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Looking Back

The History of Dibbling

Sam MoorePrior to the acceptance of low, minimum and no-till practices, plowing was considered the major task of the farmer. Tillage however is only the series of steps needed to prepare the soil for the real job – planting the seed. Without seed there can be no crop, and the proper placement of the seed is the most critical part of the operation.

For centuries seeding was haphazard; the seed was scattered by hand and then covered with a rake, harrow, or even by dragging a bundle of brush across it. This time-consuming and laborious method resulted in a lot of lost seed and low yields.

I’m a fan of a National Public Radio show called “Says You” on which, among other word games, a panel of “experts” tries to guess the meaning of obscure words. A while back, one of the mystery words was “dibble,” and no one knew what a dibble was (I knew this one, although I usually don’t).

One of the first feeble attempts to improve hand seeding was by a process known as “dibbling.” A hole was poked into the soil with a pointed stick or “dibble,” the seed was dropped into the hole and then covered by scraping a little dirt over the hole with the foot.

Dibbling persisted for hundreds of years; in 1600 an Englishman recommended “setting” seed over sowing broadcast and said the holes should be 3 inches apart and 3 inches deep. He and several others described dibbling frames that consisted of a series of properly spaced wooden pegs set into boards. These frames were lowered onto and forced into the soil, then lifted and carried forward where the process was repeated over and over again. The seeds were dropped into the holes thus made and then covered.

Although there had been hundreds of attempts through the centuries to come up with a mechanical way of sowing seed, the intricacies of a successful grain drill were beyond the capabilities of early inventors and none of the machines they dreamed up really answered the purpose. Seeding broadcast was still the most popular way of sowing well into the 18th century.

Dibbling had been known in the British Isles and practiced to some extent there for a long time, but the method seems to have really caught in the late-1700s. An agriculturist wrote in 1796 that dibbling was “one of the most valuable improvements that, perhaps, ever appeared in agriculture.” Another reported that in Lincolnshire, “Upon the whole, it (dibbling) has succeeded greatly.”

A clue to one reason dibbling became so popular in England during the first part of the 19th century may be found in the works of Charles Dickens. Anyone who has read Oliver Twist knows that children who were orphans or paupers became wards of the local parishes and were expected to work for their bread and gruel. A writer in Norfolk wrote that “dibbling resulted in the employment of thousands of the parochial poor children who would otherwise be without employment (and thus a financial burden) at that season.”

An English dibbling crew of the era consisted of one man and two or three children. The man carried two dibbling irons connected by a cross handle. One account tells us that he walked backwards (no doubt to keep an eye on his juvenile helpers) while he made two rows of holes 3 or 4 inches apart and maybe 2 inches deep. The kids, who were kept separated to keep them from chattering among themselves, followed and dropped three or four seeds into each hole. An old English ditty from around this time that may have been sung by the children to keep track of the number of seeds dispensed into each hole went, “One for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow.”

The children, or more probably their warders, were paid according to their ability. A very small child who could drop into only one row of holes was worth 3 pence per day, while one who could handle three rows brought 10-1/2 pence.

After the seeds were dropped they were covered by dragging a harrow across the field. Around 1800 the cost of dibbling was reported to be 8 shillings, 6 pence, to 10 shillings per acre, although that had dropped to about 7 shillings, 6 pence by 1840. This method of planting wheat was popular in eastern England until the middle of the 19th century.

About 1801, Jethro Tull, a progressive English farmer, made a successful drill. A wheeled, 2-row machine, Tull’s contraption opened channels in the soil, dropped the seeds into the channels and then covered them. Essentially, those functions are identical to the ones performed by today’s planters. Although drills were slow to catch on, in part due to often violent opposition from British farm laborers who believed the machines would put them out of work, their use gradually spread.

In this country drills were virtually unheard of before 1840, but in 1841 Samuel and Moses Pennock of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, patented a 7-row machine. Other American inventors got into the act and before the Civil War a force feed drill was developed.

Progress was steady throughout the rest of the 19th century with improved seed metering in both fluted feed and double-run styles. Furrow openers were greatly improved, as was the adoption of roller bearings, easier lubrication, and corrosion resistant seed and fertilizer boxes. Mechanical and then hydraulic lifts eased the physical effort required to raise and lower the planting units.

It’s a far cry from today’s farmer zipping across a huge field in a comfortable cab with a 40-foot grain drill behind him to a man with a two-row dibble followed by a pack of ragged urchins.

