In Sharp Focus

Four Seasons on the Farm

| August 2005

  • FourSeasons.jpg

  • WinterontheFarm.jpg
    Above: Winter on the farm didn’t mean less work, just different work. In a typical harvest, blocks of ice were cut, transported (hauled in sleds or by rail, or floated down river channels) and stacked to the rafters of icehouses. In rural communities, the harvest was both a cooperative effort and a social event. Here, a group of men work with tongs, saws and an ice plow.
  • SkiSaunemin.jpg
    Right: Ski Saunemin! You can almost see the gears engage in the minds of two teenage boys surveying new snow, a motorcycle and a stray pair of skis. (And how did a pair of skis turn up on an Illinois farm in the 1920s?) Add a length of rope and a freshly plowed road, and the result was a morning well spent.
  • MoreBangforYourBuck.jpg
    Above: More bang for your buck: Pulling out brush with a steamer is one thing. But to create land suitable for farming, the stumps and the roots had to go, and that’s when explosives came into play. Shown here: the up-front work, augering in blasting powder and electric caps.
  • SnowRemoval.jpg
    Below: Snow removal in most rural communities is a comparatively modern phenomenon. But 75 years ago, near Saunemin, Ill., plows were on the job.
  • Winterof1931.jpg
    Above: Winter of 1931, Saunemin, Ill.: Two years into the Great Depression this farm town, like others across the nation, buckled down to weather an economic storm like none before. “Between 1930 and 1933 one American farm in every four had been sold for debt or taxes,” noted Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, 1933-40.
  • SpringCleaning.jpg
    Left: Spring cleaning on the farm meant clearing land. Here, a day’s work spent pulling hedge with a pair of steamers resulted in a small mountain of brush.
  • AColossusofthePrairie.jpg
    Above: A colossus of the prairie: Ronald Lovelock’s Avery steamer and rig, which he used in custom applications in and around Saunemin, Ill., in the early 1930s.
  • HaulofCarp.jpg
    Above: For all the work and all the chores, farm life has always afforded time to break away for a bit of fun, as evidenced by this haul of carp. Unlike his fellow anglers, the youth third from left is shoeless, but commands the biggest fish and the broadest smile. Another (second from right) anticipated other opportunities, as evidenced by his Winchester shotgun.
  • TrackedTile_Layer.jpg
    Above: Spring was also the season to lay tile. Here, tile is ready to be installed as this tracked tile-layer passes by.
  • SoberasaJudge.jpg
    Above: Sober as a judge for the camera but with an ornery streak nonetheless, Dorothy (Lovelock) Hendershot tugs at her brother’s ear. Victim Ronald Lovelock takes it like a man, but one senses from the look in his eyes that he has seen it all before.
  • PartoftheCrewWorks.jpg
    Above: While part of the crew works at blowing loose hay into the barn, a pair of engineers tends to the Avery.
  • BundlingShocksofWheat.jpg
    Above: Bundling shocks of wheat. It is easy to imagine that the fellows doing the work had little patience with the one on the other side of the camera.
  • CornHuskingContests.jpg
    Right: In farm country, corn husking contests once offered all the drama and athleticism of today’s Super Bowl. Beginning in the 1920s, the events drew crowds in the thousands for an activity that surely only a couple dozen spectators could get close enough to see. Ronald Lovelock gave a gold medal performance in shooting this photo, capturing both the frenzy surrounding the husker, and the rapt attention paid by onlookers.
  • LawrenceLovelock.jpg
    Above: Lawrence Lovelock, Ronald’s brother, with his first load of the harvest in this photo, which likely dates to 1931. His share from the load was 97 cents.
  • PairofEarlyFarmTrucks.jpg
    Below: A pair of early farm trucks, the forerunner of the 18-wheelers common today. This pair, dating to the late teens or early 1920s, has been customized for farm use. Note the air tires on both, and the “C” cab on the truck at right. Both have been converted with homemade boxes.
  • MidwesternWeather.jpg
    Left: Midwestern weather is nothing if not capricious. In this photo, dated Oct. 4, 1926, autumn rains have swamped the farm. In no danger of floating away, the steamer is nearly an island to itself.

  • FourSeasons.jpg
  • WinterontheFarm.jpg
  • SkiSaunemin.jpg
  • MoreBangforYourBuck.jpg
  • SnowRemoval.jpg
  • Winterof1931.jpg
  • SpringCleaning.jpg
  • AColossusofthePrairie.jpg
  • HaulofCarp.jpg
  • TrackedTile_Layer.jpg
  • SoberasaJudge.jpg
  • PartoftheCrewWorks.jpg
  • BundlingShocksofWheat.jpg
  • CornHuskingContests.jpg
  • LawrenceLovelock.jpg
  • PairofEarlyFarmTrucks.jpg
  • MidwesternWeather.jpg

Growing up on a farm in rural Illinois 75 years ago, Ronald Lovelock was captivated by what we now call technology. Anything mechanical and anything new - like amateur photography - was of interest to him. In this photo essay, a remarkable set of photos taken by Lovelock offers a rare look at Depression-era farm life near his home at Saunemin, Ill., roughly 80 miles southwest of Chicago.

Lovelock worked nearly half a century as a railroad engineer. His photos (taken when he was in his mid- to late-20s) show a clear talent for composition and technique. They capture the essence of farm life in a natural and relaxed, yet informative, manner. Those featured span a period from 1926-31.

A lifelong bachelor, Lovelock delved into a variety of hobbies and interests, most of which remained unknown to others. It is perhaps his photos that paint the clearest picture of Ronald Lovelock. Spend time with them, and you begin to sense a young man's curiosity, his deep interest in the world around him, and his abiding affection for farm life.

winter

spring

summer

autumn