Rev. Edgar F. Wheeler: 12 Crops and Fields

On our farm we grew a variety of crops. Only wheat was sold as a direct cash crop. The rest were used as feed for cattle, hogs, chickens. These were corn, oats, alfalfa hay. Two crops were discontinued in favor of others that better suited our operations. These were barley and Kaffir corn (which I assume was introduced from Africa at some time).

Until the end of the 1920’s we used horse-drawn machinery exclusively. This somewhat limited the acreage we could cultivate. A good farmer and his horse were mutual friends, and careful consideration was given to care of the horses. Machinery was generally somewhat crude. Dad had a two-bottom John Deere “Gang” plow which was pulled by five horses–three abreast and two as a “lead team” in front of them. Generally he planted corn with a lister that had a two-way mol-board that made a deep furrow in which it planted the corn. The idea was that as the corn grew soil would be cultivated around it filling in the furrow and creating a deeper root system to better endure dry weather. At harvest time the corn was either shucked from the standing rows, or cut with a corn binder that tied bundles which were used for cattle fodder. The bundles were put together in shocks (like tepees) of several bundles and firmly secured together with twine. Later, corn was husked from the bundles.

Wheat and oats were cut with a binder (originated by Cyrus McCormick in the past century). The crop was cut and tied into bundles which were set up in shocks awaiting harvest. It was our ambition to set up the shocks in straight rows. When threshing time arrived in July, farmers would work together in crews to thresh each other’s crops. There were threshermen who owned big steam engines or tractors with grain separators traveling from farm to farm. Their pay rates were determined by the output of grain. These machines measured out the grain by the half-bushel and had a recording device.

In my earlier days I was the “water boy,” keeping the men at the machine and in the fields, supplied with drinking water. I rode a horse with a jug hung over the pommel of the saddle (a corn cob served as a cork). The men first emptied just a little water over the spout to “cleanse” it from the previous drinker. That did not fully erase the taste and smell of tobacco users, which was not too pleasant for non-tobacco users. We boys loved these times for the variety of hearty meals prepared by farm wives. There was, no doubt, a competition among the ladies to outdo one another, which was to the enjoyment of the threshing crew. Water and a basin were provided at the well to wash, which most men did kind of slap-dash fashion, ending with a hand brushing over their hair.

Our F 20 Farmall with grain binder, taken around 1939 or 1940 in the south field.
Dad is by the binder.

I think that cultivating corn with a horse-drawn riding cultivator was my favorite of field work. It was quiet and gave solitude for thoughtful meditation which is such an important part of spiritual development. Once I told my Dad that I would like to use a walking cultivator. He bought one at a farm sale. It took just a day or two to change my mind, and I suspect that Dad had a few chuckles over that.
Tractor farming for us had its beginning at the end of the 1920’s with a used and cantankerous Fordson. After a few years we advanced to a much better McCormick-Dee-ring 10-20 (horsepower ratings for belt and draw-bar). However, it was past the mid 30’s that we finally bought a “modern” Farmall on rubber tires that could also cultivate row crops. My last two years before college days I used the old Farmall mainly for that one job.
Tractor farming did lead to expansion of operations and better crops. Work was done faster and more efficiently. Horse power became almost a thing of the past. Much heavy work was eliminated with the coming of the combine that both cut and threshed the grain, and later even corn husking was done by machine. My only personal sense of loss was due to the tractor sounds shutting out the sound of birds and of the steam locomotives that we could now only see and trace by their smoke. Dad and Charles progressed in mechanical farming when they lost a farm hand as I went to college in early 1941.

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