Making the Farm Pay

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, September 29, 1913:  

9/29 – 30: These days have come and gone. They ground me working on my job.

farm.book

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma must have been too tired to write anything a hundred years ago today (and tomorrow).  She was spending long days out in the field harvesting corn—but past entries have indicated that she was pleased to be making some money:

I’m on duty now out in the corn field. The beginning took place this afternoon. Somehow or other I imaged I would accomplish more than what I did. This is an opportunity to earn some money of which I always seem in need.

September 25, 1913

I assume that Grandma was working for her father—and that he was paying her.  She was happy about the money; but was her father happy or worried about the profitability of the farm?

Did he worry about rainy weather that might prevent completion of the harvest before the snow flew? . . . or low market prices that would prevent him from recouping the cost of growing the crop?

Maybe he read a 1913 book called Making the Farm Pay by C.C. Bowsfield.  Here’s an abridged version of what the first page said:

The average land owner has a great deal of practical knowledge, and yet is deficient in some of the most salient requirements. He may know how to produce a good crop and not know how to sell it to the best advantage.

Worse than this, he may follow a method which turns agricultural work into drudgery, and his sons and daughters forsake the farm home as soon as they are old enough to assert a little independence.  The farmers are deprived on the earnest, intelligent help which naturally belongs to them, rural society loses one of its best elements, the cities are overcrowded and all parties at interest are losers.

You may also enjoy reading (or rereading) a previous post that I did on the Country Life Commission. A hundred years ago the federal government sought to make farming more profitable, and to make farm life more appealing for young people, by appointing the Country Life Commission.

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Corn Husking Pegs

 18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, September 26, 1913:  Still pegging away.

husking.peg.crop

Corn Husking Peg

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

The previous day Grandma wrote that she was “on duty out in the corn field.”  This diary entry makes it clearer how she was helping with the corn harvest.

Grandma was using a corn husking peg, and “pegging away” at husking corn.

After the corn ears were broken off the stalks, they were husked by hand using a husking peg.

Lehman’s still sells Finger-loop Corn Husking Pegs.  According to their website:

To use, slip over first three fingers, push peg under husk, grab with thumb and pull.

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Russian Wheat Production a Hundred Years Ago

 18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, September 19, 1913:  

September 16 – 17 – 18 – 19:  Nothing much of importance happened during these days. I have to help Pa some and get put at rolling for one thing. Of course I had my mishaps even to going off of the roller. That work is all done by this time.

Photo Caption: An American Reaper in a Russian Wheat Field (Source: The Book of Wheat by Peter Tracy Donglinger

Photo Caption: An American Reaper in a Russian Wheat Field.Source: The Book of Wheat (1908)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This was the fourth of four days where Grandma wrote a single diary entry. Three days ago I described how Grandma rolled the fields in preparation for planting fall wheat. And, two days ago and yesterday, I shared  pictures of large and small wheat farms from a hundred-year-old book.

The 1908 book, The Book of Wheat  by Peter Tracy Dondlinger, had lots of interesting information. One part I really enjoyed was the description of wheat production in several other countries.

I’m going to share what the book said about Russia. Within the larger historical context it is fascinating to read something about Russia that was written in the years prior to the Russian Revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union.

Russian Wheat Production

Viewed solely from the point of view of its natural resources and economic aspects, Russia is the United States of Europe. It has immense undeveloped areas that would form ideal wheat lands, lands very similar to those which constitute the wheat belt of the United States.

The similarity between Russia and the United States in the natural resources of the wheat growing regions is quite equaled by the dissimilarity of political practice, social theory and economic condition.  The Russian peasantry had had neither means nor opportunity to attain a higher plane of life.

The poor system of land ownership and the antiquated methods of agriculture made Russian wheat a dear wheat in spite of cheap labor and a low standard of living. The future possibilities of Russian wheat production depend upon the social, economic and educational progress of Russia.

There are symptoms of improvement in this direction. The extension of peasant land ownership is improving economic conditions. It seems that political and social conditions are at last changing and popular education is growing. In agriculture, better machinery is being introduced, and the crops are being rotated.

The Book of Wheat (1908)

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Machinery Used to Plant Wheat on Small Farms a Hundred Years Ago

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday,  September 19, 1913:  

September 16 – 17 – 18 – 19:  Nothing much of importance happened during these days. I have to help Pa some and get put at rolling for one thing. Of course I had my mishaps even to going off of the roller. That work is all done by this time.

wheat.planting

The Book of Wheat (1908) by Peter Tracy Dondlinger

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This was the third of four days where Grandma wrote a single diary entry. Two days ago I described how Grandma rolled the fields in preparation for planting fall wheat. And, yesterday I shared pictures that showed the huge “modern” equipment used to harvest wheat on immense farms in the Midwest a hundred years ago.

