Friday, June 11, 2010

Memories of family farming

Heritage Court to include Carey resident


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Memories of family farming

Jean Pyrah poses at her home in front of one of her handmade quilts. Pyrah mostly quilts for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but this particular quilt will appear as an entry in the Blaine County Fair later this summer. Photo by Willy Cook

Last in a four-part series.

One of Jean Pyrah's earliest memories is of falling off a horse. She was bringing water to her father and other farmers who were in the fields making hay. Suddenly, the water bucket clanged and her horse shied, throwing her to the ground and breaking her arm.

Many of Pyrah's memories of Carey and nearby Fish Creek involve horses, as she's lived in the valley for over 90 years. Born in Arco in 1920, Pyrah lived in Ashton and Fish Creek before moving to Carey. She drove a horse or rode in a wagon to school, as there were no cars in that section of the valley. As a result, she said, "it took two or three days to go to Boise."

Memories such as those are part of the reason Pyrah was nominated for the Blaine County Museum 2010 Heritage Court. The court's coronation ceremony on Sunday, June 13, will honor four women who either participated in or strive to preserve the history of the Wood River Valley.

Pyrah was also nominated for her role in the farming community in Carey. Pyrah's father farmed in Fish Creek, but her real career began in 1938 when she married Allen Pyrah, son of a Carey homesteader. They were married in Salt Lake City on June 2, and shortly after moved to the land on Lava Lane that Pyrah still occupies.

The Pyrahs lived off of their 240-acre farm, only buying staples such as flour and sugar. Pyrah said her farm was so independent that rationing during World War II barely affected them.

"All that would have been affected is gas," she said, "and we weren't going anywhere."

Pyrah sold eggs to local residents and milk to the nearby Kraft factory, supplementing their income from selling grain to the Picabo elevator. At one time, she had 200 laying hens and 15 cows, though the cows were later changed for beef cattle.

The switch was a relief to Pyrah, as raising beef was less labor-intensive.

"I can remember getting up at 3 in the morning to milk the cows," she said, adding that the work interfered with her church duties.

Even though the farm was established in the late 1800s, there wasn't a house on the property at first. Pyrah and her husband lived in a single-wide trailer for a year before moving a three-room schoolhouse onto the property. Still, they didn't have power until nearly 15 years later.

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The Wood River Valley was once filled with profitable small farms like Pyrah's, though all have since folded.

"Farming got really expensive," she said, as huge tractors replaced horses and smaller machinery.

In turn, large, single-crop operations have replaced smaller, self-sufficient family farms that couldn't compete.

Pyrah sold most of her land in 1983, three years after her husband died. She retains the parcel that surrounds the house that she and her husband built in 1952, where she still lives with her youngest son.

Despite the difficulties facing small farms, Pyrah said, one of her sons had hoped to continue the family business. Financial obstacles proved difficult to overcome, and her son had to abandon that dream.

"He's got farming in his blood," she said, "but it just isn't practical."

When smaller farms were in their heyday, the house would fill with workers from neighboring farms who exchanged labor during harvesting and threshing. Pyrah would cook all day, sometimes serving three meals a day to a crew of 20 workers.

Now, she said, she bakes mostly for her great-grandchildren. She baked batch after batch of cookies last weekend for her family, which includes seven children, 25 grandchildren and 60 great-grandchildren.

One of these great-grandchildren just became the fourth generation of Pyrah's family to graduate from Carey High School. Pyrah moved from Fish Creek to Carey in 1935 to attend high school, as Fish Creek only had a one-room schoolhouse.

Her aunt was the postmistress of Carey at the time, and Pyrah lived with her in a single room behind the Carey post office until she graduated in 1938.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is where Pyrah concentrates most of her current activities. She served as church librarian for 15 years, but says she is most active in the Relief Society.

Otherwise, Pyrah spends most of her days cooking and sewing, a routine that includes a weekly lunch at the Carey Senior Center. She was surprised and grateful that the center had nominated her for the Heritage Court.

Farm work is no longer the center of Pyrah's world, but she doesn't regret selling.

"I don't miss a thing about farming!" she said. "I'm so glad I don't have to worry about the crops."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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