I can only recall my grandfather crying three times. He shed tears when Grandmother died, when the doctors had to amputate his leg, and when the old, black Percheron, horse, Queen, died.
For this farmer, the death of a spouse after 50 years, the loss of independence and strength, and the death of one of the two remaining workhorses meant the end of an era, the end of a dream.
I remember the day when Queen, the old mare, dropped to her knees in the apple orchard. She struggled to rise, but after a few minutes she quit and laid her head, neck and shoulders out on the grass carpet.
Later after the cows were turned out to pasture and the barn cleaner did what it was designed to do, Grandpa joined Queen. He sat on a stump close to the quiet horse and shared a peaceful time together. I’m sure I saw Grandpa talking to the tired, faithful, hardworking steed. Near noon, Queen struggled for a moment and then stopped breathing and died. Grandpa wiped his eyes, blew his nose, and sat quietly for a few moments.
Queen’s daughter and pulling partner, Maude, slowly edged over to the still-warm ebony body, lowered her head, whinnied softly, and then moved over to Grandpa, for consolation or perhaps a sugar cube. I don’t know what he had in his pocket. But I do know that this was a sad day for all of us.
This day signified the end of the use of horses on our farm. At one time, Herman Johnson had housed more than 30 horses on the farm, and they had served as “the lifeblood of the farm.” In the past few years the team of Maude and Queen had only been used for the occasional raking of hay, grass mowing duties or manure hauling; however, most of the neighboring farmers had gotten rid of their teams by the 1950s. Now with Queen’s death, Dad and Grandpa joined the rest of the Stateline farmers. Final note: A neighbor and good horseman, Mr. Merrick, needed a partner for one of his teams. He ended up taking Maude and working her for a few years.
Grandpa had bought his first tractor when my father, Vernon, was only 10 years old. The tractor was an F-20 International on steel wheels. In 1928 he traded it for a 15-39 International, and he bought a 10-foot International combine. He didn’t like it or use it much and went back to threshing with the neighbors for several years until the equipment improved. The men continued to thresh until 1942, and then they bought a 42-inch combine and eventually a 52-inch.
The first cultivator tractor for the farm came in 1936, the F-12 International. Dad and Grandpa were disgusted with this tractor; since it would “spin on anything.” Shortly after this tractor the men got a powerful International M. The M had solution in its tires that helped with traction and power. It was a big, powerful red tractor and worked hard for years. An International H was also added later.
Many of the relatives liked the “Johnny Poppers,” the two-cylinder John Deeres that had a distinctive rhythm and musical sound to the engine. We called them Johnny Putt-putts. Dad and Grandpa were rather eclectic in their tractor and implement choices. We kids loved the Ford 8N and got to drive it for hauling hay wagons and for taking the wagons of oats to the granary. It also served as a way to learn how to drive. A big Oliver 88 made its way onto the farm when “the Turk” set up his dealership in Clinton. Dad prized his John Deere 630, although he acknowledged that it didn’t have an awful lot of power; however, he prized it enough to will it to his youngest son upon his death. The John Deere 1020 replaced the Ford and became the all-purpose small tractor with a scoop. It was much better on ice and snow than the 8N and was extremely useful on the farm up into the turn of the century.
Vernon and Herman always chose to buy from Clinton dealers that provided good service, were persuasive in their manners, and gave them a good deal. Bruce Lucas and Ray Johnson, along with the assistance of Ed White, headed up the International dealership; Norm Rhodes was at the John Deere place; Orhan Yirmabish was the Oliver dealer; and Alex Christenson had the Fords. Roy Fowler managed the Case/Massey dealership in the Clinton area.
Dad and Grandpa took diligent care of their machinery and never forgot to grease the parts, but they were definitely not mechanics. They depended on good service from the dealerships, and they were seldom disappointed.
I invite you to take the time to sit at a parade or visit the horse barns and the machinery rows of the numerous fairs this summer. Enjoy the beauty and strength of the Belgian, Fjord, Percheron, and Clydesdale teams as they pass by. Be amazed by the huge, gleaming International Quad track, the once powerful John Deere 706, a vintage Oliver, and a few Case tractors and implements. These are the symbols of farm life in the past and in the present. Enjoy, remember, and be thankful the farmer is still here.