By Rick Houser
In the spring of the year when the temperatures rise to more comfortable levels and the trees come back to life with their green leaves, farmers see the other signs of spring also. That’s when the farmers hit the fields to prepare them into seed beds for the year’s new crops, with their tractors, trucks, and equipment visible to all who pass by.
To those passers by it all looks easy. These days it is a lot different than in the past when I farmed but no matter, it is all aimed at the same result. Aiming for a bumper crop! The equipment is bigger and the procedures have been consolidated even to the point of no till planting a crop. When I see a field being worked, I watch in amazement at how much the process has changed and only can wish it had existed back in the 50’s, and 60’s and even the 70’s.
When I farmed all the fields were mold board plowed and when it was time to plant the corn or beans, the ground was leveled with a device a farmer made called a “drag”. The drag was made with heavy 4 X 4’s and connected by 2 x 6’s and fence posts and concrete blocks were added on top for additional weight. The drag was hitched to the tractor by cables and the driver pulled all this weight over uneven plowed ground and leveled the field so that a disc could then be used to create a seed bed for the crop. Dragging a field could be dangerous as the surface to travel could sometimes be very uncertain. To drag a field was equal to riding a bronco bull and there was always the added feature of dust and lots of it.
As for the dust part, the same could be said when discing the field, which took two times over the field at the least. If the drag didn’t dislocate your back, the disc might do it. No matter how smooth or rough, the one thing that was constant was that there would be dust. Looking from the road, farming on tractors looked easy to be doing, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have worked the ground and have it be so dusty that I didn’t even get a sun tan. (That was the one perk I wanted to get.) You could taste the dirt as it stuck to your teeth. Your eyes naturally itched and your face and arms became a clay brown by the end of the day. When I stopped for a drink of water from the water jug, I did much more rinsing and spitting than swallowing. (Sometimes I thought I was spitting out mud.)
Very rarely did a farmer return home in the evening as clean as he was when he left in the morning. The thing is that we never really complained about it. It was just a part of farming and we accepted that. So when we worked with mother earth we never gave it a thought that mother earth would always come out on top and leave her marks on us to boot. I do know that when the planting season began and the weather cooperated, our days were long and the work was anything but easy. By the way, the tractors had no shock absorbers and the seats on our Ford tractors weren’t padded either, so it didn’t take too long before operating the tractor was mostly done in a standing position.
The farmer has come a long way from the Ford 8N tractors to the tractors of today but it’s safe to say their days are still as long and the dust is still out there just waiting to help make their days unpleasant. A common denominator between the then and the now is that farmers know going in to the business of agriculture that there is a feeling that comes over us that we are going to conquer the soil and succeed at raising a good crop. I don’t have a name for that feeling but any farmer will tell you it exists and I think that is what keeps them coming back again for another year.
I don’t farm anymore but I do garden and I look forward to seeing a seed pop through the ground and become a plant. I feel like I did this and it gives me cause to smile with satisfaction. Sure, there is a lot of hard labor and tons of dust but I guess it is all worth it. When I would begin to complain about all the dust my Dad would say, “Remember son we are all supposed to eat a pound of dirt in our lives.” Well at this moment I remember that and I can safely say I ate more than my pounds worth of southern Ohio clay.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share his stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.