Aunt Bea's 1939 Plymouth

Aunt Bea's 1939 Plymouth

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Giving Away Copies

We've arranged a giveaway program with bookseller Amazon.com  for my novel set in rural Pennsylvania, The Boys of Summers Run!

Details will be forthcoming and published here as soon as Amazon tells us the contest is "live."


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Percheron Draft Horse




Here's my Uncle Fritz with one of my Grandfather Cotton's mighty Percherons. Alfred Banks Cotton became a noted breeder in the early 1920's and also maintained a "fine herd of Holsteins." Note the milk cans in the right of this photograph.

Quoting from the website The Percheron Horse Association in America, Fredericktown, Ohio: 

"This is how Alvin Sanders, author of A History of the Percheron Horse (©1917) describes the race of men who developed this race of horse: "Their horses are a part of their inheritance, particularly prized and accustomed to the affectionate attention of the entire household. Their docility, growing out of their intimate human relationship, is therefore an inborn trait".


From the Percheron website: "Traditionally it has been a race with a preponderance of greys. Old paintings and crude drawings from the middle ages affirm this. The French Knight is almost always portrayed on a grey or white charger. Their mounts are depicted as horses with considerable substance for that time, but without coarseness. . . .

Continuing: "When the day of the war horse (thanks to gun powder) was over, this color and that substance with style, was made to order to provide France with horses to pull heavy stage coaches.What was needed was a horse that could trot from 7 to 10 miles per hour and the endurance to do it day in and day out. The light colored greys and whites were preferred because of their visibility at night. . . .

"The Percheron is very versatile. They are readily adapted to varying climates and conditions. They have the strength to pull heavy loads and the graceful style to pull a fine carriage. Percherons can be ridden and some have been known to make fine jumpers. . . .

"The Percheron is very handy in saving the young trees in smaller wood lot operations as they do not need a wide road everywhere they work. They can get on and work ground where even the most modern tractors fail. Their independent four wheel drive conquers mud and snow to the shame of all man made machines. There is a definite place on almost every farm for a team of Percheron horses, whether it be for work or play. . . .

"The decades of the 1870s and 80s were years of massive importation's from Europe. Literally thousands of draft-type horses, especially stallions, were imported primarily from France and Great Britain. . . .

"The decades of the 1870s and 80s were years of massive importation's from Europe. Literally thousands of draft-type horses, especially stallions, were imported primarily from France and Great Britain. . . . 

"As the trade grew and importers ventured further inland in search of the best kind, the little old province of Le Perche was discovered. Or, more to the point, the superiority of its draft horses was discovered. For France had and still does, several races (breeds) of draft horses. . . . 

"The age of purebred livestock had dawned, stud books, herd books,  and flock books were rapidly spawned on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the winter of 1875-76, in Chicago, Illinois, a National Association of Importers & Breeders of Norman Horses was launched. By the time the 2nd volume of the stud book was published the name was altered to Percheron-Norman. In a matter of just a few years the hyphenated version became simply 'Percheron'. . . .

According to the website: "The Percheron quickly became America's favorite horse. In the decade of the 80almost 5,000 stallions and over 2,500 mares were imported to this country from France, mostly from Le Perche. The number exceeded importation's from Great Britain and the rest of continental Europe
. . . .

"Those heavenly days, leaving millions of dollars in little Le Perche, lasted until the financial panic of 1893. There were virtually no importations from 1894-1898. Breeding in this country came to a standstill. Much of the seed stock from the earlier period was lost or squandered as people were either broke or too cautious to spend it if they had it. One of the tens of thousands of businesses that went bankrupt was the young Association. . . . 

"The recovery was almost as abrupt as the downslide. Importations were resumed in 1898, averaging about 700 head a year from that time to 1905. In 1906, they reached the enormous number of 13,000 stallions and 200 mares. Happy Days were here again, both in places like Crossroads, USA and Le Perche. Annual registrations reached 10,000 per year by the teens. . . .

"In 1902, a new breed association was formed, picking up the records from the old. . . .

"These fortuitous circumstances were rudely interrupted in 1914 by the outbreak of World War 1. The days of great importations were over once and for all. . . . 

