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article number 364
article date 07-29-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Oklahoma Family Farm Vacation, 1965 … Can We Still Do This?
by JOHN SBARBARO III (age 10) as told to LLOYD PARTAIN

From the 1967 U. S. Department of Agriculture Yearbook.

HAS your family ever taken a farm vacation? Ours did and I would like to tell you about it.

Mother suggested that a farm vacation, even for a family of six, might not be very expensive. As a little girl she had spent summers on her grandmother’s farm. She had talked to us many times about how wonderful it was.

Relating her memories of the animals, birds, swimming hole, good food, and many others now became even more interesting than ever to brother Jim, 8, and me; I was 10. This even captured the imaginations of our sisters, Kathy, 5, and Carol, 2.

Dad said we should go West and see a lot of the country we had only heard about. So we decided upon southwestern Oklahoma near the Wichita Mountains. We learned about a place where we could have an air-conditioned farmhouse all to ourselves and be close to lakes, mountains, Indians, many wild animals, and interesting farming and ranching.

The Salt Fork of the Red River ran right through the 440-acre farm. Arrangements were made to go and stay for 2 weeks.

I want to tell about our farm vacation myself because I kept a diary. I’ll let it tell you some of the more exciting things that happened on this 1965 vacation.

July 31—Left our home in Radnor, Pa. The countryside through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia—with the Appalachian Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, and the Blue Ridge all around us—was beautiful and interesting. We made good time and drove a long way into Tennessee.

A Golden Eagle.

August 1—We drove from Tennessee to Oklahoma. Between Memphis and Little Rock along a great cyprus swamp, we spotted great blue herons, snowy white egrets, red-wing blackbirds, and so many other birds. We saw fields of soybeans and cotton for the first time.

Arrived a day early at my great uncle’s country place near Oklahoma City, where we planned to visit and rest before going on West to the ranch.


Lloyd Partain is Assistant to the Administrator on Recreation, Soil Conservation Service.

August 2—Right after breakfast, Jim found and caught a horned lizard near an anthill—an ugly but an interesting and harmless ant-eating creature.

We kept it to play with, and we soon caught some more.

Horned lizard.

Our uncle took us for a ride on his tractor—what a thrill when he let each of us drive it a little. While on the tractor ride my dad said, “What’s that running under the brush pile?” We stopped to see. It was a black snake about 4 feet long. Uncle said it was not poisonous, and it ate field mice and insects—a friendly snake.

Then we went fishing in a farm pond. Had to buy bait from a neighboring farm—but no one was tending the bait stand, so my uncle just dropped the money in the coin box for the bait. They call this the honor system.

Kathy caught the first fish. Soon we were all catching fish.

Near uncle’s barn Jim and I found an old log about 2 feet long with many holes in it. In the holes were bullets. With a knife we started digging them out. Our uncle said the log had been used for rifle and pistol target practice. He got an ax and split the log so we could get the bullets out easier.

Just as I put my fingers in a crack in the old log, he said, “Look out!” There was a long scorpion in the crack.

We learned that a sting from him would be very painful. Uncle put a stick on the scorpion to show how he would curve his stinger over his back and strike the stick; and then killed him.

August 3—Early in the morning we caught a June bug in the tall grass near the barn—a big, beautiful green and blue bug with strong legs and wings. Uncle tied one end of a string about 6 feet long on the bug’s hind leg and handed the other end to me and said, “Turn him loose and follow him.”

The bug sailed up in the air, and as he tried to fly away I ran to follow him. What fun! All the others—even little 2-year-old Carol—had to have a June bug with a string on it.

If Shorty egret asks, “Where’s Pa?,” his big brother might reply: “Out scratching for a living for us.”

Then we went to visit some very interesting places. Our first stop was a quarter-horse-breeding farm where we saw the fastest horse in the world for a 400-yard race. He was bought for $100,000.

On the way out of this farm we saw a flock of rare birds—the upland plover. The land conservation work on this farm and others in the region is helping this bird to thrive there.

Our next stop was the Cowboy Hall of Fame near Oklahoma City. I could spend a week here studying the pioneers, the cowboys, and their troubles and joys in winning the West.

We then visited Frontier City nearby where there was a lot of realistic cowboy-and-Indian stuff. This is a restored village with old saloons, the sheriff’s office, country store, stagecoach, hitching posts, and everything else of the frontier times.

A faked but exciting robbery was staged on the dirt street with the two robbers losing the gunfire battle.

August 5—We left uncle’s early to go to our vacation ranch about 140 miles farther west. We stopped at Indian Village near Anadarko. This replica of Indian life and culture was built under supervision of the University of Oklahoma. An Indian guide with braided hair and native costume took us on a hiking tour through the village.

