NC or Bust - Reminiscing - Long Post (Sorry)

Straw Boss

Well-known Member
After Iowa City, we traveled south on 218 and really enjoyed this part of Iowa. Rolling hills and nice farms. I've been through parts of Iowa a few times before but usually in summer. I was never able to actually see the lay of the land before as all you can see in summer is tall corn. This time I could see the farms and the shape of the land in all directions. I was quite impressed with all the well kept and BIG two and a half story farm houses. I'm guessing most were built in the mid teens to late twenties. I noticed that on many farms, all the out-buildings were painted white including the barns. Also the lack of livestock, fences and corrals yet many original livestock buildings are still standing. Proof this used to be a land of traditional diversified self-sufficient farming. Reminds me a lot of N. Dakotas Red River Valley where today, your hard pressed to spot a farm dog let alone a cow, sheep or hog.

I guess its a sign of the times where the crop is king and the cows have gone the way of the chicken, turkey, hog, dairy cow and feeder steer. The economies of scale have pushed them off the family farm into mega dairies, mega hog producers, 10,000 head feedlots, etc. Its simply cheaper today to buy at the grocery store than raise your own meat and vegetables. The time saved from animal husbandry and gardening is better spent farming more acres. Many farms still have cattle today but not like it used to be when EVERY farm had cattle, hogs, poultry and a family garden. Some today may have a few critters roaming around for their own personal enjoyment or for their own table, but the days of Mother taking her extra cream and eggs to town are long gone. The days of Father putting up the stock racks on his single-axle grain truck to sell his calves are gone. The days of Grandpa transporting his hogs to town in the back of his pickup are gone. The days of farm kids, hoping to earn jingle money, selling sweet corn and watermelons at the intersection of the farm lane and the highway are gone.

When I was a child, (and I'm not that old) our farm was one of the last in the area to still have 3 milk cows hand milked for our own consumption. We raised our own chicken and turkeys for eggs and butcher. We butchered our own hogs and steers. We had two deep freezers and an extra fridge in the basement and they were always full, along with a bin of potatoes from the field and shelves upon shelves of canning from the garden. Ball and Kerr canning jars filled with everything from beef to beans. We were never hungry. We wore hand-me-down clothes when they were available and my sisters made their own dresses and my Dad's machinery and vehicles were 10-20 years behind the neighbors but we were never hungry. The Schwan's truck used to sell ice cream in a 2 1/2 gallon tin. We always bought two. We had our priorities!

I remember sitting in the shade of our back porch with my sisters and 2 wash pans full of peas to be shucked before mother could can them.
My grandmother would make apple jelly and other preserves so long as us grandkids would travel up to the old homestead place and pick the apples from the trees my great grandparents planted. Grandpa liked to help with the sausage stuffer as we made our own sausages and brats. My Dad would take any opportunity for a quick bounty with nine kids to feed. A fish trap in the river would yield buckets and buckets of bullheads to be cleaned. It was the only job worse than cleaning chickens or stacking bales in a 100 degree hayloft. To this day I can't eat the ugly, greasy, mud-flavored creation . Some things you just don't ever learn to appreciate. Dad knew where all the wild rhubarb patches were around the neighborhood. We also had our own horseradish patch to make our own nasal-clearing, eye-watering sauce. (At the table, Dad thought it funny to see us boys compete to see who could eat the most at one sitting). Ours resembled more of a rough cut than a creamy sauce but it was GOOOOD STUFF!

Its easy to romanticize the old way of farm living. There were a lot of great memories, experiences and life lessons that I would do all over again and wouldn't trade for anything. But don't get me wrong, it was also a lot of work, mixed with some pain and suffering. Character building I think they call it. Daily chores in all weather. Potato bugs to pick, gardens to hoe, weeds to pull, water to haul to livestock and trees, manure to pitch, feed and grains to be shoveled, nose-burning ammonia-smelling chicken houses to be cleaned while the sweat drenched your clothing and stung your eyes. Mother and sisters had constant laundry to be washed and hung to dry, then gathered and ironed and folded. The electric Dryer was mostly used when the cloths line was full or the weather didn't cooperate. Dishes and pots and pans and cream separator parts and milk buckets had to be washed multiple times a day. I won't even go into the hours upon hours of field work tilling, planting, haying and harvesting.

