Wednesday, March 12, 2008

More Farm Life in the '40s

Jay Mills - 12 March 2008 Volcan, Panama

One of the big events on the farm in the early 1940s was the grain harvest that involved a “threshing machine”. *Always spelled ‘threshing’, although ‘thrashing’ makes more sense to me. This was in “olden times” before combines that now take grain from standing in the field to bushels of grain in one continuous operation.

The threshing machine was a huge machine, maybe 6 feet wide by 30 feet long. They had large iron wheels, or sometimes rubber tires, and were pulled to the field by a team of mules or a tractor. Once in place it was powered by a long, wide power belt from a small power “pulley” on the side of a tractor. Originally a threshing machine would have been powered by a steam engine, but we lived in “modern times” with gasoline power.

The grain, wheat or oats, was first cut by a horse or tractor-drawn mower with a long, flat “sickle”. Triangular teeth on the sickle moved past fixed, pointed guards that bunched the stalks. Once the grain stalks were on the ground, they were raked into piles with a horse-drawn rake with large steel tines so that they could be bundled and stacked in “shocks” or teepee like groups. Each shock was then picked up and loaded onto a horse drawn wagon.

Wagon loads of grain stalks with their grain heads, were taken to the threshing machine and fed onto the conveyor belt chute at the front. After a series of oscillating thrashings inside the machine, the separated grain was fed into a large pipe with an auger that delivered it to a waiting wagon, or into bags. The straw came out of a pipe at the back of the machine into a pile to be hauled away.

Speaking of food, in the 1940’s we grew potatoes at one end of a field near the coral and behind the barn. I remember the men using a mule-drawn, single bottom plow to turn up the soil so we could collect the potatoes. I also remember my mother growing a vegetable garden about 300 yards behind the house and down the hill, in the rich soil near Otter Creek. Ears of field or garden corn were always a treat, either as “roasting ears” or freshly cut from the cob and cooked. Fresh, ripe tomatoes were one of my favorites and often during the summer my mother almost lived on fresh tomatoes and buttered bread. Mother made butter from our own cream, separated from the fresh milk with a hand-cranked “separator”.

My best food memory by far is of my mother’s homemade cottage cheese. It had a remarkable rich, tangy flavor. I still love cottage cheese, however I have only had good cottage cheese once since leaving the farm in 1948. This was in the 1970’s, and it was homemade by a lady on a farm near Stillwater, Oklahoma. The best cheese here in my area of Panama comes from an old colony of Quakers in Costa Rica. If I can find the time in my busy (retired !!) schedule, I plan to try making some myself. Cottage cheese is supposed to be the easiest cheese to make. Anyone have a favorite recipe?

We had a grove of tall black walnut and pecan trees just across the creek, below the barns. It was great in the fall to go down and pick up the pecans and walnuts. They made great treats if you could get past the tough shells. Fresh walnuts in cakes are delicious, and fresh Pecan pies are the best – except for Cherry, or Pumpkin, or Mincemeat, or Apple, or …. Dinner time! – 30 -


wayne woodruff said...

Jay, you must have been more prosperous farmers than we were. You had a mechanical milk/cream separator and we did not. My mom would put a big crock of our whole milk in the refrigerator overnight and the next morning would skim off the cream from the top, and used that to make butter, and the best, homemade ice cream. Every Sunday morning after coming home from church, I was given the task of turning the old 6 qt. ice cream freezer until that delicious stuff was ready to eat. Thanks for bringing back more good memories.

Gary White said...

Great memory piece, Jay. Your description of the fresh vegetables, fresh churned butter, and cottage cheese brings back the times when we would visit my grandparents on the farm. Grandma White made that wonderful fresh butter and cottage cheese, just as you describe, and she always made fresh bread and rolls for Sunday dinner. I still have the taste of those rolls soaked in butter on my tastebuds!

DFCox said...

I never got to taste Nellie's cottage cheese but I'm sure it was delish'. My mother was also an excellent maker of this staple. We always had a jersey cow, which I milked, and some of that clotted cream always went back into the finished product. I seem to remember gauze clothes used to remove the whey from the curds. Yum Yum

Phil Foust said...

Jay, your marvelously descriptive blog does indeed bring back delightful memories.

In visiting with T.D. Oltjen yesterday he made mention of his enjoyment of the Dick Williams blog concerning his ... his posterior. Thayne also suggested that each of us again give a brief thumbnail sketch of our current station in life. Here is a start:

Thayne Oltjen
Retired: Haysville, Kansas
Wife: Rachel (Kay) Wood
Two Daughters
Thirteen Grandchildren

Phil Foust
Retired: Marion, Kansas
Wife: Pat Oltjen
Two Sons, One Daughter
Four Grandchildren, One Great-Grandchild

Gary White said...

Gary White
Retired: Santa Fe, NM
Wife: Elyn Aviva
One daughter, one son, and one step-son.
Three grandchildren

Jay (J.D.) Mills, HP3AK said...

Jay (J.D.) Mills
Retired: Volcan, Chiriqui, Panama
Divorced - ex-wife happily remarried
One daughter
Three grandchildren, born 1 minute apart in January 2001: 2 boys & 1 girl (triplets)
I still do: Photo Adventure Tours
and ham radio (HP3AK = Panama callsign)

Diane Archer Bradbury said...

Diane Archer Bradbury
Two sons
Two grandsons
Hobby: Quilt making and fabric collecting

Jay - I would love to see a picture of the triplets. Can you post one on the blog?

Your descriptive comment about pie has my mouth watering. Good thing it's lunch time. I'll go eat some cottage cheese made by Dillons!

Diane Archer Bradbury said...

I left out that I live in Winfield.

Dick Williams said...

Dick Williams
Retired: Alvin, Texas (about half-way between Houston & Galveston).
Wife: Patricia
Two sons by my first marriage, one daughter by my second.
Five Grandchildren.

Alvin is very conservative and red-neck country, so be careful what you say.

Gary White said...

So, now we KNOW why Dick lost his butt—must have spoken out of turn in Alvin!

Jay (J.D.) Mills, HP3AK said...

Diane, The triplets will visit Panama in July, then I'll have worthwhile, up-to-date pictures to post. Also thinking ahead to May of next year and the 50th reunion for the class of '59. I hope that I can make it.

Nancy Goode Schmid said...

J.D. What memories you brought back for me, at my grandparents farm we used to play 'indians' using the shocks as our teepees. How itchy and dirty we would get! My grandpa laughingly told the story about one of my uncles when he was learning to drive, he drove into the field taking our nearly all the shocks before he figured out how to stop. Im sure grandpa didnt laugh at that time.

Live in Cheyenne, Wy
4 children
11 grandchildren

Naomi said...

Naomi Helphingstine Remer
Live in rural Cedar Vale
Married to Floyd Remer for 47 years
Two daughters
Seven grandchildren
Retired nurse
Hobbies: music, quilting and family history.

Gary Metcalf said...

Jay..your blog on farm life in the 40's trigger many similar memories for me. I remember shocking feed, threshing, milking cows etc. I am working on some of my farm memories..and will post some hopefully soon.
Gary and Nancy Metcalf
Pagosa Springs, CO summer
Wickenburg, AZ winter
Two daughters and one son
Three grandsons and one grand daughter
Retired and playing cowboy