Introduction

Discover Beautiful Camano tells stories of the people and places that make Camano the beautiful island it is: her farmers and their farms, entrepreneurs and their stores, gardeners and their gardens, artists and their studios, pastors and their churches. I write to learn her history, to celebrate her people, and, personally, to trace my family’s steps in the place we have lived and loved since 1947. I started by interviewing Dad and Mom, listening deeply to their story. My storytelling starts with my grandfather, Doc Dodgson’s farm.

Sea Crest Farm

In 1947, Thomas “Doc” Dodgson and his wife Sayre moved onto a thirty-three acre farm on Camano Island.

Doc needed a place for the thoroughbred horses he brought with him from Moroni, Utah. They brought their four children as well: Margaret age ten, Bud age eight, Robert age five, and my mom, Ann, who was one.

The farm had been named Jammerdalen by its previous owners, which in Dutch means “vale of tears” or “valley of tears” and refers to the tribulations of life that Christian doctrine says are left behind only when one leaves the world and enters heaven. It was purchased with life insurance money for a son who died fighting in Europe during WWI. Doc learned about the farm from Jim Smith, who had been a classmate at Ballard High School and was a real estate agent in Seattle. His brother Bill owned the fifteen-acre farm across the street from Jammerdalen. Bill called his farm White Feather Farm because he raised chickens. Bill, who was a regular at the South Camano Grange, a popular meeting spot for folks trying to eke out a rural living, had heard that chickens could be raised in greater density in cages leading to increased production. The chickens pooped through the wire, the cages could be moved to fertilize the ground, and the eggs rolled to where they could be easily collected.  Bill mortgaged his place to buy wire cages and raised chickens. Other farmers on the south end of the island went into the chicken business. They shared a community manure spreader. Bill Smith, Roy Lollar, and Bernie and “Shorty” Dallman were in on it. When one needed the spreader, he made arrangements, hooked it up to his tractor and took it to his place. “We spread a lot of manure from the chickens” my Uncle Bud remembers. “Back then It was a hard scramble life. Whoever had a good idea to make money, people scrambled to try it out.”

Doc chose a new name for the farm. He called it “Sea Crest Farm” maybe because you could just see the waters of Saratoga passage sparkling from its highest point, where the pump house stood. Or perhaps because he was a romantic. Over a period of ten years, Doc added three ten-acre strips which he and Sayre gifted to their children years later. In 1969, my parents and I moved into a little white house on one of those strips. A logging trail ran from our home to the farm. Growing up, my siblings and cousins just called it “The Farm”, looming large in life and imagination as it did. 

Like Bill Smith’s farm, Sea Crest, had been reconfigured to raise chickens. Doc worked hard to make it a home for his horses. But he only raised horses for a few years before he shifted to Guernsey, with a couple of Jersey and Brown Swiss cows too. He raised milk cows for years, then transitioned to beef. It was a typical small farm of that era. Driving south to the farm, coming over the hill the first thing you would see is the pumphouse with a large enclosed storage tank of water and a small section with the motor. It was a gravity fed system that piped water down the hill to the house. In the same field and below the pumphouse just to the east was a well-made chicken house. Below it a smaller log chicken house was parallel to the farmhouse. The small, rectangular farmhouse had three bedrooms, a kitchen with a table, a living room (where Doc’s dad installed the fireplace), a bathroom and an unfinished attic. Sayre cooked all her meals for the family of six on a wood stove. That stove was the sole water heater for years.  Just east of the backdoor of the house was a woodshed, then a place to keep canned goods with lots of shelves called the fruit room, and a garage. Past the long shed was the garden plot then the big classic barn that was the signature building of the farm with hardwood floors in the hay loft. On the first floor was a cemented section where the cows were milked, with stanchions for eight cows. Past it was the old barn which was mainly used for storage. South of the farmhouse in the lower field was the corn crib made out of logs, with space between each. Of all the buildings of the farm, besides the farmhouse, it lasted the longest.

