Lowell L. Getz
Not many people driving by over there on the Interstate notice me standing here all alone in this field of waving long green leaves. Oh, once and awhile a passenger may remark to the driver,”Wonder why someone put a windmill in the middle of a corn field?” Well, no one did. When I arrived here from the Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company in Beatrice, Nebraska back in early June 1915, this was not a cornfield. A bustling farmstead stood where now you see only waving green leaves of corn.
The Windmill: The windmill now standing in a corn field. Photo taken from where the garden had been.
To the south, sitting in the middle of a half-acre rectangular grass-covered yard, stood a large north-facing two-story house with newly painted white weather boards. An open, 4-poster tin-roofed porch spanned most of the north side of the house. A screened-in porch was attached to the southwest side. A few feet east of the house was a squat, unpainted smoke house sitting atop a dark damp cellar where canned fruits and vegetables were stored. A Dempster hand pump (the company made hand pumps, too) extending down into the drinking water well was located between the smoke house and the back door of the house. Three scaly-barked silver maples shaded the front yard and two dark-green leafed American elms, a silver maple, and a red cedar the back yard.
South of the house, beyond the yard, was a large vegetable garden. Rows of dark green crinkly-leafed potatoes filled in the middle, a twisty-twined cucumber patch and rows of staked-up tomato vines were on the east side, and on the west, long rows of lettuce, green-topped onions, radishes, green beans, peas, and carrots. Two cherry trees, along with a blue-plum tree and a scraggly pear tree grew on the south edge of the garden. And, growing in the far southwest corner were several prickly gooseberry bushes. In the southeast corner of the yard, next to the garden fence, about fifty feet from the back door, was the “two-holer” outhouse. Next to the outhouse, a large multi-stemmed lilac bush with light blue flowers provided a welcomed cover of other scents, at least in the spring.
To the west of the yard was the horse lot, with a faded red barn on the north side. A large overhang shielded the middle door to the manger and the top and bottom-opening double doors that led to the horse stalls on each side. There were stalls for two teams on the east side and a single stall for another team to the west. Harness was hung on the back wall of each stall, above the kickboards (a wall of boards nailed on the inside of the back side studding to prevent horses from kicking out the barn siding).
On the west side of the horse lot was a long low tool shed with its ten foot high opening in front and corrugated tin roof that sloped down to about five feet above the ground in back. Here, the field machinery was stored when not in use--walking plow, gang plow, wheat binder, cultivators, disk, harrows, mower, and the two-row corn planter. The floor was bare dirt, powdered into a couple inches of dry dust.
A chicken house stood between the tool shed and the house. The back half opened into a fenced-in pen where young “frying chickens” were raised each summer from yellow-downed chicks ordered from the Rock River hatchery. The nearly grown and ready for the frying pan, white rocks roamed the pen pecking at insects, unaware of what was soon to be. Two rows of nest boxes for the laying hens, which were allowed to wander around the horse lot, were nailed to the walls in part of the front half of the chicken house. The other part of the chicken house was where the barrel filled with coal oil for the lamps and lanterns was stored.
East of the chicken house and adjacent to the northwest edge of the garden was a work shop with a long work bench with a couple vises, a drill press, and other tools. A window over the bench looked out over the garden. The shop was a remnant of the first house that had served the farm. The new house had been built about 20 years ago and the old house torn down, except for what had been the living room. This now served as a work shop for repairing equipment and small carpentry jobs. Some of the original plaster and flowered wallpaper could still be seen along the west wall.
To the east of the house was the, at present, empty cattle lot, the surface covered with tall shiny dark green jimson weeds and low growing prickly “bull nettles.” On the far side of the lot, about two hundred yards away, was the unpainted, weathered cattle barn. South of the barn was a fenced-in lot with a long, pole feeding rack. In the center of the straw-covered dirt floor of the barn, a square hay manger opened into the hay loft above. There were long feeding benches on the east and west sides. Two corn cribs on the north side of the barn stored corn; in between was an open area which housed the hand-turned corn chopper, used to cut ears of corn into small one to two inch disks before being fed to the cattle.
To the east of the cattle barn was a round, fifty foot tall brownish-red glazed brick silo, about eighteen feet in diameter. On the south side of the silo, from the top to bottom, was a series of three foot square doors, with an iron ladder extending up alongside. The doors and ladder were covered by a narrow shed-like chute. An extension of the feeding bench on the east side of the barn opened to the base of the silo. Ensilage thrown out through the doors fell onto the bench, from where it could be shoveled along the length of the bench.
A smaller fenced-in lot with a U-shaped hog house, divided into ten farrowing stalls for brood sows with pigs, was to the north of the cattle barn. Except when his services were needed, a boar ran loose in the cattle lot. Worn V-shaped wooden troughs used to feed and water the sows were placed in each pen and in the cattle lot for the boar. Feed from the barn and water from the well at my base were carried daily by hand to the hog pens. North of the farrowing shed was a weathered wheat straw stack. The lower five feet of the stack was worn away from the rubbing of cattle, exposing the sharp, stubby ends of the straw.
Where the horse and cattle lots came together at my base was a large cement water tank, which opened to each lot. The day after I arrived, my forty foot pyramidal angle-iron tower, with a ladder extending to the top, was set up. Then, the wheel, with its fifteen angled to catch the wind, fans and triangular wind vane were put in place and the pump pole attached to the pump rod in the well at my base. Finally, the spout of the pump was connected to a pipe that emptied into the water tank. No more pumping water by hand to fill the tank.
To the north of the farmstead lay the fields in which the crops were grown. There were about one hundred and sixty acres of tillable farmland on the farm. The fields were twenty or forty acres in size. Most fields were bordered by five foot high dense thorny osage orange “hedges.” In those days the farms were on a three crop (corn-wheat-clover) rotation, with about one third of the fields in each crop a given year. To the south of the farmstead was a one hundred acre pasture, with small shallow ravines covered with brushy shrubs and oak, hickory, walnut, and slippery elm trees.
A railroad track ran along the east boundary of the farm and a dirt county road along the north side, a quarter of a mile from the house. This was the road to the nearest small town, three miles away. A narrow dirt lane led from the house up to the road to town. At the head of the lane was the mail box. Bill Bar came by in his horse and buggy every afternoon to bring the mail and daily newspaper.
The family consisted of the parents, Jim and Nell and their two boys, Jim (“Little Jim”), 16 and Frank, 15. A middle-aged hired man, Charley Rigsbey, who lived in town, rode his horse out each day, Monday through Saturday, to help with the chores and field work.
