Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4
Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota (Part I)
Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the May/June 2008 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
The soil of Waseca County is black, rich, fertile and flat—very flat. The deciduous forests of southern Wisconsin, called the “big woods,” extended into southern Minnesota up to a point about thirty-miles to the east of Waseca County. Everything to the west of the big woods, including Waseca County flat prairie land. Although the land is flat as a tabletop just like the Great Plains further the west, the climate of Waseca County is not at all dry like the climate of the Great Plains. Indeed, in a normal year, Waseca County will be bathed with 34.7 inches of rainfall. (From the Waseca page of the city-data.com web site on the Internet.) The combination of very rich soil and abundant moisture makes Waseca County ideal for raising corn. A healthy crop of corn requires about 22 inches of rain per year. As a result of this abundant rainfall and rich soil, Waseca County traditionally produces corn yields that nearly double the national average yield per acre. In 1921, for example, when the national yield per acre of corn was 27.8 bushels per acre, the yield in Waseca County was 46 bushels per acre. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service [N.A.S.S.] webpage of the United States Department of Agriculture [U.S.D.A.] website.) The three townships along the southern boundary of Waseca County from east to west are New Richland Township, Byron Township and Vivian Township. A person driving down any dirt road the within these townships in 1935, would see corn fields on both sides of the road, broken only by the driveways leading to the homesteads of the people living along that particular road. For nearly every mile that a person traveled down that country road, the person would find another crossroad. The crossroads usually indicated the boundary of another section of land. Moving ahead into the next section of land the person would once again find corn planted in the fields on both sides of the road. The only variation in this pattern was the fields of oats and hay. Corn was the primary cash crop of farmers of Waseca County. Oats and hay were not cash crops. Almost all oats and hay raised on the average farm in 1935 was used on the farm—primarily to feed the horses that were needed for the field work in the summer.
Relying only on corn as a cash crop was risky. If the corn market went “soft” and corn prices fell, the farmer would lose money. Traditionally, diversification was the method used by farmers to avoid, or mitigate, the effects of “soft markets.” This was usually accomplished by decreasing the amount of corn raised on the arable land of the average farm and devoting that land to a second cash crop. Traditionally, wheat was raised as a secondary cash crop. However, the amount of acreage devoted to wheat each year had been declining in Waseca County for a long time. Currently, the amount of wheat raised each year was only about a quarter of the amount of corn raised in Waseca County. The most popular method of diversification used on the farms of Waseca County was to raise pigs. The rationale was that when corn prices fell, the farmer could feed the corn to pigs on their farm. Then they could sell the pigs. Provided that pork prices did not decline together with the corn prices, the farmer might still be able to make a profit despite the low corn prices.
One particular farmer in Byron Township in south central Waseca County, had this principle of diversification imprinted on his mind for most of his young life. Originally, his grandfather had “homesteaded” this 160-acre “home” farm. Our current Byron Township farmer’s father had taken over the farming operation from his parents in 1895. Like their neighbors, they needed to devote 35 acres to pasture for their small herd of dairy cows, 30-35 acres to hay and 35 acres to oats. The balance of the arable land, approximately 45 to 50 acres was devoted to corn. The crops were rotated from field to field each year to avoid depleting the soil with any one crop.
A portion of the corn used on this farm had traditionally been used for raising and fattening pgs for market. However, the balance of the corn not needed for feed was sold to the grain elevator in New Richland in the winter of each year. The income derived from the sale of the corn crop made up a substantial portion of the cash income of the farming operation, milking the cows and selling cream to the local creamery in New Richland provided the family with a regular income on a year-around basis. Thus, the dairy operation represented another form of diversification of the farm income. However, on our Byron Township farmer’s farm, it had always been the pig operation that provided the real diversification and alternate cash income when corn prices were low. All through the 1920s, the price of corn, cycled regularly from an average annual low of $.75 per bushel to an average annual high of $1.19 per bushel. Likewise, during the 1920’s, the wholesale price of hogs had cycled on an annual basis from an average low of $8.29 per hundred weight up to $11.21 per hundred weight.
Generally, the corn in the corn crib was shelled out in February or March each year. After filling the granaries to feed the pigs for the rest of the year, the remainder of the shelled corn could be taken to the grain elevator in New Richland straight from the sheller and sold. This provided the family with the major portion of their winter income on the farm. The feeder pigs generally reached their market weight in July or August and, thus, could be sold at that time. This provided the family with the major income in the summer. This was the pattern of life that our Byron Township farmer knew as he grew up on his parent’s farm.
Gradually, over the years, as our Byron Township farmer grew up into an adult, his father relinquished more and more of the daily decision making regarding the farming operation to him. It became a true partnership. Basically, our Byron Township farmer agreed with his father on the course of the farming operation. His father had been raising pigs for years. Our Byron Township farmer had always been interested in the hogs. However, the hog operation took on a whole new importance on his mind when he began showing pigs at the Waseca County Fair.