Today, my farm is no different than these in Iowa. Almost a shadow of what they used to be. In my mind, I can see eleven farm buildings that are now gone from our once active place. My Dad bought this farm in the 50s when it was already in severe disrepair. The Dirty 30s and Wartime 40s didn't allow folks the luxury of paint and maintenance. His meager earnings from scratching the soil never yielded enough to take care of them all. One by one they were burnt as they were of no use anymore. Old chicken coops, hog houses, granaries and the old tractor/tool sheds are all gone. The big barn caught fire in 1980 and took our newer chicken coop and severly burnt another shed. Eventually the outhouse and the tiny leaky garage were razed. Gone is any evidence of horses once harnessed, gone is any evidence of grain shoveled, gone is any evidence of a cow milked, a chicken fed, a hog watered or a garden plowed. Its all in the past.

There's nothing left of my farm as it was in it's heyday back when it was built in the roaring 1920s. Built at a time when the grandchildren of the homesteader had opportunities their parents never dreamed of. Built at a time when new farming practices were making life easy. The tractor was replacing the horse. The combine was replacing the threshing machine. Gravel was replacing the dirt road. Electricity was replacing the windmill. Life was good.

Just 40-50 years before, a Dakota homesteader lucky enough to afford a stick built home, had to have the cut lumber hauled up to 100 miles overland from the nearest railroad. It likely took a week of overland travel by horse or oxen to deliver every precious load. Every keg of nails and pane of glass had to be delivered in this way along with any other daily needs from tools and dishes to coffee and salt. All supplies and farm implements such as plows, harrows, mowers and sulky rakes all had to be hauled overland before the railroad came to be. The generation of the 20s had a railroad in nearly every town to drop off anything they could desire by way of a simple letter being mailed the week before. And lets not forget to mention the venerable model T car and the freedoms of travel enjoyed by the lucky generation of the 20s. Everything was easy for them.

I guess what I'm rambling about is how each generation has it better than the last. Each generation thinks the next is a bit spoiled and doesn't work as hard. Each generation thinks the next have lost contact with the soil and the blood, sweat and tears shed to get it, hold it, tame it, build upon it, produce from it, and prosper on it. Each generation fears the next will take it for granted and not appreciate what the others before them sacrificed.

Today, most big farm tractors have auto-steer as standard equipment. Cabs so tight you don't know if its cold or hot outside, cabs so quiet you can listen to the radio or visit with a rider in comfort. But you can't smell the soil. You can't smell the fresh cut hay. You can't feel the weather change on the breeze. You can't hear the squeak of a bearing in need of grease. Those days are gone.

It pangs my heart a bit, knowing my kids will never run a cab-less tractor with no radio and no cell phone, only their own thoughts to keep them company, disking or plowing on a partly cloudy day, feeling chilled one minute, and with the sun breaking through the clouds the next, feeling the warmth of the sun on your back and shoulders like a hug from God, the rich pungent smell of the fresh turned earth overwhelming the senses, the purr of a good diesel in the ears and the vibrations coming through the steering wheel. Often your followed by a hundred seagulls snatching up the worms and bugs from the turned soil, sometimes flying so close you feel you could reach out and touch one. You feel alive! You feel at one with nature, at one with the weather and at one with the soil just short of having your toes in the dirt. My kids will miss out. All they will know is set the AC, the radio, the auto-steer, watch the computer screen and be isolated from all the natural senses that most farmers have enjoyed since the beginning of farming.

I can imagine my Grandpa felt the same way about my Dad, never having the opportunity to harvest with a threshing machine. Knowing that even though it was harder work than the combine and it was progress, he missed out on the excitement of the threshing ring, the neighbors helping neighbors and the sense of community support you just don't get harvesting by yourself with a combine. Those days are gone.

Great Grandpa maybe felt the same way knowing his boy, never plowing with a horse as he did, would miss out on the smell of horse sweat and harness oil. The soft sound of the plow slicing the soil, the whinny of the horse, the click of hoofs and the squeak of leather harness. The peaceful near silent quietness of the fields and prairie with only the song of birds and frogs and the wind in the grass to keep him company. The oneness with your horse, working together, tiring together, resting together. What a harsh, foul smelling, ear shattering thing the early tractors must have been to his quiet world. Did he mourn the loss of nature's choir his son will never know as long as he drives that noisy steel wheeled tractor? Will silence and solitude farming be forever a thing of history for the sake of progress?

