Recalling Work for Hire in Western Iowa

Hard work and sweet rewards


| March 2009


In 1944, when I was old enough to drive a tractor with a reasonable degree of safety, I could on rare occasions get a job on another farm.

One such employment was exciting for several reasons beyond the bit of money that might come at the end.

LaMonte Schmaedecke, one of our grocery store keepers in Underwood on the western border of Iowa, had a farm that he rented to others. Those others may have been slow getting the corn laid by (cultivated for the last time), so my brother Dudley and I went out there to do it for them.

LaMonte let me use his Farmall F-12 tractor with a 2-row mounted cultivator. The F-12 was narrow in front of the driver’s seat and then widened out with what seemed to me a massive engine that made the front end heavy. It felt clumsy on turns. The entire cultivator rig was raised and lowered by one long hand lever on the right side reachable from the tractor seat.

I loved to go flying down the rows, throwing dirt from the shovels on curving trajectories that smashed against corn stalks. The corn was big enough to withstand such an onslaught, tall enough to brush its tops under the 3-foot high mounting bars of the cultivator.

Coming to the end of two rows, I tried to anticipate speed and timing and heave on the lift lever, flinging the cultivator out of the ground while switching hands back to the steering wheel, spinning it to see the lumbering tractor’s front end swing around and aim at two more rows. I rammed the lift lever home, black soil flying, dust boils blooming, and away I went down the rows, never touching the full-out gas lever. Dudley came sailing by in another dust cloud, going the other way. We were covering some ground and having fun.



There was a vacant house on the farm. We ate our lunch there, sandwiches made at home and sent along in brown paper sacks. The other excitement of cultivating at LaMonte’s came on the days when someone drove out from the store, four or five miles away, and delivered not one each or three each but a whole box of store-bought pastries – all for Dudley and me. My esteem for LaMonte rose sharply. We were fed well at home but after a brisk morning of turning corn rows into racetracks, it was very satisfying to pick and choose from a box full of jelly-filled, frosting-coated sweets.

I might have considered working for free if I’d known LaMonte was going to be that generous. FC














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