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The rural Iowa that I knew sixty years ago has not disappeared, but major changes have occurred.
The bountiful Iowa soil remains, but the trees and shrubbery along the roads and fields have given way to crops planted up to the ditches and roadways.
Pasture—land is now used for crops, and dairy farmers specializing in milk production keep large numbers of dairy cattle.
Hog production for pork is also a specialty utilizing large buildings to raise many thousands of pigs, usually in a location far distant from other farm homes, due to odors.
The same type of specialization is true for egg and chicken production, with large buildings holding thousands of egg-laying hens.
With emphasis on producing only corn and soybeans, lack of crop rotation eliminates the growing of alfalfa or clover that enrich soil.
Except for Amish Mennonite farmers, horses are no longer used for plowing, pulling machinery or pulling wagons or "buggies".
The threshing "rings" of farmers working together for oat or wheat harvesting are history, with the use of combines that have eliminated the old-time grain binders, threshing machines and wagons that hauled bundles of oats or wheat to a threshing machine powered by a belt from a tractor. Combines also eliminated the grain wagons that were filled with the threshed grain that was scooped into farm grain bins, for feed for livestock or poultry.
With the disappearance of livestock on most Midwestern Iowa farms, there is no need for fences for livestock. At the same time, the use of silage to feed dairy cattle has ended the need for the large silos that stored the silage.
The cement silos, girded with steel rods, stand as white or gray "monuments" to a bygone era in Iowa and the rural Midwest.
With no dairy cattle, swine, chickens or horses to feed and tend at least daily—and twice daily for milking and feeding dairy cattle—there is no required "chore time". It is now possible for a farmer to have another job or occupation, in addition to farming.
Roads have improved, so it is possible to have farms at locations several miles apart, and to thus increase the amount of farmland that one farmer can "run". Also, the tractors have increased speeds and increased power, so greater acreage can be farmed during the time consuming planting and harvesting.
With the use of deep tillage instead of plowing, and the limited need to cultivate row crops, the busy and demanding times for crop farming are limited to the planting and harvesting times in spring and autumn.
Everyone has early memories, shaped by their families, environment, school, churches, friends and events.
My parents did not expect me to have "chore" responsibilities until age 9. As a result, I had considerable playtime on the farm, as a child.
With large maple trees shading the ground below those trees, it was fun to use wooden blocks as play trucks or play tractors and drive them on the play dirt roads and fields. My brother Donald, one and one/half year older, was my playmate.
In winter months, sledding downhill on the road north of our home was a highlight. As we became older, we played basketball in the driveway of the barn, adjacent to oat bins and haymows.
Fourth of July celebrating often included softball games in a small field, with extra servings of ice cream on those hot July afternoons.
During the warm late spring and summer months, a hammock was attached between the large trunks of two tall maple trees, and the hammock was used for relaxation.
As mentioned earlier, after reaching age 9, my parents expected we children to have "chore" or housework responsibilities—and that certainly applied to me.At that age, I had four older brothers: Theodore ["Ted"], Richard ["Dick"], Floyd ["Tub"] and Donald ["Don"].
The parental decision was made that I would help my mother with household chores—including pumping drinking water, washing dishes, sweeping and mopping floors. In addition, I was to help with care of baby chicks and to gather eggs from the hen houses and to clean the henhouses.
This poultry responsibility was related to the fact that my mother would have the "egg money" for her personal income and use.
After another one or two years time, I also had to help with the morning and evening chores that included milking the dairy cattle, cleaning the barns of manure and helping feed the cattle, baby calves and horses—and feeding hogs with "swill" composed of grain and skim milk.
Harvest season for oat threshing combined hard work with the pleasure of having noontime meals. I was able to watch the process of harvesting before I had to be one of the workers at harvest time.
"Binder" machines were use to cut the oat stems, then form and tie bundles that were placed on the ground. "Shocking" meant that several bundles were placed together by hand in a "shock" of bundles shaped to shed rain, in case rain occurred.
A threshing "ring" was composed of six to eight neighboring farmers, working together, using one steam engine or a tractor to power a threshing machine by using a wide belt running from the tractor to the threshing machine.
For the threshing of oats or wheat, wide and long "hay wagons" had to be loaded with the separate bundles of grain, using pitchforks. The bundles would be stacked high on the wagon, and then taken to the threshing machine, using horses to pull the wagons, and then each bundle was tossed into the threshing machine, powered by a belt from a tractor.
