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Words of Encouragement from Harvester World

Sam MooreAmerica’s farmers today are hurting, what with tariffs, trade wars, low milk and grain prices and now the extensive flooding in the Midwest grain belt. But, it’s not new.

After the boom times and high commodity prices during World War I, a severe depression hit the agricultural sector and by 1921, farmers were hurting. Naturally, as farmers were forced to tighten their belts farm implement manufacturers and dealers faced hard times as well.

During those days the mighty International Harvester Co. published a monthly magazine called Harvester World, which was sent to employees and dealers. IH apparently felt that readers of the magazine required a pep talk so the January 1922 issue contained some encouraging words.

The first page said, “Great men are not made in soft ages, so be thankful for this period which demands hard thinking and hard work. Be thankful for this time of commercial and political stress. You may be sure that great leaders will be developed in every sphere of human action – great dealers and salesmen and managers, also, will now make themselves known. Accept the stern requirements of the period. The harder it is the better, and happier. This is the era in which men in every walk of life will be made and used for all their worth. It is a good time to be alive!”

Then on the editorial page appeared the following “good lesson.”

“In 1867, with the Civil War two years in the background, two farmers were sitting on a rail fence talking hard times. Money was scarce, hogs were a drug on the market, corn was worth fourteen cents and oats not worth hauling to town. Eggs were selling at eight cents a dozen, but farmers faced the hard times, paid for their farms and sent their children to school.

“In 1893 the sons of those two farmers stood near the same spot discussing the hard times. These were black days for men trying to raise crops and pay for their farms, and the two men even threatened to move to the city and start over. But they stayed and won through.

“Today [1922], the grandsons of the 1867 farmers are sitting in their automobiles lamenting the hard times, poor markets and low prices. All their lives they have had more luxuries than their ancestors had comforts, but they are talking the language of their fathers just the same.”

The descendants of these long-ago farmers often went through hard times during the 20th century, and now here it is, 150 years on and it’s happening again. Those men’s great-great-grandsons are sitting in their $50,000 dually pickups, checking grain prices on their iPhones, and wondering how to meet the next payment on a $400,000 combine. And, even though some will “move to the city and start over,” others will hang on and survive.

It just proves that farmers are a stubborn and tenacious lot that keeps on keeping on through hard times, depressions, droughts, fires, floods and everything else that comes their way. It’s a good thing, too, ’cause I like to eat.

– Sam Moore

Farmers talking over a fence
Two farmers talking over a fence. (Image from the December 1938 issue of Country Gentleman magazine in the author’s collection.)

Early Thoughts on the Threshing Machine

Sam MooreThe first threshing machine wasn’t produced in this country but in the British Isles when a Scotsman, Andrew Meikle, improved upon a semi-successful thresher built by an English farmer named Leckie. Meikle used a rotary cylinder with beaters around the circumference, as well as powered feed rollers to carry the grain into the cylinder and, eventually, a cleaning fan to blow away dirt and chaff. Meikle’s machine, which was patented in 1788, wasn’t portable, however, and was built into a barn and powered by a water wheel or a horsepower.

Arthur Young, an English agricultural writer wrote in 1808, warning the farmer to keep a sharp eye on the men doing his threshing (with a flail and winnowing basket). He wrote: He may lose immensely if his straw be not threshed clean; and as it is work generally performed by measure, the men are too apt to turn it over too quickly, and thresh out only that (grain) which comes the easiest from the ear. In respect to pilfering, the work gives them great opportunities so he should have a sharp lookout, and take care now and then to meet the men of an evening in their home, and to come upon them in the barn at various times and unawares. Such conduct will keep the men honest, if they are already, and will prevent many knaves from practicing their roguery. According to this, British yeomen must have been an untrustworthy lot.

