Looking Back

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.

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

Frontier Life and the Good Old Days

Sam MooreSeveral months ago, I retold several stories about oxen and heel flies that had been written by John A. Hart in a 1909 book titled History of Pioneer Days in Texas and Oklahoma. Hart was born in Madison County, Kentucky, in 1850 and his mother died when he was two years old leaving John and a two-week old brother. The boys went to live with grandparents in Indiana, and the whole family moved to Texas about 1855.

Mr. Hart gives us an interesting glimpse of frontier life in those long ago days.

“When traveling to church some folks would walk from one to three miles, while others rode horseback and a great many went in ox wagons. The men were generally armed with guns or pistols, a shot pouch and powder horn. In the pouch would be a bar of lead, bullet molds and a rag for patching, and if caps were used, a box of caps, or if a flint lock, several flints. While at church the guns were stacked outside, but the revolvers were never taken off.

“Everyone wore homemade clothing, even shoes and hats, and I have seen some buckskin leather breeches and coats. Some had caps of deer skin with the hair side out. No one ever thought of charging a stranger or traveler for lodging – it was an insult to offer to pay for a night's lodging; stock hunters could travel all over Texas and never be out one cent.

“A trip to the mill was sometimes done with an ox cart or a yoke of oxen to a four-wheeled wagon and corn piled into the cart or wagon for four or five families. A wedding was generally public with everybody invited and everybody went and a grand charivari followed.

“It was the custom to have a grand time at Christmas and if people were to celebrate Christmas now as they did then they would be considered regular outlaws and all be arrested. [I wish Mr. Hart had described those wild festivities.]

“Rope hobbles, bridle reins, clothes lines, and bed cords were nearly all made out of raw hide, although some hair rope was made by cutting off the bush of cattle's tails and twisting the strands into a rope. People were considered quality when they could have a pair of hair bridle reins. Sometimes a hair rope was stretched around the bed when they camped out to keep snakes and tarantulas away as they will not cross a hair rope.

Family outside of a log cabin

Home sweet home on the frontier. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

“People always wanted to know when it was going to rain or when the sun or moon would rise and set, and they would pay ten cents for an almanac. I remember when matches sold for ten cents for a box which contained twenty five matches. Only travelers or freighters could afford to use them and matches were not used only in extreme cases. Many times I have walked a mile to borrow fire. Everybody kept a piece of punk and a flint rock to strike fire and by placing the flint on the punk and striking it with a pocket knife, the spark produced would light the punk and you’d have fire Sometimes we would take raw cotton, place it on a skillet lid and sprinkle [gun] powder over it and then take a case knife and strike the lid [to make a spark] knock fire out of the lid and catch the powder and we had fire.

“Three or four families would own a sorghum mill with the rollers made of live oak and the cogs were all wood. The owners of the mill helped each other in making sorghum. We didn’t know sorghum by that name then, it was just plain molasses. A single horse or steer turned the mill and it usually took a driver to keep a steer moving. Each person would make from one to three barrels of molasses. When molasses making was over the youngsters had a candy pulling and everyone would take part.

“Wheat was cut with a cradle by hand and a good cradler could cut about two acres a day. A good binder could keep up with a cradler but generally an acre and a half was a day's work. In case of sickness or distress every person showed a willing hand; if any one got behind with his wheat cutting or anything else, all turned out to help.

“Squirrel and cat hides were dressed by the boys and girls for shoe strings and leather raw hide was used to cover saddles, while sheep skins were used for saddle blankets. Sumac leaves and black jack bark were used in tanning leather. The leaves were gathered while green and the bark was peeled off while the sap was up. These could then be stored away and used any time of the year. The sumac leaves were used for shoe uppers leather and the bark for sole leather. When the hide was ready to tan, the leaves or bark was boiled and the hide to be tanned was placed in a trough. The boiling pulp was placed between the folds of the hide and the liquor poured over it repeatedly for three or four weeks.

