Category Archives: Cultivating row crops

Articles that depict cultivation of corn or soybeans or any other type of row crops.

The 1946 Famall H: Lucky Number 7 of the Fleet of Tractors used by the Campbell Soup Company in Napoleon, Ohio

The 1946 Farmall Model H: Lucky No. 7 of the Fleet of Tractors   Used by the Campbell Soup Company of Napoleon, Ohio

by

Brian Wayne Wells

           This article remains under construction.  Periodically, new blocks of text will appear in the article and/or current blocks of text will be corrected.

 

In a previous article contained at this website, called “The Wayne A and Marilyn Wells 1950 Farmall,” it was mentioned that early Wayne Alwin Wells traded a 1942 Farmall Model H in to the Sease and Oksanen International Harvester dealership located in Le Roy, Minnesota, as a part of the purchase of this Farmall M.  This Model H tractor had originally been purchased as a new tractor by Wayne’s father, George Cleveland Wells.  The purchase and history of this Farmall H from 1942 until 1950 is related in another article contained at this website called “Wartime Farmall H’s.”  Additionally, the use of this 1942 Farmall H in pulling and powering the Woods Brothers one-row corn picker as a custom picking operation during the 1946 ripe corn harvest is described in a third article at this website which is called “Wood Brothers Company(Part II).”

Bros.
This picture might as well have been a picture of Wayne A. Wells in the autumn of 1946 picking corn in his neighborhood with a Wood Bros. one-row corn picker and a 1942 Farmall Model H tractor. The only difference is that the Anderson/Wells Wood Bros. corn picker was painted gray rather than “Ford red” as in this picture.

 

Clearly, the 1942 Wells Family Farmall Model H was a subject of interest to the family, especially, the current author and his brother, Mark Wells.  However, the serial number and the history of this 1942 tractor following 1950 were lost and remain unknown.  Additionally, no picture of the 1942 tractor was thought to exist, until one recent Christmas at which Mark Wells saw a series of slides at the home of his uncle, Fred Hanks.  Contained in the slides was a very good color picture of the Wells Family Farmall H taken during the soybean harvest on the Howard and Fred Hanks farm in the autumn of 1947.  This was the first picture he had ever seen of the George Wells Farmall H.  The picture created a great expectation that a “representative” tractor could be obtained that could be made to appear like the tractor in the slide picture

 

 

 

no serial  rticle As noted in an earIier article called “Wartime Farmall H’s” In early 1950, Wayne Alwin Wells traded the 1942 Farmall Model had been owned his father George Cleveland Wells in to the Sease and Oksanen International Harvester dealership located in

 

Oliver Farming in Mower County, Minnesota (Part VI): The Korean War

 

Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County Minnesota (Part V):

The Korean War

by

Brian Wayne Wells

THIS ARTICLE REMAINS UNDER CONSTRUCTION. PERIODICALLY ADDITIONS WILL BE MADE TO THE ARTICLE. WHEN THE ARTICLE IS COMPLETE THIS PARTICULAR MESSAGE WILL DISAPPEAR.

 

By the spring of 1950, our Nevada Township farmer had seen the benefits of his attempts to modernize his farming operation. Ever since the summer of 1947 he had been combining his oats and his soybeans with his own Oliver Model 15, Grain Master combine. These machines meant that he now had control over the harvesting nearly all the crops on his farm. He able to harvest his corn, soybeans and oats on his own farm when they were ripe rather than having to wait on custom harvesters to finally reach his farm. Thus, during the last two bountiful years of 1948 and 1949, our Nevada Township farmer had been able to raise the crops on his farm with maximum efficiency. The proof was in the numbers yields of his two cash crops—soybeans and corn—for those two years. The year 1947 had presented problems for the farmers in Mower County, Minnesota, including one particular farmer in Nevada Township in Mower County. This farmer had been attempting to avoid the pitfalls of occasional falling prices and bad crop years by diversifying his farming operation a number of different products and crops on his farm. First he had added a sheep raising operation to his farm. The he had begun raising soybeans during the recent war. Through diversification our Nevada Township farmer had been able to maintain a relatively steady income despite falling prices for some farm products. When some products fell in price, it was likely that other prices would hold steady or even rise to make up the difference.

A 1945-1949 map of Korea showing the 38th Parallel as the dividing line between the separate countries of North and South Korea.

 

Then like a bolt out of the blue, on June 25, 1950, the North Korean Army invaded South Korea which started the Korean War. The United States led a United Nation’s effort to resist this invasion. Soybean prices rose to $2.80 per bushel as an average for the month of June and rose to $2.94 per bushel as an average for the month of July, 1950. Corn prices rose to $1.34 per bushel in August 1950 and $1.35 per bushel in September, 1950. However, most surprising to our Nevada Township farmer, as he listened to the local farm reports on KAAL radio at 1480 kc on the dial, broadcasting out of nearby Austin, Minnesota (1950 pop. 23,100), was the increase in lamb prices at the Hormel meatpacking plant in Austin.

The Hormel plant in nearby Austin, Minnesota began to offer higher prices for lambs and sheep following June of 1950.

 

Since 1944, lamb prices had been languishing around the $7.00 or $8.00 per hundred weight (cwt.) range for market lambs. However, in June 1950, the price of lamb rose to $10.40 per cwt. To take advantage of this spike in lamb prices, our Nevada Township farmer was tempted to sell a great deal of his flock to Hormel’s before the spike in prices disappeared. However, he delayed his decision on this matter. When he had begun raising sheep, he had realized that raising sheep for market was one thing, but he could make more money by raising breeding stock for other sheep farmers. Good breeding ewes (female sheep) could bring 6 or 7 times the price of common market sheep if they had been properly registered and had their papers in order. Registered Purebred Rams (male sheep) could bring even more money than ewes. This led him into raising purebred sheep—purebred Suffolk sheep. (See the previous article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment [Part I]: Suffolk Sheep Raising.”) Soon he was registering his sheep with the National Suffolk Sheep Association (N.S.S.A.) and showing his sheep at fairs like the Mower County Fair in Austin and like the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, Minnesota (1950 pop. 311,349). He had spent many years building his purebred Suffolk flock and was reluctant to sell off all his best ewes to Hormels, if he could make more money raising breeding stock like he used to do during the recent world war. Perhaps this was not a mere spike in the price of lamb. He had struggled along with his purebred stock during the intervening post-war years, always hoping for better days ahead. This might be the start of the “better days” for his purebred flock. If so he did not want to miss the boat by selling off his whole flock to Hormel’s for a quick profit. So he waited.

