Saturday, September 17, 2011
Farming in the 30’s and 40’s
I will try and tell you about what I remember about farming when I was a child. Bear in mind that I am now 84 years old and I hope these memories are correct.
When I was a child in the 30’s we were in the middle of the Great Depression and the first 8 years of my life was spent on a 80 acre farm 3 miles west of the village of Geneva Minnesota. This farm had a house, barn, chicken house, hog house, machinery shed, summer kitchen, brooder house and a small building next to the windmill with a water tank on top of it. The house had a kitchen, dining room, living room and a bedroom down stairs. I think there were 3 bedrooms upstairs and the girls slept in one bedroom and my brothers slept in the other bedroom. We had running cold water in the house but the outhouse was outside. In the winter we used the pot and also at night if we had to go to the bathroom. We did have electricity in the house at one time but we couldn’t pay the bill and the electricity was cut off.
I don’t remember my Mother using the summer kitchen but it was used for storage and I remember that there was a table in it and clothes lines to hang the clothes to dry in the winter. In back of the summer kitchen and outside was a huge bin that we dumped used tin cans and bottles. South of the summer kitchen my Father had planted about 6 black walnut trees. We had a large garden and think we had berry bushes in it. I picked up a white wasp nest one time and never did that again. I thought it was a ball.
Inside the water building we had a large whet stone mounted on a bicycle sort of body. You peddled it and then some one else held the axe and sharpened it and it was also used to sharpen tools. Outside the tool shed was an old buggy that wasn’t used any more and I used to play in it. Inside the tool shed was a gleaner that was used to clean up seeds. That was used to get the chaff out of oats and so forth. Suppose my Dad cleaned some of the oats after harvest and picked out the good seeds to plant next years crop. I remember my Dad going through the best looking corn ears and picking out the best looking seeds. This was before the days of hybrid corn.
My Dad had a small herd of dairy cows and I think it was about 15 or 20 milking cows. He raised mostly Guernseys as they produced a richer milk than the Holsteins. My father had a Model T Ford at that time and I think he used it in good weather to take the cream to Geneva. If you didn’t have gasoline all the time you could use kerosene to run those cars. Her bought it new for $400.00 and that was sometime in the 20’s. The creamery in Geneva sold ice and in the winter they cut the ice out of Geneva Lake and packed it in saw dust in the ice house. Think the ice lasted all summer and my Dad would bring a cake home ever so often. I don’t remember if we had an ice box on that farm or not.
My older brothers and sister used to be dropped off at Geneva Lake when my Dad went to the creamery and grocery store in the summer. They had fishing poles and would fish until my Dad came back to get them.
We had 4 horses on that farm to pull the machinery for plowing and harvesting. I remember the name of the roan horses and they were called King and Pet. We also had 2 dark colored horses but I can’t remember their names. The dark colored horses did most of the farm work. Pet the female roan horse was ornery and a piece of work. She didn’t like to work. One time my Dad had to go to Iowa and Larry and Don were probably 12 and 14 years old. They had to hitch up King and Pet to haul the manure out to the field. King and Pet always stomped their feet and raised cain for my Dad but the boys put the harness on them and they never moved a foot. They hitched them up and never gave the boys any trouble but they loved to devil my Father with their actions.
Now I want to tell you about the farm implements that we used for farming. We had a walking plow that you hitched one horse to and it was used mostly for plowing a garden. You walked behind the plow and guided it in the furrow. They made several different kinds of walking plows depending on the soil that you were working with. Every small village had a blacksmith and he sharpened plows and worked on other implements and made implements. The blacksmith was a very important person in the farming community. Then you had a sulky plow and it was a riding plow. One wheel was larger than the other as the small wheel ran in the furrow. Then you had the two bottom plow, which was also a riding plow and it used 2 teams of horses. You controlled the horses by pulling on the reins either left or right. To start the horses you said getty up and to stop the horses you said whoo.
