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Years Bring Improvements to Farm and Home

Last week I wrote about some of the methods of harvesting hay and grain when I was growing up in Johnson County. Those methods were labor intensive and usually required several folks to get the job done in a timely manner. It’s obvious that farming has come a long way, although there is still a bit of work in it. But, thanks to a number of folks who were not satisfied with the status quo, there have been many improvements in that very necessary business of farming. I think we sometimes take for granted the role farmers plays in this modern world. Without the farmer, where would our food come from? Of course I know that all food is not from farms, but much of it is. And I believe we owe farmers a debt of gratitude for providing much of the food we eat as well as other products that make our lives more pleasant. While we don’t grow it here, cotton, also a farm product, is a very versatile and useful product.
From hand labor to the use of horse-drawn implements to the modern tractor-drawn or self-propelled machines, the march of progress has made it possible for vast increases in the production of a variety of farm products. From wooden plows pulled by men to steel plows drawn by teams of horses to the large gang plows with two or more bottoms drawn by giant four-wheel-drive tractors, preparing the soil for sowing or planting has become easier with each advance and made possible increased yield.
While inventions have eased the business of farming in many ways, they also have eased the labor and drudgery of maintaining a home. I remember when my family had no refrigerator, no washing machine, no electric iron, and no radio. Television hadn’t come along as yet. Of course that was before rural folks were able to acquire electricity and without it those appliances were useless. It was only after President Franklin D. Roosevelt created by Presidential Order the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) in 1935 that rural folks had the opportunity to get electricity. But it was in April of 1941 that Mountain Electric Cooperative was formed to provide electricity to rural Johnson County folks. I guess it would be difficult for some of the younger citizens to imagine how it was before the miracle of electricity came to farm families. Of course, a few hours or days of power outage is only a hint of how it was before the genie of electricity came along.
Without a refrigerator folks placed their milk, butter or other perishable items in the water of a cool spring or stream. Some people had iceboxes and bought ice to put in it to keep food cold. I remember my maternal grandparents, Noah and Victoria Harper, had an icebox. Before washing machines, washday was just that: a full day’s time. My mother heated Creek water in an iron kettle and a washboard was used to clean the clothes. Some folks used lye soap that they made themselves.
Then came the job of ironing. Irons were heated on the wood-burning cook stove and it was a long, hot job. Moreover wrinkle-free clothes were yet to come along so about every item of clothing needed to be ironed.
Anyway, perhaps remembering a bit of the life we had growing up in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s in Johnson County helps us appreciate the many labor saving inventions that we use today. My hope is that some young people will read this column and get just an inkling of the way it used to be.