The Harvest of 1944

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In the fall of 1943 a neighbor who was renting a farm next to me asked if I would be interested in renting more land, as he would be moving back to Frederick County where he came from. The land in question was a field of corn which had been cut and shocked as was the custom of that time.

I agreed to rent the farm and sow and harvest the wheat for a set price. I learned later that the owner of the land was a man who had come from Germany and he worked as a blacksmith at the shipyards in Baltimore, Maryland. He was very glad that I would sow the wheat, as he wanted the land farmed. I harrowed the land with a disc pulled by an F-14 International tractor, then started to sow the wheat with an old horse-drawn drill and found that the drill tilted too much to do good work. I told the owner about my problem and he used his skill as a blacksmith to make me a hitch that allowed the drill to run level. I was also driving a school bus and could only devote three or four hours a day to farming. I rigged up a set of lights on the tractor and that way I could work longer into the night. This system worked very well and the wheat got sowed and we had a good growing season.

During the winter I had concerns as to how I could assemble up to fifteen men to help thresh. Up to now women were not expected to help with field work. My wife said she would drive the tractor when it came time to cut the wheat.

Our county agent arranged for the use of German prisoners. We live about 20 miles from Ft. Meade Army Camp in Maryland. During World War II some prisoners who were captured in battle in Europe were brought to Ft. Meade to hold until after the war was over. County agents in the surrounding areas of Maryland arranged to have the prisoners work on local farms if they desired. Many of the prisoners gladly volunteered to work, as they had the opportunity to see the countryside of Maryland and they were also paid daily wages for their labor. These prisoners of war were to be transported to a central point in Ellicott and allocated to those farmers that needed them. They were guarded while away from Ft. Meade and fed and paid an allowance.

Before wheat cutting I had bought a used seven-foot Deering binder which was pulled by horses. I converted it so that the F-14 would pull it. The wheat ripened at the usual time and we started to cut it. My wife quickly learned how to drive the tractor and take a full cut without missing any. I was very happy that the first harvest looked good. I rode the binder seat and made sure everything was operating properly. The bundles were gathered on a carrier and dumped in windrows as each round was made. Each dump contained five to eight bundles which were combined with others in the windrow to form shocks and capped to shed rain. A fifteen-year-old neighbor boy helped gather the scattered bundles and brought them to the windrows to be shocked.

Several times during the day we would stop cutting and shock the bundles already cut. The weather remained good and we started to prepare to thresh. I had helped several of my neighbors to thresh, so I knew I could count on a like amount of help from them. Mr. Streaker, who owned the thresher, notified me he would be at my place to thresh the next morning. My wife began preparing the dinner that she would be having for the crew of men. The German prisoners were furnished lunch by the camp, but we provided extra for them also.

I went to Ellicott City, Maryland, early the next morning to pick up the POW's that had been allocated to me. A. U.S. Sergeant was in charge of them and he kept them in sight at all times. This was an experience for me and my neighbors. We soon found that they were friendly and good workers who seemed to know what was expected of them. They were young healthy men who were native Danish, Dutch, and Belgians who had been taken prisoner by the Germans and put in the German Army and sent to Africa where they were captured by the U.S. Army and sent to the U.S. to be held prisoner.

The threshed wheat was put in burlap bags, loaded on a truck and taken to a nearby dealer and it was weighed and loaded into a box car. At noon everyone gathered to wash up at the hand pump. There were benches and basins and towels nearby.

The POW's gathered on the front porch to eat their lunch. The rest of the crew went to the dining room where my wife had prepared a typical meal as was served to the threshing crews. Cool milk and cake were served to all.

All returned to the field where trucks were loaded with bagged grain and wired bales of straw. The straw had been fed directly into the baler. This method was labor saving and produced a better bale of straw instead of the old way in which the straw would be blown into a barrack and then hand forked into the baler, chaff and all, but by this method the chaff is blown into a separate pile.

Over the past 50 years much change has brought the elimination of most of the hand labor through the use of modern machinery. Better farming practices have increased the yields per acre but, unfortunately, increased housing development has greatly reduced the amount of land planted to wheat in Howard County, Maryland.

Since 1945 much change has taken place. Now one operator manages several farms totaling hundreds of acres using modern machinery but very little hand labor.

My grandson, Chuck Coles, now farms my farm. He planted a field of wheat about October 15, 1998. He used certified seed wheat and applied fertilizer with a spinner buggy-never touching a bag. We had a normal winter but a dry late spring and summer.

Chuck hired a custom operator to combine the wheat. He came and averaged better than four acres per hour. The threshed wheat was loaded onto a large dump truck and taken to a grain dealer. The straw was baled and picked up with an automatic stack wagon and loaded and unloaded into the barn in nine-bale-high stacks at the rate of 1? loads per hour of 150 bales. This was all done with Chuck and his wife Mary Jeanne providing the labor.

I am 87 years old and I am thankful for the many harvests that I have participated in, first as a 10-year-old boy hauling water for a steam engine in the 1920s, to my first harvest in 1944, to the harvest of 1999 which will be the way of the future.

Contact Russell M. Shipley at 12195 Old Frederick Road Marriottsville, MD 21104.