Mathias Kiefer Interview:
This is file 3 cycle #2. Today’s date is Sept. 30th, 2015. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Mathias Kiefer for his surveying business, his farm, his connections with SWSA and all of the time that he grew up in town, family background and whatever he wants to talk about. We are going to start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
MK:Mathias Morgan Kiefer
JM:when were you born?
MK:1955, March 22, the second day of spring.
JM:Where were you born?
MK: Sharon Hospital
JM:Your parents’ names?
ML:Mary Louise Quaile and George Croney Kiefer
JM:Do you have siblings?
MK:I have two siblings, a sister older Katherine and a brother younger, Thomas.
JM:What is your educational background after high school?
MK:I went to a 2 year college to get a degree in forestry and land surveying.
JM:And you have used it ever since.
MK:I have used it ever since; I had an idea in high school that I wanted to become a forester and I have become a surveyor.
MK:Our nation’s founding fathers.
JM:That’s wonderful! Let’s talk about your farm first and then we will work through the other items on my list. You do have a farm?
MK:I grew up with my dad. We had a couple cows, and a couple horses and we made hay. That was the start of it; that farm also had other entities, being maple syrup and Christmas trees. Then I married a girl Alison and we have a farm, a little bit larger farm. So I have been farming on Selleck Hill Road and now on Salmon Kill Road.
JM:The farm that you have on Salmon Kill is it mixed with animals and crops?
MK:Yeah, it is a large farm. I am proud to say that it was the first farm in the town of Salisbury to be put under conservation easement. It was done by the previous owner.
JM:Who was the previous owner?
MK:Jeff & Doris Walker. We have a dozen sheep, 5 goats, a couple donkeys, and some poultry. Going on vacation is always a little complicated; we have to arrange a lot.
JM:With animals, yes. Do you still do the Christmas tree farm here?
MK:Yes, we do the Christmas tree farm here; my dad and I started it, well dad started it and I came into it after getting out of college and now I am pretty much doing, he gets all the money and I do all the work.
JM:Yeah parents are like that. About how many trees do you sell a year?
MK:Somewhere between 100 and 130; we do not advertise.
JM:You don’t have to.
MK:I do not want to get any bigger because it would take more time.
JM:Do you do the maple syrup here?
MK:We have all the trees on Selleck Hill Road and I have the sap house where I do the boiling at Salmon Kill Road.
JM:Approximately how many gallons of syrup?
MK:Somewhere between 40 gallons and 70 gallons.
JM:Do you grade it?
MK:No, we bottle it in glass jars and some plastic jars.
JM:When you collect the sap do you use plastic lines or do you use buckets?
MK:We use buckets because I find it easier and I invite people to help gather; actually it is a little bit of a social time. There are 2 or 3 regular people that help me and it is a lot of fun.
JM:Oh sure, is there anything else you would like to tell me about farming before we move on to surveying?
MK:No I have always enjoyed it. When I was in grade school I started with dad; I was always doing a little bit. I find it therapeutic; I describe myself to other people that are new friends “I was educated as a forester, make my money as a land surveyor, but I spend all my money on the farm.”
JM:If you are going to be a farmer, you really have to love doing it because it is so much work. It is a 7/24 job.
MK:Just like at the end of the day, I like being able to do chores.
JM:Surveying, the training that you had to go through for surveying.
MK:As a land surveyor going to college there are colleges that you can get a degree in surveying. You can get a 2 year degree, or you can get a 4 year degree. I got a 2 year degree; my apprenticeship was long. What was required with a 2 year degree was 5 years which is under the direct supervision of a land surveyor.
JM:You worked for three or four different people.
MK:The funny thing that happened with me was that the college I went to had lost its accreditation with the state of Connecticut for the only 2 years I was there. So my apprenticeship (with no formal education) became 9 years. I worked for Frank Spencer first out of Sharon: then I worked with Howard Sterns out of Cornwall, and then I worked with Rich Adams out of Kent. Then my final person with whom I worked was Peter Lamb out of Sharon. I learned a lot from each one of them. Peter Lamb and I became partners.
JM:What was the college?
MK:The college I went to was Paul Smith College in upstate New York.
JM:For land surveying?
MK:for land surveying and forestry.
JM:You told me why you went into surveying because of George Washington.
MK:And Abraham Lincoln and Adams and Jefferson and Ben Franklin. There were a lot of great men in the early parts of the United States that were all surveyors.