“Doc” and Sayre Dodgson

Grandpa was a respected doctor in the community. In his heart, he was a farmer. Aunt Margaret says, “Daddy would milk in the mornings before he cleaned up and went into the office. His office hours began at noon.” Every day except Thursday, which he took off, and Sunday, which everyone took off, Doc drove West Camano Drive to his office in the Gunderson building in East Stanwood. In those days, trees lined the road and their branches were like a cathedral arch all the way to Stanwood. Doc made house calls too. For years a house call was $6 and an office call $3. To unwind and exercise, he worked the farm. It was his little kingdom that hummed under his industry. He cleared stumps from the five-acre field behind the barn which the kids named “Stump Land” and planted Birdsfoot treefoil in the marshy land along its southern fence line. Doc loved to walk out there to see how it was growing or to check the bee hives under the tall firs by the old logging road in the Stump Land field. Doc’s vocation was medicine. His avocation was farming.

Doc and Sayre were thrifty. Survivors of the Depression of the early 1930’s, they never forgot its lessons. They raised the meat they ate and each year harvested a big garden. Doc prepped the garden, tilling and smoothing it, planting the rows of corn and carrots, beets and beans, peas and pumpkins, tomatoes, onions and squash. Aunt Margaret chipped in. She says, “We got the peas in by Washington’s birthday because Daddy’s parents said that was the time to plant peas.” Margaret weeded because she wanted the garden to look nice, but she couldn’t keep up with the weeds. “Everyone grew gardens in those days. During the war, having a victory garden was a patriotic thing,” she says. Sayre canned and pressure cooked the veggies, which were stored in the fruit room. Winter wood was also stored in the far end of the shed. The farmhouse was heated by the wood stove in the kitchen and the fireplace in the living room. Doc and his hired man took the big hay truck down the logging road and filled it with logs. They hauled the logs to the shed where a buzz saw powered by Doc’s tractor cut the logs into blocks that would be split and used for firewood.

The Work of the Farm

All the kids pitched in. There were the regular chores of watering the cows, giving them hay in the winter, and milking them daily, morning and evening, all year long. The milk was sold to Darigold. In the winter time, when it was cold and dark, herding the cows into the barn, locking them into their stations, and hand milking them, was quite a chore, mainly done by Uncle Bud and Uncle Robert. They sat on a stool by the cows right/left hind leg, held the bucket between their knees, grabbed the tit, closed their top finger and thumb around it and squeezed the rest of their hand down to coax the milk out. The goal was to milk the cow dry, with the last step stripping the tit. Usually, they milked after supper. In the fall, winter and spring this was done in the dark. They had to be careful because the cow might object. You could get a foot in your bucket. The cats lined up and waited for them to squirt milk in their direction. They always left a bowl of milk for the cats. Eventually they purchased a mechanical milking machine. Still it was a big job. Mom’s older siblings “invited” her to join them in this task. Mom, who delighted in observing life on the farm, happily helped.

For a while, a hired hand named Armand Koeller helped Doc with the dairy farm. His family lived in the white house that set on the east end of the ten-acre plot through woods. He and Mrs. Koeller had six children: Bobby, Karen, David, another boy, Sue Ann, who became my mom’s dear friend, and Mary Alice who entered the world in dramatic fashion. Doc was scheduled to do the home delivery. But when the baby started coming, he was in Stanwood.  Sayre delivered the baby on the kitchen table. She was premature, so tiny that a man’s wedding ring could go all the way up her arm. But she lived. Mrs. Koeller and all the kids stayed at the farm house for ten days after the baby was born. Sayre took care of the kids, providing her with some needed rest and recovery time.  At that time, mothers did stay in bed for a number of days to recuperated. This was not unusual. What was special is that Doc and Sayre helped her and all their kids. 

Haying

The fields were broken up by fences made out of cedar logs. Doc loved doing fences. That was his big treat in life. His kids preferred going swimming on hot summer days. Haying was a big event each summer, usually in early July when the hay was tall and weather dry. Doc used his orange Case tractor that pulled a mower to cut the hay. A day or two after it was cut, he drove the tractor with a rake attached with one of his kids on the rake’s seat and operating a lever. It raked the hay into windrows. Then the big hay truck slowly drove along straddling the windrows of hay. A hay loader that the truck pulled lifted the hay up and piled it on a ledge. Bud and Robert, stationed on the back of the truck, used pitchforks to heave the hay into the truck. At the mere age of five, mom, who could barely reach the pedals, drove the truck in the slow gears. “We all did our part,” she says.  Sometimes during haying season, their cousins Kay and Jean from Montana visited Sayre’s mother, Fanny Y. Cory, a nationally famous illustrator and cartoonist, who had moved into a small cottage across the street and down a long driveway just west of the farm. They joined in with their cousins with gusto.

