Carrying Water

Dad started farming in the 1940’s. I’m not sure what year. I think it was after the war. Grandpa had told him he could rent a farm if he could figure out how to farm it. He began on a farm not a mile away as the crow flies. It was one hundred twenty acres that an older brother of mine has been farming since the 1970’s. Dad started out farming using an old International Harvester McCormick F-20  with a cracked head on the motor. He used to go out to the field carrying a cream can full of water because the cracked head would slowly leak the water out. He said that the cream can full of water would last until noon when he would come in for a meal and more water. The same thing in the afternoon only then it was a light lunch. His was a three can a day operation. He claimed the tractor wouldn’t let him get hungry. It was always thirsty.

I have been shipping out corn using an old International Harvester 1066 hydro that I bought cheap. The reason being it had a motor that had a hole broken through it where a rod bearing’s failure caused the connecting rod to smash through the side of the block. I had an old IH 915 combine with the same size motor. I switched out the tractor motor for the combine motor. That was three years ago. About every seven thousand bushels or so I need to add two gallons of antifreeze/water. That’s about four or five hours of motor run time. I think I’m losing as much water as Dad’s old F-20. It took me thirty years of farming but I’ve finally caught up to the old man in something. As long as it’s carrying water to an old worn out tractor.

I started out farming in 1984 with a little brother for a partner. We were told Dad would rent us the farm if we could figure out how to farm it. We were allowed to use Dad’s old IH model “M” tractor that he’d kept back from the machinery sale he held after he’d quit farming in “76. I was only fourteen back in 1976 and my little brother was only ten. Needless to say we never knew what we were doing. Neither one of us had a clue. We were going to both work in town while we would sow the whole farm down and raise cattle. We never planned to make farming our livelihood. We had both Dad’s blessing and encouragement.  An older brother talked us out of it. He said Dad’s advice would bankrupt us. He said this was called the corn belt for a reason. He said cattle belonged out west where the grass was. So our plans changed before we ever got started.

The fact that we were able to tool up to grain production (Dad had everything we needed to raise cattle and hay) and pay off the machinery in one year during what is now called the greatest farm crises of all time is something we were both proud of. I had even made enough extra money to buy my first tractor, an IH 856 diesel. When I suggested we go for it and try to farm a thousand acres my little brother balked. He had only promised Dad he would give it two years. After one he wanted out. He kept his word though and gave it another year. He’s worked and lived in town ever since. And that older brother who told me we would go broke? He sold out and started hiring the farming done for him. The government paid him to sow down the farm he’d paid too much for and twenty years later when the feds were done with that program he was rich. If government cheese is rich.

We all have to live with our conscience. I don’t even like being in the USDA’s production program. Getting a farm from them would ruin me. I’d be racked with guilt. Dad said his dad said anyone that needs the government to buy them a farm has no business owning one. Back in the day he had figured out how to get the government to pay for a farm using the federal government’s old land bank program. Grandpa would have no part of it. I think I would have liked Grandpa. When I think about it if giving away farms worked everybody would still be on the farm that there great grandfathers homesteaded. Most of them folks are back in town. The railroads that were given the right of ways have mostly all gone broke too. I don’t think you can give away anything without ruining the one your giving it to. Our egos demand that we earn it.



Another May Day

Take out the word car and insert the word tractor and I think you understand the psyche of the average farmer. It’s not for any but a few good reasons. We spend far more time in our tractor than we do any other place. We plant there. We mow there, rake there, bale there. We spray there. We haul in our grain there. We do our chores there. We sleep there, although we seldom admit it since we are usually still dragging something through the field at the same time. Nowadays the tractors are connected to the internet. But that’s not where I’m writing this from. I’m writing from the comfort of my office. Bedroom. Whatever I call it. I guess it depends on if I’m at my desk or if I’m in bed sleeping.

I farmed for a whole year back in 1984 to earn enough money to buy my first tractor. Even though I was looking for a John Deere 4020 I ended up buying an IH  856. They are both rated at about 100 horse power, the size I needed to join in my older brother’s operation at the time. I used it to pull a 24 foot wide spring tooth harrow to incorporate into the soil the Treflan weed killer we used to spray on cornstalks going to soybeans. Treflan was used pre-plant to kill grasses and small seeded broad leaf weeds. First we would disk down the last year’s cornstalks with my brother’s JD 4620 and a 21 foot cone bladed JD disk. Then we would mount a pair of saddle tanks 200 gallons each onto the side frames of the 4620 between the front wheels and the rear dual wheels. They held the chemical mixture as we sprayed Treflan from the front of the disk while we were disking the old cornstalks the second time.

The next pass across the field was with my IH 856 and a Noble brand spring tooth harrow to do the second incorporation pass. Treflan had to be double incorporated (worked) into the soil about four inches in. The disking pass as we sprayed was the first, my spring tooth harrowing pass was the second. Then and only then would we drill soybean seed with my brother’s JD 4320 and a three point mounted Great Plains Drill. My brother would always drill going along the longest straightest side of the field and working across to the shortest, no matter which way the hills laid. After we had apparently worn the ground out with all these passes we would go over it one more time with an old JD 50 and a twenty four foot spiked tooth harrow following the contours of the hills so any sudden heavy rains wouldn’t follow the drill tracks up and down the hills.

That old spiked tooth harrow would be broken down and loaded into the back of an old pickup truck to move it from farm to farm. Usually that was my job since I was the last Mfer hired. It took three men and four tractors (four men would have been nice since I had to run both the 856 and the 50) just to drill soybean seed back in those days. Eating up time, manpower, tractor power, fuel, iron, and money to simply get the crop in the ground. Today I do it all with one tractor and a no-till drill. One pass. One man. One fuel tank. One bank account. One long lonely day. That’s if I ever get this corn planted. I no-till that in with one tractor also. The same IH 1466 that pulls the no-till drill I use today.

The sun came up shining bright today. The rumor is the tile laying guys are moving into the neighborhood. At one o’clock this afternoon we are going to have a little get together to arrange the tiling we are getting done. Across the creek and up one of the draws on this side of the creek are needing some additional tiling to compensate for all the water that sinks into the soil with this no-till farming we do these days. Pellets in pellets out. We may resume hauling corn out of the bins also today. The trucker had gravel delivered to the spot we were stuck in the other day. He said something about it being cheaper than semi truck axles. I was thinking the same thing.

Well, that about sums it up. Another typical spring day here in the corn patch. May I have another please.

Then, there …….