– Sam Moore

Multiple dibble in use

A primitive multiple dibble in use. (From The Growth of Industrial Art published by the U.S. Government Printing Office in 1892.)

Goin' Courting

Sam MooreAlfred Tennyson wrote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” As it’s nearly spring, by the calendar at least, here are a couple of takes on the gentle art of courtship.

JOSH BILLINGS ON COURTING

Courting is a luxury, it is salad, it is ice water, it is a beveridge, it is the pla spell ov the soul.

The man who haz never courted haz lived in vain; he haz bin a blind man amung landskapes and waterskapes; he haz bin a deff man in the land ov hand orgins, and by the side ov murmuring canals.

Courting is like 2 little springs ov soft water that steel out from under a rock at the fut ov a mountain and run down the hill side by side singing and dansing and spatering each uther, eddying and frothing and kaskading, now hiding under a bank, now full ov sun and now full ov shadder, till bimeby they jine and then they go slow.

I am in faver ov long courting; it gives the parties a chance to find out each uther’s trump kards, it is good exercise, and is jist as innersent as 2 merino lambs. Courting is like strawberries and creem, wants to be did slow, then yu git the flaver.

As a ginral thing I wouldn’t brag on uther gals mutch when I wuz courting, it mite look as tho yu knoo to mutch.

If yu will court 3 years in this wa, awl the time on the square, if yu don’t say it is a leetle the slikest time in yure life, yu kan git measured for a hat at my expense, and pay for it.

Don’t court for munny, nor buty, nor relashuns, theze things are jist about as onsartin as the keroseen refining bissness, liabel to git out ov repair and bust at enny minnit.

Court a gal for fun, for the luv yu bear her, for the vartue and goodniss thare is in her; court her for a wife and for a muther, court her as yu wud court a farm—for the strength ov the soil and the parfeckshun ov the title; court her as tho she wasnt a fule, and yu a nuther; court her in the kitchen, in the parlor, over the wash-tub, and at the pianner; court this wa, yung man, and if yu don’t git a good wife and she don’t git a good husband, the falt won’t be in the courting.

Yung man, yu kan rely upon Josh Billings, and if yu kant make these rules wurk jist send for him and he will sho yu how the thing is did, and it shant kost yu a cent.

Josh Billings was the pen name of a famous 19th century humorist and lecturer named Henry Wheeler Shaw. In his writing, Shaw often used wildly erratic phonetic spelling which seemed to endear him to his readers.

Another, more recent commentary on courtship was penned in 1927 by “The Cheerful Plowman,” aka Edward Tufft, and appeared in a 1927 issue of Pennsylvania Farmer magazine.

PUBLIC COURTSHIP

This movie show is spoiled for me by other things I have to see!
A spruce young fellow, quite a sheik, with hair greased back all smooth and sleek,
With nothing much below the skull, gray matter quite as thin as mull!
A giggling girl with shallow face and rather cheap and brassy grace,
Not just the kind I used to know when I went courting years ago!

You see, when I get tired and done I like a movie full of fun;
Long weary sessions with the cows and weary miles behind the plows
Make us old busy farmer men need recreation now and then,
So movies full of spice and pep restore the vigor to our step!
Yes, when I go I would relax, relieve the brain and muscle tax.
I would just settle back and grin until my tonsils tumbled in,
Throw back my head and stretch my arms, forget a while the cows and farms!

But, oh, how can I, tell me true, surrounded by this courting crew?
How can I ease my soul and face in such a public courting place?
How can I see a movie show when all about me row on row,
A hundred shows are being staged and all my senses are enraged?
My education may be queer, the product of an early year,
But it is still my firm belief that public courting leads to grief;
I offer as my brief report the parlor is the place to court!

Back when I was courting – more than a half-century ago – I wasn’t much for public courting, although I didn’t want it under the eyes of a mother or father in “the parlor” either. The wide front bench seat of my car at the drive-in theater, or parked on some secluded, moonlit lane was my idea of the “ideel plase!”

– Sam Moore

A man courting a woman

This drawing, titled “Courting,” is from an 1885 edition of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” and is furnished courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Cheerful Plowman

The Cheerful Plowman
By J. Edw. Tuftt

Sam MooreNeglecting minor choring around a fellow's farm
brings tragedies deploring and does a heap of harm!
It doesn't do, by Harry, to say, "another day,"
or "later," "let it tarry," "I'll lay this job away."
I once neglected fixing a neck yoke that was weak,
and soon my team was mixing with fishes in the creek.
I once said, "These old traces on this old harness here
are weakening in places and need some care, I fear,
but I'll get busy later and rivet on a strap,
right now I mustn't cater to this decrepid trap."
But, bingo, I was driving a wagon on a hill,
my team was nobly striving with most determined will,
when suddenly dividing, the traces gave a snap,
and backwards I was sliding and praying for a strap!