His very first pig that he had raised and shown at the county fair had been one of the newborn pigs from one of the litters born to his father’s crossbred sows. That first pig was memorable because the pig had won a blue ribbon at the Fair that year. Winning the blue ribbon had been more the result of more luck than of skill on his part. Still he had been hooked. That blue ribbon perked his interest at an early age to find out all he could about the most profitable ways of raising pigs.
Over their lives, hogs gain 3000% of their own birth weight. (Sara Rath, The Complete Pig [Voyageur Press: Stillwater, Minn., 2000] p. 78.) Furthermore, only a short amount of time required for raising the baby pigs for market—generally five to seven months. Combining this rapid weight gain with the short gestation period of three months, three weeks and three days from breeding until “farrowing” (giving birth), made the hog operation on the average farm the most profitable part of the farming operation. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs.[Storey Pub. Co.: North Adams, Mass., 1997] p. 22.) This rapid turn-around in time from initial investment until profit in hogs compared with the nine month gestation period in cattle and then the nearly two years needed to bring feeder cattle up to their market weight. (See the article called “A 1931 Farmall at Work in Mower County, Minnesota” in the March/April 2008 issue of Belt Pulley magazine for a description of a small beef operation on a diversified Midwestern farm.) Our Byron Township farmer and his father both knew that this very rapid turn-around combined with fact that an average sow would farrow a litter usually contained ten baby pigs could generate a great deal of income for the farming operation and be a real “mortgage lifter.” It all depended on getting the baby pigs successfully raised to their full market weight. Proper management was the key. It all started with the mother sow. Continue reading Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota→
(As Published in the September/October 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)
As noted previously (see the article called J.I. Case Company Part IV: the Rise of the Le Roy Equipment Company contained in the July/August 2006 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine), two newly discharged veterans of the Second World War formed a partnership to accept the business opportunity of starting a new Case Company dealership in the small town of LeRoy, Minnesota (1940 pop. 752). Before the war, LeRoy, Minnesota had been the home of a Case dealership called the “LeRoy Equipment Company.” However, during the Second World War, the dealership had disbanded. Now the J. I. Case Company wanted to re-establish the “LeRoy Equipment Company” in order to take advantage of the expected boom in post-war demand for modern farm machinery. Two veterans, Merle Krinke and Duane Wetter, both originally from the small town of Lamberton located in western Minnesota, had expressed interest in this business venture.
Duane and Merle had known each other at Lamberton High School. Furthermore, ever since April 8, 1944 when Merle Krinke married Duane’s sister, Zona Wetter, Duane and Merle had been brother-in laws.
Merle had been discharged from the Army Air Corp at the end of the war in the Pacific in September of 1945. Since that time, Merle had been employed at the Myhere and Nelson Implement dealership, a local Case franchise dealership in Montevideo, Minnesota. Montevideo was a small town located on the South Dakota border with Minnesota, northwest of Lamberton. It was at Myhere and Nelson that Merle had first heard about the opportunity of starting the dealership in Le Roy.
During the war, Duane Wetter had served as a decorated fighter pilot in U.S. Army Air Corp and had flown 75 combat missions in the European theater. Since the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945, he had been stationed in Stuttgart Germany as part of the U.S. occupation forces. He was discharged in November of 1945. Scarcely had he returned to his wife and young son in Minnesota, than he was asked to make the decision to join in a partnership with Merle and move off to LeRoy with his whole family. Le Roy was located in the southeastern corner of Mower County, just ½ mile from the Iowa border. This was a long way from Lamberton, Minnesota. Nonetheless, a decision about the starting the dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota needed to be made as soon as possible by the two veterans. They would re-establish the dealership under the name “LeRoy Equipment Company” to take advantage of the good will that had been formed by the pre-war dealership of the same name. Continue reading Case Farming Part V: Decline of the LeRoy Equipment Company→
In 1924, a revolution occurred in the design of farm tractors. This revolution had started with the introduction by the International Harvester Company of the Farmall tractor in 1924. The Farmall was a “row crop” tractor advertised specifically as the tractor that could “do everything on the farm except the family budget” (a quote from the movie “Practical Magic” on Tape/DVD #3 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies). Soon every tractor manufacturer was introducing their own version of the row crop tractor. The J.I. Case Company’s first entry into the row crop tractor market was the Model CC tractor, introduced in 1929. The Model CC contained an engine with a 3 7/8 inch bore and a 5 ½ inch stroke. Tests of the 4,240 lbs. Model CC at the University of Nebraska, conducted on September 10, 1929, found that the tractor produced 28.79 hp. at the belt pulley and 17.88 hp. at the drawbar. The Case Model CC tractor was a tricycle-style of tractor. Although the Model CC had two wheels in front, the two wheels were positioned close together. This configuration became a standard for row crop tractors and was called the “narrow front end” or “tricycle” design of farm tractors. The front wheels of the typical tricycle tractor, like the Case Model CC tractor, could fit in the pathway between two rows of corn or other row crops planted 30 or 40 inches apart.
