Saturday, March 28, 2015

From Horses to Tractor

Barn on the Doyle Farm.  Photo taken about 1992.
I knew little about the workings of the dairy farm of my father's childhood in Stoneboro -- Dad rarely spoke of his youth -- so several years after he died I contacted his half-sister to learn more.  I wrote lists of questions and she patiently and thoroughly responded.  (Those letters are treasures to me now for all the family history information they contain.)  We corresponded by mail for a few months and then arranged a visit to Stoneboro.  She took us to see and explore the farm of their childhood.  The barn, unused for many years, was in a sad state of disrepair.

About farm work during the fall and winter months my aunt wrote,
The farm machinery had to be checked over and repaired, if needed, before storing it for winter.  The farming was all done by horses . . .
The 1927 Pennsylvania Census tells me that of Gust Doyle's 140 acres he devoted 35 to corn, wheat, oats, and Irish potatoes.  An additional 21 acres were given over to hay for the horses and the farm's 24 cows. 

Farming with horses was labor-intensive.  In addition to the work of plowing and harvesting, part of the work included the care and feeding of the animals and care of the harnesses, not to mention the work of harnessing and unharnessing the horses each day. 

I wish I'd asked my aunt about the horses.  Perhaps they were Belgians, like the ones shown here.

My aunt's letter continued,
. . . until we bought our first Fordson Tractor.  I don’t remember when that was – about 1930 – I think. 

Fordson tractors were manufactured in the U.S. from 1917 to 1920 by Henry Ford & Sons, Inc.  At right is an advertisement (with enlargement below) for a new Fordson tractor from the May 27, 1918, issue of the Youngstown Vindicator.  










Gust was 28 when this advertisement was published.  I wonder if he learned of the tractors from a newspaper ad similar to this one or by word of mouth.  Was his first view of a Fordson in Pittsburgh or another nearby city at a showing like the one advertised, at a county or state fair, or at the farm of a neighbor who had already purchased one?  Did a group of farmers gather around the new machine to debate the pros and cons of a tractor over horses, or had they already made up their minds that a tractor was a definite improvement over horses, the only other considerations being repairs, buying gasoline, the cost, and having the money in one lump sum?  

From my aunt's letters I know that Gust and his family already owned a Model T Ford.  Perhaps he already had the skills and knowledge to keep a tractor in good running order.  Unless he purchased the tractor from England, whose production of them extended from 1920, it's likely the Fordson he purchased was a used model.  Even so....

How exciting it must have been for Gust and his family to have a tractor!

How I wish I had contemporary photographs of Gust on the tractor.  Lacking one, the story is less personal.  Still, I'm pleased to have found bits and pieces from other resources to create the history of Gust Doyle, his farm, and a Fordson tractor. 

How I wish I knew what happened to the horses.

Drive on over to Sepia Saturday 272 to see what others are sharing in this week's posts.;

Sources
Unaltered image of Belgian horses courtesy of Dave in Lincolnshire.
Color photo of Fordson tractor courtesy of Wikipedia.

--Nancy.

Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

19 comments:

  1. I know what you mean, I have a couple of studio photos of my great-grandfather, which I am grateful to have, but none of anyone in the everyday. Still, great post, and it is fun when we can find something like your ads to show us what something they had was like then. Great post.

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    1. Hi, Anna. I can only assume our ancestors didn't have cameras to take everyday photos, but who knows. Maybe some other descendant has photos. I was surprised to find the Fordson ad in the paper. I wasn't looking.... Thanks for visiting and your kind words.

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  2. Lucky that you were able to get information from your aunt. I'm sure the tractor was welcomed by most farmers and preferred over animals. 21 acres is a lot of hay and there was no rest from the animals...needing feed and water and attention everyday. I didn't realize Ford made tractors, but of course it makes sense. Nice post - I like your page layout.

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    1. Hi, Helen. Yes, I'm sure farmers welcomed tractors as a release from some of the work of using horses. It was wonderful that my aunt was willing to answer my questions, and so thoroughly, at that. Thanks for visiting and your kind words.

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  3. Hi Nancy, it would be nice if you had some photos but how lovely to have the letters from your aunt. You’ve got me wondering if the first tractor in my post is a Fordson, the name is so familiar.

    I’ve seen photos of my dad ploughing with a horse, but I don’t have them to share. My sister and brother both had albums after mum died so it could be they have them. I must think to ask them about it. We are always missing something in this quest of ours aren’t we?

    Thank you so much for your help in deleting comments, my blog looks much neater now. (I’m a bit of a neat freak!)

    Have a good week, Barbara.

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    1. Barbara, I wondered if the first photo in your post was a Fordson, too. I wonder how you could find out. Maybe you'll be able to scan some of the photos your sister and brother have. A good scan is almost as good as a paper copy, and sometimes even better because you can share it online easily and make a paper copy. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

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  4. I hope that you have told or written down your memories about your childhood, father and grandparents for future generations?

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    1. Hi, Sharon. I have told my daughters many stories and have written some of them, but not all. I never knew my grandfather. He died many years before I was born. In fact, of my ancestors I know first-hand only my parents and my maternal grandparents. Thanks for visiting.

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  5. How lovely to have the letters and the memories of the visit to the farm.

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    1. Hi, Lorraine. It is wonderful to have the letters. Since my grandfather died before I was born those letters are really the only way I knew him and of his and my father's life on the farm. Thanks for visiting.

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  6. It's great that you were able to see the farm and get information from your aunt.

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    1. Yes, it is. I'm so pleased and thankful.

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  7. Having a tractor after needing to work with horses must have seemed like heaven come to earth!

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    1. Oh, I agree, La Nightingail. It must have given farmers several extra hours in a day. I would have loved the horses but the extra work of them probably not so much.

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  8. Tractors seem to inspire pride in their ownership. I suppose they had a long life comparable to horses. Loyal they might be but nothing like the affections of a horse.

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    1. I hadn't thought of that, Mike, but I think you're right, especially after looking at so many photos of tractors with owners sitting on them this weekend. I suppose farmers might think the trade-off between horses and tractors about even. I would choose a tractor for work and horses for joy.

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  9. In your presentation you have give us a good sense of what it was like for your grandfather to transition from horse to tractor. Even though you regret not asking your aunt MORE, you have so much.

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. Since I didn't have much to show of the farm, the horses, or the tractor, the only way I could think to present that wonderful Fordson ad was to begin with the barn photo and work forward. I'm glad it worked. Oh, I know, and I am grateful for all the information I have from my aunt. I just think there must be some photos of my grandfather and the farm squirreled away among other family members (who are only half-family members because of my grandfather's second marriage). I'll just try to be more grateful for what I do have.

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  10. It is amazing to see in real time how the pace of technology has changed farming. A hundred years ago, horse power and human labor was still used to farm the crops. Then after another ten or twenty years, the first tractors started to appear. Those tractors got bigger and bigger, now there are giant harvest machines working the fields.

    Heidi Sutton @ Ag Source Magazine

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I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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