The machinery used to plant and harvest wheat was very different on small farms in Pennsylvania like the one Grandma lived on.  Today I’m sharing several additional pictures from the same book—but this group of pictures shows how wheat was raised on small farms a hundred years ago.

wheat.harvest

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Are Big Farms or Small Farms Better? The Case of the Bonanza Farms

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, September 17, 1913:  

September 16 – 17 – 18 – 19:  Nothing much of importance happened during these days. I have to help Pa some and get put at rolling for one thing. Of course I had my mishaps even to going off of the roller. That work is all done by this time.

Wheat.Bonanza.Harvester

The Book of Wheat (1908) by Peter Tracy Dondlinger

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This was the second of four days where Grandma wrote a single diary entry. Yesterday I described how Grandma rolled the fields in preparation for planting winter wheat. Since Grandma didn’t write anything specific for this date, I’m going to share something I learned when I was doing research for this series of posts that surprised me.

Did you know that there were some huge, highly-mechanized, wheat farms in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s?

There were 91 large “Bonanza Farms” ranging in size from 3,000 to more than 30,000 acres in North Dakota and Minnesota.

In 1864 the US government gave a group of investors millions of acres of land to finance the building of the Northern Pacific Railroad from Minnesota to the west coast. During the Panic of 1873, the investors got into financial difficulty and needed to raise funds to complete building the railroad so they let stockholders buy large tracts of land in the Red River Valley at low rates.

wheat.large.harvester

The farms had professional managers and migrant labor did much of the work. (During the winter months many of the farm laborers worked in logging camps in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.)

By the early 1900s wheat prices were low, labor costs were rising, and the Bonanza Farms weren’t very profitable.

There also was a lot of concern that the Bonanza Farms weren’t good stewards of the land. For example, the opening paragraph in a bulletin published by the US Government in 1908 said:

Experience has shown that when excessively large companies farm great tracts of land the tendency is to exploit the land for the greatest immediate profit at the expense of the permanent value of the soil. Proper soil-cultural methods are not observed: rotations for the preservation of soil fertility are neglected; the main crop, wheat, is grown continuously, and the seed is allowed to degenerate through careless methods. Undoubtedly there are exceptions to this rule. It is not the writer’s wish to intimate that rational dry farming is impossible when carried on by large companies, but the general rule has been as stated here. It is evident that the homesteader, having in mind the value of his home and the welfare of his posterity, is more likely to perpetuate and increase the value of his land.

Dry-land Grains (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, Circular No. 12, 1908)

These concerns led, in part, to changes in tax codes that discriminated against Bonanza Farms which made them even less profitable.

At the same time more people wanted to farm in the upper Midwest and the land was becoming more valuable, so many of the Bonanza Farms were divided into smaller plots and sold to family farmers.

Here’s links to several sites that have additional information about Bonanza Farms:

Bonanza Farming (Encyclopedia of the Great Plains)

The Bonanza Farms of North Dakota (Teaching with Historic Places, National Park Service)

The Bagg Bonanza Farm

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Rolling the Fields

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, September 16, 1913:  

September 16 – 17 – 18 – 19:  Nothing much of importance happened during these days. I have to help Pa some and get put at rolling for one thing. Of course I had my mishaps even to going off of the roller. That work is all done by this time.

Horse-drawn roller.  (Photo source: Wikemedia Commons, German Federal Archives)

Horse-drawn roller. (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Whew, I bet that Grandma was exhausted. It’s rare that she didn’t write a diary entry every day—but I can understand why she was too tired to write anything a hundred years ago today.

Grandma was using a roller in a plowed field to level the ground and break up clumps of soil in preparation for planting wheat seeds. In Pennsylvania wheat is planted in the fall and harvested the following summer.

Horses were hitched to the roller, and Grandma would have needed to tighten one rein or the other to make the horses go in a straight line. Unlike the roller in the picture, the diary entry makes it sound like the roller that she used may have had a seat. The mishap sounds embarrassing (and perhaps painful).

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Hauling Milk Over to the Spring for Storage

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, May 20, 1913:  Ruthie and me a nice little wooden wagon in which to haul milk over to the spring, and this would save us from breaking our backs for that can of milk is almost a dead weight.

milk can (photo source: Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site)

Milk Can (Photo Source: Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’s family had several milk cows. The milk from the cows was put into large cans. The cans filled with milk were then stored for a day or two until it was sold to a dairy or made into butter.

Spring houses were used in the days before electric refrigeration to keep the milk cold. A small building was built over a spring, and the milk cans were placed in the cool water that flowed through the building.

an example of a spring house (This spring house is not on the Muffly farm.) (Source: Wikipedia)

An Example of a Spring House (This spring house is not on the Muffly farm.) (Source: Wikipedia)

I’d have demanded a cart, too. Milk cans filled with milk were heavy. I don’t know where the spring house was located, but it probably was some distance away from the barn.

Did Grandma’s mother take the suggestion seriously—or did the request go in one ear and out the other?

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