When I look back to the days I was growing up on our farm there is one person that always comes back to mind and yet to date I have failed to mention. From the 50’s and until the late 60’s there was a man that my dad hired to work with us named Wilbur Bruin. We all called him Web.
In those days and in the years before I would guess many farmers would have what they referred to as a hired hand. In our case Web was our hired hand. I can think of many farmers who would have such a person that helped them on a daily basis. Most were single and right at or past retirement age or married but if they had any kids they had grown and left long before they came to work in this type of position. I know Walter Richel had Gordon. The Maus brothers would hire Mr. Marshall very often. My Uncle Leo had a man named nook. (That was the only name I ever heard him called but doubt it was his real name. ) If I were to take the time to think on this a little longer I’m positive I could think of many more hired hands.
Now since they in most cases lived on a small check from Social Security they would take a job of this nature to supplement their incomes to a point where their lives were more comfortable. Many had worked in factories but at low wage jobs and the way I remember it was that as these men would near retiring and receiving a pension from the company they would all of a sudden be laid off work with an excuse that the factory was low on work. Then they would be let go do to same reason. (Truly a very dirty way to treat a person.)
This was what had happened to web. He had worked in Cincinnati for many years and then one day he was cut loose and left in a poor way to face life. Web had been raised during the Great Depression and in a large family. He had been raised having to scrounge to get by and of course getting much schooling was nearly impossible to obtain. Dad had a hand before Web named George and he had passed away and I never knew him. So dad was looking for that extra pair of hands when Wilbur pulled up in our driveway and asks dad if he could use some help. The answer was of course he could.
So they negotiated a deal. Dad had a small two room cabin on a small tract of land. Wilbur was married so he offered him the cabin to live in rent free. He would pay him Twenty-Five a week. Dad plowed him up a large garden to raise produce on. He also would supply him with a hog and beef to be slaughtered for their freezer. So he took the offer and moved right in.
Here is where I must explain that Web Bruin was as good a hand as could be found in the job duties this would call for. The thing was he showed up every day on time ready to work but Web had one gear and one gear only. He would cut five hundred sticks a day and no more. He would strip twelve sticks of tobacco and no more. When he would drive the tractor it went at one speed and one only. It was soon learned by my dad that he was not to expect any more in a day as he would be disappointed.
Web wore bibbed overalls and a floppy brimmed ball cap and in cold weather he wore a denim jacket. When he spoke he spoke in a way that caused him to mumble and as dad would tell him what he wanted him to do he would immediately disagree. “Nope!” I ain’t gonna do it! You can’t make me!’ ‘Where do you want me to start?” I guess he had to get it out of his system but he always would begin with that when dad had asked him to do a chore. This response was daily and it got to where my brother Ben and I would respond in the same manner as we found it humorous. Unfortunately for Ben and I my dad got tired of our impression quickly.
As was most farm hands they were allowed to work for other farmers if their help was needed and for their help they would get paid by that farmer also. Another way to put a buck in the wallet. I know one fall web picked up enough extra money to buy a portable television. (This was in the days of black and white but it was a television.) Once he got it hooked up and got reception well he became hooked on the device. Every morning he arrived to work he would tell dad the news and especially the weather. For a man who had lived his life doing with only the essentials that T. V. had to be the most awesome item he ever bought.
I’m not certain as to how the other farmers paid but the way the men worked was very much like what I have described. If a hand was needed they were the hand. It might be only sweeping a barn floor or helping put a new roof on. The degree of how hard the job was didn’t really matter as they were to do was always at the slower part of the job. Still the extra set of hands was needed and here is where their value would rise. I’m not certain about today and the hired hands but until the farming of today the farmers needed many hands and much labor to carry out the chores on a farm for a year. These men for the most part would be assigned manual labors as there was plenty of that to go around for crews that would be up in the numbers of men to get it done. Also Web felt that since he was regular at our farm he was second in charge to my dad. This I don’t think was so but dad always let him feel he was. This was very much the same at any farm I ever worked on with a regular farmhand.
The world had many Web Bruins and maybe still does. Men who aren’t afraid of hard work and dealing with hard times. I know that having grown up on almost a daily basis of exposure to Web I learned to understand more of what my dad would tell me when I would say something out of line about how he was having to live. My dad would say “don’t you ever forget that you are no better than him and he is no better than you and that goes for us all.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at email@example.com.