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Home News Headlines Old School: From mules to microchips, Frank Griffin has witnessed the evolution of farming for decades

Old School: From mules to microchips, Frank Griffin has witnessed the evolution of farming for decades

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Anybody who has been to Stiles Farm near Thrall in Williamson County over the last half century might have met Frank Griffin — he’s been working there since well before the establishment of the Stiles Farm Foundation in 1961.

He was there for the first Stiles Farm Field Day in 1963 and he plans to be there for the 50th one in June. Ask him how long he has worked at Stiles Farm and Griffin will tell you “since I was big enough to drive a mule.”

That would be a some time after 1936, the year he was born. Griffin's father worked at Stiles Farm for J.V. and H.A. Stiles (Frank refers to them as “Vernon and Alvin”), who followed in the footsteps of their father, James E. Stiles, for whom the foundation is named. Cesar Stiles, referred to as “the Colonel” by Griffin, managed the farm, which grew corn, maize, Sudan grass, alfalfa and cotton in addition to having cattle, hogs, horses and, of course, mules. Griffin said horses were his favorite animal because he could ride them out to the pasture or field to work, but he was usually with a mule. And he liked working with mules.

“You hook a mule on a plow. You tell a mule to giddyap and go it giddyap and goes,” he said during a recent visit to the farm. “I worked behind a mule on many a day here.

“My daddy, brothers, sisters, grandmas, aunties, uncles, cousins all worked here. We lived here. Two of my kids worked here. They were born here, too.”

The pay in the early days was 50 cents an hour, which he said wasn't bad for back then. But even it the money was good, farm work has always been dangerous, as he knows all too well. His oldest brother lost an arm when he tried to pull a corn stalk free from a corn picker, and his father suffered a broken arm in another accident.

Some of his brothers and sisters went to West Texas to work cotton while other stayed around to work on farms in the area. Frank Griffin stayed at Stiles Farm, doing whatever needed to be done on any particular day.

“The reason I stayed was for my mother and daddy,” he said. “I stayed here until they passed. I felt like I needed to be here to take them to the doctors and such as that, so I stayed on.”

Griffin still lives at the farm, and his eight children grew up there. While none have stayed on the farm, that suits Griffin just fine, because seven of them went to college. They all went to what is now the University of North Texas in Denton.

He remembers the day he learned that his children wanted to go to college.

“One day we was at the table eating dinner and they said, 'Daddy, when we get out of high school we're not going to do what you're doing. We see you out there all day working in sleet and snow and rain and working with horses and mules. Daddy, we want to go to college.'

“One day my oldest daughter said, 'Daddy, will you take me to North Texas?' So I took her up there. They followed one another up there, one after the other. They all learned to work with computers.”

It’s fair to say Griffin has witnessed the evolution of the American farm, from the days when mules were as vital to success as the “computer in their pocket” farmers now carry when they go to the fields, as Stiles Farm manager Archie Abrameit puts it. Since its inception as a demonstration farm, Stiles Farm has been the site of up-to-date management practices, field trials and technology. It is set up as a working farm and operates as such; the farm has to make a profit to stay in business, same as the farmers it serves.

Abrameit has been at Stiles Farm since 1997, replacing Calvin C. Rinn, who held the position for 35 years. Griffin has been around every one of those years. He's what they used to call a “jack of all trades.”

“Frank can do just about anything on the farm,” Abrameit said. “He can do about any kind of farm work and fence work there is, just about anything. I tell people that he's forgotten more about this place than I will ever know, and it's true.”

It's been a long time since Griffin became big enough to walk behind a mule to plow a field. Lately, he said, he's been thinking about retiring.

“I've been here so long, there ain't nothing else I want to try to do. I like the work here. I'm not choosy. You don't know when you get here what has to be done that day. I just do whatever needs to be done.”

Asked what he would do if he retired, Griffin nods toward the railroad tracks across from the farm.

“I want to get on that train, where you sit up high and ride across the country and look out at the countryside. That's what I want to do. I want to see all of it.”

And why not? After all, when it comes to farm work, he's already seen more than most people.

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