There were two teams of horses, “Corey” and “Mandy” and “Bird” and “Faye”, a team of mules, “Jack” and “Jerry”, three milk cows (two Jerseys and a Guernsey) ten Duroc brood sows and a Duroc boar, a dozen or so lean leghorn and stocky white-rock laying hens and three leghorn roosters, four dozen young fryer chickens, a dog, “Tip”, of questionable breed, three or four cats that made life interesting for any mice that dared move into the house, and a pony, “Trixie”, that the boys had ridden until they became too big for her. Trixie was by then in “retirement.” Later, in early October, fifty young steers were bought at the local auction barn to be “fed out” during the winter. A cupola, with broken slats, on the horse barn provided a way into the loft for the four or five dozen pigeons usually adorning the roofs of the barns, when not feeding on dribbles of corn left in the lots by the steers and hogs.
I soon became acquainted with the daily farm routine of that time. The house would come to life at five AM each morning. Jim got the fire started in the wood burning Marvin Smith Range by shaking the grates to bring the fire to life while Nell began fixing breakfast. Charley arrived at about that time. He and Jim ran the horses and mules into their stalls (often with the use of some colorful language to get the mules to “decide” when they would like to go on in), fill the feed boxes and throw down some hay to put in the manger in front of each. Then they milked the cows and strained the milk into a milk can, adding to that from the night before, to cool in a large half barrel of water by the drinking water well. By this time Nell had breakfast set on the table and the boys were out of bed and dressed. Breakfast consisted of fried eggs, bacon and sausage, sour milk biscuits she had baked the day before and warmed up in the oven (this was long before concerns about cholesterol), oatmeal (with thick cream, of course), coffee, and milk. When breakfast was over, Jim and Charley fed and watered the hogs, and (after they had been bought) fed the cattle. If there was field work to be done, they harnessed the teams and headed to the fields.
After the breakfast dishes wee washed and dried, Nell fed and carried water to the chickens. Before heading off to school, Little Jim or Frank hooked up the pump pole to the pump rod, if I was needed to fill the tank, with my wind wheel working the pump pole up and down to bring water up from the well. Nell later unhooked the pump when the tank was full.
Before the milkman from town came by to load up the milk, Nell dipped out a couple gallons to run through the DeLaval cream separator. Some of the cream she used to churn butter, some she left in the ice box for table use. That left over she kept in the ice box until she could sell it to the creamery in town. The “skimmed” milk from the separator was mixed with some old vegetables and other kitchen wastes to make “slop” for the hogs.
The early morning sounds are as clear to me now as if I had heard them only this morning--the reveille bugle crowing of roosters as the first rays of the sun broke the horizon in the east; the solid metallic rattle of the grates as Jim shook down the ashes in the wood burning cook stove to get the fire started; the deep moaning sounds of the awaking steers and milk cows as Jim and Charlie went to do the feeding and milking; the dry snorting of the hogs as they rooted in the feed troughs; the screeching metallic sound of the pump handle as Nell pumped fresh water for the kitchen drinking water bucket; the dull “thump” of the wooden gate to the horse lot as it was slammed back against the post by the chain weighted down with an old worn out heavy gear from the wheat binder; the “skirtch-skirtch-skirtch” of streams of milk hitting the metal bottom of the milk buckets followed by the softer “swoosh-swoosh-swoosh” sound of the milk into the thick layer of foam as the buckets filled with milk; the hollow “cooings” of the pigeons as they found spilled grain in the lots; the staccato “teet-teet-teet” of the brightly colored dark blue and orange, fork-tailed barn swallows as they flitted around the lots scooping up insects and disappearing at break-neck speed through the doors into the open barns, braking to a halt to feed their young in the half-cup shaped mud nests under the rafters.
In the evenings, Jim and Charley unhitched the horses and put them in their stalls to be fed and given more hay. The doors were left open so the horses and mules could go out into the lot after they had finished eating. They fed and watered the hogs and cattle and milked the cows. After the evening chores were done, Charley saddled his horse and went back to town. Jim joined Nell and the boys for supper.
Every Monday morning was clothes washing time. Nell heated to a boil a couple large buckets of water on the cook stove while she collected all the dirty clothes from the closets. She then brought a wooden tub from the smoke house into the wash room and got down the wash board, with its corrugated surface, from a high shelf. Nell poured the boiling water into the tub and put as many dirty overalls and other clothes as would fit into the tub to soak for about fifteen minutes. She then added cold water until she could barely stand to have her hands in the water. She scrubbed each piece of clothing, first with a bar of home made lye soap, and then up and down on the wash board until it was clean. When finished scrubbing the clothes, Nell wrung out as much water as she could with her hands. Then she put the clothes to soak in a rinse tub of cold water, after which she wrung them out again. Nell’s wrists were strong from wringing out the heavy overalls, but the strong lye soap was a little much for her hands. Nell’s hands were perpetually red and rough from the Monday washes. After the clothes were wrung out, she hung each piece out to dry on a long No. 9 wire clothes line that went from the maple tree in back to the smoke house. The clothes line was propped up in the middle by a pole so that the heavy wet clothes would not cause the line to sag, with the clothes dragging on the ground.
On Tuesday mornings Eric Corney drove his ice wagon out from town and put a 50 pound block of ice in the tin lined wooden ice box in the kitchen. There was sufficient space in the ice box for milk, cream, butter, cream pies, and other dishes that needed to be cooled.
Saturday night Nell put on a clean dress and Jim and the boys newly washed overalls, after which they went into town in the Parry Buggy pulled by Corey and Mandy, to do the weekly shopping. Nell bought the cooking and household necessities for the week, while Jim and the boys picked up nails and other items needed around the farm. Before going home, if there were time and they felt they could afford it, the family would stop in at Chet Towse’s drug store for a dish of vanilla ice cream, their treat for the week.
The week after I had started pumping water it was time to put up hay. Jim used a horse-drawn E. B. Standard sickle mower to cut the red clover in two of the fields to the north of me. He raked the clover into windrows with a John Deere dump rake, a horse-drawn rake with half-circle curved tines. Every two or three days Jim went again to the field and turned the rows over so that all the clover would dry. Once the clover hay was dry, Jim and Charlie used pitch forks to load the hay onto a frame wagon and brought it to one of the barns.
A rope tied to a curved single tree attached to the harness of a derrick horse, usually Corey, went through a pulley at the base of the barn and then up to another pulley at a small opening at the top of the barn. From there the rope ran along a track at the top of the barn to a trolley at the end of the track and then down to a J. E. Porter double harpoon, inverted U-shaped, hayfork on the wagon at the other side of the barn. Charlie pushed the hay fork into the loose hay and pulled up small levers that extended small flanges at the end of each arm so that the hay held onto the fork. When the fork was ready, he then yelled out “Alright” and Frank led Corey away from the barn. The straining, vibrating rope pulled the fork and bunch of hay upwards until it engaged the trolley on the track and with a sudden slackening jerk, moved on into the loft. When Corey had pulled the hay to where Jim, in the loft, wanted it dropped, he yelled out “Whoa” and Frank stopped Corey. Charlie then pulled a trip rope that retracted the flanges and the hay slipped off the hayfork and fell into the loft. Jim spread out the hay as Charlie used the trip rope to pull the trolley back to the end of the track and the hayfork down to the wagon. At the same time, Frank turned Corey around and walked her back to the base of the barn. And so it continued until that wagon load and the rest of the clover hay had been put away into the barns.