JM:Any reference to Samuel Moore who wrote the first book on surveying who lived in Salisbury?
MK:No, that was not one of my intentions.
JM:How long have you been a surveyor?
MK:I got out of college in 1975.
JM:and you are still surveying?
JM:What kind of survey work do you do?4.
MK:Boundary survey, property boundary surveying and topographic surveying for construction projects, mainly residential projects.
JM:Anything you want to add to your business?
MK:It is a unique business so it is very hard to explain to someone. There are three facets of surveying: land records research, filed work, and office computations.
JM:I bet you like the field work better than the office work.
MK:I like them equally.
JM:Really? That is unusual.
MK:Well you had better be able to do all of it. It takes a long time to train someone to be able to handle all aspects of it. Dealing with the land owner is paramount to be able to get an understanding and get them to have an understanding as to what a survey is.
JM:Do you have staff?
MK:I have one full time employee and two part time employees. I used to have 3 full time employees and one part time.
JM:Has the business itself changed much over the years?
MK:Yes, the equipment has. The equipment can replace a person.
JM:That is unfortunate.
MK:Yeah but it is also, the technology is terrific; it allows you to do things that was not possible 20 years ago. The year I graduated from college the field did not have computers. All computations were done long hand with logarithms. A year or two later there was actually a simple hand held calculator; then we used natural sines and co sines. A few years after that we had desk top computers. In my career it has been amazing. The way we used to measure distances for the first 10 or 12 years was with a 200 foot hand tape. You had to have a spring balances and take temperature readings, you would have plumb bobs. Soon after that you had electronic distance measurement devices which were just as accurate whether it was 10 feet away or 1,000 feet away.
JM:It was much easier to do that.
JM:Tree Warden, now you dad was tree warden for 23 years. Is he still Tree Warden or have you taken it over?
MK:He is no longer Tree Warden. With my forestry background my dad and I were both licensed foresters for the state of Connecticut. A tree warden is different that a forester. It is urban forestry.
JM:Explain the difference in simple terms, please.
MK:In simple terms a tree warden is more of an arborist; urban forestry is dealing with tree health and not necessarily climbing and feeding trees. It is more of a forest scape issue, and not individual tree issue. Foresters deal with large acreages of trees usually, and not necessarily individual parks.
JM:Like woodlot management?
MK:Correct. Foresters deal with timber management, recreation uses, and wild life enhancement projects.
JM:Where did you go for your training?
MK:DEEP offered a 7 day course that spanned 7 weeks at the Connecticut Forest & Park Association Headquarters in Rock Fall, Connecticut.
JM:Where is Rock Fall?
MK:Not too far from Middlefield.
JM:What are your duties as Tree Warden?
MK:A Tree Warden works on town road side trees; trying to figure out whether they are hazardous or not, whether they should be taken down and removed or try to see what should be planted to replace trees that are sick, storm damaged, or diseased and dealing with the public on just town road side trees.
JM:Then you don’t have any connection with cemeteries and the tree work that is necessary for the town owned cemeteries?
MK:Well the town owned cemeteries, yes.
JM:Such as Taconic or Mt. Riga or Dutcher’s.
MK:The selectmen would call me in on it because they are the lead person on any town tree. The selectmen have to figure out how much money to spend on this. I recommend what should be done.
JM:Because Chapinville (Taconic) has got a blasted locust tree that needs to come down.
MK:I have already talked to the selectmen to take care of it or get it down.
JM:Good, thank you. When did you become Salisbury’s Tree Warden?6.
MK:Last year (2014)
JM:Do you intend to stay with it?
MK:For a while I can stay there; the only thing that would happen differently would be if my family, business or farm needed more time.
JM:Priorities. Where you ever in the Summer Youth Program?
MK:Yes, I was part of the first crew of it. My father was the person who managed that at the beginning.
JM:And it is still going.
MK:Yeah I remember 10 kids that are all my age; I am thinking I was in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s.
JM:Yeah that would be right because it started in the 1970’s.
MK:I was in high school.
JM:Do you think it influenced you in any way?
MK:Not really because of, you have to realize who my father was.
JM:Yeah that does make a difference.
MK:Cub scouts and boy scouts were never something, I tried them but I was already doing so much at home.
JM:Time factor. How about your skiing background? Did your parents have anything to do with skiing?
MK:Oh yeah, my mother and dad were very active in skiing; they both were directors of the Salisbury Winter Sports Association. My mother worked at Catamount Ski Area for 35 years. I never ski jumped, well maybe once or twice. I cross country skied and raced. I raced Alpine skiing as well all the way from grade school through high school and into college.
