Cows that Turn off Lights

cows in appalachia

U. R. Pate of Pigeon Roost, our retired mail carrier, reported that his milk cow for the last several weeks has been switching on the electric light in her barn stall every night. The reason she turns the light on, he just can’t figure, unless she is just afraid of the dark.

Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Whitson have moved from their home on Pate Creek to the Big Ball Mountain to cook for Ralph Masters’ sawmill work hands.

Some awful big hogs was slaughtered in the Pigeon Roost section this hog-killing season which is now over.

According to the farmers’ estimation on the weight of their hogs, some of them went over 700 pounds. This is exceptionally good for a hog of about a year old.

1/12/56 Harvey Miller


The 1974 Winter Edition of the Foxfire Magazine contains a compilation of newspaper articles written by Harvey Miller. At the time of the magazine’s publication Miller’s weekly column had been around for sixty years and was till being published in the Tri-County News located in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Jump over to the Foxfire website and poke around. They are still publishing the magazine and those wonderful Foxfire Books too!

Lately, like the cow, I long for light. I was blessed with good eyesight and only started wearing glasses to read with about 3 years ago. I buy the glasses over the counter, The Deer Hunter calls them readers. He wears them too.

Back in the day I’d be sitting off in a dark corner of the living room with my nose stuck in a book and Pap would say “Tipper don’t you need a light? You surely can’t see to read.” But I could back then. These days I find myself asking the girls if they need a light turned on.


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  • Reply
    Trevis Hicks
    March 2, 2021 at 10:07 am

    My Grandad had a horse in the barn that was notorious for make the barn look like a disco. The light switch was just on the outside of the stall but just close enough that he could flip it with his lips. You could drive by almost any night and see the lights flashing on and off at high speed. I’m not sure if he just like blowing the light bulbs or thought it was funny to really confuse all of the other critters in and around the barn. It was very amusing to the humans at least, but a little annoying having to constantly change light bulbs in the barn.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    I’m another who keeps the dollar reading glasses all over the house and in the barns, too…I call them “cheaters” because that’s what the person who told me about them called them when I first bought a pair to use for knitting. I’m starting to need glasses for driving now, too. But I know what you mean about the light…I need a lot of light for knitting these days, and I’ve about decided not to use dark-colored yarns anymore at all, because even with a lamp on AND the cheaters, it’s awfully hard to see where one stitch ends and the next begins. So I guess I’ve got some nice yarn to give away!

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    February 3, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    What a fun post–as are all the lively comments. I’m a tad skeptical about that 700 pound one-year-old hog. Maybe is was actually two years old, or so? And Ed hearing peepers on Groundhog Day has to be a first.

  • Reply
    Sam Ensley
    February 3, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I have that book of his collected writings. I particularly enjoyed the story where he found a long lost pocket knife.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    What a great post! Love everyone’s comments. When I was little we had a couple of Jersey cows. Oh, the butter and the cream! When my brothers were milking they taught me the trick of ‘shooting’ milk into the barn cats’ mouths. Fun memories.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    There’s the cookie jar cow that sits on my kitchen counter and moos when it is opened. No cookies, but it is the loose change collector for seed money for our own cows.
    There’s memories of helping my uncle drag the milk cans to the road so the “milk factory” could pick them up – didn’t do a thing to keep them cool during the wait but had to be right there to grab the emptied cans and clean them for the next day.
    There’s Dad’s stories of his H.S. football team going to the pasture on the edge of town, herding the cows into the dairyman’s barn for milking, scoop the poop from the field into a compost pile, chalk the field, and, finally, have football practice!
    There’s the day I looked up from grading papers at my desk at home to see two cows on our front porch one looking in each window – – unfortunately, there were also several in the flower beds!! (Good fences really do make good neighbors!)