Young then described the advantages of the new threshing machines: If the farmer has one of these most useful implements, he is safe from such dirty work and dishonesty. The expense of a fixed mill is from sixty to one hundred guineas [the guinea was 1 pound, 1 shilling, or 21 shillings, but it’s beyond my ability to translate that into today’s money]. It will thresh about fifteen quarters [a quarter is eight bushels] of wheat in eight or nine hours, and from fifteen to twenty quarters of barley, oats, peas, or beans. Barley is the hardest to thresh with a machine, but I have seen several that do it well, such as Mr. Asbey’s at Blyborough, Suffolk. His price for a fixed machine, 75 guineas, and for a moveable one, 120 guineas. The granary should always be located over the fixed mill that the grain may be drawn up at once, and lodged safe under the farmer’s key.

A European thresher

While this is a much later thresher than Andrew Meikle’s, it is an early 19th century horse-powered machine from Europe, probably French. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Straw was commonly used as cattle feed in Great Britain and Young alluded to this: For feeding cattle, fresh-threshed straw is better than old; for litter they are equal; but it is best for eating straw to cut it into chaff by the power of the threshing mill and to have the chaffhouse adjoining so it can be immediately stored. This house should have brick walls, so that fermentation does not set fire to anything, and then if water be thrown on the chaff, it ferments and is much more nutritious than when used in the common way. Mr. Young seems to have known a bit about silage.

Threshing was something of an all winter job in those days. Young wrote: The threshers must be kept constantly at work throughout this month [December], that the cattle feeding on the straw may have a regular supply. Many farmers who keep large stocks of lean or dry cattle thresh their worst straw first and the best last throughout the winter, that every change of straw may be for the better. This cannot fail of having good effects on the cattle, who often fall away on a change of straw that is for the worse. The wheat should be threshed first as it makes the worst fodder; next the oats, then the barley, and lastly, the barley or oats that had much clover mown with them; for in wet seasons, the clover grows so high that the straw is almost as good as hay.

Arthur Young finished up his article with: A threshing-machine is an object of such importance to every [grain] farmer that no intelligent one will be without it.

It always interests me to read these old accounts of how farming was back in “the good old days.”

– Sam Moore

The Honest Old Farmer

Sam MooreDuring the last half of the 19th century, most folks looked upon the railroads as having plenty of money, and many of them figured out ways to get some of it for themselves, as did the Yankee farmer in the following story.

A horny-handed old farmer entered the offices of one of the railroad companies, and inquired for the man who settled for hosses which was killed by locomotives. They referred him to the company’s counsel, whom, having found, he thus addressed:

“Mister, I was driving home one evening last week –”

“Been drinking?” questioned the lawyer.

“Why, I’m center pole of the local Tent of Rechabites,” said the farmer. [The Independent Order of Rechabites was a Christian group dedicated to promoting total abstinence from alcohol]

“That doesn’t answer my question,” replied the lawyer; “I saw a man who was drunk vote for the prohibition ticket last year.”

“Hadn’t tasted liquor since the big flood of 1846,” said the old man.

“Go ahead.”

“I will, ’Squire. And when I came to the crossing of your line – it was pretty dark, and – zip! along came your train, no bells rung, no whistles tooted, contrary to the statutes in such cases made and provided, and – whoop! Away went my off-hoss over the telegraph wires.  When I had dug myself out’n a swamp some distance off and pacified the other critter, I found that off-hoss was dead, nothing valuable about him but his shoes, which mout have brought, say, a penny for old iron. Well –”

“Well, you want pay for that ’ere off-hoss?” said the lawyer, with a scarcely repressed sneer.

“I should, you see.” Replied the farmer, frankly; “And I don’t care about going to law about it, though possibly I’d get a verdict, for juries out in our town is mostly made up of farmers, and they help each other as a matter of principle in these cases of stock killed by railroads.”

“And this ’ere off-hoss,” said the counsel, mockingly, “was well bred, wasn’t he? He was rising four years, as he had been several seasons past. And you had been offered $500 for him the day he was killed, but wouldn’t take it because you were going to win all the prizes in the next race with him?  Oh, I’ve heard of that off-horse before.”

