Farming in 1940s & ’50s.
I wrote a feature story a few years ago for IDAHO magazine about one of my writer colleagues. She is a novelist from Idaho Falls who has written several novels, as well as some short stories; many of which were published by major publishing houses in New York City. Because she was raised on a farm near Rigby, Idaho, and helped with the cattle drives to their Bingham County cattle ranch; and is now, herself, a ranching partner with her husband; her Western epics hold to that old axiom “write what you know.”
In the course of the interview we discussed her early life on the farm and the cattle ranch; such things as harvesting potatoes, putting up the hay, and the cattle drives. These discussions brought back memories of my own early youth on the farm. Potato harvests were much different in the 1940s and ‘50s from those of these modern times where the potato combine digs the spuds and loads them on the truck, all in one operation.
We discussed her days of growing up on the farm and how spuds were dug by a single row digger and laid on top of the ground where they were later picked up by hand. Each picker was issued a wire basket. Burlap sacks were laid out along the row every so many feet. The laborers filled their baskets and emptied them into the burlap sacks. Two baskets of spuds made up a sack. Flatbed trucks came along behind the pickers, loaded the sacked spuds, and hauled them off to the cellar where they were dumped into cribs—again—by hand.
Dad was a small grains dryland farmer, so we didn’t raise potatoes. But before we moved to Soda Springs, I got in on the potato harvest as a kid on the neighbors’ farms around the Grace area(school was dismissed for about two weeks for this potato harvest). As I recall, the wage for picking spuds in those days was ten cents a sack. In spite of these seemingly low wages, I managed to put together a pretty sizable (for a kid) poke of shekels by the end of the spud harvest.
Hay harvesting is much different today, also. My writer colleague also told of how she used to drive while the hay crew bucked hay bales onto the truck. When it was loaded, she headed for the stack. We raised dry farm hay on our place, not for livestock feed, but as part of the regular rotation to build up the soil.
I remember we didn’t buck the bales, however. We had a conveyor that hooked up to the truck. The truck driver (me) would follow the row of bales as this bale loader automatically picked them up—most of the time. Although this machine cut down on the need for a couple of men, it did have its disadvantages. If the bale didn’t roll off the baler just right and land with the strings up, the conveyer chain would tear the bale to pieces while trying to pick it up.
This necessitated sending a man around the rows to straighten out the bales and roll them to their proper side; otherwise the loader would destroy them. Once on the conveyor, the bale moved up to the truck bed where it was pulled off and stacked by hand. These days human hands rarely touch the bales. The stack wagons pick them up, load them, haul them to the stack, and pile them—all by a single operator.
My writer friend also told of her days being a drover on the four-day cattle drives in the spring from the farm to the cattle ranch, and then back to the farm in the fall. I also remember those old cattle drives. The State of Idaho owned 160 acres of virgin land that joined Dad’s dry farm north of Soda Springs, The cattle ranchers used that as an overnight stop over on their way to summer range. The state later put it up for sale, and we bought it.
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts the times have changed. The ranching and farming operations of yesteryear required large crews to do much of the work. Today, in the cattle business, trucks have replaced the trail drives, four wheelers have replaced many tasks horses used to do, and private ranges and fences have changed the scope of the cattle roundups.
Farming operations have replaced large crews in favor of large machinery. Sadly, these “modern marvels” have stolen much of the camaraderie of the “old days” when large crews, even on the smaller farming and ranching operations, gathered to do a job.
By the way, if you’re interested in reading some of my writer colleague’s latest releases, her name is Linda Sandifer. You can check out her website at www.linda-sandifer.com., and you can also find her at www.amazon.com/author/lindasandifer.
Speaking of websites, you can read about my latest release, LouIsa–Iron Dove of The Frontier, at willedwinson.com, as well. It’s also available as a print book and a Kindle book from www.amazon.com. I think you’ll like LouIsa. She’s a strong woman who can wrangle cattle with the best of cowboys, but still retains her feminine qualities.