Monday, October 21, 2013

Great Grandpa on the Great Plains, continued

While we're all waiting for something original to be posted, here is another installment from the reminiscences of my great grandfather.  In this excerpt he writes about when he was 15 and working on a farm in Ticonic, Iowa (the year was 1889.)

We were usually up at four in the morning in crop time, harvesting haying or corn husking. Other times we luxuriated in bed until five. The hired man took care of the horses while the boss fed the stock and milked. Breakfast was at Five thirty after fifty or sixty hogs had been fed, several cows milked, horses curried off and harnessed, cultivators greased and ready to go.

Six o’clock we started down the corn rows, birds hopping along behind gathering up the early worms the cultivator shovels turned up. Even then the level rays of the sun burned in the damp air and by nine or ten it roasted.

A scant hour out at noon and we dragged up and down the corn rows until the boss unhitched, usually about six thirty if he happened to be at the house end of the field. This made about twenty miles a day or better, driving the team, handling the cultivator shovels, two on each handle. After that the horses and the stock were cared for and wood cut and split against the next day and bed at eight o’clock. Bed was usually in an upstairs room so hot you could fry eggs on the floor anytime before midnight. That is what made the corn grow – hot nights.

A typical menu for a typical day on an Iowa tenant farm was pancakes, fried eggs and coffee for breakfast. Sometimes it was baking powder biscuit and ham for change; no butter or ham gravy on the biscuits. Dinner might be greens with a ham bone, boiled potatoes, hot biscuit with sorghum molasses, vegetables in season and coffee. Other days it might be salt pork, milk gravy, potatoes, bread and sorghum. There was usually a big pitcher of milk for all three meals. The pay was $20 a month for an extra good man who did the chores on Sunday. The chores usuallu left him with five or six hours on the Sabbath all to himself.

If you can figure out any time for recreation in corn plowing, go ahead. I never could. We worked until it was “laid by” then quit, caught our bronco out of the pasture, broke him all over again, hitched him to our cowboy cart from Sears Roebuck – ten-seventy-five and the freight – and didn’t stay there or anywhere else; we just went.

Sometimes it was a camp meeting over at Holly Springs; often fishing cat-fish in the Little Sioux or bull-head in the bayous. There was a bounty on coyotes and we dug for them in the bluffs; not with much idea of getting them but just for the hell of it and to be doing something.

We drove to one dumpy little western town after another, walked aimlessly up and down its broad sidewalks, meeting other farm yokels doing the same thing. We strolled into the stuffy stores and looked at things we would like to buy but did not.

Most of them had a showcase full of ready made neckties. They were an assortment sold by a Sioux City wholesaler, each lot just like the lot you saw in the last store you were in.

Suits of clothes hung behind a curtain to one side, very few priced over ten dollars. When I was eighteen I got a prince albert suit at $15.00 and a broad brimmed hat. A Windsor tie with polka dots set it off in great shape. I was a sight for gods and men, cutting a swath six feet wide and a foot deep. This prince albert coat was especially effective when riding on a cowboy cart. There was no back to the seat and the tails of the coat hung down behind, flowing out almost straight when the bronc was just hitting the high places.

The doggy thing was to perch your hat on the back of your head, pull on the lines, celluloid cuffs clean below shirt sleeves, buttons rattling and let the bronc sail through town as fast as he could. If it was dusty, so much the better; more people would notice you. We tried our best to make people think we were regular devils on wheels. The net result was to use up considerable axle grease and no one remembered afterward whether we had passed or not.

 - from an unpublished manuscript by Charles Hoyt

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