Springtime in Seaview/Dirty Joe

Joe Bradley harvesting hay off Corn Hill Lane.

About this time of the year (April) my Dad would start thinking about gardening. He would drive in the four stakes that marked the plot. On a Sunday morning before noon, he would pile me in his old Chevy and off to Cornhill Lane.

As we approached a turn in the road, he would pull off to the side and stop. We’d get out and go down a cart path to what looked a one-room shack near the edge of the North River Marsh. Across from the shack was a shed that housed a horse. Around both buildings were horse-drawn implements — a cutter bar, a hay rake, a harrow, and all sorts of wagons in all sorts of condition.

My Dad would knock on the door and in a few seconds a man would appear, dressed in long johns that appeared to have never been washed! This was Dirty Joe — Joe Bradly. Joe plowed gardens, and did other farm chores, so my Dad would arrange a time to have him plow our garden. As they made plans, I would climb aboard anything that had a seat and imagine I was driving it. Joe would holler over to me, “Sonny, you be careful on that. You might git hurt.” I would reply, ”OK!” Joe had a different accent than I had heard before.

A week before Memorial Day, ‘Dirty Joe’ would show up about 7 AM aboard his wagon, with a plow and harrow tied down. The noises would wake me, and I would rush to get dressed and out to watch him unload. He would block the wagon wheels, then unhitch his horse, tie a chain onto the plow, hook it to his horse, and drag it down the ramps.

The harrow was a different story — it could roll down out of control. He would drag it to the top of the ramp, tie a rope to it, then wrap the rope to a stake up front, give the harrow a tug, and it came rolling down the ramp as he slacked the rope. These tricks amazed this young kid!

By now my Mom would be out with coffee and a muffin for Joe, milk and a muffin for me. I would sit in the wagon seat and Joe would eat off the tailgate. I have no idea what we talked about — mostly my questions about the wagon stuff, I think.

He would hook up the plow, let it lie on its side, then signal his horse with a “click-click” with his tongue and cheek, and off the horse would go to the plot. Once there, he would lift the plow, point it into the soil, ”click-click” and off the horse would go. It was so amazing to see that soil turn. My Dad would say, ”with just one horse power.”

After Joe finished plowing our garden, he would drag the plow over to the next neighbor to be plowed. At noon Joe would come back to feed and water his horse. I was the water boy. The horse could suck up about half the bucket a time. Remember, I was just a small kid, and dragging a full bucket was a chore. A canvas feed bucket was hooked over the horse’s mouth and he would chomp away.

My Mom would come out with sandwiches and tea for Joe, milk for me – I on the wagon seat and Joe on the tailgate. Joe had a brown bag but never opened it. The bag looked as it had been used a hundred times. My Mom always topped off lunch with dessert — cookies, brownies, or a piece of pie. Joe would finish off anything left.

Now ”Dirty Joe” would climb onto the wagon, lie down on a rug, cover himself with a robe, and take a nap. His horse stood by waiting.

Next came the harrow — down the rows then up, then across until smooth. All for four dollars!

At about 4 PM, Joe would return to his wagon, arrange his implements, and get permission to leave them overnight (I loved that). Then he would take off the harness, put it in the wagon, mount the horse from the wagon, and off to Cornhill Lane from Seaview.

The story I heard is that he came from a well-to-do-family and graduated from Harvard. He had a Boston accent, a quick smile, and a mouthful of gold teeth. He was very polite, very well spoken, and my Mom once said, ”He had a twinkle in his eye!” He was always dressed in black trousers with suspenders, black jacket, not very white shirt, black shoes and a black hat. Is there anyone out there that remembers ‘Dirty Joe?”

by Ray Freden
Originally published in the Marshfield Mariner, May 19, 2010

Up-date 1/2020.

Bradley, Joseph H (1878-1952) – Marshfield Farmer 1935-1952 on Cornhill Avenue.

The 1940 Census for Marshfield shows that Joseph H. Bradley was a sixty-three years old, single male, who was born in New York, renting a farm on Cornhill Avenue on which he conducted his own farming business. He was the second to the youngest child and second son of Michael & Jane Bradley of New York City, New York, who immigrated from Ireland to the US. His siblings were George (b. 1867), Mary (b.1868), Kate (b.1875) and Elizabeth (b.1879). What could have brought him out here to take up farming in Marshfield?

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