“No one thought of going in debt and they paid cash or its equivalent or did without. If anyone would have offered to take a mortgage, the people would not have known what it meant. Borrowing and loaning things, however, was very common; everybody's oxen and wagon or anything else was to loan if anyone wanted to borrow it. Whenever anyone looked for their stock they looked for their neighbor's stock at the same time.”

The good old days?

– Sam Moore

The Wheat Tractor

Sam MooreThe history of the Hession Tiller & Tractor Corporation is murky at best. One source claims that George Pierce of Pierce-Arrow automobile fame, established the firm in 1917 in Buffalo, New York, but that seems highly unlikely as Pierce died in 1910. Then there was a Daniel F. Hession from Springfield, Massachusetts, who received a patent for a motorized rotary tiller in 1918 that was assigned to the Hession Tiller & Tractor Corporation of Detroit, Michigan, although a story in the July 1919 issue of Tractor World magazine says the firm was in Buffalo. No matter, the company made a tractor they called the Hession Farm and Road Tractor, later renamed the Wheat Tractor with the company name changed accordingly, and the Wheat tractor is featured in the following story from that 1919 magazine.

“Prior to the beginning of the National Tractor Farming Demonstration at Wichita, Kan., July 15, the exhibit of the Hession Tiller and Tractor Co., Buffalo, N.Y., was augmented by the arrival the Wheat tractor, with road wheels and rubber tires, that left New York City, May 29, en route for Los Angeles. The tractor has been driven up to that time approximately 2,000 miles, hauling a covered trailer that serves as a shelter for the crew of three men.

“The road wheels were changed for field wheels at Wichita and the machine was worked at plowing the four days of the demonstration hauling a three-bottom gang plow. The machine attracted a good deal of interest for it has been driven hard for a considerable part of the distance and after leaving Philadelphia the tractor climbed the Allegheny Mountains and from Wheeling, W.Va., went on to Columbus, O. over fine brick roads. The maximum was 100 miles a day until Terre Haute was reached and then progress was slower, for the roads were deep with mud from heavy rain.

“St. Louis was reached June 30, several days ahead of schedule, and then a stop was made at Columbia, Mo., to demonstrate to the students taking the summer course at the agricultural department of the University of Missouri. The tractor was next driven to Kansas City, where a worn clutch collar was adjusted and the tractor would have reached Wichita with three days to spare had not it skidded into a small steel bridge spanning Hickory Creek, 8-1/2 miles east of Ottawa, Kan. The main girder of the bridge was buckled and repairs were necessary to the front axle and radius rod of the tractor and a front spring of the trailer. With this delay the tractor arrived at 10 o’clock the morning of July 14, on time to the minute.”

A super rare Wheat tractor sales brochure I’ve seen tells us, “From the days when Joseph became the power behind the Egyptian throne because he had advanced the wheat market, wheat has been the accepted standard of value in the world’s markets. And as wheat is the farm crop by which all other crops are judged, the Wheat tractor is the farm tractor by which all other tractors are judged.”

Two or three Wheat tractors have survived and one can be seen if you Google the following, “Wheat Tractor,” then click “Images,” and scroll down to about the middle of the eighth row and you’ll see a dark red tractor with green wheels and gold lettering – that’s the Wheat.

That must have been quite a trip in 1919 – 2,000 miles on a farm tractor. Most tractors of the day had only one or two speeds with a high gear of about 2-1/2 mph, although the Fordson would run 8 mph in third gear. The Wheat, however, being a “Farm and Road” tractor could be equipped with hard rubber tires and a road speed of 10 mph. Even at that breathtaking speed, 2,000 miles would be slow going as attested by the fact that it took 47 days to do it.

It also doesn't say much for the state of the roads west of Indiana that they were so muddy the tractor was slowed considerably.

I wonder if they ever made it to Los Angeles.

