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Austin Douglass Lathrop's

Biographical Scrapbook


Austin was born on August 18th 1906 in Bozrah Connecticut. He was raised in on His father's dairy farm on Raymond Hill in Montville CT. When I knew him, he was in his 50's. A heavy man with a bushy eyebrows and a big voice. He loved to tell stories and would often regale friends, neighbors, customers, who ever would listen, with wonderful stories. Most of what I say here is what I remember from his story telling.

He attended grammar school in Montville. I asked him how he got to school and he said that He would drive a team with a wagon and pick up kids on the way to school. This must have been in 7th and 8th grades. Just before he got sick. Can you imagine today, making a child responsible for transporting all the neighborhood kids to school. Things were different then!

When Austin was 13 years old it was 1919, the year of the great influenza pandemic. Austin had Scarlet Fever (Strep) and Influenza and Pneumonia all at once. His parents brought in several doctors but they could not decide what he should be given to eat. (As in feed a cold, starve a fever.) So they decided to feed him nothing. His baby brother Theron  would stand at the door, being forbidden to enter the room, and throw him milk crackers. He claimed he would have starved without those crackers. I remember him telling me this story as he ate his favorite midnight snack, crumbled Nabisco Milk Crackers with milk poured over them and salt and pepper, an old fashioned form of cereal and milk. At any rate, He was very ill for many months and never grew another inch after that. That's why he was 5'5" tall even though his father, brothers and sons were all taller.

Also in 1919, his father James, went down to New London and bought a Model T Ford. The sales man gave him a driving lesson, and sent him on his way. James drove up the Norwich New London Road and was able to make the turn on to Raymond Hill. It was a long hard pull all the way up to the farm but he made it. When it came time to turn in to the driveway he started to pull up on the steering wheel and holler Whoa! Whoooa! It wouldn't stop so he pulled louder and hollered louder WHOA, WHOOA, WHOOOA, and drove the car right up on to the stone wall in front of the house. He never drove again, It fell upon Austin at age 13 to do all the family's driving.
 
 

Norwich Free Academy

He attended The Norwich Free Academy, in Norwich. A school which continues to exist today. He went to school with many notables, including Sen. Thomas Dodd. It was Austin and not Sen. Dodd who won the medal for "The student most proficient in Declamation"  He was very proud of that medal, and used his voice to make his living most of his life. He worked as a cattle dealer and livestock auctioneer, both trades which required the gift of the gab. He had a large voice. I remember I could hear him call from a quarter mile away.
 
 
 

There were other Tom Dodd stories. One involved Dodd being very drunk and antagonizing another larger and stronger drunk at some social event they were all attending. The big guy was about ready to set upon Dodd and "kill" him when Austin managed to separate them and took Dodd home. Something he jokingly claimed to later regret when Dodd had a successful political career. Austin maintained an antipathy for Dodd. He said Dodd was so stupid he took 8 years to finish high school. Being a tea totaler, he despised his drinking, and being a Republican he generally opposed democrats.

He claimed that Dodd was afraid of him and would purposefully avoid him in public. He said that Dodd once was landing in a helicopter at a County Fair where Austin was working as a cattle judge. Senator Dodd looked down and spotted Austin in the crowd, they made eye contact. Dodd leaned over to the Pilot and spoke to him and the helicopter pulled away. He said Dodd knew he was the better speaker and could make a fool of him so he avoided the situation
 
 
 
 

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Connecticut Agricultural College

When he got to Storrs, Austin made his way to the cattle barn, and was amazed to see cattle like he had never seen before. Huge fat cattle, beautiful cattle, experimental cattle, ideal cattle. He was shocked and amazed and spent many hours just looking at them. He was dubbed Peter Cattle, and the nickname "Pete" stuck. I never heard him call him self Pete, or Peter yet almost everyone who knew him outside the family called him "Pete".

He attended college at Storrs from 1926 to 1930 majoring in Animal Husbandry and paying his way by working in the barns. It was there that he met his future wife, Marion Wilcox a Home Economics major who had transferred there from Pembroke. Lucile says some buddies challenged him to a bet that he couldn't get her to go out with him, He asked her and she said yes. A favorite date was to have a musk melon (cantaloupe) with peach pineapple ice-cream.
 
