Born in 1916, Ol’ Dan has been around long enough to see farm life evolve from the days when most farmers in these parts relied on horses to get things done, to the high-powered machines of this day and age.
Dan Murphy grew up and farmed in the area around Radisson, Saskatchewan, and while his hearing may be going and his eye sight has all but left him, his memories of those bygone days are as strong as ever.
“We drove a team of twelve horses on the farm,” he told us recently. “That team could pull a three-furrow plough and a harrow. My dad was a good man with a horse.”
Talk to any farmer, old or young, and two topics of discussion will always come up: the weather and the crops. Ask former farmer Dan Murphy about those subjects and he won’t be short of answers.
“1935 was a dry year,” he told us, “but there was lots of snow in 1936. It was dry and hot in 1937, with no crop at all. There were good crops, though, in 1932 and 1942.
In a matter-of-fact manner, without any trace of bitterness, Ol’ Dan remembers a lot of years as being “pretty short on cash” but that the family always managed somehow to get by. “We milked as many as 18 cows at one time, and often sold a can of cream a day to the creamery. That kept us going.”
Life on the farm for Dan, though, wasn’t always horses and buggies and dust and snow. There was sports. For instance, Dan remembers playing a lot of baseball when he was younger. He was a catcher, he says, and that the “team bought him a glove.”
As the years went by, Dan and his farm family replaced their horse-drawn tools with more modern equipment. He remembers their first tractor as being a 1938 Case with “rubber tires” and that their first self-propelled combine came along in 1952.
Also, Dan says, he owned a number of pick up trucks over the years, mostly Fords, and that his first car was a Model-T.
He also recalls a time when a fellow could get on the train in Radisson at 10 in the morning, go to the big city of Saskatoon, and be back home by 5 o’clock.
Marriage wasn’t in the picture for Dan. He told us he didn’t ever “have enough money to marry.”
Still, a number of folks in the Radisson area remember Ol’ Dan, and say that he did enjoy a glass or two of beer now and again. His picture is on the wall of Elvera’s Lounge in the Radisson Hotel, where he is listed as being their “oldest customer” and where most customers can still point out Dan’s favourite seat.
We’re told that noted U.S figure Daniel Webster once wrote: “Let us not forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labour of man. When tillage begins, other arts will follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization.
If that is so, then guys such as Ol’ Dan help us hang on to our civilized selves. Thank you, Dan Murphy, and every other farmer, for keeping us as civilized as possible.