was this very ability of the Model CC to cultivate corn that attracted a particular farmer living in Stockholm Township in Wright County, Minnesota. He and his wife operated a 160-acre farm on which they raised oats and hay for his horses, some summer wheat, which they sold, and corn, part of which was used feed and part of which was sold as a cash crop. Our Stockholm Township farmer had eight or nine sows on their farm which, each winter, gave birth or farrowed to about 80 baby pigs. He raised the baby pigs until they reached their ideal market weight of 260 pounds. Given the losses from early death and disease among the baby pigs he would generally end up with 65 to 70 pigs ready for market in the late summer. In the final weeks before market the feeder pigs ate voraciously through the corn. Nonetheless, our Stockholm Township farmer could make a pretty good estimate of the amount of corn that he would need to “finish out” the feeder pigs. In a normal year, he would be able to hire his neighbor who had a large corn sheller to come to his farm and shell out all the ear corn in his corn cribs. He would do this in about February or March each year. He would have that part of the shelled corn that he would not need for the pigs, hauled straight to the Cooperative elevator in Cokato immediately after shelling to be sold. In a normal year, the price of corn would reach the peak of its annual cycle in these winter months.
As Published in the September/October2005 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
Ever since the Surgeon General’s report of January 11, 1964, linking smoking of tobacco with lung cancer, smoking of cigarettes has been on the decline. Today, with only 22.8% of the public of the United State still engaging in the habit of smoking, it seems hard to imagine a time when the majority of the American public smoked. In 1949, 44-47% of the nation’s total population (50% of all men and 33% of all women) smoked. Cigarette manufacturing was a large and lucrative business. Supplying that large and lucrative business with at least some of the raw product—tobacco plants—were North American farmers, particularly the farmers of the southeastern part of the United States. West Virginia does not produce much tobacco. Currently West Virginia is 16th among all the states in the production of tobacco. In 1953, West Virginia ranked 15th out of the 21 tobacco growing states, ranking just ahead of Missouri in tobacco production.
Despite the drought in 1953, West Virginia produced only 4,542,000 pounds of the light burley type of tobacco out of the 2 billion pounds of tobacco produced in the United States that year. Lincoln County in West Virginia produced 31.4% of the State’s total production of tobacco with 1,426,000 pounds grown that year. Hamlin is the county seat of Lincoln County. State Road #3 runs through the center of Hamlin from west to east. About 1½ miles east of Hamlin, State Road #3 intersects with State Road #34. About a mile north of this intersection on S.R. #34 is Harvey’s Creek Road. Living on the first farm on the left down Harvey’s Creek Road in 1953 was Raymond and Edyth Marie (Byrd) Thompson. Raymond worked off the farm and was employed by the Tennessee Gas Company. However, ever since they purchased their 85 acre farm on Harvey’s Creek Road from J.A Pack in January of 1944, Raymond and Edyth had dreamed of making their living from their own land. Much of their farm could not be cultivated because of the rough terrain. Thus, they made the rough terrain profitable by making it a permanent pasture for the Hereford beef cattle they raised.
Given the terrain of the State, beef farming is a natural choice for most farming operations in West Virginia. Indeed beef farming does constitute a great deal of the farming conducted in the State of West Virginia. Within the West Virginia beef cattle industry, Hereford cattle are predominant. Additionally, a surprising number of Hereford farmers in West Virginia have become interested in improving blood lines of their Hereford cattle. Toward this end a significant portion of West Virginia beef farmers raised “purebred” Hereford beef cattle. These purebred Hereford farmers will generally register the best cows and bulls in their herds with the American Hereford Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Native West Virginian B.C. (Bud) Snidow, now retired and living in Mission, Kansas, worked for the American Hereford Association from 1951 until 1983. Born in Princeton, West Virginian, Bud Snidow, throughout his career, naturally kept track of the registered Hereford beef industry in his native state. He noted that following the Second World War there was an increase in the number of registered Hereford cattle in West Virginia. This increased pushed West Virginia to a position of 20th among all states in the number of registered Hereford cattle herds. Raymond did not follow the purebred blood lines of the Hereford breed like some beef farmers, but he did insist on raising only Hereford cattle on his farm. He liked his Hereford cattle.
Because most of their farm was taken up in the hillsides and bluffs which are common to Lincoln County, West Virginia, leaving only a very small quantity of flat bottom land that was arable, Raymond rented two other 15 acre fields from Eb Oxley. Eb Oxley was actually a distant relative of Raymond and Ethyl Thompson. These two 15 acre fields were located about one mile north of Raymond and Edyth’s farm on S.R. #34 just across the county line into Putnam County. On these two fields rented from Eb Oxley, Raymond raised hay and corn every year alternating the crops from one field to the other every other year. On the very small arable acreage of his own farm, located in the bottom of the Harvey’s Creek “hollow” where they lived, Raymond and Edyth raised oats that they needed for the horses and they also set aside 7/10s of an acre for their tobacco allotment, issued by the United States Department of Agriculture. Pursuant to this allotment Raymond and Edyth were permitted to raise up to 7/10s of an acre of tobacco. Like his neighbors, Raymond knew that, despite the small size of the acreage, tobacco could become a major crop on any farm. For this reason, tobacco allotments were highly prized by farmers.