In July, the average price for lamb rose to $10.90 per cwt., In August, the price rose again, to $11.10 per cwt. and in September, 1950 the price climbed to $12.60 per cwt. Whether the war or more correctly “police action” in Korea was causing the price of lamb to rise or not, the high price of lamb was no temporary apparition. Our Nevada Township farmer did not, however, understand why the military action in Korea was causing this escalation of the price of lamb. He remembered that something like this price rise had happened in 1940 which had caused him to get into the business of raising sheep in the first place. (See the previous article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment [Part I]: Suffolk Sheep Raising.”) At that time, the government had purchased lamb to put in military C-rations. That decision, he remembered had turned out to be disastrous. American soldiers during the recent world war had strongly disliked the lamb in the C-rations. As a result the government had ceased buying mutton in 1944 and the price of lamb had languished. Our Nevada Township farmer could not believe that American soldiers, just five years later, had discovered that they now liked lamb in their C-rations.

Our Nevada Township farmer knew that the United States was the primary western super power in the world concerned with the Pacific Ocean affairs, the United States bore the brunt of armed forces resisting the North Korean invasion of South Korea. The United States supplied about 203,000 troops for the Korean War. Still the resistance to the North Korean invasion of South Korea was officially a United Nations effort, involving not just the United States alone. There were smaller military contingents from twenty (20) other nations around the world fighting in Korea. There were 14,200 British troops, 6,150 Canadian troops, 5,460 Turkish troops, 1,390 New Zealand troops, 1,270 Ethiopian troops, 1,260 Greek troops, 1,120 French troops, 1,070 Columbian troops, 900 Belgian troops, 820 Dutch troops, 300 south African troops, 170 Swedish troops, 105 Norwegian troops, 100 Danish troops, 72 Italian troops, 70 Indian troops and 44 troops from Luxembourg.

Part of the contingent of Turkish troops fighting in the Korean War. Turks were just one part of the United Nations force in Korea that traditionally enjoyed lamb as a regular staple of their diet.

 

Most of the public of the United States did not know immediately that the task of supplying food to all the troop contingents in Korea had been centralized and assigned to the United States Army Quartermaster Corps. Accordingly, the Quartermaster Corps purchased food products on the United States market. This buying created a strong demand for farm products and farm prices rose almost immediately after the June, 1950 invasion. Our Nevada Township farmer was later to learn that while lamb was no more popular among the U.S. troops (and probably not much more popular with the Canadians) than it had been during the Second World War (see the first article in this series of articles called “Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County, Minnesota [Part I]: Suffolk Sheep Raising”), lamb did, nonetheless, form a substantial part of the diet of many of the other armed contingents from the other countries fighting in Korea. Thus, meant that Quartermaster Corps needed to purchase substantial amounts of lamb from the United States market. This purchasing by the Quartermaster Corps, our Nevada Township farmer learned, had caused the spike in lamb prices immediately after the North Korean invasion of the south in June of 1950.

During the Korean War, the attempt was made to have fresh cooked meals available to the soldiers on a regular basis rather than C-rations.

 

Additionally, during the Korean War, the Quartermaster Corp made a conscious effort to supply as many troops as possible with fresh cooked food served in field canteens, rather than relying on C-rations to feed the troops in the field. Consequently, lamb prices in the United States rose dramatically, breaking all previous records. Rising up out of the usual doldrums price range of $7.00 to $8.00 cwt., the market price of lamb shot up to $10.50 cwt. in July of 1950. By December of 1950 the price of lamb had reached $14.80 cwt. and by March of 1951 the price was $18.50 cwt.

Almost immediately our Nevada Township farmer noticed that it was much easier to sell his purebred ewes (female sheep). Traditionally, he would show his prize ewes at the Mower County Fair in early August and again at the Minnesota State Fair which ended on Labor Day in early September. The ribbons he won at these fairs served as advertising for his purebred flock of Suffolk sheep. During and after these fairs, he could expect to sell some of his purebred ewes and bucks or rams (male sheep) as breeding stock to other farmers seeking to improve their flocks. In 1950, he now sold more ewes than he had in any year since 1944. Many farmers, it seemed, wanted to start raising sheep or to increase the size of the small flocks they already had on their farms. This increase in flocks of sheep was reflected in the 1950 Minnesota sheep population figures. To be sure, the 1950 figures reflected another decline of sheep to 571,000 head of sheep. However, this represented only a 1% decline from 1949. The massive decline of sheep populations that had occurred since 1945 had finally reached bottom. Even here in Mower County, the end of the precipitous post-war decline in sheep population was evident as the population of sheep in Mower County declined again in 1950 by only a 2.8% to 10,300 head for the county as a whole. Clearly, better times were ahead for sheep farmers in the Midwest.

Demand for lamb for the international contingent of troops in Korea meant that raising purebred Suffolk Sheep became popular among farmers again.

 

The ewes that he sold after the Mower County Fair and the Minnesota State Fair, were not bred ewes. Usually, he released the rams to graze with the ewes even the young ewes after he returned from the State Fair following Labor Day in September. Generally, within thirty (30) days all the ewes would be pregnant. In this way, every ewe in the flock would be bred during the months of September and October. Thus, he could expect that most of the new lambs in his flock would be born in the months of March and April of the next year.

Generally, after Christmas, in January each year there would quite a few organized annual “bred ewe” sales held around the Midwest. These auctions were a good chance to sell even more breeding stock. Since the ewes at these sales were already pregnant, the ewes would usually sell for even more money than the un-bred ewes he sold after the fairs. In 1950, however, our Nevada Township farmer was receiving higher prices for his both his pregnant and non-pregnant ewes, than ever before.

Bred ewe sales of all breeds of sheep are popular starting in the late autumn and extending through the winter.

 

Generally, after Christmas, in January each year there would quite a few organized annual “bred ewe” sales held around the Midwest. These auctions were a good chance to sell even more breeding stock. Since the ewes at these sales were already pregnant, the ewes would usually sell for even more money than the un-bred ewes he sold after the fairs. In 1950, however, our Nevada Township farmer was receiving higher prices for his both his pregnant and non-pregnant ewes, than ever before.