Soon after the clover was put up, I observed one of the major events of the year. A large grey, galvanized iron threshing machine pulled into the cattle lot on its annual circuit among the eight farmers in the wheat “threshing ring.” It was Jim’s turn to thresh his wheat. I had noticed the rows of small, dull yellow, tent-shaped shocks in some of the fields of short yellowish stubble and wondered what they were. I then found they were wheat that had been cut by the horse-drawn McCormick-Deering binder two or three weeks ago and placed into shocks by Jim and Charlie to let the grain dry.
Late in the afternoon the J. I. Case threshing machine, pulled by a Dahl Brothers steam tractor, came into the cattle lot and was backed up by its owner, Lewis (“Push”) Banks, to the old straw stack. The fifteen foot long, large straw blower spout was unlatched from the top and swung around and over the old straw stack. A long broad belt was unwound and slipped onto the pulleys of the thresher and tractor, with a one half twist of the belt to hold it on the pulleys, as Push slowly backed up the tractor to make the belt taut. After several alignments of the pulleys and leveling of the thresher, by scooping dirt out from under the wheels on the high end, everything was ready.
Early the next morning Push fired up the steam engine as wagons and loading crews arrived from the neighboring farms in the “ring.” There were eight “bundle wagons”, each with a “loader” on the wagon and a “pitcher” in the field, who tossed the bundles onto the wagon. Wagons soon began arriving from the field, their open frames piled high with bundles of wheat, the round bundle butts to the outside, narrower heads facing into the wagon. Wonder if anyone now knows how to square up the corners of a load of slick bundles of wheat so they will not slide off? Probably not. Push engaged the power lever and the threshing machine slowly came to life--pulleys, chains and lever arms moving in an increasing clanking chorus, finally coalescing into a loud metallic roar. The first two wagons pulled up, one on each side of the loading hopper, and the men on the wagons began tossing bundles of wheat onto a moving canvass belt that carried them into the threshing machine. A blurred stream of light yellow straw started shooting out of the upwards-pointing blower spout and onto the old straw stack. At intervals the grain hopper swung upward releasing a bushel of wheat that cascaded down the chute and into the high-sided grain wagon.
When the bundle wagons were empty, the men headed back to the field for another load, as two more wagons pulled up along side the hopper. When the grain wagon was full, Charlie pulled the wagon away with a team of horses and took the wagon load of wheat to the grain elevator in town. Another wagon was pushed into place before the next surge of wheat came out. Little Jim and Frank were kept busy, taking turns in riding Corey to the field to take drinking water, in wet burlap-covered crockery jugs, to the thirsty pitchers.
This routine was interrupted only at noon for dinner (it would be decades before the term “lunch” would be used on the farm), when the field hands came in to wash up in large pans of cold water. Streams of water ran down their arms and off their elbows as the men splattered water over their dry crusty faces. Then, they sat down to eat at the long tables made of wide boards placed on saw horses, with boards on nail kegs for seats, set up in the shade of the maple and elm trees in the back yard. A few of the wives of the threshing ring men came over to help Nell with dinner. The amount of fried chicken, cabbage slaw with chopped peanuts, mash potatoes, peas, green beans, green onions, cherry pies, ice tea, and lemonade they could put down! In the evening everyone went home to do their own chores.
It took three days to bring in all the shocks. The shinny new light yellow straw stack was now over twenty-five feet high. When the last wagon was unloaded, Push brought the threshing machine to a silent halt and moved the steam tractor forward to slacken the belt, which was slipped off the pulleys, rolled up and put on the back of the tractor. The tractor was then hooked up to the threshing machine hitch and Push moved on to the next farm on the threshing ring, where the routine was repeated.
For a couple of weeks following threshing at the last farm, there was only the normal routine of doing the morning and evening chores--feeding the hogs and horses and milking the cows. There were lot fences and gates to repair, weeds to cut along the roads and inside the fences around the feed lots, and jimson weeds from inside the still empty cattle lot. Jim used a long curved bladed two-handled Keen Kutter scythe to cut the weeds, his “Idiot Stick” he called it. Jim and Charlie also went through the pasture and cut out small tree sprouts in the grassy areas with heavy “grubbing hoes” to keep them from growing and shading out the grass. Nell and the boys had picked wild raspberries from along the railroad earlier in the summer. Now, they picked blackberries from patches in the clearings in the woods in the pasture. It was a matter of pride as to how many quarts of blackberries and raspberries had been canned and how many pints of jelly and jam, the tops of the jars sealed with melted paraffin, were put away in the cellar by the end of the summer.
Three or four afternoons during the summer Jim, and the two neighboring farmers, Pete Adams and Amos Fenton, along with Little Jim and Frank, went fishing down at Macoupin Creek. Macoupin ran through Amos’ farm, alongside a fairly wide “bottom” field. A small stream, Elm Branch, ran down from a wooded pasture, along the edge of the field, and into the creek. Rather than using poles and fishing lines, the men got in the water and felt along the under-cut clay banks of the creek and around the large dead trees lodged under water along the banks. Fish were sluggish in the warm water and could be caught by hand. This, they called “logging.” Most times they would come back with a burlap “gunny” sack full of large carp, buffalo and flat-head catfish. After cleaning the fish, the three families would get together at one of the houses for a fish fry.
If there happened to be an extra heavy rain during the summer, Macoupin Creek flowed out of its banks, flooding Amos’ bottom field. At these times, water backed up through Elm Branch, filling it to the top of its six to eight foot high banks. Amos kept a close watch on the water level in the ditch. As soon as the water quit rising, Amos, Pete and Jim and the boys put a seine, weighed down at the bottom with a heavy log chain, across the branch near where it emptied into the creek. When the water had risen out of Macoupin Creek, flooding Elm Branch, fish had moved from the creek up into the stream to feed. As the water level dropped, the fish tried to move back into the creek. The seine trapped them. Pete, Amos and Jim and the boys built a fire and stayed at the seine day and night, until the water dropped back to normal. One of the men went into the cold water every half hour or so, as the water dropped, to make certain the log chain was holding the seine on the bottom to keep the fish from going under it. It was not uncommon for them to fill three or four gunny sacks of carp, buffalo and catfish from such a flooding episode. They kept what they wanted for themselves and gave the rest to their friends.
All summer long Nell canned vegetables from the garden--green beans, peas, carrots, pickles made from the cucumbers, tomato juice and whole tomatoes, and chili sauce, that were added to jars of cherries and gooseberries picked and canned in the spring and the jars of berries and jelly jam also in the cellar. Late in the summer, Jim dug up the potatoes and large onions and stored them on a wide table in the cellar. There was enough food stored in the cellar to keep the family supplied until next summer.