After you had plowed the field you then had to disc it to break up the soil. I think the disc were all riding implements and were pulled by two teams of horses. That was to further prepare the soil to make it ready for planting. The discs were round metal pieces probably about 20 inches tall. You had levers in front of the hard metal seat to lift and lower the discs. I think my Father also had a cultivator which was also a riding implement with levers to lift and lower the small cultivators. There was probably about 16 small cultivators on this implement. It was used for summer fallowing, weed-eradication and mulching. I think my dad had one called a spring tooth cultivator. This covers the implements that were used to get the ground ready for planting.
Now I will try to tell you about the implements that we used to plant corn and oats. We had a riding corn planter that had two seed boxes on it. The boxes had a plate in the bottom that let the corn come out to be planted. If I remember right they had a wire running through it so that the corn would be planted evenly. There was a tiny plow in front of the seed box to open up the seed bed and then there were a couple of small discs in back to cover the seed up. The wire had a knot in it and worked the plate in the bottom of the seed box so that your corn was planted evenly. You had to move the wire after you planted every row. The corn was planted so that you could cultivate the field both ways after the corn came up.
The implement companies made corn and cotton seed planters depending on how we wanted to use them. We also had what was called a drill. It was a large implement with a big seed box that we used to drill in oats. It could also be used to drill in clover, flax, sedan grass, wheat, rye or even corn, peas etc. without clogging. This probably also used two teams of horses. I think the drill had discs of some kind to cover up the seeds.
There were several different types of corn cultivators. We used one that was powered by a team of horses and you had to ride on the hard metal seat. I don’t remember if ours was a disc cultivator or had something like a small plow to cultivate the corn. You had to plow the corn at least 4 times to get the weeds out and you plowed it both lengthwise and crosswise of the field. The old saying in Minnesota was that your corn needed to be knee high by the 4th of July. So there was a never ending job to be done in the summer time. When the corn was mature we picked it by hand. You put a corn husker on and went out in the field with a wagon and a bunch of kids and picked the corn off the stalks and threw it in the wagon. You husked the corn in the field and then took it to the corn storage building. The corn storage building was not all enclosed, if I remember right it had boards that were a few inches apart and you stored the corn in it. I think we used the corn to feed the pigs and we took some to the mill in Geneva and had it ground up for chicken feed and maybe fed some to the cows. We also had it ground up fine so that we could make corn bread out of it. Every small village had a mill as they didn’t have power grinders on most farms in the 30’s and early 40’s.
We also drilled corn in sometime in June or July and we didn’t let that corn mature. We used that corn to make silage for the cattle. Some farmer in the area had a silage cutter that was used to cut up the corn and put it in the silo to feed the cattle in the winter time. They had a corn binder that cut the immature corn and wrapped some kind of cord around the corn so that you could shock the corn. It was then shocked by hand and then taken into the silo with a team of horses and a wagon. It had to unloaded by hand and pitch fork and put into the ensilage cutter and then was blown up into the round silo.
We also had a hand operated corn sheller that you put the corn in and turned a handle and shelled the mature corn that was then used to feed the animals. That sheller was kind of fun to run and the children could do that. That’s about all I can think of in connection with raising corn. Now we will go to oats.
The ground was prepared for oats the same as for corn and the oats was drilled in with the drilling implement. We didn’t have to do any cultivating of the oats but I remember we used to have to pick the wild mustard out of the oats fields by hand. Now we will go to the harvesting of the oats. We had a team driven oats binder that cut the oats and then wrapped the binder twine around the oats so that it was in bundles. After it was cut you then had to shock the oat bundles by hand. You put about 5 or 6 bundles in a shock which was shaped like a pyramid. This was so when the men came to the fields to put the oats in the wagons you didn’t have to pick up each bundle separately. This was also hand work with a team of horses and a wagon and probably one person drove the wagon and the other pitched the oat bundles in the wagon. This was done by all the neighbors who came in to help harvest the oats and take it to the threshing machine.
One neighbor would have a threshing machine and then 5 or 6 other neighbors would help each other get the threshing done. This usually happened about the first part of August. The neighbors would come in with their wagons and teams of horses and go to the fields and pick up the oats by hand. They would then bring the oats to the threshing machine and it would be run through the machine and the oats would go in a wagon the straw would be thrown out the chutes. My father was the one who would usually make the straw stack and so I don’t think he helped pick up the oats. There was a real art in making a straw stack and he was probably the only one who was good at it in our neighborhood. The oats would then be taken to the building called the grainery and unloaded by a scoop shovel. That covers the oats quite well, now I will try to tell you about the machinery we used for hay and what we did with it.