“I guess there’s a mistake somewhere,” said the old farmer, with an air of surprise; “my hoss was got by old man Butt’s roan-pacing hoss, Pride of Lemont, out’n a wall-eyed no account mare of my own, and, now that he’s dead, I may say that he was twenty-nine next grass. Trot? Why, that’s the first time that old nag trotted since we plowed up a nest of hornets two-three years ago! Five hundred dollars!  Bless your soul; do you think I’m a fool? It is true I was made an offer for him the last time I was in town, and, for the man looked kinder simple, and you know how it is yourself with hoss trading, I asked the cuss mor’n the animal might have been worth. I asked him forty dollars, but I’d have taken thirty.”

“Forty?” gasped the lawyer; “forty?”

“Yes,” replied the farmer, meekly and apologetically; “it kinder looks a big sum, I know, for an old hoss; but that ’ere off-hoss could pull a mighty good load, considering. Then I was kinder shook up, and the pole of my wagon was busted, and I had to get the harness fixed, and there’s my loss of time, and all that counts. Say fifty dollars, and it’s about square.”

The lawyer whispered softly to himself, “Well, I’ll be hanged!” and filled out a check for fifty dollars.

“Sir,” said he, shaking the old man’s hand, “you are the first honest man I have met in the course of a legal experience of twenty-three years; the first farmer whose dead horse was worth less than a thousand dollars, and wasn’t a trained champion trotter. Here, also, is a free pass for yourself and your male heirs in a direct line for three generations; and if you have a young boy to spare we will teach him telegraphing, and find him steady and lucrative employment.”

The honest old farmer took the check, and departed, smiting his brawny leg with his horny hand in triumph as he did so, with the remark –

“I knew I’d ketch him on the honest tack! Last hoss I had killed I swore was a trotter, and all I got was thirty dollars and interest. By gum, honesty is the best policy!”

– Sam Moore

Old farmer

The Old Farmer. [Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Distaste for Rail Travel

Sam MooreThe coming of the railroads during the early 19th century is credited by most historians with facilitating the Industrial Revolution and with opening up the far reaches of this country. At the time, however, not everyone was enthusiastic about the new mode of travel. The following account was written in his diary by Samuel Breck (1771-1862), a wealthy Philadelphian.

July 22, 1835 – This morning at nine o’clock I took passage in a railroad car from Boston for Providence. Five or six cars were attached to the loco and uglier boxes I do not wish to travel in. The carriages were made to stow away some thirty human beings, who sit cheek by jowl as best they can. Two fellows, not much in the habit of making their toilet, squeezed me into a corner, while the hot sun drew from them a villainous compound of smells made up of salt fish, tar and molasses. By and by twelve bouncing factory girls, who were on a pleasure party to Newport, boarded. “Make room for the ladies!” bawled the superintendent. “Come gentlemen, jump up on top; plenty of room there.” Some of the “gentlemen” were afraid of a low bridge knocking them off, while others had other excuses. For my part, I told him that since I had been in the militia I had lost my gallantry and didn’t move. All twelve finally were, however, settled and made themselves at home, sucking lemons and chattering away.

The rich and poor, the educated and ignorant, the polite and vulgar, all herd together in this modern improvement in travelling, and a democratic familiarity tends to level all social distinctions. Master and servant sleep head to toe, feed at the same table, sit in each other’s laps, as it were, in the cars; and all this for the sake of doing very uncomfortably in two days what could be done delightfully in eight or ten. Instead of this toilsome fashion of hurrying, hurrying, how much better to start on a journey with our own horses, and moving slowly, surely and profitably through the country, enjoying its beauty and stopping at good inns.

Steam, so useful in many respects, interferes with the comfort of travelling, destroys every distinction in society, and overturns the once rational, gentlemanly and safe mode of travel.

And talk of ladies in a railway car! There are none. I never feel like a gentleman there, nor can I see a semblance of gentility in anyone who makes up part of the travelling mob. When I see women who in their drawing rooms I respect and treat with every suitable deference – when I see them elbowing their way through a crowd of dirty emigrants or low-bred homespun fellows in breeches in our country, in order to reach a table spread for a hundred or more, I lose sight of their pretensions to gentility and view them as belonging to the plebian herd. To restore herself to her caste, let a lady move in select company at five miles an hour and take her meals in comfort at a good inn, where she may dine decently.