In early August a few of the neighbors came by to help fill the silo with cut green corn, which after fermenting, became “ensilage.” The men first cut the green corn stalks in one of the fields by hand, using machete-like corn knives, and laid the cut corn in piles of about a dozen stalks. The day after the corn had been cut, the men returned with horses and frame wagons to take the corn to the silo. Push Banks had come by earlier in the day and set up his International Farmall Ensilage Cutter/Blower that was run by his Dahl Brothers steam tractor. The men threw the corn stalks onto the chain-driven belt that carried the corn into the cutter. The corn was chopped into small pieces and blown to the top of the silo. From there the cut corn fell down inside the silo, slowly filling it from the bottom up as Jim leveled it with a many-tined ensilage fork. As the silo filled up to a side door, Jim put a metal door in place to hold in the corn. It took three days to fill the silo. Push then moved on to the next farm needing a silo filled.
By this time, clover that had been planted in the wheat fields last winter had grown tall enough that Jim could get a crop of hay from it, even if there was still wheat stubble mixed in when he mowed the fields. Understandably this hay crop was referred to as “stubble clover.” Not as good as the regular clover hay, but it added to the hay supply for the winter. The stubble clover was stored along one side of the open manger in the cattle barn so as not to become mixed with the “good” hay.
The second crop of the regular clover fields was let mature and the seed set. In late September Jim mowed the clover as he did for hay and raked it into windrows that were turned several times until dry. When the clover was dry, Push Banks pulled his Birdsell Clover Separator and Thresher, with his steam engine tractor as per usual, into to the cattle lot. Jim and Charlie loaded the loose clover onto a frame wagon and brought it to the separator where they tossed the clover onto the feeder. After the seed was threshed out, Jim bagged the seed in heavy canvas bags and stored it in back of the work shop. The clover straw was blown into a small stack used to feed to the cattle that winter. The seed not needed for planting in the new wheat fields that winter was sold to the elevator in town.
When the rest of the corn crop began was dry, in early October, Jim and Charley, cut the corn in two of the fields by hand with a corn knife and laid the stalks on the ground in loose bundles of 10-12 stalks. Afterwards they stacked the bundles into shocks--four bundles were laid in a cross pattern on the ground, another sixteen bundles were stacked around them, the tops of the stalks directed upwards. When finished, the field resembled row upon row of light brown tee-pee-shaped shocks. Charlie then used Bird and Fay to disk the fields, working around the corn shocks. Jim followed with the mules and his Farmer’s Favorite wheat drill, manufactured by the American Seeding Machine Company, planting wheat into the newly barren fields.
In late October hand shucking began in the other corn fields. As soon as the morning chores were done Jim and Charlie each harnessed a team to a Weber box wagon, with high “bank-boards” on one side, usually on the right side, and departed for the field. Even from here, I could hear the steady-paced, rhythmic “thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk” of the ears hitting the back-boards as the horses moved the wagons slowly through the rows of dry brittle corn stalks. There was a small wooden box on the side of the wagons into which Jim and Charley put extra large, good looking ears to be used for seed the next year. They had not yet heard of genetics or hybrids, but did their own, if inadvertent, “selection” for seed that would yield larger ears and thus greater production. By noon, they had their wagons loaded. They came back to one of the barns, pulled up to the crib opening and scooped the corn into the crib. After dinner Jim and Charley went back to shuck another load before time to start the evening chores.
On rainy days when the fields were too muddy to shuck corn, Jim and Charlie started laying in firewood for the winter. They went in the pasture and cut down one or two trees, trimmed off the limbs and used Bird or Faye to drag the logs back up to the horse lot. There they laid the logs on a saw rack made of two X-shaped two by fours. With a cross-cut saw, Charlie on one end and Jim on the other, they cut the logs into about eighteen inch lengths. Oh, how they made the saw hum as they moved it back and forth, alternately, one pulling, the other letting his end ride back across the log, with only a gentle push on the upright saw handle. Once the logs were cut up, the two then split the pieces length-wise into quarters and eighths and piled them onto the log pile. They kept at it until there was a large stack ready for the cook and sitting room stoves. Additional trees were cut and firewood sawed and split for burning throughout most of the winter.
On sunny Sunday afternoons in late autumn, Jim and the boys took down their 12-guage double-barreled shotguns and went rabbit and quail hunting in the south pasture and along the hedges around the fields. Routinely, they would get their limits of rabbits and quail. Jim and the boys did this more for the meat than for sport. In the days before refrigeration, any variation in meat for the table was welcome.
When the corn shucking was finished there was another period of routine morning and evening chores and odd jobs around the place. Chores took a lot longer in winter as water in the hog troughs froze each night and the ice had to be dumped out and the troughs refilled. On cold mornings this was not an easy task--carrying two buckets of sloshing water to the hog pens over the frozen cattle lot, pitted with cattle tracks. The ice in the large tank at my base frequently had to be broken in the mornings so the livestock could drink.
Twice a week during the winter Jim took a frame wagon to the field and loaded on two shocks of corn. As the last bundles on the ground were picked up, a dozen or so field mice that had taken up residency in the warm sheltered shocks with ample food, scurried across the frozen ground to other shocks. Once back in the south cattle lot, Jim shucked the ears of corn from the stalks lying across the wagon, slowly working his way along the wagon. The ears were tossed in another wagon to be chopped for the cattle and the stalks thrown as fodder into the feeding rack.
Another winter task was trimming the osage orange hedges around the fields. The hedges were cut back to about shoulder high with heavy curved hedge knives and the brush burned. Nell had to be careful of not getting into the way of the smoke, if it blew around the house, and not touching Jim’s clothes or the towels on which Jim and Charlie dried after washing their hands. She was especially sensitive to poison ivy, which grew in abundance in the hedge rows. After the hedges had been cut back, Jim burned the dead grass at the base of the hedges to kill over-wintering cinch bugs, and hopefully reduce pest damage to the corn next summer.
Woven and barbed wire fences around the pasture were patched where needed. When the ground was frozen, Jim planted clover seed in the new wheat fields, using a wand-shaped tube attached to a canvas bag holding the tiny shiny black clover seeds. Jim walked at a steady pace, swinging the wand in a 180 degree back and forth arc in front of him, spreading the seed evenly over the ground.
Then, there was hog butchering day. A 55 gallon metal barrel was set up on the bricks beside a tall pole with an attached pulley and rope at the end of a swinging arm that extended out over the barrel. Jim had filled the barrel three-fourths full of water the day before and started a fire under and around the base before beginning the morning chores on butchering day. Pete and Amos arrived early in the morning to help Jim with the butchering. After all was ready and the water in the barrel was boiling, Jim brought a couple of his hogs over to the horse lot. A hog was led up to the barrel where Jim shot it in the head with a “22” rifle. A hickory stick, sharpened at each end was pushed between the hind leg bones and the Achilles tendons and the rope that ran through the pulley tied to it. The hog was pulled up and the throat slit to let the blood drain out before it was swung over the barrel and dunked down into the boiling water. After about fifteen minutes the hog was raised out of the barrel and one of the men pulled on a hand-full of hair to see if it were loose. If not, the hog was dunked back into the barrel for a while longer. Once the hair could be pulled easily from the skin, the hog was swung to the side of the barrel and laid down onto a large plank bench formed from boards placed on saw horses. The men used sharp butcher knives to scrape off the hair. When all the hair had been removed, the hog was pulled back up, the belly slit open, the “insides” (intestines, bladder, heart, liver, and lungs) cut loose to let fall out onto a canvas sheet laid below the hog’s body.
