Think gardening is hard work?

soilent_greenOctober 16, 2012

Try making a living and feeding your family relying on this tool:

My grandfather worked his 160 acres with this plow and his beloved team of horses back in the late 1910s and 1920s until he purchased his first tractor in the early 1930s. She has not seen daylight in at least half a century, so I thought I would bring her out of storage to take a picture. She is a bit worse for wear - the handles have been broken off for as long as I can remember.

I come across her occasionally and quietly thank the inventors of the internal combustion engine.

Kinda puts things in perspective, huh?

Happy Gardening,


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Wow. one hundred and sixty acres with a one bottom plow, that is a lot of time, not just work.

My one grandfather took some of his horse-drawn implements and converted them to work with his Ford 9N but he had a two-bottom.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 2:10AM
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This is really something. If not for the discovery of fossil fuel we wouldnt be suffering from all those over-populated earth related problems cos making food became so much easier and faster afterward. So a f-u to the inventor of engines.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 2:59AM
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Do you know what make it is?

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 9:51AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Lol, ltilton. At least we know how much hp it takes to run that implement...
I can't imagine 160 acres, not without a ton of help. We only have 5 and not all of that is up and running yet, we don't have the money for the various implements. So I have limed and sown an acre by hand. Just broadcast sowing a stand of vetch, pleasant work, but took close to an hour for 1acre... Times 160?! No way!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 12:09PM
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It does indeed have a maker.

Those old walking one-bottoms are still very common, although I have never seen one with the wood beam that intact. Some years ago a friend restored one and we plowed with his team of young oxen. That was a lot of fun.

The other day one turned up nearby in an old junk heap, I think I will be able to acquire it. It is made by A.Doe. I suspect it is one bottom from a two-bottom sulky.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 1:14PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

With 160 acres in the old days, you might have 20 acres in woods, 10 acres in barn lots, gardens, roads and fence rows, 20 acres in permnant pasture, 40 acres in wheat, oats, and hay. That leaves up to 70 acres to plow [whew] and closely cultivate. Then imagine husking and cribbing 50 acres of corn [ouch].

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 3:26PM
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But they had all day every day to do it. The hours add up, you just go to it, there is nothing else to do more important.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 6:45PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

pnbrown, They didn't have all day to do that. Most farmers did mixed farming. That meant cows to milk twice a day; pigs to castrate and feed; sheep to feed and shear; poultry to care for; manure to fork out and spread, and farm meetings to attend.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 6:59PM
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Ya know, I post stuff and try to proofread and make corrections but I still kind of screw up regarding what I write. My apologies.

Please let me clarify, because I realize there is a big disconnect that has occurred in our society, and not everyone knows these details any longer. I still have the original land patent document (I may post a photo of this document if any interest) that my great grandfather was given for the land. He acquired enough land to give a 160 acre farmstead to each of his nine (!) children. So my grandfather was given a standard 160 acre farmstead, the one I am living on now. No, he did not have to work 160 acres with this plow and a team of horses. As others have explained, you have the grove, the buildings, the pasture for beef and dairy cattle and horses, etc. Then there was grassland for harvesting hay for winter feed (the pheasant hunting was incredible back then, now very few around). In this area there used to be many wetlands and sloughs that have since been drained (the duck and goose hunting was incredible back then, now there is nothing). He also had a gravel pit. Some land was planted into oats to feed the horses. Some land was planted into corn for silage. Some land was planted into corn for grain harvest (ears hand-picked and shelled later - I still have his old corn sheller). Some land was planted into wheat and rye to be ground into flour for home use and to sell. Seed for planting the next season was pulled out of each year's harvest and was carefully stored in the house in rodent-proof containers. I honestly do not know how many actual acres were worked with this plow every season, but I think the numbers mentioned by others are probably close to the mark. With luck, enough extra grain was produced to sell to market to raise a little cash. Even though my grandfather raised Angus beef cattle, my mother always told me that as a child they rarely ate beef, and when they did it was from the dairy cattle that were old or cranky or were no longer producing good amounts of milk. The good beef was sold to raise cash. They lived on pork and chicken, wild game, and beef stew meat, when they had some of the best beef on the hoof out in the pasture.

My grandfather had six brothers, and two sisters who married farmers, and most stayed in the area. They all helped each other at planting and harvest time. That is how it worked back then. Still a heck of a lot of physical labor, though, and I honestly have no idea how they did it. But they were young and ambitious, and had a strong work ethic. They were all pretty much broken physically by the time they were in their fifties, and all were retired and were renting out their land by their sixties. That was the toll that was paid. IMHO very few people today have a clue what hard work really is. Heck, I have a hard time truly comprehending it myself. And to think that many thousands of people lived that lifestyle for generations.

If I remember correctly, his horses were Belgians. I used to know their names, but have forgotten them. He loved them and was very proud of them, and kept them after he got a tractor and still used them for pulling wagons. My mother said that if her dad could not be found, she would go to the horse stalls in the barn and sure enough he would be found with them. They were gone by the 1940s.

