Archive for Sunday, June 2, 1996

COUPLE SEARCHES FOR SIMPLER LIFE

June 2, 1996

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Two Linwood farmers prefer to live in the past.

The draft team takes off across the Rookers' 80-acre farm near Linwood, their smooth gait silently pulling the slick bobsled blades. Tracks left in the snow will soon melt away. The team scares up a deer or some wild turkeys. Bobcat footprints can be spotted where the cat had been hunting the night before.

The silence is broken only by the wind and the light ringing of antique sleigh bells.

After the winter ride, the farm's resident draft horses are put away and the Rookers, with a few friends perhaps, return to the toasty kitchen, kept warm by a wood-burning stove.

Spiced apple cider is heated on the burners and fresh cookies are pulled from the oven. The party continues with treats and happy chatter.

This is the way Bob Rooker explains one of his favorite winter pastimes. Sitting back on his chair in the rustic kitchen, he paints his winter scenario with a far-off look.

"You can't buy that in the city." Bob concludes. "You have to come out here to find it."

Escape from modern life

Stepping onto the Carol and Bob Rooker farm less than 30 miles from Lawrence is like stepping back in time. That is the way they chose to live when they married and bought the land seven years ago.

Neither Bob nor Carol had lived this simple, almost pioneerlike lifestyle before they met. Carol was a city dweller and Bob lived farther out in the country but worked in construction. Both wanted to escape modern civilization, though, and now they have found the lifestyle of their dreams.

Watching them standing together in their straw hats petting the horses, it is easy to believe Bob when he says, "We have lots of fun together every day; we're soulmates."

Their wedding ceremony took place on an open field looking over the Kaw River Valley, the exact spot that convinced the Rookers to purchase the property.

Home improvement

When they moved onto the land, the little, four-room farm house came fully equipped with three light bulbs, a two-seater outhouse and one electric outlet in the kitchen so the man who lived there before could plug in his refrigerator and television. Because the house always had been heated with wood, all of the walls were black.

Carol said the outhouse was a little more back-to-nature than she wanted, so plumbing has been installed, the walls have been repainted white and the electrical system has been improved. But all of their water still comes from a 25-foot deep spring-fed well, the house is heated with a wood-burning heater and cooking is done on a wood-burning stove.

Learning to cook on the stove was tricky, but Carol said she never will return to more modern stoves.

"Nothing tastes like food cooked on a wood-burning stove," Bob said.

The property's original log cabin, which was built around 1885, stands next to the house, and Bob hopes eventually to renovate it for use as a summer kitchen. The big red barn, which was built by two American Indians in 1915, now is the home for the Rookers' five draft horses.

Their Clydesdale stallion, Jack, is bred with each of the four mares so that the Rookers always have baby horses called foals. The mares, representing various draft horse breeds including Belgian, Percheron and Clydesdale, raise the foals until they are ready to be sold. Breeding the horses is a large part of the Rookers' income.

Living off the land

The horses earn their board by working in the fields. They pull the plow for fields of oats, wheat and corn.

Bob says the advantages of farming with a team outweigh those of a tractor. They always start in the winter, they are not dependent on oil companies, they put back into the land what they take out, they are quiet so the framer can hear the birds while working and they loosen the ground while they walk instead of packing it down.

"It is a relationship you can't develop with a tractor," Bob said. "You have to know each other's ways."

The only disadvantage the Rookers voiced is getting the outdated equipment they need. They frequently visit auctions in hopes of finding antique goods that people have dug out of old barns. Presently, they are keeping their eyes open for a 12-inch Case walking plow and a grain binder. Grain binders were used by farmers before combines. Carol explained that as the horses pull the machine, it cuts the wheat or oats, makes shocks, ties each shock and then drops it back on the ground. The shocks are left to dry and then a horse powered thrashing machine is used to separate the wheat or grain from the straw.

Because their fields cover only few acres, the couple make most of their income from their garden of organically grown vegetables. Carol canned more than 100 quarts of tomatoes and tomato juice last year. They also have a small fruit grove that produces cherries, peaches, apples, pears and persimmons.

They sell the produce at their own farmer's stand on the road near their home. When they don't have the time to sell the food, they often give it away to friends or passersby.

"I just hope and pray that someone who needs it takes it; we like to help other people," Carol said.

Herbs and other medicinal plants also are a Rooker crop. After working as a nurse in Kansas City for 23 years, Carol knows a lot about medicine and believes that natural remedies often are more effective with fewer side effects than modern drugs. Her skills were put to the test when Bob was bitten by a brown recluse spider on a relative's farm in southern Missouri.

Bob said the bite felt better immediately after Carol put plantain on it, with only a small scar to show for it.

"I truly believe that God put a cure for everything in nature, if we just know where to find it," Bob said.

Living without modern conveniences and doing farm work may be a city dweller's worst nightmare, but the Rookers feel the same way about city life. Being forced to drink city water would be torture to them. They know that their lifestyle may be viewed as outdated, but they are also aware that many would love to go a whole day without looking at a clock.

"We're stuck in the past, aren't we, Love?" Bob asked while giving Carol a hug. "But that's the way we like it."

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