Sunday, July 10, 2011

WWII Years on the Farm

The Kane family had the big farm at the north end of Diamond Lake dirt rd and the 'Ceement Road' as some neighbors called it :>). I spent lots of time around their big farm as a little kid. They had countless dozens of various colored farm cats and many dogs.

At milking time after driving the cows into the barn, Kane would milk the cows and squirt some warm milk into our mouths,.... and onto our faces, just like the gathering of dozens of hungry cats. The cats kept the rats and mice around the grainery under control. We always enjoyed the dozens of kittens.

The always plentiful Farm Dogs were many times barking at night to keep the railroad drifters and Hobos away from the barns, tool sheds and houses. We carried our twice weekly supply of milk from Kane's farm, in wire handled metal cans back to our nearby home. It was then placed in our wooden 'Ice Box' which was restocked at intervals by the 'Ice Man'. He was big, walked with a limp while wearing a stained leather apron over his shoulders. Chipped off a small piece and gave it to me as a treat on a hot summer day.

We chased lots of mice and climbed around in all the barns. Barn Owls did their field work eliminating crop eating vermin at night. 'Rat Killin' was really exciting. Mom's 22 Marlin did its 'reach out and touch' work. As kids we drove the tractors during the big fall harvests. The older men loaded the cut grain onto the horse drawn wagons using pitch forks. Each fall they set up the big threshing machine, way out in the field across the dirt road from our place. Corn and grain was often bundled in 'shoks' like Indian Tepees across the fields. Ever read stories of 'Indian Summer'? Pheasants hid in them during the cold nights.

That big loud scary tractor with iron cleated wheels was last seen at the 'red wing blackbird pond' a mile from our small family farm. It ran the long flat canvas belt with a twist, to the threshing machine, so as to keep it's sparks and flames clear of highly combustible chaff and hay. The kids all drove along with the few working tractors and mostly horses, while the older men forked the wheat or oats onto the iron wheeled or rubber tired hay 'racks'.

Most of the racks were horse drawn and needed no drivers, the horses were smart. They followed the old men as they pitched the hay. The teamed horses automatically stopped to allow their racks to be loaded. After threshing, the yellow straw was piled near the stationary threshing machine waiting for transportation to the baler. Self propelled and towed threshers (combines) were not used during those times. Even the sickle bar mowing machines were horse drawn.

We were sternly taught to stay clear of those dangerous sickle bars. Many careless farmers lost fingers or toes to that 'shaking' series of razor sharp 'sharks teeth'. Farm dogs were routinely left with three legs after an encounter.

Cats never even had a chance. We ran behind the bar and grabbed field mice or baby bunnies still in their fur lined dens. Later after the war, the baling machines operated with crews of dirty older kids riding the low side seats.

They kept lively, inserting the wire frames between pounding bales. That always dirty action, provided us with dirt goggled entertainment. Then later still, operating the tractor towed automatics, with jobs 'putting up' hay, kept us employed, tired and out of trouble.

The big stationary threshing machines from the 1930's were used during the war years of the 1940's. They seperated the grain from the hay, while blowing out the chaff. We kids drove the tractors and horses pulling the racks to the barn, where more men fastened the big hay hooks onto the load.

We pulled it with horses, long rope and pulley, up into the open loft doorway. From the peak trolley, the load was hauled back into the deepest reaches of the loft. Hot sweaty older men or the bigger kids, then stacked the bales or whatever was being 'put up' for the winter.

We drank lots of water from the stock tank while the windmill pulling the long sucker rod in repeated strokes kept it filled. Usually a metal dipper or cup hung close to the fill pipe. When in the fields, a big metal milk can was our water tank.

Great fun, exiciting for the young kids. Hard sweaty work for the older men. It was during the World War II years and the young strong men of draft age were all away fighting in the war. We didn't get to drive the big grain trucks. Usually adults or the bigger kids drove them because the heavy duty clutch was hard to push down and no power steering, automatic transmissions or power brakes existed back then.

Mr Prince previously owned the back farm that became Towners Subdivision. The big community owned tractor from the 1920's was used on the threshing machine. They moved the entire crew to his farm afterward. Farmer Prince always used horses in his fields. I rode with him on some of the horse drawn equipment.

Gas rationing, along with everything else, was solidly in place during the war so few tractors were ever used. Big chain drive electric trucks and streetcars were only used in the city near the coal fired power generating stations. We were a fortunate family and had one light bulb dangling from the ceiling in our kitchen.

