On the Farm: Field Work

This is a very old blurry picture, but I know who everyone is. I’m on the top right, and that’s my sister on the left. My dad is on the wagon and those little kids in front are my brother Jim and Donna. They came along later.

During harvest season there was always work to be done in the fields. Baling hay was especially fun. I would usually be on the wagon receiving the hay bales as they came off the baler. It was hard work, but fun. I would grab the bales by the twine and then turn around and stack them on the wagon. Then when the wagon was full, we would unload it and pile the bales onto a huge haystack (pictured above). If stacked properly, it would keep through the winter; but much of it we would transfer by conveyor into the barn hayloft to feed the cows. Oh, the cows loved the hay!

We also grew oats. The harvesting of the oats was entirely done by a combine, but the oat stems (straw) would be bailed up just like the hay, which was used as bedding for the cows, the pigs and the sheep. And we also used it in the garden. As a kid I much preferred straw over hay because it was less itchy and softer.

The harvesting of corn is usually all done by machine, but, for a couple seasons, we ended up doing it by hand. We dreaded it, but once we got into it, it was kind of fun. I say we because the whole family got into it. Mother would drive the tractor pulling the wagon; and the rest of us, dad and us three kids, would walk along on either side of the wagon, break off the corn, pull the shuck off, and toss the corn in the wagon. Once we got the hang of it, we could pick one ear of corn in just a few seconds. We would work at it for hours at a time, up and down the rows. At the end of the day we were bushed!

Another thing I remember doing in the corn fields is walking up and down the rows and pulling these big weeds called cockleburs. We didn’t want them in the fields because they would tend to choke out the corn. I also remember picking rocks. That was done in the early spring before planting. I suppose the main reason for getting rid of the rocks was so they wouldn’t interfere with, and break any of the machines, like the disc and the planters and the combines. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the corn picker broke!

I don’t know if this classifies as field work, but fixing the fences was a regular task. That was kind of fun because I got to work with my dad. My dad was always happier when he was working—doing something. In the evenings when he was just sitting around the house, he tended to get upset and angry, especially when my mom would pester him about certain things. Oh, they could get into it. I hated it. I hated hearing the angry arguments. But I loved seeing dad happy and in a good mood.

In the next post I’ll talk about what I did for fun—my free time.

On the Farm: The Farmhouse and Surroundings

This is our tractor and barn in the background. I don’t know some of these people, but I think that’s my sister behind the tractor steering wheel. She looks to be about two or three, so that would put me at one, or maybe not even born yet.

My most pleasant childhood memories, up to about age 12, was my life on the farm. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we moved around a lot as a family, so it has been hard to keep all the memories straight in my mind, as far as how long we lived at each place. But the farm near Montevideo, Minnesota was the most memorable to me. And I think we lived there at three different times: from my birth to about age thee (which I don’t remember at all), then from age 7 to 8, and then also at a later time when I was about 11 or 12. In between those times we lived at 3 or 4 different houses. Don’t ask me why. But the farm near Montevideo was by far the best place, the best farm.

The Montevideo farm house and buildings were located in an area where, they say, use to be an Indian camp. If you were to look down from above on the area, you would see the farm house and buildings in the middle, surrounded by a winding creek. Then, beyond the creek, in a larger circle, the elevation steeply rises until it reaches the top, where it levels off into beautiful alfalfa and oat fields.

Actually, the creek only goes three-quarters of the way around, to leave room for the long narrow driveway which went out to the main gravel road. To the right, a little way down the road there is a bridge, under which the creek runs. To the left of the driveway the road sharply ascends and then branches off to the left and right to other nearby farms. (I should explain that none of the buildings, including the house are still there. I’m not sure about the driveway, but I’m pretty sure the creek remains. Yes, the last time I looked at a satellite map the creek was still in the same general area.)

The large, dirty white house was built on a small hill. The area was level in front, but lower in the back. It was a two-story house, but in spite of its size it didn’t have many rooms. The kitchen and dining area were all one room. The rest of the main floor was open with just one small adjoining room, like maybe a pantry or a sewing room.

And there was no bathroom in the house, but we had a three-hole outhouse outside; and in the wintertime we used a large pot with a toilet seat on top. We put Lysol in it to cover the stink. Nobody complained.

We also didn’t have running water. Oh, there was plenty of water, but not in the house. We had to walk down by the barn to get it from an artesian well. Hauling the water was usually my job. For a little guy, it was a big chore, especially since it was a long way to go, about 60 or 70 yards.

The second story of the house was where us kids would sleep. It was a large open area. Okay, I guess it was really the attic. The rafters were showing and nothing was painted; it was all bare wood. I suppose for a country house it was normal. Anyway, in the winter time it was cold up there, with only one small vent to let the warm air come up from below. I remember in the morning, after getting up, we would huddle around that opening to get warm.

The barn (pictured above) was a great place to hang out, especially in the morning when the cows were all in their stanchions, eating hay and being milked. Ah, to see those contented cows gave me a feeling that all was well in the world. Our dog brownie and the cats hung out there too, waiting to get some fresh cow’s milk. Everyone was happy in the barn, and busy. The cows had to be milked and fed; and later, after they went out to pasture, the gutters, full of manure, had to be cleaned out—scooped out and hauled outside. We had nothing fancy. We just wheeled it out the barn door into a wheel barrel and dumped it outside in a big pile. Later we loaded some of it up in a manure spreader and spread it around on the fields. We even used it on the garden—and boy did that work. We had the best watermelons you ever saw—until the pigs got into it. But that’s another story.

As with most farms, we had a silo adjacent to the barn, which we used mostly to store silage. When it was empty, sometimes we climbed up the ladder on the silo, even though we weren’t supposed to. I don’t think any of us ever got all the way up; it was a long way up.

Above the lower part of the barn, where the cows were milked and fed, was the hay loft. It was a great place to play. But I can’t remember playing there much; we had too much work to do—the chores! I will get to that later.

I want to tell you about the other places. Sort of across from the house was a shed we called a grainery, where oats were stored—mounds and mounds of oats.  Sometimes we would jump around in there and get buried up to our waste. And sometimes we would see mice in there, crawling around in the oats. I never liked seeing mice…anywhere, except in a mouse trap.

Between the house and the barn, we planted a large vegetable garden. My dad and mom planted it, and it was my job to pull the weeds. Some days I worked at it for hours. I didn’t mind it too much, but my mom would feel sorry for me. I remember one time she said to me, “Oh, you’re such a good son, you’ll get your reward in heaven.” From that point on I started to think a lot about what heaven might be like. My mom probably wasn’t aware of it, but her words at that moment became a turning point in my life; and in just a few years I would give my life to Christ.

From the garden going toward the creek was a muddy pig pen—where I remember one time my sister jumped in and was coated with black mud from head to foot. I don’t know why she did that. And she was the smart one! Next to the pig pen was the chicken coop with chickens, and then down the hill to the left was a large rickety sheep barn. At one time we had, I think, over 500 sheep.

Well, that’s enough for this post. Next time I will tell you about the chores, mainly my chores.