AP NEWS

Community in Old Saybrook rallies to rebuild burned farm

January 22, 2019

OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. (AP) — At 2:30 a.m. Dec. 30, Earl Endrich, Jr. awoke to his neighbor banging on his door. Across the street, Endrich’s barn was on fire.

The barn he helped his father build in 1966 at age 12. The barn that held his equipment, tools, hay, four oxen, a donkey and five sheep. The center of his life and of his livelihood was engulfed in flames.

The barn was a total loss; only the sheep survived. As the sun came up and word began to spread, the effort to help Endrich, 64, rebuild his barn and his way of life began.

“My stomach turns every time I drive up the driveway,” Endrich said looking at the charred, muddy ground where his barn and animals had stood just days before. “Those animals didn’t deserve to die like that.”

The fire was caused by “an electrical anomaly” in the building, according to Old Saybrook Fire Marshal Peter Terenzi.

Endrich operates Townline Farms from his home across the street from the family farm, Endrich Farm on Middlesex Turnpike, near the Essex town line. He harvests wood with the that his family has owned since 1868.

The old farm has been a mainstay in the town.

After the fire, retailer SWAG of Old Saybrook posted the following to Facebook: “Last week there was a fire in a barn most of you didn’t know existed. But if you ever drive between Old Saybrook and Essex on 154 you may have seen the donkey. Or the steers. And smiled. Earl has those animals because, well he loved them and the whole idea of a small farm. Look there’s a ton of good causes out there but if you can spare a couple of bucks you might just change the world.”

Community leaders wanted to help as well. “It was a devastating loss. Earl has been an active member of the Chamber, an ambassador for us, and a town resident for years,” said Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Judy Sullivan. “We live in a great community and people want to support him. It’s one of these situations where you just want to try to help.”

“Overwhelming,” Endrich said of the swift support. “I know a lot of people from the car business, commercial fishing, from Florida. I have friends all over the country helping out. I didn’t know how many friends I had.”

Endrich served in the Navy, was a mechanic, a commercial sword and tuna fisherman and was the sales manager for Old Saybrook Volkswagen until he retired about four years ago. He moved back to Old Saybrook from Florida in 2006 to help his father, Earl Endrich Sr., with the farm.

Strangers also want to help. “The Montessori School staff and students sent over sandwiches with a nice card saying they would miss seeing the animals out in the pasture,” Endrich said. People immediately took to Facebook to express their sympathy, share memories, and ask how to help.

“I was at the fire when it happened. Afterwards someone posted on Facebook saying that someone should make a gofundme. I decided to do that,” said Junior Firefighter Jack Dunn, who is a senior at Old Saybrook Senior High School. He combined efforts with Sullivan, Kristy Benson of Bittersweet Farm and the high school to make fundraising for the farm his senior project.

Donations may be made through GoFundMe (which at press time reached $10,010 of a $10,000 goal), an Essex Savings Bank account, an Amazon.com wish list and a spaghetti dinner taking place 2 to 6 p.m., Feb. 2, at the VFW. Tickets are $10. The funds will help rebuild and resupply the barn.

Still, the farm animals, who were also companions, will be hard to replace.

Oxen — Rock, Red, Lucky and Tom — and Johnny the donkey had hauled logs and kept Endrich company during long days in the woods. The animals also trained younger oxen to take up the yoke when their own hauling days were over, provided a pastoral scene for passersby, and competed in fairs bringing home ribbons and cash prizes. Johnny also served as a watch donkey protecting the sheep from predators.

Before the fire was out, neighbor Brad Hull brought his excavator and helped bury the animals. By New Year’s Day, the site was cleared, debris mounded into a few piles.

During the fire, “the hayloft collapsed, and all the hay came down on top of everything,” Endrich said. “There are some things I haven’t been able to find, and they may be in the piles.” Charred yokes and rescued metal items now lay along the drive, the bright prize ribbons that hung in the barn are lost forever.

To train a new team, the young oxen are hooked up behind an older team to watch and learn. Red and Rock were about 8 years old and set the example for 4-year-olds Tom and Lucky.

“Rock lived through the fire, but he was badly burned and had trouble breathing. He wouldn’t drink or eat, I didn’t want him to suffer, so we had to put him down,” Endrich said.

“They can die of a broken heart when they lose a partner,” Endrich said, noting that a previous farm pair team died at age 19 within days of each other (not related to the fire). “I figured that was probably what would happen with Rock anyway, if he had lived,” he said.

Endrich now makes do with what’s left, such as using his pick-up truck for hauling wood. “They (oxen) do the job better than any equipment can,” Endrich said. “The truck can only go into the woods when it’s really dry, or frozen, but oxen never slip.”

He has two bulls on loan, White Chianina, which are about a foot taller than the Devons and Durhams he lost. In the spring he hopes to buy a pair of yearlings to train behind the Chianina, although he said, “I’ll never have a pair trained as well as they (Red and Rock) were.”

Endrich’s great-great grandfather bought the original acres and built a house which Bittersweet Farm now rents. Endrich’s father, Earl Endrich, Sr., 87, was born in that house and still lives on the farm property within sight of his birthplace, along with his wife, Emily. The senior Endrich is a 31-year veteran of the OSFD and was a local insurance executive and a state representative for Old Saybrook in the 1960s.

“I’m completely baffled as to how it started,” Endrich said. “Indications point to an electrical fire, but the strange part of it is that the only thing running was the radio. I kept it on to help the animals get used to noises that they would hear at fairs. Nothing else was plugged in.”

“I don’t have big enough words of thanks for this, it’s just incredible,” Endrich said of the community rallying around him. “I just try to live a clean, wholesome, good life.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2WcfpiV

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Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com

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