A spout from the threshing machine emptied grain into wagons. The grain wagons then were pulled to have the grain unloaded by worker's scooping the grain into bins in the barn. A blower from the threshing machine allowed the oat straw stems to be blown to form a stack of oat straw that would later be used for bedding of farm animals.
Wash basins were arranged on tables under shade trees for the workers to use soap and water to wash away sweat and dust, prior to enjoying a meal of a variety of vegetables, pork and beef, ice water or lemonade, and a variety of pies and cakes for dessert.
The wives and daughters of the threshing ring farmers prepared these harvest time noontime "dinners" that were truly rewards for the hot and dusty work.
The cutting of alfalfa and clover was used to store as "hay" in barns—and to use for feeding livestock during the colder months of the year. This storing of "hay" required considerable labor and use of varied machinery, including a mower, a windrower and a hay loader machine.
The alfalfa or clover was cut using a horse drawn mower equipped with gears for powering the cutting blade. A windrowing machine pulled by the team of horses arranged the cut "hay" into rows, to dry.
The alfalfa or clover had to dry in the field to prevent rotting. Rains could be very troublesome and cause delay.
When dry, a hay loader, drawn by tractor or a team of horses, lifted the cut and dry alfalfa or clover onto broad and long floored hay wagons. A horse team pulled the wagons to a barn where hayforks would be placed into the hay on the wagons. The hay then would be lifted up onto a track, using a rope pulled by horses, and then the hay would be released to fall down onto the haymow area of the barn. Since the hay would fall in the center of the "haymow", men using forks would place the hay more evenly in the mow area.
After machines were made to bale hay, the bales of dried alfalfa or clover would be loaded directly onto wagons, and then placed in storage.
Prior to the use of corn picking machines, corn would be picked by hand in the fields, throwing the ears of corn against a wagon "bang board" that was several feet higher that the wagon which was pulled by a team of horses.
Corn picking machines eliminated the drudgery of picking each individual ear of corn away from the leaves of the husk and stalk, and then tossing each ear toward the "bang board" of the wagon holding the corn.
Corn husking contests were held and a championship caliber contestant could pick 100 bushels or more of ear corn during the day of the corn-husking contest.
Soybean harvesting usually meant placing bundles of soybeans in a stack. Soybeans provided protein rich feed for dairy cattle.
Of course, the soybeans could be harvested and the soybeans separated by machine and used for feed, or sold for income.
My mother, Roberta Lydia McMillin, born on June 17, 1897, was the youngest of nine children. Her father, William Mc Millin, had ancestors who migrated from Scotland and/or Northern Ireland to the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries. He grew to manhood in Illinois and moved to Iowa after he courted and married Emma Wenner, then living in Illinois and of "Pennsylvania Dutch " German heritage.
As a Mc Millin child, and the youngest of nine children, my mother decided that she wanted to be called "Ruby", and she had that first name thereafter, even though it was not legally changed. I believe that her red hair had some relationship for her to select the name "Ruby".
My McMillin grandfather died during World War I in Iowa., and Emma McMillin died in 1939, on the Iowa "McMillin" farm home where I lived and "grew up". I regret that speaking German was not popular, to say the least, after World War I, so my grandmother McMillin only spoke enough German to teach me how to count to ten using her particular German pronunciation. I regret that she did not carry on conversations with me using her " Pennsylvania Dutch" German language, as I believe that I would have retained that skill.
My paternal grandfather, Benjamin Turner, immigrated to the United States from the Cambridge region of England in 1886 or thereabouts. He missed his sweetheart, Julia Childs, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to marry Julia, and they crossed the Atlantic Ocean together after their wedding in December, 1888 in England. They settled on a farm near Brandon, Iowa, and remained there until their deaths. Benjamin Turner learned to read and write in Iowa. I remember the calendar in their home that had photographs of English royalty.
My father, Henry George Turner, and my mother, "Ruby" Roberta Lydia McMillin were married October 17, 1917, and lived on the "McMillin farm", along with my grandmother Emma McMillin.
My father was born in 1891 and died August 17, 1955 of stomach [gastric] cancer. My mother died July 9, 1985, after a long convalescence following a "stroke". She was not able to speak after the stroke that occurred several months prior to her death.
It seems almost cruel to condense the lives of my parents and grandparents in this brief manner. However, I honor and revere their direct and indirect influences.
I did not personally know grandfather William McMillin, but I believe that his influence was reflected in my grandmother and mother, and how they related to me, and how I was expected to live according to definite rules and standards.
