Before we moved to Princeton in 1950, we lived northeast of Princeton IL on a farm Dad referred to as the Johnny Husser farm. Dad rented it for several years before I was born in 1944. I attended a one room school house ½ mile east for first grade. It was called the Wofesburger (phonetic spelling) school. Not good for a password because I still can't spell it correctly. Miss Kinter taught all eight grades to about 10 kids including my boyhood buddy, Snuffy Petersen. My youngest sister was nine years older than I, so no siblings. Yes, you guessed it, it was up hill both ways and had 30” of snow in July. Actually it was a pleasant walk down the “main” road to the far end of the field where the corn picker broke down. Ah, yes, the corn picker. It had an interesting introduction to our operation, and that is the subject of this memory.
It must have been shortly after my birthday in July because I was playing with a new toy, a John Deere manure spreader that I had desperately wanted. I had seen it on display at the implement dealer where Dad got stuff fixed. The reason that I was so intrigued with it was because it WORKED! It wasn't perfect because it didn't have any bed chains to drag the load to the beaters, but the beaters were ground driven just like the real thing! Metal toys were very rare during the war years. Toys of any sort were rare in my early years. I had a wooden tractor, wooden wagon, and the MANURE SPREADER! Can you imagine kids today getting excited about a manure spreader? Many wouldn't even know what manure is and if they did they certainly wouldn't understand why anyone would want to spread it around. Anyway, I was playing with it in the front yard on a beautiful summer day when I heard it.
The Farmall M tractors made a unique sound that was strong but mellow. A rich sound of power. The wind was such that I could hear it long before I could see it. Suddenly it appeared on the main road chased by a huge dust cloud. I didn't recognize our tractor buried under the new two row mounted picker, but there was my brother Donald standing at the wheel as he slowed to turn into the driveway. He finally got the dragon stopped before the barnyard gate where I was already headed. As I released the chain to open the gate Don leaned over and whispered just loud enough for me to hear, “Where's Dad?” I was innocent of any intrigue in this matter so I pointed to the barn. “Open the corn crib doors for me!”. So I set off on a run to the crib, but the tractor was so much faster, that he had dismounted (no small feat) and had the doors open before I got there. “Go get ready for dinner!” was the next instruction. It all sounded so urgent. Unusual. I was almost to the house when Don shot past me into the house. Well, the sink would be busy, so there was no longer any hurry. I turned around just in time to see Dad come out of the barn and head toward the house. I never saw him turn his head or eyes, but he stopped midway across the barnyard and jerked his head up. Something wasn't right. Slowly he scanned the barnyard and finally his gaze stopped at the corn crib. I moved back down the walk to be able to see what he saw, and there it was. The dragon's tail was sticking out from between the doors! It was too long and tall to fit into the crib alley. It looked like an ostrich with it's head stuck in the sand in the midst of danger.
Dad's fury was well known to those who knew him. As he came through the gate, he carefully closed it. It actually stayed latched. Very rare. I began to piece together that Don must be in REALLY BIG TROUBLE! Dad brushed past me with his jaw set. There was going to be a bad hair day for somebody! Well, the sink would be busy for awhile longer and I didn't want to get wet, so I dwaddled for a bit. I was the last to the table. Dinner was at noon, the big meal, on the farm. I don't remember what the meal consisted of that day, but I do remember the unusual quiet. Not a word. It had to be the quiet before the storm.
After dinner, Don and Dad retreated to the barnyard, headed in the general direction of the crib. Dad opened the doors, and proceeded to make loud noises at Donald. I had no interest in the new vocabulary, so I hung back for awhile. Harvest wasn't too far off, so the pressures of preparation were upon us. After a bit, I noticed that the events in the crib were more civil, so I ventured out to see the dragon. I inadvertently became a part of the ensuing and long running argument because they had gotten back to how harvest would be affected by the dragon. In short, Dad was convinced that there would never be a picker as good as the New Holland that he dragged around with the SC Case tractor (which I could drive well by now because it had a hand clutch). Donald was convinced that opening a field by hand was too labor and time consuming.
Now for those of you non-farmer readers, opening a field was tedious manual labor where the first two rows next to the fence were picked by hand and the ears tossed over the creeping tractor into the trailing wagon. All was good until the wagon got full. Without planning, you could literally trap yourself and that was embarrassing at best. It could take almost a week to open a good sized field. Hands and tempers would get sore. Some farmers would simply trample the corn in the first two rows and try to salvage the mess later when there was space to go around the field clockwise. In a big field (100+ acres), that was a high price to pay. Too high for Dad.
So the argument went like this. Donald told Dad that he would pick the north and west fields and be done with less corn on the ground before Dad could pick the east field. Dad could even have Danny to help him. How generous!
That year, harvest was quick with two pickers going. Don worked by himself. Because the picker was mounted, opening a field was trivial, as long as you didn't get stuck with a full wagon where you couldn't turn around. He could even unload the wagon by himself because he used the wagon with hydraulic dump (a recent invention). On the other hand, Dad and I laboriously opened the east field. When the picker could finally be used, and the wagon got full, it became a matter of unhooking the wagon, then the picker and re-hooking up the wagon so the tractor could drag it to the chain hoist. The chain hoist was a steel bridge and a chain winch which lifted the front of a “standard” wagon to dump the load. So after positioning the wagon under the hoist, unhook the wagon and position the tractor so the power take off (PTO) could run the hoist. Reverse the procedure and repeat ad nauseum. About a week into the harvest, it became abundantly clear that Donald would be helping us in the east field before long. Dad's temperament turned cloudy, then dark. Late in the evening, he walked the entire north and west fields looking for evidence of corn left behind. Begrudgingly he admitted it “wasn't too bad”. So harvest was completed early, and Donald had more time for his “girl”. I think her name was Jackie, or something like that.
Now another interesting bit. Years later, when Dad was living in Amboy Rehab and in his 97th year or so, he told me a story I had never heard. It seems that Donald' pre-emptive action was genetic! Here is what Dad told me.
Grandpa Amos was stubborn, a trait he inherited from my Dad. The new-fangled things called tractors could never replace horses for farming. They cost too much to feed and maintain compared to a horse team. Keep in mind that gasoline, or parafin oil (for diesels) could be had for well less than a pricey $0.10 per gallon. Nevertheless, Dad got the wants.
One day very early he showed up on the Manlius farm homestead driving a brand new tractor. Neither of us could remember what brand it might have been, but it was gas powered. He hooked it to the plow before Grandpa could get the team ready and headed for the back 40 acres. With no plow to work with, he guessed Grandpa Amos did some of the other always present work. Come dinner time at noon, Dad pulled the plow into the farmyard, unhooked the tractor and put it away. Grandpa came over and asked him what was broken. “Nothing's broken. I'm done with the field”. Dinner was delayed because Grandpa walked back to the 40 to examine it and verify that it was “done”. He was aghast. He must not have hurried back, because dinner was very late, cold even. The comment made by Grandpa must have made quite an impression on Dad, because he remembered it for over 70 years! “I never thought I would live to see the day”.