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Spooky View Farm Fire | Here in New England

Spooky View Farm Fire | Here in New England
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Keith saw how hard his parents were working, how tight life was financially after all that time, and he went into welding, working a lot in high-rise construction. But he stayed a farm boy at heart and kept working here and there for other dairy farmers, all the while looking around for his own land. The farm he was meant to be on was right in front of him all along. Ruth took stock of her age and Charles’s. She wanted the farm to stay in the family. “I said to Dad,” Ruth recalls, “‘We should see if we can sell the cows to Keith.’ Dad asked Keith if he wanted to farm.” Yes, he really did.

And that is why on this summer evening Keith has just finished milking and Charles is throwing the last bale onto the elevator, which is overheating, though nobody knows it. He looks up and sees the flames. “Fire!” he yells, and then everyone starts running for the animals. The next few minutes are gone from Keith’s memory: “I don’t remember nothing. I still don’t and I don’t know as I want to,” he says.

What he doesn’t remember is how the barn seemed to fill with people pulling and tugging at the cows until all but one were out, how the cows ambled about bewildered until they could be herded together in the pasture. Firemen from 13 towns came screaming up Center Hill Road, but the flames fed on that hay and tore through the woodwork until there was nothing left but mounds of ashes. Neighbors came running and carried to safety every scrap of belongings from the house, even Ruth’s cookbooks, because it was touch and go for a while as to whether the house would also catch fire.

Ruth had been out visiting with Sarah; driving back, she saw the black smoke rising and she knew her life’s work was burning down. “I kept saying, ‘Did I leave the stove on? Did I leave it on?'” The finances of a small family farm are always precarious, and Ruth and Charles and Keith had not increased their insurance over the years to keep up with what it would cost to rebuild. The animals were safe, but without the means to rebuild, surely they would have to be sold; Spooky View Farm  seemed destined to become one more small-print item in the papers announcing one more auction.

Except the death of this family farm took a twist. Epsom’s fire chief, Stewart Yeaton, is also a dairy farmer, and he never hesitated. He told the Bachelders the cows would go to his barn a few miles away, and, in the dark, the air thick with acrid smoke, everyone around who had a livestock trailer drove to the pasture and loaded up the animals. Before dawn, Keith and Charles drove over to the Yeaton farm and milked their cows. “There isn’t a farmer around here that likes a handout,” Yeaton told a local reporter, “but we’ve got to help them out. It’s just what we do. We rally, pick up, and help the other guy get going again.”

Here’s what happened next: Everyone, it seemed, wanted to help. Farmers from Pembroke, Bedford, and Contoocook delivered hay. One farmer dropped off more than $2,000 worth of it. All the local stores sprouted donation cans and people filled them up. Keith continued to wake at 4 each morning to drive to the Yeatons’ to do the milking and to soothe his cows while emerging from his own shock. “I didn’t know I was going to rebuild,” Keith says. But it was as though everyone willed him to. He designed a new barn in his head, one that would let the cows have more freedom to roam and mingle. People brought supplies, lent their expertise and muscle. A local company brought a crane and put up rafters. A neighbor came by with a loader and another with gravel to level the land. “People just came to help from everywhere,” Ruth says. Slowly the new barn took shape on the land.

For a year and a half, the family missed their cows, as if they, too, were family. “We didn’t hear mooing,” Sarah says. “It was eerie.” Ruth remembers how unsettling it became not to smell manure. “And I always used to hear the chains rattle and the milking machine pump go on and off. So quiet. It wasn’t the same.”

Then last winter, on February 11, 2006, the first truckload of cows left the Yeaton farm to come home to their new barn. “We were so happy,” Ruth says. “We opened the gate and they came running.” They put a sign out front: “Cows Are Home.” If you go by the farm today, you’ll see Keith and Charles on the go from 5 in the morning until past 7 at night. The same chores every day, the days that Keith vows will stretch to months and years, a life that few can understand unless it’s in their blood — and if it’s in their blood, they know better than anyone that there are some fires that never burn out.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Mel Allen


Mel Allen


Mel is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. Mel teaches magazine writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son. His column, “Here in New England,” is a 2012 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalist for the category Column.

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2 Responses to Spooky View Farm Fire | Here in New England

  1. Dick Young December 26, 2007 at 6:58 pm #

    This is unbeliveable, literaly. How can nobody be suspicious? It’s a little odd that the son had just finished paying for the farm and planned on moving the farm and magically the farm goes up in flames? Sounds like insurance fraud to me. How could they get all the cows out and get everything out of the house in time. 1 cow dies out of the whole herd. Sounds like this whole community has been duped. Maybe, it wasn’t looked into by an insurance investigator because of the small community.

  2. Andrew Walton January 22, 2008 at 2:23 pm #

    Hi,Dick Young
    How many years have you been an investigator? Just to let you know I was at the farm and helped with the hay on the day in question, placing it onto the elevator. How can you make the statement above? I personally know this family and how hard they work. ( I know they all work harder than you unless you own a farm I hope that’s not the case) with no knowledge of the days events you dare make that statement above. Please tell me your not a member of the NHLI ( when you get the chance Goggle that ) Just FYI I was an insurance investigator for 15 years and traveled all over New England and saw and dealt with all kinds of fraud. Also you will never find a statement that Keith was going to move the farm. Please in the future don’t make these kind of statements..Thank you…

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