And he was the very first person to give me the spark of interest in gardening even though he died, much too young, when I was six years old. He and my father are always with me when I am out working in the gardens.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:25PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

soilent green, That was an informative post.
Land was settled here in the middle 1800s. At first the farms were tree covered for the most part in my county so not so much was cultivated at first. Also there were wet areas that needed draining. By 1900 the 160 acres was becoming mostly farmed I would say.

My great grandfather sold the 160 acres [where I live on that used to be an old orchard] to my grandmother for $3,000 in about 1885. I have an abstract for the land back to somewhere about 1839-1853.
A great uncle had 600 acres at one time.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:50PM
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Sorry, when I write of an x-acre farm, for what ever reason I write as if the entire farm is in cultivation, which would be a rare set-up as they have to live some where.

There was a farm across the road from my one grand-father where the only building there was a non-dairy barn.

Around the part of mid-Minn. I am from, eighty acres was a common size, with extra land rented, often.
Of the eighty, sixty or so was often in cultivation with the rest for buildings and pasture.

Still doing even one forty acre field with a one bottom would take a lot of time compared to a same sized field with a two-bottom sulky plow.

My father worked with the horse-drawn implements my grand-father had while they still had horses.
He loathed working a farm.
He was mystified why when he was older he loved going to old farm and threshing shows.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:09PM
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I'm not debating that farming was (and is still, even) a lot of heavy work. I just get a little tired of hearing about how tough it was and how we couldn't do it now. I disagree, I'm 49 and have been making a living doing manual labor all my life. Carpentry, roofing, siding, etc. Probably most of you here have carried a bundle of asphalt shingle up a ladder, right? Now that I am not in my twenties, I carry a half-bundle, or even a third. it doesn't add all that much to the job, really, and more important I can function the next day and the next week

So that's how they did. When you're 50 maybe you don't tote a full bushel-basket all day. Walking behind a plow all day is boring, but not totally exhausting for someone in reasonable shape. I don't think the physical aspect of it is why many people hated it, it was the banality of it. Getting in 50 acres of field corn must have been dreadfully dull after the first day or two, I agree. Is it any more exciting now for the guy that has to run a 30' harvester for 2 or 3 months?

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 8:59AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Yeah, pn, Now they ride in conditioned air comfort with yield gauges, gps direction. phones, and perhaps auto steering...hey wake me up for dinner [just kidding].

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 11:52AM
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They do now, one Minneapolis Moline, well over fifty years ago did too, have radios which can make the most boring job tolerable.

Although my one grand-father did, for a long time, carry a battery powered radio to listen to baseball games.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 1:45PM
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So really, how brutally hard is one working if listening to the radio? I don't allow radios on my jobs, interferes with concentration and therefor productivity.

I'm sure it was no different then than now, intensity of work varies by individual, one farmer might have done twice the work of another without wrecking himself, by working smarter, being in better shape, luck of the draw. One thing is sure, when you do that kind of work, you pace yourself. If there is no time for a reasonable pace then the planning was not right.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 4:28PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

With work horses you paced the horses! With the older tractors without cabs, you got dirt in your eyes and came in at the end of the day with your face red and wind-burned...still so much easier than the horse days.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 7:27PM
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Right. Animals naturally pace themselves.

In a lot of ways, the pace of work for humans is faster the more complicated the machines. When I started carpentry was just before nail-guns became common here, so we were very adept with hammer and feeding the nails from the off-hand. One moved slower though than with a nail-gun, and also squatting down nailing a floor, for instance (by hand), is easier on the back than stooped over operating a gun. I imagine when frames and finish were cut entirely by handsaw rather than skilsaw and chop saw the pace was slower. Nothing really harder about it, just slower.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 7:55PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

I can say that I am quite thankful I do not have to make my living or rely solely on my garden to feed my family. One advantage previous generations shared was an experiential knowledge base to draw from. The internet is a great resource for finding answers to problems but is still limited by the differences in our geography.

I also found it slightly amusing that the banality pnb refers to driving people away from farming is often what drives many to gardening. It is nice to have that escape to a quieter work and certainly preserves some of my sanity.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 10:45PM
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I wonder what George Washington would say about washing machines.
I now wonder what your Grandfather would say about growing more vegetables on half the land in a third of the time.
Or what he would say about no till gardens.
I learned on a smaller plow then that, with a donkey.
My father would not let us on the tractor until we had worked with Old Jack & a single plow & sweeps. Of course we started with pulling weeds, then hoe & shovel.
I did not like working the single plow as much as the tractor.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 12:01AM
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What are 'sweeps'?

This is a pretty interesting discussion, not least that we have members here who can remember the very end of animal-power in farming. A living former Prez, Jimmy Carter, farmed with mules growing up. It isn't so long ago.

Regarding the OP idea that making a living with a walking plow was witheringly difficult, consider the very origin of the word "acre". Roughly the amount of land that a skilled plowman could turn in a day with an ox in medieval europe. I think we can safely assume that was with an implement far more crude than the one pictured above. Probably during the late 19th century when polished steel plowshares were commonly affordable, with 2 and 3 bottoms being pulled by four-hand teams of huge horses, people wondered how the colonists managed with wooden plows pointed with wrought iron pulled by oxen, right?

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 7:39AM
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