The carcass was then slung back onto the bench and cut into hams, ribs, belly slabs (bacon), pork chops, and the like. Some of the cut pieces were taken to the house where Nell rubbed in salt and brown sugar to cure the meat. Other pieces were hung up in the smoke house and a fire started in the smoke pit. Some of the meat was ground and sage added to make sausage patties. Nell fried the patties and cold packed them in quart jars and placed in the cellar for use during the next year. The liver and heart were removed and taken to the house to be eaten the next day or two. Amos and Pete took some of the liver, along with a cut or two of the meat home with them. The intestines were stripped of the fat and the small intestines cut into long lengths and the contents squished out and the inside washed with hot water. These “guts” later were stuffed with some of the ground meat to form link sausage that was also cold packed.
Chunks of hide and fat cut from the belly and the fat that had been “run” from the intestines were placed in a large cast-iron kettle, with a fire burning around the base, to render into lard. The boiling lard was dipped into five-gallon cans, cooled, and taken to the cellar. The residual “cracklin’s” were saved to be fed to Tip.
While one hog was being worked on, the other was shot and dunked in the boiling water. When it was ready, the process was repeated. If the boys were home, the bladder from one of the hogs would be cleaned out and blown up so they could use it as a ball to kick around the yard. And so it went, until both hogs had been butchered. All the while the men swapped stories, each trying to out-do the others.
Another late winter chore was cleaning out the barns and hauling the manure to the fields. As the straw bedding, carried in from the straw stack, in both the horse and cattle barns became soaked with urine and feces during the year, more straw was added. In early March, Jim pulled his new International Harvester Low Cloverleaf manure spreader up to the barn and with a wide, 15-tined fork, threw the soiled straw into the bed of the spreader. When the bed was full, he drove the team to one of the fields, starting with those from which the corn had been shucked. Charlie had used the Keystone disk harrow to knock down the standing corn stalks to make it easier for Jim to go through the fields. If enough manure was available, he would put some in the old clover fields. The “spreader” blades spun rapidly, flinging manure out across a wide swath. A track mechanism on the floor of the spreader slowly worked the manure in the bed back towards the spreader blades. Both barns would be cleaned this way and the natural fertilizer applied to the fields.
In early April the field work tempo picked up again. The old clover fields and the shucked corn fields, now covered with manure, were plowed. Charlie used the Emerson-Brantingham Foot-Life two-bottom gang plow, pulled by Bird and Faye and Jack and Jerry. Jim took the single bottom John Deere Syracuse No. 61 Chill walking plow, pulled by Corey and Mandy, with the harness lines tied together and looped down over his shoulders and around his waist. Both hands were needed to steer the plow. I can still hear his “Gee” and “Haw” commands drifting from the field as he directed the understanding horses to turn right (Gee) or left (Haw). Not much ground could be plowed each day, but the fields were not all that large in those times. After the fields were plowed, they were disked and then gone over by an Avery Staytite section harrow, with numerous steel spikes sticking down into the soil. Sometimes, if the soil had been a little wet when plowed, there were would be large hard clods of dirt. A “drag” made of two 8 x 8 inch beams from an old barn, with concrete weights on them, was pulled over the fields to break up the hard clods before they were disked and harrowed.
When everything was ready, corn planting began. Jim slowly worked the two-row John Deere No. 999 check planter, pulled by Corey and Mandy, across the fields. The check wire, with a twisted wire “knot” every 40 inches, was stretched the length of the field, and held in place at each end by a heavy metal stake. The wire ran through a Y-shaped lever on the side of one of the boxes that was connected to the plates on the bottom of both planter boxes. The wire knot moved the plates so that a hole in the bottom lined up with a tube going down within a plow that opened the soil, resulting in the release of three or four kernels of corn in each “hill.” The wire was kept aligned so that the hills of corn along the long rows and cross rows were all in line. At the end of each row, Jim moved the check wire 40 inches along the field. A long arm with a disk blade at the end etched a line in the dirt on which Jim centered the planter as he drove the team of horses through the field to plant each succeeding pair of rows.
When the corn was about four inches high, Jim and Charlie started cultivating, with John Deere New Elk Automatic cultivators. Each cultivator, pulled by a team of horses, plowed a single row of corn at each pass through the field. Six V-shaped shovels, three on each side of the row of corn, were mounted on swinging bars with oval metal stirrups for the feet. By watching the position of the shovels to the corn plants and swinging them back and forth with their feet, Jim and Charlie could root up the weeds close up to the corn hills without plowing out the corn. Once the field was cultivated one way, they cultivated cross-ways to get at the weeds within the corn rows. This routine was repeated three or four times, into early July, until the corn became so tall that the cultivator would break off the stalks. At that time the fields were said to be “laid by.” An early season measure of a potentially good corn crop was if the corn was “knee high by the Fourth of July.”
In late June, the first clover hay crop was mown and put up in one of the barns, as had been the hay crops last summer. By then the wheat was ripe enough to cut and put into bundles with the horse-drawn Champion Wheat Binder. Charlie and the boys stacked the bundles into shocks to dry. Ten or twelve bundles were stacked against each other, with the wheat heads at the top. Then, two bundles were “broken” (bent into an inverted “V”) in the middle, at the binder twine, and placed over the shock to form a cap that would protect the grain from the rain. A couple weeks later the threshing crews arrived and the annual farm cycle repeated itself.
As the routine continued into the next year, Little Jim and Frank were now doing many of the morning and evening chores before and after school, as well as field work on the weekends. When Little Jim finished high school the end of May 1916, he started working in the fields full-time. Charley came only when an extra hand was needed, as for shocking and threshing wheat and filling the silo.
The summer of 1916 was a bad year for cinch bugs on the farm. These small insects had over-wintered as adults in the hedge rows. Individuals that had not been killed by the burning (many were too far down in the soil to be killed by the fire) moved out into the wheat fields in spring to feed and lay eggs on the growing green wheat. When the wheat plants matured and began drying up, the young nymphs and surviving adults moved from the wheat fields to the corn fields to feed on the young green corn plants. There, the young cinch bugs matured and became reproductive, resulting in a proliferation of cinch bug populations that had the potential to devastate the corn crop. In those days there was no insecticide to control cinch bugs. In an attempt to reduce the movement of cinch bugs into the corn fields, Jim plowed, with his waking plow, a ditch around the fields. He then hitched Corey to a large log and dragged it along the ditch, causing a deep dusty bottom to form. This created a barrier that tended to impede the movement of the immature cinch bugs into the corn. Not overly effective, but the best available. The boys and sometimes Nell, would take turns keeping the ditch dusty.
