2711 Harmony Drive, Bettendorf, Iowa 52722
'Backward, turn backward, O Time in thy flight, Make me a child again, Just for tonight!' - Elizabeth Akers Allen, 1860
The seasons march on as they always have, and always will. For a boy on an Iowa farm they changed ever so slowly, much more so than now. Through the wonder of memory it's good to recall and appreciate those days long ago and far away.
Growing up on a farm and in a small rural community is a privilege that we may not appreciate until later. This background represents 'yesterday' to thousands of rural and urban people, who have roots in rural America. The pull back toward the land surges strongest in me come spring. It was that way too when I was a small boy. When the snow, the cold, and the mud were finally gone, when water ran and grass grew, the annual miracle of re growth burst forth everywhere. Once again birds sang, animals returned to outdoor pasture, and April showers brought those May flowers.
The good earth sliding black and fertile from the moldboard of a plow had a nice odor all its own. Pigeons would swoop down to feast on earthworms just evicted into the sunshine. First, the oats crop started to green the fields. 'You can row the corn' announced that a stand of tiny corn plants was through the surface and on its way.
Spring dissolved into summer. There was the chirp of crickets, the buzz of the katydids on a hot summer night, and the sun rose hot and brilliant between the barn and corncrib. Nature giveth and may suddenly take away. The onset of a thunderstorm from a black, lightening-pierced sky looked as if the end of the world was at hand. But the crescendo hit and passed and brought with it the priceless rain- water, water for the land, and renewed promise of a crop.
There was the snort and whinny of horses, the creaking of their leather harness, the sharp 'clop' of wagon wheel hubs sideways on their axles. Hogs aren't very romantic. They just grunt, root, smell some, and pay the bills-and help feed the world. The mooing of cattle is much nicer, especially when they are white-faced Herefords dotting a grassy pasture.
Almost as if it were yesterday, I can see and hear our old John Deere Model 'D' coming in from the fields at nightfall (it was identical to the tractor shown on the cover). To save wear, the plow was always left on the headland in the field, bottoms and coulters swabbed with crankcase oil, in case of rain. You stood up some of the time to avoid jolts. The short flame from the exhaust stabbed out beside the radiator into the gathering darkness, and the staccato 'tutta, tutta, tutta' grew steadily louder as it emerged from the grove of trees back of the house. In that house with its kerosene lamp waited Mother's warm supper. No, it wasn't called dinner.
Few odors are as pleasing as that of newly mown clover hay. Few spectacles were as impressive to a small farm boy as seeing the enormous ball-shaped chunks of hay hoisted up to the big hay-door at the peak of the barn, ropes and pulleys singing under the strain. Before disappearing into the mysterious depth of the haymow, the huge ball would swing sharply outward, and then it would swing inward as its fork carrier rolled in out of sight on a steel rail track. And the sound of the carrier on the track changed pitch as it moved way back in.
Then came the grain harvest. Each round of the grain binder transformed the amber waves of grain into bundles; sweat, muscle, and hard work arranged those bundles into neat shock rows, making the picturesque scene loved by calendar artists.
Which brings us to threshing. I suppose you would think the most exciting day of the year for a small farm boy on a 1920's farm would be Christmas-and of course Christmas was a big and meaningful occasion. But the most exciting day of the year then was 'thrashin' day.' (No one would ever be heard saying 'threshing.')
From over the hill the giant gray-black Reeves steam engine would slowly turn into our driveway, I remember its distinctive arched canopy. In massive majesty it came ever closer, followed obediently by a huge Nichols &. Shepard Red River Special thresher. The uphill slope of our driveway made the engine only hint at its great power, rather like an enormous fist in a velvet glove. The great wheels pressed wide, flat tracks into the earth. Reciprocating cylinders and cams seemed to contrast with the smooth rotation of the cast iron flywheel. An aura of heat, steam, and smoke seemed to surround the engine. Stray drops of water scattered with a spitting sound as they landed on the hot boiler.
More than anything else, the exhaust sound brought goose bumps. Sonorous, slow, clipped, soft but strong, the 'chuffa, chuffa, chuffa' seemed to charge up from the bowels of the boiler and out the stack. Eagerly and from a respectful distance I got to watch the ponderous threshing outfit 'set' and begin its work. Power flowed down the graceful crossed belt, while the now stationary engine had a gentle, undulating motion. With a comfortable load on it, the engine's exhaust responded with surging power to variations in the steady stream of bundles moving head first into the feeder conveyor. A bundle pitched in crosswise brought an instant no-no from the boss man standing atop the thresher. With feet planted well apart, his body seemed to gently move back and forth with his machine, much as a skipper on the deck of his ship-as well he was.
Rather like a pipe organ back' ground, the steam engine dominated a pageant of horses, bundle wagons, flashing pitchforks, water jugs, coal smoke, chaff, oil cans, bib overalls, straw hats, and a straw stack. And filled grain wagons clattered off to the granary.
Thrashin' day lasted until after dark. Tired people dispersed, tired in a satisfying physical way. But this little guy had to take one more look at the now silent monsters out by the new straw stack; silent but for those occasional water drops that still went 'spit' on the boiler. The engineer's final act for the day was to tie down the whistle cord and release the steam pressure. In the quiet of the evening the whistle, as a great trumpet, sent waves of sound shimmering out over the cornfields and across the countryside.
My father wasn't as impressed with all this as I. He brought me down to earth with 'I'm glad to see them come, and glad to see them go.' For me it was different. Though those gentle steam monarchs of the plains no longer rule the harvest fields, they truly wield a spell over me, a spell begun on thrashin' day long ago.
Foxtail grew high in the oat stubble, it got dark earlier, leaves of brown came tumbling down, and frost ended the life span of the corn stalks. The corn picker rattled and chattered its way through the brittle dry corn rows. Again the slap of the neckyoke and doubletrees was heard. The ear corn was moving to the crib, the breath of the straining horses could be seen in the chill air. Then the crib was full, the harvest gathered.
The seasons came full circle when sundogs preceded the isolation of a silent, frozen winter night. When it was cold, you probably opened the oven door on the kitchen cook stove to keep warm, and there was ample time to reflect and be thankful. But the promise of another year soon took over. The conversation would get to family plans-and a few dreams--for the next year.
There by that warm cook stove with Mother, Dad and Sister, my little world seemed so simple, so secure. Soon it would be Christmas, and in what then seemed light-years away, there would be another wondrous thrashin' day.
Perhaps some of you readers out there will recall similar childhood memories-before the colors fade.
Oh, about the tractor. It's a 1925 Model 'D', serial number 32151. Still with its original Edison-Splitdorf magneto, it starts well and runs nicely, with the clear, authoritative sound of the John Deere two-cylinder tractor. The early 'D', when tested at Nebraska, weighed in at 4260 pounds, produced 30.4 belt horsepower, 22 drawbar horsepower, and moved at 2? and 2? MPH. Its engine turned at 800 r.p.m. with a 6?' bore and 7' stroke.
The matching plow in the above photo is a John Deere #5,3 bottom, 14'. These plows used a cast iron land wheel until 1927, then a pressed steel land wheel.