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"Two-Sixteen’s, We Called it."

Fri, Jun 29th, 2001
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Thoughts on runaways…Edited By Beth WaterhouseMonday, July 2, 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.

We did all our hay cutting with horses. My brother and I had a team. For threshing we used horses at all times. But I personally never plowed with horses.

I plowed with six horses, three in front and three behind. You might wonder how that would ever work, but it did. The horses got used to that. You had a two-bottom plow. "Two sixteen’s" we called it; you took 32 inches a swath then. Some people used eight horses in the bigger fields—where you could have a three-bottom plow.

Two of the horses for sure had to walk in the loose plowing, then. Must have been hard work, compared to those on the other side walking on a hard surface. I guess they did, I don’t know how they did that. I have never seen a three-bottom plow, but I know they had them out West, in the wheat country where the fields were larger. Just naturally a lot harder work.

I’ve had horses run away from me a number of times. They’d scare at something and just take off. There were bumblebees; with the plow you’d plow up a bee’s nest. They would sting the horses. I’ve seen half a dozen runaways in my life. They would take off and sometimes they would have half their harness on when you found them.

I can remember dragging with horses. I didn’t get to go to high school, I had to work in harness! That was my job in the spring, to drag cornstalks; I’d walk behind and they’d drag all day long. Every day. It was done to break up the cornstalks so you could plow it. You’d drag it and make it into rows.

If there were too many stalks to plow under, what do you do but burn it? Yeah, that’s what we did. Well, the equipment didn’t have any clearance and the stalks wouldn’t go through the machinery, so what do you do but burn it?

I don’t know where my dad bought this horse. It was a racehorse but something had happened to her leg. The racehorse’s name was Walla Walla Walamy but we called her Mabel. (laughter) I was driving this horse and it decided to go under a bridge that was just high enough for the horse. And I slid off the back end and hit the dirt. It was a nice horse, otherwise!

I remember just one runaway ever, that’s when we lived over here. One day we got up in that field over there. My brother Dean was on the wagon and it was a real sultry muggy day, and the flies were terrible. This one horse just went crazy and kept rubbing and pulled her bridle off…and away they went. I hollered to my brother, "jump, jump!" He was trying to hang on and finally he did jump off the wagon. Just then they hit the ditch, and the rack flew up in the air and the wagon was split in two! They went through the fence, made a circle and landed in that little creek here and they stopped right there. I don’t remember how we got them out.

We have two sons and a daughter and now eight grandchildren. When you were talking about the horses, I was thinking, now our boys have horses for pleasure. Well, they drive a couple of them. But I remember when they got their first horses, because they weren’t brought up with horses, and their dad was always telling them what to do and what not to do, like watching them and this and that. Their response was always, "We know how to take care of horses, Dad, just forget about it." Well, they soon learned that what Dad had learned all those years of driving horses wasn’t so dumb! One time our son took a horse up through the valley to cut some wood, he forgot to tie it while they were cutting wood. All of a sudden the chain saw spooked the horse, and it came running home. Luckily they were fairly close. Nowadays the kids are learning, you know.

These stories where gathered from Lake City natives on December 14, 1999 at the kitchen table of Ralph Lentz with help from Ralph Lentz, Art Thicke, Dennis Rabe, Larry Gates, and Gary Holthaus. They are edited by Beth Waterhouse. She can be reached at 952-401-0591.

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