alan skeoch
Sept. 6 , 2020

OUR farm house  was built around 1870 or 1880.   The owner at the time had very little money…he had to cut corners as we discovered
in the renovation a century later.   The design was  common … available plans in Eaton’s catalogue. Mom, grandma and their dog Punch
on front lawn.

We inherited the farm in 1958.  Condition? Not so good.   We could barely afford to look after our 
city house.

Our family around  1958 when we inherited the Freeman farm.  We were not wealthy so owning property like the farm
was a  novel and frightening thing.  Only later, around 1990 could Marjorie and I afford to renovate…and even then it
took the shock of the robbery to force us into action.   Picture: left to right…Eric, Elsie (Freeman) Skeoch, Alan, Arnold (Red) Skeoch
We laughed a lot…in this case someone broke wind  Just as  I set the camera  for a delayed picture.

Months after the farm robbery we had to give  serious thought to the farm future. 
Should we keep the farm  or  put it up for sale like was happening to so many
other historic farms.  The debate was just awful.

THE choice?  Sell everything  or pour a lot of money into restoration of the farm house.
Depressing thoughts.   The loss of so much. Family treasures gone.    The usual ‘poor me’
comments by persons who have been robbed.   grieving that deep
sense of loss when someone you love is gone.  Anger.  Feeling violated.  All
that and more.  For the first few hours. 

 Then the clouds of doubt cleared away.

Granddad  made small wheelbarrows for us.  Note the sad dog house in the  background.  Fancy living on a farm?  Not so much.

Then I thought of Evan Cruickshank who had such a powerful influence on my life.
“Crooky” had been our history teacher at Humberside.  A man of deep intellect.
And later he hired both Eric and me as  history teachers at Parkdale Collegiate in
west central Toronto.  I got to know him really well as did Marjorie.  Respect and
friendship.   “Crusher” Cruickshank had many words of  wisdom which he shared
Never heavy handed sharing.  Never patronizing.  

Our robbery was hurting.  At its worst when I suddenly remembered “Crooky’s”
comment regarding material things in life.  “Alan, never let yourself be hostage
to fortune.”  Said another way.  “Never let things own you.  If you do you will
have an unhappy life.”                                                                               

We were grieving the loss  of the furniture and everything else in the house.  What we
should have been thinking about was the house itself and the future direction we would take.   

NOTE:  The term hostage to fortune means that wealth, family, possessions can hold
us hostage.  Crooky added ‘Never be’ to ‘hostage to fortune’ which I believe meant
to never let the material things in life hold you hostage.  Do not worship your wonderful car, 
for instance.

I am not sure this  point if clear.  We decided to put our money into a dream rather
than  save it for who knows what .   Maybe that is  not even clear.  We took action.
That is  clear.

Many many Ontario farm houses that were built far better than ours have been destroyed.  


“Let’s do it…restore the farm house.”
“That means a total gutting  of the interior.”
“Give the job to Kevin and Andy…strip back to the bricks.”
“The boys will enjoy it…demolition and teen agers go hand  in hand.”

1)  So  Andrew and Kevin using crowbars, sledges,  hammers and a wheelbarrow
began stripping away the plaster which was already in decay…then the lathe  
some of which was even ancient split lathe.  Wheelbarrow  loads were dumped

2) Beneath the plaster they discovered that our brick farm house was really
not a brick house at all.  Underneath was a barn frame…heavy hand hewn beams
pegged together as was the custom in 1870.  This was not a house at all.  Had
we depended on the bricks to hold the ouse up then there would  be no house.
The bricks were soft as a baby’s bum.  They had been shaped and  fired less
than  a mile away near #5 sidereal.  Weak.  I wondered why other brick  farm houses
had  collapsed  and  ours did not.  Now  I knew. Ours was  a barn.

3) But  The big beams had not been  made here.  No group of men with broad axes
had  spent a year or more preparing white pine beams.  No.  Our farm house
was made from beams  collected here and there across the township in 1870 or so.
How did  we know?   Because many beams had burn marks.  The beams had
been gathered from older burned out buildings…barns, drivesheds.   

4) Nothing special about the beams.  The great floor beams were only rough
hewn on one side…sometimes two sides.  The other sides still had the bark.
This house was not an example of fine art carpentry.  

5) The board  floors had been worn to nubs by hundreds of feet over the century.
The nubs were the knots.  Harder than the planks and therefore when worn and 
stamped on left a wavy floor that I always found charming.  But it had to go and
so the boys got crowbars to lift the ancient slabs.  Too bad.  Loved  the old floor.

6) They made one amazing discovery.  Hard to believe I  know.  The centre of
the house was held up by one long carved beam.  Crucial piece to which  all
the other beams were attached directly or indirectly.  “Guess  what, Dad?”
“What?” “The main beam hangs in the air.”   The main beam never touched
the ground.  It was free standing.  How that happened we will never know.  had
we not stripped the walls that fact would remain a little secret.  How the roof
held up for 130 years or more I will never understand.   