JM:What is Alpine skiing?
MK:Downhill skiing which is slalom and downhill.
JM:I imagine your father got you involved in SWSA rather early.
MK:Both my parents did. My mother was just as instrumental in the early days in the 1960’s as my father. Dad would help truck kids around to Nordic ski meets, Nordic meaning cross country skiing and jumping, along with about three or four other parents. We traveled throughout New England every
weekend. So we had a good strong thirty kids that were traveling all the time. Meanwhile my mother did something a little bit different; she gave lessons for downhill skiing right here on Selleck Hill to ladies and men that wanted to learn how to ski. Also my mom was a good family friend named Art Wilkinson who started the first ski swap in mom’s kitchen back in the 1960’s. Now the ski swap had continued and is at the Lakeville Fire House, but their first two or three years it was in Weezie Kiefer and George’s kitchen here. There was so much mud! They finally said this is it! Out!
JM:Does SWSA have anything to do with the ski program that I think is still going on at Salisbury Central School? That was introduced when I was teaching so it would have been…
MK:Well there were two things at Salisbury Central that are continuing. Audrey Whitbeck and I helped her with also Elyse Harney. Elyse started a cross country skiing program at Salisbury Central with the physical education teacher.
JM:Would that have been Cliff Fails?
MK:It was the end of Cliff and beginning of Janice Pierceson.
JM:That would be 1991ish because Cliff and I retired together in 1991.
MK:I remember doing something with George Parsons when I first got out of college (1975). SWSA bought a whole bunch of cross country equipment; we offered cross country skiing, George and I. George’s family was a long time member of SWSA; we provided skis, boots, and poles and we had 40 different sets. We brought people, kids, up at the end of the day to the top of Selleck Hill; we had cross country skiing. We also did cross country skiing down on some of the athletic fields at Salisbury Central. So this would be in the late 1970’s.
JM:I don’t remember that part of it.
MK:I remember that quite well as I was the cross country skiing coach for SWSA at that time. That was one of the things that I did.
JM:But that was after school; that was not part of the curriculum which is why I wouldn’t remember it.
MK:Then there was another thing that happened later in the 1990 when they had to rebuild the gymnasium in the grade school and in the winter time they had no gym. I don’t know where they played basketball because they had no gym as it was all torn apart. (See tape #114 Gordon Johnson on SCS renovation 1990’s) That was the winter that they started to go to Catamount Ski Area was because they wanted to offer Tuesdays a program to take kids to Catamount. There were one or two busses and it just started then and it has continued.
JM:That may have started in the late 1980’s because I do vaguely remember that because my class was very encouraging that I get on skis. There was no way I was going to do that!
MK:That would be about right because my son was born in 1987 and it was already happening. It had been in place for maybe 3 or 4 or 5 years.
JM:It was a wonderful program.
MK:It is still going. One of the things that I think should be said is there is a great and long association between the town of Salisbury and Catamount Ski Area. Jack Fisher, a native son, started two ski areas after World War II: one being Catamount and the other one Jiminy Peak. (See tape #50 Jack Fisher) Jack Fisher’s grandmother was a Scoville. When I was a kid in the 1960’s and my mom would be going to Catamount every weekend as a ski instructor, we had a Volkswagen bus or a station wagon which was packed with kids, not just me, nor my brothers or not my sister. There were people going up to Catamount. A lot of the people who work there were friends of Jack Fisher from the town of Salisbury. I would say that 50% or more of the people working at Catamount were people that knew my mom and dad. So when I was skiing around there were people that knew who I was as Weezie’s kid. There were so many families, the Smith family, the Morey family, the Brazee family there were so many people John Clark was there; it was a really friendly atmosphere.
JM:I think Robin Leech worked there for a while. (See tape #142A Robin Leech)
MK:Yes, he still does.
JM:I did an oral with him and I didn’t do Jack Fisher, but I have one on Jack Fisher and he talks about starting Jiminy Peak and Catamount.
MK:I remember the guy that was working the rope tow was Jesse Morey. Jesse Morey was older than my dad, by about 20 years, and in the summer time Jesse Morey for my dad in the forestry business. So I would see him on the rope tow in the early 1960’s. Jack Fisher was on the first board of directors of SWSA.
JM:Really! When it started, did it always have a board of directors?
