Lost Farm Occupations

Several farm-related occupations, such as rope splicer and bovine midwife, have disappeared in the past few decades.


| January 2016



blacksmith

Blacksmith at work.

Photo courtesy the Library of Congress

Long ago, someone gave me a book on lost occupations. Most were of the “candlestick maker” variety: long gone by my time. During the time I lived in a city, I saw the iceman, breadman and milkman disappear from the scene, and while on the farm I saw a lot of rural jobs go by the wayside as well. I remember several interesting farm-related occupations from my boyhood years ago.

The rope splicer

They say he mastered his skill while in the Danish navy. When farmers put up their loose hay, his craft could be vital. With several hundred feet of expensive rope in their hay conveyance system, farmers could not simply tie loose ends together if a rope broke: Knots would not pass through a pulley. With the hay cut, raked and laying in the field, farmers called in the rope splicer. In a few minutes his deft fingers spliced broken ends. Only a lighter color revealed the spot where the repair had been made. I do not know what the rope splicer did the rest of the year: perhaps something else he learned in the Danish navy!

The thistle commissioner

I do not know if this job was a county, state or combined job. In any case, this man was on the lookout for Canada thistles. He would warn farmers if they had a bad infestation. Failure to take action could result in a citation, fine or court appearance.

His occupation gave new meaning to Jean-François Millet’s painting, Man With a Hoe. In the days before herbicides, a hoe was about the only tool available to combat those obstinate weeds. Only one time did I see my Uncle Amos use a tractor to plow a section of pasture and, of course, he also plowed up the grazing grass in the process.

The commissioner was an enterprising fellow. He also sold and serviced Pyrene fire extinguishers. I wonder which was more of a threat: Canada thistles or the carbon tetrachloride he handled when charging those extinguishers.

The whitewasher

The whitewasher usually came about twice a year to whitewash the milking section of the barn. He arrived completely covered with whitewash from head to toe. He had a pickup truck with an old hit-and-miss engine, the type that would be a collector’s item today. The engine drove the pump for the sprayer. He also had more than 100 feet of hose to use in spraying whitewash.