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Appendix – What Were the Changes?
The greatest change from my perspective is mentioned above in the Aside after chapter 21 – the change from gang labor to mechanized farming. But there have been numerous changes in technology and social adaptations worth pointing out. The changes in technology are the most obvious, so I shall begin with them. Also, it would be hard to say which change was most important, so I will just list them, but not try to rank them by importance.
Changes in tractors. I have seen the advent of rubber tires, the three point hitch, the self starter (as opposed to starting by crank), remote hydraulics, four wheel drive and the enclosed cab with heater and air conditioner.
Changes in trucks. Larger size both for the same weight ratings, and the available maximum ratings. Ton and a half was a fairly large truck in 1940, cattle and grain are hauled between states in trailer trucks with capacity of twenty tons or more. Four wheel drive trucks have made a revolutionary change, in that trucks can be used in fields when it is not completely dry. You start in four wheel drive with a load from one farm, change to two wheel drive on the hard road and then deliver the load where you want on the second farm in four wheel drive.
A typical fence now around a pasture or meadow is three wires of high tensile (high carbon) steel, on polyethylene insulators, electrified by a high impedance electric charger. The posts are pine treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate to prevent rot and insect infestation and the gates are manufactured of steel tubing. In my youth fences were barbed wire fence with home-split locust posts every twelve feet. Gates were “stretcher gates” or bars. Fences made with steel wire replaced wooden fences during a long period beginning in the 1880’s or 1890’s centering on WWI up until the 1920’s or 1930’s
The extended Bond family had always prided itself on progressive cattle breeding. They introduced Herefords to the area a few generations back. Early on I changed to Aberdeen Angus, now called Angus, because Herefords lacked dark pigment in the eye, which makes them more susceptible to pink eye disease, and other eye problems. Almost all cattle in the area now have Angus breeding. At his writing I have tried Limousine, because of the size and less fat, but have settled on Red Angus, an improved breed developed started in 1956, in part because they have an excellent program of comparison between animals, called expected progeny difference (EPD’s), and in part because this breed alone has emphasized rapid gains while limiting mature size.
Improved machinery, much of which is now designed and manufactured in Europe. Expensive union labor is said to have forced the small tractor and much of the farm machinery business out of the U. S. An innovative company called Vermeer in Pella, Iowa makes some of my hay machinery.
No seeding of meadows. I use the “Darwin method” of hay production. We apply fertilizer and lime, and may the fastest growing grass win. The use of lime and fertilizer have been known all my life, but has constantly increased.
Availability of tools. Most farms now have power tools, specialized wrenches and some have things like GPS, CB radios, surveying transits, battery charger, binoculars, scales to weigh animals.
Dairy and chickens are no longer commercial size enterprises in central Appalachia. Sheep have all but disappeared, not only here but all over the U. S. The Western Livestock Journal reports the U. S. sheep herd at 6.1 million, down from 56 million in 1942, the peak year. Mutton is largely imported from Australia and New Zealand now. The main enterprise is feeder calves and some grazing of intermediate size cattle is practiced in West Virginia. There are some goats, which may grow in importance because of the Middle East ancestry population now in the U. S., and their ability to clear steep ground. Donkeys can now be seen (and heard) because they are brave enough to attack coyotes as they live with cattle, and there are a few other species, such as llamas seen in some places. Some have tried buffalo (bison), but they are very demanding. There is a fish farm at Lost Creek, and every once in a while someone will try pick-them-yourself strawberries (which are picked by the buyer). No one tries this without geese to do the weeding. Timber extraction is a large business and growing. We now have log buying stations in the West Fork River valley. In my youth one had to go into the mountains to the east to find significant timber industry.
Animals are now individually identified by ear tags. They were known “personally” by their owners and recognized by color, spots, morphology, etc. in my youth. Soon we will have a national animal identification system which will allow tracking meat on the plate back through the packing plant, the feed yard to the farm, and even to the animal's mother. Electronic identification and a central database will allow plate to farm of origin tracing of an animal.
New plant and insect pests have been imported from other parts of the world. Horn flies and face flies are serious pests which have arrived since1900. Autumn olive and multiflora rose were introduced in my lifetime. I will leave making a more complete list to specialists in this area, but we are warned about a dozen or more by the Extension Service of West Virginia University.
When I was young broom sage and running brier were common. They grew on land that had been “corned out.” At one time people ran corn rows up and down steep slopes, causing much serious erosion. Now these broom sage and running briers are becoming much less common because the worst land is retired to forest and better land is farmed with a continuous grass cover.
The end of what I call “big barn” farming has occurred. In my grandfather’s day animal feed was brought to the barn in which animals were kept in the winter. They lived in the barn and around it all winter, and the next spring the manure was hauled back to the fields and spread. This meant all the work in winter was near the house, and could be done with muscles. The alternative is to store the winter feed in the field and move it short distances to feed the animals. This also saves removing the manure from the barn, and the use of bedding under the animals. This alternative now requires much petroleum and exposure to wind, rain and snow. Big barn farming is still done to the north. I expect to see it return when petroleum becomes expensive in a few decades.