Tobacco raising had been strictly controlled by means of acreage allotments since the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act. The original intent of the tobacco acreage allotments was to provide the tobacco farmer with the security of price supports. However, since the end of the Second World War, these price supports had hardly been necessary. The price of tobacco had led all other farm commodities in return for the time and labor invested. Indeed, it was said that the tobacco allotment “paid for many a farm.” As time went by, tobacco allotments added a great deal to the value of a farm. So much so, that some buyers insisted that a particular paragraph be added to the deed of sale of the land they were purchasing which would make specific mention of the transfer of the tobacco allotment with the purchase of the land. (Paragraphs, like these really provided no protection for the buyer of a farm. The Farm Service Agency (F.S.A.) of the United States Department of Agriculture issued acreage allotments, each year, only to the person owning a particular farm that particular year. Any attempted transfer of the acreage allotment not tied to the sale of the farm would not be recognized by the F.S.A. Instead the purchaser of a farm would have to file an application with the F.S.A. each year, to obtain a tobacco allotment for that year.)
For Raymond and Edyth Thompson the growing season of tobacco came in the middle of March every year with a trip to Stone’s Southern States, a feed and seed farm supply store on the west end of Hamlin. Raymond would drive off to Stone’s in his Chevrolet pickup and there he would buy the small packet of certified tobacco seed he needed for his tobacco crop. Returning home after picking up a few other things for of the farm, Raymond opened the seed packet and blended the contents together with some corn meal in a coffee can. The individual tobacco seed is so small that a single teaspoon full will contain a million tobacco seeds. Thus, the certified seed is mixed thoroughly with a small quantity of corn meal to allow the seed to be sown in a uniform manner.
Tobacco seed which is packaged and sold every year is raised by some tobacco farmers. Indeed a little further up Harvey’s Creek Road where the road crosses the county line into Putnam County, was the 100 acre farm of Stanley and Garnet (Painter) Young and their sons. In addition to their own large tobacco allotment in the early 1950s, the Young family had an additional plot of tobacco that they were “letting go to seed.” The flowers on these tobacco plants would not be removed. Instead the flowers were allowed to bloom and the seed pods were allowed to form. In the fall of the year after these tobacco plants had fully ripened, the seed pods would be harvested and sold to the tobacco warehouse in Huntington, West Virginia.
There had been very little snow over the winter of 1952-1953. Although temperatures had been colder than usual in late February, it looked as though March was “coming in like a lamb” with higher than ordinary temperatures. Raymond Thompson burned off a small patch of ground on his farm. This patch was just big enough to be covered by a wooden frame with a large piece of cheesecloth stretched over the wooden frame. After working up this small patch of ground with a garden hoe to form a seed bed, he sowed the corn meal/tobacco seed mixture on the newly worked ground and covered the ground with his “hot house” frame. This frame, which was used every year was made of wooden boards placed edgewise and was nailed together at the corners. This frame was taken down out of storage in the barn. There were some small nails sticking upward out of the frame which would allow a large piece of cheese cloth to be stretched across the frame. The wooden frame and the cheese cloth formed a hot house over the small seed bed where the tobacco seed had been sown. The porous nature of the cheese cloth allowed the sun to shine through to the seed bed and allowed the rain to keep the seed bed moist. However, the heat from the sun was trapped under the cheese cloth and kept the little seed bed warm enough to allow the tobacco to germinate, despite the cold weather and occasional snows of the late winter and early spring . Indeed, Raymond and Ethyl also started a bed of leaf lettuce under the same cheese cloth “hot house” to get an early start on the family garden. Raymond would make daily inspections of the hot house under the cheese cloth. Gradually, he would begin to see the young tobacco sprouts poking up out of the ground under the cheese cloth. After the spouts leafed out and became small seedlings, Raymond would start removing the hot house frame from the seed bed during the daylight hours and cover the bed again at night. This procedure allowed the tobacco seedlings to absorb the direct sunlight during the day and to “harden,” or become accustomed to the warming weather outside the hot house.
Eventually, the weather would be warm enough to allow the hot house frame to be removed altogether. The tobacco seedlings would continue to grow as Raymond began his seasons work on the rest of his farm. He tilled the ground on his farm with his horses to form a proper seedbed. Then, he sowed the oats that he would need for the next year to feed the horses. Next, he planted his corn.
