Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Louie and Lester Ratzburg with dog Scotty and team Barney and Colonel head for woods.

by Harold Ratzburg

    I was thinking the other day about how lucky kids are today in being assigned their first chores around the house to help out their parents.  Probably that amounts to taking out the garbage or something like that.  Us farm kids when I was a kid had it a little different than that.

    My career as a farm kid started back in the 1930's.  I was born in 1929 --(yeah, I know, that makes me an old geezer of 83 now)--and my farm chores began with horses, when Dad gave me the job of watering them while he and the hired man did the milking. 
   That section of the barn where the horse stalls were located did not have water running to it from a water tank in the hay barn above like it did in the cow stall part, so twice a day someone had to untie them from their stalls and lead them to a water tank.  In the winter the tank was in the cow barn where Dad cooled the milk after milking the cows, and in the summer, I took them outside to drink from the tank in the barn yard.

    What with present day regulations from the government, I think that my Dad would have been in violation of some child labor law to have this little kid, about eight or 9 years old, leading these two big plow horses around in the barn or out side to the water tank.  They were big----but gentle ----horses and I never felt afraid of them.  I had to learn how to tie the special knot that Dad used to tie them to the manger.

    Their names were "Barney" and "Colonel" and they were big old plow horses.  At that time in my life with a kid's imagination, I was determined to make my living as a cowboy someday so in my kid's imagination, they were cowboy ponies.  I would sit on top of Barney in the stall, (because he was the gentlest), and pretend that I was out on the range, herding them longhorns on a trail drive to Abilene or Dodge City. 

    One time I put a piece of leather belt around Barney's body to make an imaginary saddle, and forgot to take it off when I finished playing and I sure caught heck for that the next day because the belt had slipped to where it was really tight and constricting around the horses body. )

    Somewhere along 9 or 10, I was given the chore of feeding the horses by forking the hay into the mangers. This was in addition to feeding and watering the chickens by hauling the feed and water up the hill in buckets to feed them and fill their water can fountains.  As I remember, I didn't really mind, because I felt kind of proud that Dad would trust me with such an important job----feeding the horses, NOT the chickens,---- that was a hard job, and I was less than an ambitious kid as most kids are.

    The next move up my farm corporate ladder of success, because I had grown bigger and stronger, was to the position of cleaning the horse barn.----meaning of course----removing the horse "manure".  (Notice here that I didn't use the word "shit" cause this is a family type newspaper)  Anyway, this job meant forking or shoveling the manure into a wheelbarrow,(home made by my Grandpa) with a narrow iron wheel, and pushing it out to dump on a pile in the barnyard by the straw stack.  That narrow iron wheel made it difficult to push in the soft barnyard and on the pile. so we always had to put a board out there to run that wheel on so it wouldn't sink into the soft stuff.  Doesn't that sound like fun?

    Dad used the job of cleaning the horse barn to teach me a valuable life's lesson----with out him saying a word.  It was a job that I tended to keep putting off till tomorrow.  I remember that one time I kept procrastinating and putting the job off from day to day, and the hind legs of the horses kept getting higher and higher than their front legs.  Dad never said a word, until it finally occurred to me, all by myself, that I had better clean the horse barn.  What a BIG job it was then and what a pain in the neck.  (You will notice that I did not say pain in the "ass", cause this is a family type newspaper)  But I did get the job done and I never let my procrastination cause such a build up again.  The lesson learned for a lifetime was to do things now, and not keep putting them off.

    At that time most all the heavy pulling work on the farm was done by the horses.  Dad did have an old 1926 Fordson tractor with steel wheels but as I remember, it was used mostly for powering a pulley which powered the fire wood sawing rig and the silo filler.

   The old Fordson was banned on Co. Hwy G going past our farm after the County paved the road sometime in the 1930's.  The steel cleats on the wheels would have torn up the new blacktop roadway, so traveling with it on the road was a no-no.  That left the horses to pull anything that needed hauling to or from distant fields along the road.

    The horses pulled the plow, the drag, the hay wagon, the cultivator, the mower, the stone boat, and the manure spreader in the summertime and a big sled in the winter time when the snow was too deep for wheeled equipment.  That meant that all the manure from the cows and horses would be loaded on the sled and hauled out to a field and unloaded by hand onto a pile.  It also meant that come springtime, that pile of crap needed to be loaded into the manure spreader by hand to spread on the fields for fertilizer.  I missed most of the fun of that job cause I was just too little and by the time I was big enough to really fork that manure, we got the Ford-Ferguson rubber tired tractor - in 1942.  The new tractor could handle most everything, even the manure spreader in the snow.

    I've got to brag a little in that I think I got pretty good at handling a team of horses by the time the new tractor came along.  I started by watering the team in the barn, then by driving them to pull the rope that operated the system that unloaded a load of hay into the haymow with the use of the hay fork that stuck in the pile of hay on the wagon and pulled it up into the hay mow by a system of pulleys and a track under the roof of the barn. (sounds pretty complicated, doesn't it?  It really wasn't, but it is hard to explain on paper.)

    I was also a pretty good teamster when it came to handling the horses pulling a wagon or the big sled in the winter.

    In the summer the team was used to pull a wagon to haul hay or pick up the grain bundles to haul to the threshing machine, with all the loading being did by muscle power of my Dad and hired man or the threshing crew that came along with the threshing machine.  (The threshing machine was pulled and powered by a big steel wheeled, wood fired, steam engine, which chugged down the road at a very slow speed.  It was fascinating and impressive to a little kid my age.)

    In the winter, the team and the big sled would haul manure when necessary and wood branches and logs from the woods on the hill.  The branches were piled near the house area, and later cut up for firewood by a wood sawing crew with the old saw rig and then hauled to the woodshed.  From the woodshed, the firewood got to the porch and into the house by kid-power and the use of a hand pulled sled.

    The logs acted like a cash crop when Dad sold them off to a saw mill which then sent a truck to haul them away.

    And so Folks, such was this little kids life on the farm powered by horses.

    All in all----I think it was be a kid when I was a kid.  I wonder what the kids of today are going to think of their childhood 70 and 80 years from now.  Hopefully I will look down from ABOVE----not up from BELOW----and be able to check them out to see how they are doing.

copyright 2012, Harold Ratzburg

1 comment:

  1. This is a great story of the lessons a young boy learned to make a good man... one that does not procrastinate.
    It made my nose remember the great smell of manure...cow, that is.
    I enjoyed it... June T. Bassemir