A Bit of a Change
As I was shaving this morning, and wondering about today’s blog topic, I began reminiscing in my mind about how farming techniques have changed over the years and how we planted the dry farm crops in the Southeast Idaho highlands when I was a teen-ager, as compared to how it’s done today. It was during the mid to late 1940s that I began to help with fieldwork on the dry farm. By that time, we thought we had come into the ultimate in the modern era of farming. Prior to moving his farming operation north of Soda Springs, Idaho, Dad farmed over in a valley west of Grace, Idaho, known as Turner.
At that time he was still using a mix of “horse” power and tractor power. Horses were used in the haying operation, as hay was still primarily piled loose in the stacks. Baled hay had not yet come on the scene to any great extent, and when it did appear, it was not the large one-ton bales we see today, but rather, the small 85 lb. bales that were largely handled by hand.
When Dad later moved his farming operation north of Soda he no longer put up hay. By this time I was drafted into helping on the farm, and Dad had graduated to two International crawler tractors, a TD14 and a TD9(the prima donna tractor I wrote about in one of my earlier blogs).. He also had two McCormick-Deering (International) Model M wheel tractors. This was the ultimate line up of modern farm power, it didn’t get much better than thar.
The spring planting operation in the days of the mid-forties, and through most of the fifties, was much different than today. Many of the steps that we did separately back then, are combined today into one operation. In those “old days” we would start the TD14 crawler pulling eight sections of double harrows (about 40 feet wide) over the land to bust up the clods and seal the cracks in order to preserve moisture. This was followed by the TD 9 pulling 16 feet of spring tooth harrows, with lighter harrows tied behind, to prepare the seed bed. When the TD14 finished its initial harrowing, it was hooked up to 24 feet of spring tooth harrows to help the TD9 finish the seed bed preparation.
After we had been over all the land getting the seed bed ready, we parked the tractors for a few days and concentrated on picking up the rocks that these implements had pulled to the surface. This was a hand picking operation. We hooked a flatbed trailer to one of the Model M wheel tractors, hired a bunch of youngsters from town(quite often a Boy Scout troop), and proceeded around the fields picking up rocks and loading them onto the trailer. When it was loaded, we’d pull over to a waste patch of land and offload these rocks by hand.
This brief respite from tractor fieldwork also served another purpose. Since there weren’t as many herbicides on the market then, as there are today, much of the weed control had to be done by cultivation. During the few days we were picking rocks, the wild oats and fan weeds had a chance to sprout. When they had sufficiently sprouted to where we thought most of them were up and growing, it was time run the rod-weeder over the field ahead of the grain drills. In later years, when we began using fertilizer, a separate fertilizer application was slipped in ahead of the spring tooth harrows so they could work the fertilizer into the soil. Some farmers used Anhydrous Ammonia, using a special applicator to knife it in directly.
Having done all this, which by now had consumed the better part of two weeks, it was time to start the drills(seeders to you city folks). We had two twelve-foot drills. The Model M wheel tractors pulled one each. The drills were filled by bailing grain with a five-gallon bucket over the top of the sideboards of the truck and letting it slide down a chute into the drills. Drilling 80 acres a day with these two tractors was considered a pretty productive day—100 acres was a super day. Dad was farming about 1600 acres, and he normally planted half, and summer fallowed half. The month of May was traditionally set aside for spring planting, and it usually took nearly the whole month to plant 800 acres.
Today, with the way things are done, combining so many of the old procedures, such as preparing the seed bed, applying fertilizer and herbicides, and laying down the seed, all in the same operation, 800 acres can be seeded (and is) in less than a week, with only two tractors instead of four. As I have mentioned in previous writings, ah…the times, how they do change. I sometimes wonder, though; do they always change for the better.
Input costs for raising a crop of barley or wheat today, as compared to his day, would boggle Dad’s mind if he were still around.
If you like reading about things of yesteryear, go to upper right on my homepage and click on the “free download” to get your free copy(while they last) of the prologue and first three stories of Buddy…His Trials and Treasures. It’s full of adventures of a young boy growing up in rural America during the 1940s.