A Day on the Farm
By Lloyd M. Staley (1895-1983)
This article is being written to have a record of what a typical day on a western farm was like in the early 1900's. It might possibly be of interest to some of my descendants.
The day began (to the boys of the family, at least) by my father calling from the bottom of the stairs, "Boys!" That meant it was time to get up and get dressed. It was unthinkable to try to get a few more winks because we knew what was expected of us and we got up and started our appointed tasks for the day.
There were three of us brothers; Glen, who was almost four years older than I, myself, and my younger brother, Clarence. I was, at this time, maybe fourteen. We each had our special jobs to do... early morning "chores."
My brother Glen was expected to get the horses ready for the day. As they were put out to pasture for the night, he had to go out to the pasture and drive them into a lot, then place them in their proper stalls in the barn. When they were all in the barn, they were fed their morning ration of grain. While they were eating, he would curry them, especially if it had been hot the day before and they still had dried sweat on their coats of hair. We usually had six horses; three teams of two each. This was when we were working three teams on the field at corn cultivating time. The next job was to harness all six horses so they would be ready to go to the field right after breakfast.
Milking was my responsibility
When the cows were all milked, the fresh milk would be taken to the cream separator shed where it was run through the separator. The cream would come out one spout of the machine and skim milk out the other spout. The cream was cooled then put into a larger can to be taken to town on shopping day and sold at the cream station. This was our cash sale to get money to buy the family groceries.
This cream separator was a hand-driven machine. A big crank on one side was turned by me to furnish the power to separate the cream from the milk by centrifugal force. I assure you I had my morning setting up exercises after fifteen or twenty minutes of that.
Breakfast at last
After this hearty breakfast, we would be ready to take the teams and hitch them to the farm implement of the day to begin the day in the field. At corn growing time, this consisted in going up and down the corn rows turning the soil with this corn cultivator. Fortunately for me, they were riding tools operated from a seat by using both hands and feet to manipulate the gang shovels that turned the soil. The earlier ones were operated by walking behind the machine and guiding the shovels by handles. I never did much of that as father was one of the first to get the riding variety.
We continued to go up and down the rows of corn until almost noontime. Then we would unhitch our teams and take them to water and into the barn for their noon feed.
While we were in the field, Mother would be preparing another meal. This was not a lunch, but another big meal for a hungry family. I will not give you a menu, but I assure you it was an all-morning task to get it on the table. No fast foods in those days.
We would return to the field about one o'clock and would work until six o'clock p.m. By that time, it was quitting time for the day's field work. Then it would be the same thing over again of putting the horses in the barn, unharnessing them, and feeding the evening grain ration. After we had eaten supper (not dinner at night in those times), the horses were turned out to pasture to graze and rest through the night.
I might mention that the skim milk from the cream separator was fed to the pigs and calves immediately after separating and did they like this fresh warm milk.
Training a new calf to drink out of a bucket was an experience you must experience to appreciate. To start, you would put your fingers in his mouth which he would at once begin to suck on. Then put your hand into the bucket of warm milk where, if you were lucky, he would continue to suck on your fingers and, hopefully, get some milk into his stomach. If he got too anxious and bumped the bucket with his head, you were likely to get a shower of fresh milk. Usually after a few days of this training, the calf would get the idea and drink his milk without sucking on your fingers in the process.
Probably around eight-thirty or about dark, we would get all the chores done and return to the house for a few minutes of relaxation before retiring for the night. Hopefully after a night's rest we were able to get up the next morning and start all over again.
I might add that all this "choring" in the evening was done after supper so Mother could do her evening work while we were doing ours outside.
This is about it for a day's work on a Kansas farm when I was a boy. I assure you we never lacked for something to do. Father saw to that.
Ice Harvest on the Farm
By Lloyd M. Staley (1895-1983)
In the days before there was any electricity on the farm or, for that matter, no electric refrigerators anywhere, it was necessary to have ice to preserve food in hot weather. To get the ice, we had to depend on nature to freeze it for us.
The first thing you needed was a place to preserve the ice during the hot summer -- an ice storage house. The one my father built was possibly twenty feet square, set on a rock foundation with no floor but some logs laid down on the ground. This made drainage better for the ice that melted, for it would melt some through the summer.
The walls of the ice house were two-by-six studding and were of native lumber produced at a local sawmill. The studding was covered on the outside by two layers of siding with building paper between the layers. The inside was boxed by one-by-twelve boards. The space between the siding and the boxing boards was packed with sawdust for insulation. When filling the house with ice, a space of about eight or ten inches was left between the wall and the ice for further insulation.
Storing the ice
In the first part of this account, I wrote about the storage place for the ice after we had it from the creek ready for the ice house. Now I will try to tell about the actual cutting of the ice and getting it to the storage place.
The creek where we cut the ice was about a mile and a half from our home. It was on the farm of a neighbor and easily accessible to the main road. As far as I know, no charge was made by this neighbor for harvesting the ice from his creek. The attitude was that the water was free and the ice was there if you needed it.
It took three men on the creek cutting and loading, then four teams and wagons plus the driver to haul the ice to the storage house. Two men stayed at the ice house storing and packing the ice. So you can see it took quite a crew to do the job. This meant the women had a part, too, as dinner must be prepared for the crew at noontime. Only the one meal was furnished the crew.