 


Austin was a teetotaler, meaning he did not drink any alcohol at all. He said he had drunk exactly one beer in his entire life. It was at the end of the day while working in the barns at Storrs. Some one offered him a beer and he accepted. He drank it and then remembered he had failed too hay the bull at the far end of the barn. On the way to do his forgotten chore he was "high stepping." He said he did not like that feeling and never drank again.

Married Life and the Great Depression

Elizabeth writes:
I'd say they were married on Oct. 4, 1930, I was born on August 31, l931. I believe Marion did not make any effort to go to Austin's before the wedding, although Austin did visit Putnam, I think Austin refused to have friends at the wedding but allowed the parents, he said he thought it was show-offy to have a wedding of any size. I have not seen pictures of the wedding. In the first months Mother tried to get Austin to play tennis, he apparently tapped the ball to lightly, I do not know if Marion could hit well; Marion kept saying, "Hit it, hit it!". So Austin hit it across town, I add, probably the ball was never seen again, nor the game played by them again. The tennis racket was in my possession for years, and may still be.


Lots of Farm Manager Jobs Won and Lost.




It was the 1930s, The great depression was on and they had 3 children, Elizabeth in 1931, James Ellsworth in 1933, and Lucile in 1935. The times were hard. Getting and keeping a job was difficult. Austin's first job out of college was as the manager of the Sunshine Feed Store near Montville. Farmers who had bought supplies on credit were unable to pay their bills and the store went bankrupt. They lived in Mohegan, a village in Montville.
They moved 10 times in the next six years.  At one point he had to work briefly as a laborer, shoveling birch bark in a mill which made birch beer. Mostly he worked as a farm manager.
 

Elizabeth writes:

Austin and Marion moved 10 times in the first 6 years of their marriage because it was the Big Depression and Dad was mouthy. I remember perhaps five of those houses.
... I remember a house where I ran in on the first day before there was any stuff in it and shouted and heard the echo. I do not think that was any of the other houses.

I also remember a house where, when I was four, I took a walk without permission to the next farm, where the farmer was milking and found someone to see me home; I enjoyed it all and thought it was fun even when mother hit me with her hair brush for leaving the property. So she told Dad and he gave me a spanking which made me cry and angry, which is still easy to feel; I limit children as little as possible, to this day, but it would be good it I could get over being angry about it. I can not tell it this
happened before or after I burned down the house.

 
I remember the house where Lucile was born, I think we called it the Hubbard House, I remember Mother getting ready to go to the hospital, it was the first I knew of her being pregnant; I think that's also the house where Ells and I were put outside to play and when he would pick up an apple to eat, I would grab the apple and throw it down the hill which made him scream; I thought Dad thought I was good to try to stop Ells from eating worms; I also remember he thought eating worms was not all that bad and did it. I still love to throw and probably correct people too much.
 
I remember the house I burned down, it was a parsonage near Mystic; now
Agnes is dead I bet no one knows the name of that parish; Agnes gave me the address so I could sent them some $; I'd like it if I still have that address.
Plainville's Broad Street being the last and where we stayed until I was
in 6th grade. We moved there from Farmington, do you all know, where dad worked
for the male partner of Miss Porter's School (Avon Old Farms) and where, after Dad was fired he broke his back and was laid up for months.  I remember well the summer of his rehabilitation, it included cultivating a garden with a shovel and walk around Plainville to see the farms on the outskirts, because of course he did not want to live in town.

Hill-Stead


In 1936 they found work at Hill-Stead farm.  The mansion of the owner of the farm, Mrs. Riddle, is now the Hill-Stead Museum.  Mrs. Riddle  was associated with Avon Old Farms School. A school for boys  similar to Miss Porters School for girls.  Hill-Stead was a working dairy farm. Austin's job included responsibility to teach boys from Avon Old Farms how to milk.
 
 
 

These boys stayed in a dorm room above the family's quarters in the farm house. Marion had to prepare meals for these boys as well as care for 3 small children. After some time Austin was demoted for swearing in the barn.   After that while working on the farm  he fell from the hay mow in to a wood pile  and injured his back.  Marion  handled the move to Plainville and picked out the house on Broad Street, across from the church and next to the school.
 