A change that didn’t occur. Electrification was expected to radically alter life on the farm. It did, but only in the house, where the technology is exactly the same as in an urban house. Specialization in extensive farming has taken away the opportunity for electricity in the farm operation. Only where there are barns can it be used to unload silos, and feed animals and, of course for lights. About the only uses for electricity in farming that has prevailed is the ubiquitous mercury vapor or sodium vapor “pole light” which protects the homestead from prowlers, and the water pump.
Livestock are now frequently hauled for short distances in trailers behind small trucks. This innovation allows animals to be loaded and unloaded without a built up chute. Trucks with the floor above the axle are usually used for longer hauls.
The return on investment and labor in farming has dropped precipitously. My father could provide a living for his family and also a good supplement for the family of Doyle Kittle for a few years before 1940 on 160 acres. Now I farm over a thousand acres, and couldn’t hope to provide for my family from the income. A recent article in the Western Livestock Journal said there are very few livestock operations in the West that have not lost net worth over the last few decades.
Weather prediction is now a science, and although not perfect, it provides information that is to a substantial degree dependable two or three days in advance. One can get predictions by experts for up to ten days, and weather radar pictures of past movements of moisture that are quite valuable for predicting up to 24 hours into the future, when you understand how.
High quality medicinals and veterinary service became available before WWII.
Many farm problems can now be researched on the internet. This is very new, starting slightly before 2000. You can look up machinery you want to buy, various farm technologies such as rotational grazing, cattle and crop prices, breed and even individual animal characteristics. Some even sell farm products on the internet.
Spraying is a technology that was available in my grandfather’s day, as shown by the bottle of dried up Bordeaux Mixture that I found in out barn as a child. But then it was used only for high value plants, such as apple trees and grape vines. Now spray is available for control of insect pests on animals and herbaceous weeds in pasture. Applying it is hard work, and some are afraid to use it, but it is absolutely essential for “clean” pastures and pushing back brushy growth on steep ground.
In my greatgrandfather’s time only the farmer landowner had an interest in his property. Now there are many other parties interested in it: coal, oil and gas, timber, hunters, conservationists, the towns and cities downstream which need the water falling on the land. Much of the best land is potential for development of several kinds: housing, improved roads, businesses. Today, landowning is a business apart from farming.
Even in my youth, in the 40’s and 50’s it was quite common for children to be excused from school to work on the farm for planting or harvest, but 50 years later it is almost unheard of.
According the State Veterinarian , who I heard a few days ago at Jacksons Mill, 97% of American farms have someone working off farm, 28% of farms are managed by women.
Little things: Most cows now have no horns. People lock gates. Light is separated from fire, so you can safely have it anywhere you want at night. Aerial photographs help planning. You don’t take the wheel off to grease the axle. Even a dead cow or horse is worth enough for someone to come and take it away. It is not safe for children to walk alone on the hills. No one is buried on his own land. Farmers take vacations, rather than go to visit relatives. The family tree is now only a bush, no one remembers ancestors. You don’t have to go out into the cold to “go to the bathroom.”
Other changes affecting farming .
Changes in land ownership. In my grandfather’s day, ownership of land ( as opposed to operating land ) was still generating some wealth even if the management was not very close. Consequently there were several families which had substantial land holdings which were farmed by tenants. The original large land grants had been dispersed, and then these families had accumulated extensive tracts, largely through wealth accumulated by other means than farming. The Maxwells, and the Goffs come to mind in Harrison County, and the Bennetts in Lewis. These families had wealth based on the practice of law and by retaking property as the result of default on loans. There were some farmers who had acquired several tracts by a gradual process over several generations or by marriage, but these families had no more than three to five or six tracts. These larger land holdings have disappeared in my lifetime. Larger landholdings now are comprised of tracts acquired by coal stripping companies who bought the whole farm, rather than just the coal, and putting together several adjacent farms. Larger farming operations are now on these tracts acquired by coal generated wealth, or on lands where the owner has some land, but acquires the use of more by lease or other arrangements.
With the decline of routine manual labor has gone the disappearance of tenant houses. These were small, usually with poorer construction, thin walls, no bath or running water, usually heated by open fires. It was the bottom of the line economically, but provided the worker with a secure position. Farmers needed help close enough to come to work without transportation, and housing was expensive, but they could not depend on tenants to take care of the house they lived in, or to stay with them very long. (See Illustrations below)
More government influence. The Soil Conservation Service, a product of Roosevelt’s New Deal, was a sort of secular religion in my youth. It was needed badly, because traditional methods were very destructive to Appalachian soils, and there was no communication to encourage improvement. Today there are many ways for someone who wants to get information on how to improve: magazines, the internet, organizations like the breed organizations and Farm Bureau, and so forth. Farming is much more “knowledge intensive.” However, government is not only interested in production on one’s farm, but in anything some organization can develop political pressure for. Consumer groups, environmental, preservation of open space, water supply production and protection, recreation, hunting and fishing, and so on. Many of these interests are
Along Route 50 East of Bridgeport
in conflict with production interests. Our problems here are not so severe as in the West, however. Grazing on Bureau of Land Management or National Forest permits is a perpetual headache.