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 3, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    The last week of January and the 1st week in February of 2015, I had out-patient Cataract Surgery. Dr. Eichenbaum at Murphy performed this and the only complaint I have is Sunlight is too bright for me. But I don’t need glasses anymore, even to see and read the Blind Pig and other e-mails. I tell everyone I can see as good as a 6 year old boy. But I do have to use a magnifying glass to see the small writing on medicine bottles. And a pretty boss-lady at Ingles came up to me the other day and said she’d never seen my eyes until now. I had always worn dark shades. The eye doctor suggested I take Pressure Vision Areds twice a day to insure good vision. They look like little footballs filled with gel. A person’s eyes are really important! …Ken

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 3, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    We had farm animals too when I was little. I remember squirting my brother and
    him squirting me while mama milked our Gurnsey. One time that thing stepped on my brother’s foot and we had a time getting her to move her foot back. And we had lots of hogs, 66 sows and 6 registered bores. A bunch of the girl hogs had littleuns, around 300 pigs. Soon as they got big enough to get into mean-ness, lots got out and an 18 wheeler took care of about 10 at one time, and we lived a good piece from the highway…Ken

  • Reply
    Shirley B
    February 3, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Hi, Tipper,
    I loved the news about the cow turning the light on.Maybe she did overhear something about the Hog killing.We have some land ,but no cows.My husband says I would have them all named and they would just be pets,( no steaks or roasts)
    I too love the Foxfire books.I have several of them ,and I never tire of reading them.
    Keep up the good writing!

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    As a child, I remember hearing that it would harm your eyesight if you watched tv in the dark.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    February 3, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I grew up on a dairy farm so can relate well to all the comments about cows. My Dad started out with Jerseys because we were selling our milk to a cheese plant that paid a premium for high butterfat content. Of course we had plenty of our own butter too; I spent a lot of time on a hand-cranked churn. Later we moved to a different area and had to sell the milk to a regular dairy operation, and high production became a higher priority than butterfat content, so we started adding Holsteins to the herd. One of those was our best producer but was a bad kicker (knocked me flat more than once) and would straighten out a pair of hobbles (or “kickers” as we called them) and we finally tied a rope to her right fetlock, ran it out the barn and tied it to a fencepost. This worked because a cow has to swing her leg forward first in order to kick backwards. We had a milking machine by then, and that old gal would overflow the bucket, which made her worth keeping around. I used to dread it when we’d have a power failure (they were pretty frequent in those days, early 1950’s) because then we had 25 head to milk by hand.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 3, 2016 at 11:40 am

    I don’t think my eyesight is getting bad, I think the world is getting fuzzy. Actually I can still see pretty good closeup for to be 65 years old but the NCDOT says I need glasses to drive. I used to be the designated splinter picker outer at work.
    One time I was at my great uncle Lon’s when he lived at the old Harve Simonds place. He asked if I wanted to see his hog. I wasn’t exactly an admirer of swine at that time but I humored him. We went out to a shed that was boxed in half way up. I looked over wall and the whole shed was filled with hog. It was too big to stand up even. I asked him when he was going to kill it. “Pretty soon or I’ll have to build a bigger pen.” “How are you going to hang him?” “I ain’t, we’ll have to butcher him on the ground.” He couldn’t weigh the hog but he estimated it would dress out at 600 lbs. That was a long time ago. People don’t keep hogs at home much any more.
    I heard peep frogs last night in Morganton. Peep frogs on Groundhog Day?

