Life has gotten complicated for modern day farmers. Pigs and cattle are often fed by computer, litters and basic information is computer oriented too, and we do our plowing and harvesting with huge tractors and combines.  But young farmers are often forced to listen to parents and grandparents and hear “It wasn’t like this when I was a boy.”  They’re right, but was it better or worse?  Bill Briner who farms northeast of Shelby, Ohio knows the answer, but you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Bill is a 73-year old landowner who’s farmed all of his life, as did his dad, grandad, and doubtless other ancestors farther back.  He was born on a 60-acre farm at Vernon Junction, and grew up there, a typical farm boy who had typical experiences.  “We had livestock and grain like everybody did in those days,” Bill said.  “We raised corn and wheat and soybeans for hay, not beans, and we lived pretty well.”  Bill grew up in a fairly modern house by the times, with a furnace heated with coal, a pitcher pump on the cistern and a well that had plenty of sulfur.  Water was lugged to the house in buckets, and most of the water used for cooking and drinking, sulfur or not.

The Briner family also had a two-holer out back with a Sears Roebuck catalog for necessities, and some magazines.  “We spent some pleasant minutes reading through the catalogs and magazines.  It was almost the only time we had to relax and read.”  There were chores in plenty.  The Briners had about 100 chickens, and the eggs had to be gathered daily.  Eggs that weren’t used for breakfast and cooking cakes and cookies went to Daugherty’s Hatchery, a steady little addition to the family income.

Some of the chickens were eaten, of course, usually at Sunday dinner, and getting them ready for the skillet was more than a visit to IGA or Krogers.  “We had a chopping block and a sharpened hatchet out back, and when it was chicken dinner time, mom would catch a couple, cut off their heads, then scald them with boiling water, pluck off the feathers, get rid of pin feathers with a piece of burning newspaper, then clean them, cut both into proper pieces, flour and fry the lot.  It took some doing for a chicken dinner.”

Now and again the local preacher would come for Sunday dinner, then chicken was ALWAYS on the menu.  A minister told me once “I learned to hate chicken, because that was all I ever got.  I’d have almost killed for some pork chops or ham.”  Other than gathering eggs and hoeing sweet and field corn, there was still plenty to do, especially in the summer. 

His dad farmed with two Perchons, ordinary work horses, and felt that five acres plowed with a single tree was a good days work.  Which it was.  He planted corn 40 inches apart using a wire with knots 40 inches apart to trip the corn planter and release a seed.  The 40 inches gave horses room to walk, and the 40 inches allowed them to cultivate in any direction and keep down weeds.  60 bushel to the acre was a good yield in those days.

Things picked up for the Briners when  dad bought a Farmall F12 tractor in 1938.  It made the work easier, but it was a hard riding tractor, though still better than horses.  Harvest time?  No big pickers in those days.  The corn was harvested by hand, shucked by hand, and placed in corn cribs.  To shell the corn for animal feed, the Briners used a hand cranked sheller, but eventually dad rigged up a belt with engine that allowed the corn to be cranked much faster. 

As you might guess, there were always milk cows, usually about six, that were milked by hand.  Butter was made in a churn and kept or sold, the cream drank as buttermilk, and the skim milk left fed to hogs along with kitchen scraps and hog feed.  The pork came hard too, again much harder than visiting a supermarket.

‘We usually butchered about 2-3 hogs a fall,” Bill said.  “And the routine didn’t vary.  We waited for cold weather, usually November or December, picked our animals, and shot them in the head with a .22.  They were hung from a tripod, their bellies opened up and the guts fell into a large bucket.  Our women folk took the intestines into the house, washed them carefully, and either stuffed them with sausage, or fried them as “chitlins.” 

Then we got to the hard part, scalding the hogs, and patiently scraping off the hair.  When they were clean, we’d put them on a wide table, carve them into hams, bacon, and side meat, and smoke the lot.  Mom would can the rest of the carcasses, which made really tasty fried meat and meat pies, and would cook down all of the fat meat into lard.  We used that lard for everything from pie crusts to frying chicken.”

It wasn’t all work.  Bill went to school in a one room school house on Wagner Road, and after school did chores from hoeing to gathering eggs to mowing with a push mower and milking cows.  It usually lasted until dark with time out for a substantial supper.  But there were hours when nothing needed doing, and he spent time with neighbor kids playing in straw stacks, enjoying baseball games in the front yard, playing Kick The Can and Hide and Seek, and swimming in the local creek.  He found time for a little fishing and hunting, too.

“We used cane poles to fish the creek, catching suckers and sometimes a bass, and when hunting season arrived, we found plenty of game.  It was rare that I couldn’t walk out and jump two or three pheasants or bag half a dozen rabbits.  And quail?  There were lots of those, flushing in covies and making for tough shooting.  But they were as good eating as any wild game you could find.”

Have things changed today?  Sure.  Did Bill Briner like it better in the Good Old Days?  Sure.  “Those were the really good days,” he said.  “We worked hard, played hard, ate well, slept well.  It was a carefree, happy life with lots to do and home-made ice cream on Sundays.  We visited with neighbors and they with us, we had picnics and nice events.  A good time to live in this United States.”

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