My buggy in its gearing, one summer long ago,
took on a case of veering and swaying to and fro,
but I said, "This has lasted for thirty years and more,
its fasteners were blasted from Pennsylvania's ore,
so one more week, I reckon, won't make or mar the rig,
although its braces beckon for splices strong and big!"
Well, on the road to Hease's, the day those words were said,
that buggy went to pieces and I was put to bed!

I learned those lessons early, and sadly if you please,
and retribution, burly, took me across his knees,
so I made solemn pledges to watch the little chores,
the buckles, and the wedges, the stitches and the bores,
the bolts, the pins, the castings, the rivets and the nails,
the braces and the mastings, the splices and the rails;
I took an oath tremendous to stand off no repairs
until a break stupendous brought tragedies and cares.
I fix each little crevice the day the break appears;
no broken tug or clevis has brought me grief for years!

The Pennsylvania Farmer, Nov. 21, 1925

Buggy accident

A buggy accident. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Shipping Cattle on Ocean Steamships

Sam MooreFrom a book named Ocean Steamships, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York in 1891, comes this brief account of shipping cattle from the United States to Europe. I thought it was rather interesting, especially the statement about packing the cattle tightly to protect them from injury. In light of today’s animal rights regulations, such practices would never fly.

“The loading of cattle-ships is interesting. The vessels are tied up to the docks in Jersey City and Weehawken, where the stock-yards are located, and the cattle are driven up a narrow gang-plank. When steamships take grain or other cargo in the hold and cattle on deck, the latter are usually loaded from barges at the wharf, or while the vessel is at anchor in the bay. Occasionally a fractious steer breaks away from the drivers, and, plunging over the side of the gang-plank, takes a bath in the water. A sailor jumps in and passes a rope around the animal, which is then hoisted on board by means of a block and tackle. The cattle are placed in strongly constructed pens between decks, as well as on the upper deck. The space for each head of cattle is fixed by law at 2 feet 6 inches by 8 feet. The pens hold half a dozen cattle each. Experience has shown that there was greater loss when more room than this was allowed for the cattle. A steer with plenty of room in his pen would roll from side to side and become bruised or crippled when a heavy sea was encountered. By packing the cattle tightly, they serve as buffers for each other, and the loss is diminished. Within the last two or three years the methods of shipping cattle have been improved, so that the loss is now less than two per cent.

Cattle steamship at sea

This picture, titled “A Cattle Steamship at Sea,” gives an idea of the conditions for both the cattle and "Cowboys of the Sea."

“The cost of shipping cattle from New York to Liverpool is about half a cent per pound, live weight. This includes the care and the feed during the voyage. From ten to a dozen men are employed to look after the cattle on the trip. Very low wages are paid these men, as there are always a number of applications on hand from impecunious men who are desirous of working their passage to Europe by taking care of the cattle. A few men are regularly engaged in the business of taking care of cattle at sea. They are known as “cowboys of the sea,” and are big burly fellows who are used to rough living and to facing danger. The work of feeding and watering the cattle is not an easy task in fair weather and with a rough sea on it is dangerous. When severe storms are met, the cattle become panic-stricken, and the men are obliged to go among them and quiet them. Sometimes the pens are broken down in a gale, and there is pandemonium aboard. Cattle-ships have arrived in port with only a small portion of the number of cattle taken on board, but as the losses fall upon the shippers and the reputation of the steamship line is to some extent at stake, they are, therefore, more interested in the safety of cattle at sea than anyone else. The efforts of Samuel Plimsoll, M.P., and the cattle inspectors of Great Britain and the United States, have materially improved the methods of this traffic.”

– Sam Moore

Leafing Through an Old Farm Magazine

Sam MooreI like to go through old magazines to see what was going on in the country at the time. Not only that, but if I'm stuck for a subject to write about, I can sometimes find a column (such as this one) in an old magazine. Seventy one years ago, Farm Journal readers, like my father and grandfather (and me as a 13-year-old), saw the following when they leafed through their December 1946 issue of Farm Journal magazine.