At the creek, the ice was marked off into two-and-one-half foot squares using a frame we had made for the purpose. The ice was cut by men using big hand saws. Then these blocks of ice were dragged or floated to where they could be lifted into the wagon by sheer manpower. When the wagon was loaded, the blocks were secured from sliding about too much, then the trip to the storage house was begun. Because of the distance (a mile and a half), several wagons were needed to keep a continual flow of ice to the packers in the ice house.
A cooperative effort
The best ice for harvesting was eight inches thick. Above or below that thickness made the ice hard to handle. There were winters, however, we had to take it when we could get it -- any thickness.
We must have stopped using the ice house about 1917 as that year my father bought a Model T Ford. With this new transportation, it was easier to get to town. An ice plant had been built in Wellsville so it was more convenient and probably less expensive to buy our ice ready-made. I know that the old ice house was made into a wheat storage bin for the big wheat crop of 1919, just after World War I, when every available piece of ground was planted with wheat to help feed the allies on the war front.
So ended the era of home storage of ice. It filled a need of the time and was certainly an acceptable way of relieving some of the pressure of the hot summer.
Apple Butter Time on the Farm
By Lloyd M. Staley (1895-1983)
Making apple butter in my boyhood days is a memory that I will cherish all my lifetime.
First of all, I would like to relate the source of the apples and the orchard from which they came. My Grandfather Lamb set out the orchard of about two acres containing possibly one hundred trees. The time I am recording, there were not that many as some had died. Grandfather liked sweet apples and he had planted several varieties that ripened in early summer. These were not the kind from which we made apple butter.
First off, we had to have fresh apple cider in which to cook the apples. Father would load a wagon box with loose apples and start early for Ottawa, Kansas, ten miles away to have the apples crushed and the juice pressed out and collected in barrels. As I remember, he would return home with two barrels of fifty gallons each of fresh apple cider. It was delicious to drink fresh from the barrel. The problem was to keep from drinking too much as it was a very effective laxative.
After we had the cider, the next job was to get the apples ready. This took the efforts of the whole family all the next day. I remember my grandmother often came to help. We would peel and core a huge tub full of fresh, ripe apples.
The following day early in the morning father would start a fire under a huge copper kettle outside in a convenient place. The kettle would be filled to the proper amount of fresh cider. Then, as the cider became hot, the apples would be poured into the kettle and cooked at the proper temperature for several hours. The cooking butter had to be stirred continually to keep the mixture from sticking to the kettle. Whoever was on the stirring detail would get an old chair and keep the hoe-like stirring tool moving continuously. Probably towards the evening, the experienced cooks would decide that the butter was done to proper consistency. Now would come ladling of the delicious-smelling mixture into stone crockware.
I do not know just what spices were mixed with apples to cause such a delicious odor. There was cinnamon and sugar, I am sure, but there possibly were other ingredients, too.
The fresh apple butter was finally all ladled from the kettle into the stone crocks and left to cool. After cooling down enough to be able to move them, they were removed to the cellar and covered by square slabs of boards. There they would remain until we cared to take some out for table use.
There was nothing like this homemade apple butter on fresh, hot biscuits for any meal of the day.
So ended the task of making apple butter on the good old days down on the farm.
Note from Becky Staley:
If you're like me, suddenly you're real hungry for apple butter! This recipe was in the collection of my Grandmother Corkill. Not quite the same charm as described by Grandpa, but tasty, nonetheless.
By Lloyd M. Staley (1895-1983)
One of the exciting events of life on the farm was butchering day. We tried to pick a cold day in late winter so the meat would cool thoroughly and quickly.
The day began by building a fire under a big kettle of water early in the morning. This kettle held thirty gallons and the water was used to scald the hogs. A platform was made about two feet high with a barrel tilted against one end to receive the hot water into which the pig was thoroughly dunked.
The dirty work
When this cleaning task was done, the Achilles tendons on the two hind legs were exposed and a gambol stick was inserted in each back leg. The hog was then lifted to a supporting scaffold where it hung head down. Then the real butchering began. The body of the hog was split from the back to the head on the underside so as to remove all entrails, lungs and heart. The liver and heart were carefully removed and placed in a convenient vessel. They were considered delicacies and would likely be on the table for our evening meal.
The hog would hang on this rack overnight to cool thoroughly. Then the next day it would be cut up into hams, shoulders, and bacon slabs. The feet were removed and cleaned, the toes cut off. The remaining shank was saved and could be made into pickled pig's feet or eaten without pickling. All fat was cut away from the rest of the carcass and put aside for rendering into lard. Lard, in those days, was our only source of shortening and was used in all cooking.
In the process of butchering, there were always scraps of meat and these were ground into sausage. I can remember well turning the old sausage grinder which was attached to a board and placed between two chairs. I would turn the grinder with one hand and feed the meat pieces into the grinder with the other. This sausage was seasoned with salt and sage and could be kept some time if in a cool place. If there was too much to keep well, it would be fried down and placed in a large stone jar and covered with hot lard. Then it was placed in a cool place and used as needed through the summer.
I must not forget the tender loin cuts we would get from the sides of the backbone taken from the carcass. This is one of the most delicious cuts of meat we had at butchering time and was usually eaten soon.
Stocking the larder
My father usually butchered four or five hogs at one time and I well remember coming home from school and seeing them all hanging on the cooling scaffold waiting to be cut up the next day. Needless to say, the family ate well for some time on fresh pork. In those days we did not know that too much fresh pork was not healthful.
I might add that, in the smoking process, hickory chips were considered the best for the purpose but were not always available. Then we used whatever wood chips were around the wood pile. Hardwood made the best smoke as it did not burn rapidly and, by carefully tending the fire, a good smoke could be made.
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