Heyday at the farm

Elliott’s Hilltop Acres Farm concludes school visits after 55 years

June 8, 2019 — On May 29 and 30, Siuslaw Elementary School first-graders attended a field trip at Elliott’s Hilltop Acres Farm, the last school visit after 55 years of tradition. According to the remaining Elliott family members (many with different last names), the farm will continue although public access will be limited to family and friends.

Loni Schofield, granddaughter to the farm’s founders George and Leona Elliott, ran the field trips with four generations of Elliott family descendants. Her husband Paul drove the tractor for the hay rides and Megan, her daughter, showed students how to gently hold bunnies, ducks and chicks.

“In 1957, my grandmother took animals to the school,” Loni told a group of students. “In 1964, one of the teachers asked if they could bring the kids up here, so we started bringing kids to the farm. That was 55 years ago, and sadly it is our last year.”

On the farm visits, students got to run, play and get an up-close view of life on a farm. Their day was split into lunch when they arrived at 11 a.m. followed by an hour of group activities: Paul’s hayride, a brief loop on horseback, a visit with Scottish Highland cows and the chance to hold soft baby animals.

“We got to hold babies,” first-grader Trindle said. “My favorite was holding the duck, because ducks are my favorite animal.”

Violet’s favorite part was holding the bunnies. Students were able to sit down and hold the bunnies on their laps, taking turns for the most part.

One little girl, Adrienna, “hoarded the bunnies” the family joked, saying that she was “a bunny whisperer” by how much the bunnies seemed to enjoy her.

“She did not want to leave the bunnies,” Loni said.

Afterwards, the kids climbed a grass-covered hill — avoiding the wild tom turkeys — and rolled down.

“It’s a heyday for them, rolling down the hill,” Loni said.

The day ended with adventure play in the farm’s unique playground, consisting of three tire swings, a swing set, seesaw, slide, merry-go-rounds and tether ball.

Barb Rowland, Loni’s aunt and one of three daughters of George and Leona, was on the first first-grade field trip to the farm in 1964.

“It’s kind of cool because so many of our friends grew up out here with us,” she said. “They remember the fun times being on the farm.”

Over the years, the family has spread to include cousins and more cousins, in-laws and friends who are more like family. It made it hard for kids who knew the ropes of the farm and its homemade playground to wait to visit with their first-grade classes.

“One was pouting because he had to follow the rules,” Loni said.

Barb said it was like the family’s kids who were there during the school visits this year. “No, you guys get to play all the time. You can get it in line like the rest.”

Jami Thomas, Loni’s sister, said, “Well, it’s more fun when other people are here!”

“Yeah, when it’s not just family!” another family member added.

On May 30, the very last field trip, Siuslaw Elementary teacher Heather Crossley was able to attend as a substitute teacher for Rachel Henry’s class. Along with Heather Costa’s class, her students heard about field trips “back in the day” when Crossley visited the farm when she was in first grade.

“I remember that day,” Crossley said. “You guys are going to remember this field trip for a long time. And it’s special since you guys are the last ones to go.”

Among the students was her son Rye, who said that he liked the cows the best out of all the animals. He added that his favorite part was at the end of the day when they got to play on the playground.

“My favorite was the tire swing with the rope and a board that has a big knot on the bottom,” he said. When asked why it was his favorite, he said, “because my mom got to push me.”

“That’s so special,” Crossley said.

Over the past 55 years, traditions formed around the field trips, including the serving of ice cream to the students.

“When we started, it was homemade,” Loni said. “Due to all the rules and regulations, we can no longer do that, but we still continue the tradition.”

The farm, south of Florence on Canary Road, originally was a dairy farm, raising Guernsey cows to provide milk to the community. The family also raised 2,000 chickens and sold the eggs to restaurants.

“They raised eggs in that barn way over there and they milked cows,” Loni said to the first-graders. “They would put the milk in glass jars and deliver to houses in town on what’s called a ‘milk run.’ Grandma would drop off a full jar of milk on the doorstep, pick up the empty with the money inside and go on to the next one. We were excited because we got to go on Saturdays when there was no school. That was fun.”

She laughed when she was asked to count the number of animals on the farm. With goats, cows, chickens, rabbits, ducks, a donkey named Poncho (who bites), wild turkeys, cats and a small dog, it would be hard to count.

“There’s even a pig — but the pig doesn’t come home anymore,” said Nancy Flatley, Loni’s mom.

Loni said, “He was our pig — he is our pig — but the people down there have horses and feed their horses two times a day at two separate times, so they feed the pig. Why would the pig come home if he gets fed four times a day down there? And they keep the barn open and he has a bed inside. So why would he come home? I wouldn’t come home! I’m not going to walk up that hill.”

As the students left for the final time on Thursday, family members gathered to give them small goodie bags and wave to the departing bus.

“You guys are the last ones,” Loni said.

“It was so cool seeing all the different generations come up through here. Like Aric Sneddon, who said it was 31 years ago that he was here. When he heard they were coming here, he said, ‘Well, I’m definitely going to that,’” Barb said.

Mention a name in town, and the Elliott descendants have a connection to them. Crossley is a cousin to their cousins, and they know every family who had a farm in the area, including the Smiths, Huffs, Martins and Libbys. They can even name where they used to deliver milk.

