A wire with a metal knob on it every 4 ft. called a check wire was used to plant corn to keep the rows straight and the corn spaced evenly. It was stretched the whole length of the field, 1/4 mile, and then anchored in the ground with an iron rod at each end. As you started from the end you put the wire into a device, that as it hit a knot, it turned a plate at the bottom of the hopper, causing three or four grains of corn to drop. This planted the seeds in evenly spaced hills, kept a straight row, and allowed them to cultivate it later both longways and crosswise, keeping the weeds down and hilling the dirt up higher on the corn, giving it more support.
Later, when chemical fertilizers were developed, the corn could be drilled in, planted in a continuous row, no gaps. We cultivated it with a cultivator pulled by two horses or mules, with two wheels and a seat and with two sets of three little shovel plows in it that straddled the corn row. It was free swinging and you guided it with your feet to keep the proper distance from the corn and get as many weeds rooted out as possible. I always carried a paddle like a ping pong paddle, because I often plowed up some bumblebees, and they'd come after me. They were so large you could usually see them coming and swat them down with a paddle. I became amazingly good at it and seldom got stung. Once in awhile one landed on the rear of a horse and stung through their thick hide. They would just about tear up the cultivator and harness kicking, until you got it off them.
Dad had two white mules that he bought from his brother, Louis, when he first bought the farm in Illinois. When they grew too old to work he put them out to pasture with the cattle, until their arthritis became so bad they couldn't get to their feet on cold mornings. Several times they used an A frame and a block and tackle to life the big one to his feet, and then he'd be all right for awhile. Finally he had to have that one put to sleep. I don't remember what happened to the smaller one. They usually had about six milk cows, several Guernseys, because they gave milk with the highest butterfat content, and several Holsteins, because they were larger and gave more milk but the butterfat content was much lower.
We had a device called a binder to harvest wheat and oats. It didn't harvest it actually, only gathered it into bundles, which then had to be put into groups called shocks and made partly rain-proof until the harvesters could get to your farm. The binder was pulled by four horses and using a sickle bar and paddles on a reel, it fell back on a canvas and slat conveyer, being fed into a device that when it got a certain amount of stalks of wheat/oats, it would tie a string around it and push it out onto a metal prong basket that, when it was full, dumped the bundles in a pile. We stood the bundles of grain on end with the heads up, making a round shock laying the last bundle on the top as a rain cap and it shed the rain pretty good and kept it dry.
The threshing run, they called it, consisted of 22 families. It was an association of farmers banded together to harvest the oats and wheat crops. One family has a threshing machine -- Otmar Zimmerman owned one in our group. Every farmer sent someone to help on that farm on a certain day, with a team and a hay wagon. Some sent extra help to pitch the bundles onto the wagons. The driver placed the bundles around the frame on the hay wagon as the men on the ground pitched them up, and, of course, sometimes would bury you, just for laughs. You drove the wagon to the threshing machine and pitched the bundles into the machine that threshed the wheat out, it falling into a box wagon. The straw was blown out a long pipe making a giant pile of straw that they later used for bedding for the stock in the winter, and in the chicken houses, sometimes having some bailed to sell to a paper company in Indiana.
The machine was set up with a steam engine on wheels that powered it through a long drive belt. The engine was called a Jumbo and was coal fired. Each farmer furnished the coal when they came to your house. It was so heavy that they carried heavy planks to lay across the road bridges to reinforce them. It used a lot of water, and they had a water wagon that traveled with it, pulled by a team of horses. It would go to the slough and drop a canvas hose in the water with a screen on it, and with a long handled pump on top of the tank, hand pump it full of water. Also, you had to furnish cool drinking water. Usually a young child with a one horse buggy would make continuous trips from the well at home to each group in the field, carrying the water in crockery jugs insulated with burlap sacks to keep it cool.
At the end of the year a Thresher's Meeting was held and each farmer settled up. It was on the basis of one cent a bushel. If, for instance, I had harvested 1,000 bushels and my neighbor 500, I had to pay him $5.00 difference. It was a settlement for the extra labor difference. The owner of the threshing machine was paid so much a bushel, too. When the crew came to your farm you also had to feed them, at 9 A.M., 12 noon, and 3 P.M.; lots of ham, roast beef, pies, cakes and coffee. Usually you had a group of neighbor women who helped each other fix the food and brought it out to the men in the field, laying it out on large canvasses on the ground. The women served the coffee -- and some other kinds of drinks, he can't remember. But he says he remembers giant cups of coffee. I made my first dollar by hauling water to the men in the threshing crew in the fields.
I remember on day when the threshing crew was due to arrive at our farm. That morning I was dressed in clean clothes and was sent to let the cows out of their pen behind the barn into the pasture, I liked to play cowboy but had often been warned to not ride the cows, So not having a lot of resistence to temptation at about 7 years of age I hopped on a cows back, she ran toward the other cows standing in some mud behind the barn and then suddenly stopped, I went right over her head landing on my shoulder in the mud. When I got back to the house and Mom saw what I had done she wouldn't give me a clean shirt and when the threshing crew was all there and having their 9 A.M. Lunch she told them what I had done. I quit riding cows after that embarrasing incident.
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