Shares certificate
This share certificate is for the Boston and Providence Railroad on which Samuel Breck probably rode in the summer of 1835. [Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Sam Breck was undoubtedly a snob, and apparently much taken with his own exalted position in the social hierarchy of the day.

He elaborates on his distaste for rail travel in a later diary entry dated Dec. 31, 1839.

The modern fashion in all things is “to go ahead,” push on, keep moving, and the faster the better – never mind comfort or security or pleasure. Dash away and annihilate space by springing at a single jump, as it were, from town to town.

“How do you mean to travel?” asks someone. “By railroad to be sure, which is the only way now and if one could stop when one wanted, and weren’t locked up in a box with fifty or sixty tobacco chewers; and ashes from the engine did not burn holes in one’s clothes; and the springs and hinges didn’t make such a racket; and the smell of the smoke, of the oil and of the chimney did not poison one; and if one could see the country, and were not in danger of being blown sky high or knocked off the rails it would be the perfect way of travelling.”  After all, the old-fashioned way of five or six miles an hour, with one’s own horses and carriage, with liberty to dine decently at in a good inn and be master of one’s movements, with the delight of seeing the country and getting along rationally, is the mode to which I cling, and which will be adopted again by future generations.

Ah, if Mr. Breck could only have foreseen the present century, when several hundred people are crammed into a narrow aluminum cylinder and fed a handful of peanuts, while they travel more than 500mph while flying 35,000 feet above the earth’s surface, all so they can breakfast in New York City and dine in San Francisco that evening.

“What’s this here world coming to?”

– Sam Moore

The Turkeys' Holidays

Sam MooreWhere do you get your turkey for your family’s big Thanksgiving or Christmas feast? “Why,” you reply, “From the super-market, of course.” And you’re right – as of Sept. 28, 2018, some 240 million turkeys had been raised during the year to feed the American obsession with having a large turkey, perfectly roasted to a beautiful golden brown, resplendent on a platter in the center of each holiday dinner table.

Today, Turkeys are raised in long, low buildings that are ventilated in the summer and heated in the winter. The ration fed the birds is carefully calculated and measured to assure maximum weight gain and everything is kept as sanitary as possible. It usually takes from 19 to 21 weeks to bring the birds from chicks to market weight, at which time they are trucked to a processing plant where they are turned into the attractive packages you find in the meat cases at your favorite grocery store.

But, go back 150 years or so – say the Christmas of 1865 – and what do we see?

The War Between the States had ended just seven or eight months ago at Appomattox, Virginia, when the commander of the Confederate forces, General Robert E. Lee, surrendered to the Union Army Commander, General U.S. Grant. The five long years of that terrible conflict, America’s bloodiest war ever, had cost this country 620,000 dead, wounded and missing.

However, and this is pure speculation on my part, despite the empty chairs at many a holiday table, or the empty sleeves and pant legs that could be seen everywhere, Americans were undoubtedly happy peace had returned at last and were ready to celebrate that Christmas of 1865. Especially in the northern states, where there had been few battles and little devastation, although I’d imagine that even in the defeated South, with their long traditions of festive Christmas celebrations, folks did the best they could.

Turkey shoppers
Turkey shoppers at a market in 1865.

No statistics exist telling us how many turkeys were raised in 1865 or eaten for holiday dinners, but the two woodcuts accompanying this story tell us that the tasty birds were in demand even back then. The pictures appeared in the January 1866 issue of the American Agriculturist, a monthly magazine published in New York City beginning in 1842. There is no explanation with the illustrations except for the caption, “The Turkeys’ Holidays.”

One of the two pictures shows well-dressed city dwellers crowding into a market to choose and purchase their turkey from rows of naked birds hanging by their feet from strings of garland. There are some live birds in a crate that appear to be geese instead of turkeys, as some folks preferred goose for Christmas dinner.

The other illustration is the more interesting of the two and shows how turkey farming was carried on in those far-off days. The turkeys, which are unprotected by any kind of building, and apparently are left to feed on whatever they can find in the woods, have flown into trees to roost on this moonlit night. Several men have climbed a ladder and crawled out onto the tree limbs to knock down the birds. Other boys and men chase down the turkeys and carry them to a shed in the background.

