It's a good life if you don't weaken.

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Windy in Kansas, Apr 3, 2005.

  1. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

    Jun 16, 2002
    South Central Kansas
    I started to post this on the homestead poll, but decided it might hijack the thread or be too off topic. This is kind of a rehash, but newer folk might enjoy reading some of the quantity of food we put up, etc. For reference, there were three of us kids for a total of five in the family.
    Farmers from homesteader stock would be the best description for my parents.

    We lived on the old family homestead, which was homesteaded in 1886 when ancestors arrived in my home area of western Kansas.

    For most of the years while I was growing up we farmed and ran stock on 1020 acres. When I was in high school we expanded to nearly 1500 acres. For the most part we raised only wheat and cane, i.e. grain sorghum feed crop.

    We ran 50 brood cows and sold the calves each fall. On occasion we would keep a few hogs, butcher one and sell the rest. A beef was grain fed and butchered yearly, the process farmed out to a slaughter and processing facility. Nearly always we kept two milk cows. Excess cream would be sold on occasion, but for the most part we and relatives consumed it through homemade butter, cooking, etc. What fun for a kid to turn the crank on a butter churn or cream separater.

    We kept quite a large flock of chickens and some weeks would sell 90-100 dozen eggs. They free ranged as the modern label would call it. We would get straight run replacement chicks in the spring, butcher the cocks when they got large enough and use the pullets for hen replacement. Some hens were butchered, some sold to individuals locally, others shipped out after being sold to the fellow that ran the hardware store/creamery/egg buying facility. The hens provided cash flow for the farm.

    When I was younger we were pretty well off grid. We had a gasoline generator that charged a bank of large glass cased batteries. The system was a 32 volt system. Many of the buildings were wired for lights. Appliances which ran on the 32 volts we had were a twin tub Dexter brand wringer washer, radio, iron, Dohrmeyer mixer, and others I'll probably think of later.

    Water was windmill pumped into an overhead tank that gravity supplied the home. While we had a gray water septic system, we didn't have black septic so used an outhouse until we added an addition to the home and added a full bathroom. We had two windmills, one mainly supplied the house, the other the livestock tanks. Both water wells were hand dug wells about 75' to 85' deep.

    Cooking was done on a kerosene Perfection stove. Heating was done with a heating fuel, Duo-therm brand stove. Refrigeration was done with butane. The water heater had a fuel oil burner. After arrival of REA most appliances were switched in favor of electricity.

    Tractor was a John Deere "D" pop pop, later a "GTB" Minneapolis Moline 4 cylinder, later modern tractors. Most field work was done with one-way disc plows of the 12 foot size. When my oldest brother became old enough we added a second tractor to be able to work the acreage more timely.

    Our grain combine was a "Baldwin" Gleaner pull type. Later a self propelled Massey Harris 21a was used, then custom harvesters were used.

    Feed was put up with a power take off operated grain binder. The bundles of feed came out of the binder onto a cradle which was tripped by an operator foot lever after several bundles were on it. After the feed was cut the piles of feed bundles would be placed into shocks. Once well cured we would start hauling the shocks into feed racks near the corrals in addition to feed being placed in the hay mow of two barns. Not all of the feed was hauled in early, but was hauled from the field as needed unless it got quite muddy or the snow got deep. Then that we had placed into the racks was used until the field dried out to use from it again.

    We gardened, but not on a real large scale, probably the garden was 40' X 50'. Produce was always canned in addition to fresh eating. Some produce was nearly always purchased for canning in addition to what we grew. Each year 200 pounds of potatoes were purchased and placed into the root cellar to carry us until spring. A 60 pound can of honey was ordered in each year as well.

    Peck sized baskets of grapes, two bushels or peaches, a bushel of apricots, a half bushel of Stanley prune plums, and a lug of Bing cherries were all purchased for canning and fresh eating. Pie cherries were also purchased, but I don't remember the quantity. Apples were used fresh and stored, not dried or other. Probably two bushels of them were purchased. Bushels of canning tomatoes were purchased when available. Each year we received a crate of oranges from relatives in California. I think the crates were one bushel sized. I have three of the old crates but none give size. While sweet corn arrived in our town for purchase some years, most often locally grown field corn was eaten instead.

    We usually didn't buy 3¢ per pound watermelons, but waited until the price dropped to 1½¢ per pound then would buy several. We always purchased "Black Diamond" variety melons of the 30 to 40 pound size. Most were shipped in from Oklahoma, some from Colorado. I can still remember the smell of them and still hear them crack as the knife split them just enough to weaken the rind. Watermelon pickles were often made from rinds of some.