We had prairie hay and alfalfa hay on our farm. When the hay was the right height and you had some sunny days and it was dry it was cut by a mowing machine. This was also a horse driven machine and it had sharp blades on it and we were warned as children to be very careful around the mower. After the hay was cut we then used a side delivery rake to pile up the hay in rows. That was also horse driven and you ran the rake over the hay and dumped it so that it made a nice even row. We did not have a hay baler on our farm so we handled the hay in a different way. The barns in Minnesota had a hay mow. After the hay was put in rows it was picked up by another machine called a hay loader. We had a hay wagon with board on the sides and you put rope slings on the bed of the wagon. You then ran over the row of hay and pitched the hay to cover the sling evenly. When you had the right amount in the sling you then put down another sling and put hay on top of it. You usually had 3 slings loaded in your wagon.
You took the hay to the hay mow and attached the sling to a carrier that ran on a track into the hay mow. You then attached the horses to the sling with a double tree and the horses pulled the hay up into the hay mow and then you dumped the hay and spread it out. You had one person in the hay mow and the other pulling the hay up into the mow. You had to spread out the hay evenly in the hay mow and then in the winter you pitched the hay down to the cattle and spread it out in the barn so they could eat it.
Now I will tell you about the manure spreader. It was a machine that was pulled by horses and it had some kind of a belt that was attached to something so that it would move. It also had rotating bars on the back to spread the manure evenly on your fields. In the barn you had a container that ran on a track to the manure pile. You had the scoop the manure out every day and put it in the container and then run it outside to the manure pile and dump it. I think they let it sit there for a while and dry out some. Then you had to put it in the manure spreader and take it to the fields and spread it on the ground. This was before the day of lots of commercial fertilizer and so the farmers were doing organic farming at that period of time. I think I have covered the machinery that we used quite well and remember I am going back 75 years and kids didn’t pay that much attention. So there may be some errors in this stuff.
I will now try to tell you about taking care of the animals and girls weren’t supposed to know that stuff. All the boar pigs had to be castrated and the farmers did that themselves. They didn’t call a vet to do that. So if you had 20 or 30 little pigs to castrate they did it when the pigs were small. My father sold the male calves as veal and didn’t keep them and I don’t know if he did anything to them or not. We always kept a registered bull and we kept him locked up in the barn. When a cow would come in heat the bull would do his duty and we usually kept the good heifers and I think we took some to market.
We also raised chickens on the farm and when I was big enough I picked the eggs and got them ready for market. We raised ducks for several years and I helped take care of them. The chickens had to sit on the duck eggs as the ducks are worthless on sitting on their eggs and raising their young.
The farm was a lot of work and you had things to do every day and there was not much to do after the work was done but to play cards in the winter and go to the free shows in the summer time. The county fair was the big thing and my Dad would try to take us every day. The fair was the third week in August after the oats was harvested and before the corn was ready. We used to have a Harvest festival in Ellendale and they would Barbecue a pig in a pit and all the farming families would come to town and visit and some of them would drink a little.
On the farm south of Hope where we moved in 1936 the man who owned the threshing machine would have a settling up party after the oats was harvested. The farmers exchanged work and they kept track of the hours that they worked on each farm. Then Pete Motz charged them for harvesting the oats and I think everyone brought food and Pete always had a keg of beer. He was Bohemian and most of our neighbors were Bohemian and they let the little kids drink a little beer.
We would go to the Bohemian wedding dances when one of the neighbors children were married. My folks didn’t dance but they visited with the neighbors and the little Bohemian girls taught me to do folk dancing when I was about 8 years old. Well I think I have rattled on long enough and this is a little bit more about what I remember in the 30’s and early 40’s… I was lucky to have a Massey Harris catalog dating in the 1930’s that had pictures of all the farm implements so I was able to describe them better…