By Rick Houser –
In the country during good weather, a nice drive will allow you to see many farmers in fields on tractors putting in their crops, or see them in their pickups hauling supplies to the men in the fields. I have observed this ritual all my life but the other day I noticed something for the very first time that has been there since man became a farmer. That being that all farmers wear a hat or cap.
Now this seemingly simple part of a man’s outfit doesn’t sound like much to notice or give much thought to, but then again you might be wrong. When you work in the elements of hot or cold weather, it is very important to keep your head covered to prevent heat loss or if thin on top a hat can prevent a severe sun burn. The brim of a hat or the bill of a cap helps block the sun out of the eyes and even deflect some of the rain or snow if caught out in it. Also they are important in keeping dirt and dust out of your hair and face. There are many practical reasons a farmer puts a hat or cap on as part of their work gear, but there is also the feeling that the farmer doesn’t feel complete to face his day’s jobs without one.
When I was growing up and in my earliest recollections I can’t recall my Dad working outside without his fedora hat. I think it was dark brown and over time and grime it became dark brown. Almost every farmer I knew wore the fedora, either brown or black. I know Dad wore a nice one when he went to church or any time he dressed up. So it is my guess that as his good fedora wore into a poor condition he would invest in a new one and the other one became his farming hat. No matter how he got one, he always wore one.
Some of the farmers wore a hat that looked more like a western Stetson style hat. Similar, but different, this style let people know this farmer was into country-western and styles such as snap button shirts.
The largest farmer in tour neighborhood wore a white pith helmet (safari helmet) with the International Harvester emblem on the front. Alfred Weber used almost only that brand tractor and equipment and a lot of it, so I can only assume that this was a gift from the dealership and one of the first to be given out in these parts. When you drove past a field and saw that helmet, there was no mistaking that you were looking at Alfred Weber.
When summer came along and the temperatures went up, farmers went to straw hats. Dad owned a straw fedora style hat and most of the other farmers stayed with the styles they liked. One of our neighbors were the brothers Ed and Chris Maus. They were fedora men but when straw hats were needed, Ed bought as basic a hat as he could. His brother Chris would buy a straw hat with a piece of green tint lens in the visor to reduce the harshness of the sun. To me I thought this was a great idea and I wondered why didn’t all farmers buy them. His brother Ed told me they cost more and that was all he needed to know (Ed was a man of few words). While all other farmers adjusted for summer. Alfred just kept on wearing his pith helmet.
As marketing and advertising changed, a new fad was for a brand of tractor or fertilizer or seed to begin handing out caps with the name of their product on the front. So as the 60’s moved on more and more farmers and the young farmers in their teens took to wearing ball caps as their head gear instead of the old-style hats. I think my Dad’s generation was the last to be sold on the hat.
Today as you look at the farmer in the field, he has almost entirely been taken over by the caps, but I will guarantee you there is not a cap that is not displaying a product that the farmer uses. I know our hired hand Wilbur wore what I call a train engineer’s hat. I don’t know who sold them, but it was the only style he wore. I did see a few around but they must have kept it a secret where they got them.
A hat or a cap is part of what a farmer needs to do his job. It has been many years since I farmed but to this day I don’t walk outside without my cap on. I have a dirty one to work in the yard and a clean one to wear uptown or to the store. The headgear has become a part of me I guess, just like the pocket knife. When I was growing up we could pass a field and identify the farmer by the hat. It became a big part of who they were.
When I was in my teens and beyond, my caps all had a logo on them and by the end of a farming season a cap was faded from sweat stain and had become very limber and the bill had almost lost any and all of its purpose, but for people driving by to identify who I was. By the way the cap I wear uptown now has the logo of the Shawnee State Bears because my son attended school there. I’m pretty certain the logo on the cap has become a good advertising ploy.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his youth and other topics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.