Allis-Chalmers looked ahead to summer with a full-color ad featuring a Model C tractor cultivating two rows of contoured, foot-high corn, as did IH with a Farmall M plowing down sod with a 3-bottom Little Genius plow. Willys-Overland touted their Universal Jeep as "a truck, light tractor, runabout, (and) mobile power unit."

Car-hungry farmers were treated to ads for the shiny new 1946 Buick, Plymouth and Dodge cars, while farm wives were tempted by Westinghouse radios, Pyrex Flameware, Frigidaire and Hotpoint electric refrigerators, Perfection oil heaters, and Gem Dandy electric churns.

Kate Smith, on CBS radio every Monday through Friday at 12 noon CST, advertised Post's 40% Bran Flakes – "And what could be more delicious Christmas morning than a luscious batch of hot, oven-fresh Post's Bran Muffins?" Film actress Hedy Lamarr assured us that Lipton Tea's "... brisk flavor is top drawer with me," while another Hollywood beauty, Anne Baxter, is shown glamorously snoozing on a Simmons Beautyrest mattress.

Prices being paid for farm products were dropping sharply after initial post-war highs, and FJ told farmers: "You take a grave risk when you hold products on a down market. Sell crops and livestock when ready for market, even though you don't get the top dollar."

President Harry Truman wasn't popular, with an approval rating of 32% and Republicans were joking that "... to err is Truman." Because of this, the mid-term election of 1946 resulted in Republicans winning control of both the House and Senate after many years of Democrat domination. Farm Journal cautioned: "May the Republicans travel humbly on their way to Washington! They have won, not a victory, but a chance to try to give the nation better government. Tired of New Dealism, the people have merely said, 'let's see what the other fellows can do.'"

Among the featured movies was My Darling Clementine, a western about the Earp brothers starring Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan and Victor Mature. Then there was Blondie Knows Best, with Penny Singleton as Blondie and Arthur Lake as Dagwood.

The Gillette Safety Razor Company – Look sharp! Feel sharp! Be sharp! – bragged about the smooth, refreshing shaves that Dewitt "Tex" Coulter, "... last year's great Army tackle, now with the New York Giants," got before he went on the field in a leather helmet to "anticipate enemy plays and stop them with uncanny precision."

In another ad, Santa Claus himself assured readers that a carton of Camel cigarettes or a one-pound tin of Prince Albert smoking tobacco were "Grand gifts for smokers."

Feature articles reported on a new sweet potato variety called Pelican Processor,  New York governor Thomas Dewey's dairy farm, how to "Lick Pullorum (a chicken disease) Now," and hunting pheasants in South Dakota.

A new self-propelled, 2-row corn picker, that could pick 20 to 30 acres per day, was announced by Massey-Harris, as "A machine that electrocutes weeds," from Apco Corp., of Los Angeles. Apco made a large trailer-mounted generator that powered a series of rake-like electrodes that were dragged across the ground, zapping 10 to 15 acres of weeds per day.

Speaking of weeds, FJ reported a "New source of income for Georgia farmers is growing kudzu crowns. With a ready market, some farmers sold as high as $10,000 worth of crowns (at $10 to $12 per 1,000) last spring.” Today they can’t get rid of the pesky stuff.

Under Changes We Want Made, are the following bright ideas. "Pack grease for pressure guns in cylindrical containers that can be slipped into the gun." This one came true, as did "Use flexible tubing to connect gas ranges, so they may be moved for cleaning." One man wanted "something to show hunters when a rabbit was close," while another guy wanted "square plates so we can back a pea into a corner."

In the Farmer's Wife section, recipes were given for a grand Christmas dinner that included steam-baked goose, delicious bread stuffing, Noel apples, and Christmas beet salad, as well as recipes for holiday cookies and frozen fruit cake.

A young girl wrote Dear Polly: "Last Christmas Eve, I was out with a boy whom I liked very much, and he asked me for a Christmas kiss. If it happens again, what should I do?" Polly answered that there's something about Christmas that "sometimes permits a holiday kiss for a special friend." She goes on: "If you step under the mistletoe, there's nothing much left to do but give in gracefully."

Finally, my favorite Farm Journal feature: Now Is The Time To.

Milk fast.
Let it snow.
Mulch roses.
Post your farm.
Read Psalm 100.
Keep an open mind.
Use Christmas seals.
Clean up junk piles.
Clip old boar's tusks.
Poison orchard mice.
Renew kitchen linoleum.
Cut next year's firewood.
Cover carrots with straw.
Help Fido with his fleas.
Count the days until Christmas.
Rabbit-proof young trees, shrubs.
Count your blessings; share them.
Keep machine sheds sparrow-free.
Put a petunia in the south window.
Ask the preacher if he likes chicken.
Encourage 4-H and F.F.A. members.
Clean leaves from rain spouts and gutters.
Put a new pane of glass in place of that pillow in the attic window.