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 11:26 am

    I, too, was fussed at for reading in dim light and that it would ‘put my eyes out’. My husband and I used to boast about our vision, his being better, but now the opposite is true. Protection of this precious gift is so important. I do need the readers more than he does, though, and we both need LIGHT!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 3, 2016 at 11:25 am

    My distance sight has improved with age to not needing glasses but now I’m not comfortable reading without a little help. If yall have a Dollar Tree, they have reading glasses for $1.00–I’ve got a lot of them and still have trouble finding a pair.
    I never had much luck trying to get milk from any cow–guess I was really too little when we still had cows and truthfully I love to look at them but I’m scared of them. Always remember the horror when our neighbor’s rogue cow would escape again and we’d have to help get her back in. I’d get sent to one side & told to “head her off” if she came that way. My brother & I had to go get the cows at night from the pasture and we were both scared of them. Things were so different then–we were not more than maybe 6 yrs. old.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    February 3, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Tipper, I had a busy day yesterday but I meant to comment on your post and then didn’t get around to it. One of the hardest things about getting old is losing the world you grew up in. Places where I used to walk are covered with houses and highways or are now private property posted with signs. It seems like we are losing more of our rural and mountain land every day.
    We had a Jersey or a Brown Swiss – Guernsey cross cow for many years. We also had some beef cows, but the milk cows had the sweetest disposition. One of my cows, I named “Pet” really was a pet. The beef calves were sweet when young, but they got pushy as they grew up.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 10:54 am

    My hubby and I had beef cattle for 23 years. Some people say cattle are dumb, but I’ve seen enough to know that is not true. They can be smart and wily, so I’m not surprised to hear of a cow that turned the lights on and off.
    I, too, have the drugstore readers. I keep a pair in most rooms, so I don’t have to worry about carrying around a pair, then laying them down and forgetting them. Both the eyes and memory have good days and bad days!
    I collect cow things, so a BP&TA item would be cherished.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 10:49 am

    Eyesight, mine was perfect until I was 44, then I started with the readers. I had them in every room of the house in different strengths. I finally had to break down and get a for real pair of glasses. I got the progressive lenses, but I my not liking them at all! When I can cobble together the money I think I will do the bifocals.
    Love the stories from the old magazines and papers. They actually told you information you cared about!
    Many blessings for the family and especially Pap’s health.

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    February 3, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Enjoy and can relate to all this as I grew up on a farm. In my old age I am trying to recreate some of it I now have 40 acres and 3 jersey heffers just ready to freshen.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    February 3, 2016 at 9:50 am

    My glasses are my best earthly friend! I wear trifocals now, and I’m very thankful that I can still read! My mama used to say to me when I was reading in a dark spot, “Turn on some light — you’re gonna put your eyes out!”

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    February 3, 2016 at 9:44 am

    That is a funny story about the cow and the light.
    I was blessed with good eyes too but around 40 my up close vision started to fade. I would hold my hand farther and farther away until I finally ran out of arm and had to go get some readers. Later I just broke down and got a prescription with a slight distance correction.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 9:43 am

    I use the “drug store”/ “reader glasses” also. If my arms were a little longer I could read OK without them. I prefer to call them my pince-nez, which I think sounds much cooler.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 9:26 am

    Hum! A cow that can turn on the light; that is very interesting! Are you sure there isn’t something mystical going on? Well, I think I will enjoy a cow, so count me in.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2016 at 9:03 am

    The first time I heard of Foxfire Magazine was here on this blog. After I won your give-away subscription, I was hooked. The books are hard to find and will cost a pretty penny to get the ones you want. I ordered five or six on ebay and complained about the price each time I ordered. Now I wouldn’t sell them back for a higher price than I paid. They are that good!
    The lights never got turned on in our house until it was dark-really dark. Daddy sure couldn’t afford to keep a cow that would run his juice bill up.

  • Reply
    Leilani Worrell
    February 3, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I have never milked a cow, but I have milked a goat. I have never been around milk cows but I did mingle with some beeves when I was a teen-ager. Back then, I thought cows were the stupidest things around (after chickens), but since then I have seen some videos on YouTube where cows have demonstrated some reasoning ability and a love for play (with large exercise blow-up balls). Yes, I was mostly raised in town (not a city), and now in my advanced years I live in the country where, because of zoning, my neighbor across the street can have livestock, but I cannot even have chickens! (about whose intelligence I am still undecided). I enjoyed reading about the cow; it brought back some pleasant memories. Thank you!

