Friday, March 27, 2015

Sepia Saturday: She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features a tractor. Generations of my family walked behind plows and drove wagons pulled by oxen and horses. But after the turn of the century, most of my ancestors left the farm for careers in carpentry or with the railroad. My husband’s family, on the other hand, continued to farm, some of them even today.   

As a young married couple just starting out in 1938, my in-laws Ervin and Helen worked for large farm owners.  

Ervin Mathias early 1940s
Ervin Mathias on some heavy-duty tractor

For a time they lived in an old farmhouse on the Gardner farm in Bridgewater, Virginia.

Farmhouse Bridgewater, Virginia mid-1940s
Farmhouse Bridgewater, Virginia
where Ervin and Helen lived

Later Ervin and Helen worked on the Wampler farm in Weyers Cave, Virginia. While Ervin managed the cattle, Helen assisted Mrs. Wampler with meals, care of the Wampler children, and household chores. 

Farming 1940s Rockingham County, VA
What is the cart being pulled by the tractor?
It appears to be separating the grain.

Mrs. Wampler and Helen Mathias with their children
Right: Helen (just 16)  with baby Donald
Left:  Mrs. Wampler, daughter, and son

Farmhouse Weyers Cave, Virginia mid-1940s
Farmhouse in Weyers Cave, Virginia

From there they moved to Timberville and rented from the Ryans, a family that became life-long friends of the entire Mathias family.  The Ryans are orchard farmers, growing both peaches and apples.  

Virginia Ryan and Nancy, Helen Mathias and Linda
Left: Virginia Ryan and Nancy
Right:  Helen Mathias and Linda

Eventually Ervin and Helen saved enough money to buy some land from the Will family along Little North Mountain Road in Timberville. Ervin’s skills in carpentry were put to the test in 1946 as he built the house that 8 children called home until they each moved out and established their own families.   

Mathias house Timberville, VA
Mathias homeplace
1940s craftsman style

Ervin became a carpenter full-time and a farmer part-time. A few dairy cows supplied the family while beef cattle were raised and sold for added income. Ervin also built a chicken house for Helen who became a reluctant chicken farmer. 

Free range chickens 1940s
Free range chickens 1940s
(not sure which farm this was
but these are not Helen's chickens)

In her later years, Helen said she hated taking care of chickens. Ervin had wanted to give her a source of income, a little independence, as well as “something to do.” However, Helen never wanted chickens. They had 8 children; she already had plenty to do. 

Perspective is a funny thing. 

Mathias Farm 1983 Timberville, VA
Helen's chicken house in 1983

Barry and Brenda about 1952
The Twins Barry and Brenda
about 1952

If you think this tractor is sexy, wait ‘til you see the others at Sepia Saturday.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Helen must have had her hands full with eight children and chickens. I really enjoyed all your photos and the family story.
    One of my jobs around the farm was to help with the chickens, which I loved. I also enjoyed apple and pear harvest time. I have some wonderful memories of sitting in an old barn (the apple shed) packing up the apples to be sent off to market. There was always lots of outside help when it was fruit picking time, itinerant workers, who travelled from farm to farm. Fruit packing was accompanied with singing and tall tales! Magic to the ears and eyes of a young child.

  2. Nice reading about Ervin and Helen. Eight children would have been quite a handful and kept Helen busy throughout the day!

  3. It is interesting reading about a farming family. I especially like the pictures of the Craftsman house and toy tractor.

  4. Cute photo of the twins and the toy tractor!

  5. My grandmother ran the farm household on the farm in Canada and it was, as we all know, endless backbreaking work...she had 4 children who lived, 3 who died in childhood. How anybody could manage 8 children and a farm home is beyond me. I don't suppose they ever had time on their hands. Erv's house building project looks excellent. The picture of the twins on the toy tractor is a real coup!!!

  6. Interesting as usual!

    Mathias' home place has so much character.

    I feel that one of my brick-wall ancestors had an association with Virginia. He was from "USA" but his daughters are named Virginia and Charlotte. One day I will get over there to have a look around :)

  7. Great farm photos here - I'm envious! And your in-laws obviously grew children as well as apples, peaches and chickens.

  8. You were lucky to have so many early photographs of your family's farming life. I had to smile at the story about Helen advised to look after chickens "to have something to do" when she had 8 children. The twins looked happy on their miniature tractor and reminded me of my granddaughter who from an early age loved seeing tractors on our country roads and shouting out their colour.

  9. Fantastic photos and great history. Helen needing something to do when she had eight children...people do sometimes have funny ideas about child-rearing.

  10. Tractors are very much a universal theme for all countries. And there's not many of us who don't have a farming ancestor if we go back a generation or two. Perhaps I'm thinking of Australia with that thought.

  11. Oh that last photo reminded me that my oldest 2 sons had a kids riding tractor like that...which turned over easily so I bet they stopped making them.

  12. My ancestors were farmers too, however the closest I ever get to my roots is turning the earth in my wife's garden. I do enjoy reading about farm life, and I believe your mystery cart behind the tractor is a Potato Digger. Might also work for turnips or beets too.
    And the twins are indeed very cute.

  13. Poor Helen. What is it with men who want to give their wives something to do when they already have their hands full with children? I wouldn't want to have chickens, either, and I think, had I been Helen, we might have had a chicken dinner once a week (except I would have had to find someone to do the dirty work).

  14. When WWII was over & my uncle was out of the Navy, he & my aunt decided to start a chicken ranch in mid-Calif. I don't remember how long they remained chicken ranchers, but as it turned out, neither of them was very gung-ho about chickens so it wasn't all that long before they sold the ranch & moved to Wisconsin to be near her family and my uncle went to work as a long-haul truck driver.

  15. The photo of the tractors in tandem is fascinating. There seems to a bunch of people standing directly in the way. Maybe it was a posed photo with the tractors not moving at the time.

  16. Those are some hefty spikes on the wheels of Ervin's tractor, My Dad had a vintage tractor which ran on iron (?) rims but they were smooth. Ervin's must have been for use on ground which might have been soft? My grandmother kept chickens and had her own egg business - her contribution to the family income besides all the other "jobs" she and Helen no doubt had.

  17. Welcome back to the A to Z challenge! Don't forget to put your badge up before April starts! Have fun! :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Epics from A to Z
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...

  18. With eight children, I can see why Helen would be a "reluctant chicken farmer."

    Oh, who am I kidding...I'd be a reluctant chicken farmer, even if I didn't have any children!

  19. These old farming pictures remind me so much of my great-grandmother. She always said that growing up on a farm was invaluable to her and is one of the best things parents can do for their children - they learn responsibility, independence, common sense, and the value of hard work and a loving home.

    Heidi Sutton @ Ag Source Magazine