A Young Farm Hand in The 1950’s. Part Three

This is the third and final post in a series of a young farm hands memories in the 1950’s with some thoughts on how different farm life is today. I remember the early corn harvester that was owned by several local farmers and they would get together (co-op), and move it from farm to farm using it. This gave me the opportunity to experience work on several farms in the area. One such farm belonged to the Daymon family which was located next to the Everett Cole farm. How many years did I work at the Cole farm, admiring the Daymon’s beautiful old stone house before I discovered an amazing connection to my family history!

This one hundred acre property on Morton Road was originally owned by my great, great grandfather who deeded it to his son Richard in 1870. This home was at one time an Inn on the original trail that the natives used to get from the town of Cobourg to Rice Lake and is located on the north end of the obscure lane now known as the “Indian Tail”. This beautiful trail was incorporated into the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail by the Ranger when he was the Chair of the Hope-Hamilton Chapter of the Oak Ridges Trail Association around 1998.

Another short stint of a a job I was once hired to help with was threshing a crop of oats the old fashioned way on a neighboring farm owned by Meredith ‘Coon ‘Lane and his son Lesley. This threshing machine was the oldest piece of farm equipment I had ever seen and I had the opportunity to help operate!

This hulk of a machine had to be towed to the field by their John Deere ‘put-putt’ tractor where the crop had been cut and the sheaves twined together into bundles by the oat binder, then left in the sun to dry for a few days. These sheaves would then be loaded onto a farm wagon with a pitch fork, and hauled to the thresher which was already set up to operate by a long leather belt from the tractor power take-off to the thresher. The oat sheaves would then be fed into the thresher, again using a pitch fork. The thresher would then separate the oats from the straw and chaff and the resulting straw would the build up behind the machine and another of my jobs was to clear this buildup away from the threshing machine, another of the hottest and dustiest job on a farm! Today, the threshing machine is always a popular feature at antique farm shows all over Ontario, or you can see one close up at the Canton Farm Equipment Museum. (Post: Antique Machinery Centre – Port Hope Ontario)

Another farm I briefly worked on harvesting corn, belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Kinsman and their three daughters Linda, Shirley and Marilyn on Art Lang Road north of Vimy Ridge Road, 6th Line. I well recall my sister Barbara informing of the day she, my late sister Sharon and our parents, while in Bewdley had witnessed the recovery of one of their daughters who had drowned in Rice Lake.

The original Kinsman house was built in 1877 and I really wanted to snap a picture of it for this post. Stopping on the side of the road (we never trespass), I was preparing to snap a picture and was very surprised to see three, mostly friendly dogs approaching and they had alerted the owners of our presence. Are all farm dogs this friendly ?  The dog at Coral Farms Ltd. greeted us as welcome guests even as the owners appeared to be away. See previous post. (A Young Farm Hand in The 1950’s, Part 2) The current owners of this farm introduced themselves and the Bushwhacker and I were treated to a very interesting history of their historic designated home, the Westington/Cooper House and the many restorations they have made to it. With permission, I was welcomed to tour their beautiful gardens on my way to their barn and silo for even more pictures. Hopefully this house will become the subject of a future post on historic homes, with the farm history included would make for some interesting facts for our readers.

Where did all the barns go? Some general information on farm crops back in the 1950’s. Most farmers grew corn which was a very dense forage source used mostly by dairy operations as a feed supplement for ruminate (cud chewing) animals such as cattle, not as a cash crop as it is today. The complete stalk, harvested while still green was chopped up by a corn harvester two or three rows at a time and blown into a self unloading wagon for the trip to the silo attached to the barn. An amazing fact here is that when driving along almost any country road you will see many a solitary silo with no sign of a former barn. Why is that you might ask? The barns were always built of wood many years before the silo came into use. In the last few decades barns, except for dairy operations, have become a thing of the past. Their main use of hay storage is no longer needed as today’s large bales, cut and dried to about 16% moisture are tightly wrapped in plastic. This repels moisture and with the ends exposed, the hay can ‘breathe’ preventing fermentation. These bales bales can now be stored for long periods of time anywhere on the farm. Silos today are so well built with poured concrete or precast interlocking concrete ‘staves’ that are prohibitively expensive to remove and very few are. 