 

However, there had been a 13% decline in the soybean yield in 1950 in Mower County, but the resulting high price he had received for his soybeans had more than made up for the loss of yield.  Thus, in 1950 both sheep and soybeans were helpful additions to the family income. Not only did the high price of soybeans save them from a loss in income caused by the low soybean yield, it also helped recover some of the losses in the corn yield in 1947.

Ewes that he sold after the Mower County Fair and the Minnesota State Fair, were not bred ewes.  Usually, he released the rams to graze with the ewes even the young ewes after50he returned from the State Fair following Labor Day in September.  Generally, within thirty (30) days all the ewes would be pregnant.  In this way, every ewe in the flock would be bred during the months of September and October.  Thus, he could expect that most of the new lambs in his flock would be born in the months of March and April of the next year.

Generally, after Christmas, in January each year there would quite a few organized annual “bred ewe” sales held around the Midwest.  These auctions were a good chance to sell even more breeding stock.  Since the ewes at these sales were already pregnant, the ewes would usually sell for even more money than the un-bred ewes he sold after the fairs.  In 1950, however, our Nevada Township farmer was receiving higher prices for his both his pregnant and non-pregnant ewes, than ever before.

 

However, there had been a 13% decline in the soybean yield in Mower County, but the high price he had received for his soybeans had more than made up for the loss of yield.   Once again soybeans had saved the family income.  Not only did the high price of soybeans save them from a loss in income caused by the low soybean yield, it also helped recover some of the losses in the corn yield in 1947.  Our Nevada Township farmer recognized that once again diversification of his farming operation had saved the day.  Specifically, diversification into soybeans appeared to be work not only in drought years like 1945, but also in wet years like 1947.

Mower County, Minnesota is located on the southern border of the State of Minnesota, adjacent to the State of Iowa.  In 1953, Mower County was a predominately rural county.  Topographically, Mower County is located in a transition area.  Starting in western Mower County and extending into Freeborn County to the west the land becomes very flat.  However the land in eastern Mower County and extending east into Fillmore County the land becomes increasingly more hilly.  Additionally, the soil itself in the eastern part of Mower County is sandy and is not as rich as the darker humus soil in the western part of the county.

Located in the extreme southwest corner of Mower County was Lyle, Township.  Immediately, to the east of Lyle Township was Nevada Township.  In 1953, on one particular farm in Nevada Township, lived a man and his wife and one adult son.  Our Nevada Township farmer had lived on this farm all his life.  Indeed, his parents had owned and operated the farm before him.  As he had come of age on the farm, he had gradually taken over more responsibility for the farming operation from his parents.  In 1924, he had married his wife and together they had moved into the same large house with his parents.  In 1925, when his wife had become pregnant with their son, his parents had decided to officially retire and move into Austin, the county seat of Mower County.  Austin (1950 pop. 23,100) was located in the middle of Austin Township, northwest of Nevada Township and straight north of Lyle Township.

Like many farms in the Midwestern United States, the 160-acre farm on which our Nevada Township farmer and his family lived was “diversified farm.”  Diversified farming operations were those farming operation that raised a variety of crops and animals rather than specializing in only one crop or one type of livestock.  Faced with the typical market fluctuations for the various farm commodities, our Nevada Township farmer, like other diversified farmers sought to avoid “putting all his eggs in one basket.”  Rather than growing only one cash crop or raising only one type of livestock on the farm, our Nevada Township farmer raised corn, soybeans, oats and hay.  And he milked dairy cows raised pigs, and had about 200 laying hens in his chicken house.  In this way, he hoped that if there was a “softness” or decline in the price of one of these commodity markets, the other commodities would help him maintain a near stable cash income for the year.

However, not all of the crops on the farm could be sold for cash.  When our Nevada Township farmer had taken over the operation of the farm from his parents, he had used horses, exclusively, for power on the farm.  Accordingly, one field on the farm had been set aside for raising hay for the horses and the dairy herd.  Another field had to be set aside each year for the raising oats for feed for the horses, cattle, pigs and chickens.  Therefore, these crops were not cash crops.  These were crops were raised for animal feed only.  Corn was, therefore, traditionally the only “cash crop” of the farming operation.  However, not all of the corn could be sold.

Some of the mature corn plants were chopped in late August while they were still green and blown into the silo to be fed as “ensilage” to the dairy cows during the winter time.  The rest of the corn was allowed to ripen and the ears of the corn were harvested in October or November each year.  This ear corn was stored in the corn crib to dry in the cold winter air.  In February the dried ear corn would be shelled.  Most of this shelled corn would be sold to the Hunting Company grain elevator in the small village of Lyle, Minnesota (1950 pop. 609), located about 9 miles to the southwest of the farm in neighboring Lyle Township.

However, some of the shelled corn had to retained on the farm as animal feed.  A large portion of the shelled corn would be ground and fed to the feeder pigs.  Grinding the shelled corn in a feed grinder allowed the pigs to digest the corn easier and more efficiently.  The concentrated calories in corn quickly brought the feeder pigs up to market weight.  Another portion of the corn retained on the farm each year would be fed to the chickens.  The calories in corn and the protein in oats would provide a balanced diet for the chickens and kept their egg laying at a maximum.  Because chickens have gizzards, which can digest very coarse food, both the shelled corn and the oats could be fed to the chickens without grinding or other processing.  A portion of the ear corn retained on the farm was ground in the feed grinder—cob and all—to become feed for the milking cows.  Our Nevada Township farmer provided a scoopful of this ground corn to each lactating cow at each milk time.  This small amount of ground corn fed to the lactating cows twice a day allowed the extra calories that the cows needed to continue supplying milk.  Furthermore, since most of the cows were also pregnant, the additional calories in the ear corn also supported the growing unborn calf the cow was carrying.  The cow feed was not as rich in calories as was the pig feed.  Our Nevada Township farmer did not want the dairy cattle to become fat—like beef cattle.  He wanted a balanced diet.  The cobs in the cow feed provided a certain amount of roughage for the cattle.  Furthermore, when grinding the ear corn for the cows, our Nevada Township farmer added oats to the ear corn he fed into the grinder.  The oats added protein to the cattle’s diet.  The milking cows needed the roughage and protein more than they needed concentrated calories.  They did not need to put on a great deal of weight like pigs or beef cattle.  Even after sufficient corn had been retained on the farm for all these animals, a large amount of shelled corn could be hauled off the farm and sold to the Hunting Company elevator in Lyle.  The sale of this remaining corn supplied a large part of the cash income for his farming operation each year.

