An Illinois man recalls harvest-time on his family farm, including his father's oil-pull tractor, binder and hay wagons
When I was about 11 years old, I rode the binder pulled by an oil-pull tractor to cut wheat and oats. The old binder would cut the wheat with a sickle, then the wheat was pushed back on a canvas conveyer up to the binder, where it would tie a bundle with binding twine. Then it was kicked out onto a bundle carrier, and when I got five or six bundles in it, I would trip and release those bundles into even rows so they could be shocked and capped.
Dad would cut the timothy and clover hay for the horse barn and alfalfa hay for the cattle barn. After it was cut and cured by the sun, he would rake it in even rows and we could take the wagons to the field and fasten the hay loader on the back of the hay wagon. I would walk along the ground and drive the team until we had it loaded. Then I'd hitch the loader to the other wagon and do the same until that wagon was loaded too. Then we took both wagons to the barn where we had an old pair of white mules named Beck and Kate hitched to a rope and pulley that was fastened to the barn. A long rope was fastened to the big hay fork in front of the barn and I would drive these mules when Dad would holler, "Let's go." He'd have that big fork tromped into that hay on the wagon and it would pull about one-third of that load into the barn loft. I would pull a small rope to trip it and the hay would fall into the loft. My, that fresh hay always smelled so good.
Dad usually had all of the plowing done by the time school was out toward the last of April; then he would plant the field corn. Dad checked his corn then stretched a wire across the field. At the end of the field he would turn the horses back and get off the planter. He put the wire on and fastened it to the side of the planter, and he followed the marker across the field. The wire had notches on it that would trip the planter box, causing the corn to fall to the ground. The wheels were just so that they made the dirt cover the grains of corn as it passed over them. The neighbor said that Dad planted the straightest rows of all. When the corn came up it had to be cultivated about three times. Usually when the corn was laid by, as we called it, it was time to thresh the wheat and oats. I remember when I was small, they would bring an old steam engine tractor pulling the separator to our farm. That was really fascinating to watch them thresh; when I got old enough I was the water boy. I would take our riding horse, put two water jugs across the saddle horn, and make the rounds of the field where they were loading the shocks on the wagon. Then I would take water to the threshing crew. I remember when they would thresh at our place, several neighbor men and women would come with their wagons. Men worked in the fields, and the women helped to get dinner ready. Those dinners of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, milk gravy and all the trimmings were a real treat.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.
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