Recollections of Farm Life in the 1920’s

By Staff

11215 Oakland Drive Kalamazoo, MI 49002

We lived on a 114 acre farm of very light soil considered at
that time to be too light for a farm tractor. So all farming was
done with 4 horses.

There was no electricity or refrigeration on the farms in that
area, so our lighting was by kerosene lamps and later on gasoline
lamp, heat by a wood range in the kitchen, round oak stove in the
living room, and another stove in the parlor which was seldom open
for use during the cold weather. These stoves were generally taken
down for cleaning and storage during the summer, with the exception
of the wood range in the kitchen, although it was generally given a
rest in the summer due to the enormous amount of heat it gave off
making the kitchen very uncomfortable. In its place Mother used a
five burner E Z Way kerosene stove with oven (these were considered
very nice for summer cooking).

We generally had about 12 cows to milk, 2 brood sows with pigs,
4 horses, and about 75 to 100 chickens.

I very well recall one summer when the wind would not cooperate
for quite some time. Our storage tank and drinking water tank at
the old wooden windmill both ran dry, except for what was hand
pumped. Therefore there was no water supply for the big cement tank
in the barnyard. And so help me, only a farmer could tell you how
much water 16 head of stock plus chicken and pigs could drink.

Well, one day my step dad went to town and came home with a pump
jack and a nice red dishpan flywheel 1 HP Fairbanks Morse. They
poured a concrete base for it just off the windmill platform and
put it to work. This easily took care of our water problem and, as
1 was a youngster, it was my job to look after this and take care
of the water supply along with my other chores. It was the only
gasoline engine on the farm and I quite enjoyed it as most any
youngster would.

Crops were general farm crops wheat, rye, oats, alfalfa hay,
corn and potatoes (lots of ’em).

Commercial fertilizer was, I believe, unheard of in those days.
But I do remember the farmers would go together and get lime
shipped in and parked on a railroad siding nearby. Also, they would
get manure shipped in from the Chicago Stockyards (this all helped
to produce healthy crops).

After haying and grain harvest (threshing), corn was cut and
shocked by hand for husking during the fall and winter.

One of the winter projects which I recall very well was
butchering time . This was done in winter so that after the hogs
were butchered and hung up there was no worry of spoiling.

Before the butchering was done an ad was always run in the paper
telling of this pork which was raised and fatted on corn, skim milk
with mid dlings, small potatoes, and peelings usually cooked on
back of the wood range for some of the finest pork ever raised (we
always kept two of these hogs for ourselves).

Butchering was quite a project. The farmers would get together
at our farm and their ladies would help in the house. The water for
butchering was heated in a cast iron kettle over an open fire. The
hogs, after being killed and bled, were put onto a platform and
scalded in a slanted barrel at the end of the platform. Then the
hair was scraped from the hogs, then hung up and the innards were
removed and taken to the house in wash tubs for the women to remove
the leaf lard.

Before butchering day rolled around Mother would always sew up
muslin sacks for the sausage which, with all the spices, was so
tasty that it tasted good raw.

Now I mentioned earlier in this story there was no
refrigeration. How was this meat kept? Some of the side pork, etc.
was put in a barrel of salt brine that was salty enough to float an
egg. The sausage was stuffed into the muslin sacks and hung with
the bacon and hams in the smokehouse for smoking with corn cobs and
hickory chips.

Some pork shoulder and other frying pork was fried and put into
small crocks and covered with hot lard; then a plate was inverted
and put into the crock on top of the meat. A rock was put on this
to hold the plate down and enough more hot lard poured in to cover
the edge of the plate. Now this was set into a cupboard in the
basement for the following summer’s use.

In this way, people got along without iceboxes or refrigerators.
We also kept butter and cream and other items that needed to be
kept cool either in a bucket hung in the cistern, or in the cold
water at the windmill. When we moved from this farm after Dad
passed away in 1931, there was still no electricity in this area or
a lot of other rural areas.

I guess no story of farm life in the ’20’s would be
quite complete without mention of the plumbing, which in our home
consisted of a pitcher pump where soft cistern water was obtained
for laundry and washing the ladies’ hair, etc.

So there was always a necessity house outside, very cold in the
winter, hot in the summer. This little house had lots of nicknames:
back house, privy, outhouse, toilet, etc. There was always the
previous year’s Sears and Roebuck catalogue as you were doing
your duty and studying the wish book. (Best not to check in the
index, as a good share of the softer pages were always missing.
After all, that’s the reason last year’s catalogue was
there.) In all recollections it wasn’t really all that bad.
Sometimes the snow had to be brushed from the seat in the winter,
but this prevented long line-ups of people outside waiting while
others sat inside pondering. So that’s the way it was back in
the ’20’s on the farm.

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