– Sam Moore

The Wheat tractor

The Wheat tractor equipped for road use and the trailer “Pullman” for the crew on their “coast-to-coast” trip. (From the July 1919 issue of Tractor World magazine)

Butter and the King's Breakfast

Sam MooreI recently ran across an old book of children’s poetry by A.A. Milne, titled When We Were Very Young, that was published in 1924. In it was a poem that reminded me of my love of butter – that’s real butter, I mean – smeared on anything that even vaguely resembles bread—toast, buns, dinner rolls, and pancakes of course, and yes, even cookies and chocolate cake.

The poem is titled “The King’s Breakfast,” and I’ll paraphrase it here because I believe it’s still under copyright.

It starts out one evening when the King asked the Queen if he could have some butter “for the Royal slice of bread” at tomorrow’s breakfast. Well the Queen asked the Dairymaid who decided she’d better “go and tell the cow now before she goes to bed.”

Well the Dairymaid “went and told the Alderney: ‘Don't forget the butter for the Royal slice of bread.’” But the Alderney was sleepy and suggested that the King be told “That many people nowadays like marmalade instead." The Dairymaid went back to the Queen, curtsied and apologized and said, "Marmalade is tasty, if it's very thickly spread."

The Queen went to her husband the King and told him that “Many people think that marmalade is nicer. Would you like to try a little marmalade instead?” This upset the King and he went to bed muttering, “Nobody could call me a fussy man; I only want a little bit of butter for my bread!”

So back to the Dairymaid went the Queen, and back to the shed went that worthy young lady and laid the King’s plight in front of the cow, who said, “There, there! I didn't really mean it; here's milk for his porringer, and butter for his bread.”

Next morning the delighted Queen carried the butter to His Majesty who jumped happily out of bed, kissed the Queen and said, “Nobody, my darling, could call me a fussy man – But I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!”

It’s a cute poem and it made me curious about the Alderney cow that was mentioned in it, a breed with which I was unfamiliar.

The Alderney, Jersey and Guernsey breeds of cattle each originated on the Channel Island of the same name. These islands are located in the English Channel just off the coast of the northwestern French Region of Normandy and were once part of the lands of William the Conqueror who ruled England after 1066.

Although administered independently, the islands are dependent upon the United Kingdom for defense and foreign affairs. The sparse population of each island has long been very much isolated, not only from the French mainland, but from England and even each other. The main occupations of the islanders were agriculture and fishing, and a separate cattle breed developed on each island, although they were similar in that all were small and fawn-colored and that, even on the island’s scanty pasturage, produced a large quantity of rich milk and yellow cream that was high in butterfat.

The Alderney cow referred to in Milne’s poem was one of those breeds and was from the small [three square mile] island of Alderney, although since most of the cattle from both Jersey and Guernsey were imported into England through the port of Alderney, most all island cattle were known there as Alderneys. When the German Army conquered France during World War II, they occupied and fortified Alderney, as well as the other islands. Most of the approximately 1,500 inhabitants were evacuated to England or to Guernsey, while the bulk of the Alderney cattle were taken to Guernsey as well. Here the cattle from Alderney became bred with the local Guernseys and lost their purebred identity while the ones left behind were butchered by the German troops for beef. The Alderney, which was said to have been "the best butter cow in the world" then ceased to exist as a separate breed.

– Sam Moore

Painting of a milk maid

An 1878 painting of a milk maid by Winslow Homer. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Housekeeping Advice for Virginia Housewives

Sam MooreMary Randolph was born Aug. 9, 1762, into the influential Randolph family of Virginia and was kin to Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee, as well as a host of other famous people. She married a first cousin, David Meade Randolph, and was therefore a Randolph from birth until her death Jan. 23, 1828.

In 1824 Mary wrote one of the earliest regional cookbooks to be published in this country called The Virginia Housewife, which went through many printings prior to the War Between the States. I thought Mary’s introduction to the volume was interesting.

