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Mantecas plan devastating for three generations in Rothlin family
Arnold Rothlin and granddaughter Antoinette Laffranchini in front of the Rothlin’s barn and dairy in a photo taken just before the cows were sold to a dairy in Southern California four years ago. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
Three generations of Rothlin farmers have lived and farmed several hundred acres in rural south Manteca.

They are among the people in Manteca who would easily come to mind when you see the signs or decals that pose the question: “Have you hugged a farmer today?”

Eighty-something Arnold Rothlin is the middle-generation farmer in the family.

His parents, both of Swiss stock, were the first in the family to make a living out of the fertile soil in what is today rural south Manteca. A year after the older Rothlins tied the knot in 1926, they “saved up a few dollars” from the money the husband earned working at a milk plant in Salinas where they lived briefly and then pulled up stakes and started a dairy on the north side of West Ripon Road just east of Union Road. That was in 1927. Like many small family farmers at that time, the newlyweds built everything from scratch.

“The only thing left today (at the property) that my father built is the brick silo that he built in 1937,” Rothlin said of his parents’ dairy where he was born and where he grew up.

Up until he was 20 years old, “I was involved in my parents’ farm,” said Rothlin.

A year before that, he joined the National Guard. That meant going to summer camp for two weeks in San Louis Obispo or at Ft. Liggett and two-hour drills once a week and “some weekend drills,” usually at the Stockton National Guard Armory when the barracks used during World War II as training base for the Air Force were still there. The area where they used to have the drills is now part of the Stockton Airport.

Like his parents, Rothlin worked and saved a few of his own dollars to start his own dairy.

“I worked for my parents until about 1950, then I went to work for the Brocchini Brothers for four years,” he said.

Young couple become family’s
second-generation farmers

In November 1954, he and the former Laura Mendes exchanged vows. Again, following in his father’s footsteps, Rothlin and his young bride started their own dairy farm not far from his parents’ old place. Four years ago, when he and his wife decided to retire and sold the dairy business – but not the farm – they had 100 acres at the main dairy where they have their home, and 40 acres down the road on Nile Avenue not far from their South Airport Way brick house with the big barn. That corner acreage is currently being farmed by their son Arnold “Butch” and wife Rose, the third-generation farmers in the family. Butch and Rose started farming in 1999 and now farm a total of 500 acres around Manteca and Lathrop.

After Arnold and Laura retired and sold their milking cows, they kept one horse and 17 brown Swiss cows at the old place which is currently being leased to a local dairyman who also takes care of the animals that they kept for their pets.

Arnold said they sold the dairy because “I couldn’t do it anymore.” He was a month shy of 78 when he, his wife, and their two granddaughters Antoinette and Angela, spent the whole night loading up the cows in the dozens of giant cattle trucks that took them hundreds of miles to a dairy farm in Southern California near the Mexican border.

Farming is hard work, Arnold said, explaining why he finally gave up the job that had been a part of the fabric of his life and that of his family for more than half a century. He took care of the dairy; his wife took care of the books.

“When it rains, you got more work to do. And when it’s hot, you have even more work to do,” he said.

“When it rains, you got to keep the animals dry. When it’s really hot, you try to keep them cooled down, too. Now we have misters and fans.”

The heat wave during the summer of 2006 was particularly hard for the milk cows, he recalled.

“That was horrible. We lost some cows, too,” he said.

In the mornings, the cows “only ate not even half of what they normally ate; it was just too hot. It was a horrible experience, I can tell you that much. We lost eight cows out of about 400. We had two or three die one Sunday,” Arnold said.

The situation was so bad the tallow works in Modesto where the dead animals were taken “was so backed up.”

They were also hit hard in the pocketbook. The heat affected the cows’ milk production. “If you were getting 3,000 gallons of milk a day, you only got 1,500. That’s how much heat affects them,” Arnold explained.

There’s nothing harder than “working at a dairy farm because it’s daily work, whether it’s Christmas or New Year. The animal has to be taken care of no matter what,” he said.

Farming as a way of life
So what made him decide to be a farmer?

“I was born in it,” said the 80-something farmer who looks several years younger, thanks to an almost daily racquetball exercise at the California Fitness club where he sometimes trade shots with granddaughter Antoinette Laffranchini.

He’s always at the racquetball club Monday to Friday, “sometimes on Saturday,” he said.

“If I’m lonely and don’t have anybody to talk to, I might even go on a Sunday,” he added.

Wife Laura’s daily retirement indulgence is watching sports on TV, especially football. She is a big New York Giants fan, so much so that she named one of their three dogs Eli after the Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Sometimes the new great-grandparents watch the games together, and avoid any heated clashes by rooting for the same team.

“I always was a football fan. Now, she likes it more than I do,” Arnold said laughing.

He said his wife does not need to go to the racquetball club because “she said she exercises at home – cleaning the house is enough (exercise). But she does a lot of reading. That’s why we don’t want an expressway here; it’s peaceful here,” he said.

Arnold was referring to the proposed McKinley Avenue Expressway which threatens several multi-generation farms in rural South Manteca, like the Rothlins’.

“I’m over 80 years old, and this is the worst thing I’ve seen happen to the community right here,” said the second-generation farmer in a three-generation farming family.

There are currently three proposed alignments for the expressway which would connect McKinley Avenue to the west and Austin Road to the east. One of the three proposals would place the expressway right through their 40-acre farm located between Nile and Fig avenues.

“I’m thoroughly disgusted with what they’re trying to do,” said Arnold who has been one of the many farmers in the area who are strongly opposed to the expressway project and have made their feelings and thoughts known to city officials.

“Why not preserve some of the good farms in Manteca? We’re willing to take care of ourselves when there’s flooding. Just leave us alone. We just want to be left alone,” he said.