When our Nevada Township farmer had taken over control of the farming operation from his parents in 1924, horses provided the power for field operations, exclusively.  Accordingly, in addition to feeding the cows, pigs and chickens on his farm, a great portion of the oats and hay, he raised on the farm fed the horses he used on the farm.  Although the horses were used primarily only in the summer, they had to be fed all year long.  He had been aware, for some time, that he could increase the efficiency of his farming operation by mechanizing the power source on his farm.  Subsequently in 1940, Our Nevada Township farmer obtained a used 1937 Oliver/Hart-Parr Model 28-44 tractor.  This tractor was also called the “3-5 plow tractor.”  The Model 28-44 certainly was a great improvement to his farming operation.  The tractor performed all the heavy duty field work such as plowing and discing much more quickly than with horses.  Previously, these heavy duty field tasks had required the use of four or six horses harnessed together.  As time went by, our Nevada Township farmer even began using the Model 28-44 for lighter duty field work.  He had shortened the tongue on his Oliver/Superior horse-drawn two-row corn planter so that he could use the tractor to pull the planter across the field in the spring.  Our Nevada Township farmer found that he was able to reduce the number of work horses he kept on the farm.  Soon the only field task, which he not able to perform with his Model 28-44 tractor was the cultivation of corn.  As a “standard” or “four-wheeled” tractor, the Model 28-44 was not configured to be fit with a cultivator.  Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer had to retain some of his horses for this single field task—the cultivation of corn.

The cultivation of corn to control weeds was a task that dominated all his summers from June until the latter part of July.  Even now in the post-war era, he was still cultivating corn, one row at a time with his horses and horse-drawn one-row cultivator.  Cultivating corn was the most time-consuming activity on farm.  Hours, days and weeks of time were spent by our Nevada Township farmer riding the cultivator behind the horses watching the tiny shoots of corn pass between the two horses and slip between the two shields positioned on the cultivator to protect the young plants from being covered up by the dirt that was being stirred up by the shovels of the cultivator.  Our Nevada Township farmer vowed each spring to cultivate the entire corn field three times before the middle of July.  The first time, the corn was cultivated lengthwise.  This cultivation attempted to eliminate the weeds between the rows of corn.

Our Nevada Township farmer used the “check-wire” type of planting when he planted his corn each spring.  He stretched a wire across the length of the field.  Spaced along the wire at every 40 inches was a button.  The wire was attached to a tripping mechanism on the side of the corn planter during every trip across the field.  As the planter progressed across the field the wire would slide through the tripping mechanism on the corn planter.  As each individual button on the wire, the button would cause the planter to trip and both planting units on the two-row corn planter would plant corn seed at that location in the field.  Thus, when finished the entire field was planted in a “grid” of 40 inch rows and the individual corn plants within each row would each be 40 inches apart.  This grid allowed the corn to be cultivated cross-wise as well as length-wise.

Thus, the first time over the field with the cultivator, our Nevada Township farmer drove the horses and cultivator lengthwise across the field.  The shovels dug out all the weeds in between the rows of corn as the cultivator moved along.  However, this grid allowed the corn field to also be cultivated in a crosswise pattern.  Cross cultivating allowed the cultivator to dig out all the weeds had not been dug out in the earlier lengthwise cultivation—in particular those weeds which were growing up between the corn plants within the rows.  Consequently, in addition to the first time lengthwise cultivation of the corn, our Nevada Township farmer always wanted to complete a second cultivation of the corn in a crosswise pattern.  Ideally, the corn should be cultivated a third time.  Every spring our Nevada Township farmer pledged to cover the corn three times with the cultivator.  However, between the slow progress of cultivating with the horses one row at a time and the rainy days which prevented any field work, his plans were usually went awry.  Usually by the end of July the corn was too tall to fit comfortably under the frame of the cultivator and besides the corn was already to the “tasselling” stage.  Cultivation at this stage would do more harm than good to the corn.  Most years, our Nevada Township farmer found that the corn was already too tall before he had finished third cultivation.  Thus, our Nevada Township farmer would be forced to cease cultivation of the corn before he was done with the third cultivation.

For some time, our Nevada Township farmer had been aware that if he owned a tricycle-style tractor, he could mechanize his entire farming operation—including the cultivation of corn.  He might then have no need for horses at all on his farm.  The elimination of horses from the farm would allow our Nevada Township farmer to decrease the number of acres used for raising oats and hay on the farm.  Thus, more of the arable acreage on his farm would be available for cash crops.  This meant that he could derive more income for his farming operation.

However, in late 1941, about a year and half after he had purchased the Model 28-44 tractor, The United States found itself thrust into the Second World War.  Farm machinery of any kind and especially tractors became extremely difficult to obtain.  All farm tractor production was severely restricted as the industrial capacity of the United States was funneled entirely to the war effort.  Thus, for the duration of the war our Nevada Township farmer was required to continue using just the machinery he had at the beginning of the war.

The war brought about a great number of changes in the rural farm economy.  First and foremost were the high prices that farm commodities fetched during the war.  The United States government bought a great deal of food stuffs as the government attempted to feed its armed forces stationed around the world.  Large government buying in the agricultural products market raised prices of agricultural products across the spectrum.  These higher prices created new opportunities for farmers.  One such opportunity arose because of the disruption of trade between Australia and Great Britain.

Britain has traditionally been known as a nation of meat eaters.  In the pre-war era (before 1939), the average British citizen ate 109.6 pounds of meat.  (From a 1949 document, found on the Internet, called “Australia’s Contribution to the British Diet” by R. H. Heywood.)  By comparison, the average citizen of the United States ate 82.9 pounds of red meat in 1938.  Like the diet of the average United States citizen, most of the meat eaten by the British was beef.  However, unlike the United States, the second meat of choice in the British diet was mutton or lamb, while pork was in third place among meats in the British diet.  In the United States, pork was second behind beef in popularity while lamb fell far behind chicken and even fish in popularity.  (From a United States Department of Agriculture spread sheet called “Red Meat and Poultry per capita availability in the United States” found on the Internet.)  Indeed, citizens of the United States ate twice as much chicken and nearly four times as much fish and shellfish as lamb.  (Ibid.)