Mary begins by recounting the difficulties she had when first married as there were no books such as hers to provide guidance, and apparently her own mother had not trained her well. She points out that, “The government of a family, bears a Lilliputian resemblance to the government of a nation. The contents of the Treasury must be known, and great care taken to keep the expenditures from being more than the receipts. A regular system must be introduced into each department, which may be modified until matured, and should then pass into an inviolable law. The grand secret of management lies in three simple rules: ‘Let everything be done at a proper time, keep everything in its proper place, and put everything to its proper use.’” She emphasizes that “if the mistress will every morning examine minutely the different departments of her household, she must detect errors in their infant state, when they can be corrected with ease.” Also, “a late breakfast deranges the whole business of the day, and throws a portion of it on the next, which opens the door for confusion to enter.”

Mary goes on, “Management is an art that may be acquired by every woman of good sense and tolerable memory. If, unfortunately, she has been bred in a family where domestic business is the work of chance, she will have many difficulties to encounter; but a determined resolution to obtain this valuable knowledge, will enable her to surmount all obstacles. She must begin the day with an early breakfast, requiring each person to be in readiness to take their seats when the muffins, buckwheat cakes, etc., are placed on the table. This looks social and comfortable. When the family breakfast by detachments, the table remains a tedious time; the servants are kept from their morning's meal, and a complete derangement takes place in the whole business of the day. No work can be done till breakfast is finished. The Virginia ladies, who are proverbially good managers, employ themselves, while their servants are eating, in washing the cups, glasses, etc., arranging the cruets, the mustard, salt-sellers, pickle vases, and all the apparatus for the dinner table. This occupies but a short time, and the lady has the satisfaction of knowing that they are in much better order than they would be if left to the servants. It also relieves her from the trouble of seeing the dinner table prepared, which should be done every day with the same scrupulous regard to exact neatness and method, as if a grand company was expected. When the servant is required to do this daily, he soon gets into the habit of doing it well; and his mistress having made arrangements for him in the morning, there is no fear of bustle and confusion in running after things that may be called for during the hour of dinner. When the kitchen breakfast is over, and the cook has put all things in their proper places, the mistress should go in to give her orders. Let all the articles intended for the dinner, pass in review before her: have the butter, sugar, flour, meal, lard, given out in proper quantities; the catsup, spice, wine, whatever may be wanted for each dish, measured to the cook. The mistress must tax her own memory with all this: we have no right to expect slaves or hired servants to be more attentive to our interest than we ourselves are: they will never recollect these little articles until they are going to use them; the mistress must then be called out, and thus have the horrible drudgery of keeping house all day, when one hour devoted to it in the morning, would release her from trouble until the next day. There is economy as well as comfort in a regular mode of doing business. When the mistress gives out everything, there is no waste; but if temptation be thrown in the way of subordinates, not many will have power to resist it; besides, it is an immoral act to place them in a situation which we pray to be exempt from ourselves.”

Mary concludes her introduction with, “The prosperity and happiness of a family depend greatly on the order and regularity established in it. The husband, who can ask a friend to dinner in full confidence of finding his wife unruffled by the petty vexations attendant on the neglect of household duties – who can usher his guest into the dining-room assured of seeing that methodical nicety which is the essence of true elegance – will feel pride and exultation in the possession of a companion, who gives to his home charms that gratify every wish of his soul, and render the haunts of dissipation hateful to him. The sons bred in such a family will be moral men, of steady habits; and the daughters, if the mother shall have performed the duties of a parent in the superintendence of their education, as faithfully as she has done those of a wife, will each be a treasure to her husband; and being formed on the model of an exemplary mother, will use the same means for securing the happiness of her own family, which she has seen successfully practiced under the paternal roof.”

So there it is, ladies, the best advice for the mistress of a Virginia plantation in those heady days prior to that terrible war – a war that wiped out much of the gracious living Mary Randolph wrote about.

– Sam Moore

Pre-Civil War kitchen

A pre-Civil War kitchen in Virginia. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Life Upon the Railway, by a Conductor

Sam MooreThe Western Division of our road runs through a very mountainous part of Virginia, and the stations are few and far between. About three miles from one of these stations, the road runs through a deep gorge of the Blue Ridge, and near the center is a small valley stood a small one-and-a-half-story log cabin. The few acres that surrounded it were well cultivated as a garden, and upon the fruits thereof lived a widow and her three children, by the name of Graff. They were, indeed, untutored in the cold charities of an outside world—I doubt much if they ever saw the sun shine beyond their own native hills. In the summer time the children brought berries to the nearest station to sell, and with the money they bought a few of the necessities of the outside refinement.

