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"On Settlement Night, Harry always Had Fireworks."

Fri, Jul 27th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, July 30, 2001

The Art of Farming is a project of the Collaborative for Watershed Sustainability to gather stories about farm life in southeastern Minnesota before World War II. Stories have been gathered from individuals near Harmony, Lake City and Wells Creek near Red Wing.

"On Settlement Night, Harry always Had Fireworks."

Crops were different then. We had mostly grain, less corn, no soybeans probably. There was a big demand for wheat and barley (barley for mulching) and oats to feed the cattle. Dairies were nearby.

Once the cash crops were flax and wheat and rye. Farmers would take a crop to town and get money for them that same day. I know one of my uncles had oats, barley, wheat, rye and flax. He raised all of those crops. Very little corn.

There wasnt much corn because it would have to be harvested almost all by hand, picked by hand. (yep) And the cobs were thrown into a wagon pulled by a team of horses. My dad said that when he went out to pick corn in the morning, he picked a triple wagon box which was 36 bushels in the morning, and then came home and shoveled it off at noon and went back and picked another load in the afternoon. That was a days work (72 bushels.) The animals ate it off the cob, and you usually had a little hand sheller you turned by hand for loose corn to feed the chickens.

My father owned the threshing machine and also the silo filler, for the whole neighborhood. Theyd thresh all day and when they got done theyd have a meeting and settle up as to how many hours each had worked and then theyd pay my dad for the use of the machinery, so much per bushel.

But the help was exchanged. A lot of farms had a hired man so there were two men for that account-- this farm would have two, then the next would have one. Course then the single man farm would likely have to pay some cash. But it would generally come out pretty even.

On the settlement night, Harry always had fireworks-- eats and beer and cards, and there was always one guy that could never pay the bill but somehow he could play poker all night long. And sometimes wed call the local bar ahead of time and theyd bring in a case of beer. The place would just give it to us. I wasnt a patron of the bar, but most of those guys were. When we thrashed, the first thing we did each noon was have a bottle of beer. (Well a few farmers were dry and wouldnt allow it, but... )

When I was 15, I started cooking for a threshing crew, although we didnt have that many. My mother died when I was very young, and my older sisters were all married by then, and as the last girl at home, I was the chief cook and bottle-washer. It was my duty to feed those thrashers. And it was morning lunch, noon meal and afternoon lunch, and in those days you didnt buy bread so it also included baking a lot of bread!

I remember, when we used to thrash (my dad owned a thrash machine also) and he had what he called a "Rumley" (tractor) and my older sister, four years older, she and I always had to milk when it was threshing time, so wed always go outside to listen to see if we could hear his tractor running. And if we could hear it, then we wouldnt start milking, but pretty soon we couldnt hear it and we figured wed better start milking. (Bang, bang, bang, a Rumley would make that noise.) It was a one-cylinder tractor. We usually ended up getting the milking done before he got home, because if it was a good day theyd thrash until dark. I did eight cows before he got home one time!

It would take a lot of energy today to milk a cow, because they give so much milk. Years ago they didnt give that much milk. We always milked by hand, and we thought we had it tough when we were growing up, but my grandfather said when he worked out- at age 18 or 19, they would shock the grain and he worked all day and to dark and then still had to do chores when he got home.

There was a bunch of us young guys, my brother and then a few more about my age. Especially on Saturday night, Dad would always thrash later in the evening, just because it was going out night!

These stories were gethered from Wells Creek, MN on December 11, 2000 at the home of Richard and Elaine Diercks, with help from Gerry and Mary Ann Burfeind, Richard and Elaine Diercks, and Duane Stemmann. They are edited by Beth Waterhouse. She can be reached at 952-401-0591.

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