Looking through these old magazines reminds me of the old song: "Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end."

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

– Sam Moore

Farm Journal December 1946 cover

Cover of the December 1946 Farm Journal magazine (in the author’s collection).

Steam Plowing on the Western Prairies

Sam MooreDuring the 1870s, the old portable steam engines were being replaced by traction engines that could drag a thresher from place to place. Initially steered by a team of horses out front, it wasn't long before a chain and drum mechanism and a proper steering wheel eliminated the need for the horses.

In the vast expanses of the prairies, the native Buffalo grass made breaking the sod with horses an extremely difficult task and, even after the ground was broken, it was a huge job to plow it each year for the new crop. A 12-inch walking plow behind two horses was usually used in those days and in the book, Power and the Plow, written in 1911 by Edward A. Rumely and Lynn W. Ellis, they estimated that a man would have to walk 5,280 miles to plow a 640-acre section with a 12-inch plow. It's no wonder that the riding plow became so popular when it was introduced, even though it wasn't much faster.

Some men experimented with using the steam threshing engines to pull plows, but they weren't very successful. Of course, there were no large gang plows being made, so a string of 1- or 2-bottom horse plows was chained on behind. One man in the Dakota Territory in 1883 told of his first experience of plowing with a Frick engine:

"We labored under many disadvantages ... among which was scarcity of water, there being but few wells. With steam we found that fifteen acres could readily be turned in one day, using five 16-inch Casaday sulky plows."

The rigs were difficult to turn at the headlands and horse plows were too light to withstand the increased power of the engine. As stated, water was scarce, as was fuel, which was often straw gathered up from the field and carried on a wagon that ran beside the engine.

Another problem was that the engine wheels were usually driven by chains or multiple trains of gears. Chains were made of wrought iron and gears usually of cast iron. Under hard plowing conditions, the chains would break and brittle cast iron gears would lose teeth or break into pieces. In addition, traction engines of the day, designed to pull only themselves and a separator, had relatively narrow and small diameter drive wheels and would bog down easily in soft ground. They weren't that powerful either, since in those days of small, hand feed threshers, it required only 10 or 12 horsepower to run the machines.

The first real use of steam traction for plowing was in the vast wheat fields of California, Washington and Oregon, where giant Holt and Best engines were used.

By the turn of the century, threshers had grown in size, and had sprouted self-feeders, grain weighers, and wind stackers, all of which necessitated larger and more powerful steam engines. Manufacturers began to turn out engines intended for plowing, with stronger steel gears and axles, larger fuel bunkers and water tanks, and larger and wider drive wheels, with lugs adapted for traction in soft ground. Special engine gang plows were being built as well, some with steam cylinders to lift the bottoms.

As might be imagined, the bigger, and more powerful engines cost considerably more than before. Prices ranged from $3,000 to $4,000 for one of the new improved plowing engines. That was more than most farmers had paid for their farms and was out of reach for all but large farmers, or custom farming operators.

During the first decade of the 20th century, custom steam plowing rigs swarmed over the prairie. A Dakota newspaperman wrote in 1908: "Where a year ago the coyote and jackrabbit were undisturbed...great traction engines are plowing up whole townships daily."

Many of the engines were equipped with locomotive headlights and plowed all night. A record may have been set near Albion, Wyoming in 1911, when a 40 hp Reeves engine, with sixteen bottoms and two grain drills behind, plowed and planted 65 acres in one long day.

Running the big steam plowing rigs wasn't cheap either. One Minnesota man with a 40 hp Avery engine pulling 12 bottoms, charged $4.00 per acre. His daily expenses were:

One engineer: $5.00
One fireman: $3.00
One tank man: $4.00
Two blacksmiths: $8.00
Two plow men: $4.00
One cook: $3.00
Oil & grease: $2.00
Board for the crew: $4.50
Fuel: $6.00
Repairs, plowshares, depreciation, etc.: $8.00

Total cost per day: $47.50

So, just to meet expenses the rig had to plow at least 12 acres every day. Getting stuck, breakdowns, or rainy weather all made the life of a custom plowman no bed of roses.

