and Farming with Horses
John Rezelman's story on raising beans brought it all back to Barb and me. We used to raise about 5 acres of white beans and 30 acres of red ones. We farmed 145 acres, milked 16 cows and raised about 20 acres of wheat. Dry beans were our cash crop.
The beanery always wanted everyone to plant certified California Red Kidneys. We would go to them in the spring and get the seed and the fertilizer for the beans and for our other crops, too. Everything depended on the bean crop .
Oh, and the times we turned those beans to dry them! We always threshed beans (this was before many combines had come in) so we gathered the pulled beans into little piles we called cocks. Some years we would turn them many times. I remember one year when we had turned them one way and then the other so many times that I finally told Barb, If we had always turned these beans the same direction, they would all be in the barn.
That is when we would find the Indian relics. When we turned the cock over onto dry ground, the damp, darker soil would show up the glistening beads.
Our children were all small then and we would take them to the field with us. They would play there or along the creek while we turned the beans. If we didnt keep turning the beans to get them dry as soon as possible, the white beans would turn black and the red ones would get spotty. Trying to get the beans dry could go on in the fall until wheat planting time. I remember one farmer who left his beans in windrows, because he used a combine, planted wheat between the beans and then turned the bean windrows that werent yet dry enough to thresh and planted wheat in the unseeded strips.
We farmed this way for about fifteen years. I always used horses. We had an old 10/20 tractor to pull a plow but I often plowed with three horses. I used five horses on a drag.
I had had early experience working with horses. When I was sixteen a man who shipped in western horses hired me to help handle his horses.
My employer made trips to Colorado to buy horses and he sent them back here in rail cars. A cowboy always rode with the horses to tend them. The horses were taken out of their cars to be fed and watered at certain rail stops. That was the cowboys job.
I saw a lot of those cowboys and I dont remember one who went back. They just couldnt get over their wonder about New York girls. Well, and they liked all the beer places they found here, too.
When the horses arrived I would help to herd them from the cars to the farm. We would get along pretty well until we got to the canal bridge at Lockport. You could look right through the floor of the bridge and see the water below. Those horses didnt like that and we had a time to get them to cross over on the bridge.
When these horses were shipped in from the West they were said to be green broke. I didnt know what that meant, but I found out all it indicated was that you might get close enough to throw a bridle on.
My employer sold horses to farmers around. He was known as the horse jockey. When he heard that a man wanted a team he would go to see him and offer horses for sale. Usually the prospective buyer would say, I dont want a fractious team. Probably he knew that the horse trader brought in western horses.
My boss would say, I have just the team you need, quiet and gentle broke. An old lady could drive em. You come over and see them. I wont be home this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Come on over tomorrow afternoon. Theyre just the team you need.
The next morning he would tell me. Get those horses hitched to the front of the bob and take them up and down the peach rows. He always cautioned me to use just the front bob. I learned that one bob was all that I could swing around if those horses changed their minds. I would not have been able to turn the second bob behind the front section fast enough and they would have come right over me.
I could get them out to the peach orchard and we would start down a long row. The trees helped to keep the horses straight. There were lots of peach orchards around Lockport and some peach brandy was made. Anyway, all morning those horses and I went up and down those long rows. Finally my boss would come out and say, Take them into the barn and clean them up.
After a while, when the prospective buyer came and we led the horses out of the barn, they looked like a couple of old plodders. They may have behaved differently the next morning after their new owner got them home and they had had a nights rest.
I used to plow there with a three-horse hitch—two horses on a whipple tree and one on the evener, one horse in the furrow. I always used a walking plow. The reins went over one of my shoulders, around my back, and under my arm. I could never get anything done the first hour in the morning—those horses were bucking and jumping. But after an hour or so they would begin to settle down. There was another local horse buyer who would buy any horse for the right price. When he got an unruly one, he would put the new horse between two other horses with a log chain over its back and around the girths of the outside horses to keep the wild one from bucking.
The field where I plowed was so stony my boss always called it the cemetery. One morning we were going along and the plow stopped, the evener broke and the reins took me right over the plow. I got the horses stopped and went for another evener. You always had spares. Thats what you did all winter: made eveners and whipple trees. I put the replacement evener in and hooked the horses up, got behind the plow and yelled Giddap.
Crack! the evener broke again and I went over the plow again. Another evener, but this time I took care to work the plow point loose from the stone it had caught on, before I called Giddap.
The dealer brought in mules, too. They were big mules, not donkeys, and we used a team around the place. One of my jobs was to haul gravel for the lanes and roadways. He had a box with a V bottom. The two lower sides were made of planks that were hinged to the upper sides. The bottom sides were held together by chains that ran under them and wrapped on a pipe that ran along one side. The load of gravel would spill out when the pipe was released and the chains unwrapped. It was the same kind of rig that had been used to haul gravel for the town roads.
I used the mules to carry gravel from the pit on the farm to build up the wagon roads around the barns. The pull out of the pit was heavy and I would stop the team about half way up, put a block behind a wheel and give the mules a rest. Then we would go on out, dump the load and go back to the pit where I would shovel on another load.
One day the boss brother went along with me. He was around the farm and I knew that he wasnt quite right, but he knew what was going on and what I was doing. When he saw me stop the mules half way up the rise out of the pit, he said, Ted, you dont have to do that. Send them right over the top. Well, I didnt know. He was the boss brother. So next time I sent them over the top. They had a rest when the wagon was unloaded and for a longer time while I shovelled on a new load. They took the load all the way again and we went back for another. The third time up the slope one of the mules collapsed half way up and died right there in the harness. It took me a long time to get over that. Those mules would never stop. They would keep right on until their heart stopped. I was sixteen, but I bawled. The owner said, Thats all right. There are lots of mules.
He and his wife always treated me well. I got my board and room (in a bunkhouse) and twenty-five dollars a month in the summer and twelve dollars a month in the winter. He paid me in silver dollars. That was a stack of money.
I always liked horses. When Barb and I were married, we decided that we would farm. We were living in a tenant house then. About that time Sears Roebuck had a sale on one of their harness sets and I bought one. We didnt have a team so I hung it in an upstairs bedroom. I would go up there, oil the leather, polish the trimmings, and just admire my new harness. It was three years before I had a team.
When we moved here in 1970, that harness came right along with me and it has hung in the barn here ever since, until a week or two ago.
One of my neighbors, Brian, was buying some hay from me and he saw the harness. He came to the house and asked if I would sell it to him for his horses.
"Brian, that harness has hung there for nearly 20 years and pieces have been cut out when people needed a strip of leather. I doubt if it is much good."
"Ted, do you know what harness brings at auctions?"
"Well, go out and look at it."
He went to the barn and came back in soon. What dya want for it?"
"Oh, you can have it for ten dollars."
"Its mine. What about those horse collars?"
"You can have any you want."
He took all of them and then a few days later he stopped back. "Ted, if anything happens that I dont use that harness, I am going to bring it back to you, seein how much it means to you."