Spring: longer days and planting season
Do you remember back to when you were kid in school at this time of the year? It seemed like the days got longer in grade school. Then in junior high school it seemed like the teachers conspired to keep us as long as they could. Then came high school; finals just seemed to take eight hours each to complete instead of the usual four. Then, if we did have a day off or get out early, it rained. Then again, some of us worked for farmers after school and on Saturdays and holidays.
I worked for a local farmer in Mapleton. I remember when we got the seed cutter out and set up the conveyors and seed dusters to treat the seed to get ready to plant. We would also dig out the hand seed-cutting rack so that we could cut the russet seed by hand.
With the mechanical seed cutter, pretty much all we had to do was set up the conveyors from the bin to the cutter and from the seed duster to the truck outside the door. Then we turned on the cutter and conveyors to bring the potatoes to the cutter, and as long as all worked well, the only thing we had to do was tend the cutter and watch that it didn’t plug up. With the hand rack, we would put it in the mouth of the bin with the russets in it and use a potato fork to shovel the rack full. Then two people would get on either side of the rack, and in front of them would be a seed knife in a cut in the board across the rack. When you got the potato in hand, depending on the length of the potato, you would cut across the potato in the middle or cut it in thirds if it were a long one, then each piece you would cut lengthwise once and sometimes twice to quarter it, depending on size.
Two people who know what they are doing can cut a truck load a day by hand. With the mechanical cutter you could cut two or more loads a day. Now, bear in mind I am talking about the trucks of the time when I was a tad younger.
While we were cutting seed, the farmer would be in the field getting the soil ready for the seed. He would also write down in his crop book which crops were in which field. The farmer I worked for planted peas as well as potatoes. I don’t remember him planting grains back then, as potatoes and peas were the cash crops of the day. Planting would then begin.
Planting potatoes was fun for a teenager, as we were always doing a different field or doing the work as necessary. We would put the planter alongside a flatbed truck with bags of fertilizer on it, and we would fill the fertilizer hoppers on front of the planter. When we did this we had a tall spike we speared the empty bags on at the head of the field. When the spike got full, we burned them. Then we would back the planter up to a conveyor from the seed truck and fill the seed hoppers. After that we got back in the track to continue to plant more seed until refill time.
My job, other than to help load the planter, was to ride in the seat on the back of the planter with a stick in my hand to make sure the seed kept lowering into the picker boxes on the planter, which were picked and dropped down to be buried by the discs that covered the seed and fertilizer to begin the growing process. Planting peas was a bit different as we used a grain drill to plant with. The pea seed and fertilizer bags were on the same truck. We would fill the fertilizer hopper and spike the bags, as well as fill the pea seed hopper and also spike the bags. Then it was just a matter of making trips up and down the field to sow the peas.
Once this was all done, we dug out the rock cart and started the process of picking rocks out of the fields so as to keep damage to the other equipment to a minimum. Picking rocks was usually done in the heat of the sun. It could be hot, dusty and aggravating work, but the paycheck took the sting out of it.
Next time I will continue more of a kid’s summers when I Remember When …
Guy Woodworth, a Presque Isle native now living in Limestone, is a 1973 graduate of Presque Isle High School and a four-year Navy veteran. He and his wife Theresa have two grown sons and five grandchildren. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.