By Len Chapel
Special to The Dagger
In early 1958, I was living in Bel Air and completing the sixth-grade, and with but a few months remaining, we moved to the upper end of Harford County where I ended up finishing the school year at Jarrettsville Elementary.
While living in Bel Air, I had been involved in Scouting, both Cub Scouts (Pack 313) and Boy Scouts (Troop 777), albeit the latter was for only a short time due to my having just reached the legal age of membership. Upon moving to Harford Creamery Road, I switched Scouting Troops from the troop sponsored by Bel Air Methodist to the troop sponsored by Bethel Presbyterian located in Madonna. For whatever reason, I felt out-of-place with this Troop, and after having spent many of my summers on my grandparent’s farm, the most logical group for me to join was the 4-H.
The local club in the area in which I lived was the Black Horse 4-H Club, and after attending a meeting or two, I joined their ranks. I can now look back on it as one of the ‘better’ things I did during my adolescent years.
The group’s leader was Ben Markline, and he had a farm on Madonna Road just north of the (then existing) Fire Tower. We met at his house, but we also met at the homes of the various other Club Members. Meetings consisted of staying up to date with our individual projects and taking care of Club business…which was always followed by a snack and a drink. As a rule, one quickly learns that (most) farm women are excellent cooks and bakers, etc., also.
Having received my first calf when I was 6-years-old, it seemed quite natural for me to chose cattle as my main project. It is to be noted that I also raised rabbits…New Zealand (white) and Dutch (multi-colored)…as a secondary project. While my grandparents’ cattle herd consisted mostly of Holsteins and Guernseys, I, however, chose to raise and ‘show’ the Ayrshire breed. With the assistance of an acquaintance at church, I ended up going to the Masonic Homes Farm in Elizabethtown, PA, and purchasing a couple Purebred heifer calves. My grandfather ended up buying a few others—two heifers and one bull. The cost was $60.00 each, and at that time it was a lot of money to pay for calves about four-weeks old.
Mr. Bobby Busbice was a Harford County Extension Agent, and one of his duties was to oversee the 4-H members’ projects. He came to the farm on a regular basis to check on the animals and to see that my record books were being properly maintained. He was a great man, but sadly, he passed away in 2005. Two others who were also instrumental to the operation of the 4-H Organization within the county were Julia Lockhart and Reginald “Reg” Traband.
In 1959, Black Horse 4-H Club outright nailed it at the County Fair at the Harford Mall…well, in 1959 it was the Bel Air Race Track and not a collage of stores, condos and enough macadam in the parking lots to pave a road from Bel Air to Baltimore. Anyway, July of each year, the County Fair was held, and the show rings were a hot-bed of activity.
We kept our livestock in the horse stables that were located well behind what is the current-day Mall, and when an animal’s ‘Class’ was called, we led them to the show ring where they were shown and judged. In ’59, I believe Steve Jones had a Guernsey that took Grand Champion, Steve Piper had a Brown Swiss that took Grand Champion, one of the Smith boys (we had a few of them) had a Holstein that took Grand Champion and I had an Ayrshire that took Grand Champion. Collectively, we were all members of the Black Horse 4-H Club. It should be noted that that only left the Jersey breed (in the milk cow divisions) to be won.
Not to be ignored, the lady’s Black Horse 4-H club won more than their share of the ribbons that year. And before you ask..yes, the sexes were in different groups.
Each summer, sometime in mid to late July, Rocks 4-H Camp was one of the highlights of the year. 4-H members would converge on the campground for a five-night stay. We campers were divided into four groups, each group named after an Indian Tribe, and the tribes (Mohawks, Deer Creeks, Susquehannas (Susquees), Cherokees) would compete in various events all week, such as softball, swimming or “challenges” offered up at the nightly campfire where the “O-Chief” reigned supreme. Note: There were/are two weeks of camping — one for the older members and one for the younger members.
I have many, many memories of the camp, one of which was taking a black snake, which had been captured in the showers of the boy’s dormitory, and tossing it into the girl’s dormitory. Yes, I tossed it in…and Wanda Cornwell carried it back out. The girl was afraid of nothing.
Seeing I played the trumpet, I brought a bugle to camp each year which I used to play ‘Reveille’ each morning and ‘Taps’ each night. On one occasion, after playing Reveille, I came back into the dormitory only to find my bunk mattress gone. It seems a few guys took it outside and ran it up the flag pole.
Vespers were held nightly after dinner, but before the campfire. Ministers/Pastors of various faiths were the invited speakers. The setting was ideal…far back in the woods perched high on a hill along the east side of the Deer Creek. The locale was very conducive to its intended purpose.
The week’s activities culminated with Friday night’s dance which was held in the dining hall. Many cases of ‘puppy love’ occurred during the week, yours truly experiencing one or two over my years of attending, and this was the last evening together.
In my opinion, one of the two premier families involved with the 4-H in Harford County was the Harkins family. I first met them while they lived in Fallston. They later moved to the Whiteford area. Edgar and Margaret Markline (Ben’s sister) Harkins had several children: Betsy, Kathy, Janet, Edgar Jr., George, Charles and Richard. All the children, as well as their children have passed thru the ranks of 4-H membership, with some still heavily involved in one manner or another. FYI, Betsy marred Tom Galbraith, son of the gentleman who taught ‘shooting’ to the campers. Yes, gun safety and shooting were a small part of camp life back in the day, however I can’t speak for today.
The other premier family was the Smith clan from the Black Horse area of the county. The patriarch of the family, Ross Smith, had a group of children, and all but two earned their living by working the land. Clifford, Harold (Hap), Charles (Shot) and Ross, Jr. all had farms within a stone’s throw of the old Black Horse Tavern. Kenneth (Ken) became a barber, the one son who chose a profession outside of farming. And the girls; one sister, Helen, married Leonard Piper, another sister, Dorothy (Dixie) married C. Edwin (Bunk) Grimmel, and Thelma married Carroll Davis who worked by Harry T. Campbell’s. Each of these family members had children who were involved in 4-H. So, should it be it cattle, canning, etc., the Smith family has laid claim to more Blue Ribbons at the County Fair than they can probably count. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now doing the same.
I developed many friendships, beginning in 1958, that remain intact to this day. And like me, these friends can each recall the meetings, the projects they worked on, and 4-H Camp — the nightly campfire, the tribes, the ice-cold water in the swimming pool, the Friday night dance and the sound of someone jumping up and yelling, “O-CHIEF” as another challenge was offered up.
If you or a child is interested in 4-H, they can be contacted at the Extension Office in Forest Hill or by calling(410) 638-3255. Take it from me; you will never regret the experience of becoming a member.
4-H Pledge: I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.
4-H Motto: To Make the Best Better.