The shed is being tended by a man and a woman, who would have wrung the neck of each bird before dunking it in a large tub of boiling water to scald the feathers. The carcass was then plucked and hung up by the legs over a tub to bleed out before being hauled off to the market. A method of harvesting turkeys that was a little more haphazard than that of today.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all Farm Collector readers!

– Sam Moore

Man chasing turkey
Catching and processing turkeys, circa 1865. Both illustrations are from the January 1866 issue of American Agriculturist magazine in the author’s collection.

Stories of a Gaar-Scott Salesman

Sam MooreIn a 1951 letter to Iron Men Album magazine, Mr. E.C. Foreman of Tacoma, Ohio, recounted some stories of his many years as a salesman for Gaar-Scott Co. of Richmond, Indiana, builders of steam traction engines and threshing machines.

Mr. Foreman wrote [in part]: “My mind still reverts to the grand old days when running machinery powered by the old steamers and the selling [that] machinery for many years. Many of the instances come to my memory as though yesterday. Many of these sales were just luck, sudden and remarkable. A few I will relate.

“Some years ago when I traveled by rail I boarded a train and a gentleman shared his seat. Some way I took him to be a thresherman and soon found out he was, and from West Virginia, and on his way to Columbus, Ohio, to look for a thresher. On arrival at Columbus I asked him to look over our line which he did and bought a rig.

“Another time on a train I had a catalog and a young fellow spied it and asked for it to send to his father who was a thresherman. This resulted later in the sale of two machines, one to his father and one to an uncle. Both machines were shipped on the same car.

“Once a postal card came to the office wanting a catalog at once. The office considered this a 'hot prospect' and sent me at once. It was 50 miles away and when I reached the town depot I inquired of the station agent the way to the man’s farm. He said, '1 mile out, but if you are a machine agent I can save you a trip because it was just a 10-year-old boy writing for catalogs and three other agents had already gone out.’ To make sure I asked a man loading lumber nearby who gave me the same information, but he stated that his boss was in the market for a new engine.

“When I reached the mill I saw immediately that all the old engine needed was new rings and the valve set. The owner insisted the engine was no good and never had been and he would buy a new 16hp and said he would throw the old engine in if we paid the freight and delivered the new one to the mill.

“Upon delivery of the new one, we pulled the old one out to a nearby barn, put in new rings and set the valve and the engine run like new. We expected to load it at another station some 8 miles away. While moving the engine on the road a man saw us and asked us if we would help him out grinding feed as his engine was entirely gone. I consented to help him out and he was so taken with the engine that he bought it for cash and later he bought a new thresher.

1884 Gaar-Scott engine

An 1884 Gaar-Scott 10hp engine that was owned by William G. Roberts of Somerset, Virginia, when I snapped this photo at the National Threshers Reunion at Wauseon, Ohio, in 2009.

“Another time I was driving an open car when a storm came up and a farmer yelled at me to drive into his wagon shed. I had some catalogs on the seat and he said, ‘Let me have a catalog, we’re going to buy a thresher and have sent for catalogs from a couple of firms.’ His son then said, ‘Father, that is the same make of machine that did our threshing last season and it did a fine job, no cut straw, chaff or dirt and green straw stack as a year previous.’ The farmer said, ‘Come to the house and get your dinner and we’ll consult the wife.’ The wife said, ‘We’ve thought of an auto but it wouldn’t help buy a thresher, but a thresher might help buy an auto later.’ That order was quick work.

“Years ago I was held up in a town by a late train. The station agent found I was peddling threshing machinery and said, "Mike, a fellow up the road, was here sending a telegram for repairs for a very old make of engine and a reply came just a few minutes ago, ‘no repairs available.’ I walked up to see Mike and some two weeks later a rebuilt traction engine found a new home for cash on delivery at railroad station.

“Once I heard of a sawmill operator through a school boy whom I gave a ride to his school. I walked down to his mill through the mud and he said, ‘Apparently mud doesn't bother you.’ I said, ‘No, it doesn’t and I hear you’re interested in a thresher.’ He said he was and that a very dignified machine agent drove out a few days ago in a shiny livery rig and wanted him to come out to the road as he did not want to wade through the mud down to his mill. He told the fellow to wait an hour and he would see him at the mill men's shack. The agent waited there but was so afraid of getting his clothes soiled from the mud and greasy clothes of the mill men that the mill owner told him he wasn’t interested in his line.

