Lest we forget, steam made all the difference in taking agriculture out of the old days into a modern world in which saving of labor enabled farmers to plant and harvest far more acreage than they ever could have before.
'Marvels of Agriculture' is a chapter in a book titled Marvels of the New West, which was copyrighted in 1887, nearly a hundred years ago. It was written by William M. Thayer and published by the Henry Bill Publishing Co., Norwich, Connecticut.
The book deals with other 'marvels' as well, but we're centering on the one about farming. We like the illustrations, some of which accompany this article.
Thayer's prose put emphasis on the great difference between farming in the New West and the Old East. He said Easterners could just not comprehend the vast size of farms in the West, and told a series of good yarns to prove his point.
He quoted a Dakota man talking to a group, who said: 'I've seen a man on one of our big farms start out in the spring, and plough a straight furrow until fall, then he turned around and harvested back.'
A listener asked, 'Carry his grub with him?' and the narrator replied, 'No, sir. They follow him up with a steam hotel and have relays of men to change plows for him. We have some big farms up there, gentlemen. A friend of mine owned a farm on which he had to give a mortgage, and I pledge you my word the mortgage was due on one end before they could get it on record at the other. You see it was laid off in counties.'
A Dakota man told a similar tale. 'Up there we send young married couples to milk the cows, and their children bring home the milk.'
Going on with his New West hyperbole, Thayer told of a stalk of corn 13 feet high, carrying 13 good ears; a Nevada pear tree, with a trunk one inch in diameter, bearing 40 pounds of fruit, and a turnip weighing 21 pounds.
Anyway, Thayer noted that steam 'reinforces the battalions of workers on many bonanza farms, largely multiplying the amount of labor performed.'
The book includes a picture of a steam thresher. The men at work are being observed by a young mother in her Sunday best long gown, and carrying a parasol, with her daughter beside her.
The author added that actuality outdid the tall tales of years gone by that in truth wheat which was cut in the morning was served in the form of biscuits that night.
Thayer's book, which is not easy to find since it is long out of print, is a fascinating guide to the wonders of the 'New West.' There is much more in it than mention of steam as a valuable source of power, but this is as far as we can go at this time. We have chosen a few illustrations to give you an idea of what's in the book.