Things Dad Talked About
by Roy B.
Dad was one of the first in the community to own a combine (an Allis Chalmers). Before the combine, oats were first cut and tied into bundles with a binder, than by hand gathered in to shocks of 8 to 20 bundles. Then when the owner of the thrashing machine got to you the bundles were pitched onto a hay rack and hauled to the thrashing machine then pitched onto the feeder and thrashed. The first year dad used the combine, late thirties, granddad Nate came to the field and said “that is the way to harvest oats”.
A neighbor, Orty Young, (Mary Ella Huber’s dad and Terry Young’s grand dad) tried growing flax. Flax is a beautiful crop to grow but can be a challenge to harvest. The windrower Orth used bunched the crop badly and then we had a spell of wet weather. The flax seed is in a little seed pod the size of a large pea. It staid wet long enough that some of the seed sprouted. Orty came to dad and asked him to harvest the field for him. Dad went down and looked at the field and told Orty if they spread out the bunches he would try to run the flax through the combine. Orty had a big family so they all took pitchforks and worked at spreading the bunches out. When D ad started he found that the flax bunches that were left would go into the combine cylinder, that dad had spinning so fast that it literally whined, and break a cylinder bolt. Dad said it sounded like a rifle shot when it broke and wrap the syslender bar around the syslender, which took a while to fix. It was the year the M was new. Dad learned to lock the breaks together and sit with his foot on the break and his hand on the engine switch. When he heard the rifle shot he would kill the engine and slam on the brakes. If he was quick enough all he had to do was put a new bolt in and clean out the cylinder. He did get the field finished though.
When the settlers moved to the prairie most came from areas that had lots of trees and particularly the wives were unhappy with the continuous wind and no trees. Many settlers moved to an 80, ¼ mile by ½ mile. They would take their sulky plow, usually a 12 inch bottom, and plow a furrow clear around the 80 acres. Then go to the river where there were trees and cut a wagon full of willow switches. Then plow another furrow to cover the switches. Willow is a fast growing tree and very soon they would have a row of willows around their farm. The trees were as much as any thing a wind break. Early farmers only broke the sod on the hill tops because the low ground held water all spring and many times most of the summer. Dad remembered wading in the ponds in the late spring and how soft the vegetation on the bottom of the pond was. By midsummer though the ponds would have a green alga bloom on them. Even before commercial fertilizer the landscape on Iowa was very nutrient rich and “leaky”.
Dad helped remove a row of willows from the north edge of the home farm. After the trees were removed and some early time was put in granddad wanted to break the sod where that row of trees stood and also some slough ground. Granddad didn’t have a tractor yet and he thought he would hire someone with an early tractor to do the job. He was concerned that the work would be unnecessarily hard on the horses. I don’t remember who had the tractor, Ore Stevens? but when he got there the tractor simply could not pull the plow. Dad said some of the early tractors didn’t have enough power to pull the hat off your head, and barley enough to pull themselves. Since the tractor didn’t work dad harnessed the horses to the sulky plow. Sulky meaning a single bottom as opposed to a gang plow that 2 or more bottoms. At this time most of the bottoms were only 12 inches wide. Plowing with horses took an even hand and great care for the horses. Because of the difficulty of the load you had to be careful not to over work a team and have a horse go down also it took special care to protect the horses’ shoulders from collar soars. As dad broke the sod every once in a while the plow would hock a tree rot and throw dad off the seat of the plow and sometimes upset the plow completely. Generally there was no trouble with horses running away when they were plowing, mostly they wanted to stop.
The corn planter was two rows. Grand dad was a very slight built man and since the seat was behind the runners your weight made a difference how deep the planter planted and there for how quickly the corn came up. Grand dad hung a weight under the seat of the planter so his corn came up as quickly as the neighbors. One time dad was cultivating with a straddle mount cultivator(meaning you set straddle of the row) he saw a swarm of bees, with a cultivator in the corn field this was a very bad thing. Dad wore a straw hat . He stopped the team and held tight to the reins and used the other hand to hold his collar shut so the bees wouldn’t get down his neck. He sat and waited for the swarm to pass, as they flew past he could hear them pelting his straw hat but none stung him or the horses. Dad plowed with three horses side by side, using a 3 horse evener.
Dad harvested for Bill Holmes. Bill is the man that bought the NE corner of home farm. Dad combines oats and later soybeans as well as pick corn for him. Dad had a two row pull type picker. One year the cockleburr were very bad in Bills corn. Dad said there were times all he could see in the wagon was cocklebur plants. Bill pulled out some of the cockleburs when he unloaded the wagons. Dad said he literally had a hay stack of cockleburs. Thank goodness for herbicides. Dad was picking corn for Bill when we had the Election Day storm. It started out as freezing rain and turned into a gad blizzard. Of course the tractor and picker were sitting out and at the time there was no antifreeze. Today the weather forecasters would have warned of an approaching storm but not then. After the storm dad went to get the tractor and picker. I think the tractor he had at the time was the F-20. First he had to take a hammer and bread the ice off of steering wheel, throttle, clutch, breaks, gear shift, crank, and anything else that had to move so he could even try to start the tractor. Of course the engine radiator and engine block were frozen. Dad said he didn’t know what else to do so he just started it and drove it home. By the time he got there the tractor was absolutely smoking. He pulled the tractor in the shed and through a tarp over it. Amazingly it thawed out without any damage to the engine block or radiator. (Don’t remember the year of the storm) With a pull type picker to open a field the tractor ran down two rows of corn so sometimes dad would hand pick the “down” rows. I remember going with him once when he did that. I have said I don’t remember horsed but we were following the wagon so horsed must have been pulling it.
Time Period: 1930s, 1940s