Time was, when Britain raised nearly all the sheep consumed by its own people.  However, following 1900, the increase the number of sheep in Great Britain did not keep up with the growing of the population.  (“Australia’s Contribution to the British Diet” by R. H. Heywood found on the Internet.)  Consequently, lamb and mutton began to be imported—largely from Australia.  By 1940, one third of all mutton consumed in Great Britain was imported.  (Ibid.)  However, the Japanese conquests of large parts of Southeast Asia and the threats to Australia, had a debilitating effect on Australia’s trade with Great Britain.  Additionally, what trade left the shores of Australia safely faced another difficulty.  The virtual closure of the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea for the duration of the war meant that Australian shipping no longer had access to the Mediterranean “shortcut” to Britain.  Trade destined for Britain had to make its way around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa on its way to Great Britain.  This added a great deal to the expense to the price of Australian sheep.  The price of sheep in the United States began climbing as early as February of 1938.  However, in April of 1941, with the German invasion of the Greek mainland and the island of Crete and the resultant threat on British shipping in the Mediteranean, the price of sheep in the United States rose to $6.40 per hundred weight—a price not seen since 1930.  Consequently, a niche opened in the sheep market for the American farmer.  The Midwest family farm was now able to compete profitably with Australian sheep producers for a share of the large British market.

In 1941, sheep and lamb production in the United States set a new all-time record of 2.3 billion pounds of meat.  (From an April 30, 1942 document called “Meat Animals—Farm Production and Income 1935-1941 found on the Internet.)  Despite this drastic increase in production of sheep in the United States of America, no glut appeared in the sheep market which might threaten the price.  Indeed the price of mature sheep (mutton) continued on a sharp increase—rising from $3.90 per hundred weight in 1940 to $5.10 per hundred weight in 1941 (a 31% increase in just one year).  (Ibid.)  Spring lamb prices rose from $8.10 per hundred weight in 1940 to $9.58 per hundred weight in 1941 (a 19% increase in one year).  (Ibid.)  The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that the sheep raisers saw a 27% increase in their income between 1940 and 1941.  (Ibid.)  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which drew the United States into the War, mutton prices remained at high levels as the United States put mutton into several C-ration military field kits.  (Many people now allege that putting mutton in military C-rations ruined the market for lamb and mutton for an entire generation of Americans.  After the war, returning World War II veterans absolutely refused to buy or eat lamb because of bad memories they retained of the mutton in the military field C-rations they had been forced to eat during the war.)

Favorable market conditions in the sheep market were reported over the radio—like WCCO radio out of the Twin Cities.  Our Nevada Township farmer began think hard about acquiring a small flock of ewes.  He was not alone.  Many farmers in his neighborhood were doing the same thing.  Indeed, for one farm family over in a neighboring township—Austin Township—sheep raising was already a major part of their farm income.  Earl Eugene and Margaret (Stormer) Subra owned a farm containing only 60-acres in Austin Township.  While, the Subra family milked some cows and raise some pigs, they virtually made all their cash income from sheep—pure bred Suffolk sheep.  Born in 1913, Earl Subra grew up on the farm of his parents William J. and Bertha (Dennis) Subra located in Austin Township.  Raised on his father’s farm, Earl had moved to his own farm.  In 1931, he and Margaret Stormer were married.  Earl began raising Suffolk sheep prior to 1940.  He chose Suffolk sheep because of the characteristics of breed.

The Suffolk breed was born as a result of the cross breeding of Southdown sheep with old Norfolk sheep in England.  Suffolks are not “wool” sheep.  They grow only a moderate amount of wool.  They were a breed of sheep known for their black faces and legs, which were free of wool.  Suffolk sheep were raised primarily as “meat” sheep.  Suffolk ewes (female sheep) were prolific in the production of offspring and were “good milkers.”  Suffolk lambs grew rapidly; they had more edible meat and less fat than other breeds.  Suffolks have excellent feed conversion characteristics which means that Suffolks have the capacity to actively graze and rustle for feed even on dry range lands.  However, this characteristic also means that when Suffolk lambs are raised on high quality feeds, the breed has one of the fastest growth rates of any breed of sheep.  Consequently, Suffolk sheep were rapidly becoming the most common breed in the Midwestern United States.  (Paula Simmons & Carol Ekarius, Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep [Storey Publishing: North Adams, Massachusetts, 2001] p. 74.)

Earl Subra noted that Suffolks answered the demands of the market at the current time in 1940.  Meat, not wool, was the main product that was in demand in the current market.  Suffolks had the quality of lean meat that the market demanded.  Furthermore, the short five-month (147-153 day) gestation period plus the rapid growth rate of the individual lambs meant that the farmer could make money faster with Suffolks than with other breed of sheep.  Earl Subra knew that, drawn by the chance for making a good profit, many farmers would be attempting enter the sheep market by acquiring flocks of their own for the first time.  He also knew that many of these farmers would be choosing Suffolks.  Accordingly, in addition to raising and selling lambs to the Hormel meat packing plant in Austin, he felt he could also make a profit selling bucks (male sheep) and ewes (female sheep) to those farmers wanting to start their own flocks.  In this way he would be working with the rising tide of farmers entering the sheep market.  This, Earl Subra thought, was the way he could make a living out of the new situation that was arising.

However, to sell Suffolks to the farmers wishing to start their new flocks, Earl Subra felt that he needed to have a product that would these farmers would buy.  If Suffolk sheep had characteristics that would stand out among other breeds of sheep, then the goal should be to raise Suffolk sheep that would adhere closely to those characteristics and avoid any negative characteristics.  Indeed, there already was an organization in devoted to promoting the best characteristics of the Suffolk breed by educating Suffolk breeders.  This organization was the National Suffolk Sheep Association (N.S.S.A.) which was headquartered in Michigan and later was headquartered in Columbia, Missouri.  N.S.S.A. started a registration process by which purebred Suffolks could be registered with N.S.S.A.  N.S.S.A. would mail out a certificate of registration to the owner of the individual registered sheep.  In order to qualify for registration, both the sire (father) and dam (mother) must also have their own certificates of registration.  Theoretically, then every registered purebred Suffolk could be traced back through a paper trail of registration certificates to the original Suffolk sheep which initially defined the breed.  Each certificate of registration would document that the individual sheep was direct descendant of these original Suffolk sheep.

