Remembering the Challenges of Plowing in the 1940's

Delbert Trew recalls plowing in his youth without expensive equipment or modern farming technology.

| June 2018

  • Adjusting plow points on a tractor-drawn planter on a large farm near Rails, Texas, in 1940.
    Photo courtesy Library of Congress

I hear farmers tell of turning plows, moldboard plows, disc harrows, cultivators and all sorts of farm equipment. Although I was born and raised on a Panhandle farm, I know little of these implements. The reason for my ignorance is this: All we had to farm with in my youth was Krause one-ways, Jefferoy chisels and a pair of John Deere grain drills hitched together.

Although the only crops we raised were wheat and milo, we certainly raised our share of those grains as my father farmed six sections of dryland using six tractors, six plows and six chisels. We planted it all with two grain drills.

He stayed put during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Said he was too broke to leave. It wasn’t easy working on the WPA, helping build Highway 83 between Perryton and Canadian. At times, he drove a school bus, worked for the county and he played dance music every Saturday night.

It seemed each time a neighbor gave up because of hard times, somehow Dad was offered the land and usually ended up with more equipment. When the drought finally ended and the rains came, he was ready and able to take advantage.



All worked well until World War II took most of the workforce to war. Dad called on long-lost relatives, cruised the roads looking for hitchhikers, watched for prisoners to be released from jail and offered higher-than-usual wages in an effort to keep enough tractor drivers on the job. Finally he gave up and began hiring young high school boys with no farm experience. Somehow the farming got done but the problems nearly drove him crazy.

The problems of keeping one old worn-out tractor and plow running during the war, when parts and tires were rationed, was multiplied six times, and then multiplied again when the boys began work. We started at daylight, stopped to refuel at noon, ate in the field and worked until dark – 36 hours a week. There were no sunshades, air conditioners, radios or seat cushions. We had a gallon jug of water and sheer, mind-boggling boredom going around section fields.

By mid-afternoon, young minds began to wander and speeds were adjusted so that tractors came closer in front or behind. Each tractor had a supply of dirt clods and the wars began. If you became sleepy, it was legal to stop for a minute to jog around your tractor. That opened the door to chase baby rabbits and move baby birds into plowed ground.

All kinds of critters and reptiles began showing up in toolboxes, grease was smeared on iron steering wheels and grass burrs were dropped on gunnysack seat pads, all amidst flying dirt clods. Dad finally had to place Uncle CB in the field full time to keep the tractors running and the pranks at bay.

At about age 12 or so, I asked Dad if I could plow at night. I was tired of the sun and believed the cool of night would be better. It was the longest spell of time I can ever remember. At about 2 a.m., my feeble tractor headlights (made from old school bus lights and a 6-volt generator running off the tractor’s power pulley) showed something up ahead in the plow furrow. As the object got closer, I slowed down and stopped. It was a one-way plow sitting at ease. It was a mystery, until I looked behind to find my own plow missing. FC


Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; email: delrutrew72@gmail.com.


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