Fort Collings, Colorado
1940s and 50s
In grade school we had spring vacation to help plant crops and in the fall we had a week off to help with the beet harvest and the last cutting of hay. We also picked corn in late October or the first of November. That continued into High School. So very different than it is today! I supposed it gave the teacher a chance to get report cards out and a breath of fresh air before they started the weeks of teaching all over again. Not anything like it is in schools today. We had responsibilities and we took them seriously as we worked side-by-side with the rest of our family, neighbors and hired hands, helping Dad get crops in or planting corn and beets in the spring.
Before there were machines to plant crops quickly and machines to dig out beets and top them, it all was done by hand with the help of horses. The earliest I can remember digging beets before the ground froze permanently was Dad with a horse hitched to a plow, going down the rows digging beets. I do remember all the times Dad on the “Johnnie Pop,” his name for the John Deere tractor, pulling a beet digger. We had hired hands and family that walked the rows and topped the beets.
(A smile about the noise of the John Deere tractors. My brothers and sisters would all play with a wooden block or something similar with make-believe wheels that were Dad’s “tin-tin” — the noise the John Deere tractor made. We all were on our knees, pushing our make believe tractors around in the dirt and mud, saying “tin, tin-tin, tin, tin” over and over again. Hard to believe that was our entertainment and that we had so much fun!)
We had sharp beet knives with a hook on the end. We would hook the beet, lay it over our right leg, taking the hook out at the same time and with one big whack, the top of beet was lopped off. The beet thrown in one direction in a neat row and the green tops in another row. I have the scars to this day of the hook going into my leg or the knife missing it mark. No time for sympathy or a big Band Aid — just give that sore, bleeding spot a good rub with your dirt laden hands and get those beets topped. It got washed out and “liniment” applied later in the evening along with a scolding as to how careless we were.
Dad would start at one end of the field with his truck and with a big “beet fork,” throw the beets into the truck bed. Then one of us or maybe two, would get to go to the beet dump with him so it could get weighed, then off load the beets onto a conveyor belt, he pulled up a short distance — the tare (lots of dirt and dirt “clods”) would be dumped back into the truck and then the truck would be weighed again. That way the true weight of the beets was what he got paid for. Our journey back home would be singing a song or two. “The Old Strawberry Roan” one of Dad’s favorites, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Jesus Loves Me” were sung over and over for years! The dirt was off loaded and he repeated the shoveling of the beets into the truck bed all over again.
The tops were also shoveled into the truck and shoveled into the feed troughs to feed the cattle. They loved the green tops and munched with, what I thought in my young eyes, were smiles on their faces. In later years the new machines, diggers, toppers and loaders were such a wonderful invention to the back breaking hand topping and shoveling work.
My first recollection of corn picking was two of Dad’s horses, Barney and Babe, hooked up to a wagon with one side built higher than the other. We walked alongside the wagon picking corn off the dry stalks and flinging them into the wagon. We all wore leather gloves to protect our hands from the dry leaves on the corn stalks that cut like knives on bare skin. The horses would stop and go at a click of Dad’s tongue. They were amazing huge workhorses. He had another horse named Dan that he rotated with the other two. When the wagon was full of corn ears, we were hoisted on the backs of those great big horses and Dad got in the wagon, off we would go slowly plodding back to the spot beside the granary were Dad would shovel off the corn ears to be shelled later. I do remember those big huge, noisy corn shelling machines. They went from farm to farm and shelled the corn. Nothing went to waste on the farm. The corn was sold and the corn cobs were burnt in the big black cook stove in the kitchen.
The reward for all our work was a big batch of home made ice cream, cranked and cranked by everyone after our arm wore out and another took over. Instead of ice in the winter we used hard cold packed snow. It was shoveled into a gunny sack then the snow was carefully packed around the ice cream container. Rock salt was sprinkled around the snow as we pushed the snow down around the container. Mom made the best ice cream custard out of cream from our old Bessie milk cow and from the chickens that laid an abundance of eggs.
Ice cream’s done and the “paddle” carefully removed, (Dad got the first lick off of that!) we all had a big bowl and a spoon and we patiently stood in line to get our share of ice cream. My sister Ginger says she can remember all of us standing around the old black cook stove, glowing hot with burning cobs. I remember how good the smooth, rich ice cream tasted and the sounds my Dad made after each bite. The smile on his face is itched in my mind for ever. He LOVED Mom’s ice cream!
In some way that was his reward for all his back breaking hard work.
Next week: The blizzard of ’49 and Dad’s home made wooden sled.
Thanks to my sisters Ginger and Elaine and the suggestions from Susan, my memory was “jogged” one more time!
To all my reader friends: Thank you all for your kind comments and accolades. I enjoy your stories as well and look forward to meeting you in the Post Office, on the street or at The Fireweed Gift Shop where I love to be introduced to your visiting relative. You make a difference in my life and putting a smile on my face.