By Sam Hatcher
For Rural Life Today
XXXX COUNTY — Spring is trying to arrive to our little corner of the agricultural world. With the arrival of spring, comes the long awaited practice of the digging out of the recesses of the barn, the plows… We are one of the few farmers who still use a moldboard plow. Most of our plowing is normally done in the spring. Dad has passed on to us boys as was passed on to him, in that the ground has to be turned over (or under depending on how one looks at it) in the spring. Fall plowing is done rarely, and only if the conditions are right. As we maneuvered the plows out of their spots in the barn from the winter, my memory was drawn back to that first spring that I was allowed to plow…
It was the spring of 1973. Richard Nixon had just been re-elected the previous fall to another term as President, a term that he would only get to serve about half of as events turned out, due to that nasty secret called Watergate. I was in the third grade, a whopping nine years old. My teacher that year was a Miss Rickenberg, who later became Mrs. Wade before the school year was out. C.D. Brillhart Elementary was the school that I attended. Our biggest tractor at that time was a Farmall 706, pulling an International #16, four bottom plow. Dad had bought the tractor used from Weldon Frysinger, who along with his brother Burdette, owned and operated the L.S. Dunbar IH dealership, located on Clinton Street in Napoleon, now site of a lumberyard. The International #16 plow is a fairly heavy duty plow, and ours is set at 14 inches between the bottoms, thus we pull what is called “4 – 14’s”.
Dad has regaled us with stories of his first plowing experiences, and how a Farmall M could pull 3 – 14’s with ease, while that “other brand” could only pull 2 bottoms, and putt-putt along while pulling that. I had begged and begged Dad all winter and spring to be able to drive the tractor, citing the fact that I was already driving the lawn mower – a Cub Cadet 100 if memory serves me right – and that plowing was my step up in the world. Dad pulled the other four bottom plow that we had with a Farmall 450. This was the only brand new tractor that Dad has ever purchased – buying it new from Dunbar’s after he got out of the Service when the new model 560’s came out, and the 450 being a leftover model. My begging finally convinced Dad, and my older brother Mark was given the 706 to drive, while I got the 450 to drive and plow with.
It was a great moment in my life, to be able to finally feel like I was contributing to the welfare of the farm. Not that I knew what that meant as a nine year old, but it was a proud moment nevertheless. The only thing that I wasn’t too keen on was my brother got the tractor with the fender mounted A.M. radio, tuned at that time to what I called “gypsy jazz” that being the “Big 8”, CKLW out of Detroit/Windsor, which at that time played the latest rock and roll music on the airwaves. My tastes ran to country music, and my favorite radio stations were WMGS out of Bowling Green, and WTOD out of Toledo. I can remember WMGS always signed off at 7 p.m. in the evenings by playing the National Anthem, which is probably when their license said they had to be off of the air by that time. F.M. radio was still just a novelty then, and not too many people had F.M. radios.
We always started spring plowing by plowing what we call the “sand field” – at that time a 45 acre field that contains mostly black sand – the kind of ground that now brings over the $11,000 per acre mark in Henry County. Paying that kind of money for ground is simply insane, but that is another story. We always started in the sand field because it was the driest field that we had. Dad always “struck out the lands” to get the field started, and the plowing commenced in earnest after that. I was barely big enough to reach the clutch pedal on the 450, and I couldn’t pull the torque amplifier lever, as I didn’t have enough arm strength to do it, but in the sand field, the torque only had to be pulled if a hard spot was encountered that pulled the tractor motor down to where it would stall.
I never got (or get) bored with plowing. As the ground rolled over, large earthworms were exposed to the daylight, much to the birds’ delight who were following our progress. Our old neighbor, Jake Rausch, would sometimes stop to collect worms before the birds got them, Jake would use his worms for fishing in the Maumee River behind his house. An occasional rock would roll up, and we would have to stop the tractor, get off, and pick up the rock to carry it to the tractor, and then throw it off at the end. Dad has always been leery of rocks, always worried that he would run one through a combine cylinder and tear it up, hence our picking up duties – which continues to yet this day.
I also had my first collision on this first day of plowing as well – a collision that I still blame on CKLW. As my brother and I plowed back and forth across the field, I gradually got ahead of him in a land. The 706 had a little faster ground speed than the 450, and as he crept closer and closer to me, he was singing along to the radio, and not paying a whole of attention to what was going on ahead of him in the form of me and the 450. Since I couldn’t speed up the 450, I could do nothing except stop and wait on him – something I was loathe to do, as I wanted to plow, not just sit and wait for him to get ahead of me.
As he crept closer and closer to me, I started yelling and motioning at him to get out of the way. He paid absolutely no attention to me, concentrating on the song on the radio, and never looking ahead. When the front tires of his narrow front tractor finally crawled on top of the back of my plow, did he finally come out of his CKLW induced trance and stop. By this time the 706 had a flat front tire, courtesy of my safety emblem holder on the back of the plow. He was mad, I was mad, and Dad thought it was hilarious, even though he had to change the tire.
We made it through that spring day, and as the years have passed, I have graduated from the 450 to driving a 706 tractor, then a Farmall 806 tractor, and now a Farmall 856 tractor as my plowing tractor. Four bottoms on the plow turned into five, and now back to four again, in the guise of an International #70 plow. We still use our #16 plows as well. When all of us plow, we use two five bottoms and one four bottom, thus creating fourteen bottoms rolling back and forth across the fields. A lot of plowing gets done when we all work together like this.
I am now old enough to have watched the supposed demise of the plow – thanks to no-till farming practices, but now the plow appears to be making a comeback – as the no-tilled ground gets harder and harder after getting packed by the bigger and heavier machinery in use for several years in a row. We have never wavered in our yearly plowing efforts, some neighbor farmers jokingly telling Dad through the years that he ought to go back to the horse and buggy days since he was almost the only one who plowed, but while our methods may seem old fashioned, we have convinced ourselves that the only way to leave the ground to the next generation in better shape than what we found it in is to do what has been done since farming began, and that is to use the plow.
Plowing … another part of life on the farm.