They appear suddenly, almost like an apparition. Smack in the middle of the split-level subdivisions of Wheaton-Silver Spring sit a small white-frame farmhouse, barn, tractor, fenced-in plot of plowed ground and a calf.

This is the last farm of Kemp Mill Road, a two-acre remnant of the Gray family tract that once sprawled down to what is now the Kemp Mill Shopping Center and almost to University Boulevard. Bounded on one side by the woods of Wheaton Regional Park, its current inhabitants are William T. Gray, 75, and his wife Lois, 72.

These are farmer Gray's last lines of defense against suburbia: A sign at the front of the lane leading off Kemp Mill Road that says: "Not a Park Entrance -- Private Drive," and another on his property that warns: "Beware of Dog."

Gray has spent his entire life here. He recalls the federal agents smashing a moonshine still over in the woods during Prohibition. He watched as Kemp Mill Road was paved in 1962, and then widened, and as suburban houses replaced farmland.

He fears for the future but said, "We're hanging in -- trying to, anyway."

Gray acknowledges that the battle of suburban growth is over in his neighborhood and he has made his peace with his "new" neighbors, some of whom have grown old with him.

Gray's farm is the hole in the doughnut, out of place and out of time. Lois Gray said she likes the convenience of being close in and near shopping, of being in the suburbs if not entirely of them.

William Gray seldom travels from his land, except occasionally, for recreation, when he drives to the suburban fringes. These excursions are to find farmers he can talk to, since there are no longer any others in his neck of the woods. (What looks like a horse farm up the road is part of Wheaton Regional Park, and the house there is rented to a computer engineer and two others.)

The Grays are unabashedly old-fashioned. He wears a cap, work boots and the green chino pants that are standard farmer's attire. The cap has a hunting dog on it, although Gray no longer hunts. Lois Gray, who married him 55 years ago, hangs clothes out to dry. They have a VCR their children gave them, but they seldom use it, except when the grandchildren come to visit.

"You wouldn't believe it," he said. "Everything here, her and I did together, planted the trees, built the stable, everything here."

Gray was one of 12 children, five boys and seven girls, of whom only he and sister Merl, now in her eighties and living in Kensington, survive.

Along Gray's lane, which is not on any official map, were built several homes for the children. Now, they are owned by others Gray does not know.

When the area was still rural, he walked two miles to the school that was over Hickerson's store at the Wheaton triangle. He did not go to high school. "No sir, the only time you went to {even} grammar school was when there was nothing to do on the farm," he said.

The family stopped farming full time in the late 1920s. But his father, also named William, continued to truck farm at the home place -- tomatoes, cabbages and strawberries -- and kept a garden there until he died in 1934.

His father was "what they considered land poor. He owned land on University Boulevard, where the handicapped apartments are, a couple of houses on Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring and a piece in Kensington," Gray said. It was sold off, piece by piece, before the suburban boom. "In the '30s, all this went bad," he said.

During World War II, he worked in a Caterpillar tractor plant in Baltimore and a laundry in Silver Spring.

Eventually, he went to work for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, operating heavy equipment to construct sewer lines that accompanied the growth outside Washington. He retired in 1972 after a heart attack.

"His idea was to retire and go into raising strawberries," Lois Gray said. "Fate took a hand and that was that."

For three years, Gray said, he barely left his yard. Now, he walks in the neighborhood and the Grays grow vegetables for themselves on a quarter-acre plot. Gray's pride and joy is a new tractor, draped in blue plastic for protection.

"A couple of years ago, I felt so bad, I said I wasn't gonna have a garden, so I up and sold my 1958 Ford tractor," he said. "But bought vegetables didn't taste like what you raise, so last year I bought a brand new tractor . . . .

"I was born in this old house right here," he said, pointing to a larger frame house across the lane, now under different ownership. He built his own home in 1932-33 with timber he cut from the woods. It is a simple five-room, one-story affair, with a small porch in front.

The Grays have six children, 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The calf, which will be sold for beef this winter, belongs to two grandsons who "live on small lots" that can't accommodate the animal. Gray feeds it hay. The dog Dusty belongs to one of the grandsons. For a time, there were 250 hens, and the grandsons sold eggs to the public when they had the time.

"If it weren't for the children tending to {the place}, coming here and doing {for us}, we couldn't live here," Gray said.

Said Lois Gray, "We could sell it 10 times over if we choose to sell it. The problem is we cannot find any place we like better. We'll probably be here for however many more years the Lord lets us."