Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Times were hard.


Today is what my mother would have called "a raw day". It is foggy, damp and grey - it would be impossible to see indoors without the lights on and outdoors it is positively depressing. "Not fit to turn a dog out," as the saying goes, although Tess doesn't seem to notice the weather - only the rabbit smells.

As I set off for Tesco this morning the farmer was cleaning out the cattle in the loose housing, scraping the channel into the midden, shaking up new straw and generally making them comfortable. And driving along I thought how lucky we are these days in farming and how very hard it would have been seventy years or so ago.

This morning he sat in the heated cab of his tractor, radio full on, a mass of handles and nobbles to pull or push in order to activate scrapers, forks, all manner of appliances. The only job he did by hand was spreading the straw and he could have done that by machine had he chosen to do so.

When my father-in-law was a young man the milk cows were kept three or four to a barn in various fields and he would tramp over the fields in all weathers, his milking stool on his back, to milk the cows early in the morning. Then he would carry the milk back and pour it into the churn., When hehad milked them all, he would harness the pony, heave the churn into the trap and take it to the station ready to be put on the train. Then he would come back and go round all the barns mucking out (throwing the muck out through the "window" on to a heap), feeding up and doing general maintainance jobs. By the time he had finished it would be time to start again for evening milking. Life was hard but because he had always done it he took the way of life forgranted and enjoyed it.

This farm got its first tractor (a "fergie" naturally) in early 1947. Up until then every job had been done - literally - with horse power. The photograph is of the last horse on the farm. I talked to the farmer about it - he is not sure who is on the horse - it could be him and one of his brothers or sisters. But he is sure of the date - around 1945, two years before the advent of that first tractor. He can barely remember its arrival (he would be almost three years old) but he does remember that, although it made life easier, some jobs were still done with horses because it was easier - for example weeding the turnips in the field (the horse would not trample the soil down to the same extent that a tractor would). As far as he can remember they still used the horses until the last one died and only then did they use the tractor for everything. A far cry indeed from farming today and one that it is good to remember on such a bleak day.

30 comments:

Pondside said...

It's a 'raw' day over here too. When I think of the people who came here at the turn of last century and cleared this hard land by hand....they did what they had to do, but could we?

Golden West said...

I love stories and pictures of the past. I think it helps us keep our own lives in perspective and fosters gratefulness for the sacrifices others have made before us. I hope, too that their struggles inspire us in ours.

A great read, as always, Weaver.

C Hummel Kornell a/k/a C Hummel Wilson said...

What a wonderful story! It is so important that we remember and share the stories from the past. Life today is so different. We think having software upgraded is moving forward into the future. My first mother-in-law was born in the 1880's and lived to be 103 1/2 years of age. She began life with horses and lived into the advent of 'planes, trains and automobiles'. Progressing from lamplight and cooking on a wood stove to electricity, television and microwave ovens. What a trip! Being a bit of a romantic, I would love to have lived in the age of innocence when times were harder and life was sweeter just because you were living it. Family was your universe and love was forever.

Thanks for your wonderful post. I wish you sunshine in your heart throughout the dreary day.

Bovey Belle said...

And here. Work was hard in those days, but good to learn that your husband's family's farm horses worked until they retired and weren't put down to make room for tractors which is what happened on many farms, and pushed even the Shire to the brink of extinction.

Our Farmer Next Door doesn't ever walk anywhere - even gets the cows in for milking in his Landrover, and he has all sorts of machinery for taking jawfuls of silage from the clamp, moving big bales around etc.

Bovey Belle said...

And here. Work was hard in those days, but good to learn that your husband's family's farm horses worked until they retired and weren't put down to make room for tractors which is what happened on many farms, and pushed even the Shire to the brink of extinction.

Our Farmer Next Door doesn't ever walk anywhere - even gets the cows in for milking in his Landrover, and he has all sorts of machinery for taking jawfuls of silage from the clamp, moving big bales around etc.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I saw an episode of the Victorian Farm Christmas the other evening and was glad not to be doing the chores! But as you say, life was hard for most folks and they just got on with it. We're a bit mollycoddled!

Heather said...

Even here in the southwest it's been raw today but I'd rather have it cold than mild at this time of year. I have a memory of watching a tractor ploughing in the field next to my grandmother's house. Only since reading your blog have I realised why we were all so excited to see it. Over the years I have completely forgotten that there were no tractors before about 1947. It's a good thing that today's 'mod.cons' help to make life easier for farmers, though there still seem to be plenty of problems for them.

Elizabeth said...

Yes, we really are very lucky that life for many people is much improved by machines.
The difficulty is to make a balance somehow....

