If you’re interested in old iron, chances are you’ve given thought to the days when it was actually used. Historical accounts, recorded memoirs and newspapers are particularly good windows onto the past.
When reader Rabern Vawter, Randolph, Kan., shared a copy of Wallaces’ Farmer from December 1913, just such a window slid open. Published in Des Moines since the mid-1890s, Wallaces’ was an early form of ag media. “A weekly journal to promote good farming, clear thinking, right living,” the front-page banner crows.
Founding Publisher Henry Wallace, fresh from a career as a Presbyterian minister, brooked no nonsense. In the lead article (“Inertia of the Farmer”), the editor speculates on what limitless progress could be made in agriculture, if only every farmer in America had the sense to subscribe to Wallaces’ and take the progressive advice contained therein, instead of blindly following his own father’s practices.
The preacher-turned-editor filled space by holding forth on a variety of topics: the merits of crows, the moral responsibility of wealthy farmers, the farmer’s duty to maintain the road alongside his place, control of water power and the nutritive value of corn meal in the human diet.
The ads tell of life in a different time. One of the biggest was for Eastman Kodak Co., the same company that scrambled to avoid bankruptcy in January 2012. On the same page, Worcester Salt Co. advises that salt aids in good eating and happy digestion.
Hog cholera was a worry – but not for farmers who bought Merry War Powdered Lye, “the best insurance against hog cholera, destroyer of worms and best hog conditioner and fattener the world has ever known.” The folks who sold Columbian Hog & Cattle Fattener begged to differ, offering a 90-day free trial.
Ads from a dozen Midwest concerns implored trappers to “Ship us your Hides, Pelts and Furs!” Other ads promoted Witte, Cushman, Ottawa, Royal, Galloway and Gade engines; woven fence; and short-legged livestock of all stripes.
In 30 pages, there was no mention of steam engines or gas tractors. A scant 6 inches was allocated to discussion of 2- and 4-cycle engines. A year later, the Panama Canal would open and war would break out in Europe. Monumental change was coming, but in 1913 – other than simple verbal commands to the team, the occasional clang of an implement striking a stone and the gentle squeak of leather traces – it was quiet on the farm. FC
Leslie McManus, Editor