The Farm Chronicles: Land Grab

Our Ohio farm has been in the family since around 1818. It was handed down from father to son all those years. They carved out a farm from the Western Ohio wilderness, fought the elements, defended it against hostile Indians, and somehow made a living without putting a mortgage on the property. Those fathers and sons are buried in Hawley Cemetery just a half a mile away. So you can imagine the anger from my dad when a local real estate broker decided to pull down the Eastern fence along the property line to give his newly created lots the dimensions required by zoning laws. He had already torn the fence down twice, our cattle spread across the township, and Dad had had enough of it.

I was at college between classes when the phone rang. Dad said, “Son, I’ve got a problem up here with that crook Harris, the realtor. He’s been tearing down the fence, saying it’s on his property. That property line hasn’t changed in over 150 years. He’s trying to steal our land.” It just so happened at the time I was taking a journalism law class and we were studying Ohio property law. I told Dad that any fence line established for 25 years was considered the property line and no matter what, Harris couldn’t change that without Dad’s consent. Dad said I better come home and help him. So I hopped in my ’67 Chevy Impala SS, which we never knew if it would make the 150 mile trip, and came home. The next day, Saturday morning, Harris shows up in the driveway to “discuss” the issue with my Dad.

He got out of his car and I was standing on the back sidewalk when Dad came out of the house. Dad didn’t hesitate. He came after Harris with fists in the air, shouting something to the order of “I’m going to beat the **** out of you, you crooked thief!” With Dad chasing him, Harris, by this time, is running in big circles around the yard trying to get back into his car. I remember him looking at me and yelling, “Are you going to just stand there and let him do this?” And I just smiled and said, “You’ll get what’s coming to you.” Well, Harris made it back to his car and they agreed to meet at the fence line because Harris had “surveyors” coming to settle the dispute. At the fence, Harris on one side, Dad and I on the other, and Harris starts taunting Dad, saying, “You’re a real big man, now, when a fence is between us, right?” Oooooh boy!

It was all I could do to keep Dad from jumping that fence, which by then wasn’t in too good of shape anyway. Then these long-haired, hippy looking “surveyors” fell out of an old beat up van and walked to us. I asked to see their license. They didn’t have it with them. I asked if they had found the property pin in the road, and they acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about. So I cited the law to Harris, told him that he and his surveyors were frauds. And I told him that if I ever saw him near our property again his life would end as he knew it. “It starts now.” Harris ran to his car. A few weeks later, Dad spotted Harris on the sidewalk in Ravenna, and Harris nearly got hit by a car running to the other side of the street. Not long afterwards, Harris passed away. Deuteronomy 27:17 says, “Cursed is he that removes his neighbor’s boundary mark.” It’s something I often ponder. We Buckeyes take our land seriously. And I think God does, too.

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Bill Wilson