When 12-13, my father rented the next door 52 acres, more than doubling our home place farming area. But, my father really made his living on his Caterpillar doing custom farm work for others. So he was gone all daylight hours. As the oldest boy in the family, that meant I did most of the work on our combined farms. In the summertime that was mostly irrigating, cultivating, haying (mowing/raking/and bring in). Note that this was really two farms. I was a very, very busy boy! I ran everywhere — the only way to get it all done. Of course, at needed times like getting crops in and harvesting, my dad was home and helped, but thru most of the year it was up to me — unless, during quiet times I was off with him doing what he did, or spelling him. All the land prep like subsoiling/plowing/discing/harrowing/marking/seeding I did. In essence I was full time farmer beginning at 13. Many times we kept the Cat going 24/7, it being in demand and our main source of revenue — that required me to be on the tractor at least 8 hrs. And, during WWII we were about it for anything heavy doing in the county — including Ontario and Weiser. My family had no orchard — just row crop/dairy. However most of our neighbors did have orchards — and they were prime source of income for us working for them, and I learned every thing needed to be orchardist.
A day to many folks is 8 hours — the work day — and then its all play, relax, sleep in or whatever. To a farmer the day is not 8 hours — it is 24 hours — easily giving time to work around the clock when it is necessary. Our day began when it must, depending upon what was demanded. In depths of winter, it might not be much at all. However, in height of summer it could be around the clock. I have many times worked two days straight without stop. During the longest day of year in New Plymouth you were in the field at day break, 3:30, and stayed there until 10:30 when the sun went down.
I could not hand milk a cow until I was 5 — nor carry a full pail of milk — hand strength not enough — no other reason. But I could take small buckets of water to chickens, calves tied up around the yard until weened, herd animals. And I was chopping kindling, setting the stove firewood/lighting fires well before 5. Dumping the “boom box” (we did not have plumbing until I was 13). I was not hefty nor strong enough to get hay down or feed the cows as it takes poundage on the other end of the fork to balance the business end. In the garden I could pick berries, tomatoes, — quite a lot in fact. In apple orchard If I could reach it, or climb and reach it, then I could pick it. Actually more important to my parents was picking out leaves or trash in the boxes after my parents and older siblings dumped their picking bag — and putting the little slips designating our ownership of the picking of that box. Unless some adult is literally standing in the way of learning to do whatever, a child can do much more than you might think. In my early days people looked at children as small versions of adults — not babies. Today I almost fall off my chair when friends with 12-18 yr olds think they need babysitters! In my day, my parents often left me home alone, from 4 or 5, while they were gone all day — to watch the place. Which I most certainly could do. If I needed help in some emergency, then I could run down the road to a neighbor for help.
Farm kids begin driving tractors or pickups as soon as they can reach the pedals — about 9. (We used to put a milk stool behind us in order to start earlier.) Now days they do not go on the highway — just farm or local road. We all did it. Just seemed natural. We were always careful to only drive on the back roads so never really had potential problems with higher speed vehicles. That was also a function of our lack of brakes. Before 1935 nearly all brakes were mechanical, not hydraulic. The best way you could describe them was “not really much help”. Younger drivers needed savvy and experience to deal with braking problems before going on highways–not because they were 9-10, but because brakes were so bad. In 1947, July 5th, my dad marched me into Art Wheat’s office in the old courthouse building in Payette. Took me right in the door — Sheriff’s offices were never much more than one guy — the sherriff. Dad without any greeting, at all said, “Art, Don turned 14 yesterday, needs a license.” The reply equally terse, “That will be a dollar, Paul!” Farmers of Payette Valley knew our sherriffs from the time that they were born, grew up, courted, etc. They were always on a first name basis. Occasionally someone would say, Sherriff, but it was only occasionally. That dollar was all it took to get a license, no test, no actual driving proof, no birth certificate, no restrictions like night driving. My mom was simply outraged when around 68 yrs they made her take a drivers test — “where were they all my life while I’ve been driving (since around 1920)?” At that time (~1967), in Montana you could still buy them at a drugstore counter.
School was secondary to farm work. My dad never hesitated to keep me home for the day whenever he needed me. For that matter, I could and often did leave school early skipping last class in order to get home for something needing done. Also, our farm layout — while Butte Road was two miles from downtown and school, the farm layout went almost a mile toward town, so for operations like tractor work, irrigation, etc., a mile walk home would put me right at the spot to begin work. In high school because of our cramped schedule with extra kids from consolidating, we had a noon class. So I elected to take noon class which finished my day as early as 2:30 — when I would simply walk home and go straight to work. Coming home from school was merely the end of one task — then I would go out to the fields and do tractor work for rest of day, or all night, for that matter.
We simply did what was needed, when it was needed. We never, ever hewed to the 8-5 routine. I don’t remember being tired like many work companions later on. One learns to pace oneself. In the Air Force we often had “alerts” of one kind or another, contrived or necessary, they kept us up 48-56 hours straight. I have seen so many other — we called “city kids” — fold under those circumstances. I am still up at 4 a.m. even at 80, whether I need to for anything — a lifelong habit. Mornings, to me are the most beautiful part of the day. It is quiet, easy to get so much done. I love to go out and watch the sun come up — pristine time of day — God’s gift to us — beautiful. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
In Weiser one winter (I forget which now — I think 1948) the winter got very cold — much colder than normal. The Snake and other rivers froze over. Then, as often happens when the weather changed and the ice “went out,” it caused massive problems as huge floating ice jams drifted down river. (We lost the brand new bridge to Birding Island, hwy 52, that year). Such an ice jam was at Weiser’s bridge, threatening to take it out, and the next. So the locals, knowing they had mere hours or even minutes, and the futility of expecting timely gov’t help, rigged a line across the river just upstream, and over the ice. On a little trolley arrangement they hung dynamite. These hanging dynamite bundles were towed out over the ice, dropped and exploded on the ice. This broke up the ice and let it drift by harmlessly. The locals without any hindrance and/or help from gov’t saved their bridge. Sure they could have sat on their hands and waited. Sure they would have gotten a replacement bridge — but it would have taken years.
Farmers’ conversations, in my era, were driven by comparing data, or stories. Today men call these “war stories.” Has nothing to do with actual war — just experiences. I tell you my experience, you tell me yours, and we have an enjoyable time, and raise our education about our part of the world. This is how pioneers and farmers made a go of it on the frontier — word of mouth educated each as they went about their daily business. This really is how I can go and talk to anyone, anywhere. You should try it! Everyone has experiences.