When they had a full load, the truck was backed up with its spilling over load of loose hay and parked in front of the barn’s large open door on the second floor. A big metal fork, attached by a cable to a track centered on a beam in the barn’s hayloft, was lowered by a rope that controlled the large metal fork and jammed into the loose hay. The tractor, now on the other side of the barn, was attached to the cable. One of the kids drove the tractor, one of the kids were stationed in between to yell when to go and when to stop, and one was stationed on the truck. When the person on the truck had fastened the large fork deep into the hay, they yelled “GO!” The person stationed in the middle relayed that message to the kid on the tractor, and the hay was pulled up and into the barn. The cable slid along a track on the inside near the roof. The person on the truck could see how far they hay load had traveled swinging in the air and at just the right time hollered “STOP!” He tripped the rope that opened the arms of the large metal fork and the hay would fall. Then he yelled, “OK!” and the tractor driver backed up slowly, avoiding the coil. The guy on the truck pull the cable and the metal fork back to the load of hay that remained on the open old truck. Then they did it again and again, always filling up the back first. In the loft where they kept the hay, there was a large removeable door in the floor. In the wintertime, they pushed hay through the door to feed the hungry cows.  

Timing when to hay was an art form. Rain can ruin hay. Wet hay starts to mold. When the hay decomposes, it generates heat and can start fires, in the field or in the barn. To address this, Doc had a silo built, thirteen feet in diameter by thirty feet high. Silos were in vogue then because sileage doesn’t have to be dry and it is a good way to get cows nutrients. Sileage was loaded into the silo in this manner. The case tractor had a pulley off to the side. A long conveyor belt ran from the tractor power take-off source to the sileage cutter. The green grass was loaded into the metal trough whose bottom metal teeth moved the grass forward into the sharp blades of the sileage cutter.  The grass was cut with such energy that the chopped pieces were blown up the enclosed chute to the top and dropped inside the silo.  Eventually the farm kids climbed inside a larger “people” chute to whatever vertical door was open to spread the grass evenly around the floor of the silo.  As the grass built up in the silo, you eventually just closed the lower vertical door and opened the next.  In time the kids needed to climb up the large metal handles that stuck out from the vertical removeable doors that went basically to the top of the silo. To feed the cows, the kid climbed up the larger people chute to the top silo door that was open and crawled in and pitchforked the sileage out that door and down that same chute to the sheet metal cart on wheels that rested on a flat concrete pad below. It was now ready to be transported to the back barn door. Portions of the sweet smelling sileage were then pitch-forked in the concrete manger where the cows happily ate it as they were milked. 

Decades later my dad, siblings and I helped our cousins who lived in the farm bring in the hay. There was a new haying process then. The grass was cut, raked into rows and left for a day or two to dry. Then a tractor with a bailer drove along the rows and made hay bales. We followed the bailer, stacking the bales on end into tepees to minimize dew damage.  It took the crew a day of work to get the bales into the barn.  A driver drove a pickup truck from tepee to tepee.  The crew on-the-ground hauled the bales to and heaved them onto the pickup truck. The crew on-the-truck caught the thrown bales and stacked them. We counted how many bales we got per load, always trying to beat our past record. Then with cousins perched on the top of the full, swaying, and precarious load, the truck headed to the barn where the bales were loaded onto a conveyer which carried them to the hay loft. The younger cousins used hayforks to drag the bales to the back of the barn. Dad and the older cousins stacked them. It was sweaty, itchy work. Hay got in our hair and under our shirts. But it was very satisfying to get in the hay and chug down Aunt Marge’s lemonade and go for a swim.  The farm was a special place where generations learned the discipline of hard work