MKYes, before World War II it was the Salisbury Outing Club. That was in the late 1920’s and through the 1930’s. It sort of faded away and then after the war the association was created which is called the Salisbury Winter Sports Association. There were a group of characters that really continued what the Satres and others had started before the war. It is surprisingly still going on. It shows the character of our town. It is all volunteer.
JM:How many are on the board?
MK:20 at the moment.
JM;I think I asked you how many volunteers and I think you said that you couldn’t come up with a real number.
MK:Every season you go through different groups that do different things; different individuals who do different things. We have so many projects. To put on a ski jump we are thinking are about 80 to 100 volunteers for a ski jump weekend.
JM;I know I have interviewed somebody like Joe Cleaveland who shows up and he does one thing. That is fine. This has changed over the years; I can remember when they used to bring in snow and now you make snow. This winter you had to get rid of some snow.
MK:Correct. This last winter was a big bonus and we had to get some snow off the hill to make it not too deep for the jumps. As you said we used to truck snow in. We sometimes used to get it from snowdrifts and we all know the climate has totally changed in the last 20 years. For a while there we were getting snow off of hockey rinks, the shavings that came in to the local prep schools and they were very generous; we actually went to Simsbury where there were 4 rinks where the skaters meet. There is a big training center there. One year we hauled from there but that was before our own snow making started. Right now our snow making is not as good as any ski area but it’s sufficient to do what we need. You have to realize we have junior jumping that goes for two to two and one half months on the small hills. We have the big hill which we try to put snow on for at least two week a year so there could be some training for our big competitions. This year we have the Junior Nationals coming back to Salisbury. 5 years ago they were called the Junior Olympics, now they are called the Junior Nationals.
JM:How many hills are there?
MK:There are three hills.
JM:What is each hill’s size?
MK:There is a 20 meter hill, there is a 35 meter hill, and then there is a 70 meter hill.
JM:What happens on each hill?
MK:We start small and go big. So if you are learning, you learn on the 20; that is where I jumped a little bit on the 20. As you get more confident, you get to the 35 and then after that you get to the 70. The 70 is a midsized jump on the big scheme of everything for nationals or internationals. Olympic competitions are on the 90 and the 120 meter hills. That is the most serious competition. There are hills that are bigger than that which is called “ski flying”; there are only a handful of those in the world. Here in New England there is only one 70 hill in New England; that is us. That is an important thing to realize is that if you are learning to ski jump, you can’t go from a 40 meter to a 90 meter very comfortably. You have to have that intermediate size. We have that intermediate size which is huge for young people.
JM:I am amazed that there isn’t a 70 meter hill in Maine, Vermont, or New Hampshire.
MK:There is talk about doing one in Lake Placid.
JM:But that is New York.10.
MK:There are 75 meter hills in Brattleboro, Vermont, but they don’t have a lot of small ones so they do not have a complete program. They have a terrific program in Lebanon, New Hampshire, a very nice program where they have a 10, 15, a 30 and a 45 meter hill; it is funded by the town. They even have a little downhill ski area. It is a beautiful little program like we have, a little hill facility but they have got funding that comes from a trust that was put up to assist that program. It is all youth orientated.
JM:What is the age of the participants for our program?
MK:They roughly speaking are 8 or 9 to start and we have some adults jumping but not on the big hill. Right now we have 5 kids that are jumping on the 35 meter hill; I would think that this year coming up they will be jumping if we can get it going on the 65 meter hill.
JM:How is SWSA funded?
MK:From donations, we raise money through different events that we host. Otherwise it is all private, there is no municipal money, no town money; it is all private. We have expenses, insurance to pay for, we have one more year and one half and we have the new tower all paid off. That was $750,000 that we had raised over the last 6 years.
JM:That is a major undertaking.
MK:The town was very nice to give us some credit support to the tune of $ 140,000. We never had to ask for that. We have learned how to control our expenses and make some money on different events other than the ski jump on the weekend.
JM:What are some of the fund raising events that you hold?
MK:In the past we used to a mountain bike race at Lime Rock Race Track; they were not on the track but up in the woods on trails that John Higgins had made when he had a cross country ski center at the Lime Rock Park back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Other things we have been doing because that sort of faded away because it was so labor intensive. Now we do a golf tournament; there is a ski swap which has been going on since it was in Weezie’s kitchen. Then we have another little event which is a beer tasting event which is coming up here in October. That has been good. We have had a couple of dances.
JM:Is that the Snow Ball?
