Working Turn of Century Farm Requires Long Days, Hard Work

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Transcribed by Garth Bulman -

The following is a clipping which was included with my grand-mother, Mrs. Janie (LePage) Parkman's, 1903-1999 memoirs. Date and name of newspaper published in not known. I have no doubt she kept this for us to see, as it describes well a lot of what her life was like living on the farm.

Garth Bulman

Working Turn of Century Farm Requires Long Days, Hard Work

By: Ray Tanton
Spring on the farm is a happy time with the promise of warmer weather, and new growth.
It is a busy time, for then the wagons, the farming equipment, and harness must be made ready for the work is about to begin.
The smoke coming out of the kitchen chimney indicates that the activity in the house has begun. We hear the sound of shaking down the ashes from yesterday's fire in the stove, and the making of a new fire.
The mother of the house will make herself heard with the rattle of dishes as she prepares breakfast. The men folk are out in the barn where the stalls are cleaned and replenished with fresh straw for both the cows and the horses. The horses are fed their hay and oats with the driving horses getting a little flax seed to make their coat glisten.
While the cows are feeding they can be milked with the milk placed in the creamer and set aside letting the cream rise to the top. Later the skim milk was drawn off leaving the cream, the amount of which is shown by the glass window in the side of the creamer. The cream is then put into a crock to await churning.
The churn could be one with a set of paddles turned with a crank, or a dash churn with a central paddle that is dashed up and down, or maybe a barrel churn that turns over and over. After churning, the butter is washed and color added, then stored in the cool root cellar with the creamer, or perhaps in a cool spot at the top of the well.
After the chores are finished breakfast is served, usually with a helping of oatmeal porridge, some home-made bread, a slice of bannock bread, or some freshly cooked biscuit with bacon and eggs added. If toast is needed a slice of bread on the end of a fork is held over the coals of a hot fire browning it nicely. The tea is steeped in a teapot, loose, and poured into a cup through a strainer.
Now the main work for the day begins.
The land must be prepared for planting. It is enriched with natural fertilizer from the barnyard. Usually the plow was a single one sometimes with a wheel fastened to one beam to guide depth, and behind it a knife to cut the sod. The latter were not necessarily original equipment. As time went on the gangplow became common.
I can still recall seeing the plowman walking along holding onto the handles of the plow, one in each hand. Sometimes he would hold a rein in each hand, too, or he would tie the reins together and put them over his shoulder, one going under his arm. It was surprising how he could guide the horse in this manner. Perhaps after a few rounds the horse would not need a guide.
In the early days the grain was planted by hand. The sower would have a basket or sack of grain slung from his shoulder, and from it he would cast the grain far and wide, one handful at a time, spreading it as evenly as possible. This would be harrowed with a spike harrow, covering the grain reasonably well. Drills or long hills would be made with a molding plow for the root crop. The tops would be leveled and the seeds by hand. In later years a seeder would be pushed along planting the seed and covering it in one operation.
The potatoes were first planted in hills but later planted in furrows made with a horse drawn plow. Two furrows were made for each row, but only one was planted, leaving a proper space between the rows. The planter would carry a pail of sets, cut by the ladies in the house, making short steps letting one fall at each step. Then came the weeding which was done by hand, just pulling the weeds a handful at a time. The space between the rows could be weeded with a hoe. Later a horse drawn cultivator was used between the rows with a device attached for hilling the potatoes.
In midsummer the hay would have to be cut. The farmer would have to be an exceptional weather man to pick the proper day for cutting the hay. Perhaps he would follow the sayings of the old-timers: "The evening red and the morning gray sends the traveler on his way." Also " A rainbow at night is a sailor's delight. A rainbow in the morning makes a sailor take warning." "Mackerel skies and mare's tails make a ship lower it's sails" And "A heavy dew indicates a fine day will follow. No dew promises falling weather." These sayings could be still used today.
In the earlier days a sickle could be used to cut the hay, but it was slow. A short curved knife that required the use of one hand. It was replaced later with a scythe, a long knife attached to a long handle requiring the use of both hands.
The mower would cut a swath at each step using a rhythmic pace which was much faster than using the sickle. After drying in the sun the hay would be raked into coils and then hauled to the barn. I can still recall the old wooden hay rakes. A pitchfork would be used to pile the hay high on the wagon, then in the hay loft. It was not an easy task. The scythe was used also to harvest the grain, with the addition of a cradle that would place the straws neatly side by side enabling them to be gathered in bundles or sheaves and tied with two whisps of grain.
You would twist the head of the grain together and wrap it around the sheaf tucking the ends under each other making a neat bundle or sheaf. The sheaves that would be standing up in couples making a long stock, or a round one. When they were dry they would be hauled to the barn and stored until they could be threshed.
The threshing in the early days was done with a flail. The opened sheaves would be scattered over the barn floor then beaten with the flail. The flail was made by tying two three foot sticks together, the end of one to the end of the other. By using one as a handle the other could be swung against the grain on the floor separating the grain from the stems.
On a windy day the grain and the chaff could be poured from a pail onto the floor letting the chaff blow to one side separating it. In later years the grain was threshed with a drum separator. A drum with teeth in it would revolve with the teeth close to stationery ones separating the grain from the stalks. It let the grain fall through a screen that carried the chaff away from it. I remember that back in 1910. I saw Jim Bell in Guernsey Cove using one of these separators. Motor power was not common then. He used a treadmill with two horses. As the horses walked up the hill the platform under them moved downward like an endless belt, turning a large wheel that powered the separator. This was a wonderful improvement over the flail.
The potatoes were harvested from their individual hills with a drag hoe, a fork with tines turned down like a hoe. You simply drove the tines into the earth behind the potato stock and pulled it downward toward you. Out would come the potatoes.
As time went on a plow was used in the row to turn them out, then the grab hoe could do an easier job. The root crop was harvested much as it is today and placed in the root cellar to keep cool.
In addition to all this the winter's wood had to cut and put into the woodshed. This was done when other work was caught up.
The trees were felled with a crosscut saw powered by two men, one at each end. It was a back breaking job, stooping over, cutting it a foot or so from the ground. I know, for I tried it. Then the tree had to be trimmed and twitched out of the woods with a horse, then hauled home with more backbreaking work ahead. It had to be cut into stove-wood lengths and split for winter's use. Of course the wood box had to be filled nightly.
After supper there was no radio or television to entertain you. In winter you simply congregated around the kitchen stove, which was in most homes, the main source of heat. You would listen to the stories of the happenings of the day, each with its own rendition. In summer there would be a short period of small talk, then away to the great outdoors. Those were good days, for the family would have togetherness, enjoying real companionship together.

Dave Hunter and The Island Register: HTML and Graphics© 2002

Last Updated: 08/07/2002 10:45:39 PM
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