Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Child's Life on a Nebraska Farm, 1920s

At a young age, my father, Verne Troutman, and his siblings were expected to help with the farm work. Dad used to tell about his father, Clint. sending him to town driving a team of horses and a wagon to deliver a load of corn. He was seven years old. His father gave him a dime, and he bought himself a cheese sandwich and an ice cream cone to eat while he waited for the wagon to be unloaded. Then he drove the empty wagon home. Mission accomplished. He was proud, a little man.

He remembers: “I had work to do from seven years old: raked hay, drove a team of horses, swept hay, cultivated corn, cut weeds, brought in wood and cobs [for the fire], fed pigs, fed calves, and so forth.

“It was hard to keep cool in summer on a hot Nebraska day. We would cool off by sitting in the shade of a tree or haystack sometimes while taking a break from farm work.”1
Carl and Verne and their 4-H calves.
Neville's duties were less risky: “As a child, I set the table and waited on my brothers at the table, did dishes and helped clean house. I also ironed my brothers’ work shirts. Outside, I gathered eggs, fed the chickens, ducks and dog, carried water from the well, and picked fruit and berries. I picked wild flowers for my Mother when I walked home from Country School.

“I also took sandwiches and cold drinks to the men working in the fields. The boys worked hard in the fields. Carl and Verne cranked the separator (to separate the cream from the milk) and I washed it. I didn’t like carrying water from the well. One time Carl and I had to go down a small hill through a gate to carry a pail of water from the well. We got in an argument about closing the gate. Dad spanked both of us.

“My brothers caught muskrats. My Dad showed them how to skin them and stretch them on boards. Then they sold the hides for their fur.”1

Clint, Mary, Virginia, James, Neville, and Verne.

Virginia helped with beehives, potatoes, and corn: “My dad kept bees, and he had quite a few colonies. I remember he had to order the queen bee, and I remember him going to the mailbox and hearing the bees humming in a container that had bees in it. Then he would put the queen bee in the hive. In the fall he took the honey from the bees and he cooked it in a big metal kettle. . . . The comb melted and it all came to the top, three to four inches thick. Dad would have to check the bins, and [then] we’d turn it off, and we’d get the honey.

“One time I got stung. When I was about seven years old, I was going barefoot and I stepped on a bee. My mother ran out into the cornfield to tell Dad that I needed to go to the doctor.  The doctor didn’t really do anything but remove the stinger. My brother Carl said, “The only reason you lived was because of Mother’s prayers.” The doctor told my dad never to let me get stung by a bee again because a bee sting was as poisonous to me as a rattlesnake bite to most people.

Clint and a load of apples. The older man looks like Mary's father, Eli Waggoner. Actually, this was probably taken in Missouri about 1910-13, but I included it because it shows the work methods.
“Dad planted lots of potatoes, and in the fall we took a plow, a single horse plow, and plowed these out. And then the five kids each had a pail and we walked down the potato rows picking up the potatoes. When we were done we took the pail to the wagon and emptied it. By the time we were finished, we had a wagonload of potatoes. And we’d take it up to the cave [root cellar]. We’d carry it a bushel basket of potatoes at a time. We had a potato bin in our cave. It was a big cave with a lot of steps and I remember thinking how strong my brothers were to carry those potatoes down there. Then by the time spring came we’d have to go down there, and that was one of my jobs to sprout all those potatoes. I don’t remember why, but Mother couldn’t give those sprouts to the chickens. She’d have to take those someplace where the chickens couldn’t get them. [At least, Grandma knew that potato sprouts are toxic.]

“When the corn was tall enough we went through the cornfield with hoes and chopped out all the cockleburs and other weeds. We helped my dad pick corn.”2

Verne remembers picking corn on Thanksgiving Day: “We went hunting on Thanksgiving if we were not picking corn. If we were not through picking corn, we all [worked] that day, Mother and two boys on one wagon, Dad and one boy on another. When school was out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we really went after that cornfield. Dad had to scoop it all in the crib, as we boys were too little to scoop. We would throw some of it off for him.”3
Clint and a wagon load of corn.
Neville picked corn to earn a pair of shoes: “I wore heels for some time. I mean high heels. One time my Dad said if I would pick corn he would give me money for a new pair of high heels. I hated picking corn and the sandburs. I suppose I got the shoes.”4

Clint and Mary believed in the adage, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Though work was necessary, play times were plentiful. Next time.

1 Verne Troutman, “Grandpa Verne’s Story,” edited by Z. T. Noble, computer files, “Dad’s Story2.”
2 Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book with Virginia’s Memories of Country School,” compiled by Sharon Lamson, Troutman Family Newsletter: This One’s a Keeper!, 1998, privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana, 2016.
3 Virginia Nelsen, “Aunt Virginia's Stories,” audiotape, privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana, 2016.
4 Verne Troutman, “Grandpa Verne’s Story."
5 Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book.”

© 2016, Z. T. Noble

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