The generational farm cycle seemed on track. It was assumed Little Jim would find a wife and take over the farm. Frank most likely would go out on his own and buy a farm (with his dad’s backing). But, the next spring war clouds from across the ocean reached the Mid-western United States. We were at war. A postcard came for Little Jim in early August 1917 and a few weeks later he was gone. Charley came back to work on the farm in his place. Frank graduated from high school in May 1917 and as soon as the field work was done in November, he enlisted and was gone. It was now just Jim, Nell and Charley. The boys came back once on furlough in late winter. Their young faces belied the maturity of their newly acquired poker-straight gait and somber khaki uniforms.
It was difficult for Jim and Charlie to do all the farm work, even with Nell helping with the morning and evening chores. There was also a problem of getting some of the necessities. Although many food items were rationed, often in order to buy, for example, a pound of sugar, the store keeper would require that you also buy additional “substitute” items before he would sell you the sugar. One Saturday, Jim came home with twenty boxes of oatmeal he had to buy in order to get the two pounds of flour Nell needed for baking.
Early one Friday afternoon, a few months after Little Jim and Frank had left home the second time, Henry Lee brought to the house a telegram from the telegraph office at the railroad depot in town. Little Jim would not be coming home. Neighbors immediately began arriving in horse and buggies. Word spread rapidly even in those days of few telephones. Charlie and the neighbors did the chores that evening and several stayed on late into the night.
It often was said in those days that whenever someone in the family died, the roosters crowed at midnight. That night, at midnight, the roosters crowed.
The next morning Jim did his share of the chores. No matter what, the horses and hogs had to be fed and watered and the cows milked. There was a new sound in the barn yard that morning, the soft uncontrollable sobbing of a grown, usually stoic, man as he methodically went about his work. His first born, his pride, was gone.
Soon it was “over, over there.” Frank came home, but was using a cane to support a stiff leg. Part of the muscle of the lower calf had been torn away by a jagged piece of shrapnel from a German shell. Slowly the leg recovered from the wound and he laid aside the cane, but Frank carried the limp with him to his grave. Now it was Jim and Frank doing the farm work.
A couple months after he returned from the “Big War”, Frank started “sparking”, as they called it in those days, Mary, who lived with her parents on a farm a few miles up the road. When kids, they had both gone to the one-room Albany Grade School two miles to the west of the farm and then to the high school in town. It eventually became serious and in a couple years they were married by Reverend Henderson at the Congregational Church in town. That night the entire community threw a wild party, a charivai (or “shivaree”, as it often was often spelled it in those days), at the house. The sitting room was cleared for dancing and the kitchen and dining room tables filled with sandwiches, cookies, cakes, and pies. Nell and Mary’s mother took turns playing the piano for the dances. It was a wild night. While the bride and groom and the “old folks” were busy dancing and eating, a bunch of the young boys went up in the horse barn with a lantern and caught a dozen or so pigeons roosting on the rafters. They sneaked a ladder up to back window when no one was looking and turned them loose in Frank and Mary’s “honeymoon” room. Eventually the festivities were over and everyone departed. But, about every fifteen or twenty minutes the rest of the night the bedroom window came open and a pigeon or two went sailing out.
One morning a couple years later, Corey was down in her stall when Jim went to harness her for work. She seemed to have the colic. Nell made a jar of ginger water that Jim put in a bottle from which he poured it down her throat. Afterwards, when he went to set the bottle on the shelf at the back of the stall, it bumped into a piece of harness and fell down between the kick boards and the siding, breaking on the hard dirt below. By noon Corey seemed better, but Jim did not work her that day. The next morning, when he went to the barn to do the chores, she was dead in her stall. Jim took the loss hard. She had served him well for fourteen years. He broke down when he found her. I still hear his soft sobs, this time for the loss of a mare, as he did the morning chores. Later in the day, Jim hitched up Jack and Jerry and dragged Corey to the back of the pasture for the buzzards to eat.
Frank and Mary lived on at the house with Jim and Nell. All seemed to get along well. Mary helped Nell with the garden, canning and housework. She took over the Monday washing chores, still done on a wash board and rung out by hand. Mary’s hands, too, were red and sore all the time. Although most sections of the economy were experiencing “good times” and growth, the farmers did not really recover from the recession of 1921. Farm prices remained low. As the rest of the population prospered, the farmers struggled just to “get along.” But, life on the farm went on. The farm equipment slowly changed as engineering advances were made. Mainly, the new equipment operated essentially the same as the old models--just a little more effectively. Jim did buy an International Harvester side delivery rake and a Massey-Harris hay loader to speed up putting up the hay. Push Banks replaced his steam tractor with a McCormick-Deering 10-20 gasoline tractor and bought a new Minneapolis Moline threshing machine.
Two years after Frank and Mary were married, Harry came along and then Ellie, a year later. For a few years the typical farm routine continued. But, in 1928 our little world started changing. One hot Thursday afternoon in mid August, while Jim and Frank were putting up stubble clover hay, Jim said he felt weak. Age and worries over money and the heavy farm work had taken their toll. Frank brought him to the house on the wagon. Jim did not look well at all as they passed by below me--gray and ash-colored. Frank went to town for Doc Knoop. But, he was too late. Again, the roosters crowed at midnight.
A new hired hand, Pearly Walton, (Charlie had died in early 1925) came to the farm each day and the routine slowly returned to normal. But, a year later things turned worse and farm life, still in trouble from the continuing farm recession, became even more depressed. Along with the rest of the world, everything fell apart. Corn prices dropped to $.30 per bushel and corn to $.35. Hogs sold for less than $3 a hundred weight and cattle prices dropped to around $4 per hundred weight. On the farm, at least, there were the garden vegetables, wild raspberries and black berries, and plenty of hogs and chickens to eat. But, money was needed for necessities such as sugar, flour, clothing and the like and little was coming in.
Bird and Faye and Mandy and Corey’s replacement, “Lillie”, were “retired to pasture” in 1932 and Jack and Jerry sold in 1933. Three younger teams of horses were bought to replace them. Frank said he had had enough of dealing with temperamental mules.
Christmas times meant a limited number of “store-bought” presents. Frank made toys for Harry and Ellie in the shop and Mary sewed clothes the kids’ presents. Harry and Ellie, even at their young ages, understood money was scarce. They were happy with the home-made play things and the clothes. Easter was another exciting time that could be had without needing money. When Harry and Ellie were very young, Mary helped them color three or four dozen hard boiled eggs the day before Easter. Then, early Easter morning, before the kids got up, Frank and Mary hid the eggs all around the yard. When breakfast was over Harry and Ellie would take their “Easter Baskets” Frank had made for them in the shop and would run around the yard, squealing and yelling as they found eggs in the grass, flower beds, on the low branches of the trees, and other hiding places. As the years moved along into the depression and they became older, Harry and Ellie still went through the ritual of being excited and play-acting in squealing and yelling as they had when much younger. All this helped the family forget, if only for a few hours, the desolate times they were living in.
