passed to Peter's son, Louis, then to Evelyn, 85, her children Bill, 63, Louis, 65, Emma, 62, and their cousin, Evelyn J. Schramm, 45.

The Schramms have put so much of their lives into raising turkeys, mother Evelyn said, that none of them has spent a night away from the farm, other than when Bill was confined to a hospital.

Turkey connoisseurs have also stayed loyal to Schramm's for generations.

One Baltimore man who was among the family's first customers 47 years ago placed his order last week, said Evelyn Schramm.

"I still don't see why everybody makes a fuss over us going out of business," Bill said. "There are hundreds of people that go out of business every year and they don't make a fuss out of them."

Pasadena resident Bob Gaither, who's been buying Schramm's turkeys for more than 20 years, understands all the fuss, and his father before him would have understood.

"He was the one who told me they have the best turkeys in Anne Arundel County," Gaither said.

Schramm's hens sell for $1.45 per pound, toms for $1.30 -- about twice the grocery store price for frozen turkeys.

But talk of comparison shopping raises Bill and Emma's anger.

"Anybody who complains about the price of food around here gets it with both barrels," Bill said.

It makes more sense, Emma said, to compare the price of food with customers' rising incomes and soaring land values -- not to mention the cost of running the farm.

She laments that all the hard work pays off only for the next generation, which inherits all the benefits, and then has to share them with tax collectors.

"A farmer is poor all his life and dies rich," she said, "and then the government taxes him."

Over the years, the Schramms have built a mini-museum for turkeys, with everything from plaster turkeys marching up the sidewalk to turkey-shaped salt-and-pepper shakers.

A detailed photo journal illustrates the life and death of a turkey, following a chick hatching from its egg to a full-grown bird hanging upside down, its proud tail fanned above its head, which dangles over a blood bucket.

A sign behind the counter reads: "Tons and tons and tons of feed and gallons and gallons of water and a lot of TLC."

While each new year has hatched thousands of turkeys and happy customers, there is no new generation of Schramms to take over operation of the farm.

Evelyn's only grandchildren live in New York, and she said they have no interest in turkeys.

Nobody else seems interested either, she said.

"It's 365 days a year," Evelyn said. "We can't get no help at all. Can you find kids to work at $5 an hour and stay? We had a whole stack of applications but no one wanted to stay more than a week. The sun was too hot and the fields were too big.

"All they want to do is sit around and eat ice cream and cake, is the way they act."

After New Year's Day, the Schramms will slaughter the last of their turkeys, freezing enough of them to supply more than a dozen local restaurants through 1991.

But the Schramms will continue working their farm and running their roadside fruit, vegetable and honey stand on Mountain Road -- in between the strip malls and town house developments that have sprung up around them.

Bill said he will miss "all the hard work" with the turkeys, but he has no plans to retire.

"Florida ain't got nothing I want," he said.

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