As in years past, he borrowed a wire-check corn planter from a neighbor to plant his corn. The wire-check planter came complete with a roll of wire that was long enough to stretch all the way across any field. This wire contained little wire buttons attached to the wire at intervals of 42 inches. This wire was stretched across the field along the side of the field where the farmer wanted to begin planting corn. The wire was attached to the checking mechanism the located on the side of the planter. As the horses pulled the planter across the field the buttons would slide through the checking mechanism and trip the planter releasing seed into the ground with each tripping action. The result would be that the corn would be planted uniformly in 42 inch spaces along the rows. When the horses and planter reached the end of the field, the wire was temporarily disconnected from the planter. The horses and planter were then turned around to line up for the next two rows of corn to be planted along side the first two rows just completed. The wire was then attached to the checking mechanism on the opposite side of the planter. As the planter moves across the field again, the wire passing through the checking mechanism, again, tripped the planter to release seed corn to the ground at 42 inch intervals and the seed placement in these next two rows exactly matched the seed placement in the first two rows just planted.Thus, the corn would be in a grid of 42 inch rows and with “hills” of corn located 42 inches apart along each row. This would allow the corn to be “cross-cultivated” as well as cultivated lengthwise. This way, the weeds within the rows between the hills of corn could also be controlled.
Next it was time to transplant his tobacco to the field. Because, tobacco plants remove a great deal of nutrients from the soil during the growing season, Raymond had to rotate the tobacco crop to a different field each year to prevent the soil from becoming “exhausted.” This year, as an additional guard against soil depletion, he started the practice of adding some artificial fertilizer to the tobacco ground. He “broadcast” the fertilizer on the ground with a horse-drawn fertilizer spreader after disking the soil and before he finalized the seed bed with a peg-tooth harrow or drag. Following suggestions of tobacco experts at the F.S.A., he spread the fertilizer at a rate of 200 pounds per acre. Tobacco allotments are issued by the F.S.A. in sizes ranging from as little as 1/10th an acre upwards in steps of 1/10th of an acre. Generally, in Lincoln County, tobacco allotments ranged from ½ (or 5/10s) of an acre to a full-acre. As noted above, Raymond’s allotment was 7/10s of an acre. The transplanting stage was one of the stages where he really “felt” the size of this large allotment.
To be sure the ground intended for the tobacco that year could be worked up into a seedbed with the horses, just as in the other fields. However, the transplanting of the tobacco was all handwork. The little tobacco transplants were carefully dug up and placed in a large tub and then taken to the field. Then a long string with a stake on either end was uncoiled and stretched across the entire field. The string was tightened into a straight line across the entire length of the field and the stakes were pounded into the ground on either end of the field. Transplanting was an affair for the whole Thompson family. One family member would walk along the string with a stick or a pole and make little holes in the ground along one side of the string—each hole was 18” apart along the string. Another member of the Thompson family could then follow with the tub full of tobacco transplants and place one plant in each hole and then close up the hole around the roots of the transplant with dirt. Packing the ground around the new transplant assured good contact of the root with the dirt of the seedbed and guaranteed the best start possible for the new transplants. When one row was completed over the entire length of the field, the stakes at the ends of the field would be moved over in the seedbed 42”. The string was again tightened out straight across the field and the second row of tobacco transplants was set out in the field. This process was repeated until the whole 7/10ths-of-an-acre field was planted in tobacco.
Almost as soon as the whole field had been completely transplanted, the cultivation of the tobacco was begun. Under the hot summer sun the tobacco transplants grew very fast. Generally, within three weeks after the transplanting of the tobacco, the young plants had grown to the point where the horses and the one row cultivator could not move easily between the rows without damaging the plants. Thus, all cultivation of the tobacco to eliminate weeds had to be completed within the three week period of time following the transplanting of the tobacco crop. Because of the rapid growing nature of the tobacco plants, there was no need to worry about cross cultivating the tobacco. The plants would soon be big enough to cover the space between the plants and shade out any weeds attempting to grow there. In the crush of the summer time field work, Raymond felt himself lucky to cultivate the tobacco three times in the three week period of time that he had to complete the cultivation of the tobacco. Especially since he needed to begin cutting and putting up his hay crop at the same time as he was attempting to cultivate the tobacco three times. Then there was the need to continue the cultivation and cross-cultivation of his corn crop. It was always a busy time. There just were not enough hours in the day. Raymond also knew that he would have to cultivate his corn at least once prior to hay season.
Haying was started at about the first of June. He needed to get the hay down and raked into windrows quickly. Cecil Lewis, who provided custom baling of the hay for the farmers in Harvey’s Creek, would be scheduling his New Holland Model 77 baler and Ford Model 8N tractor to visit the farms in the area rather soon. Raymond wanted to have his hay ready for any convenient time that Cecil might have to come to the Thompson farm. However, as he mowed and raked his hay, Raymond had to keep an eye on the tobacco to notice when plants began to grow buds in preparation for flowering. June was the time that the tobacco plants would begin to flower. Some times as soon as one week following the end of cultivation the tobacco plants would begin to flower. To keep the energy of the growing tobacco plants directed toward the growing leaves rather than into the production of flowers, the emerging buds had to be removed from the plants as soon as they started to develop. The operation of removing the flowering buds was another task that had to be completed by hand. The entire tobacco field had to be walked and the buds removed from each individual plant.
