The Farm

My early farm years were during the transition from horse power to the internal combustion engine. As I said my grandfather Swanson never had a tractor, but most of the farms had at least one tractor supplemented by teams of horses. The tractor was mostly for crop production and in some cases would be "drained" and put away for the entire winter when the horses took over. Once winter set it many of the horses would be turned loose to forage on their own. I remember going about 10 miles north one spring to round up the horses and bring home for spring planting. Ken still remembers wandering horses scratching themselves agains't their stucco house in the middle of the night. Another transition was to the rubber tire. Tractors with steel wheels with lugs were converted along with hay and bundle wagons and other steel wheeled implements allowing better transfer on paved and gravel roads. Our last team of horses was Blackie and Babe, and our first tractor (that I remember) was a model L case. Farming practices also changed with the technology. The first dry fertilizer came to the area, which was phosphate in 80 # bags applied with drill box attachments, and the closest thing to sprayers was the spreaders for applying a poisioned grasshopper mash. They were made from old car rear ends with the drive shaft pointing vertical and a fan on the end under an open cut off barrel. When pulled the wheels made the shaft turn and the mash dropped through the bottom of the barrel.

In summer when the men were in the fields I was to help my mother with "chores". Often I would have to go get the cows out of the West pasture (currently Johnson addition) for milking. There were several patches of low bushes there and I swear the cows would hide from me. They were not pastured there until after the hay was cut in the small hay meadows. I do remember one instance when my mother tried to drive the car there and got the Oakland car stuck in a slough and we had to get the men and a team of horses to pull us out.

My first recollection of helping other than "chores" was driving a team of horses on the dump rake. At the time we were farming irrigated meadows in the Souris valley North of the golf course. The hay was cut with horse mower, raked into windrows and the windrows into piles of loose hay. A "bucker" with a rack of long wooden teeth and one horse on each side pulling it was used to gather the piles and deposit them on another set of teeth of the overshot stacker staked at the haystack site. Through a system of pulleys these teeth with the hay load were hoisted by another team of horses and flipped backward over the tower depositing the hay onto a stack where it was arranged by hand with pitchforks. In the fall this hay was transferred home in haywagons and later trucks. It was pitched from these stacks onto "slings" made of rope and wood slats which could be attached to hooks, lifted up and back into the barn and the pull of a trip rope would deposit the hay into the haymow. I was expected to be able to harness my own team though being very small and I had to stand on the manger and swing the harness over the horses heads and onto their backs--why they tolerated this I will never know. Grandfather Chas was in charge of the raking and being from the old country would not tollerate any hay left in the meadow a rule which led to some discussion between us. Also there was pasture land at this location and we would drive the herd through the town of Burlington and over the park bridge twice a year to and from pasture. Bill Kluver lived in Burlington and drove his wagon and team of mules to his farm on the divide over this same route each day.

My father--George ran a custom threshing operation in the harvest and I did help some with that. The threshing machine would be taken to other farms (along with our own) and set up in the field. The wheels were dug in and the machine was to be perfectly level when set. It was run with a long belt from the Case tractor and the bundles were brought in by bundle wagons pulled by teams of horses. Farmers were given credit toward their bill by sending men and teams to help on the other farms. It would get a little wild when someone would bring a "green" team on their first trip up to the noisy, dusty whirrling threshing machine and expect them to stand next to it while the bundles were pitched off. Early on I just watched and leveled the grain box as it filled. Each farmer was expected to feed and house the harvest workers. Often they were housed in the hayloft, but the competition for best food in the area was not to be ignored, and the women would pool the effort between family members and neighbors. The hope was that it wouldn't start to rain and you would be stuck with these boarders--both men and horses.

There is some question when I first drove tractors but it was very difficult to hire men after the beginning of WWII when I was age 10. I first remember pulling the binder with Charlie back on the binder seat. Now we are having discussions about grain missed by the cutter due to my sloppy driving and I could hear him swearing at me over the noise of the binder and tractor with no muffler on it, so he must have been a bit upset. In my defense the tractors did not have power steering and the hand clutches were not easy to pull. I also learned to drive our truck which was a 1928 IH 6 speed special. This had a grain box which could be removed and replaced with a hayrack. Charlie and I hauled grain during harvest and bined it with a wooden paddle elevator run by a stationary engine. There were no hoists and the grain had to be shoveled off the truck or trailer which was my job. Charlie was in charge of the stationary engine which was a battle he didn't always win. These would kick back when cranked,often with painful results and many times it wouldn't start at all. When the engine flooded Charlie would remove the sparkplug and hold a match to the opening which was always exciting and resulted in some new words for my vocabulary. To avoid using an engine for grinding feel we would jack up the IH truck, lock one of the wheels and run a belt around the other tire to the feed mill. Use of the new grain elevators and augers required someone in the bins leveling, and after one dusty session in a boxcar we used for grain storage I awoke in the middle of the night able to breathe only through my vocal cords. I was rushed to the hospital and placed in oxygen. Though I recovered fully my voice was affected to the extent that I am not the famous opera singer I might have been. The "bucker" was transformed also at this time to one pushed in front of a tractor, and was used to deliver bundles to the threshing machine. The bundles arrived in a huge cloud of dust however and I woke from a particularily bad night of coughing to hear that Orrison Fuller who was driving the bucker had died that night from lung congestion. Dust masks were not an option.