Ricky the  Raccoon was a pet of ours until he  reached puberty when all things changed.  While young Ricky would scamper up our
shoulders to sit on our heads.  Here he is being gently removed by David S.

Did Ricky the Racoon sneak back and  take up residence behind the plaster and lathe of the farm house?  Not likely.  We let him
go in a farm field  far away.  But raccoons are smart.

7) That was  only one discovery.  There were others.  Like finding a nest
of raccoons in the upper bedroom wall.  They had  made the house a home
for years it seems.  And then there were the red squirrels who can chew there
way into any house.  Mice, of course.  A plentiful supply that the garter snakes
must have found convenient food.  A bunch of snakes lived in the field stone
foundation.  They may still be there since the foundation was  never changed only

8) The basement floor was dirt.  Hard packed dirt.  Three rooms down there, each
with a function but all with dirt footing.  In spring this cellar was wet…pooled water
often.  But the walls held.  One room had big dirt floored stalls…one for coal, one for potatoes,
carrots, etc.   The other room Grandma called “the Dairy’ where she kept food in
the cool dark.  Slabs of beef hung here which was why I liked to slather our meals
with Worcester Sauce.   I never trusted the Dairy.  No good reason.  Grandma and
Grandpa Freeman lived here deep in their 90’s.  The other big cellar room
had an old  but huge cook stove with a pipe hole exit carved into the foundation.  This was
grandma’s ‘summer kitchen’ but was never in use when we were growing up. There
was a rickety staircase and  a trap door that gave access to the main house.
Granddad  had  his carpenters tools there as well.   As a kid  I stole one of his
chisels and got caught.  I ran and  hid  in the tall summer grasses and golden rod
on that day.  Humiliated because  I was caught.   I still have the chisel somewhere.
Granddad gave it to me.  He was a master craftsman.

9) Kevin and Andrew also had to clean out the attic…a long unfinished room
that ran eastwards from the upstairs bedrooms where the raccoons lived.
That attic was  a wonderful treasure trove.  For most of  my pre teen years I explored this
room endlessly.  For years it was full of spinning wheels,  walking wheels and  all
the wool processing things of the 19th century and other treasures that were to me
a mystery.  I remember when most of that stuff suddenly was gone. “OH, Elsie (my 
mother), a wonderful man came by and paid  us money for the things in the attic.”
“How much?” “Ten dollars”  Bastard.

10)  The scavenger missed a 1920’s “skin” book called  Smokehouse.  Lots of rather
off colour jokes and some suggestive drawings of stockings with legs in them … at least 
as I remember.  And, oh yes, the explosive novel “Tobacco Road” by Erskine Caldwell.
At tale of poverty and prejudice in the American  south.  That book  would even be
scandalous in today’s liberal world.  It was  falling apart as  it had been read  and  re read
and  re read again by me.

11) So the house was stripped bare…a shell. No, a  folderol i.e. A barn within a brick house.
Now we had to find a builder.  By good fortune we noticed a truck  while getting ice cream cones
in Erin.  WAYNE SHANNON, BUILDER    No beating around the bush we hired him to renovate
and reconstruct the farm house.   He  had some great ideas.  Open concept.

12) And  he said  a couple of things I had  not counted upon  “Where do you want the bathroom?”
My response  was “What  bathroom?”…because we had a perfect backhouse I had  built.  Marjorie
chimed  in and so we got two bathrooms.  His next question was about the trap door to the
cellar.  “Of course we will close that trap door and put a stairway to the cellar.” “What? I love that
trap door.”  Then everyone chimed in so  we got a stairway.  And  another question I had not
counted upon was the furnace.  “What furnace? Isn’t the old wood stove good enough?” That 
thought was also put to rest when Wayne found us a good electric  furnace.* (Note..furnace
will be subject of  major story later…a story so  big that my picture replaced the Sunshine Girl
on the Toronto Sun.  No  vanity involved…just a very bitter fight with Hydro One)

13) Wayne and his worker crew spent the whole winter changing the farm house. What a
terrific job they did.   The house became a home.  We have entertained there so much
since.  Grand  dinners.   Wayne did not stop with the house.  “Alan, you need a barn.”
On this, I agreed so  Wayne built us a barn with a cement floor.  These were good times.


I really must thank the robber that stripped the farm house of furniture and who knows what else.
Without him we would have never taken such drastic action   Good things do often emerge from
what seems bad at first.

Renovating the farm house has enriched our lives.  Lots of friends have joined us.  In this case the Christophersons.  They
seem to have pillaged the garden.  Brenda’s father was a  crop duster in Manitoba with a plane much like the one that
tried ti kill Cary Grant.  

alan skeoch
Sept. 6, 2020

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