Sometimes we think of the past as picturesque and charming when it was often harsh and brutal.

Dick said...

A raw day indeed and a chilly reminder of the farmer's round 60 years ago.

There was an open day on our local large farm in September. All the tractors were on display - huge, multi-function leviathans - and at the very end of the long line was a fully restored grey fergie. It was curiously moving - a remnant of 20th century technology, dwarfed in the shadow of its vast impersonal descendants.

Leenie said...

I so enjoy your posts with your British words and way of putting them togther. I hope someday we cross paths.

It is good to be reminded of the sacrifices our families made. My parents worked so hard on their little dairy farm, caring for their land and cattle in all weather. We children worked hard as well, but nothing like the generations earlier. I miss the farm, but I don't miss frozen manure and feeding cattle in a blizzard.

kameleonquilt said...

Hi Weaver
I love reading your posts about life on the farm. The mention of the tractor triggered some memories, - we used to have grey Fergies on the farms when I grew up in the 50ies and 60ies here in Norway too. Our farm was just a smallholding with a few sheep, so we did not have one, but my father borrowed my grandfather's horse to do the heavy tasks.
My brother is interested in old motor vehicles, so he got hold of one one a few years back and restored it, - so now there is one on what used to be my parents' farm.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

When one thinks of the hard way of life back then, one realizes how strong those dear people must have been. We can take so much forgranted....there is so much to be grateful for in our modern way of life.....and a lot of things which I personally am not so grateful for....but that's another topic.

Interesting post Weaver. Thanks.

Jenn Jilks said...

I love that - a raw day. My husband tells stories of his farm without hydro or plumbing. Keep on telling the stories - they are important!

jinksy said...

A glimpse into another world, never mind time...

Cloudia said...

Aloha, Friend!


Comfort Spiral

Raph G. Neckmann said...

It makes me grateful for the things I so often take for granted. Here at Necky Knoll House, our heating was on the blink for a couple of days, and it seemed awful to get up to a cold house. I remember many years ago prior to central heating, when we only had coal fires downstairs, and never got up to a warm house! (We giraffes do like to be warm, though!)

Studio Sylvia said...

Hi Weaver you have a raw day and currently, in Melbourne, it is 35 degrees Celsius with a hot northerly wind and the state is on high fire alert. It is the hottest day since Black Saturday,7th Feb 2009, when 208 lives were lost, more than 500 lives injured and 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres)were consumed by ferocious bushfires.
Although in former times the going and living was hard, I think there was a much better sense of satifaction in a job well done. Life was simpler and a feeling of appreciation pervaded much of family life,or so it appears to me.

Studio Sylvia said...

Oops! should read, satisfaction.

Granny Sue said...

Your photo could have been taken in West Virginia about the time I moved here (mid-1970's). Several neighbors still used their horses instead of tractors on this hilly land. Our first tractor was a 1950 Ferguson, then upgraded to a Massey Ferguson, and finally to a 1968 Massey 135 which we still own and use regularly.

Our life now is a curious mix of old and new. When we moved here, we had no electricity, and did things the old way, learned from our elderly neighbors. We got electricity in 1990 but still heat with wood and do many things the older, simpler way. As you say, there is a satisfaction to doing things by hand that can't be had when doing them by machine.

I have so enjoyed reading your blog. It is like a visit with my English-born mother and her mother, especially when they talked about life in rural Caldecote in the 1930's and40's.

Karen said...

In some ways much hard, in others a simpler time... we're better and worse for it.

Love this photo.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes, Pondside, I think we could if we had to. I agree we have got a bit soft but I am sure we could knuckle under in an emergency.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks GW. It seems to me that one only really becomes interested in the past when one begins to get old oneself.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks C Hummel Wilson - there is a certain amount of nostalgia for those days. I think the thing I would have found the hardest was managing without a good strong electric light so that I could read. I think often in those days people went to bed with the sun.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Bovey Belle - I must say "my" farmer is very good at walking everywhere - he spends hours walking round the fields doing various jobs and only rides when it is necessary.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Derrick - I suspect future generations will look at the way we do things with a similarly jaundiced eye and say they don't know how we managed/

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather - 1947 seems to be the year most people went mechanised - perhaps it was the aftermath of the war years that did it. Must say that I wish we still had the odd cart horse about the place, though.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Elizabeth - I do agree with you that it is often the case that we look at the past through rosy spectacles.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Dick - we have one little grey Fergie still in use and another one kept for spares.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Leenie - yes, you are quite right. We think of the good times but we often forget the chapped, cracked hands, the bitter cold, the dark evenings.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Bonnie and Jenn for your welcome comments.