Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Farming a Hundred Years Ago
Chemung County NY
Article: Farming a Hundred Years Ago
Chemung County
Article by Helen Mac Dougall Samson (1909-1995) 1976
Sent in by Walt Samson
Retyped by Daryl Eldrett Watkins
Illustrations from book of Joyce's Grandfather

The Home Encyclopedia of Useful Information, 1903
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Chemung Valley Reporter

Thursday, July 22, 1976

Farming A Hundred Years Ago

By Helen M. Samson

In the hundred years since 1776, farmers had been drawn, ready or not in to the beginning of the mechanical age. The pioneers were content with the labor of their oxen and, indeed it must have been a great improvement over the first efforts on this continent to scratch a few hoarded seeds around the stumps pf the original forest.

In around 1876, farmers were proud of their strong teams of horses and an ox team was a novelty. The ads in the farm publications were showing that marvel, the steam engine as it was built for use on the farm. Some were called tractors and could be trundled along the road from farm to farm and used for the thrashing machine. If you remember the excitement of being a rural kid and watching for the black smoke of the slowly approaching old steamer when it was your father’s turn to have the thrasher, you aren’t so young any more and you have a good memory besides. A team came first - pulling the water tank so necessary to the work of the steam monster. The two men who came with the outfit stayed all night and their host kept them up late to hear their tales of the places they had worked and perhaps, to swap a few horse trade tales.

These same tractors could be used in the fields but were more popular in the middle west where the land was level and the fields large. Some were used to pump water from the deep wells for watering the cattle and to grind grain or saw wood.

The predecessor of the steam engine was horse power as applied to hay presses and thrashers. A horse or a team was driven up on the slanted, slatted platform and by walking rapidly, they could keep the endless contrivance turning and the attached belt running over the large wheel which in turn operated a machine. Large dogs were very often used on a similar treadmill to run a churn or even to saw wood. Later presses used a team of horses which walked around and turned a press down on the hay. One advertisement for this type stated that by using it one might put ten tons of hay in one car for shipping.

The best kind of plow was supposed to be the swivel plow which turned on furrow at a time and the user walked with one foot in the furrow and the other on the unplowed ground. The "plowman’s gait" was a very real thing!

All kinds of labor saving gadgets were touted for the farmers and their wives in 1876.

Apple parers and cherry pitters were invented by the dozens and any historical museum can show you several different types. A horse clipping machine was a great help as it could also shear the sheep and only required two people, one to clip and one to turn the handle. The hay loader was around to take some of the ache from the hired man’s shoulders at the end of a day in the hayfield and Mr. McCormick’s reaper was seen on most farms. Sometimes neighbors would pool their resources and buy one of these more expensive machines in partnership and take turns using it during the season. Farming was becoming more expensive one hundred years ago and more land was necessary if a profit was to be made. The invention of the gas engine not far in the future would sign the end of the small family farm and emergence of the big, specialized operation.

It must have been fun to be a kid on a farm one hundred years ago. No movies or TV, but you could take the dog and get the cows from the pasture and swim and run barefoot all summer. Then when Pa finally let you drive the old horse on the new drop rake and make winrows for the hay loaders, what greater joy could a country boy ask for?

First Added to the Site  on 22DEC 2002
By Joyce M. Tice

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