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Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the January/February 1995 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
The following article was published in three different magazines. Each version of the article approached the story of the 1947 wet year in a different way. Accordingly, there are important differences in each version of the story and, therefore, each version has been included in this reproduced here for the reader to study these differences.
As related in an earlier article, the Howard Hanks family had moved to LeRoy, Minnesota from Mapleton, Minnesota in 1945. “The Wartime Farmall H,” Belt Pulley, July/August 1994, Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 13. They had purchased the big 400-acre Bagan farm five miles east of LeRoy, Minnesota. The payments on the newly-purchased farm were a big concern. The expense involved with moving a family from a renting operation to ownership of a farm was no small matter. Then there were the usual expenses entailed in raising a large family. Furthermore, three of the oldest Hanks children were planning to be married in 1947. What the family needed was a period of normalcy to consolidate their financial position; however, as 1946 ended, it looked as though the family was not going to get that period of normalcy. The Second World War had ended and prices for farm products had fallen. On the other hand, wartime price controls had ended and farm equipment prices immediately climbed. Then, too, there was the weather.
The fall of 1946 harvest season was very wet. The family had to borrow a Farmall M which belonged to Reuben Jacobson just to pull the big John Deere No. 7 combine through the soggy soybean fields. The Hanks’ 1942 Farmall H, with its new cut down steel rear wheels which were now fitted with rims and rubber tires, was unable to pull the combine as it had in the fall of 1945. The Reuben Jacobson Farmall M had wheel weights and fluid in the tires and thus was used to harvest soybeans on the home farm, as well as for all of the custom work.
The rain continued throughout the fall of 1946, and in the spring of 1947 it started again with a vengeance. By the time of the first wedding that year (Bruce Hanks and Mary Keller on April 2), the ground was a quagmire. Even the roads were a mess, and the farm tractors were employed to help negotiate these roads.
More rain came all through the spring and early summer. Field work had to be delayed to the point where the situation began to look grim. By the time of the second family wedding that year (Lorraine Hanks and Robert Westfall on June 25), it was clear that even the garden had failed because of the continuing rain. As with most families of the time, gardening was not a mere hobby, but was a real source of food for the family. The failure of the garden meant that household expenses would be just that much higher for the summer and for the following winter.
The oldest son, Fred Hanks, who had been serving in the United States Army in Italy, arrived home just in time for the second wedding on June 25. He was shocked to find that the soybeans were not yet entirely planted, even at this late date! The family did not complete planting soybeans until July 6. They felt as though planting soybeans so late in the season would be a waste of time and money, and 1947 was showing every sign of being a make-or-break year for the family. In addition, they were counting on the income that would be derived from custom combining in the neighborhood, and prospects for that income were not good unless the rain stopped.
The third family wedding that year (Marilyn Hanks and Wayne Wells) was held on July 12. Howard and Ethel Hanks, parents of the bride, were hosting the reception at their house on the Hanks farm. Ethel Buck Hanks, mother of the bride, was distressed that she did not have any crystal or a matched set of glassware to make the reception dinner a formal affair, and the family’s dire straits held no promise that there would be money for even such a small luxury as this. However, Howard went uptown and negotiated with the proprietor of the hardware store to borrow a set of gobbets and a matching set of sherbet stemware. This crystal would be used for the reception, then packaged up again and returned to the store. Ethel was extremely pleased with the goblets and sherbet stemware when Howard brought it home several days prior to the wedding. Ethel carefully unpacked the goblets and sherbet stemware and washed each piece in preparation for the wedding reception. She loved the beautiful glassware and wished that she could keep the goblets and the sherbets for the weddings in the family that she knew were coming up. However, she knew that the glassware was only borrowed from the hardware store and the glassware would have to be returned. Accordingly, following the wedding reception, she carefully washed each piece, wrapped it and sadly placed it back into the box for the journey back to town.
The new son-in-law, Wayne Wells, had taken over the farming operation on the 160-acre farm owned by his father, George Wells, which was two miles to the west of the Hanks farm. Wayne Wells and the Hanks family were planning to cooperate in some farming activities, i.e., corn planting and haying. They anticipated putting the loose hay in the barn as they had in past years; however, Wayne, who had been thinking of new ways to improve the efficiency of the farming operation, explored the possibility of baling the hay for storage in the barn. He also saw the possibilities of doing custom baling in the neighborhood. Many of the same farmers who paid to have their oats and soybeans combined may also pay to have their hay and straw baled. Since there were very few pickup balers in the neighborhood, the Wells and Hanks families would have a monopoly on the whole market. Furthermore, with daughter Hildreth, age 17, and son John, age 12, still living at home on the Hanks farm, Bruce and Mary living on the Tony Machovec farm about 1/2 mile south of the Hanks farm, and with Fred’s return from the Army, there would be more than sufficient people to outfit a baling crew and still keep up with the chores.
The Hanks family was receptive to the suggestion of purchasing a baler in hopes of earning extra income from custom baling. Later, they saw an advertisement for a used Case NCM baler. In the middle of the rainy summer, it seemed like a gamble considering all of the other pressing concerns. However, as the old saying goes, “You have to spend money to make money.” They decided to act.