General farm work

General farm work

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100 Cedar Drive, Enterprise, Alabama, 36330

Well, folks, this is a true story of two old gray mares on a farm south of Carbondale, Illinois. Their names were Bess and Maud. Maud was larger and had more horse power. Bess, the smaller one, had more horse sense. The depression was on and this mismatched team was used for general farm work, pulling an orchard sprayer, logging and starting the old car in the winter. Sometimes I would ride Bess to see my gal when I was courting her. That's another story.

We had about forty acres of apples and an old Bean orchard sprayer. The sprayer had a 200 gallon wooden tank, the pump had three porcelain lined cylinders and was geared to a 4 H.P. vertical gas engine. I don't know but I think it was a Cushman. At the time I was more interested in girls than engines. Bess, with her superior mind, could guide Maud straight down the middle of the rows of trees with no help from a driver. All she needed was for someone to turn them around and get started down a new row. Two people manned two spray guns and sprayed two rows of trees. No driver was needed. As we progressed from tree to tree, someone would say, 'Bess getup', and 'Bess, ho' and the team would move forward and stop. We always talked to Bess. Maud understood Bess and would stay with her. One might say Bess was Maud's agent or interpreter. This team wouldn't even flinch if the spray hit them.

One day Dad told my brother and me to plow the weeds out of the corn. My brother is two years younger than I and we fought all the time until he outgrew me. That ended the fighting. Since I was older, I had to let him take Bess and I hitched Maud to my plow. Now Bess of superior intelligence, could follow a row of corn or anything else for that matter, with no help from the driver. And old Maud couldn't follow anything without help from Bess or a driver. I had to stay on the reins (we called them lines in that neck of the woods) every inch of the way to keep Maud off the corn. This must have been in July because I had 4 or 5 firecrackers in my pocket. Up North, Christmas is celebrated on the fourth of July much the same way the South celebrates the fourth at Christmas time - with fireworks.

By mid-afternoon, I was worn to a frazzle from fighting those reins and I was mad at Maud. Temptation overcame me so I took three of those firecrackers and twisted the fuses together, lit them and tossed them up on Maud's broad rump. One fell off, the other two went off. Well Maud jumped and took off, jerking the plow out of my hands, out of the ground and almost took my head off because the reins were tied around my shoulder. I ended up face down in the dirt! There was no sequence of events. It all happened at the same time. When I looked up, Maud was making a bee-line across the field toward Bess for help. The plow was being dragged by one trace chain and was flopping around knocking down corn as it went. That is the only time that I ever saw Maud go a straight line without help.

We had a sawmill and some good oak timber. One of the jobs that befell us was to snake logs out of the woods and to the sawmill. For this we would roll the heavy end of the log onto a sled and let the light end drag the ground. Of course, Bess and Maud supplied the power. Sometimes Bess would balk when going up hill with a heavy load. No matter how much you used the whip or your voice, she wouldn't take the slack out of the traces. The best way to get the job done would be to forget the whip and go pat Bess on the head and neck, sweet talk her and give her a handful of corn. Then without picking up the reins and in a low voice say, 'Bess, let's go, HAA'. She would lay into the harness, belly nearly on the ground, and with both rear feet working together, would take the load over the hill. Big old Maud would have a hard time keeping up. Bess like most children, you can get more out of them if you don't yell.

When we got the team out on the trail to the sawmill, we could hang the reins over the hames and slap Bess on her widest part and she would take Maud and log to the mill unassisted. Someone at the mill would drop the log and put the team back on the trail then turn them loose to go back on their own.

Somehow, I always liked Maud's style - go with the flow and let someone else do the thinking.