Shortage of help also led to our hiring two of the regulars of the town of Burlington for shocking in the fall. Duffy Cowan had lain on the RR tracks after a night of over indulgence and had lost half of one arm and most of the fingers on the other hand, but he still managed to shock. He also earned extra money by polishing cars and if you drove into town when he was short of cash he would rub a finger across your car and shake his head that you had let it go so long without polishing. Our car was way over polished. We also hired Clouse to shock. He was a town fixture for many years. He was handicapped and hard to understand and he lived alone in a "shack" in town. Vance hired him to clean up the town each morning and fed him in the cafe daily. Clouse had a sense of humor and liked to approach you and insist on telling you what would now be called really dumb jokes. He waited on main street in front of the store on Jan 2nd to tell you it was the coldest day of the year. Other helpers on the farm were the Boschert and Lazarus brothers, Jim McCizic (sp?), Orrison Fuller, Art Duhamel and many more.

Technology changed and brought a new fixture to Burlington. Bob Korb and his custom combiners would arrive each year and camp near the RR in the town. He started with some of the first combines and regularily upgraded to the newest models--all Gleaners. The men lived in a trailer and ate their meals in the Burlington restaurant. None of the early combines had cabs so the crew spent the whole day in a cloud of dust and bright sunshine. The trailer may have been made slightly more livable by a shower in our basement which we opened to the crew, who were very appreciative. Korb also hired several local men through the years Bob Schloerer, Bud Vise and even myserlf on one occasion.

The last time we used the threshing machine was to harvest a small field of navy beans which George had planted and which yielded a small truckload of beans for which there was no market. Needless to say we ate lots of beans that winter, and I think we may have been avoided for two reasons as we were anxious to give a large sack of beans to any visitors.

George was not afraid to try different things to keep the farm going. As seen in the pictures there was livestock on the farm from the very beginning. In fact at first there were no fences and he and his brothers would herd the cows during the day and return them to the corral at night. On at least one occasion they spent the day digging out coyote dens as Einar Madsen told me the first time he saw my dad he came down main street in Burlington at a full gallop with a baby coyote under each arm. For many years the cattle were shipped to market in St Paul by RR and it was common for the owner to ride to St Paul in the caboose attached to the train. Both the cattle car and the caboose are now a thing of the past. My mother said the children always looked forward to the gifts Charlie would bring back for them. George also at one time had a milk cow herd and sold whole milk in Minot. Later we separated the milk and delivered the cream to the general strore in Burlington along with eggs and other produce which was traded for groceries. At that time you could trade wheat for bags of flour at the Minot mill. We also raised hogs. My first 4H project under guidance of Harry McCullough who farmed where the Brooks addition is now, was hogs and later steers for show and sale. The trouble with the steers was that after several months of care and grooming you became quite attached to them and you knew that after the last show they were going to slaughter. What was no doubt a good lesson in farm economics was also probably a lesson in insensitivity.

George also did irrigation of potatos and other vegetables which were marketed in Minot at restaurants and stores. At one time the potatos were stored in the cellar under the general store. They were hand picked behind the potato digger put in sacks and slid into the cellar. They were then sorted by size, rebagged in 100 # bags and hand carried up the stairs and loaded for the trip to town. My mother, sister and I also used to pick and deliver sweet corn into Minot There is a picture of myself as a very small boy in a field of irrigated potatos in the field near Speedway. The pumps and pipes of those days were made of heavy steel and were belt driven and difficult to set up, involving a lot of manual labor. Once George was called upon to use his pump to try and drain a coal mine. It seems during prohibition some bootleggers had stored their shipment in a mine which flooded before they could remove it. He set up and pumped for many hours but they never could get back in the mine so presumably the cache is still there--nicely aged.

For many years we would winter the herd in a sheltered area of the woods near the river bank. The hay was stacked in a fenced area with a feeder along one side. Each day someone would drive walk or ride horseback down to this site to feed the cattle roughly 1/2 mile downriver. In winter they were watered by chopping a hole in the ice. I remember riding horseback into the clearing and seeing these humps of snow which would all rise up at your arrival do a violent shake and turn into a cow. They seemed to survive as long as they were out of the wind. The ice caved in around the watering hole one winter drowning several cows. It is possible I was saved one day by my horse "Baldy" when a severe blizzard came up cutting visibility to almost 0. After feeding the herd and chopping the hole in the ice I draped the reins over the saddle horn, covered my face and gave him a kick. Some time later when we stopped it was right in front of the barn door. I wouldn't say we were in trouble but we both were covered with crusted snow and I was very cold. If I had been navigator the results might have been different.

I know--how cold was it?? We did seem to get more snow in those days or maybe we just weren't equipped to handle it. On at least one occasion you had to go through a tunnel of snow to get into the general store, and we watched the RR snowplow back up and ram the big drifts several times to clear a path through the town. I have a picture of cars going under the tips of our skis as Ken and I stood at the edge of one lane cuts past our farm. That may have been the blizzard of '48 when hay was dropped from planes to the livestock and we had to hire a bulldozer to get our herd up out of the woods. OK, I'll quit.

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