A registration fee was assessed by N.S.S.A. for each and every registration.  Farmers therefore tended only to register the best examples of Suffolk sheep in their flocks. Farmers would register only those sheep that were intended to keep as “breeding stock.”  Any sheep intended for market would not registered.  Usually all those sheep with lesser breed characteristics were sent to market.  These sheep might be purebred sheep, but they were non-registered purebreds.  Suffolks of unknown origin might look very good as far as breed characteristics, but because no paper trail of registration certificates could be assembled to show how they were connected to the original Suffolks, these sheep could never be registered, no matter how good they looked as far as breed characteristics.  These sheep are known as “grade” sheep.  The intended result of this registration process was that registered purebreds with their papers in good order would bring more money at any sale of breeding stock than either grade sheep or unregistered purebreds.

The N.S.S.A. sponsored judging shows of registered purebred Suffolk sheep to educate sheep growers on the best characteristics of the Suffolk breed.  The N.S.S.A. also promoted the “open class” sheep judging contests at the various state and county fairs around the nation.  Usually 4-H and FFA classes were also judged at these county and state fairs.  These judging contests were open only to members of the 4-H or FFA.  However, the “open class” show, which was open to sheep growers of all ages.  Within the open class competition, there were many different sub-divisions according to the breed of sheep.  Within each of these breed sub-division, only registered purebred sheep of that particular breed could be entered.  These judging competitions and shows were attempts to educate and sharpen the eye of individual breeders as to fine points of the breed.  The N.S.S.A. defined and evaluated exact standards as to the ideal Suffolk sheep.  Judges at county and state fairs around the nation were provided a “score card” which evaluated the various features of the Suffolk sheep and how many points were to be allowed for each feature.  The total number of points was 100 points of which 35 points were set aside for the rear legs alone.

Even prior to 1939, Earl Subra had been working on developing a flock of Suffolk sheep that reflected superiority in any number of individual features.  Soon his ewes and rams were winning a number of blue ribbons at the Mower County Fair which was held in the first week of August each year.  Earl also began to make a name for himself at the Minnesota State Fair.  Soon breeders from outside the Midwest, and even from Canada, were searching him out to purchase rams and ewes from the Subra flock.  These other breeders saw traits in the Subra sheep that they wished to include in the blood lines of their own flocks.  Consequently, Subra sheep were sold far and wide and Earl Subra became quite famous among Suffolk breeders across the nation.

Accordingly, when our Nevada Township farmer began to think seriously about obtaining a flock of sheep for his own farm, he though of the Subra farm located in the next township to the west.  Accordingly, in the fall of 1941, after watching the dramatic increase in the price of sheep over the summer (reaching $7.10 per hundred weight in August of 1941), our Nevada Township farmer purchased eight (8) purebred Suffolk ewes from Earl Subra in September of 1941 and brought them to his farm.  He hoped that adding sheep to his farming operation would be another diversification of the farming operation and the farm income.  He hoped this diversification would further strengthen his family’s financial position.

When our Nevada Township farmer bought the eight registered ewes, Earl Subra supplied him the corresponding N.S.S.A. registration certificates for each individual sheep.  Each registration certificate contained a registration number and was signed by the Suffolk breed secretary—Clare Williams of Michigan.  The registration number was matched to a number on a metal tag in the ear of the respective sheep.  On the registration certificate, were the registration numbers of both the sire (father) and dam (mother) of the particular sheep.  If needed, our Nevada Township farmer could use these sire and dam registration numbers to call the breed secretary and trace the registrations of the sire and dam back in time.

Introducing the ewes to his farm for the first time required that some changes be made to the farm.  The farm on which our Nevada Township farmer and his family lived was established in a series of concentric circles, each area fenced off from the next larger circle.  The immediate area around the house contained the lawns, the outhouse, dog house and family garden.  This was the inner yard.  A legal term for this area is “the curtilage.”   The next largest encircled area included most of the rest of the building site of the farm, the grove, the orchard and the windbreak running along the north and west sides of the building site.  This area was also called the “yard,” but the term was meant to be used in a larger sense than the mere curtilage around the house.  The area behind the barn was fenced off from the yard to keep the cows out of the yard.  Likewise the areas on either side of the hog house were fenced off to keep the pigs out of the yard and the chicken yard next to the hen house was fenced off to keep the chickens out of the yard.  All animals were kept out of the yard except the family dog and any cats from the barn.  These animals were actually encouraged to patrol the yard and keep rodents under control.  However, the yard was intended to be the main home for the small flock of sheep that he was now acquiring.

One of the benefits of a flock of sheep would be the fact that they would keep the grass and weeds in all area of the yard under control.  This would save labor and time that the family had, in the past, spent trying to keep these areas mowed and trimmed.  This was one of the advantages that our Nevada Township farmer looked forward to about having sheep on the farm.  However, there were also disadvantages.  One of the most important disadvantages was that all the fences around the yard had to be improved and reinforced.  Sheep were curious and would explore every portion of the area they occupy in order to find vegetation to eat.  First, the fence between the yard and the cartilage needed to be made more secure to keep the sheep from invading the cartilage and most importantly out of the family garden.  In the garden, the sheep could make quick work of the young succulent plants the family was trying to grow there.  The lawns inside the cartilage would continue to be mowed by the family, just as in the past.  Likewise the fences around the outside of the yard needed to be strengthened to prevent the sheep from getting into the fields where the farm crops were being raised.

Additionally, our Nevada Township farmer needed to take special precautions to protect the sheep.  He installed a gate across the driveway of his farm.  This was to keep the sheep from getting out onto the road and being struck by cars and/or trucks.  Also he obtained an old baby chick brooder house at an auction in his neighborhood.  The old brooder house was in fairly good shape with a shingled roof to repel rain and wooden siding for warmth in the winter and three windows along the back of brooder house to let in light.  These windows could be closed in the winter to keep the sheep warm and opened in the summer to let in the cool breezes on summer nights.  Our Nevada Township farmer wanted to convert this brooder house into a sheep shed for his farm.  The brooder house was mounted on four “six inch by six inch” wooden beams which ran the full length of the small building.  These beams acted as skids and allowed the building to be towed along on the ground by a tractor or team of horses.  Because the auction had been held not far from his farm, our Nevada Township farmer used his Oliver/Hart-Parr Model 28-44 tractor to drag the little building back to his own farm.