I was thinking of some of these things as we rolled into Mount Pleasant Iowa. We decided on taking our dinner at Pizza Ranch. I like their mashed potatoes and salad bar (and pizza). I find they have a big mural on the wall depicting the early pioneers heading west to futures unknown. I couldn't stop looking at it and putting myself in their shoes (boots). It seemed only fitting for me to share it with you all as part of this story since it was the beginning of our history on the plains as farmers and ranchers. I wonder what THEIR fathers thought they were missing out on for the sake of progress and a better life?
1920s Heyday and the Pioneers


Great story about the 'past' life. I can relate to all those things you brought up. Plowing with a DC-4 w 3 btm. plow, cultivating with a SC w motor lift, etc. We also faced those same issues of limited funds, and as the livestock slowly decreased in numbers so did the outbuildings that housed them. Some of my best memories are working in the fields with my 'thoughts', and watching the eagles and hawks gliding overhead, not to mention the late evening hours when the deer and their young would make their way across our fields to the neighbor's woods. Always enjoyed the early morning sun and listening to the birds singing as we headed to do chores. Thanks for keeping some of those thoughts alive.

Thanks, Mike
I think every farm boy should have the chance to pull a 2 bottom plow with the (rope trip) with an SC, H or like tractor. Something I will never forget.

Thank you for your ramblings. From your thoughts comes a flood of memories. As a young child, I am reminded of a time when I had my right ecluded,and spent a short recuperation period with my Grandparents,Lee,and Emily Reynolds of Garden Plain.Illinois. The s is silent. I was in the throws of putting a paper together for my English teacher.I asked many questions of these two fine folks,as to the cost of keeping a team of horses fed and cared for,and the amount of acreage that could be had in a day.Well ,I got a lot of stories, much like you have put to pen here from them. God bless you, for your story.You are truly blessed when you take pen in hand,and tell us of your thoughts. I will cherish this story you have told ,and the many you have rekindled for me and others. A sharecroppers son, Chuck Reynolds
Straw Boss,

I seldom post on this forum... but you should write a book! You really have a way with words. I also read your Iowa or Bust posts - very good.

This post made me think back to my grandparents and parents... then ahead to my grandchildren. Makes one want to cry.
Great story, as most of you have heard of my "back-en-day" stories you have done a great thing by sharing the pain,love,smells and family. Called farming. I barely remeber the thashing machine old 44 massey 4 inch belt that went oh maybe 30 ft. away. Dad handed me this smelly oilcan and said "do not get any closer then this(2ft away from the massey) I"d pump afew drops on the belt and watched my dad sweat and pain in his face and ah nod. Little did know then that it was the real beginning of my love for farm equipment. Today I"am being thought how to run case 375 quad which pulls a gin-till which injects poop in the ground 1000"s gal per acre! It started with a oilcan as a kid. Thank-you so much for bring us down memorylane I was blessed, now I carry a "silly-phone" so they can tell me the computer says change the flowrate now wheres THAT dam botton for that! hee hee give me ah case 700 with 4-14"s and fall evening the smell,sounds and the feel of the wheel. Thank-you again Straw Boss. God Bless
Awesome writing.......truly, I can't remember having read anything better that depicts the constant changes in farm families.
Brad you had me at the start of the trip, but now I yearn for more, Great writing brought back stories my Dad told me of him growing up in the 30"s farming with horses and life on the farm thru his eyes, my Mom and him are both long gone from this life but Never are they forgotten! Thank You for the trip to yesterday once more
That was just great. You need to be writing books. I wish I could remember all the things dad talked about when he was a kid. One was in the dry 30's. Dad and his brother were cultivating corn and were resting the horses under a shade tree on the turn row. Two old timers come along in their Model T and stopped and told them, boys you might as well take them horses to the barn you are wasting your time. Dad said the corn got a foot and half tall and we never took a wagon to the field that fall.
Only very few are blessed with the ability to pen words that inspire others. You sir are a master. I believe I will make this required reading for our beginning agriculture students. We can not slow change, but we can remember and appreciate our past generations of innovators and caretakers of the soil.