Nell was still hurting over the loss of her two Jims. Seeing the kids have to struggle so hard sort of took the rest of the life out of her. In early March 1934, once again the roosters crowed at midnight.
Now it was only Frank, Mary and the kids. Frank and Mary were barely hanging in. Just when it looked like things could not be worse, came the drought of 1935-36. Not only did the crops all dry up those years, but there was not even enough water in my well for the livestock. Frank dug a six foot-deep pit in a shallow draw a quarter of mile south of the house. Enough water would seep in during the day for them to fill a few milk cans each evening to water the livestock. A lot of work just to survive. And, that was all they were doing, surviving. But, they made it through the drought until the rains came in the fall and the wells ran with water again. Once more my pump filled the water trough at my base.
Although several of the neighboring men would go hunting for rabbits and quail in the autumn, as had their dads before, Frank never took his shotgun off the pegs in the hallway. Quail and rabbit meat would have been a welcome variety, but Frank said he had done enough killing “over there.” He could not bring himself to shoot even an animal.
In August 1937 Frank surprised Mary on her birthday with a gasoline powered washing machine. It took a lot of scrimping to save up enough so he could buy it, but wheat prices were a little higher that year and he managed to hide out enough dollars for the washing machine. He took Mary for a ride one Sunday afternoon and had the store bring it to the house while they were gone. When Mary saw the washing machine, with its wringer, sitting in the screened in porch as they drove up, she simply sat in the car and cried for at least fifteen minutes. No more washing on the scrub board and wringing the heavy dirty overalls by hand. The washing machine was put in the wash room, with a long flexible metal hose carrying the exhaust fumes out the back door.
A unique phenomenon of the depression years was the large number of hobos who were “riding the rails” from one place to another. There was a “hobo jungle” at the edge of town, in a brushy area around the slag piles of a long-abandoned coal mine. Townspeople dumped their old cars in the brush and there were piles of old railroad ties stacked there, too. The hobos made small shacks out of the ties and auto bodies to take shelter in for a few nights while doing some odd jobs in town, before catching a box car and moving on up the line. There was a water tank at the railroad trestle over Macoupin Creek, where the steam engine trains stopped to fill their boilers. Often some of the hobos would get off the train at Macoupin and go swimming to wash off, their only means of bathing. Rather than wait for the next train, they would walk the two miles up the track to town and to the hobo jungle. At night you could hear them singing loud ribald songs as they walked the rails. Once and awhile, a hobo would walk across the pasture during the daytime and come to the house for a handout. Mary was always ready with a sandwich or two, milk, and maybe a piece of pie. The hobos were polite and courteous—just men down on their luck because of the depression.
It was not all gloom on the farm, even during the depths of the depression. Life went on and lives were lived. In the early 1930s the farmers in the neighborhood started having platform dances every Saturday night during the summer. They used a large sectional dance floor owned by the Murphy & Iberson lumber company in town and rented to the dancers for a nominal fee each night. The dance floor was moved by a team of horses and wagon and set up on someone’s lawn each Saturday. It arrived at our house three or four times during the summer.
A few of the men who could play a guitar, violin (“fiddle”), banjo, and a base (“bull fiddle”) provided the music, not good music mind you, but it made do. The women brought sandwiches, pies, ice tea, and coffee that were placed on tables for the dances to eat and drink. There were two square dance “sets” and then a waltz or foxtrot (“round dances”) or two to give the square dance caller and dancers a chance to rest. Every hour or so the musicians would take a break and everyone would eat and drink. The musicians and some of the adult men usually partook of something stronger than coffee. Either the music got better as the night, and the drinking, wore on, or no one cared. During the square dances the young kids would run around eating and drinking and in general being kids. Some tried dancing during the round dances, awkwardly stumbling into their partner with embarrassed looks on their faces. A few of the older boys and girls would sneak out behind the tool shed to smoke and neck. I was the only one who could see what actually went on behind the shed. I never told.
Frank and some of the other neighboring men also went logging for fish in Macoupin creek on hot summer afternoons, and as their dads had done, put seines across the Elm Branch when Macoupin Creek flooded. Fish was a welcomed addition to the meat supply. Available meat usually consisted of chicken, sugar-cured, smoked and cold-packed pork. With no electricity, there was not a deep freezer to keep any of the beef they grew, nor were locker plants yet available in town. With money so tight, seldom could Mary buy any meat at the grocery store.
Not much changed in the farm routine during the 1930s. Advances were made in respect to the kinds of equipment available to increase efficiency in farming, but there was not enough money to be had to purchase any of them. So, Frank and the other farmers continued to repair and make do with their old farm equipment and stuck to the old methods. Push Banks’ son, Eddie, took over his dad’s business when Push died in 1935. He continued to supply tractors, threshers, silo blowers, and heavy equipment for the farmers. He, too, had to keep repairing his equipment so as not to have to buy new replacements.
The silo was filled with cut corn as before. Frank continued to shock about half of the corn and bring in the shocks in the winter to be fed to the cattle. In 1937, after a good wheat crop and increasing prices, Frank bought a horse-drawn John Deere corn binder. This speeded up shocking of the corn and eliminated the need for a hired hand to cut the corn. The corn that was not cut for silage or put in shocks continued to be shucked by hand, with Pearly helping out.
Hogs were butchered and the meat cured, smoked and cold packed. Frank had a hard time shooting the hogs. Often one of the neighbors, sensing Frank was having difficulty dealing shooting his hog, would do it for him. As before, the hedge fences around the fields were trimmed during the winter. Mary was not bothered by poison ivy, so did not have to be careful with the smoke and towels. And, in late summer, the sprouts in the pasture “grubbed” out. Mostly it was about surviving until, hopefully, things eventually would get better on the farm.
The REA (Rural Electrification Administration) finally brought electricity to the farm in early 1940. Because of the war in Europe, farm prices were getting a little better and more money was to be had. Frank and Mary bought a refrigerator, an electric stove, an electric motor to put on the washing machine, an electric radio to replace the battery radio, and they installed an electric pump in the drinking water well so that they could have running water in the house, including to an indoor bathroom they built in the old wash room. No more trips to the outhouse on cold winter nights. My pump pole was disconnected from the well below and an electric pump hooked up to fill the water tank. Water from the well was piped to the brood hog pens so that Frank would not have to carry water in buckets. I became simply an aesthetic object, a reminder of “the old days”, as my fan turned slowly in the wind and my pump pole moved up and down in space.
Frank also put up a large pole light in the side yard. During the summer evenings, Frank, Mary and the kids would sit out in the yard, where it was cooler than in the house. You should have seen the thousands of insects--beetles, moths, water bugs, lacewings, and tree crickets--swarming around the light.