 

Bristol Livestock

 
 

"Nine Years and Five Months", that's how long he worked for Mr. Bernstein of Bristol Livestock. His title was farm manager, but he was more of a buyer. He would ride the train out into the Midwest, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa,  Corn Country, where cattle were cheaper than in New England. When he had assembled a railroad car load of cattle he would then bring them home to be sold to local dairy farmers. He would be away for weeks at a time.
 
 
 
 
 
 

He and Bernstein fought like cats and dogs, and he would quit regularly only to go back because no better options presented themselves, I guess. Bernstein was not all bad, He helped them finance the purchase of the house on Johnson Ave. in 1942, and he filled out all the necessary papers to claim Austin as an essential employee so that he could avoid the "Old Man's Draft" at the end of W.W.II. The Government was drafting 36-40 year olds for army service by the end of the war.
 
 
 
 
 

A
ustin 
uctioneer
D ouglass 
ealer
L athrop 
ivestock

"Austin Douglass Lathrop, Auctioneer and Dealer of Livestock." That's how he styled himself when he decided to quit working for Bristol Livestock in 1947(?) and went into business for himself. He would buy and sell mostly dairy cattle but also horses, sheep, pigs, poultry, whatever he saw that he could buy cheap and sell dear. As an auctioneer when he thought something was selling too low he would buy it himself and sell it to one of his many customers, (If he could.) The barn at home was usually filled with animals for which he had not yet found a home, and if all else failed we would eat his mistakes. There was always a frozen meat locker filled to the brim at Redman's dairy in Bristol.
 

Pinnacle Rock Farm


The Trumbull family were the patrician family in Plainville.  They had had a Governor of Connecticut in the  1920s and had started Trumbull Electric, later sold out to General Electric, one of the principal employers in town. They also owned the Pinnacle Rock Farm. A several hundred acre dairy farm on Rattle Snake Mountain on the border of Plainville, Farmington and New Britain. Pinnacle Rock was the highest point in Plainville, and commanded a view of the surrounding area. A beautiful place where the local Council of Churches held it's Ecumenical Easter Services each year.

In the early and mid 50's Austin leased the Pinnacle Rock Farm from the Trumbulls and for a modest rent and kept a sizable dairy herd there. It was a time and place conducive to success for his kind of business. He could buy and sell from his herd as well as produce  profits from his own milk production.

But the Trumbull brothers who owned the farm aged and died, and the Estate was broken up and sold. The farm became a housing development and Austin had to move out. He hired a Tractor Trailer, loaded his cattle and moved them to the Jensen Farm in Farmington.

Jensen Farm


The Jensen dairy and farm was on CT RT. 177 just north of US Highway 6. in Farmington CT. There was a large dairy barn in the upstairs. A calf barn below. A dairy, several large pastures and a house for farm help. He had more than a hundred head there as well as his Father's herd of Jerseys which he kept on Sam Zweig's farm in Plainville. Mrs. Jensen and her son lived in the large stone house which is still there. She leased the barn, pastures, and farm house to him but would not allow use of the dairy because it was very close to the house. It was the late 50's and early 60's. The Connecticut Milk Producers Association was taking political power and gained a monopoly on sale of milk in CT. With this came new requirements for equipment. No longer could you use milk pails or even milking machines with separate buckets. Not even Milk cans were allowed. Bulk milk tanks with vacuum lines and a separate milk house to hold the milk were required. Even though there was a beautiful dairy on the premises it could not be used and Austin had to build a $4000 ( a lot of money then, multiply X 10+- to get today's dollars) milk house on the back side of the barn.

There was also a public health campaign to eliminate Bacillus Bangs disease in Cattle. If even one animal  tested positive It had to be destroyed and the whole herd would have to be quarantined for months and then the tests repeated. Well since he was a cattle dealer  he had lots af animals passing through his herd.  These were kept in the calf barn on the lower level.  But this was no protection from quarantine. When one heifer tested positive his entire business was shut down . He couldn't buy or sell cattle or sell milk for months at a time. Eventually the problems were solved but by that time he was so far behind financially that he had to sell out.

He held a dispersal sale in 1961(?) in order to sell all his animals and equipment. The sale was going well until the Sheriff showed up. He served papers from Mrs. Jensen to attach the proceeds of the sale for back rent even as the sale was going on. The result was the buyers at the auction "smelled blood" and prices went even lower.  In the end he made enough to pay off most of the debts but was left with little working capitol.  He had tried to grow his business large and had been beaten back down to size. He would never try to grow large again.

