Rev. Edgar F. Wheeler: 11 “The Forty”

In the early ‘30s Dad rented a 40-acre field from Bob Gillen. We came to call it “The Forty”. It was a half-mile long, and nice-laying farm land. Going by road, it was one and a fourth miles. With the consent of a neighbor to cut across by the edge of his adjoining field, it was a half-mile from home.

When we first rented this land, we farmed with horses, and at noontime my mother would pack a lunch, rather than have Dad, Charles and Merlin make the round trip home. Most of the time she would send it over by me on my bicycle. The road by our house was still coarse gravel. I always wanted to ride fast, but in doing so I would weave back and forth. One day the bike skidded and I spilled the lunches. I don’t know if I ever told anyone in the family or not. The sandwiches spilled out of their wrappings. I carefully picked them up, cleansed them of fine sand, re-wrapped them and was on my way and I never heard that Dad and the boys found grit in their sandwiches. Quite regularly the lunch included a small can of sardines, either in tomato sauce, or in mustard. The cans were safe, not having been opened yet. To this day I have a hunger for sardines in mustard, but a digestive difficulty forbids eating the mustard today.

In the Kansas open spaces I always felt a long ways from home if I could not see the house and barn. During the horse-powered days, the cries of the killdeer trying to lure me away from her nest on the ground, always made me feel lonely and a little sad. The beauty of “The Forty” was that from almost any spot in the field there was a good view of home.

When the tractor power came into use, our first really good tractor was an old 10-20 McCormick-Dee-ring. After harvest was past, we rigged the tractor with generator and lights from a Model T Ford. Then Charles and Merlin would take their turns plowing on the “Forty”. One would take a night-time turn. They were always amazed at how much better the tractor performed in the more moist night air, and when daylight came they were startled to see how much they had plowed.

I liked cultivating there with the well-used Farmall. It was such a difference from following the plodding horses and resting them at each end of the field. Besides that, the Farmall did two rows at a time, instead of the single row at a time. I was rather proud to hear from Dad that neighbors had commented on my attentiveness to doing a good job. I returned home one summer after going to Salem College. Working there I would day dream about returning to the East with which I had become acquainted.

Bob Gillen, who never married, always took a liking to Charles and eventually saw to it that Charles would own the field we rented in time. I think that Charles always thought of its being willed to him, but I think he had to buy it, probably at a very reasonable price.

Up until soil erosion and dust storms forced a change in farming philosophy, a farmer was judged to be “a good farmer” by his smoothly worked soil and straight rows. This was proven in time to be disastrous in rolling and windy terrain. The soil conservation movement led to terracing and contour farming. The latter was not only beneficial, but enhancing to farm views. Row crops could follow the contour of the slopes, trapping and controlling moisture. Where the slopes changed pitch, rows would follow the pitch. Strips of row crops would be separated by hay crops or grain. Viewed from the air or higher points, this gave a picturesque appearance to the farm.

Despite all the benefits of fresh air, there were two adverse effects to field work. They were “eating the dust” on dry, windy days, and too much exposure to direct sunlight. Without question, the dust inhaled led to some lung problems. The hours of exposure to the sun has led to widespread skin cancer. Nowadays the advent of enclosed and air conditioned tractor cabs has greatly reduced these risks–plus adding comfort.

Another great advancement was rubber-tired tractors, arriving on Allis Chalmer trctors in the early 1930’s. At first most farmers scoffed at the idea, insisting that the old lugged steel wheels would provide more traction. With the advancement of better tires and tire treads, the farm tractor on rubber is almost universal–and more comfortable to boot. We made the change when lugged tractors were banned on modern hard surfaced roads.

In summary, I am convinced that the rugged farm life has helped me to develop persistence in the reality of life’s hardships. I would like to be able to personally thank Mom and Dad for the legacy of industry and persistence that they left me.

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