A very good read. I believe your teacher would be proud of your composition. I give it an A+. gobble
Okay, I agree and have experienced a lot of this myself and I often yearn for the good old days on the farm (when I didn't have the responsiblity of an adult). My thought as I read through it and was reminded of the great progress we've made is-- can it last? While we changed our lifestyle we as a nation also built MASSIVE DEBT! Over $17 trillion that our government pays interest on, and entitlements on the books for around $100 trillion. If and when this gravy train ends will we get back closer to living off the land?
While growing up I had an uncle that besides farming had a milk can route. As a teenager a time or two I went with my cousin and helped load milk cans at various farms. Every farm was unique and every milkhouse just as unique with different smells. I'll bet not one of those dairies exist today.
straw boss ,you have captured so much , this piece deserves to be in your stories,,, now I got a hankerin for some homegrown ruf cut horseradish , with some homegrown pulled greasey pork or roast beef and a beer , I think you and I 57 are same age , and growed up in parallel families, I was often teased that our family was like the waltons , and I was jim bob , lol . this am at 1st lite I cut up some windfall limbs before krazy weather ran over us again kinda like being rite inside of a shotgun ,, now its turnin to ice ,
Straw Boss,

Thank you for the incredibly well written look back. It reminds me of the debt of gratitude we owe to our ancestors for all the blood, sweat, and tears they invested for our benefit.

Most of us have a collection of Case tractors and equipment (that we PLAY with} that our parents and grandparents couldn't even dream of owning during the best of their times... How fortunate we have been to be placed here at this time in history. I wonder if our children will be able to say the same thing. Thanks again, Don
Very good story. I really enjoyed it as the others did. Thanks so much for the trip down the lane.
Straw Boss,
Truly artful work you're doing here. Keep it up. I've found these posts very enlightening.

I've often wondered similar thoughts about how our forebears settled this land. As a transplant from Montana living in Arizona, I wanted to understand how folks could have survived and made a living in this harsh country. Since much of Arizona's early history was mining related, I've done a lot of "ghost towning"; driving to these remote locations, studying the geology, trying to understand the conditions and the fortitude these folks set as standards. It never ceases to amaze me.

It's been said that those who don't study history are bound to repeat it. Looking at the mistakes I've made, I've learned that reading up on what other folks did (or didn't) has been a great educational tool. My neighbor and friend (also named Ken) is my coffee drinking buddy. In the afternoons I have a cup (or two) with him and discuss how things are going in my shop. My shop works with industrial RF power systems. My neighbor is a WWII vet (USN West Virginia ), retired tool and die man, and retired (a different time) from Collins Radio where he had designed a gyroscope that was introduced in 1964.
In my little world, a design that's been around for 20 years is rare. Last he knew, his gyro was still in production in some form (it's probably been upgraded but who knows... with the litigation costs these days, building a known, proven, profitable design has merit). We have this mutual admiration of what we've accomplished; I look at what he did without computers and he looks at the wonders of a plasma etch system, designed in 3-D CAD and electrically simulated before manufacture and we both shake our heads. Technology changes things, but they are still the same basic building blocks, and the hard work required is still there. The tools have gotten better, and have since the bronze age.
As I've told him, if it weren't for the things he's done, what I've done wouldn't be possible. I stand on the shoulders of giants (Sir Isaac Newton was fond of this saying too). Our modern society owes a great debt to the older generations; their wisdom should be understood and used as appropriate. History is written by the survivors though, and the failed attempts tend to get lost in time. Learning from the folks who've been there and done that is important as oral history isn't something you can search for on the internet.

Once again, keep up the good work. Very insightful writing, and we need to remind ourselves and our future generations of our origins.
Brad, perhaps we will have to talk you into taking more trips so you can take the time to tell us about them and earlier stories. Enjoyed visiting with you this fall and the stories, Rod.
Brad , as I read your story I was remembering my past with dad and grandpa. Now as I get ready to pass the farm on and step down to a young man and his family I hope they will have memories to share. My daughters live in Colorado, and Arizonia, They know some of the past but I am sure now it means little. Keep the trip story coming great reading.
Jerry from Ohio
Hey Brad, good insightful look at the past! Seems us farm kids of that era had some unequaled times to remember also. Next generations, maybe not so much. I'm waiting for the part where you stumble across some poor old neglected Case tractor in your travels!!
Brought back a lot of memories I am trying to forget. However todays generation doesn't have it better, they are on a downhill trip to nowhere.
thumbs up. Remind them we are standing on the inovations and creativity of previous generations. gobble
Excellent. Makes one think of all the things a person treasures. I do cut a little hay in the summer as it is relaxing and keeps me connected to dad. I work with my cousins on their dairy farm but it just isn't the same. Even though work still had to be done years ago it was a more relaxing pace than it is today. I could almost feel all of what you mentioned, especially doing field work without a cab. I remember combining with a 45 JD. One direction it was hot and dusty and you couldn't wait to get to the end and turn around so you were out of the dust and got the benefit of a cool breeze, and doing spring tillage, smelling the overturned soil and the warmth of the sun on your face. You need to write more.
Please don't apologize for a long post! You sir, have a gift for putting words together that reaches into the heart and soul of your readers. I had to fight back tears several times as the memories of my father came flooding back. I thank you for that.
Please continue your wonderful narrative, as I look forward to reading every word!
Beautiful narrative, in content as well as style. You really dredged up some memories for all of us.