Recovering from loss

At the age of 55 his business dispersed, Austin started over. He had managed to not risk the house and had paid off all his debts. He had the Harold Cuningham's Abington Livestock Auction to sell each week as he had for years. He started keeping cattle at home again, as he had before he rented the Pinnacle Rock Farm. The four car garage was converted to a barn where he kept about a dozen head, as well as the occasional horse, sheep, goat, pig, chicken, duck. On two and one half acres the neighbors where not too happy, but since he had owned the property before zoning rules were passed he was "grand fathered" in.

He started focusing more on trading and would make regular rounds of customers who often bought or sold with him.He also started to trade things other than livestock such as hay. Other farmers found themselves in the same predicament he had been in  and he was soon selling many dispersal sales. Zeb Scirpo also started the Middlesex Livestock Auction and asked him to sell it each week. This was soon a great success gave him some security.

He sold the annual 4-H Meat and Animal sale at UCONN each year on teacher's convention day. Mr. Gaylord, the county extension agent for Hartford County, would announce each animal as it came up for sale, and Then he would turn off the microphone and Austin would sell the steer. His voice without the amplifier would be louder and clearer then Mr. Gaylord's was with it. He said that they had tried using it one year and every one had ended up going out side to listen to him. So he always worked without amplification.
 

Favorite Foods and Recipes

As you can tell by his weight, Austin loved to eat. He was a good basic cook and had several favorite dishes he liked to prepare. One was Milk Gravy. He would fry up a half a dozen or so slices of bacon, remove the bacon and add milk and a little flour to the bacon grease and thicken it till it was like a gravy. This was then served with the bacon on toast.

Another less fattening dish which he liked to make was Johnny Cake. He claimed this was a dish from colonial times and was the same a Hoe Cake in the south. You take about ½ a cup of yellow corn meal and pour several tablespoons of boiling water on it. wait a few minutes till the cornmeal is soft and swells, mix in a dollop of molasses, form a small patty, and fry on the griddle.

He also liked to go out to eat. Often Sunday afternoon after church we would go to the Char Far Chinese Restaurant on South Main Street in New Britain. We would always order the same thing, Chow Har Que, Chicken Chow Mien, and Egg rolls.

Another favorite restaurant was Howard Johnson's. The dish I remember  him always getting there was a desert, Indian Pudding, which was a sweet cornmeal pudding served with a dollop of ice-cream. I remember mother trying to reproduce this from an old recipe at home but it didn't come out right.

Considering his diet it's not surprising he had very high blood pressure.
 
 
 

On Sunday July 17th 1966, it was a bright sunny summer noontime. Austin had been out in the side yard stacking some hay bales which he had bought to feed the stock. Ells and Claudette brought Eldon LaForge  by to ask him to notarize some papers as he was a notary public. He went in to the house and sat down to look at the papers . He got out of his chair to walk across the room to get his stamp. But fell to the floor. Mother called Ells and Claudette who were outside. Claudette took one look at him and said “He's had a stroke, call the doctor, Let's get him to the hospital. He looks just like my mother did.” Ells and Eldon walked him out to the car and drove him to the hospital. It was a cerebral hemorrhage. There were several more and he died a week later on July 24, 1966. He was 59 years old.

This is an obituary which ran on the editorial page of the Plainville News.
 
 

The Silent Auctioneer

The voice of the auctioneer is silent. Austin D. Lathrop, cattle dealer, auctioneer, farmer and friend of the animal world, died Sunday.
He had a "heart as big as an elephant" and was ready with a helping hand when asked to assist with ailing livestock. He would think nothing od answering a call in the middle of the night to administer with his knowledge and skill of animal husbandry.
In great demand throughout the area as an auctioneer, "Pete" as he was known to many, was on hand at cattle, sheep, and livestock auctions, and an occasional auction of antiques.
At the University of Connecticut where he was graduated in 1930, he majored in animal husbandry and at one time owned 80 head of cattle himself. It was at the University that he met his wife, The former Marion WIlcox.
His trade marks were his heavy eyebrows, ten gallon hat and coveralls. The voice of Austin D. Lathrop was seldom soft, for he was blessed with the voice of an auctioneer. That voice though silent, will be remembered by many.






jlathrop@erols.com










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