No Frivolities on the Farm

Depression-era hardships stripped luxuries out of the budget

| January 2009

  • trew_patent
    A patent illustration for a tractor umbrella.
  • trew_umbrella
    The tractor umbrella was a long overdue improvement.
    Photo courtesy RyanDianna,

  • trew_patent
  • trew_umbrella

In the late 1930s, drought, hard times and little money finally ended and our lot on the family farm began to change.

The long-sought rains fell and the weeds came. We worked in the fields from “can see to can’t see,” stopping only at dark because our tractors had no headlights.

My father and uncle C.B. Trew remedied this by fastening headlights from an abandoned truck to a tractor. They mounted a car generator adjacent to the power belt-pulley, added a v-belt and presto: We had enough light that Dad could see to plant wheat at night.

My first significant innovation was making a tractor seat cushion from gunnysacks. I folded five sacks carefully, tied the corners with string and that old hot metal tractor seat became bearable. Mother wrapped our 1-gallon glass water jugs in gunnysacks. If they were soaked, the sacks kept the contents cool most of the afternoon.

Power steering was still 20 years in the future. Our old tractors required both hands and feet of this young driver to cut a decent corner. The problem was helped when Uncle C.B. made and installed steering wheel knobs on the tractors. With a little practice, a beautiful corner could be turned with one hand by spinning the knob at just the right instant.

My grandfather considered the “jerk-rope plow lift” the greatest invention of his time. He was a lightweight and had problems pulling the plow handles down to lift the plows from the soil. John Deere invented a mechanical lift, actuated by jerking a rope, and the turning wheels of the plow lifted themselves out of the ground. Grandpa considered it a miracle.


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