It was an impressive sight, however. Folks came from miles around to watch the big rigs move ponderously across the prairie, while gulping every day some 70 barrels of water and a ton and a half of coal and puffing out great clouds of black smoke. Behind the engine, 10 to 16 gleaming plow bottoms sliced through the soil, leaving long, even furrows, a mile or more in length, in its wake.

Two decades was about all the longer it lasted, though. Fuel and water for the engines was too expensive and hard to come by. By 1920, most plowing was being done by gasoline or kerosene tractors. Steam hung on for a while, and in dwindling numbers, as power for threshing, but by the time World War II rolled around, most steam engines were quietly rusting in the fencerows.

The scrap drives during the war eliminated the majority of these engines and today only a few are to be seen puffing away at steam shows around the country.

– Sam Moore

Nichols & Shepard engine pulling a plow

A big Nichols & Shepard engine pulling a 10-bottom plow and two 8-foot single discs on the Alberta prairie in 1900. The engine appears to be 20-75 or a 25-90 double-cylinder model. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Encounter with a Tramp

Sam MooreWhen I was a kid an occasional “tramp,” as Mom called them, although they were also called “hobos” and “bums” while today they’re known as “homeless people,” would show up at the kitchen door of our western Pennsylvania farmhouse asking for a bite to eat. As with most farm families during the 1930s and ’40s, we didn’t have much money, but we always had food from the garden and the critters we raised so these itinerate “knights of the road” usually got a morsel or two of food from my mother or grandmother.

In the October 1927 issue of The American Thresherman magazine “Aunt Malinda,” a column that was written by M. Belle Clarke, the wife of the publisher Bascome B. Clarke, wrote of an encounter she and “Uncle Silas” had with one of these itinerate gentlemen.

The two had just sat down to a supper of fried eggs, bacon, bread and butter and a pot of tea, and “Silas had just told the Lord that we were grateful for the helpin’” when a tramp knocked on the door with his hat in hand.

Aunt Malinda goes on, “He was a polite old German and grey-headed, a man of more than fifty years. I told this old man that we could certainly fix him up, takin’ the bacon and eggs for our supper, when Silas began to mutter about the crop of tramps that were gatherin’ in flocks these days. I never feed tramps at my table like I used to do and when I saw Silas reach for the teapot, I told him I’d do the honors. To drink tea properly one must sit down and that meant at the table.

“I scraped the platter, takin’ both his bacon and mine and I started to do likewise with the eggs but Silas ’lowed he’d just finish that egg seein’ that he’d started on it. After I handed the old man the lunch—five or six strips of Swift’s bacon and a few eggs and other things thrown in—and he’d hoped that God would bless me for my kindness to the homeless and made his getaway, Silas grabbed a skillet and started in fryin’ more bacon and eggs.

“‘Malinda,’ he says, ‘you’re getting’ chicken-hearted lately. The idea of feedin’ a tramp Swift’s bacon taken from a box that costs fifty cents a pound, and slippin’ him all the eggs and cake and all that, and then refusin’ him a cup of tea. Shortin’ him on the cheapest part of the meal proves you ain’t as generous as you let on’

“‘Yes,’ I says, ‘and with all your mutterin’ about bein’ disturbed durin’ a meal you wanted to sluice that tramp with hot tea. I’ll not feed any tramps at my table,’ I says, ‘not unless they’ve been fumigated, but as long as we’ve got bread and meat I’ll share it with any old grey-headed man who’s destitute.’

“‘Oh, maybe he was wearin’ a wig,’ says Silas. ‘They do lots of things these up-to-date tramps who put the sign somewhere for other tramps to read, thus encouragin’ more of them to apply for bacon and eggs. His hair wasn’t any greyer than mine,’ says he, ‘and not half as near thread-bare.’

“‘You should be ashamed to begrudge a tramp a bite to eat,’ I says.

“‘I don’t mind feedin’ one once in a while,’ says he, ‘but darn ’em, let ’em come before or after, for it spoils a meal to have a hungry-lookin’ tramp poke his prow in at the back door and cause me to stop feedin’ until I fill his hopper.’”

Aunt Malinda ends her story, “I’m sure that Silas is becomin’ penurious as he reaches the sundown of life ’n Old Gabriel is due to blow his horn most any time. When I told Silas this, he said, ‘Let Old Gabriel blow his horn whenever he’s ready, but don’t cause me to cater to a tramp right in the middle of a good meal of bacon and eggs, Gabriel or no Gabriel.’”

– Sam Moore

Drawing of a tramp

A cartoon drawing of the stereotypical tramp. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)