By Rick Houser –
Even though I have been removed from the farm for a good while now, I can still tell that it is the time for change. Just as in the spring when the world begins to bloom and the days grow longer and warmer, so in its own way does late fall. Yes, the days grow shorter, cooler, and what started in the spring is being harvested in the fall.
The signs are all around us and we can not only feel it. but sense that the fall is not only near its end, but that winter is coming our way. As the trees grow bare, we start adding on more layers of clothing to keep us warm. Fall of course is so pretty with all its colorful splendor but to me it is a camouflage that is hiding winter’s approach.
When I was on the farm, the fall was a very busy time as we were picking the corn and filling all our cribs if the season had been good to us, but once the corn fields were empty we took advantage of every ray of sunshine to prepare a field so that we could drill it into wheat for the next summer’s crop. Before winter got a good grip, the wheat would sprout and turn the brown corn fields into green fields. When I saw the green beginning as the year was ending, I felt I was seeing a promise that another growing season was beginning.
On the days when it was moist enough, the tobacco would come into case and we would take some down out of the barn and take it to the stripping room, or if the weather was mild enough, we would stand in the barn’s driveway and strip it right there. These days were enjoyable to me as we were getting something accomplished and getting to enjoy the last good days of the year outside. This also was the time of year when the feeding of the cattle began taking more and more of our time. The amount of ground corn was increased and we began filling the mangers with the hay that we had filled the barn with the previous summer.
It wasn’t only the cattle but also the pigs and chickens thst demanded added attention. This is when the priorities of the farmer’s life changed from the crops in the field to using those crops to care for the livestock. I liked going to the barn and filling the mangers. The hay mow was always a cozy welcome place or at least I thought it was. Now, feeding the grain to the cattle and hogs could get somewhat dangerous. Cattle seeing the burlap bags of feed at the trough would get anxious and they would knock you over into the trough. This happened to me more than once.
As the temperature dropping below freezing, Dad would go to the Farm Bureau and buy a couple of cases of anti-freeze. It came in gallon cans and every piece of machinery that had an engine on it got their radiator filled with the green chemical, so their engines wouldn’t freeze. We seemed to winterize things for a couple of days until Dad felt we were safe for another freezing season. Along with the anti-freeze, Dad ordered a truck load of coal for the house and a load for the stove in the stripping room. I think we got our coal from Tom Duckworth over in Bethel. Dad changed the type of heat in the house to oil heat and when that was done, he ordered a tank full of fuel also.
It was Dad’s feeling that to be ready before the weather changed was far better than preparing after the fact. I could always see that his way was the best. To this day I try to be ready for when the time for change comes along.
We also spent a few days putting all of the farm equipment away so it would be protected from the harsh weather. By the time we had it all placed in the barns and garages, all those places seemed to be as packed as they could possibly be. We had what was called a cab for one of the tractors. It was more of a shield that bolted a windshield made of plastic in front of the steering wheel and canvas material doors to block air on the sides. In those days we thought it to be state of the art but the truth was that if you were out more than fifteen minutes you were freezing.
There is a theme to the end of fall and that was simply preparing everything and everyone for “old man winter”. The last thing was to winterize ourselves. We would all load up and head for Felicity to Brannocks and get new coveralls, gloves, long underwear, and a good pair of four-buckle arctic boots. (It was a must to have strong and warm foot wear because if your feet got cold you were done for the day.) At Mr. Brannocks’ we were able to buy all the needed items at one stop and at a more than a fair price. At least that was what my Dad told me and I don’t recall him looking to go over-priced.
With all of the above in place, the signs of the times had been observed and adhered to. The times when we were changing from one season to the next were the busiest times for us as and likely for all the other farms around us. Even though we prepared, there would be some days that proved that we had underestimated “old man winter”, but with all we had put together, we survived. And we could always just try to look forward to the return of spring!