An Enchanted World

The farm was a lot of work but it was also an enchanted world, a microcosm of family and friendship, a school of discipline and discovery, a place of seasonal rhythms and sacred memories for Doc and Sayre’s children. The oldest, my Aunt Margaret, remembers how a year or two after buying farm, Doc used a bulldozer to pile brush on a big stump in the back field for a burn pile. One night the family spread blankets close to the fire to watched it burn down. She remembers watching falling stars and staying warm by the fire on that magical night. Margaret was a major help inside the home and out. Often she and Mom, separated by nine years, worked as a team. One way Margaret helped Sayre was by straightening rooms and her little sister was her errand doer, taking the items where Margaret said to. They were very good at this system. Margaret called my mom “Legs” and their mom called the little worker “Winkie” because she was “quick as a wink”. It was a nicknamed that stuck to Mom for years. Margaret was the first to leave the farm. Mom was nine years old when Margaret left in 1955 for Swedish Covenant Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago and she missed her older sister very, very much. To assuage her loss, Doc and Sayre got her a full-grown goat named Tilly who was supposed to give birth to a kid in the spring. However, that event never happened and the main thing Tilly ever did was to get into the farm raspberry patch and have a good meal.

Uncle Robert, whose interests lay more with engineering than with farming, converted roller skates into a scooter with handles. He and his younger, appreciative sister, spent hours in the barn loft honing their skills by the warmth and sweet fragrance of cured loose hay. One summer Robert made him and Mom wooden stilts. The foot rests on Robert’s stilts were four feet above the ground.  Mom’s foot rests were much lower, but still a challenge.  Robert made a telegraph system using two wires that ran down the hall from the boy’s bedroom to mom’s room. The units he built could use Morse code with a flashing light, the code clicker or a code buzzer. Sadly, there was only one hurdle that was never overcome in his plan.  Mom never learned Morse code. A few years later, Robert built a unit that got their neighbor, Mrs. Eastberry, who by then lived at Bill Smith’s old farm, in trouble with the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC).

That code unit had the sending key and it used an old Ford coil that Robert powered with the 13 volt electric train transformer. It had two metal terminals spaced about 3/8″ apart so that when Robert sent a code message with the telegraph key it would throw an electric arc between the two metal terminals that would buzz on any AM radio. He could send a message to anyone with an AM radio turned on to any station. Robert says, “Dad warned me about never doing it very long at a time or I could get the FCC after me. So, I tried to be clever in that regard but the FCC was able to zero in closely and eventually the FCC stopped in at the Eastberry’s place across the road where Bill Smith used to live. The FCC thought the problem was caused by their electric fence and made them upgrade their fence pulser. Bless their hearts, the neighbors never squealed on me even though their son who was about my age knew all about what I was doing and had told his folks. So, after the neighbors told me about that FCC adventure, I sadly put the telegraph unit into storage and put the transformer back in with the electric train set.”

Mom remembers finding newly born kittens in safe places in the hay loft. Once she reported to Sayre that the cat had “baby banties.” Sayre knew what she meant. There was a new batch of kittens. Mom had a bad habit of running through Stump Land to visit her friend Sue Ann, one of the farm hand’s daughters. She had been told very straight out that she was to stay out of Stump Land and not visit her friend without permission because in those days farm workers dynamited the stumps to clear their fields. Doc was worried that his little daughter might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One day Mom went through Stump Land, unseen by her dad and his helpers, and was happily playing with her dear friend. In due time, Doc showed up with Sayre in the car. Mom realized the error of her ways and took off running through the woods home. Always before she could beat her dad at any race. But not this time. He chased her down with amazing speed, and whipped her bare legs with a few small tree branches even as she ran back toward home. Doc carried his naughty young daughter weeping and very contrite back up the steep hill to the car where she sat a crumpled pile of tears on the floor of the backseat, aghast that her own mother sitting in the front was not standing up for her as usual. That was the last time she went through Stump Land when told to “say away.” An independent, strong-willed girl learned a lasting lesson.  Mom was sixteen when the Dodgson family moved to Stanwood to be closer to Doc’s office. Their new home across from Stanwood High school was a fine home, but to her there was no place for her heart like the farm. She says, “I loved it, from the beginning to the last day.”