'Red Heart' coal heated my Grandparents house. A small kerosene stove was our house heat and cooking. My loft bed let me hear the moan of the steam trains as they puffed and pulled their freight, clikking the rails through the night. I often walked the rails during the days, returning home on the 'glistening steel' after dark.

Aside from his other jobs as 'black gang' shoveling coal at the power station in the city, Dad was a commissioned, armed Game Warden, so we ate lots of Pheasants and Rabbits. Draft horses were fun for kids. Had to be carefull not to get stepped on while feeding their big muzzles handfulls of grass. The Percherons and later Clydesdales had monsterous hooves.

Prince farm was the site of an old cemetary. I remember seeing the hundreds of very old gravestones before the Towners removed them. Most were in the grove of Osage trees where some families later after the war, built their homes. The long Osage tree covered lane with their long vines extending from the trees, led to hwy 59-A, where the old horse drawn hearses brought in the funeral processions. They drove their horses back into the cemetary under the archway of large trees that comprised the gate and entraceway.

Before the settlers of the 1800's, it was an Indian burial ground. Grandparent's first hand dug, brick lined water well with a hand pump, was found to contain lots of really bad bacteria and virus contaminants leached downstream from the cemetary and cow pasture. I played with, and always tried riding the cows in pastures where houses and communities stand today.

After being told the brick well was contaminated, we had to travel to the community well, and pump the big handle for water to fill the big bottles within wooden frames. Our yellow bathing water was collected in cisterns from rain gutters on the houses. Only after the war were we able to drill a deep well and own an electric pump. Before that, the old outhouse surrounded with hollyhocks was used more often.

During the war, an Army camp was set up in the old cemetary to protect an Anti-aircraft battery. I often prowled the camp at night. They often caught me. Two rifle carrying guard soldiers would pick me up between them and carry me to the fence, put me back on our side, and order me not to do that stuff, or I would be shot. Didn't want to be shot, thought it might hurt, so was even more stealthy and crawled low while night prowling. :>)

During the World War II years, the sky overhead was many times darkened by an 'overcast of aluminum'. Countless hundreds of aircraft in each formation passed overhead from manufacturing plants across the industrial midwest. These huge formations of all types of aircraft, kept coming in waves from horizon to horizon for what seemed like hours.

The drone of the big radial multi-engined bombers was my alert to run down from my loft bedroom and watch the show. Endless formations of aircraft as the war progressed in our favor. At night the powerful searchlights and beacons from the airfields swept through the mist with a beam that was somehow comforting to me.

Across the fields were scattered large wooden white and red slatted pyramid pylons that the young pilots from Great Lakes Naval Training Center used in navigation training. My young girl cousins climbed atop the pylons with me to wave at the young pilots.

Closer and closer they deafeningly roared, untill we could easily see the expressions on their young faces. Their powerful engines moaned defiantly while spinning the big props as they swept past within yards of us. The leggy and pretty girl cousins were wearing shorts. I would guess that encouraged the pilots somewhat. No one crashed, we all survived the periods of excitement, which were to be repeated often during those years.

My young uncle was 16 when he listened to the big Zenith Shortwave radio while we all sat on the floor around it. The announcer grimly told of Pearl Harbor being devastated. Young uncle quit school, joined the Navy and boarded the local train for War.

The little fringed flag with one star, hung in my Grandmothers window all of the years he was away aboard ship at war. His little handmade model Navy plane sat high on Grandmother's shelf. She often took it down and slowly wiped away the dust in silence. Prayor was our only key to survival.

Serving in the Pacific theater during all of the fiercest island battles with his landing craft suffering hits, he survived the war a grown man, to return home, marry his high school girlfriend, build his home and raise his own family.

We all grew our own food in large gardens then 'canned' it in Mason Jars to supplement the couponed rationing of 'everything'. The basement pantry shelves were stocked. Our steer, two hogs and hundreds of chickens stored frozen in the town 'locker', fed us and others each year throughout the war years. After the war, all things became available again.

After the triple hit of the Great Depression, followed by a govt economic plan that held natural market factors in chains and a vast World War fought and won, 20 years of pent up prosperity and Freedom once again swept across the newly industrialized nation as our troops returned. Their triumphant grand parades all over America were a sight to remember.

Life was exciting in The United States of America, "One Nation Under God".
Back in 'the day'.. :>)


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