June 26 • 02:41 PM

Living history

Bryce family farm reaches milestone

December 31, 2008
BERLIN TWP. — If the walls could talk, the farm house just off the dirt road on the Lapeer County line would be filled with family stories—one hundred year's worth of laughter and tears, hard work and tough times, big love and brilliant, beautiful sunsets.

The dirt road's paved now, but it's those sunsets that Colin Bryce still looks forward to and enjoys as he's on the Bryce family farm—now a historic landmark on Dryden Road having recently been named a Centennial Farm.

About to enter his 90th year, Colin Bryce remembers all sorts of things about the area where he was born and raised—about how some things have changed while others really haven't.

"There's more traffic now, but mostly things are okay," Colin says. "I like the sunsets and sunrise, I like the fresh air."

Not a farm, a way of life

Current owners of the Bryce family farm Colin M. Bryce, brother Richard Bryce and father Colin A. Bryce celebrate 100 years of family farming.

Colin's great-grandfather bought the farm on December 15, 1908 from a man named Julius Raymond. It was mainly a subsistence farm, Colin's son Rick says, with a little income gleaned off the navy beans, corn, wheat, eggs, milk, chickens, pigs and beef cows raised there.

A small herd of dairy cattle provided the milk and butter—the excess was sold. Archibald grew his own feed for the cattle.

Maple trees in the woods out back were tapped to make syrup, and fruit came from an orchard of apple, pear and cherry trees. Of course there was a garden—still is today—which yielded tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, onions, potatoes, carrots and corn.

When Archibald died in 1912, the farm went to his six children, five boys and a girl. Eventually, Colin's dad, Colin Bryce Sr. bought his siblings out.

Colin came along in 1919. He grew up on the farm, and has lots of memories of what life was like back then.

Rural life reality

Colin graduated from Almont High School in 1937, four years after the farm was wired for electricity. While in school, one could say Colin was instrumental in seeing to it that some of his neighbors got an education. There weren't any school buses then, and Colin's family had a vehicle that he put to good use. His job was to drive kids to school. He had five riders and earned 50 cents a week. Though he chuckles at the meager pay, Colin says it was all relative back then.

"There was a gas station north of Almont that sold ten gallons for a dollar," he says. "It knocked a little bit."

Speaking of knocks, the Bryce family had a lot of "visitors" in those days, though they didn't rap on the front door to announce their arrival. Dryden Road was nothing but gravel and it snaked just about right up to the home at the county line curve.

"We had a lot of unexpected visitors," Colin laughs.

Some such visitors included a group of basketball players from Capac. As Colin tells it, there were two cars full of the young men making their way down Dryden Road when one of the vehicles veered into the front room window. Though Colin was serving in the military at the time, it's a story he'll never forget.

"My mom and my sister were doing the dishes and they heard a loud crash," he says. "It's fortunate that the house didn't catch fire."

One fellow was bleeding quite a bit, Colin recalls, but his mom was a nurse who knew exactly what to do.

"She put a tourniquet on (the injury) and Dr. Bishop came out," Colin says of the country doctor who had his own hospital on East St. Clair in Almont.

Everyone was okay, and there was even a touch of humor to the incident.

"One fellow's family couldn't find him and his father called his home and asked if he was there and he was, in the kitchen doing the dishes," Colin chuckles. "He had run all the way back to Almont."

Running toward the future,

remembering the past

When Colin returned from the service after World War II, he and his dad "revolutionized" the way work was done on the farm. They bought a John Deere tractor, a bailer and a combine. Colin took on more responsibilities at the farm, and even bailed hay and straw for people on neighboring farms.

"Going from a binder to a combine was one of the biggest things I would say," Colin says. "We could do everything all at home rather than change help with the neighbors."

Farming was good throughout the 1950s, Colin's son Rick says, with the family doing quite well when Colin bought the place from his parents in 1957.

Unfortunately, Rick says a few years later marked the "beginning of the end of the small farmer."

"By the late 1960s a farmer had to either buy or rent more land and buy expensive equipment," Rick says.

As it turns out, neighbors Hugh Spencer and his son Pat wanted to farm the land. Though Colin moved his family to Imlay City while he pursued a career at the Ford Proving Grounds, he still spent time on the Dryden Road land.

In 1982 he wanted to make sure that the farm stay in the family, so it's now jointly owned by Colin and his sons Rick and Colin Michael.

Father and sons—and grandkids Kathleen and Richard Bryce—recently gathered at the urging of Kathleen to celebrate the farm's centennial designation.

Kathleen made invitations for the event that featured photos of the farmhouse "then and now," and coordinated the food and beverages long distance over the phone and Internet.

Along with family members, the Bryces celebrated with neighbors Pat Spencer and Pat's sister Margie Spencer Motney and Fay Bristol Haney—all owners of adjacent centennial farms on Dryden Road.

Editor's note: Rick Bryce, a retired teacher and practicing writer and artist, provided much background information for this story. His history of the farm helped earn the Centennial designation. Rick authored a book about his grandparents' courtship, incorporating 85 of their love letters written from 1909-1918. A copy is available at the Henry Stephens Memorial Library in Almont. His latest project is a piece featuring his father's memories of each of the members of his Almont Class of 1937.

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