Charlie Haskell honored as ‘Silver Star’ recipient by SWCD

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Ask Charlie Haskell to sum up his life’s work in agriculture, and he gives you two sentences:

“I started with 12 cows and four 10-gallon milk cans in 1951; and I finished with 110 cows and a 1,500-gallon bulk tank,” he smiles. “In between those times was a lot of hard work.”

With a farming career that spanned more than 45 years, the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District will honor Charlie Haskell tomorrow (Friday) night with the “Silver Star” Award for a lifetime of agriculture excellence.

The award will be presented during the SWCD’s annual meeting at the Jack Sullivan Building of the Switzerland County Senior Citizens Center.

Born in 1933, Charlie Haskell grew up on the farm that he would come to run at the top of Vevay Hill. The only child of Charles and Leo Haskell, he graduated from Vevay High School before going to work with his father.

“Dad bought the dairy farm from his father-in-law, Jim Aldred, when he was discharged from World War I,” Charlie Haskell remembers. “Dad milked 12 cows, but he also had sheep, hogs, chickens, beef cattle, and raised tobacco.”

Charles Haskell farmed with horses, and Charlie remembers his dad getting the family’s first tractor in 1944, noting that the family had to get a permit from the AAA office to own the equipment.

Things on the farm changed when Charlie Haskell was 19 years old.

“My dad had a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side.” Charlie Haskell said. “But he never quit work. He never had any disability.”

Charles Haskell continued to contribute around the farm, sweeping out the dairy barn and working with machinery to help the family cause. He was a member and deacon of Mount Sterling Baptist Church, and was also a honored member of the Masons.

He would live 20 years and two days after his stroke; and farmed with his son up until his death in 1973.

The Haskell family farm was truly that – a family farm. Charlie Haskell married wife Betty in 1952, and the couple raised four children: daughter Janie; sons John and Eddie; and daughter Amy. Everyone pitched in to help on the farm and keep things running smoothly; and Charlie Haskell is proud of the fact that at one time the family farm supported three generations of Haskells.

“We had kids running around that farm from 1955 to 1993,” Charlie Haskell laughed. “It seems like there were always kids around there.”

As the children go older, they started helping on the farm with chores and other tasks.

“You were expected to get up before you went to school and help with the milking and chores; and then come home right after school and help again,” son John Haskell said. “We ran that farm as a true family farm with just one hired hand. We did it all together.”

“There was never a milking missed in all the years we had the herd,” Charlie Haskell says proudly. “We got it done, no matter what.”

As the farm grew, the number of cows that the family was milking grew each year. Charlie Haskell said that once the dairy herd grew to about 60 cows, all of the other animals on the farm went away except for the continued raising of tobacco. Technology also became important to milk production, and Charlie Haskell’s farm kept up with the times.

Charlie Haskell milked cows by hand from 1951 to 1953; and then he purchased pail milkers, which involved a 48-pound can being hung underneath the cow’s stomach as electric pulses extracted the milk.

In the late 1950s, Charlie Haskell installed a pipe line and a bulk tank, with the first tank holding 250-gallons. He then built his milking parlor in 1982, as prior to that he milked on a level floor; and with the new facility he saw the implementation of computers that fed the cows and kept records; automated take off on the milkers; and a line that allowed the family to milk 12 cows at one time.

“That saved us some time,” Charlie Haskell said. “It used to take us eight hours a day – four hours each time – just to milk 50 cows; and that didn’t include the field work. It kept us pretty busy.”

The Haskell dairy farm gained international notoriety when a group of Russians came to Switzerland County to visit the farm. As communism began to fall, Russian officials were interested in how a true “family farm” worked, so a group of diplomats traveled to Switzerland County to see the farm first hand.

“They weren’t farmers, they were government officials,” Charlie Haskell said.

The farm was also featured in “Dairy Illustrated” magazine; and a calf from the farm was used in the filming of “A Girl Named Sooner.”

As Charlie Haskell contemplates his latest honor, he also reflects on the farm hands, like Mark Fluegeman and J.T. Perkins and others, who were a big part of the success of the farm through the years.

“A lot of local boys worked on our farm during different times,” Charlie Haskell said. “Back then hired hands were just like family. Freddie Cunningham did all of our mechanical work. We had some of the best people working for us, we were very fortunate.”

As the Haskell children grew up and headed off to their own careers, Charlie and Betty Haskell retired and sold the dairy herd in April of 1996. They remained on the family farm, however, until Betty passed away from cancer in 1999.

Charlie Haskell then married his wife, Doris, in 2000, and the couple has settled into retired life in a home on Nell Lee Road.

“If someone would have told me when I retired in 1996 that I would have the life that I have now, I would have told them that they were nuts,” Charlie Haskell says. “I’ve got a wonderful life. Retirement is a wonderful thing.”