Geography

geography

See Comments per Arrows Beginning Lower Left Clockwise

This is Black Canyon Canal — at this point along side I-84.  Note how twisting it is.  It is following contours flowing at ~1/4 “fall”/foot.  Which has been since the Roman times, or earlier, the standard grade for water flow.

Farmers Canal — you can follow it across the page.

This points to the house on my parents farm on Butte Road.

Noble Ditch — the lowest elevation of the canals. It depends partially for drainage from higher canals for part of its water.  Therefore it is much muddier than the others.  If you follow these canals — especially the Noble Ditch you will see it end at the point of the bench or peninsula, where it dumps in river at the old trailer park just before the bridge on hwy 95 between Gay Wayand Payette.  At this point (of this arrow) it begins to go thru my dads farm which is on both sides of the canal — this made the canal banks a primo road access to our fields.

The confluence of drain ditches — easily seen across a map.  Drain ditches, a necessity of course, greatly proscribed the use of the land — a barrier in many ways, they cut across logical fields, made many fields an odd shape making farming with tractors more and more difficult as the tractors got bigger and used bigger equipment.  Many drain ditches after, or while leveling the land, were re-routed around the land or filled in.  However all the drain ditches had rights of way, so doing anything that the ditch company didn’t want or farmers upstream didn’t approve was not possible.

Points to the site of the old depot — and the current railroad — which you can follow across the map.  The body of this arrow crosses the area of “Tonyville.”

This arrow points near the Hwy 72 label is pointing to a drain ditch on the old Shurtz farm (the map indicates split into two farms at this hwy corner).  When the dragline cut this drain ditch it cut across a high grade clay deposit.  This clay was used by New Plymouth during its early years to make bricks in a brickyard behind what would become the White Hardware store (wasn’t White Hdw then).  Such bricks were fired from wood cut from huge stands of poplar/cottonwoods growing wild along the river.  And, when the railroad was put thru, then scrap, like slabbing from logs in Emmett’s mill and waste was shipped to New Plymouth to use for this firing.

The yellow slash indicates the northeastern edge of the bench above the river flood plain.  The arrow across the slash points to the Noble Ditch — and you can notices its very erratic course as it skirts the edge of the bench when coming up from the lower flood plain (to the right) it has followed from just below Emmett.  The edge of the bench is important because you simply would not find any fruit trees below it.  And, the land becomes much less productive as you get closer to the river and the cobbles.

The next arrow points to Hamilton Corner.  In early days, this was an important gas station and convenience store (with one on each side of the road).  The road was then Hwy 30 coming from Boise — the most major hwy in Idaho, and this was first place to get gas after the trip across the very barren “new land” from Caldwell.  The road has been redesignated Hwy 72.  52 coming from Emmett goes across the river onto Birding Island and very directly to Payette.  Hamilton Corner was also important in that it signaled the change in type of farming as the road immediately descends off the bench down to the flood plain.  The flood plain is mostly dairy and hay.

The floppy red circle is around and indicating very cut up fields.  You can see every size and shape.  These are extremely limiting to farm.  They resulted from the original settled 40 acre farms being chopped up thru greed/stupidity, in good years or necessity in bad, to raise cash when bad times arrived. The trouble was when downsizing the land, now a number of different owners would go separate ways.  This always resulted in the land becoming ever less profitable to farm, and would always end up getting chopped up even more until reaching the bottom 5 acres minimum zoning and supporting just a resident — with the land going to waste — and worse becoming eyesores and junk yards.  This destroys farm ground practicality.  No one can really use such land in any profitable farming venture.  These diced up farms eventually become slums and wasted land, and harboring equally unproductive residents. Such practice brings a tear to my eye every time I see them.

To the right, across Hwy 30, you can see many other irregular sized and shaped farms.  These are because these did not get leveled during the “leveling period.” Too steep. From late 30s my dad (first in the whole valley) began leveling land on the bench. If you scan around you will find many big square fields — these have all been leveled and drain ditches relocated.  My dad did the vast majority.  This hugely benefited irrigation — which was all via small corrugation/ditchs. So it was important to get the critical 1/4″ fall/ft in order that the water would flow fast enough to get across the field, yet slow enough for proper soaking in — a typical 24 hr cycle for each “set.”  Leveled land was worth 2-3 times what unleveled land was.  Plus it was much easier to farm with bigger equipment, and gained farmable land by eliminating the unproductive land set aside for fence rows, access, drain ditches, etc.  Such unproductive land could easily amount to 10% of the total.

After WWII Payette and other counties began to use photos taken from the air, and computers would spit out a map showing the “net” or farmable acres, as well as the whole — and of coarse used by the assessor. This was awe inspiring to a farmer who thought he had 7 acre field, but found after subtracting the roads, fences, etc., that he really had only 5 acres net for farming.

The land south of New Plymouth was not leveled back then. It was too steep — but that also meant that it was marginal productivity wise. Therefore it was used for hay or cattle yards.  Steeper land did not lend itself to leveling of that time because, a leveler would simply scrap dirt off the higher spots and drag to lower spots (the best that equipment of that era was capable). Eventually this would level all of the less steep land — you can readily see these as the bigger square fields. The trouble is soil profiles take many years to establish by growing crops. Scraping off the best, fertile soil, leaves a bald spot that will grow nothing for many years.  Eventually, the leveling of choice would be to take big equipment — cut off the fertile soil, and stockpile it. Then level the underlying non fertile soil, when it is level, then take the stockpiled fertile soil and spread it out evenly.  This method leaves no unproductive period — but costs much more, and takes sophisticated equipment.  Interrupting the first leveling effort era was the introduction of center pivot and other sprinkling systems — these meant it was less important to have level land. So they didn’t.  However, there are many, many advantages to leveled land. So those that took the less expensive sprinkler approach might condemn that land to forever being less productive.  This has far reaching ramifications — it will affect everyone around. a visitor to New Plymouth can see all the leveling era farms, the results and productivity juxtaposed against land done differently. Little old New Plymouth is a microcosm of the history of farming.

Looking at this kind of map of New Plymouth you can see various periods and various stages in the transformation of the land into modern productive land.  Some lands like that straight south of New Plymouth, and more and more as you go more south and east, will be way behind the development of the earlier better ground.  Looking at the 4 sq miles (inch = mile= 640 acres) bordered by Hwy 30, Hwy 72 and Sand Hollow, you will see the least productive, most cut up, more hilly land in the area.  You would not expect to find apples grown here.  The early farmers who first got their farms productive, made good money, then could afford to improve their land, again and again. It happens in stages as technology, production and learning permit.  It is once again proof, like in every industry/profession I know, that the top 10% make the best product or money, the next 10% do well, but as you go down the ladder each 10% do less well, and the bottom 30% really should find another occupation as they just stink up the place.

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