If you grew up on a farm you shared this experience. If you ever worked as a hired hand for a farmer the odds are you have experienced this. If you visited the farmer during a harvest season you might have had the pleasure of experiencing this. What I’m trying to say is going to a field or a patch and back allowed you this experience.
What I’m talking about was riding on a wagon to and from the barn to the fields or riding in the back of the farmer’s pickup truck. Now I know you are thinking to yourself what is causing him to think this to be such a great thing to have thought so much about it. The first reason is that it is very doubtful I will ever get to ride out to the job on a wagon or truck and even more unlikely I will ever return from a hay field or a tobacco patch to work in the barns as I did in my youth,
Just think about just how much in good condition one had to be to toss bales of hay or lift sticks of tobacco. Not only did you need strength but you had to be flexible and agile along with having conditioned yourself to endure the job all day and that my friends could be very long days. At the time I really didn’t realize I was displaying all of what I just mentioned but looking back I can see where I sure did and so did all the men that were working at my side.
When you and a couple other guys went to a hay field and loaded a wagon or maybe two to take to the barn you were sweating and no matter how conditioned you might have been a ninety plus degree afternoon can give cause for the desire to get a breather in and catch your wind so to speak. This is where a wagon really came into play. Since the fields were bumpy and we didn’t want the load to come apart the tractor could go only so fast. That was fine by the crew as that ride was when they got their second wind and helped them for when they had to climb up into a hay loft and unload the hay. Even though you were out of the sun a hay loft was hotter than the field as it was covered by a metal roof that was radiating the ninety plus temperature to an even higher number. So when a load was finished and you came out of the barn you most times had sweated through all of your clothes. When you walked out into the fresh air and you were wringing wet a small breeze could cause a fella to just stand there and say ahhhhh!
Thing was after passing the water jug around a couple times it was time to get on the wagon and begin the journey back to the field. All the labor was done mostly in a standing position and walking in the field fell in there also. So a ride on the wagon allowed the men to let their legs dangle as the wagon moved on. Sometimes it was a pickup truck and it seemed like sitting on the tail gate and letting your legs dangle and letting the grass or weeds collide with the back of your legs that it was really a great feeling for the most part.
This scenario was pretty much the same for when it was time to house the tobacco. The main difference was that a load of tobacco with a row of tobacco on the sticks on each side of the wagon and a row down the middle once in a while. When a load was complete a person could only sit along the front of the wagon as tobacco will bruise easily and that was a major no no. However a person could lean back onto the tobacco and it was like resting on a mattress to some degree and still allowed the worker to rest his back somewhat. When in a tobacco barn there is just no place to hide from very hard labor and between the heat from that metal roof and the heat off of the tobacco itself the workers were assured to be wringing wet upon exciting the barn and the ride to the patch was one of great pleasure no matter how bumpy it might have been. It was safe to say in tobacco housing we kept more than one water jug as one just wouldn’t quench the thirst these men had worked up.
For most folks the wagon or the pickup truck was the way for farm travel. However there were some guys who wanted to ride up on the tractor with their feet on the running board and leaning against a fender of the tractor, I think the view was a big attraction but sometimes the rider just wanted to have some time to share topics with the driver. I admit that I liked riding up on the tractor as most times I was the one who was driving. It allowed me time to look around as I rested.
The work was hard and none of it was easy and farmers paid only minimum wage for the pleasure of getting to sweat and bounce on the wagons. The men kept their spirit up by telling jokes and pulling pranks on each other and all in good nature. One instance I can recall was in hay season. I had hired some of the guys I ran around with as I knew they were dependable and I enjoyed having them around. One of my wagon beds had begun to become splintery and was in need of a new bed. As we were heading to the hay field one of the boys named Steve Liming jumped up on the wagon and as he did this a piece of a board three feet long splintered off and the point of it stuck in his back side. As soon as it happened Steve jumped off the wagon with the gigantic splinter dangling behind him. Steve was one for putting on a show and he did as he began to run around the wagon screaming as to how much pain he was in and how he was going to call OSHA on me etc. In truth the splinter had hardly stuck him and he was holding it in place for the effect it gave. Of course we all howled with laughter and he threw the splinter away and we went on our way to get a load of hay and went to the barn and unloaded it. When we were at our farm we stopped at a faucet on the side of the house to get our drinks of watet. It just so happened my mom came outside and spoke to the boys. That was when my cousin Walt who had been quiet through the whole event spoke up and said Madeline Steve got stuck really bad by a splinter. The look on Steve’s’ face was worth a million. My mom said “oh my Steve that must really hurt come on inside and I will pull the splinter out and put some methiolate on it for you. He was speechless and so were we as we all were howling with laughter. Steve explained he had pulled the splinter and it wasn’t very bad. Mom kept insisting and the more Steve kept declining the more cousin Walt kept insisting she really should look at it. This kept the crew laughing and working hard the rest of the day and a good bit into the next day. Steve kept working as he didn’t much want to talk about that. That by far was the most entertaining ride to a field and definitely the most memorable.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you are interested in reading more of his stories they can be found in his books ‘There are Places to Remember” and’ Memories ARE from the Heart.” He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.