by Gary Mount
Vernon Horn, of Bucks County Pennsylvania died this past winter at the age of 79. He was my mentor in many things and was generous to me with his ideas, enthusiasm and friendship. His influence has guided me in much of what we have done here at the farm.
I first met Vernon when Pam and I lived in Bucks County, near Doylestown after returning to the US from three years in the Peace Corps and traveling around the world. I came home from my job as a real estate salesman to find him in our kitchen arguing about education with Pam. They barely said hello–so passionate was their debate. Vernon was a quarry owner near to the house that we rented whose visit was prompted by none of his trucks and paving crews getting much done because of a certain young woman (Pam) mowing the lawn with a push mower in a bikini.
That first debate was not the last as we became friends with Vernon, his wife and four children. We visited them for Sunday evening dinner almost every week for the five years that we lived there and then met them for somewhere for dinner once a week for two or three years after we bought Terhune’s and moved to Princeton.
Vernon’s enthusiasm for life was stunning. His ideas were, as we say today, “out of the box”. I haven’t know anyone else who was so self directed–enough to do something–as Vernon did–like deciding to start a stone quarry and so buying a farm and started to dig.
I had taken a job that I disliked and was becoming a “do the minimum” type of guy. I worked for my brother Bill, the most generous boss anyone could ever have, but the job just was not for me. That was making my living by taking a percentage of what someone else made. I would value much higher the chance to produce or make something. Vernon was so different. Each Sunday when we visited, he would fidget and become restless in anticipation of the work week that would start the next morning. He loved his work and in the case of quarrying and contracting, he loved the equipment that went with it.
I remember the time when Pam and I wanted to vacation in Florida, meeting college roommate Andy Zimmerman and his wife in Key West. We did not have enough money to fly, so decided to drive. Vernon and Edith (he called her “Chicken”) said they would drive down with us and fly back later. We didn’t realize that meant non-stop. And when we crossed the Florida state line–exhausted–we just had to drive around Jacksonville looking at equipment for sale. How he knew the name and location of every dealer, I don’t know. But we did visit them all and had a commentary of every truck, bulldozer, loader and rock crusher.
His attitudes and opinions have rubbed off on me. Buying a farm and becoming farmers was an unusual, “out of the box” type of thing to do in 1975. Having graduated from Princeton, I was highly imbued with the idea that I should be a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief of something like that. At least I should commute to Wall Street or become a captain of industry. Knowing Vernon helped us see that we could do this and if we thought it worthwhile, that was reason enough.
When Pam and I came to Terhune’s, we knew that making apple cider would be a big part of our business. I had never made cider and had not even seen it being made, but it looked like the cider equipment that came with the farm was in need of upgrading. Vernon came over and we worked all day, all night and all the next day creating a new cider plant. I still can hardly believe it. I had thought I knew a better way and Vernon helped me do it.
One of the other big influences that Vernon had on me was about money and financing. Thirty seven years ago, buying a farm in the area in order to farm it was not done. The Mercer County Agricultural Agent, Charlie Holmes, told us that no one in our county had purchased a farm for farming in over twenty years. Lucky for us, Charlie was a fruit specialist and was an invaluable help in the early years.
We had no money to purchase the farm and get started, but somehow we managed to borrow it all. Part of our financing came from the Farmers Home Administration’s farm ownership loan program. We had a visit and inspection by the local FHA farmer’s committee who, despite having seen farm after farm selling out because of unprofitability, believed in our potential and approved the loan. Owing so much money was daunting but Vernon’s tongue in cheek comment was that he himself never wanted to be a millionaire. He just wanted to owe a million. I think his cavalier approach to debt helped him–and us–focus on our enterprise and goals.
Vernon is gone now, but his enthusiasm for life and willingness to help us is something Pam and I will remember.