The mill owner said, ‘I see you don’t carry your vest and coat pockets full of pearl pens and pencils as the fellow who saw me the other day.’ I replied, ‘One pencil is enough if you’re ready to buy.’ He told me to leave him a catalog and see him Saturday evening at home which I did and the result was a new thresher sold.

Author’s note: In 1946 a Methodist minister and steam engine enthusiast named Elmer Ritzman from central Pennsylvania began publishing a quarterly magazine called the Farm Album. The Farm Album became the bimonthly Iron Men Album in 1950, a name that reflected Rev. Ritzman’s desire tell of old-time farm machinery, culture, and the “Iron Men” who ran that machinery and worked those farms.

Early History of Fordson Tractors

Sam MooreOne hundred and one years ago, on Oct. 8, 1917, the first of 739,977 Fordson tractors that were to be built there over the next 10 years rolled off the assembly line at the Henry Ford and Son company plant on Brady Street in Dearborn, Michigan. Due to Great Britain’s critical need for tractors to increase food production to ease the threat of starvation caused by the German U-boat blockade during the First World War, the first several thousand of these were sent to the British Ministry of Munitions (MOM) for distribution to farmers. Most of these were without the cast-in Fordson logo on the radiator top tank and were known in England as “MOM” tractors.

After domestic sales began in June of 1918, American farmers, hungry for a lightweight, inexpensive tractor, flocked to Ford dealers to buy Fordsons, with 34,167 being made during the rest of 1918.

Some Fordson owners cursed their new purchases, but many others were quite satisfied with their tractors – one wag said the machines “could do everything except milk a cow, climb a tree, or make love to the hired girl.” A Mississippi farmer wrote to Henry Ford in 1927 and said the Fordson “defeated all competition in that region and would do anything any sensible man or fool wanted done.”

A few Fordson owners even took pen in hand to write a few lines of poetry praising the little Fordson. One of these gems was:
The Fordson on the farm arose before the dawn at four.
It drove the cows and washed the clothes and finished every chore.
Then forth it went into the fields just at the break of day
It reaped and threshed the golden yield and hauled it all away.

Another:
I’ve worked mules and horses on the farm, and yoke of oxen too;
But a Fordson tractor beats them all by forcing farm work through.
It seldom balks, or kicks or squeals and never succumbs to heat.
I tell you now my farmer friend the Fordson’s hard to beat.

And one more:
Come here old mule, I’ve news for you! Here’s a Fordson
It’s come to make our lives anew. Here’s a Fordson
It’s come to change our work to play; it’s come to turn our night to day,
Oh yes old mule it’s come to stay for it’s a Fordson.

Bad poetry, no doubt, but it seems to have illustrated the genuine affection many farmers felt toward their Fordson tractors.

Fordson Farming cover
The cover of a 1921 Fordson booklet in the author’s collection.

Reynold M. Wik tells us in his 1972 book, Henry Ford and Grass Roots America, that “in 1910 there were only 1,000 tractors, 50,000 autos, and no trucks among the farm families in the United States; in 1920 there were 246,000 tractors, 2,146,000 automobiles, and 139,000 trucks.” Henry Ford had a big hand in this increase, with his mass-produced, and as a result, cheaper to make and sell cars, trucks and tractors.

By 1928 however, increased competition, especially from IH with their versatile Farmall line, plus the demands of designing and manufacturing an entirely new car, the famous Model A Ford, had caused Ford to withdraw from the U.S. tractor scene. The basic Fordson design that was introduced in 1917, although with some improvements, continued to be cranked out in quantity at British Ford Motor Company plants in Cork, Ireland, and Dagenham, England, until after World War II when the much more modern Fordson Model E27 was introduced, and even it featured the same engine and transmission as the old models.

In spite of its early success, Fordson tractors get little respect from today’s antique tractor collectors.

– Sam Moore







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