Even this was not the end of the hand work in the tobacco field, however. Once the flower buds had been removed, some of the tobacco plants would develop “suckers” or additional shoots which would spring up out of the same stem and root system. If allowed to grow these suckers would also sap away energy from the leaves of the plant. So, within a week after the deflowering of the tobacco plants, the field had to be walked again by the family to remove these suckers which may be attempting to grow. These tasks had to be fitted in to the summers work whenever time could be found during their busy summer schedule—whenever the family was not involved in putting up hay and/or cultivating the corn. There was no time to rest and scarcely enough time to get all the field work done. Then, there were usually rainy days in which no work was accomplished at all. This year in 1953, however, Raymond fervently wished for a few more rainy days. He could see that the leaves of corn were starting to roll up, indicating the lack of water. August was incredibly dry. The radio reported that over in Kentucky the rainfall for the growing season was 12 full inches less than normal. In late August.
As Labor day approached in 1953, the leaves on the tobacco plants began to turn from the dark green color of summer to the light green or yellow-green color that indicated that the tobacco plants were beginning to mature. All plants that mature or ripen in the fall, go through a process, whereby, the vital fluids of the plant are returning from the leaves to the roots in the ground for the winter. As the fluids flow out of the leaves, the leaves begin to loose their green color and start to yellow. The more yellow the leaves are, the more fluids have departed the leaves. In tobacco, these fluids in the leaves, and the ingredients that are contained in the fluids, are the very elements thing that make the tobacco leaves marketable. Thus, the proper time to cut the tobacco plants is just when the maturation of the leaves has begun. In this way all the fluids will be retained in the leaves. Accordingly, the tobacco plants are cut off at the stem.
Harvesting the tobacco is hand work which requires the work of the whole family. Cutting and handling is performed carefully so as to not damage the outside leaves. These outside or lower leaves are called flynes and are the most valuable leaves. The tobacco plants are then “speared” or placed on a thin 4 foot long stick. The stick full of tobacco plants is then hung upside down on a rack in the barn. Hanging upside down allows any fluids in the stem to flow back into the leaves. The barns in tobacco growing areas of the country are not like barns in other areas of the United States. Usually barns are built tight to prevent cold weather from infiltrating the inside of the barn. However, a tobacco barn is purposely constructed with the boards on the sides of the barn spaced so as to allow cracks between the vertically-placed boards in the walls of the barn. Observing a tobacco barn, a person will see daylight showing through the walls. These cracks allow air to pass through the walls of the barn and air-dry the tobacco hanging inside the barn. The process of air drying tobacco in the barn takes six to eight weeks.
During this time Raymond harvested his corn. The yield on the corn was disappointing because of the dry weather. Across Lincoln County in 1953, the yield of corn was down by 9%, from the year before—from 31.8 bushels per acre to 28.9 bushels per acre. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page on the website of the United States Department of Agriculture.) Yet because the drought was limited to the eastern Kentucky and West Virginia areas there was no dramatic rise in price of corn. (Ibid.) Indeed, of the 81,574,000 acres of corn planted across the nation 98.6% (or 80,459,000 acres) was harvested in the fall of 1953, resulting in a nationwide bumper crop of corn that actually depressed corn prices. Additionally, the nationwide “per acre yield” from the 1953 corn harvest averaged 40.7 bushels per acre—fourth highest yield in the history of United States corn farming. On the Thompson farm, this condition meant that not as much corn was actually harvested and the price obtained for the small amount of corn that was harvested was low.
Thus, Raymond Thompson would feed a great deal of his corn to his beef cattle. Feeding more corn to the young calves would cause them to gain weight faster and be ready for market at an earlier date. This was one means of diversification of the corn crop that Raymond could employ on his own farm. If corn was not getting a good price then using it for cattle feed could possibly be a way of getting a more money for the corn. However, although surpluses were not as big a problem in the beef market, beef prices had been on a slow, but steady, decline since the December in 1952. After reaching a high of 35 to 36 cents a pound caused by the demands of the Korean War, beef prices had dipped to 20 cents per pound and even now was only was hovering around 25 cents per pound. (Omaha Choice Historic Beef Steer Prices from 1950-2005 page at the United States Department of Agriculture website on the Internet.) So, in 1953, even the beef market was a disappointment for Raymond.