    Other pickles were made from purchased pickling cucumbers, other pickles were made from devils claw pods which are weeds. They looked like pickled mice as they have a slightly fuzzy skin to them. Nearly always a neighbor had us pick some excess crab apples so that they could be put up as spiced crab apples.

    We had currants and choke cherries, sandhill plums picked at a friend's place where they grew wild, and purchased fruit for jelly and jam makings.

    Several 50# bags of flour were purchased each year. We used some store bought bread, some homemade. During good crop years we probably purchased more than we made. With plenty of eggs, cream, and lard plenty of cakes were made too. Rarely frosted unless company was coming.

    We had one building that had this stove in it.
    Sorry for that long url. On it we would render our lard and save the cracklings for cat and dog food in addition to eating some ourselves. Ever eat cornbread made with some cracklings in it?

    We traded for a new to us used car about every 7 years. We had a new pickup in 1949 and it was replaced in 1969 and used until sold at the estate sale in 1996. We replaced our model "A" Ford truck with a used 1947 Chevrolet, then replaced it with used 1953 Chevrolet until it sold at the estate sale.

    We boys each got two or three new pairs of jeans each fall just before school started. After arriving home from school we would change out of them and into everyday clothes which were last years clothing. We had store bought shirts in addition to shirts mom sewed up for us.

    About once every two months we would go to town to eat in one of the restaurants, then go to a movie. Sometimes more often if an exceptional movie was on the theater handbill. We probably did it to help Mrs. Williams with her restaurant income as much as for ourselves.

    Saturdays were a little shorter work day and used to prepare for Sunday cattle feeding, etc. On Sunday there was nearly always morning and evening services to attend (also mid week bible study). After church my grandmother, aunts and uncles, and the five of us would gather on most Sundays for a big meal together. Some Sundays were set aside each year to eat with other church families, cousins, or friends visiting from out of town. Rarely did we eat alone on a Sunday.

    Telephones were crank style with party lines until I was a junior or senior in high school. Each family that had a phone belonged to the local telephone association and helped maintain the lines. A small amount of dues were paid in order to have a switchboard operator and access to the those on other party lines as well as access to long distance.

    Television arrived mid 50s for most in the area. You could get one channel with a signal strength which wouldn't even be watched today. In the 1960s another closer station was built and gave to network choices. Unless you have cable or satellite there are still only the two networks available by broadcast.

    Rea arrived for most in the 1940s, the last family without electricity hooked up in 1965.

    They call it the good life, but they never mention scooping 2½ tons of wheat from a truck into a bin several times a day on a 105º July day. They don't mention mucking out a barn after 50 head of cows and 50 head of calves have spent the night in it due to a blizzard. They don't mention the use of the outhouse on a cold winter day, having to brush the snow from the ice cold seat, nor the odor of it on a hot summer day. Not horrid, but not exactly pleasant either if you get my drift.

    It is a good life---if you don't weaken. It was a good life as there are more fond memories than there were bad ones.
  2. bearkiller

    bearkiller Well-Known Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Northern California

    Wow! I love such nostalgia! I was raised a city kid, like most of us here. While in university I ended up on a 54 acre farm and felt like I had come home. Didn't know why until I spent some time talking with my dad. Turned out he had left the family homestead in the old country and a life very much similar to what you describe.

    Me, I've never looked back. Yes! I've spent too much time stalking that elusive green buck, but my roots are firmly planted in the soil and over my life I have built three and now working on homestead number four. Getting my hands dirty in the garden and enjoying the years new kids and lambs have to rate at the top of my personal list of worlds best things.

    Perhaps the biggest difference is that I have thought about and plannned until I have achieved considerably more ease in living the homestead life than the very hard work reflected in your post shows. By incorporating many "modern conveniences" back to the land can mean less work and still a comfortable life.


  3. whiterock

    whiterock Well-Known Member Supporter

    Mar 26, 2003
    South of DFW,TX zone 8a
    Thanks for the reminders. I was mostly cotton and grain sorghum with beef cattle.
    Most of what you wrote was REALLY familiar to me.
  4. Lumbering ox

    Lumbering ox Member

    Mar 20, 2005
    When we went to visit relations in Newfoundland around "da bay" in 1980 or so, I had the chance... and no choise of using an outhouse. There were still plenty of places that didn't have inside bathrooms, although they do now. Also saw someone cut grass with a scythe. Now again, things are fully modern, one can see many root cellers that have collapsed.

    There is an old song about the old newfie outhouse and the "joys" of using it when it is 25 below. THe version I listen to is from Dick Nolan, so I am guessing from the time period he means -25 F not C.

