Thursday, August 03, 2006

More Information About The Farms I got thinking, after a discussion of the subject with my wife, about how more background information might be needed to properly set forth the surroundings and the buildings in which much of my time as a youth was spent. I've already given a description of the farms areas as best I could, without being too boring I hope. I feel, however, more detail is needed as to the type of equipment and workspaces that were involved in maintaining the farm equipment in proper working order. For those of you not intimately familiar with farm life, the importance of constantly available farm machinery may not be readily apparent. Let me use a bad analogy here if I may attempt it; not having a ready to use hay "tender" to turn the hay from the previous evening's cutting, is like having a five gallon container of ice cream and only room in the freezer for one quart. By the time you make room in the freezer, something's going to be lost, either ice cream or frozen goods, maybe both. If you can't turn the hay to the sun and dry the "underside" of the hay rows, you can't bale it, as it'd still be wet. At any rate, as poor as the analogy may be, you should get the picture I hope. Not a good situation. At the time I was growing up, money for repairs, parts, new equipment, etc was not only scarce, it was usually non-existant. Yes, fuel was cheap, with gas and diesel in the twenty-five cents a gallon range. Many, many things cost much less then, including the milk, butter, eggs, and produce we sold to raise money. As an example, our milk sold higher than the milk from more commercial sources, yet was only twenty-three cents a quart delivered daily. At that rate it took over four quarts of delivered milk to raise a dollar. So money was dear, as not even three-fourths of that was profit. R told me it took delivery of three quarts of milk to be able to profit partially from the sale of the fourth. For this reason, farmers at that time (and many still today) had to be as much repairman, animal doctor, inventor, and many other trades as farmer, in order to make a living, or at least not lose too much money each year. Small farmers operated in this frugal way so as to compete with larger, better funded farm operations. Today it's even worse financially. The photos above aren't the equipment we actually had, or the barn, etc. They are in all ways very close to what we had, or even identical, as in the case of the tractors. I'll be showing more photos with each post from now on if possible, and they'll be the same, similar but not exact in most cases. The top photos are of a VERY similar blacksmith shop as was situated at the far end of the equipment shed. It was an old building close to, but not part of, the equipment shed. The next is an example of the small, gasoline engine powered washing machine my aunt used, she actually had two of them, both very old. The barn complex I chose mostly for the fact it's the same style as the milk/hay barn. The attached buildings such as the silo are similar but smaller. We also had a double tower silo. We also had far more additional buildings. Then there's an example of the type of small, one or two cylinder, gas engines we used to power the baler, hay bale conveyer, etc. We also had a few very old stationary engines that powered field water pumps, the generator, and the welder/generator units, and could be relocated, with a lot of effort, to where they were needed. Today's farmer is aided by the newer "all-in-one" tractor systems, portable mini-generators and pumps, and most of all electricity. Let me wander into the area of NO electricity for a bit. The reason we had no power for so long is complicated. Firstly, when I originally went to the farm to stay, all that was available was 25hz service, which wasn't adequate to run a lot of the newer equipment of the time. Not having "older" electric machinery, R decided to wait a few years until the local power provider switched over to 60hz and get newer farm aids then. Secondly, where the farm was situated was quite a distance from the nearest user of electric power. That would have been the service station down at the intersection, about five miles east. This meant the installation of several transformers, power poles, and transmission lines would be required, at a cost borne very unevenly between the power company and user(s). As ourselves, F, and the farm up the road a piece would be the only customers for miles around, this would have been a big investment at that time. This was further complicated by the fact that the third farm involved was owned by an elderly man, whose sons had moved "away" in search of higher paying jobs and a "better life" for their families. Looking back, I wonder if their's was a "better" life or not. We were pretty poor most times, we just didn't know it, as we always had homes, food, heat, and a full life. At any rate, he was loathe to invest in any "new-generation deviltry" (his actual words as I heard him tell R & F no)that wasn't going to improve his lot in life any, as he was retiring & selling his livestock. This put the onus on R, F, and my Dad, who was also hesitant. The decision was finally made to wait for the "new" 60hz service and save as much as possible until then in order not to go into debt to install it. Debt was highly frowned upon by many of those who survived the depression and its associated bank failures. R, F, and Dad really distrusted banks and bankers. Next is (like) the old , and in my opinion best in many ways, 1934 International Harvester Company F20 tractor. It was powered by a four cylinder gas engine and had a belt pully and power-take-off attachment. This was always my choice to do almost anything requiring the use of machinery. Next is (like) F's 1949 John Deere M that he bought when he first ran into scheduling conflicts with the use of the old F20 of R. This was an unusual J-D as it had vertical cylinders versus the usual horizontal J-D configuration. To me, it was always just shy of adequate in performing the tasks required of it, and almost as slow as what had become to be known as "Mike's Team". To say that hearing R, F, Dad, and others use this term to describe the big beasties I shovelled after filled me with pride, would be a gross understatement. Even though I thought more in terms of Pete and Jake being in charge of me. Sort of big, hay-powered, stubborn, city-boy sitters, as it took quite a long time for me to feel fully part of the farm. After several months of hard work and callouses I felt a part though, thanks in a great part by R's always letting me try and fail/succeed at things as long as I wasn't in danger of hurting myself or anything else. And last, but not least, as far as R was concerned, is a 1956 IHC F-100 like the one R farmed with until he died one day "checking the fields" on it. He liked it mostly as it had more powered atttachments that allowed his aging body to work more easily. Now you've seen an example of the equipment used, let me give you a brief overview of the type maintenance we performed to keep it all going. In the equipment shed was an area we called the "garage spot" where we performed routine upkeep, such as oil changes, spark plug & belt changes, grease jobs, etc. Next to it was a spot used only for more serious mechanical surgery, such as engine or transmission overhaul, small engine overhaul, pump re-building, etc. We did these things regularly, as needed, on everything from the oldest hit-and-miss gas/kerosene fueled engines, tractor-truck-car engines, to electric motors/generators, etc. Nothing went to a repair shop if there was even the slightest chance we could repair it, and no parts were purchased if we could make the parts cheaper. Of course, many things were beyond even our capabilities. This meant close figuring out of possible temporary work-arounds, parts/repair cost, and how long before we could afford it. If it was a major expense, it called for a "meeting" of R, F, and Dad. My aunt and F's wife were always part of these meetings, MM was never a part. She was a rare visitor and only with Dad, as she wasn't particularly well thought of. My sister was in this catagory as well. Besides, they both abhorred the farm as being filthy and populated by peons. Although I wasn't able to find adequately similar photos, there was a small machine shop with milling machine, shaper, lathe, and other equipment the men had purchased Army Surplus, that ran off the diesel-engine stationary generator/welder that was installed outside the shed in its own small enclosure. This unit could have powered the whole farm, but R had figured out the costs involved, and nixed the idea as impractical. In this shop we could, and did, manufacture almost anything we needed, as well as welding up broken parts. The blacksmith shop provided the means of making those things not easily made by machine, such as horseshoes, horseshoe nails, wagon wheel rims, chisels, etc. This came in handy as we re-shod the horses ourselves, and we beat-up a buncha wagon wheels, plows, and other stuff on what seemed a regular basis. This wasn't from abuse, just the natural rigors endured by active farm equipment anywhere. Uncle R continued providing these services to friends long after he sold off the last of the cows when he was in his late seventies. He died several years later in his eighties, after divesting himself of most all his holdings. F passed on around the same time, and my aunt, being the last on the farm, sold the rest and moved into a nursing home where she still resides at this writing. She's entered the early stages of dementia and is somewhat stuck in her youth in her mind. She did recognoze me the last visit though. All but a couple of my cousins have passed on or moved away. Some stayed there and aged prematurely working in the paper mill or wood mills. Others logged or fished until they could afford to retire their worn-out bodies. Even I have physical problems now that limit my activities somewhat. All this makes me wonder, if maybe the old ways on the farms weren't far more healthy, as they required a diet of fresh meat and vegetables, plenty of exercise, all the fresh air you could stand, regular sleeping patterns, and most of all, less stress in so many ways. Even money woes weren't crippling emotionally,as you just learned to adapt to the situation at hand. Next visit, I hope to delve into some of my earlier experiences, as Pete and Jake train me to perform horse-powered work around the farm and woods. Until then, take care and keep smiling.

