I thought it was a joke when people said the smoke rising from an empty field was from a fire that had started five years before.
“You don’t know anything about peat ground, do you,’’ someone said.
I knew just a little. When the canning company still allowed landowners to grow sweet corn on it, my brother-in-law raised the crop on peat on the south side of his farm. The canning company eventually stopped allowing it because rain turned peat fields into a quagmire that buried heavy equipment and created Grand Canyon-like ruts.
My brother-in-law was generous and allowed our families to handpick a bang board-equipped wagon with sweet corn. Children were responsible for husking it while women waited for water to boil. Our shared labor yielded vast amounts of frozen corn and shared satisfaction.
The experience helped build a strong neighborhood community — just as the threshing and silo-filling crews did. In the early 1960s, few farmers had their own silo-filling equipment.
Farming neighbors relied on each other and benefited from working together to thresh grain and fill silos. Bad weather often made silo-filling a difficult and time-consuming chore.
Dad thought long before building a 60-foot tall stave silo to meet the growing dairy herd’s needs. To save money, the silo was neither capped nor equipped with an unloader. Afterall, there were more enough laborers to pitch silage.
I could not stand great heights, which made it awful when Dad said it was necessary to climb up and level the silage so that another few loads could be blown it. The view, even when seen with shaky legs, of the surrounding tree-filled pasture was superb. The reassurance that no one had ever fallen from the silo provided scant comfort.
Dad, who liked to reminisce, often spoke about cutting corn and making cornstalk bundles that were fed to both cattle and hogs through the winter. The corn binder reduced the acres that were hand-picked. The picking season lasted well into November, which was physically and mentally taxing.
The silo that was so important then has stood empty — like so many others — for more than three decades as monuments to how fast things change. Silage bunkers and plastic bags may be more efficient, but aren’t nearly as photogenic.
The Pioneer Power Show held annually in late August near Le Center and similar shows renew memories of past farm life. A one-row pull-type picker picked corn on still-green stalks; a threshing machine separated straw and grain; and a steam engine bellowed black smoke at the Le Center show.
The Oliver brand — from the Hart-Paars of the 1920s and the last tractors made by the company in the 1970s — were featured. Olivers were taken over by White and then by someone else before fading into history.
At long last the WC mounted cultivator, which was a hard to handle beast, was replaced with 880 Oliver and rear-mounted shields and shovels. Cultivating speed increased but quality didn’t, which was a fact that Dad didn’t fail to notice.
One wonders if, 50 years from now, the antique shows will feature GPS-guided self-driving tractors and the monster harvesting machines that rendered 360-acre farms obsolete.
The factories that produced 40-horsepower tractors and the equipment they pulled created thousands of jobs in Minneapolis, Charles City, Waverly, Waterloo and Moline. Far fewer manufacturers and labors are needed to meet farmer’s needs now.
In its heyday, West Concord had four tractor dealers. Now it has none. The nearest dealer is at least 20 miles away. There are also fewer opportunities for farm kids to argue about which is the best make and model.
We spent a lot of time doing that decades ago, when it seemed obvious that Allis Chalmers were much better than the flywheel-start John Deeres equipped with Johnny Popper engines.
Is it the crisp air, the south-bound birds or the magic of baseballs and footballs competing for attention at the same time that stir up all these memories of a bygone era in agriculture?