'The best life you can live is on a farm,' Ellicott City's Frank Heber says

April 06, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

Frank C. Heber, 83, remembers a lot about horses, wagons and Model T Fords.

That's why the life-long Ellicott City resident and former farmer doesn't share his grandson's enthusiasm for old machines.

Still, he has let him park a 1952 Cessna airplane, a 1901 Oldsmobile, and a Model T on his lawn. His grandson, Mark Huddleston, 39, likes to tinker with the old engines. Mr. Heber wants no part of them.

"More people went to hell cranking those Model Ts and getting broken arms than anything Henry Ford ever made," said Mr. Heber, who remembers the blisters on his hands from cranking his father's Model T truck in cold weather.

Mr. Heber grew up on a nearby 62-acre farm now known as the Glen Mar housing development. The house where he was born and where he lived still stands. It is the neighborhood's oldest residence.

"Sixty-five to seventy years ago, when I was growing up, Howard County seemed to be like one big farm where people raised grain, cattle and sheep," he said. "Now, it's turning into one big development."

Remembering those old days, Mr. Heber said his three sisters -- two of whom still live in Ellicott City -- and two brothers worked "seven days a week" doing farm chores.

"We were pulling weeds ever since we could walk," said Mr. Heber, the youngest of six.

They also walked 2 1/2 miles each way along dirt roads to Pfeiffer's Corner School, a two-room schoolhouse for grades one through seven.

"I went to school four and a half days a week because I had to come home on Fridays to take care of the stock, milk the cows and feed the animals," said Mr. Heber. "My father had a butter and egg route on Fridays that went from Catonsville to Irvington, and we would have to do the [farm] work.

"During the summer, we would haul stuff to the wholesale houses in Baltimore. We would take orchard apples and tomatoes down to Canton. Hucksters would then buy from the wholesale houses and go out and sell produce."

Those loads often went by wagon, the horses plodding along the cobblestone paths between Ellicott City and Baltimore.

Because of the stones, the horses' shoes wore out quickly and the animals needed regular visits to the blacksmith shop on Saturday mornings.

"In those days, blacksmiths were on every corner, just like today's gas stations," Mr. Heber said.

Then there was the St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church -- located at Waterloo and Old Montgomery roads -- which Mr. Heber said his father helped build; wagon trips to a Simpsonville mill that ground wheat into flour; an area called Jonestown -- located at routs 103 and 108 -- "named after a black man who lived in the area in a log house."

In 1932, Mr. Heber married Thelma Deavers, a Virginia farm girl. He stayed on his family's farm for five more years until he built the home where they have resided for 55 years.

Around that time, he left farming and started repairing roads for the county.

"In 1940, my father died and my mother sold her house and property for $5,600. Another farm in the area, consisting of 465 acres, brought $37,000 in 1937 or '38. That same property was worth a couple of million before it was developed," Mr. Heber said. "Everything happened too soon before we could make money by selling the farm."

He admitted that after 27 years of "hard work" on the farm, he was ready to leave it for a new way of life. Ultimately, he became a barrel inspector for Calvert Distillery in Baltimore County, but never forgot the lessons he learned from farming, lessons he passed on to his three children.

Through the years he has raised steer, cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens and now tends a small garden in the evenings.

"It was too much work," said Mr. Heber. "Now I do my grass cutting, and I always raise some extra vegetables for the kids in a garden that's under a quarter of an acre. It keeps getting harder."

But hard work is something he is used to. He spends his retirement "messing around," breeding rabbits, growing vegetables, taking care of his two dogs and remembering his days as a young boy.

"The best life you can live is on a farm," he said.

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