As Harry and Ellie grew older and graduated from high school, they took over much of the farm work. The family cycle was going full circle. It was assumed Harry would soon marry and begin to take over the farming duties. But, once again there were war clouds across the oceans. Initially the war in Europe helped the economy and farming became profitable again and life a little better for Frank, Mary and the kids. But, then on a warm winter Sunday the country was plunged into a war, both in the Pacific and Europe.
Another post card came in early 1942 and Harry was gone. He didn’t even get a chance to come home after basic training. Soon his V-mail address was APO, San Francisco. He was somewhere in the Pacific. Frank spent many a restless night worrying--visions of the trenches and what Harry was facing kept running through his mind. Later in the year Ellie went off to nursing school in Chicago. She came back a few times while in school and once in her new Navy Nurse’s uniform. Soon her letters were addressed to a naval hospital in Seattle.
With all the men away in the service, life on the farm became difficult for Frank and Mary. The years were taking their toll and it was harder and harder for them to keep up with the field work. Frank’s old war wound began bothering him more and more. Frank bought a second hand Oliver “70” tractor and equipment to go with it, including a power-take off combine and a corn picker. There was no more threshing ring and no one to help shuck corn by hand. The men were all off in the Service. Pearly had succumbed to the inflated salaries paid by the war plants and had moved to St. Louis. Frank sold two of the teams of horses, keeping one to use with the wagons when he needed to haul corn and other things around the farm.
Soybeans were now worked into the crop system, replacing the clover. Harry did plant a few acres of alfalfa for hay for the livestock. This was baled in the field by Eddie Banks with his New Holland baler that picked up the alfalfa directly from the windrows. Harry would get one of the high school boys in town to drive the tractor and wagon as he threw (“bucked”) the bales onto the wagon. He stored them in stacks next to the barns so as to easily break them open and feed to the horses and cattle. Frank quit shocking the corn and shucked all the fields, feeding the ears to the cattle after being chopped with his old chopper, now equipped with an electric motor. He bought additional hay at the auction barn in town to take the place of the corn fodder, now left in the fields. With Mary helping by driving the tractor during the day and Frank working nights, they barely were able to get all the crops in and the harvesting done. But, they survived.
Eventually, the war was over and Harry came home late March 1946 in his Sergeant’s uniform, with four rows of ribbons. He stayed on for a few months, helping with the spring and summer farm work, as before. However, that September he left the farm and went off to the University. This time there was a “GI Bill” that broke the generational farm cycle. Service men and women could now realize careers never dreamed of before. Harry became a chemical engineer. After he graduated, Harry and his new wife, a girl from Chicago he met at the University, moved to Delaware, where he took a job with a chemical company. Ellie married a naval officer she had helped nurse back to health and stayed on in Seattle.
Frank and Mary tried to keep the farm going for a few more years, but things were changing rapidly for the farmers. More costly newer types of equipment were available and needed to do the field work. Seed and other supplies, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, were expensive and needed to be purchased in bulk. Hired hands were hard to find and when they could be found, demanded salaries that were too much for what the crops brought in. Frank had Eddie Banks bulldoze out most of the hedges so that the fields were larger and easier to work, but it really did not reduce his costs all that much. The farm was simply too small. More land was needed to realize a profitable return on the equipment and supply costs. Frank and Mary finally had to give up farming the farm themselves and rented out the land on the “halves” to Ed Kallal. Ed’s dad, John, had purchased Amos Fenton’s farm in 1944, when Amos died. Then when John died in 1948, Ed took over the farm. He soon began buying up some of the nearby small farms and renting other farm land.
With their time now free, Frank and Mary went on a few trips. They made one trip west to Seattle to visit Ellie and her family and one to Washington D.C. to see the Capitol and on up to Delaware to visit Harry and his family. But, not actually being involved in the farm work anymore sort of took all of the spunk out of Frank. He aged rapidly. In mid-April 1951, the roosters crowed at midnight.
Mary didn’t feel up to making all the farming arrangements with Ed. She sold the farm to him and moved into a small house with a large lot and a couple of sheds on the edge of town. In an attempt to hold on to something of her former life, Mary took a few chickens with her. They laid enough eggs for breakfast each morning and a few to give to the neighbors. But it wasn’t the same. In about early August 1955 the roosters once more crowed at midnight.
For a few years, Ed left the farm buildings in place. He used the tool shed and barn overhang to store his equipment. He also stored corn in the downstairs of the house and in the shop when he ran out of bin space one year. But, years of neglect did not wear well with the barns and house. First he sold the siding from the two barns to one of the contractors in town. Seems Doc England, the new doctor in town (Doc Knoop died right after the war), the insurance man, and a few other businesses were using old barn siding as paneling for their office walls. A brief fad back then. The contractor also took all the solid beams and other good lumber from the barns and tore down the house to salvage what he could. The rest of the wood and the smaller buildings, he simply burned. The cement walks, porches and foundations were bulldozed up and pushed into the old cellar hole. He also filled in the wells and leveled off the lots, putting them into farm land. Finally everything, but me, was gone. For several decades now I have remained the sole survivor of the old farmstead. A few years ago, the Federal Government put in the new Interstate highway one hundred yards to the south, going over exactly where the garden had grown so many vegetables for the family.
Harry stopped by in late June a few years ago on his way from the airport in St. Louis to some meetings upstate. He walked out in the knee high corn to the southwest of me and stood there looking around for a long time. Where had been the house? Where had been the horse barn? Not much he could orient on. Don’t think he saw the neck of the old broken ginger bottle at his feet--too many tears blurring his vision. He won’t be back again.
So, here I stand, all alone, my wheel idly turning in the wind, the wind vane continuing to point the fan vanes of the wheel towards the wind. But, the dangling pump pole slowly moves up and down in mid air. No pump below. The well is filled in. Eventually Ed will tire of working around me. Some cold winter day when the ground is frozen he will come out and torch me down, dig up the concrete base to each leg, and haul away the twisted metal.
The Windmill: Another view of the windmill, now all alone in a cornfield.
Then there will be nothing left of what has been. Never again will there be the exciting sounds of the threshing ring in July, the exaggerated tales being told as the hogs were butchered in winter, the excited squeals of a boy and girl looking for Easter eggs, or the banjo and fiddle music of the Saturday night platform dances. But, if you listen carefully, perhaps, in the rustling of the corn leaves, you will hear the distant echoes from another time--the rattle of the cook stove as it is shaken down on cold winter mornings, the early morning mournful moaning of awakening cattle, the skirtching of the warm milk on the metal bottom of the buckets, the dry snorting of the hogs feeding from their troughs, the screeching metallic sound of the pump handle, the thunk of the wooden gate, the cooing of pigeons from the barn lots, the teeting of swallows as they dart about the barn, a wife crying with happiness over a washing machine, and the soft sobbing a grown man crying over the loss of a son and a mare. And, when my turn comes to be taken away, a far-away rooster crowing at midnight.