A secure sheep shed was needed to protect the sheep at night.  The worst predator for sheep on the typical Midwestern farm is the domesticated dog.  With the master and family gone to bed, their pet dog might slip away from his homestead in search of excitement.  Dogs will band together at night and chase and attack anything that runs.  Sheep habitually seek flight from danger by running every time they are chased.  Although thoroughly domesticated as pets, dogs will, nonetheless, refert to their wild nature and join together in packs at night to chase and kill the fleeing sheep.  Most times these are pet dogs from neighboring farms.  Our Nevada Township farmer knew that owners of these dogs, his own neighbors, will passionately deny that their dog ever leaves their own farm, much less has ever killed any sheep.  They just could not believe it about their family pet.  The neighbors would continue in their denials even when shown wool caught in their teeth the next morning, following any such attack.

Our Nevada Township farmer surely could not afford to lose one of these expensive purebred ewes due to a dog attack that could have been prevented.  Accordingly, the only way to avoid problems with neighborhood dogs was to lock the flock up in a secure sheep shed every night.  Thus, locking the sheep in the sheep shed became the last chore that our Nevada Township farmer completed every evening after the milking was done.  Although this chore was usually done after dark when the mid-day heat was past, the fall of 1941 was warmer than usual.  Consequently, on these warm nights, the sheep resisted going voluntarily into the sheep shed.  They preferred sleeping outside on the ground rather than being locked up in the sheep shed.  Accordingly, it took a little effort to round them up and get them into the sheep shed.

Our Nevada Township farmer made some improvements to the sheep shed/brooder house by nailing a couple of one inch by four inch boards to the inside frame of the windows.  These boards were nailed over the lower portion of each window in the brooder house no higher than the height of an average mature sheep.  These boards would prevent the windows from being accidentally broken by sheep moving boisterously about inside their new sheep shed during the night.  By protecting these windows from breakage, the windows could be closed in the winter for warmth and opened in the summer to catch the cool summer night breezes.

In one corner of the sheep shed, our Nevada Township farmer fixed a little hay rack to hold a single bale of hay.  With the “killing frost” expected any day, our Nevada Township farmer knew that soon he would have to feed the ewes hay to replace the vegetation that would no longer be available to the sheep after the frost.  He also built a little frame on the floor of another corner of the sheep shed.  This little frame was just the right size for a salt block.  On the next trip to Lyle, our Nevada Township farmer reminded himself that he would have to pick up a block of iodized salt at the Hunting elevator.

Since dogs only chased sheep in the night time hours, the arrival of early morning brought safety for the sheep.  Accordingly, the sheep could be let out of the sheep shed even before sunrise each morning.  Knowing how the sheep disliked being locked up in warm weather, our Nevada township farmer wanted to let the ewes out of the sheep shed as soon as possible in the morning.  Accordingly, he made sure that his first chore in the each morning was to walk out to the sheep shed and open the door of the shed to let the sheep out for the day.  On his way to the sheep shed, he made his way up the small hill in the back of the house to the windmill.  At the based of the windmill, our Nevada Township farmer unlatched and turned the crank connected to one of the four legs of windmill.  This crank was connected to a cable which ran up the leg of the tower to the head of the windmill located at the top of the tower. Unlatching the crank and loosening the crank allowed the vane of the windmill to swing loose and bring the wind wheel of the windmill around to face the direction of the wind.  Then the wind wheel began to turn and draw water up out of the ground.  Ordinarily, the water would be drawn up to a pipe that lead to an underground cistern.  Because this cistern was buried underground on the small hill, this cistern was actually at a higher level than the house and the barn on the farm.  Accordingly water could flow by means of gravity through an underground pipe down to the house and through another underground pipe to the barn.  Being underground the cistern was protected from freezing in the winter.  Therefore, the cistern and gravity provided “running water to both the house and the barn on the farm.  However, by turning a valve at the base of the pump jack, water could be diverted from flowing to the underground cistern and would be pulled by the windmill to the top of the pump jack where the water would flow out the pump jack and fill a tub that was sitting on top of the ground outside wooden fence that surrounded the base of the windmill.  This tub was the watering tank for the sheep.

Sheep needed fresh water available to them at all times.  Fresh water was important to sheep for a number of reasons.  Unlike cattle who can drink water of a wide variety of temperatures, sheep need water of 50°F in order to stay cool during hot weather.  Water also aided the transportation of nutrients around the body of the sheep and aided in the removal of waste matter from the body.  Additionally, water was required for some of the chemical reactions that were occurring inside the bodies of the sheep and water helped keep the cells of the bodies of the sheep hydrated and healthy.  The water now pouring out of the pump jack was of the correct temperature and came from a well that was around 300 feet deep and, thus, was fresh and free of any unhealthy bacteria that might be found in surface water.  After being locked up all night, the sheep came out of the shed in the morning and headed straight for their water tank.  Throughout the day they would find their way back to their water tank for another long drink.

After drinking water, the sheep would begin grazing.  Because they were exclusively planter eaters, the sheep would have to graze most of the day just to gather enough grass and plant life to sustain them.  The stomach or rumen of the individual sheep was divided into chambers or individual stomachs.  The rumen is designed to allow the sheep their graze for a couple of hours until their first stomach was full.  Then, they would lie down for about an hour to “chew their cud.”  During this process the “cud” or partially digested material in the first stomach would be regurgitated a mouthful at a time back up into the mouth for re-chewing.  After the cud had been sufficiently re-chewed, the cud would be re-swallowed into the second (regular stomach) and make its way through the regular digestive tract of the sheep.   Mouthful by mouthful the cuds would be chewed, until the first stomach was empty.

Cattle have the same type of digestive, however, sheep are much more efficient than cattle.  Any weed seeds that are ingested by cattle will pass through the entire digestive tract and will be discarded on the ground with the manure.  After the manure, has dried out and been incorporated into the soil, the individual weed seed may start growing again.  However, individual weed seeds will not survive the digestive system of the average sheep.  Accordingly, weeds that depend on seeds for propagation will not survive in any sheep yard like weeds in a cow pasture.  Only those plants that propagate from growth of the roots will survive in a sheep yard.

