Horses to Tractors: Remembering the Final Days of Horse Farming

Larry Scheckel reminisces about his family's adaptation to mechanical farm equipment, and their final days of traditional horse farming.

| March 2015

My earliest memories include Mom telling my brother, Phillip, and me to go out to the field and call Dad in for noon dinner. Dad would unhitch the team from the corn planter, reach down, pick us up and position us on the horses’ back. We would grasp the brass hames that set atop the horses’ collar and ride back to the farmhouse. What a great thrill to be riding so high!

Dad’s horses were named Prince, Dolly and Sam. Phillip rode Prince bareback with just a bridle “for steering.” Phillip would get Prince galloping at full speed over frozen ground as hard as concrete. I preferred the more docile Dolly.

The times were changing in the 1940s and ’50s, when I was one of nine kids on the 238-acre family farm. Dad’s first tractor was an Allis-Chalmers Model U on steel wheels, with chisel-like lugs on the back wheels to provide good traction.

I was 4 years old. In my mind’s eye, I can see dust, dirt and gravel being kicked up by the steel cleats, black smoke streaming from the exhaust pipe. When the tractor chugged along between fields, it would leave telltale indentations on Oak Grove Ridge road. Dad used the Model U to pull a McCormick-Deering 2-bottom plow and a 9-1/2-foot Moline tandem disc. Most all other farming was done with horses.

Two horses or three horses

A two-horse team could handle many farming operations. The sections of the Lindsay drag – used before sowing oats and planting corn – was pulled with two horses, as was the John Deere 999 corn planter, the McCormick-Deering No. 9 5-foot hay mower, the McCormick-Deering side rake, the New Idea loader trailing the hay wagon and the McCormick-Deering corn binder. Wagons hauling manure, oats, corn, hay and wood could be towed with a two-horse team.

Some jobs required a team of three horses. The Van Brunt 5-foot grain drill was big and heavy. Two horses could do the job if given frequent rests. Remember, we’re not talking about flat lands where county road maps show a waffle-like grid. We farmed in hill country in Crawford County. A southwest Wisconsin road map resembles a plate of spaghetti.