from the upcoming and untitled book about Northwest Iowa

Farm Life

By John Origer of Estherville, IA

Born 1932



     I was born on a farm east of Estherville, adjoining my grandfather Nicholas J Origer's farm to the east. The farm had a huge barn on it, which was built sometime around 1900. The main frame of the barn was put together and secured with wooden pegs. There was a silo constructed inside the barn out of the weather. My cousin, Vernon, and his wife, Vera, raised their family on that farm and they still reside on the farm. A tour of the farm is quite interesting. Vernon's father, Herman, my father Joseph M and Adolf all lived close as neighbors. My dad and grandfather both lost their farms during the depression years. Much more information on this farm can be acquired by visiting with Vernon, who is over 90 years old. He still has a very clear mind. He recently re-sided the old barn with metal and put on a metal roof. Being one of the youngest children, I do not know much more about that farm.

      I had six brothers and two sisters that went to the country school. Most of these schools were phased out in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. The old school stood on the corner one mile south on N32. My brothers and two older sisters attended school there along with Adolf and Herman's children. There was a well for water and two outhouses for facilities there. The school was heated mostly with wood. Coal was too expensive and corn was 7-10 cents a bushel, so it was often burned for heat in place of coal (it made a very hot fire).

      In 1934, my father and our family moved to a farm across the road from Ryan Lake. I was around two years old at the time. I lived on that farm until I was discharged from the Army. During my early years, there wasn't electricity on the farm. At night, things were done by lantern, lamps or candlelight. The fly population was atrocious. I remember in the summer, the south side of the red barn was mostly black due to the millions of flies on that side of the barn. When we put the cows in to milk, we would fog the barn with a homemade concoction so the cows would stand easy while being milked. Most of the time, there were 12-14 cows to be milked by hand. The rule was to milk at 5:00 in the morning and 5:00 in the evening to give the cows the least discomfort while carrying the milk around. There was a windmill, which pumped cold water into a tank that held four ten-gallon cream cans and two five-gallon cans. We sold the cream and the skimmed milk was fed to the young pigs after ground oats and corn were mixed in and left overnight to sour.

      There were also hundreds of rats on the farm, so many that the farm cats could not survive the distemper disease. There were so many rates that when a calf was born, we would put a dog in the pen with the mother and baby to protect them from the rats. Sometimes on a moonlit night, you might see them migrating and moving around by the hundreds. There are stories about rat-killing parties we had when we were small boys. The horses stood on bridged planks to prevent hoof rot by keeping their feet dry. We would take the horses out of the barn and then go back and move the planks. The rats tunneled under the planks, so between seven of us boys and 8-10 dogs (we raised hunting dogs), many rats were killed. Then we would rake the dirt and sand under the planks and destroy their habitats. After a week or so, we would do it all over again.

      During World War II, there were a lot of foods that were rationed. We raided wild beehives in the dead of winter to get honey to replace sugar. Rabbits and squirrels were hunted for meat, and we always raised around 1500 chickens every year. That would usually figure out to be 800-900 hens and 600 or more roosters, which we would sell for a dollar each. We also raised ducks, geese, and guineas. We would sell the excess and kept the rest for breeding stock. I remember the November 11, 1941 blizzard, when several pigs, a couple cows, and 23 guineas froze during the storm (the guineas were mine). The ducks and geese huddled in the corncrib. We had to go out and drive livestock to safety while tethered to one of the older boys or dad with a rope so that we wouldn't get lost in the storm. After the blizzard, we thawed the frozen birds, cleaned them, and used the meat. Only three of my guineas survived the storm. There were a few prairie chickens left. These wild birds were so dumb that they would fly in flocks of twenty or so and sometimes fly right into the side of the house or barn. They were mostly white and the meat was much darker than the tame or domesticated birds.

      In the late 1930s, there were few tractors. Nearly all the farm work was done with horses. We had an old Fordson tractor. It had big iron wheels and shook very badly because of the lugs on the wheels. Its top speed was about three miles per hour (it was used strictly for plowing). It pulled two 18-inch plows. Gas for the tractor was thirteen cents a gallon and diesel fuel was 9 cents a gallon. I remember Kenny Burrell delivered fuel by the tank truck to my dad's farm. It was pumped into 50-gallon drums and would have to be hand bucketed to the tractor. There were no herbicides or pest killers, weeds had to be pulled by hand and there were plenty of them to go around. There were ten children in my family and we all had our jobs to do. There was a man that had a truck-mounted grinder that would come when dad called him to grind feed for the hogs and cows. Sometimes dad would go to town, Estherville, on Saturday and have feed ground at the elevator, which was located where the theatre is now. It was operated by John Greig. I can remember that Bammer's Homemade Ice Cream Store was located in the big house on the corner of 6th Street and 3rd Avenue North in Estherville. It was run by the Bammer Family (best ice cream in the area). A nice ice cream cone was five cents or ice cream packed by the pint was 25 cents. They had a lot of different flavors with the fresh fruit of the season. Many schoolchildren took advantage of its goodness. My wife attended school across the street from the ice cream shop and said she often got ice cream during her lunch hour. The store was there for many years and closed sometime around 1960.

      My father and his brother Adolf owned a 36-inch thrash machine. They would do a thrashing run for eight to ten families each year after the oats were cut and shocked, usually four to five bundles to a shock. The machine would be moved from farm to farm. The neighbor, Nels Bardo had an Oliver Hart Par Steamer, which was used to power the thrasher with a 36-horsepower belt drive. I remember when we were doing our farm; it was my job to use the Shetland pony to haul water for the steam engine. We had a sled made out of wood and it had a 50-gallon vinegar barrel on it to haul the water. It usually took three or four trips a day to have enough water. My brothers, Bob and Bill, would keep a supply of hard work to keep the steamer running. There were always big dinners that the wives would come and prepare for the men. This would go on sometimes for as long as two or three weeks until all the grain was harvested. Corn was picked by hand and stored in cribs made of lath and wire. There was a corn sheller that was owned by the Hanson brothers. They would come around to the different farms to shell the corn to be sold or used as feed for the livestock. There was always plenty of work for everyone on the farm.

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