The oldest of these children I should judge to be about twelve years, and the youngest about seven. They were all girls, and looked nice and clean, and their healthful appearance and natural delicacy gave them a ready welcome. They appeared as if they had been brought up to fear God and love their humble home and mother. I had often stopped my train and let them get off at their home, having found them at the station some three miles from home, after disposing of their berries.

I had children at home, and I knew their little feet would be tired in walking three miles, and therefore felt that it would be the same with these fatherless little ones. They seemed so pleased to ride, and thanked me with such hearty thanks, after letting them off near home. They frequently offered me nice, tempting baskets of fruit for my kindness; yet I never accepted any without paying their full value.

Now, if you remember, the winter of ’54 was very cold in that part of the State, and the snow was nearly three feet deep on the mountains.

On the night of the 26th of December, of that year, it turned around warm, and the rain fell in torrents. A terrible storm swept the mountain tops, and almost filled the valleys with water. That night my train was winding its way at its usual speed around the hills and through the valleys, and as the road-bed was all solid rock, I had no fear of the banks giving out. The night was intensely dark, and the winds moaned piteously through the deep gorges of the mountains.

It was near midnight when a sharp whistle from the engine brought me to my feet. I knew there was danger and sprang to the brakes at once, but the brakesmen were all at their posts and soon brought the train to a stop. I seized my lantern and found my way forward as soon as possible, when what a sight met my gaze! A bright fire of pine logs illuminated the track for some distance, and not over forty rods ahead of our train a horrible gulf had opened to receive us!

Train wreck

Although this drawing is of a European train, it illustrates what might have happened in Virginia if the above train hadn’t been warned of trouble ahead. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The snow, together with the rain, had torn the whole side of the mountain out, and eternity itself seemed spread out before us. The widow Graff and her children had found it out, and had brought light brush from their home below, and built a large fire to warn us of our danger. They had been there more than two hours watching beside that beacon of safety. As I went up where that old lady stood drenched through by the rain and sleet, she grasped my arm and cried: “Thank God we stopped you in time! Oh, I prayed to heaven that we might stop the train, and, my God, I thank thee!”

The children were crying for joy. I don’t very often pray, but I did then and there. I kneeled down by the side of that good old woman, and offered up thanks to an All Wise Being for our safe deliverance from a most terrible death, and called down blessings without number upon that good old woman and her children. Nearby stood the engineer, fireman, and brakesmen, the tears streaming down their bronzed cheeks.

I immediately got Mrs. Graff and the children into the cars out of the storm and cold. I related the story and begged the men passengers to go forward and see for themselves. They needed no further urging, and a great many of the ladies went also regardless of the storm. They soon returned and their pale faces gave full evidence of the frightful death we had escaped. The passengers vied with each other in their thanks and heartfelt gratitude towards Mrs. Graff and her children, and before the widow left the train she was presented with a purse of four hundred and sixty dollars, the voluntary offering of a whole train of grateful passengers. She refused the proffered gift for some time, and said she had only done her duty, and the knowledge of having done so was all the reward she asked. However, she finally accepted the money and said it should go to educate her children.

In gratitude, the railway company built her a new house, gave her and her children a life pass over the road, and ordered all trains to stop and let her get off at home when she wished, but the employees needed no such orders, they appreciated such kindness—more so than the directors themselves.

The old lady frequently visits my home and she is at all times a welcome visitor at my fireside.  Two of the children are attending school at the same place.

Some ordinary folks can be heroes without even knowing it!