Thus, Raymond’s hope for a successful crop year lay with his tobacco crop. Tobacco plants can withstand dry conditions better than corn. Proof of this was shown when the tobacco was harvested. Over all of Lincoln County a new record level tobacco harvest was reached with 1,426,000 lbs, over the entire county—up 2% from 1952. Considering that only 920 acres of tobacco were planted in 1953 as compared with 950 acres in 1952, this was a staggering result considering the extreme dryness of the growing season. The 1953 average yield in Lincoln County was 1,550 lbs. per acre—up almost 5½ % from 1952. The only explanation, that Raymond could find for the higher yield in a dry year was the fact that he had joined many of his neighbors in adding artificial fertilizer to the tobacco ground. Before the tobacco leaves could be sold, however, the Thompson family had to strip the leaves off the stem of each plant. Starting, generally, in November, the process of stripping was also a long process which involved the most hand labor of all the tobacco growing procedures. The sticks full of dried plants were taken down from the drying racks in the barn. The plants were removed from the sticks and the leaves were then stripped from the stem. In order that the leaves would not be too brittle to be destroyed by handling, Raymond usually waited for one of the uncommonly humid days in the fall to get the racks down from the barn and begin the process of stripping. Handling the leaves in a relatively humid environment would not damage the leaves especially the outer or lower leaves which were the most valuable leaves. Handling the leaves at this stage was somewhat messy work. While stripping the leaves by hand a dark residue would settle on the hands.
Still it was with some anticipation that the family performed the tasks. At the end of the process, Raymond knew that, in an ordinary year, the 7/10 of an acre allotment would allow his family to load the Chevy pickup up with a thousand pounds of leaves for delivery to the Huntington Tobacco Warehouse at 20 Twenty-Sixth Street in Huntington, West Virginia. Once at the tobacco warehouse, the tobacco would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Auctions were held at the warehouse from November through January each year. Buyers from the R.J. Reynolds, American Tobacco, Phillip Morris and all the other tobacco companies would be present at these auctions to bid on the tobacco. Coming this late in the year and being the major cash crop on the farm, Raymond would use a portion of the money he would receive for the tobacco to pay off the debts. Then they would get the new shoes and clothes that the children would need.
(Carol [Young] Mullins, granddaughter of Stanley and Garnet Young, remembers that she and her family too anticipated Christmas as they worked to strip the tobacco leaves. The Young children looked forward to a happy Christmas which would be financed in part by the money the fetched at market. Anticipating Christmas led the children to work diligently at stripping the tobacco leaves.)
This year, in the late fall of 1953 Raymond looked over at his children as they worked together stripping the tobacco. They were becoming adults. Eleanor Gay (“Gay”) and Patricia Fay (“Fay”) were already teenagers and would soon be setting out on their own. Soon he would be more shorthanded that he already was in doing his farm work. He became aware that he would soon have to think about doing something to save time in his farming operation. Toward this end he had been considering the purchase of a farm tractor. He felt this was the year that he would have to make his move to purchase a farm tractor and replace the horses on his farm. Accordingly, over the winter of 1953-54 he visited Henderson Implement Company in downtown Hurricane, West Virginia. Hurricane, West Virginia is located across the county line into Putnam County about 14 miles north of the Thompson farm. Bernie Henderson had started selling horse drawn McCormick-Deering equipment from his dealership located on Main Street in downtown Hurricane. However, since the end of the Second World War, he had found that the market for small tractors was really growing by leaps and bounds. In addition to the Farmall C and Super C, he found that the Farmall Cub was becoming a mainstay of the sales from his dealership. Continue reading Tobacco Farming with a Farmall Super C→
As published in the January/February 2003 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
As noted previously, the 1938 McCormick-Deering Farmall F-20, bearing Serial No. 127631, had been modernized with the mounting of 10” x 38” rubber tires on the rear of the tractor and by installation of a supplemental transmission called the High Speed Gear Box manufactured by the Behlen Manufacturing Company of Columbus, Nebraska. (See “The Behlen Company Part II” in the November/December 2002 issue of Belt Pulley magazine. Vol. 15, No. 6.) It is unclear as to who may have originally purchased No. 127631; however, it may well have been Lloyd Rhoton, owner and operator of a large 240-acre farm north of Stewartville, Minnesota.
What is known with certainty about the history of No. 127631 begins with a story about a young couple, Wendel and Vandy Newman, living on a farm about 120 miles to the west/southwest of Stewartville Minnesota in Clay County,Iowa. Wendel Newman had been born and raised in Dixon County, located in northeast Nebraska, before moving to Clay County, Iowa. On January 26, 1947, he married Vandy Blatchford. Wendel had accepted a job as a hired hand on the farm of Carl Madson near the small town of Webb, Iowa (pop. 167), located in Clay County. Carl Madson raised Palamino horses. His farm was the home of the Grand Champion stallion called Golden Dude. While living in a house provided for them on the Madson farm, Wendel and Vandy gave birth to their son Bob Newman on January 6, 1949. Continue reading Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part III): 1975–The Soybean Year→
As published in the November/December 2000 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
Along with the celebration of V-J Day which brought an end to the Second World War in 1945 was the anticipated ending of rationing of new farm machinery. During the war, farmers had been called upon to raise crops from fence-row to fence-row in order to meet the needs of the nation. In addition, farmers had been expected to operate under the restrictions of having to keep their old pre-war farm machinery functioning. Most of the iron, rubber and other raw materials which would have gone into the production of new farm machinery had been diverted into war production. Now, with the end of the war, there was a tremendous demand for new farm machinery. This demand created new opportunities in sales of new farm equipment. Among the businesses that felt this change was the Nicollet County Hybrid Seed Company of St. Peter, Minnesota (1940 pop. 5870).
