Every week, I share an excerpt from the book my Great Aunt helped write, As the Story is Told: A History of Morpeth and Community, which was printed in 1986. This week continues the story of “Farm Life.” Have you ever been to a ploughing match? I like the chipmunk story at the beginning, but I wonder if that really happened or if it was an episode of Donald Duck & Chip and Dale?
An old story teller used to tell of an experience he was supposed to have had while planting corn. In those days, of course, they had rail fences and chipmunks running up and down them as a common sight. On this particular day he was planting corn down by the bush and when he looked behind him he saw the chipmunks were digging up the corn as fast as he could plant it. However, he kept on planting and at noon went to the house for his dinner. Upon returning he found the chipmunks were two and a half rows ahead of him.
In the fall this corn had to be cut with a sickle and stood up in the shocks to be husked out later. Husking corn could be rather pleasant on a sunny day late in the full but usually by this time of year it was getting quite cold and often the snow would be flying. Sometimes the corn would be brought into the barn to be husked whenever you could find the time.
There was little riding equipment in his early days. For ploughing you would get between the handles of a walking plough, driving your team and steering the plough at the same time. With a twelve inch, one-furrow plough you could probably plough about two acres in a day. This would require about twenty miles of walking for the farmer, no easy task!
It was not until about 1928 that the Arnolds had their first tractor; tractors were not too common then. They had just purchased an extra hundred acres of land and decided they needed more power. Verne and his brother Hilton were now farming together. The tractor took care of the heavy work, while the team of horses continued to be used for the lighter jobs up until about 1940. His first memory of seeing tractors was at the International Ploughing Match held on the English farm about two miles from Chatham in 1919. It is interesting to note that it was 1979, sixty years later that the ploughing match was again in this area on the Maynard farm.
During his life he has experienced many changes which have taken place in farm life. He has seen it evolve from a diversified type of farming to the present era of specialized farming.
On the earlier-day farms they produced a little of many things supplying much of their own needs. Mr. Arnold can recall back to the time when his family didn’t have a cream separator, his mother would put the milk into pans and let it sit. When the cream had risen to the top she would skim it off, put it into a cream can and hang it down into the well to keep it cool. The cream would later be churned into butter and whatever was not needed for their own use would be taken to the village general store to be traded for whatever was needed. Surplus eggs from the few chickens, that usually roamed the yard, would be traded in like manner. Various crops would be grown. White beans and wheat were their cash crops, while corn, hay and oats were grown mainly as feed for the livestock. Besides having horses, cows and chickens they would usually fatten a few steer and raise a couple of pigs each year for market.
Mother Nature once played a trick on the Arnold brothers. White bean harvest was progressing well and on this particular day they had a thirteen-acre field of white beans and pulled, raked all ready for the barn. As the day progressed, the wind seemed to grow stronger and stronger. They started to pitch the beans on one side of the wagon, but the wind blew them off the other side as fast as they tried to put them on. Before the day was over all the beans had been rolled across the field to the lane fence. Finally the pressure became so great the posts gave way and the beans landed in the lane to be rescued later. Fortunately it did not rain and in spite of all the punishment the beans endured, when threshed they still yielded thirty bushels to the acre. They had apparently been damp enough not to shell out. This is typical of some of the unexpected experiences of farm life.
White beans are no longer grown in this immediate area. Due to a bronzing or blight that seemed to strike, the yield per acre decreased rapidly until it became no longer profitable to grow them. The soy bean, which is a hardy less-risky crop, is now grown. The other principal crop produced is corn, some being grown for seed purposes. The raising of chickens and pigs has become highly specialized with barns built for that purpose with automatic equipment. The egg market is controlled now by the Egg Marketing Board, using a quota system.
The trend today is larger and more efficient farming, but fewer farmers. Farming is no longer a way of life but a business.