    I remember reading a book on homesteading, I think it was by Harrowsmith or something like that. Interesting thing was, in addition to all the success stories, they made sure to put in some failures. I find often there is too much emphisis on the positive. I think ones chances of success are greater when you have a fully realistic prospetive, when the negitives don't come as a suprise.

    I think it was Charles Long of How to survive without a Salary who wrote perhaps in jest of a fellow who tried homesteading only to fail when "francis the walking porkchop refused to die in the fall, and cucumbers didn't grow on trees"

    Someone should set up an apprentace program, living the life for a year before commiting is probably a good thing, and I am sure many could use an extra set of hands for a year once in a while.
  5. hatwoman22

    hatwoman22 Well-Known Member

    Oct 25, 2004
    Arizona sence April
    Wow! How wonderfull to have grown up like that! That whole story was lke a blueprint to that kind of life, it was awsome to read, thanks for posting it.
  6. chas

    chas Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2004
    western pa
    How many holes in your outhouse? We only had a two seater,I guess we weren't that social minded ;) We used the sears catalogue untill they went to glossies! :no: I sure don't miss the bees and the snakes that hung out there either.
    If the wind hadn't taken the thing around 57 or 58 we may have never got in door plumbing and electric.
  7. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

    Jun 16, 2002
    South Central Kansas
    I guess we were anti-social, we only had a one holer. My dad did buy a two holer from a school closing auction years later. I think it was made by the WPA during their era. I suppose that I should ask my sister-in-law if I could have it to refurbish. Needs roof, etc. Concrete floor, seats, etc.

    As to paper goods, Montgomery Ward catalogs used poorer quality paper so that was a little softer than Sears. We however did use purchased paper. The catalogs were however nailed to a wall in the barn for emergency use there. I think an old catalog spine still hangs in the barn though the paper is long gone.
    Modern machinery has taken much of the work out of todays farming. No longer does putting up a feed crop require so much manual labor. One man with a swather and a baler can put up a tremendous amount of feed. If done into large round bales they can be moved with the tractor with only operator fatigue. On the other hand obesity in Kansas and the U.S.A. is on an alarming climb.
    Hardy stock, you bet. I fully believe that hard work is good for a person and does much to provide longevity.
    My maternal grandfather, born in 1865, was a blacksmith/homesteader/farmer and died in 1928 at age 67 of tuberculosis.
    Grandma, born in 1872, came to Kansas in a covered wagon then saw men on the moon via television. She died at age 98 years 6 months.
    Their eldest daughter lived to be age 105.
    My dad was born in 1898, saw much hard work, and lived to be 97.
    I've got the genes, I just the be exercise and maintenance and diet to care for this body of mine.
    Farm failures, yes indeed there were a tremendous amount of failures. While searching old newspapers I found a two year period where a farm auction occurred nearly every week as people left tough times and moved back east.
    Times we so tough that Quaker help was sought from those back east. They provided help with clothing and livestock feed. They were to be repaid and all but a few families made those repayments. A local Quaker stepped in and ponyied up for those that didn't.
    While we did have the 32 volt Delco-Remy light plant, a number of farms in the community had 12 volt Jacobsen wind generators and systems. Our cabinet radio was sold at auction but not hauled off. I now have it stored at my place. The old large units were a far cry from the Walkman of today. However you could get shows like "Gangbusters", "Dragnet", "Fibber Magee & Molly" and listen to great music like Sons of the Pioneers singing "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumble Weed".
    The hard hard work of yesteryear is gone for the most part. Even the Amish don't have to work as hard as they once did. In the area where I now live the Amish use somewhat modern farm tractors. One of them related to me last year that as farm size had to increase to make a living for a family the switch was made from horses to tractors. As the horsepower of tractors increased the need for traction increased, so even air is now allowed in tractor tires. The gentleman said that such decisions are decided by each local congregation. As members in those congregations disagree new sects are often formed and split from the former.

    The gentleman I was talking with works for the township in which he resides. While he is old Amish in using horses and buggies at home, he does drive modern dump trucks, operate a modern road grader, tractor and mower, etc. He is also quite bullish on using chemicals to control noxious weeds in township road ditches.
    I am glad that so many of you did enjoy my diatribe even if long.
  8. Cindy in KY

    Cindy in KY Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2002
    50 miles southwest of Louisville
    Great posts Windy! Thanks for taking all that time to write them down for us to read. Very, very interesting stuff. :)
  9. KindredCanuck

    KindredCanuck In Remembrance

    Apr 14, 2003
    Greatest country in the world... CANADA

    Great post Windy..

    Ox.. Yup Harrowsmith .. for sure.. and there are plenty of apprenticeship opportunities for anyone wanting to learn.