St Peter is another of the small communities on the Minnesota River, located 29 miles up river from Jordan, Minnesota, the home of the Grams and Krautkremer Hardware store (see the article on page 16 in the July/August 2000 issue of Belt Pulley), and 10 miles up river from LeSueur, Minnesota, home of the Ray Christian/Easterlund Implement dealership (see the article on page 18 in the September/October 2000 issue of Belt Pulley). St. Peter is a beautiful town with wide main street (Minnesota Avenue) and its Minnesota Square Park betraying the marks of its early, well-planned development when it was anticipated that St. Peter would be the capital of the entire state. That anticipation, however, was thwarted in 1857 when the territorial legislature reconfirmed that St. Paul would be the capital of Minnesota when the state entered the union in 1858, and St. Peter had to content itself with being the county seat of Nicollet County.
Nicollet County stretches westward from the Minnesota River. Thus, although St. Peter is the county seat, the town is situated on the very eastern edge of the county. Across the Minnesota River to the east of St. Peter lies southwestern LeSueur County.
Served by a main branch of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad running along the east bank of the Minnesota River from Mankato, Minnesota, through St. Peter and on through the small towns of LeSueur, Belle Plaine and Jordan before arriving in Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Peter was connected with the rest of Nicollet County to the west by a branch line of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. Although now abandoned, the branch line ran out along Ninth Street just below the hill from Gustavus Adolphus College before leaving St. Peter to the northwest, arching around and heading off to the southwest, passing through the small village of Nicollet, Minnesota (1940 pop. 434), before passing over into Brown County at the German settlement of New Ulm (1940 pop. 8,743).
From its location on land leased from the Chicago Northwestern Railroad just south of the current location of South Elementary School, the Nicollet County Hybrid Seed Company had expanded over the years. Early on, it had obtained a franchise for selling Chrysler/Plymouth automobiles and a franchise for selling John Deere farm equipment in addition to hybrid seed. The Nicollet County Hybrid Seed Company was owned and operated by Lyle Churchill. Now, with the huge explosion of demand for new farm equipment, Lyle Churchill suddenly found that the business he was operating had become too large and unwieldy to be operated as a sole proprietorship. Further complicating his business affairs was the fact that he also owned the Arlington Implement Company of Arlington, Minnesota (1940 pop 1,222), approximately 30 miles to the north, which was the John Deere dealership franchise for that community. Therefore, some simplicity was needed to run the business efficiently. Consequently, in 1946, Lyle Churchill sold off the hybrid seed part of the Nicollet County Hybrid Seed Company, which then moved to a new location on the corner of Third Street and Broadway in St. Peter and continued under that name. Further, Lyle and his wife also sold off the Chrysler/Plymouth franchise part of the dealership, which was then relocated in a building at the corner of Broadway and Minnesota Avenue, and it became St. Peter Auto Sales. Retaining what he felt would surely be the most lucrative part of the business–the John Deere dealership franchise–Lyle Churchill then moved across the Minnesota River to the LeSueur County side.
Because of its location on the Minnesota River, some of St. Peter’s development spilled over into LeSueur County, on the east side of the river. This location had special appeal to Lyle because of its close proximity to the main north and south tracks of the Chicago Northwestern railroad and the Chicago Northwestern freight depot. Also located on the east side of the river were Hanson Silo Company, the Cargill grain drying and storage facilities, the Hormel livestock buying station, and the large Peavy Company grain elevator. These businesses brought a heavy amount of rural farm customers to this particular area of St.Peter; especially, the Peavy grain elevator which bought a great deal of the farm products–including sugar beets–grown in the rural St. Peter area during this time. It was the vacant lot between the elevator and Highway #99 that caught Lyle’s eye. This location was sure to be convenient for the farm traffic which was headed to the grain elevator. Thus, he purchased the lot for the new John Deere dealership which he was to name the St. Peter Implement Company.
Because there were no buildings at the new site, a new one had to be constructed. Even though he had sold off two parts of his St. Peter business, Lyle Churchill soon found that his ownership of the Arlington Implement Company as well as the new St. Peter dealership stretched his resources near the limit. In Arlington, although he owned the Arlington Implement Company together with Jack Barnard, Jack was working full-time as an agronomist for the Green Giant Canning Company in LeSueur, Minnesota, and served only as a “silent partner” with Lyle in that business. As a silent partner, Jack had invested some of the capital that was needed for the dealership, but left the day-to-day management to the active partner–Lyle Churchill. Now finding himself in need of more capital for the St. Peter dealership, Lyle turned again to Jack, who agreed to put up the additional capital needed to buy the land and construct the building. Once again, Jack would serve as a silent partner and leave the active running of the affairs to Lyle. Continue reading St. Peter Implement Company& the Holmberg/Weyl John Deere Model G Tractor→
Belt Pulley Magazine Articles by Brian Wayne Wells