Collection of Farm Memories

Old yarns and tall tales add color to traditional farm practices

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courtesy of Robert N. Pripps

Preserving the past isn’t all serial numbers and engine specifications. Sometimes, as Bob Pripps proves in this collection of stories, it’s a matter of remembering the small moments of life on the farm. Who among us doesn’t cherish a wisp of a story shared by a relative long since deceased? Enjoy these random memories of good-natured fun, pure ingenuity and lessons learned the hard way!

Which end is up?

My grandfather had a Farmall Cub that he was using to rake hay. At noon, he unhitched the rake and drove the Cub in for lunch. Some of my cousins and I picked up the Cub, turned it around and placed it back in its tracks facing in the opposite direction. You should have seen the look of confusion on Granddad’s face when he came out after lunch! –Duane Carden, deceased

blue ford-ferguson tractor

Putting frozen manure to work

It amazes me that it took so long for the car-hauler trailer, an item now routinely used to transport small-to-medium sized tractors, to be invented. Back in the day, most farms and businesses had what was known as a loading dock. This was a raised platform with a ramp. A dealer, for example, would deliver a tractor to a farm and simply back his flatbed truck up to the dock and drive it off. In fact, that’s how he got the tractor onto the truck, by using his own loading dock.

Our farm, however, did not have a loading dock, nor even a sand bank that our dealer could back up to when he brought our brand new 1940 Ford-Ferguson 9N out to the farm. Totally frustrated, the dealer was about to return to town, telling us that the tractor would have to be driven the 10 miles in the freezing Minnesota cold. That prompted my dad to remember a frozen manure pile by the end of our barn. The dealer backed his truck tight up to the pile and Dad got on and drove the 9N down the pile, none the worse for the experience. –Palmer Fossum, deceased

Fourteen bundle wagons

I remember, a few years back, going to the Osage (Minnesota) Steam Fair. There I saw a 40hp Reeves steamer pulling a 14-bottom Case plow. It pulled it through sod at what I would call a fast trot. They also had a 48-inch Aultman-Taylor thresher with a 14-foot feeder. I don’t remember what they had to drive it, but I remember that it took 14 bundle wagons to keep it supplied. –Robert Gallagher, Onalaska, Wisconsin

white fordson tractor with red wheels

Fordson moved a kitchen

One of the first things I remember from childhood was the 1919 Fordson Dad had purchased from the dealer in Winona as it came up our driveway. My mother took me down to the machine shed to see it up close. I reached out and touched the hot exhaust manifold, burning my hand. The following year, dad remodeled our house. He cut the kitchen part off from the rest of the house and pulled it away with the Fordson. Then Dad used the old kitchen for a shop. –Robert Gallagher, Onalaska, Wisconsin

black and white illustration of two different tires

“He’s got it in high already!”

Dad had bought a new Allis-Chalmers WC on steel wheels (he was not one to trust new-fangled things like rubber tires). A couple years later, Dad purchased 40 acres from a neighbor. Since this field was about a mile by road from our farm, Dad realized that having rubber tires for the WC would be necessary to avoid tearing up the road.

Our dealer said that he had everything necessary to work the conversion in our shop, so dad told him to come on out. He then assigned me, at that time a 16-year-old, to help the dealer’s mechanic do the job.

When the job was done, I boarded the tractor, put the transmission in the previously unused top gear and took off, going past our front porch, where Mom and Dad happened to be standing. Mom’s comment to Dad was, “Look at that, Al, he’s got it in high already!” –Walter Hoffmeister, Mercer, Wisconsin

vintage advertisement for a cream separator

Big on Brown Swiss

A big item of conversation among dairymen back in the day was the quantity of milk produced by the different breeds of dairy cows versus the amount of butter fat (or richness) in the milk. One of the breeds noted for both quantity and quality was the Brown Swiss variety.

A neighboring farmer in our community of dairy farms in southern Minnesota was a proud advocate for his pure-bred Brown Swiss herd. One day, driving past his place, I noticed a lone Holstein cow standing in a pen by his barn. Unable to squelch my curiosity, I pulled in and confronted him, saying, “You’re not going to convert to Holsteins, are you?”

