Then and now: Down on the farm


This can be said of many families a few generations ago: The vast majority of folks in the early 1900s were farmers or descendants of that highly honorable field of work.

Those were the days when Ma and Pa farms were about every two miles down the road.

Today, most people see the seasons as just hot or cold or a little between the two. But, to the farmers of yesteryear, there was a considerable difference. Regardless of the season, there were chores to do, just diverse types.

Chore after chore. There were always the barn chores. However, as the years slowly advanced, the family then had to consider sugar-making time.

The first chore often was to clean and wash buckets and strengthen the pails.

The older buckets were wooden, and later, tin ones came into use.

After cleaning and drying, they were stacked upside down, ready for loading on a boat. This was a wide, wooden-like sled pulled by the horses into what was then referred to as the “sugar camp” woods.

After sugaring came time for mending fences and spreading fertilizer. The latter was done before the ground thawed so horses and equipment would not get stuck.

The fence mending was accomplished when the ground thawed out – when mud was everywhere. At that time, anyone working or even walking outdoors put on “gum boots,” the knee-high type.

The country was wetter in those days than now, and the knee-high boots were often a year-round necessity, at least for myself and my family.

Fences. Fence mending was usually finished by the first week in May. Then the livestock was turned out to pasture.

Of course, many farms had fence rows of Osage orange (hedge apples). These trees grew so low and dense that it was difficult for even a rabbit to go through.

The stones were cleared out of tilled fields in those days, carried away on a boat sled, which was a combination of long boards used to smooth a harrowed field ready for planting.

Several log-supplied fences were common, i.e. rail fence (zig-zag or snake fence), a pole fence (uprights with holes bored into them for nails), and, later, post-hole fence with wire.

One of the most unique types was named stake and rider. Two angled uprights formed a X, similar to a pole fence, which had a pole sitting in the X section.

A stake and rider had only one end of the horizontal rail and another X placed over it. Another pole was applied horizontally.

This was a formidable-looking affair – poles poking their ends up in all directions. In New England in late 1800, this sort of barrier was as common as stone fences.

Stump fences were most often used in Colonial days when a field was first cleared. By the employment of an ox team, they would be “stumped out.”

Yearly chore. Removing stumps by digging and pulling was quite a job. I have helped remove some stubborn stumps, and several times I helped to dynamite large ones.

The older snake or zig zag can still be found weathering away around older farms.

Fence mending in those days was a yearly chore. Many times plowing, harrowing and planting was delayed due to seasonal weathers.

Plowing days. Recently my family and I visited Holmes County, and it was, as always, a step back into our yesteryears.

I can remember the first time that I drove a pair of Belgians to “attempt” plowing a straight furrow. The plow was almost as big as I was

A bit more body weight to hold the handles down or up was something I lacked.

I “attempted,” as I said, to plow 1 foot to 1-1/2 feet deep, but striking a buried stone threw me up into the team’s rears. Needless to say, it was a few more years before I even tried to use a furrowing plow.

Corn was planted first, as it still is today. The tending of the rows is something I also remember well.

The hills where I lived were planted one at a time by a hand planter, usually two or more seeds per hill, a foot apart.

Farm help. Later, after the corn sprouted, it was hilled up by a team-pulled harrow – or as I used to help at North Benton when I was 9, by a hand hoe.

After the corn started to grow, we would hoe the field corn between the hills all day for 25 cents per half-mile row.

To name the chores and describe each one would take up many pages. Memories of farming days and weeks spent at other farms still linger. Memories are what we older folks have and new ones to come along are much fewer.

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