MK:Yeah and then there was something that was called the Beach Ball or the Sun Ball. It is to get our name out and it is helps just to get the name out. Those are the main things that we have done recently. I remember my dad before us Kiefer kids were born they actually tried to do a summer jump on crushed ice.
JM;Reggie Lamson was telling me about that one. (See file #92 Reggie Lamson)
MK:You can go on UTube and say “Summer Ski Jump in Salisbury” there is a little 2 minute video about it.
JM:Let’s move on to civic things, and you have done many civic activities.
MK:My mom and dad were very active when we were growing up in town; issues, projects, commissions and boards. When I got out of college I wanted to help so one of the first things I got on was the SWSA and then probably right after that was Salisbury Conservation Commission, then after that was the Salisbury Zoning Board of Appeals. After that I went on Salisbury Park and Forest Commission, then Salisbury Planning & Zoning Commission, and then Salisbury Recreation Commission. Next I joined the Salisbury Board of Finance. Right now I am currently on the Board of Finance, Sewer Commission, and Agricultural Education Advisory Committee at the Housatonic Valley Regional High School. I am still on the board of the Salisbury Cemetery Association but I am not longer the superintendent. That was 30 years as superintendent. I am also on Salisbury Ambulance Board. I like to help and I don’t see me as the lead person on anything at the moment; I am there for support.
JM:You are an Indian rather than a chief, right now.
MK:I was President of SWSA for 15 years. I was lead person on the Parks and Forest Commission, but that commission is a minor thing compared to Ambulance or the Board of Finance.
JM:Not minor but at a different level because they are all important. I just finished Rod Lankler on the various boards; he has been on 15 boards in the 23 years he had been in town. People like you, but I think you are special because you have grown up here. This is your town.
MK:Jean one of the great things that I did most recently; my son went to Salisbury Central School. I was worried that there would be nobody local at SCS when he started, anybody that I would know. One of the things that I was really happy about was to see let’s say one third or more of the kids that were in Westy’s class my sister, my brother or I went to school with their parents or their aunts or uncles. It was refreshing that yes it has changed, but it hasn’t changed that much.
JM:When I was teaching from 1967 -1991, almost everybody lived in town; as the years progressed, the teachers committed from farther and farther away. There weren’t as many local teachers; the advantage of being a local teacher, I think, is you see the kids in a different light when you are out of school. For me now I am interviewing some of “my kids”. Yesterday I was interviewing Tom Paine; I haven’t seen him since he was in my class. He is now forty; he is fire department, was on ambulance and town crew, but we still have a relationship. That makes it special because you are not a commuter; you live in town. You have given me a wonderful interview. Is there anything that you would like to add that I have not asked about?
MK:We have covered a lot of bases.
JM:We have, but you have had a lot of things to say too.
MK:No I really feel lucky to live in this community. I enjoy the diverse characters in town. It continues to be a lot of fun. It is important for someone who grew up around here and has deep connections with it to get involved and stay involved in the town in some capacity. We all can learn from the older generation. I have conversations with my generation saying that we are the generation now and we must set an example for younger people than us. We have to encourage them to be part of the community. We have a lot of people who own houses in town but it is not their full time residence. We are going to come upon some big changes in the rest of my life; the special services of the fire department and the ambulance may have to be paid individuals to take over this because the numbers are dwindling. The age of the volunteers is getting older. That is a big concern. Another big concern I have is that our local grocery store stays here and does not get closed. To me that is another vital thing for our town. We must have a local grocery store so you can get a gallon of milk in town.
JM:Just don’t live in Lakeville; we used to have 4. We have a convenience store as part of a gas station. If I want a load of bread I either have to go to Sharon or Millerton or come into Salisbury.
MK:I still think that is something that is important to the community to be able to have a food store. I remember Sally Gevalt saying, “You can’t even buy a spool of thread in town.” How long ago was that 30 years ago? Things have changed.
JM:Yes, but the core of the town and the ambience of the town are still there.
MK:That is where I think, wouldn’t it be great to have someone who only comes up here on weekends volunteer for the ambulance and be an EMT.
JM:That is a good thought.
MK:Or a fireman who would be willing to take the time to help in that manner.
JM;I think the problem may be that amount of training that they have to do? To my mind it is incredible.
MK:I often thought of becoming an EMT or fireman; I would have to do the training. It takes so much time to become certified and that is one of the things I have not figured out how to find that time.
JM:We’ll put in for a 28 hour day. Thank you Mat so very much.