"The position and role of the draft horse was being threatened by trucks in the cities and tractors on the farms. The equine population of the Unites States crested about 1920. While the draft horse waged a determined campaign to "keep its job" it was a losing battle, particularly on the city streets. On the farms, the draft animal pretty well held its own during the 1920s, but the decade was a lackluster one for the heavy horse interests. You can't be loosing a substantial part of your market and be singing Happy Days are Here Again at the same time. . . . 

"The 1930s census is a good indication of the affection Americans had for the Percheron. Over 70 percent of the purebred draft horses in America were Percherons. Every major land grant school in America maintained a stable of Percherons. Much of the farm press was still loyal to the horse as the most economical source of farm power. . . . 

"Then came the great depression of the 1930s and the draft horse made a dramatic comeback. Corn was cheap, farmers were broke, gasoline wasn't free. Registrations more than doubled in a few short years. In 1937 they reached 4,611, a figure not seen for over a decade. Importations of a few quality horses were resumed on a modest scale. . . . 

"But the tractor had also been improved, put on rubber, and was selling like hot cakes as the decade closed. . . .

"Then came the 1940s and World War 2 and an almost complete mobilization of manpower. During that war an awful lot of the farming got done by old men and their wives, and high school and younger kids. Gasoline was plentiful. The use of drafters during the war declined. When the veterans came home they were, for the most part, mechanically inclined and their fathers were tired. The greatest liquidation of draft horse stock in history started and kept right on going clear through the 1950s until they were no longer considered worth counting in the official agricultural census of the United States. It was truly a vestige that was left as the 1960s dawned. . . . 

"The low point in Percheron registrations came in 1954 when just 85  head were recorded. The term endangered species was certainly appropriate though not yet in common use. . . .

"It was a relative handful of people, dedicated to the breed, unconvinced of the wisdom of the course being pursued by agriculture, and unwilling to relinquish their equine heritage, that kept the Percheron alive. They were aided in this by the thousands of Amish farmers throughout the country who stuck with the draft horse as their source of motive power. . . .

"This determination and patience was rewarded. Americans rediscovered the usefulness of the draft horse. Other Americans discovered the pleasure of working with them at a non-farm tasks. The shows welcomed them back. The growing recreation business discovered their attractiveness at ski lodges, etc. The wood lot owner looked around for a horse logger that would take out a few trees without ruining the rest. It became a combination of niche markets. . . .

"This resurgence in numbers and values has been nothing short of amazing. The growth of the breed in the last ten years bears testimony to that. Registrations totaled 1,088 in 1988, ten years later that had grown to 2257. Transfers numbered 1794 in 1989 grew to 3287 in 1998. Perhaps most significantly, members grew from 2155 to 3095. . . .  

"This is not, as was sometimes true in the old days, a case of a few people importing and recording hundreds of horses. The ownership of the breed is in many hands for many uses. . . .


The Percheron website reports: "And the sculpting goes on. In the 1930s the conventional wisdom was that the battle to the truck was lost completely and the heavy tillage on the farms was as good as lost, so a deliberate effort to downsize the breed was undertaken. Now, the appeal of the big hitches, has reversed that trend." 



Saturday, February 14, 2015

Boyhood novel has a Pennsylvania setting, largely



Some interview highlights from James Cotton, author of The Boys of Summers Run


Would you say The Boys of Summers Run is a coming-of-age, young adult work?

Perhaps, but publishers try to pigeonhole fiction because it’s convenient. I consider it more an intergenerational novel as there are strong relationships linking my narrator and elders of his community. Farm boys and Little League Baseball create the backdrop, but it’s not a play-by-play sports story, either. More an account of the lessons from life and loss played out in rural Pennsylvania.

You’ve said the book could be read in Sunday School. How so?

Well, my main character develops a crush on a Mennonite girl from a neighboring farm. Then, in Las Vegas, he teams up with the Haupleton twins, from an LDS family . . . for a school project on urban gardening. And, the funeral takes place at St. Matthew’s in the Meadow, an Episcopal setting. So, it became rather ecumenical. In contrast to some works in the genre, the language is very tame and the narrative portrays likeable people doing pleasant things.

Unlike some of the grim plots found in young adult novels, your character Claude takes up life on what looks like a prosperous, historic farm. 

Yes, Claude and his recently widowed mother land there, trying to sort out what’s next for them. But Shadeland is facing the realities of taxes, markets, the constant upkeep and challenging stewardship of keeping the place intact, in the family, and providing a livelihood for the next generation or two. It’s roots for Claude, something he yearns for. So his loyalty quickly spreads its cloak over Shadeland and the family of his departed father. He becomes a farm-boy-in-training.

