During their time on Rivercrest Jersey Farm, the Fergus family worked for Charles and Myrtle Couche. It was an uncomfortable relationship at times due to differences in background and experience, economic status, and the oversize personalities of the Couches. In order to build an award-winning Jersey herd and keep their hobby dairy functioning day-to-day they desperately needed an experienced herdsman, Boyd. And under his experienced hand, the farm grew and attained nation-wide recognition with a 7-star bull and award-winning progeny bringing the Couche couple the money and recognition they craved within the Jersey Association.
While researching the family’s time on the Couche place I came across the following news article that gives a sense of what farm life with two out-of-depth city folk was like for our grandparents.
“…Sunday was a tough day on the Charles Couche farm at Sherwood. First, a valuable Jersey heifer died from eating too many green apples. Then Charley fell from the top of a new hay barn, suffering injuries of a nature that made both walking and sitting extremely painful. Then the farm herdsman [Boyd Fergus] went to the hospital with ulcers. Finally the phone started ringing with calls from worried cattle club members to find out if date of picnic had been changed after wrong date had appeared in newspaper. On top of all that, Mrs. Couche complained it was hot….” Oregonian, 8 August 1952
Mr. Couche enjoyed the status and bragging rights of owning the farm, but could be inept at the day-to-day farm tasks. He was also an aggressive bully at times, once tormenting a yearling bull calf to the point that it became a danger to itself, other livestock, and the herdsman and had to be put down. (See Soli) This behavior was not limited to animals. In this hostile work environment, Boyd’s health suffered under the stress of working for Mr. Couche, the physical demands of caring for so many cows with only his wife and young boys for help, and the taxing record-keeping needed with his 8th grade education.
I was curious to learn more about the infamous Mr. Couche and his wife Myrtle.
Born in Exeter, England on April 4, 1890, Charles came to the United States via Canada in 1915 with his first wife Loana and two daughters, Eleanor and Gladys. The family settled in Portland where Charles opened an advertising agency and quickly earned a reputation as a brilliant media marketing man. One of his early contracts was with the Majestic Theater, executing their $40,000 advertising contract with Goldwyn Pictures for weekly movie promotions.
In 1918 Charles and local artist F.H. Clark took third place for their Liberty loan poster design in a hotly contested competition among the best advertising men in the seven western states region. Their poster, “The Prussian Brute” showed a German figure in the act of stealing a baby from the arms of its Belgian mother while in the background the Yankees are shown going over the top of the hill. His chief object, as quoted in the August 9, 1918 edition of the Oregonian was “to sell the war.”
He was also active with the local YMCA volleyball team, learned to drive and bought himself the latest model of the Scripps-Booth six touring car, planned local movie-themed balls and fundraisers, judged essay contests, and taught advertising classes. All this activity and community involvement cost him his first marriage in 1924 when his wife sued for divorce on the basis of desertion. After his divorce was final he married Myrtle Forbes.
In 1935 he saw a future in radio and took a job as the advertising and promotions director for radio stations KALE and KOIN. He continued to climb the ladder of success until he retired from the industry in 1947, as the general manager of KALE. It was about 1944 that the Couche’s decided to dabble in the dairy industry. Their talents were immediately put to use; Charles heading up the state club publication committee and Myrtle applying her talents as editor of the Oregon Jersey Review magazine. In 1945 they took a calculated risk in purchasing a yearling bull (Basil Stan Lilac Romulus King) from the C.W. Sherman stock farm in Scappoose, Or. He had an impeccable pedigree and within four years proved his worth by siring 23 daughters whose quantity of milk and percentage of butterfat per pound set new records. In 1949 he gained his 7-star rating, one of only eleven 7-star bulls in the United States at the time and was sold to Oklahoma A & M for the substantial sum of $2000 for use in their artificial insemination service. Never one to pass up a promotional opportunity, Mr. Couche launched an ad campaign benefiting Rivercrest Farm under the name “What One Bull Did for Us” and used it to promote and advertise not only his farm but increase the sales prices of the jerseys he sold.
The Couche’s continued to work their influence on the state level sponsoring 4-H contests, hosting club picnics, organizing tours for visiting Jersey dignitaries for the yearly meeting culminating in what fellow Jersey members believed was the organization’s crowning achievement; a contract and ad campaign with Fred Meyer stores to sell milk and other dairy products made from Jersey milk under the All-Jersey trade name owned by the Oregon Jersey Cattle Association.
Between 1955 and 1957 Charles and Myrtle Couche began the process of retiring. Ending their work with the Oregon Jersey Cattle Association and selling their herd. They purchased a property management company in Lake Grove, OR where Myrtle kept the books and Charles, only semi-retired, turned his talents to the budding filbert industry and thoughts of nationwide promotion. He died in 1965, while Myrtle 6 years younger, died in 1982.