The Suffolk ewes grazed the outer yard and the grove and kept the grass and weeds under control much more efficiently than our Nevada Township farmer could ever have done the lawn mower or the scythe, even if he had had the time to do that chore.  They even ate the grass and weeds down around the old abandoned machinery that was parked in the grove. Evidence of the sheep’s recent grazing location could be seen in the little round marble-sized balls of fresh sheep manure, that could be seen around the yard.  Our Nevada Township farmer always felt that these little “marbles” of dung were neater and less messy than the “cowpies” of cattle.  Additionally, sheep manure was more valuable than cow manure.  Indeed, sheep manure, was richer in soil nutrients than any other manure on the farm.  Sheep manure has almost twice the nitrogen content of horse manure and more than twice the nitrogen found in cow manure.  Accordingly, when he cleaned out the sheep shed once a year, our Nevada Township farmer spread the sheep manure on the garden rather than taking it to the fields with the barn manure.

Nonetheless, having sheep in the outer yard took some adjustment of the family’s daily habits.  In the past, they might leave the granary door open as they moved back and forth from granary to the chicken house carrying pails of oats to feed the chickens every morning.  Now they had to be aware that the sheep were constantly watching for an opportunity for a chance to steal into the granary to get a few mouthfuls of shelled corn.  The family had to remember to close the granary door every time they made the short trip to the chicken house with pails of oats and corn for the chickens.  In the past the various gates to the inner yard might be left open for the better part of the day.  Not any longer.  The sheep seemed intent on taking any opportunity to invade the inner yard.  Having done so, they would not content themselves with eating the grass on the lawn, which might have been acceptable.  Instead, the sheep would head straight to the “salad bar”—the family garden— where they could eat all the tender young tops of the carrots or the rows of young, green lettuce plants or the English pea plants or the bean plants.  In a very short time the sheep could destroy the family garden.  Indeed, they were hesitant to leave even under threat of a family member running to the garden with a stick in hand or the rapid approach of the family dog, sent to “sic ‘em.”  They would watch the approach of the threat with one eye cocked toward the approaching threat.  Their bodies would be leaning toward the gate like a sprinter ready to start a race but still they would continue to eat as fast as they could to get every last mouthful before they were forced to run for the gate as fast as they could go.  Everywhere the family went in the yard, un-noticed eyes of the sheep were watching for any opportunity to pass through an open door or open gate into some forbidden area.  Once these patterns of behavior were adopted by the family members, the sheep began to find their niche on the farm.

Keeping the outer yard clear of weeds and overgrown plant life was just one of the benefits of the sheep, but our Nevada Township farmer also wanted to earn cash income from the sheep.  Although sheep have wool which can be sold as a product on the market, this did not amount to much in Suffolk sheep.  Suffolk sheep had only a moderate amount of wool.  They were primarily “meat sheep” not “wool sheep.”  The most money could be made from the sheep by the sale of their lambs.  Lambs which are fed a supplement of rolled oats and corn could reach market weight in as little as five months.  To be ready for the market in August or September, 1942, the lambs would have to be born in early spring—March or April of 1942—rather than in the late spring—May or June of 1942.  Lambs born in March and April would have the advantage of not having to contend with flies and other insect pests during their early life, as would lambs born in May and June.  From breeding until lambing, ewes have a five month gestation (pregnancy) period.  Thus, in order to have lambs in March, the ewes would our Nevada Township farmer needed to allow a ram to graze with the ewes as early as early as October in 1941.

Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota

Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4

Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota (Part I)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the May/June 2008 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

A advertisement of the full line of Farmall tractoirs.

            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.

A map of Minnesota which highlights the location of Waseca County in red.

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.

A township map of Waseca County, Minnesota, showing the location of Byron Township in yellow in the bottom row of Townships.

 

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.

This is an arieal view of a farm that looks much like the farm of our Byron Township farmer.

 

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.

The Creamery in New Richland, Minnesota.

 

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.

Raising pigs on the typical Midwestern farm was usually closely linked to raising corn, because a portion of the corn crop on the average farm could be used to fatten the feeder pigs for market in a relatively inexpensive way.

 

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.

On the grounds of the Waseca County Fair with one of the most recognizable features of the Fair and, indeed, of the city of Waseca itself was the Prince popcorn wagon.

 

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.

A young Poland China gilt, who is yet to have her first litter of baby pigs, is, nonetheless, regarded as being among the best natural mother of any breed of pigs.

 

Continue reading Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota

Case Farming Part V: Decline of the LeRoy Equipment Company

J.I. Case Company Part V:

The Decline of the LeRoy Equipment Company

by

Brian Wayne Wells

 (As Published in the September/October 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)

During the post-World War II period, the Case Model DC tractor remained the most popular selling tractor of the entire Case line of tractors. However with the labor strike which happened at the Main Works factor in Racine Wisconsin, the LeRoy Equipment Company was unable to obtain any tractors for the inventory of their dealership
During the post-World War II period, the Case Model DC tractor remained the most popular selling tractor of the entire Case line of tractors.

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

Case Farming Part III: The Model CC Tractor

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J.I. Case Company Part III: Model CC Tractor

by

Brian Wayne Wells

            (As Published in the May/June 2006 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

            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.

Case Model CC & Gordie Hahn # 1
Gordie Hahn standing at the controls of his restored 1936 Case Model CC tractor.

It 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.Case Model G feed grinder

Continue reading Case Farming Part III: The Model CC Tractor

Tobacco Farming with a Farmall Super C

                  Tobacco Farming in West Virginia

with the Farmall Super C

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As Published in the September/October2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The restored Raymond and Edith Thompson Farmall Model Super C at the 2016 LeSueur Pioneer Power Show.

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

Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part III): 1975–The Soybean Year

The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part III):

1975 – The Soybean Year

by

Brian Wayne Wells

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

St. Peter Implement Company& the Holmberg/Weyl John Deere Model G Tractor

          

                                        St Peter Implement Company and

the 1948 Holmberg/Weyl John Deere Model G

                                                                            by

Brian Wayne Wells

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