This appears to be an ongoing story- can anybody post a link to the earlier ones?
To all who responded to this post, I cannot begin to express how I feel about the kind words and encouragement I have received for writing this.

I thank you all from the depths of my insecurities. I'm not a writer by any means. I was a solid C student in school. English was my worst subject. My school days were spent daydreaming about being somewhere else. A farm boy trapped in a rigid world of book learning. Had I lived in the day of the one room school house, I would have been the boy who skipped school to go fishing or stayed home to help with harvest. The reluctant student.

The words DO NOT flow for me. It is difficult work. I'd rather shovel out a grain bin so I can't tell you what it means to know you appreciated the effort. Anyway, a shred of confidence has been stirred within me, and so again, I thank you all!

Just scroll down... they are in the couple of pages preceding this page. I was wrong - not Iowa or Bust...

Instead look for NC or Bust (parts 3, 2, and 1). Good reading.
Straw boss, you certainly do have great narration skills. I envy your ability with words. Being a Northwest Iowa farmer, I grew up in a period when the old days were waning and modern agriculture was beginning to take hold. I carried many thousands of bales of hay, shelled many thousands of bushels of corn, ground many thousands of tons of feed and spent many, many hours hand pitching manure. Now I'm a grain farmer only and I will never go back to the old days. Why? The reasons are many and I'm typing on a clumsy I Pad so I won't go into extreme detail, but in a nutshell, grain farming has less risk and nets more money IN MY PART OF THE COUNTRY. I put the last few words in caps because livestock is still more lucrative in other parts of the country. Wish I could go into more detail, but not now. Jim
Great story. Brings back a lot of memories. We were still plowing in the 60's and in the 70's when i started farming. We still picked ear corn even after the hogs and cattle were gone. A cheap way to dry it. Of course all the elevators still had shellers also. Never did try no-till.
I absolutely will not accept your appology for writing such a heart touching story. This is one of the most interestuing posts I have read in a long time. KEEP IT UP. Reminds me of 2004 when one of my sons decided he wanted to build a new home on the footprint of where his great grandparents, grandparents and myself were raised. His desire was to raise his family where his ancestors were, so after a lot of thought I realized that the old house was doing me no good except storage. Being built in 1898 it was not feasible to restore. After cleaning it out and inviting all the family back for one last reunion and a time to wander the two story frame 12 rooms and exchange stories it was razed with love one board at a time. Thousands of feet of lumber was salvaged along with doors, windows, and so on. The rock from the chimneys was saved and used in retaining walls around the new house. I took the time to keep a daily diary of the house coming down and recorded all my memories. My Mother (who will be 95 in April) called on all the family to write down their memories of their childhood at the home place and compiled them and my diary in book form. To me and the family this is priceless. Today a fifth generation is growing up in our footsteps and enjoying the stories of our lives and are comforted in knowing their roots. I hope the rest of your journey is safe and keep us POSTED. Thanks, Don
I heard about your post over on t talk,came over to read it,and am soooo glad I did ,Thank you for such a beautifully thought out story,I really enjoyed it,Thank you,,,,things like this is what makes this site so great,
Boss, your story reminds me of when we used to go to Lake Norden, SD in the 50's with my mom to spend 3 weeks on the farm where she grew up during the depression. Many amazing stories!
Straw, Thank you many times over for your story. It was excellent, as you have the knack of putting stories on paper. I hope you keep us posted on the whole trip out and back.
The Iowa City and Mt.Plaesant area part was very interesting to me as I know that area from traveling thru there many times. clint
Clint that was a neat story, I agree with you although we still have most of the buildings on our home farm since 1935, and in good repair I might add.

We sell tractor parts! We have the parts you need to repair your tractor - the right parts. Our low prices and years of research make us your best choice when you need parts. Shop Online Today.