 

Early wooden silos (1930-1960) were about 12 feet in diameter, later growing up to 20 feet in diameter and in varying heights. There was once a wooden silo on my fathers farm, but I don’t remember it. There was however a circular cement foundation of about 12 feet in diameter and six feet into the ground and as kids we would annually clear the debris out of it and use a step ladder to get in and out of it. It made a great ‘fort’ for eating apples from the nearby orchard, sprinkled with cow salt! When the farm was sold for a housing development in early 1970, the barn couldn’t be given away (even for its great timbers and barn boards) so it, the stone foundation and silo remains were bulldozed into the ground. Some trace of the stone barn foundation can still be seen at ground level if you look closely to the north from the Albert’s Alley and the William Hore/James Ford pedestrian bridge turn-around.  The picture below is the barn that was lost to a housing development.    

Many old barns have been abandoned and fell into disuse, they  may have burned down or left to fall down on their own and demolished over the years.  Prohibitive liability insurance and the demands for housing development are taking their toll on the barns.  At the barn the silage would be blown up into the silo from a self-unloading wagon.  An interesting but little unknown fact, a single corn stalk, grows only two cobs, occasionally three and farm corn is not meant for human consumption, ask anyone who has tried!  I have heard of many people on driving by a large field of corn and thinking hey, ‘free and fresh’ and taking a few cobs home and looking forward to a tasty treat were disappointed by how disgusting they tasted!  By the way, what did the young corn ask his mother?…where’s Pop corn?   

Okay, I have to admit the Bushwhacker once liberated a couple of corn cobs for the squirrel friends in his backyard urban jungle, and I liberated a couple of handfuls of soy beans to roast as an experiment for a healthy snack.  Sorry Art.  I was disappointed, and the squirrels snubbed their noses at the corn!  Kind of makes you wonder why livestock loves corn, guess the next few sentences explains it.  The corn ensilage process to preserve (pickle) silage creates “an earthy sauerkraut” taste a cow might comment they like it for the ‘beer buzz’ they get…kidding!  A critical requirement was that it must be tightly packed in the silo to prevent ‘silo gas’ which starts early from the fermentation process.  Never enter a silo at his time as the resulting dangerous ‘silo gas’ is odorless, colorless, and displaces the oxygen. At high enough concentrations, it gives a person in the silo little warning that they are about to be overcome. I have known at least one unfortunate farmer who has died this way!

Where are all the fences?  when driving around the country roads today you might notice something peculiar, very few fences!  Fewer and much larger farms with very large equipment and no longer raising livestock to fence in, they have become redundant.  With the high cost of buying or renting productive farmland, farmers now look for new ways to increase their profits.  A little research indicates that an unnecessary fence-row of several hundred feet long when removed can add two or three more rows of corn or other tillable crops to production.  Many farmers are now removing fences to help eliminate snow drifting across roads as well.  An old wire fence shrouded by weeds and vines takes away from the beauty of the farm-scape and adds expensive and unnecessary weed control spraying.  In the age of the popular ATV’s, a fallen fence buried beneath weeds or snow can become another liability to the farmer.  I cannot forget once hiking in the Northumberland Forest with the Bushwhacker, I stumbled and fell flat on my face!  On checking out why a seasoned hiker like myself could be laid out on the ground so fast, we discovered a rusty old fence on the ground had tripped me!  It was completely buried by years of pine needles and leaves.  Any fence posts that might have warned of this hazard from a long ago abandoned farm had rotted away years ago.

Regards,   

Ranger           

 

2 comments

  1. Bushwacker’s LilSis. · · Reply

    Hi Ranger. Really enjoyed this post. I’ll have to do some back tracking and read the other two leading up to this one. I love barns and old houses too. Built to last and unique in appearance. Thank for your time and dedication to the history portion of this blog. Sorry you fell face first, can only imagine my brother’s reaction of concern…. after he finished laughing that is! Usually historical things bore me with their dryness but you brought life back into history with the way you write it up, in this particular post…mentioning the dogs, the people you met, the dangers of corn fermenting in the silos and the humour of your stumble. I enjoyed reading this very much. Job well done!

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    1. Bushwacker’s LilSis, I really enjoyed your comment. Thanks it was great to hear from you again. Your brother didn’t laugh at first, likely was thinking more of dragging me out of the forest if I was really hurt! Thank goodness sandy soil covered with years of pine needles made for a near perfect fall! Then we both laughed and still do today. I too love old homes, barns and mills, they are all unique to me. I have written five other posts of farm life as a child, a teenager and working on them, hope you read them all. Let’s hope this holiday season brings us all some good memories and 2021 will be a much year.
      Ranger.

      Like

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