The Scottish Presbyterian rules of no smoking, no drinking, no swearing, no dating at a "too early" age [preferable at age 18 or later], no staying our late at night, but definitely go to Sunday school and Church on Sunday. No playing of sports on Sunday were expectations—except I did play Sunday Wapsie Valley amateur league baseball as the Dunkerton, Iowa "town" team catcher, after high school graduation.
My parents did not speak to me on those Sundays even though I was also the Dunkerton, Iowa First Baptist Church Sunday School Superintendent on the same Sundays as the games.
How many High School graduates attend classes in the same building for 12 years? I believe it is a very small percentage of students because of the separate locations of grade schools, junior high schools and high schools in larger school systems. In addition, our present day economy is characterized by job or professional employment changes, resulting in moves with children enrolled in different community schools.
For those of us reared in rural agricultural communities, we may have stronger attachments, I believe, to the school and community where there is less migration related to employment or economic changes.
In smaller communities, there is more opportunity for "bonding" and developing loyalties, related to long-term attendance with the same classmates for several years, with the same group of teachers.
School buses exist in larger cities, but their routes may vary, so acquaintanships may be less likely to develop in cities. Teachers tended to remain for several years in smaller community schools, so there was more continuity. Students in higher grades serve as mentors, by chance or my some daily contact. Loyalty to the school is related to continuity in the same school over the years, with relationships with the same classmates in various grades.
School buses traveled different routes to bring school-age farm children to the three story solidly built Dunkerton School that consolidated the elementary, grade school and high school students in one building. This building and the rooms for twelve grades allowed the building to serve with continuity for each student.
At the same time, school loyalty and pride developed as a student progressed each school year. It is my opinion that the teacher's tenure was longer with this unified class grade arrangement.
It is easy to remember all of my initial teachers from grades one to six; Misses Bandfield; Knorr; Blitsch; Seefeld; Holroyd; and Peterson. At age nine, I had "puppy love" for teacher Ardella Seefeld, as she seemed to gently keep me striving to achieve academically. Many years later, in the 1960's, Jean Holroyd made a surprise visit at my Albuquerque home, and many memories were shared.
While attending Dunkerton High School, one fourth of my curriculum related to Vocational Agriculture. Charles Wilcox taught Farm Crops, Animal Husbandry, Farm Shop, and Feeds and Feeding as subjects for the four years of Vocational Agriculture study. All of the courses had direct relevance to the rural Iowa farms existing then. In the intervening 60 plus years, rural Iowa agriculture has shifted largely to corn and soybean crop production and to occasional specialization, such as hog [swine] production.
It is satisfying to me that Dunkerton Consolidated School has expanded with new additions and buildings, to increase in enrollments while serving the community with cultural and athletic events.
Of importance to me, the school can boast of two state championships boy's basketball teams—of 1933 and 2004.
Ancient Greeks built stadiums near schools and temples, which indicates emphasis on education, physical fitness, athletic competition, and awareness of divinity. At the same time, participants and observers were entertained, had rivalries and may have gambled on sport outcomes.
It is hoped that community sports are for altruistic reasons, and will continue to have minimal negative aspects related to ignoring rules, over-emphasis on winning or limiting participation.
Broad participation in sporting activity is limited in elementary and high schools that have large enrollments, when coupled with the desire for victories, certainly limiting team participation by students.
Fortunately, individuals can work out a personal exercise program, and can achieve personal goals of accomplishment, assuming adequate space or exercise. In recent decades, more facilities are available for exercise, and for meaningful individual or team competition.
As an Iowa farm boy, I was fortunate to have the barn driveway available to serve as a basketball court of small size to refine my shooting skills—when time allowed. Another advantage as a rural school student was the opportunity to participate in sports at the small, rural Dunkerton Consolidated School, and play high school basketball at a forward position and to also play baseball as the team catcher.
Our 1946 Dunkerton high school basketball team did win sectional and district basketball championships and our baseball team won a sectional baseball championship.
On my senior high school graduation day, we lost 6 to 3 to Monona High School in a district baseball tournament game. Monona eventually won the state baseball championship. The day is remembered well as I was concerned how I would be able to have my share of farm chores completed before going to my Class of 1946 high school graduation ceremony.
Fortunately for me, my brother Donald did my share of the farm chores so that I was able to be on time for the graduation ceremonies and also receive recognition as the Class Valedictorian.
Excerpted from Afterthoughts by ROBERT S. TURNER Copyright © 2011 by Robert S. Turner. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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