Another Aspect of Midwestern Life

By Staff

Route 1, Box 63, Avoca, IA 51521

Steam engines, gas and kerosene tractors, and old gas engines
were NOT all there was to farming in the Midwestern states.
Although we now have a great fascination with these items, some
attention should also be brought to the small town. Had it not been
for the town of 600 to 1000 population, the farming industry could
not have survived.

I was born near one of these small towns, Irving, Kansas. At the
time I was growing up, it sported 640 people. Irving was comprised
of a general store, two gas stations (as they were called back
then), a post office, billiard parlor, and a parts place called
Midland Parts and Bearings. Of course, there were other small
businesses such as barber shop, blacksmith, tavern, etc. The parts
house also sold International Harvester tractors. I recall those
beautiful red Farmalls. It was substantiated that they sold
bearings all across the U.S.A. and Canada.

The business that I was most attached to was the General Store,
which was called, ‘Thomson’s Store’. A very simple
name, but was indeed quite adequate. It had been started by Mr.
Frank Thomson. At the time of my growing up, it was managed by his
two sons, John and Reginald. Not only food stuffs were sold here,
one could buy furniture and clothing. Of course I was more
interested in the candy counter. These people had been friends of
my family many, many years.

I recall Mr. John calling me the afternoon after my mother’s
funeral. He offered his sympathy and went on to reminisce. He said
he could recall the day my parents had married. It seems they had
taken ‘the passenger train’ to the county seat to be
married. These were the good old days, both the Union Pacific and
Missouri Pacific’s tracks were yet on each side of town (I
remember the big steam trains, as well as ‘the passenger’,
as a small boy.) He went on to say, after a day of shopping in the
‘big city’ (the county seat had probably a population of
1500 around 1910) they had again ridden the train to Irving. They
ended up at Thomson’s Store. ‘Emil brought his young bride
in and said to pick out what she needed. My, Lizzie was so young,
she hardly knew what to buy in order to start housekeeping!’ He
went on to say: ‘We fixed them up with a table, 6 chairs, a
bed, dresser and a night stand, also a glass door kitchen cabinet.
I believe the whole sum total was around $75.00!’

A business that farmers could not survive without was the grain
elevator. I remember the ‘Irving Elevator Company’. During
my time it was managed by Paul Smercheck, who had been born and
raised just across the road from our farm, 6 miles southwest of
town.

As a lad it was my job to scoop back the wheat as it fell into
my Dad’s wagon, when we threshed. It was often a very dusty,
dirty job but I knew if I could work ‘real hard’, I could
also ride into town with a load when my Dad would haul the excess
to the elevator.

We would leave early in the morning the day we hauled grain.
Although it was not that far, the wagon load of wheat was heavy. My
Dad never hurried the team of horses. When we arrived at the
elevator it would be around 10 a.m. The manager would be very busy
unloading grain and putting it into railroad cars. The chain and
belt drives would be rattling and clattering all over the big
building, grain dust flying in all directions. Dad would drive his
wagon and team up the ramp onto the big Fairbanks Morse scales. The
team of horses tolerated the noise of slapping belts from this
distance. Paul would come running to the office. We could see him
through the big window as he balanced the beam on the scales. Then,
he would wave a hand for us to proceed up the slight incline and
into the alleyway of the elevator. When the team reached the big
double doors, they became alarmed. They would lay back their ears
and snort. They began pulling sideways letting us know they
didn’t want to go in that narrow dark place even if they could
see out the far side. My Dad began to talk softly to them and flap
the lines on their backs. Even though they could feel his strong
pull on the lines, they began a see-sawing motion. Dad continued to
speak in soft even tones to me: ‘Mr. Sonny, now you listen
good. This is what I brought you for. Now you get down and go right
over in front of them. I don’t dare let go of the lines.
Don’t be scared. You’ll be alright. You just get ahold of
the bridle bit on the inside of each horse. You talk soft to them,
till I can get up there.’ When my father spoke in such a
manner, I knew it was important. There was no holding back or
arguing. When he got up front with me he tied his big red bandana
over the eyes of one horse, then turned to me. ‘Give me your
handkerchief,’ he said, which I did. He then tied it over the
other horse’s eyes. Then he led the team and wagon into the
alleyway of the elevator.

In that day, there was a cradle affair lying on the floor. The
front wheels of the wagon were placed in this. He then unhitched
the team of horses and proceeded to lead them out the other side.
He posted me to stay with the team. He released the check rein so
they could lower their heads and nibble at the grass. This all
taken care of, he returned to the wagon. Paul was lifting the front
wheels higher and higher. The wheat was rolling out the tailgate of
the wagon into an iron grated hole in the floor. When the wagon was
empty, the wagon was lowered. Dad would be required to hold up on
the wagon tongue lest it stick into the floor. The team was again
hitched.

We drove down the main street to the store, gave the grocer
Mother’s list and joined the fellows out front on the ‘spit
and whittle benches’. Sometimes it makes me sad to think of the
flourishing little towns that have dwindled completely away!

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