  • Reply
    James Smithson
    February 3, 2016 at 8:33 am

    My Mom was born in relief NC and grew up at Pigeon Roost, She was a Honeycutt, and kin to the Millers, Arrowoods and Tiptons. She was born in 1913 and passed in 1999. It was nice to hear her home mentioned in this post.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    February 3, 2016 at 8:30 am

    I have worn glasses since I was 12. I could read without them, but couldn’t read the blackboard at school. In my 40’s, the near vision started slipping and I went to multi-focal lenses. At age 64, I found that my far vision was almost perfect and I passed my North Carolina Driver eye exam without glasses, but need them for reading. Now at almost 68, the far vision is slipping just a little.
    My wife, on the other hand, will be 68 next month and only uses the readers, as the Deer Hunter calls them. She will probably be in glasses after her next exam, though.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 3, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Well, we used to say “don’t have a cow” when someone was over-reacting.
    I’m with you about the light. I need more all the time and I want ‘real’ Light instead of electric. Unfortunately I can’t pick the house up and turn it about 20-degrees south. If I were building myself the whole layout of the house would be based on the track of the sun. This house doesn’t have a single window that faces south but windows for the other three cardinal directions. Anyway, enough of that.
    I think a bunch of us are ready for spring. I’ve started cleaning off the garden, mostly to spread out the work. It’s too early I know. But I have picked some wild cress that is blooming already and the purple henbit is blooming and the big chickweed. Took me lots of years to figure it out but the seasons actually merge into each other with subtle signs that are easily missed.

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    February 3, 2016 at 8:18 am

    Dark was dark in the country when I was young. Light pollution is everywhere now with security lights and towns giving the countryside a glow. I miss how bright the stars and moon were. I always heard it was as “dark as the inside of a cow”.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    February 3, 2016 at 8:07 am

    I was always blessed with better than normal eyesight until the last few years. First, it was needing readers to see fine print. Then the distance vision started going downhill. Now, it is progressive lenses for me! However, I can still function without the glasses as long as detail work is not involved . . . Or driving! And I am a fan of having some bright lights on when I am trying to do close work!
    So, maybe those cows are just getting a bit older and just need to shed a little light on their hay!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 3, 2016 at 7:49 am

    I’m with the girls turning the lights on. It’s lonely out there in the dark. These little snippets are a glimpse into another world, a world long gone. A world with different values. I think life was harder then but it was also more concrete. You milked every morning and evening, killed hogs in the fall, planted the garden in the spring and so on from one predictable day to the next.
    I’m not sure whether I envy them or not.

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    February 3, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Well tipper, this beats a hog wollowern and a hen a pecking! Our cows had no choice but dark nights because we never had electricity – that is until TVA discovered us. But we sure had good milk cows.
    When I finally got out of the Cove and did some travelling, I went to the Isles of Jersey and Gernsey across the POND! While on the islands all I could think about is how my Mother loved her milk cows. She always insisted that Daddy trade for a Jersey milk cow or a Gernsey. My traveling companions didn’t know what I was talking about! But we had fun laughing at my stories!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Barb Wright
    February 3, 2016 at 7:19 am

    That is a funny story! I have always enjoyed the Foxfire books.. They can be re read without getting old. I always learn something new!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 3, 2016 at 6:18 am

    I just don’t believe I could live any further North than I already am….I need my Daylight…How do those folks on the Alaska reality shows stand all that cold and long winter nights that leak over into what I would call daylight hours!…I am pretty sure I have that Seasonal Affective Disorder…ha I need one of those big LED lights and set it to a timer…so I feel like it is summertime…all winter! One good snow, and winter is over for me…come on Spring! It must be my age..
    The reason the cow was turning on the lights in the barn? The gals heard about the Hog-killing! Better safe than sorry!
    Thanks Tipper,

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