Lest we forget, steam made all the difference in taking
agriculture out of the old days into a modern world in which saving
of labor enabled farmers to plant and harvest far more acreage than
they ever could have before.
‘Marvels of Agriculture’ is a chapter in a book titled
Marvels of the New West, which was copyrighted in 1887, nearly a
hundred years ago. It was written by William M. Thayer and
published by the Henry Bill Publishing Co., Norwich,
The book deals with other ‘marvels’ as well, but
we’re centering on the one about farming. We like the
illustrations, some of which accompany this article.
Thayer’s prose put emphasis on the great difference between
farming in the New West and the Old East. He said Easterners could
just not comprehend the vast size of farms in the West, and told a
series of good yarns to prove his point.
He quoted a Dakota man talking to a group, who said:
‘I’ve seen a man on one of our big farms start out in the
spring, and plough a straight furrow until fall, then he turned
around and harvested back.’
A listener asked, ‘Carry his grub with him?’ and the
narrator replied, ‘No, sir. They follow him up with a steam
hotel and have relays of men to change plows for him. We have some
big farms up there, gentlemen. A friend of mine owned a farm on
which he had to give a mortgage, and I pledge you my word the
mortgage was due on one end before they could get it on record at
the other. You see it was laid off in counties.’
A Dakota man told a similar tale. ‘Up there we send young
married couples to milk the cows, and their children bring home the
Going on with his New West hyperbole, Thayer told of a stalk of
corn 13 feet high, carrying 13 good ears; a Nevada pear tree, with
a trunk one inch in diameter, bearing 40 pounds of fruit, and a
turnip weighing 21 pounds.
Anyway, Thayer noted that steam ‘reinforces the battalions
of workers on many bonanza farms, largely multiplying the amount of
The book includes a picture of a steam thresher. The men at work
are being observed by a young mother in her Sunday best long gown,
and carrying a parasol, with her daughter beside her.
The author added that actuality outdid the tall tales of years
gone by that in truth wheat which was cut in the morning was served
in the form of biscuits that night.
Thayer’s book, which is not easy to find since it is long
out of print, is a fascinating guide to the wonders of the ‘New
West.’ There is much more in it than mention of steam as a
valuable source of power, but this is as far as we can go at this
time. We have chosen a few illustrations to give you an idea of
what’s in the book.