The Indian dances to the tom-toms were very exciting and colorful.

A Plains Indian war dancer.

We visited the different kinds of homes the various tribes once lived in—thatched huts, adobes, hogans, tepees, thatched hogans, earth covered log houses, summer arbors, etc.

The guide told us how various tribes learned to live off the land—how they had built their homes, collected and preserved the seeds, the fruits, and nuts, and hunted animals for use as food, clothing, and shelter without exploiting the countryside.

We drove through the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge on the way to the ranch. Here we saw buffalo, Texas longhorns, deer, and other animals. We arrived at the ranch late in the afternoon. We had stopped at a farm produce market and in town to stock up on some food and other supplies.

August 6—I woke up early and started exploring the farmstead. Jim found me at the barn where we saw many things we wanted to learn more about—in the hayloft, the saddle-room, the bins, the machine shed, and other places.

After a big breakfast, including the best vine-ripened cantaloupes we had ever eaten, we went on a long hike in the fields, pastures, and woods. Most of this farm, or ranch as we called it, grows grass.

Then we had our first yellow-meated watermelon—um—good! Dad had always thought Mother was “pulling his leg” about yellow-meated watermelon until now.

About midmorning we were off to the lake on the nearby Quartz Mountain State Park—a big lake in the edge of the mountains—for water skiing. The skis were too heavy for me to handle, but Mother was up and skiing the first time she tried.

Dad saw to it we all wore our “Mae Wests” and obeyed the other safety rules. After skiing a couple of hours, we had lots more fun swimming and enjoying the sand beach.

John L. Sbarbaro III, of Radnor, Pennsylvania, whose diary describes his family’s farm vacation.

August 7—The man at the farm—we call him Uncle Bob—taught Jim and me about gun safety and finally let us shoot a real .22 target pistol. We both learned to hit the target. We spent most of the day at the lake and in the park.

August 8 (Sunday)—Following early church we went to the river-bed on the farm. Footraces on the sandbar were fun. Mother collected interesting driftwood, and Jim collected mussel and snail shells.

Then we learned about quicksand. Mother first stepped in the edge of it to show how you could sink, then let each of us wiggle our feet in it down to about our knees to show us that it was dangerous because we had to have help in order to pull ourselves out.

There was more water skiing in the afternoon—Mother was tremendous!!!—followed by a cookout back at the farm.

August 9—We had learned about the fields, the pastures, and the lanes, so we were permitted to saddle up Apache, Uncle Bob’s big, beautiful horse, and take turns riding him with Dad leading him. Mother rode him alone. We were jealous but had to learn before we could have a horse to ride by ourselves.

August 10—This is the day we have been waiting for. We had the use of two more riding horses, Della and Kay, and a Shetland pony, Buster. But we had to practice on Buster who had been trained to walk in a circle at the end of a long rope.

Jim, Kathy, and I took turns taking our lesson. Mother and Dad rode Della and Kay, and I got to ride Buster on a short ride in the lane to the big pasture. Jim and I were learning to groom and feed the horses by now.

It was interesting to see them wallow in the sand and drink at the windmill tank after they were unsaddled. We also had a lesson on how to place the saddle, blanket, bridle, and ropes in the right places in the harness room.


Another cookout on the farm that evening with paper plates and cups, outdoor grill, etc.—our meal preparation was not a very big job.

Mother read in the newspaper about the showy display of shooting stars due in the western sky. We set up cots outside to watch. There were millions of stars in the clear sky. They look so much lower, and there are so many more of them than we had ever seen in the East.

About 9:30 we began to see the shooting stars. Some of the meteorites seem to have long flashing tails of fire.

August 12—Mother needed some more fresh peaches, vegetables, and melons, so our first chore was to go and pick them. There is nothing better than a soft ripe peach right from the tree. We put the melons in the windmill tank to keep them cool—there was no room in the refrigerator.


We rode horses most of the rest of the day. Even Carol got to ride Buster with Dad leading him. Jim and I had our first lesson in using the lariat rope. A post about 5 feet high was our target. It’s fun, but not so easy.

The gypsum hills are about 2 or 3 miles distant. We explored these and collected interesting gypsum rock, some with copper ore. We climbed one high hill. On the way up we flushed some scale quail—a beautiful game bird the conservation department started in this area a year or so ago.

We collected some ripe fruit of the prickly pear cactus—had to be careful about the needles and fine spines.

A prickly pear cactus in bloom.

Tonight we were invited out to the 4-J Ranch, another summer vacation place near the Wichita Mountains, for a big cookout. We arrived in time to hike along some of the trails in the jack oak-covered sandhills on this ranch where there were numerous wild turkeys.

