My father and I were members of the ‘transition generations’.
In the early days of the Republic, some eighty-five percent of the nation’s workers were actually needed to feed themselves and the other 15% of the population. Over the next century and a half, this condition gradually changed. By 1980, no more than 10% of the population was required to feed all Americans and a large portion of the rest of the world.
‘Down On the Farm’ is an American expression that refers to the place where most of our forebears were born and lived their entire lives. For them, it was a task just to survive to middle age. They accepted their trials and tribulations without too much anxiety. In their retirement years, they referred to their past as the ‘Good Old Days’.
Several things pop into my mind about those ‘good old days’. We know they worked long, hard hours every day of the year. Even then, not every year was a productive one. I can only surmise that they must have been comfortable with the routine that was so much a part of their daily lives. Surely, they must have partly enjoyed what they were doing. Their knowledge of what an easy life consisted of was limited by the fact that they were more trying to survive than accumulate wealth. They must have been proud of many things they did. They were self-sustaining, and adjusted easily to things over which they had no control. They understood and practiced moderation. Most were religious folks who relied on their faith to get them through the tough times. They learned to respect, and lived with nature. They knew how to care for their animals, especially their teams of oxen, horses or mules. Their teams of animals were treated as well as their family members. I suspect there were situations when the teams actually received better care than family members did!
By having large families, they increased their workforce. Eventually, the increased production allowed them to purchase more land. Soon, there was sufficient grain for them to be able to sell some for cash. By the middle 1900s, those farmers who had tractors were outdoing their neighbors. It became evident to the rest that they, too, would have to modernize in order to survive.
Because we were members of the transition generation, my dad and I were exposed to many unique physical and emotional experiences. The following are but just a few.
We mowed hay with a team of horses and the Farmall F-20 tractor. We hand-loaded hay with a hay-frame and hay-loader and later baled hay with the tractor and baler. We cut corn with the horse-drawn binder and shocked it, shucked corn with team and wagon and later picked corn with the corn picker. We milked the cows by hand and also with a milking machine.
None of the changes from horsepower to tractor-power increased our free time though. We immediately started farming more acres and milking more cows. Of course, the extra income improved dad’s lot, and we started buying more modern conveniences. I remember, as an example, that dad bought his first (and only) new car in 1949, a Chevrolet 4-door Deluxe and another used tractor, a Farmall ‘H’ in 1950. He was so proud of them. Mom got a new washing machine, stove, refrigerator, vacuum and other household gadgets about the same time.
All of a sudden, we felt we were a part of the well-off community.
There was something sad about the changes though. Dad and I missed the close relationship we’d had with our team of horses. He didn’t talk much about things like that to us kids, but I knew deep-down that he already missed the good old days when he started the fieldwork in the spring of 1951 without the team.
Now, I understand why he was saddened. He had spent at least 45 years with horses being an integral part of his life. He liked them. He depended upon them all his life. They got him to where the change took place. He cared for them and they rewarded him with loyalty and hard work. It must have seemed as if he was letting them down when the horse trader picked them up that spring. He would no longer be sharing that horse sense with them. He would miss the smell of the sweating team – an odor which wasn’t offensive to him because it was the indicator that they were giving him all their effort. He missed feeding them twice a day and lovingly grooming them with the currycomb. He was no longer able to rub their soft velvety noses while feeding them their oats. The trips to the local blacksmith, John Foederer in Pierron, to get the horses shod were no longer necessary.
Shoeing took several hours, during which he visited with other farmer and town folks. Things like that might seem trivial in today’s world. To understand and appreciate them, one can think about how they feel about their pets and add the importance of one’s livelihood to them. I experienced the same feelings as he did but, by then, the nation’s population was being well fed by the farmers, and there existed a new need for factory workers and service personnel.
Because of my age, it was easier for me to accept change.
Dad continued with modern farming until the three of us boys had left home and were making a living elsewhere. He did well for himself, but never realized his dream of land ownership. In 1962 he sold out, and moved to Highland where he worked at several different jobs until he retired fully.
I went on with my life in the city. There was a time when I considered myself lucky to have escaped the farm. Maybe it was for the best – I don’t know. As I grow older though, I’m realizing what it was that made those days the Good Old Days.
– Dennis Buchmiller
Chesterfield, Missouri, USA.