“I remember delivering milk to the Dotsons who lived over on 17th Street,” Nancy said.

The different generations remember different things about the milk runs, including when during the day they would have to help.

Nancy said, “We were in high school, and we’d come from school every day and milk the cows at night.”

Her sister Georgia Philbrook said, “I’d do it in the morning. And then I’d go on the milk run before school and be back in time to go to school.”

The third sister Barb added, “I think all of us had to deliver milk door-to-door before we got to go to school.”

“We all helped,” someone else replied.

For the next generation, “We got to do it on Saturdays when we weren’t in school,” Loni said. “We always thought it was great; Grandma would pick us up and take us one the milk run.”

Jami said they got treats for helping. In those days, it was Pop Rocks, candy cigarettes and bottles of Squirt bought at the Cleawox Market.

Barb said the older generation didn’t get those — but they would stop at Woodsman and pick out flowers.

The milk runs were special, something their family did. It created a shared memory of helping with the cows and cleaning out the barns. The family remembered details — the smell of the feed bins, squishing the scratch in between their toes, walking along the fence, hauling hay.

“I don’t remember much (about my childhood),” Nancy said. “I remember milking cows. Other than that, I just remember having fun.”

She added, “We used to ride the cows.”

“Yeah, Mom and Dad wouldn’t give us a horse so we had to ride the cows,” Georgia replied.

According to Barb, the Smith, Huff and Martin farms sold their milk to bigger productions out of the area.

“They were all Grade A milk, so they sold their milk to the big farms. In the early ‘70s, the government bought out all of those farms,” she said.

The Elliott farm continued to produce milk from their Guernseys until the 1990s when regulations shifted. Around that time, Richard Elliott, brother to Nancy, Georgia and Barb, brought in the Scottish Highlands.

Despite the passing of more than 20 years, Loni said she still shakes her gallons of milk when she takes them out of the fridge. This shaking action would recombine the cream in whole, unpasteurized milk, but is unnecessary in much of the milk Americans drink today.

If people sit down with the Elliott Family progenitures, they can tell a story about every foot on their 116 acres of land. The hard part is getting them to sit down.

“We weren’t allowed in the house” said Nancy. “We spent all our time outside.”

“We either had to be dead or asleep if we were in the house. That was the rule. We were never in the house,” Barb agreed.

While historically that was for farm chores, as generations passed, more of that outdoor time went to enjoying the beauty of the hilltop acres — or getting into the usual and unusual scrapes.

Barb and Nancy described playing baseball in a field, putting a bag over a cow pie and using them as bases.

“If you slid, then you’d go far,” Nancy said.

Barb added, “We made sure third base was on a hill so you slid down the hill.”

The family talked about injuries, problems with farm vehicles, accidents with the electric fence and the fun and peril of being on the farm.

“I’d drive a motorcycle,” Nancy said, describing a Honda 50 that they used for trips as far away as Mapleton. “I’d have Loni in the back of me, Keli behind her. I don’t know how they survived!”

Barb described the years they “had good snow” and would send kids down the hills in inner tubes. One accident with a fence convinced them to place some hay bales to avoid further injury.

“It’s a wonder any of us survived,” several family members said as they reminisced.

“Well, it was soft dirt,” one person added.

There was also a pond — full of at least a dozen baseballs and golf balls — where the neighbor kids swam. And despite more than 60 years of kids playing on the farm, there were only a handful of broken bones, even after the brakes went out on a truck hauling hay from the Libby farm.

In the 1980s, the Loni and some friends wanted to film a Mountain Dew commercial for a contest. They put together some inner tubes, got inside and rolled down the hill into Woahink Lake. The first made it. The second ended up with several scrapes.

 “And then we learned we probably shouldn’t do those commercials,” Loni said, still laughing. “We tried it here — it worked then.”

“We tried a lot of things we probably shouldn’t have,” Barb said.

And many things they succeeded at. The family talked about kindnesses over the years, much of it the inspiration of Leona, who taught them “there’s no such word as hate.” She volunteered for years with the senior center, Florence Area Chamber of Commerce, their church and more. She hosted foreign exchange students, several of whom are still in contact with the family, and picked up strangers to bring over for dinner.

“We’re just kind of reminiscing,” Nancy said.

The day was emotional, not only for the end of the popular field trips, but also as the 21st year since Leona’s death.

“Twenty-one years ago yesterday, she was in her bed watching the kids go by on their field trip. She got to see them one last time,” Loni said.

Anytime the wind picks up, it’s Grandma, Richard and Grandpa, the family said — all family who have died on or near the farm. Or the rain, since the family played “Tears in Heaven” at Leona’s memorial service. “Every time I hear the song I think of Grandma,” Jami said.

Despite concluding the big milestone of 55 years, Elliott’s Hilltop Acres Farm will continue, the family said.

“It’s not the end for us,” Barb said.

After cleanup, helped along by family, friends, neighbors and Ada Grange members, Megan said, “One person wanted to buy shirts,” indicating the shirts the family and volunteers were wearing.

“Oh geez. We could have made a fortune!” Barb answered.


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