3 comments:

Mies said...

Your writing seems to get better and better with each story. I know from first hand experience how important it is to have your equipment up and running...CAT provided a nicely paying side line job for our family delivering emergency parts. A machine down costs the owner dearly. We delivered day and night. I also observed our mechanics pulling parts off one machine to another in a pinch or making something to get it up and going. A good partsman and mechanic can get anything running in record time. You were both.
That's also what I like about farm people. They don't sit around and cry about their circumstances. Figure it out and go on with the job at hand.
I think your right about the old days being healthier for the mind and body...no time to sit around and complain about life. None of the fatty fast foods we can be addicted to now days...
Good story, Mike...

patricia said...

Hi, Mike S,
Good installment. I expect it brings back a lot of memories for folks who lived on farms in the old days, beautiful pics of the horses, too.
That kind of life took that old self-sufficient, can-do attitude that is harder to find now, except with computer techie people. I think that's one of the reasons crafts are so popular, we love to make something with our own hands, it's creative. I wish I could do some of that hand-made stuff better than I can, I should have paid more attention when my mother tried to teach me.
I'm enjoying the blogs, Mike. More, please.

Mar said...

Hi, Mike, I'm a fully city girl, but reading to your posts make me have a very good and clear idea of what's a farm life like, and the pictures help a lot too, thank you for the effort of looking for them and writing the posts. See you soon, amigo.