One of the things that saddens me was the passing of the draft horse from the farm. This noble animal was hard at work long before the steam age but they faded into history about the same time.
The introduction of the rubber tire general purpose tractor only speeded up the passing of the draft horse. The Allis Chalmers WC, mounted both on air tires or steel wheels, was among the first to be used. I believe it came out in 1934 but other manufacturers were not far behind. Previously, the horse was used in most planting, light hauling of grain and hay and cultivating. Of course most of the heavy jobs such as plowing and discing had been taken over by the heavy 4-wheel steel tractors for at least a decade. Now the general purpose tractor on rubber could travel on all roads at a fairly high speed and could do any of the farm jobs the horse could do.
As a lad on a farm in Central Illinois I saw much of this happen. My father and a neighbor held on to their horses and mules right up to the last. They loved horse flesh and liked to work horses. My Father bought mules from farm sales as his horses died or became too old to work. Some of these mules were huge. Some stood nearly seventeen hands, were big boned and were the last of the type of mule bred for heavy draft work. They had become obsolete in a very short time. These mules required special large collars and much adjustment on the harness. If one happened to be a bit shy or ornery, he was hard to harness. I recall one big mule who resisted the bridle and would hold his head high to keep the bit out of his mouth. I believe we kept a stool in the barn to use in harnessing this mule.
I, myself, worked a span of these large mules pulling a bundle wagon on a small threshing ring. On my first load of bundles I drove up to the separator. However, one of the mules, a big bay, stopped as he neared the drive belt. I could not make him go as he seemed frozen to the ground. The owner of the rig was upset as he wanted to thresh. He walked up to the obstinate animal and grabbed him by the bridle bit. He tried to shake the mule's head and gave the bit a couple of jerks. This seemed to work as he never caused
We had one mule who was quite clever. My Father used to latch the upper swinging barn door open and back to ventilate the horse barn. Of course the lower door was fastened with a hook to keep the animals out. This mule used to hook his mouth or chin over the hook and open the door. Father then put a wooden button on with a nail to keept he door shut. The old mule ws baffled for a few days, but he soon learned to raise his front leg and move the button and open the door. I do not recollect how we solved the problem, if we ever did.
My father insisted that we learn about horses as he taught us much. He built special double trees and designed them so we could work five horses abreast while plowing and discing. This did have its drawbacks, as while pulling a gang plow one of the horses had to walk on plowed ground which made him work harder. He used a horse of Arabian stock for this position. The animal was small but tough as a hickory knot. This faithful horse sweat profusely, but never panted and he could out work any animal in the county, br none. This animal had been bred to pull a buggy or spring wagon in the muddy clay hills of Southern Illinois. My Father had a special spot in his heart for 'Old Sam' as he was called, The old horse used to nicker or whinny at my Father when he came near the
As we grew up my Father assigned us jobs around the horses. One of my chores was to curry and comb the horses and mules. My older brother trimmed the manes and tails of the mules. We used to trim the hoofs of the horse with a wood chisel and a wooden mallet. This required two people as one held the animal with a bridle or halter and tried to keep the horses weight on the foot being trimmed.
We learned to repair harness and to treat sick animals. One had to be careful in feeding a horse as a horse could founder on grain of green foliage if they were not used to it. However, a mule wold not overeat nor would he step in a hole or run thru barbed wire.
All work animals were properly watered and bedded and the stalls kept clean. Horses had to be toughened to the farm work in the spring. We learned to watch the animals in hot weather for signs of over heating as this could kill a horse.
Father taught us how to approach a horse in a barn. This could be a ticklish situation if a startled horse started to kick or force you into the wall. Incidently, every horse was different in some way from other horses and had to be handled different.
Looking back on these days with some pleasure I truly regret the passing of the draft horse from the farm.