Farm Machinery: Then and Now

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It is harvest season around here and has been for about a month or so. And every time I see one of the newer harvesters, or other huge pieces of farming equipment, I think about the ones my grandpa Henry Parker used in the early 1900’s. It is hard work now, but it was really work back then. In fact, story has it that is how Grandma Parker eventually ended up losing the farm out by Culdesac, Idaho. Grandpa Parker is the fifth person from the left in the photo below, and my father is the last person on the right side of the picture, who is holding onto Grandma Parker’s hand.

Family Photo Around 1910

I decided to go through the old pictures my brother had given me and was amazed – again – by how hard it must have been for them to accomplish what they did on the farms and still sell it for what they sold it for. I, like most other people, am unhappy about the prices of the staple items in the grocery stores now, but I remember my mom telling me about buying fifty pounds of flour for less than ten dollars. According to her they didn’t package in little five pound bags. If you wanted less than twenty or fifty pound bags, you had it weighed out for you. (Yes, just like in the western movies and TV shows.) She remembered when they didn’t have regular grocery stores in the smaller towns. They were still called mercantiles. And they carried everything. Kind of like a grocery store, hardware store, fabric store and five-and-dime all rolled into one. I can only imagine the wonders kids found to marvel at then!

Combine on the Old Parker Ranch

On Grandpa Parker’s Ranch – Old Steam Tractor

Grandpa Parker’s Stationary Thrashing Machine

Reeper Steam Tractor and Thrashing Machine

As you can see in the above pictures, working the land then was a long, hot, hard, back-breaking business, one that took many men to do. In those days families worked the farms for a reason. The first picture is one of an old horse-drawn combine. Could you imagine standing on that thing all day long? Not just the standing, either. One had to make sure the horses were doing okay and not overheating in the sun. It would have been in the mid to high ninety’s out there in the sun. Maybe even hotter. It is August and September time frame.

The second picture is an old steam tractor that Grandpa Parker had on the farm, and the third picture is a stationary thrashing machine. I could not even have begun to imagine how all those things worked together, but they made it happen. And the fourth picture is the steam tractor and stationary thrasher hooked up and working together. You can see all the steam and dust rising from the machinery and the wheat. (I would not want to have been doing their laundry, especially since they didn’t always change their clothes every morning! After all, they were only going to go back out into the fields!)

The story I heard was that it was one of these pieces of machinery that killed my Grandpa Parker. He was working on one of them and a counter weight fell, hitting him in the head. He had a good enough name in the community that the bank had loaned him some money against the farm, and he had just put a mortgage against it so he could expand. I guess that’s where the phrase – lost the farm – comes from. In this case it was true. Grandma Parker was able to keep the farm going for a while, probably with help from the other men in the family, but eventually it proved too much for her. It would be interesting to find out all the details instead of bits and pieces from different people here and there.

Farm Livin’

Harvesting is a dirty job.

Palouse Traffic Jam on the Kendrick Grade

Spring in Troy

One tire is the size of my truck.

These are the monster machines they use now. But it is still dusty, dirty, hard work, and knowing how far the industry has come makes me appreciate all the ‘normal’ things families still have to do without sometimes to make it work. Things like dinner at a regular hour, or with loved ones. Regular play dates with your kids on the weekends during planting or harvest seasons. Or, getting off work at five! I have a very healthy respect for these men and women who keep us fed, because not everybody grows a garden or grinds their own flour anymore. Farmers and ranchers truly are the backbones of this country. A hearty ‘Thank You’ to every single one of them!