But it is Bud and his family who are forever linked to the farm in my mind. When I asked Bud about Doc’s passion for farming, he laughed and said “he had a passion for me to do the farming.” Bud remembers one time looking out the window one time at his dad digging postholes. His mom was flummoxed because he wasn’t out with his dad. Most of the time of Bud was a willing accomplice. He plowed the fields with Doc using an 800 lb disc that hooked onto the three-point hydraulic lift of the tractor. When the disc was lifted up, they’d almost have to steer the tractor with separate brakes; it hardly touched down on the front end. In high school, Bud joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA). One year for FFA he raised and sold Golden Bantam corn. He raised three hundred chickens in the chicken house and sold their eggs as an FFA project. During his senior year 1956-1957, he was president of the club and won state contests with his speeches regarding farming.

Move to Stanwood

After the Dodgson family moved to Stanwood in 1962, the farm sat empty. Then Doc rented it to the Coombs, the sister of Eva Dallman, who was known as “Aunt Eva” to mom and her siblings. After the Coombs, there was a family named Kitchens who lived there. They were patients of Doc who were on welfare and getting food from the Agricultural Department. In those days the Agriculture Department had a sensible way to help people with food. Surplus food was put in was in plain sacks and containers with black and white labels: flour, dried milk, lard, butter. These basic staples would be given to the folks (instead of money) so they wouldn’t suffer from hunger. Sometimes people would trade those things to Doc for medical care. By allowing them to live on the farm, Doc, who was always “about the King’s business,” helped with more than just with their medical needs.

Eventually, the Kitchens moved on. The farmhouse was empty for a while again until 1966 when

Bud and his wife Marge, and their children Thomas, Ruth and Douglas moved into the farmhouse. Bruce was born in 1966. A few years later Derek and Ethan joined the family. The little farmhouse was full and bustling again. Doc traded rent for upkeep of the farm. Bud was a traveling salesman and often away. He struggled with alcoholism and the farm’s upkeep. Doc helped out and Marge and the kids pitched in. Through those years of struggle, Bud always raised a good garden; that was a highlight of his career. Getting a garden going was like the ancient days of Genesis. They fed hay to the cows in the half acre garden plot all winter so there was lots of good organic matter Bud plowed under in the spring. He started by planting radishes. A few weeks later he put in lettuce. When the seeds hit the ground they really grew.

Bud lived at the Farm until 1998, running his vending machine business from the new shed next to the farmhouse that was built after a fire burned down the woodshed. Eventually Sayre needed money for her extended care. Robert, who had power of attorney, figured the farm needed to be sold.  The family meeting and decision for the sale was held on Bud’s birthday, Sept 28. Bud knew that his dad, Doc, who had passed away in 1983 would want Sayre taken care of. He had no question of that. But still it was a big heartbreak for the farm to be sold and it put him out of business. He did have some strong feelings, but says that was something “Jesus helped me get through. I try not to think about it. Try not to bear an animus about it. I think that Jesus rewards us in ways that are good.”

The farm was purchased in 1998 for $450,000 by Paul Maritz, a top executive for Microsoft. Paul wanted it to stay rural.  He had the pumphouse and chicken shed torn down. The barn, the centerpiece of the farm was burned down by the fire department for “practice.” The silo was removed first. Without the barn, the farm seems lonely, a shell of its former self. But I’m thankful that Paul is keeping it as a rural sanctuary. I’m thankful for the place that holds generations of sacred memories. I’m thankful that Uncle Robert made the tough decision to sell the farm to provide care for Grandma Sayre. I’m thankful that Bud worked through the wound of losing the farm. And I’m thankful for the privilege of growing up through the woods from The Farm. We can’t hold on to special places forever. Still I’m thankful that from 1947 – 1998, The Farm was ours.

This poem written by Sayre in 1961, before the family moved to Stanwood, sums up that special place and season. 

A Song of Spring

Come out with me and listen

To the chorus of the frogs !

‘Tis time to come to life again

Down in the reedy bogs!

The crocuses are yellow

The snow-drops pearly white,

The frogs are caroling for joy,

For it is spring, tonight!

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