“No,” he replied. “I just use the Holstein milk to rinse out the cream separator!” –R.D. Carden, deceased

black and white photo of a titan tractor

Titan failed at the belt

Sometime in the mid-1930s, I bought a 1916 McCormick Titan from a farmer who claimed it was a good tractor, but that it wouldn’t steer in his sandy soil. You could cramp the front wheels, but it would just plow straight ahead. I needed a belt power engine and didn’t think the steering would be a problem for me. What I found, though, was that the 2-cylinder Titan with its pistons going in unison (rather than alternating like in a John Deere) would set up harmonic vibration that would get the whole tractor bouncing up and down. Then, it would turn sideways, and the belt would come off. –Robert Gallagher, Onalaska, Wisconsin

green john deere tractor

Unimpressed by two cylinders

As a teenager in the early 1930s, I had begun to tackle maintenance work around our farm. My dad liked his horses and was reluctantly getting into mechanized farming at the time. Our first tractor was a McCormick 10-20 that we used for plowing and belt work, but having some acreage in corn, Dad had picked up a non-running row crop John Deere Model A to cultivate the corn. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that there was nothing seriously wrong with the John Deere. After two new spark plugs and some timing adjustments, I had it running quite nicely, I thought.

So, with a great deal of pride, I drove the Deere from the shop around the barn and past the front door of the house. I had it in third gear so it would lug as I went by Mom and Dad standing on the steps. Mom, not at all used to the sound of a two-cylinder John Deere, said to Dad, “I thought our son was a better mechanic than that!” –Walter Hoffmeister, Mercer, Wisconsin

two vintage fordson tractors

Sounds of spring

When I was a kid in the fourth grade, a farmer was plowing with his Fordson in the field next to our one-room schoolhouse. It was a fine spring day and our teacher stood by the open window at the side of the classroom. Whenever the Fordson with its howling gears approached our end of the field, she closed the window so we could hear the lesson. As the Fordson retreated, she’d open it again. –Garald Robbins, deceased

Ice-cutting bee on the old mill pond

In the winter, farmers would get together and have an ice-cutting bee on the old mill pond. They cut the ice into blocks about 18-by-18 inches using special ice saws (like an ordinary 6-foot crosscut saw but with a T-handle). The ice was usually about 14 inches thick. Once the blocks were floating free, the men would pull them up onto a horse-drawn bobsled. A share of ice would then be delivered to each participant’s home icehouse. There, the blocks would be packed in sawdust acquired from the local sawmill. The sawdust would keep the block from melting, for the most part, all of the next summer. –Eddie Warfield, deceased

illustration of people collecting ice for an icehouse

Overloading, priming and a good horse to the rescue

Farmers in the 1920s and ’30s, being used to “horse power,” had problems learning to operate the new mechanical “horsepower.” It was a similar problem in the 1980s and ’90s, learning to use the new electronic devices. In the early days, tractors were often called “engines” or “gas engines,” as opposed to “steam engines.” The following examples are taken from a 1918 publication entitled Tractor Operating Book and Directory.

Overloading: A new purchaser of a 25hp engine sent for an expert, complaining that he could not get his engine up to speed when plowing. Finally, the expert persuaded him that he was overloading the tractor. Accordingly, two plows were lifted and the remaining six did excellent work. We do not know if the salesman (who sold this farmer the tractor) recommended eight plows, but it is certain that he should not have done so because the soil was tough and heavy.

Priming: A tractor used at an operator’s school had been running on kerosene. The carburetor cup was not drained when the motor was stopped. A little while later, the students desired to restart the motor and drew a squirt can of fuel from the carburetor cup. Some time was spent trying to get a start. Timing and ignition were tested but to no purpose: It still refused to go. After sweat was seen on several foreheads, an instructor showed the lads the cause of inaction. Some gasoline was obtained, and the motor started on the first priming.

Starting with horse-power: A 4-cylinder “engine” was very hard to start, especially in cold weather. So, the farmer wrapped a rope around the belt pulley covering the face of the pulley. Then a good horse was hitched to the rope and led away. Several turns of the pulley were sufficient to get the motor started. FC

After 36 years in the aircraft industry, Bob Pripps returned to his first love and began writing about tractors. He has authored some 30 books on the subject and several magazine articles. Pripps has a maple syrup farm near Park Falls, Wisconsin. In harvesting the maple sap, he relies on a Ford Jubilee and a Massey Ferguson 85.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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