Since this was molting time, Jim and I had fun collecting turkey feathers.

On the way home that night we stopped for a quick dip in the lake.

August 13—This was our day to return to the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. After a drive through the mountains, we stopped at several points in the refuge.

We saw a prairie dog town. These members of the squirrel family do all kinds of antics. There were several herds of buffalo and longhorn steers. At other places we saw deer and elk.

A prairie dog.

From the highest mountain inside the refuge, which has a scenic drive up it, we saw several hawks, one golden eagle, and many other interesting birds. We could look for miles around—the mountain range, lakes in the foothills, and ranches and farms beyond.

August 14—More horseback riding. Kathy now rides Buster without someone leading him. Jim and I practiced galloping our horses while on a very long ride through the fields with Mother. In the evening we went to go-cart races at the park and then for a swim.

August 15—Mother’s brother who lives in Oklahoma City visited us. He and his wife both love horses; so there was more trail riding and fun.

I am learning to throw the rope pretty well. It makes me feel like a real cowboy. Jim and I both have lariat ropes and western hats now.

Another big dinner followed by watermelon and more stargazing, and we were ready for bed—we thought. But someone heard a coyote howl. Out of the house everyone came to listen to the sound.

Cotton and Jack Rabbits

August 16—We took a long tour in the area to learn more about farming and ranching. Cotton, alfalfa, and grain sorghums were growing upon irrigated land. We saw huge fields of dry wheat stubble where many jack rabbits live.

Dad saw a U.S. Department of Agriculture pickup near a gulch. We stopped and had a nice chat with the Soil Conservation Service man.

He told us his survey crew was staking out a damsite. The dam would create a big lake to help prevent floods on a creek about a mile away. There were mesquite trees, sagebrush, and cactus everywhere around. He said in 2 or 3 years the lake would be a good place to find water birds and go fishing.

The conservationist told us about the many things being done in the county to conserve the soil, water, range, and wildlife.

Oklahoma Honey bee on cotton flower.
A cotton boll.

He was headed for another place in the soil conservation district down by Red River on the Texas border, and said if we would follow he could show us several kinds of land and the different crops and grasses suited to them. We did and stopped at several places.

Jim and I asked if we might collect samples. The farmers were glad to have city boys take one plant out of a big field so we got samples of cotton, milo, alfalfa, sweetclover, sudangrass, peanuts, and guar.

Nothing is more beautiful than a Field of alfalfa in bloom—pink-purple on top of dark green and alive with honey bees. On some fields the hay had been cut and was curing in the sun. It smelled like something good to eat.

On the way back to the ranch we saw ground squirrels, road runners—the bird that does not fly, terrapins, horned and green lizards, hawks, and a beautiful Mississippi kite soaring overhead.

August 17—All of us were up early. The scissor-tailed flycatchers in the trees around the house were our alarm clock as usual. This is a colorful, but noisy long-tailed bird that catches insects in the air and drives away hawks, crows, and other large birds. We heard bobwhite quail calling from beyond the shelterbelt area north of the big barn.

Jim and I saddled up and bridled our horses without help for the first time—after feeding, currying, and brushing them. We rode to a sandhill area on the ranch to collect long yucca stems with seed pods for Mother.

Uncle Bob found and gave Dad an old branding iron with his initials—J-L-S— as the brand. What a find?

Mother visited an antique place and got a leather horse collar with hames and straps. She is going to fix it up for a mirror frame for our recreation room at home. She also got a set of old cotton weighing scales, a cow yoke, a milk can, and other things to take home with us.

Longhorn and calves, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

We found time to go fishing and swimming in a large farm pond in the afternoon and have an outdoor fish fry and chicken barbecue in the evening.

August 18—This was a very sad day for us kids. We had to pack up to leave the farm. We are going to miss Buster the pony the most; then Uncle Bob and the horses, Della and Kay. We talked about the good food, the water skiing, fishing, horned lizards—everything that makes a vacation on the farm a happy one for the whole family.

We had to pack and crate our many collections for our recreation room to be shipped; our car wouldn’t hold them all.

“About what does it cost for a farm vacation?” My mother keeps good records, so she says about $140 a week for our family of six where we supplied our own food and did our own laundry.

If you have meals with the farm family and get other housekeeping services, the cost would be $30 to $35 a week for each child and $40 to $45 for each adult.

This is the deal we want for our next farm vacation so that Mother can have a full vacation, too.

These costs do not include travel and swimming or horseback riding lessons.


A farm vacation does not end with going back home. I have written a little story’ about ours that was printed in the school paper. The many farm vacation items and photographs which decorate our recreation room inspired me to write a poem about it for English class. And Jim and Kathy use a lot of the things for “Show and Tell” in school.

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