That’s why the move to Las Vegas is such a wrench. Shadeland is grounding, its bedrock extending deep into the values of another era. Las Vegas pits Claude against his mother’s new chapter and her in-laws who are deeply invested in casinos, hotels, and a high-octane lifestyle.  

So, does he return to Summers Run and Shadeland? Ever?

Aside from the Haupleton twins, things do not go so well for Claude in Nevada, particularly on the baseball diamond where he’s a pitcher for a local team. But a mentor in Pennsylvania once told him: “It’s not always your friends, Claude, who become your best teachers.” So, he applies such to his new life. 

I’ll risk a spoiler here. Yes, Claude does return to Summers Run and Shadeland and his old teammates, the Panthers. In one passage, he tells us: “It’s summer, and I feel my stride matching that of my tallest shadow.” Some of us recall being twelve or thirteen, standing on the cusp, looking across the chasm between boyhood and manhood.  Claude and his friends grow . . . sometimes within an afternoon. His Uncle Albert remembers: “the pure joy of being a boy. It doesn’t last long.”

And the book seems to portray that through Claude and the others. Would you call it a bittersweet account? 

There’s that element, yes, but Claude joins the other fatherless boys of Summers Run––Tim, Aaron, Kevin, and Jeff––banding together and negotiating the terrain their fates have defined as best they can. Outcomes are hopeful. Baseball becomes but one unifier.

The Turnip, a huge hot air balloon, is referred to occasionally throughout the work. And then there’s the rooster. Did you plant these to tie the work together?

Well, the balloon is from an event staged by my hometown, Meadville, PA, every June, where a couple dozen hot-air balloons are launched and put on a show. The rooster comes from family lore. Claude’s father, at the age of four, went a-climbing up to touch the “wooster” on the weather vane high atop Shadeland’s giant barn. The rooster comes center stage drawing Claude’s narration together. Like a good motif should.

Do readers ever ask how Claude could be so perceptive as a young teen, telling his story?

We tried to point out early on, that the narrative is two-pronged. Claude relates the action at the time it took place, and then he often applies his perspective from twenty years later. This dual approach is tricky for an author to navigate but ultimately gives the reader the three-dimensional picture and a richer progression. 

You call your book a “feel good” novel. Aren’t you afraid prospective readers might think it too syrupy?

The works of Rosamunde Pilcher and Jan Karon often deal with tragedy and grim realities. Yet they remain “pleasant reads” or “heart-warmers.” It takes a deft hand to deal with the grit of life and yet not wallow in it. I think those of us who write in this vein, expect any art to uplift. If it doesn’t, what’s the point? 




Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gingerbread . . . found along a country road



One of the most full-bodied expressions of gingerbread we've found lately along P. A.'s back roads.

When steam-powered saws became available to carpenters and woodworkers back in the mid- to late-1800s, creativity was given full expression.

How novel and exciting back then to add embellishments to their structures and call attention to their new-found skills. They left us a legacy of a time unique in our history. Many works of the sort pictured eventually came down and were discarded. One can imagine the effort and tedium painting and maintaining these gables every few years. Plus they were likely great roosting places for pests such as hornets.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

There are those times . . .



when a quick shot, even a snapshot, can capture something worth keeping. This image appears among those displayed on my website at Fine Art America. Click on Jim Cotton's Rural Photography This piece is entitled, "Suspended".

Just walking along a little stream's bank, when I thought: well, that's kinda nice, and shot. It makes one think of those wall hangers skilled metal artists create in copper, brass, or bronze. 

I don't use Photoshop, only the bare-bones program the iMac provides on iPhoto. Found along some little run flowing in Venango County, P. A.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Last "Row" of Summer



Found this beautiful canoe somewhere in central P. A. awaiting to be paddled across an inviting pond.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thurston Classic, Meadville, Pennsylvania



Last weekend, the annual Thurston Balloon Classic was staged in Meadville, PA. Always a popular attraction for folks in the northwest part of the state, it begins on a Thursday night with a "night light-up" with as many as a dozen balloons participating.

They are, of course, anchored, but the burners are lit and create quite a pleasing spectacle one doesn't see often or everywhere. Part of the display includes synchronizing the firing in sequence. Nice family outing.