– Sam Moore

Working with Steers

Sam MooreI recently found an old book titled History of Pioneer Days in Texas and Oklahoma, by John A. Hart. Mr. Hart was born in Kentucky in 1850 but his mother died when he was 2 and he and a younger brother went to Indiana to his grandmother's. His grandparents moved to Texas in about 1855.

Hart tells the following stories (which I’ve edited somewhat) about working with steers, or oxen, that I found quite interesting.

Work steers were like all other animals, they had different temperaments and different dispositions and some steers if treated kindly were easy to get along with while others didn’t appreciate kind treatment

A young man told the experience he had hauling water on a lizard with a single steer. A lizard as we called it was a forked tree cut down and the fork of the tree was the sled. Boards were fastened across the two forks on which to set the barrel, and four standards to hold the barrel put in place. Put a half yoke on a steer and hitch it to the lizard and you were ready to haul water. The young man hitched the steer to the lizard and with the assistance of his sister drove half a mile for water. It was a warm day and by the time the barrel was filled they were both very tired. They drove about half way home when a heel fly struck the steer on the heels. A steer is very sensitive about a heel fly when it tackles a steer's heels so it was good-bye steer, lizard, water barrel, water and all. No use to try to stop a steer when a heel fly gets after him. The water was all gone, the barrel at one place, the lizard at another, and the old steer down in the creek bottom in a thicket looking very innocent.

My grandmother was a great hand for making soap. One day she had filled the ash hopper with ashes and poured water on them until the lye had begun to drip, but had run out of water. So Grandma and one of the girls hitched a steer to the lizard and were off for another barrel of water. Grandma carried the bucket and the girl drove the steer. Grandmother was a large fat old lady, and it being a warm day made the trip hard on her. The steer brought the water back to the yard gate all right and Grandmother went to open the gate so the girl could drive through. About the time the gate was opened, a heel fly, just to be friendly with the steer, visited his heels. Away went the steer, tore down the gate, ran against a stump, upset the barrel of water, run against the ash hopper and tore it down as flat as a pancake. The steer backed up in the shade of the smoke house and looked as though he had made a great victory.

Oxen pulling lumber
Two oxen hitched to a load of lumber. At least he won’t have to worry about heel flies in the winter. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In plowing corn with a steer you might work him for a week all right, but before you could take time to think he would run away and tear down the width of two or three rows of corn. It seemed the steer had all the fun and the driver all the trouble. Nothing ever pleases a boy more than to see a steer and a woman get in a mixup together. Some people may think a steer has no sense but this is a mistake. If a steer was properly broken to work and kindly treated, you scarcely ever had any trouble. But you always had to be careful in heel fly time because a cow or steer so poor they could hardly walk would run from a heel fly when nothing else could hardly get them to move.

One time Judge Embree concluded to go to Weatherford to the mill. He hitched a yoke of oxen to the wagon and put on two or three sacks of corn to be ground. Mrs. Embree went with him to market with some two dozen eggs and four chickens to barter. They got about half way to town when the heel flies got after the oxen and they left the road on double quick time. The eggs, chickens, corn, Mrs. Embree and the Judge, and the cart and steers were all scattered. The Judge got the cart and oxen and gathered up the corn, but Mrs. Embree lost the eggs and one chicken in the runaway.

When I was a small boy I drove from four to six yoke of oxen to a freight wagon. In those days ox teams were all the go, but now that the oxen’s days of labor are over I cannot help but have a kind feeling toward them. At the word of command I have seen a yoke of oxen at the wheel hold back and stall five yoke of oxen.

I wasn’t familiar with the term “heel flies,” but learned that it’s another name for warble flies, large, hairy flies that look a little like bees. After mating, the females locate cattle on which to lay their eggs, which are attached to the hairs of the cow’s legs. The larvae burrow into the skin, causing much irritation before burrowing through the animal’s connective tissue, finally reaching the cow’s back and forming a warble, or swelling, on the skin. The grubs grow inside these warbles until emerging through the skin, becoming adults, and beginning the cycle again.

Cattle will often panic when attacked by heel flies and run wildly to get away from them.

– Sam Moore


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