Today almost all farming in Appalachia is subsidized. The most common method is for the husband or wife, often both, to have “outside jobs,” and live mostly on that income while building the farm. In other cases the farm has been purchased by wealth generated by other successful enterprises such as coal mining, a car dealership, insurance sales, executive or professional income, or the like. I know of only one “bootstrap” operation, one where nothing was inherited, where neither husband nor wife has an “outside job” but who have substantial farm interests and who work on it full time with no other income. This family’s indebtedness has been brutal, and their living standard quite low. Farming subsidy is not unique to Appalachia. It is characteristic of much farming in the United States, particularly in the beef business.
Farmers are now, on the average, far more intelligent and knowledgeable than they were when I was young. The educational level of the whole population has increased, but it is particularly noticeable among farmers. It is not uncommon among farmers to have several family members or near relatives with higher degrees, in contrast to my youth when most farmers and their families had not even completed high school, and even a bachelor’s degree was rare. The farmer’s lifestyle, conversation, and knowledge of the world also indicate greater intelligence.
Banks and wealthy individuals were the sources of loans until the New Deal, and “on demand” notes were in part responsible for the Great Depression as it affected farms. At that time Production Credit and The Federal Land Bank became options for loans. These are now united as Farm Credit, and function as a user cooperative, not a government agency. There is a government agency for poorer credit risk farmers.
For decades prior to the 1960’s the wild game was almost exhausted. The Great Depression had caused many families to relish the wild meat available in the hills. Little hunting was done during WWII, and game began to build up. Deer, which disappeared in the 1880’s, returned but hunting them was carefully regulated. Small game soon became abundant, and was hunted. In the 70’s and 80’s deer became abundant and became the main focus of hunting. Small game, that is, rabbit, game birds, and ground hog hunting have lost interest. Now there is a tremendous harvest of deer each year, and turkey are abundant and are extensively hunted. Turkey compete with deer for mast (nuts, etc. available in the fall). Beaver are becoming a nuisance. Abundant turkey and the fawns are food for coyotes, and I suspect, so is much of the small game (and new born calves). There has been some talk of reintroducing elk, but this would kill farming, because elk are notorious for going through fences.
Very few people have traces of the Indians any more. In my youth almost every family had a collection of arrowheads. Tomahawks, arrows, bows, moccasins are rare even in museums now. At one time the site of battles could be pointed out, Indian roads, campgrounds, stonepots (where the Indians developed springs) and points of interest, these are now in literature only. Families have forgotten they had Indian ancestors, once a source of pride.
Better roads, schools and electronic communication have brought the world closer, and have made the road off the farm very short, but has also brought farms closer together, and the farming regions together. I sometimes email ranches in the West – with no cost except the overhead on my computer
The average age of farmers is much greater than it once was, now greater than 55 years. Several things have caused this, the greater life span and the ability of many persons to work after retirement is significant. The main reason, though, is due to the expansion of farms (though decreased in number) and the expansion of forests. Less farming positions are available, and the capital requirements mean you have to work a long time to acquire land, animals and machinery (and you must have a lot of luck, too). The same is true the world over. Japan’s farmers have an average age in excess of 70. The Japanese have the world’s longest life expectancy.
Farm families no longer subsist on their own produce. West Virginia Farmers eat grapes from Chile, Kiwi fruit from New Zealand, cookies from Denmark, olives from the Mediterranean, cocoa from Africa, coffee from Brazil, milk from Minnesota, Oranges from Florida, seafood from Maryland, potatoes from Idaho and Maine, just like everyone else. Most would have a very difficult time adapting to the necessity of growing all their own food. Gardens, once a necessity, are now an option exercised by few. The one exception is meat. Almost any place that has a claim to being a producing farm will have its own beef and/or pork.
Transportation is abundant and cheap. It would have been a real treat for my great grandfather’s family (when the parents were thirty) to “go to town,” which would have been Buckhannon or Weston. They did go to church once a week, which was in effect a source of news and a social engagement. Today we sometimes go to Clarksburg (the same distance they traveled to town) more than once in a day, and occasionally three times.
Communication is abundant and cheap. My great grandfather probably got a weekly newspaper and owned a few books and wrote letters to family members that were elsewhere. We get a daily from Clarksburg, a weekly from Weston, and watch half an hour of CBS news weeknights, but the great communication is on the internet. We email children, relatives, business associates and companies. I read the Guardian (England) almost daily (for world news), and Ha’aretz (Israel), Asia One (Singapore), Christian Science Monitor (Boston), The Gazette (Charleston) and many other newspapers from time to time. I correspond with people I know in Poland, England and Japan. My sources of information are not constrained by media concentration, only by time to follow the news. This is not typical of today’s farm family, but indicates what is available to those who look for variety in news. The internet is a greater, more accessible library than the Library of Congress, too, for general things. I can find information by a search engine on almost any subject.
It is very hard to continue a farm from one generation to another. Typically, the children are in their thirty’s and forty’s before the older generation lets go, and the children have established themselves in other lines of work, often neglecting the skills and knowledge base needed for farming. The spouse usually doesn’t have a farm background. Since farming is not likely to provide a good living, it is hard to establish the discipline necessary for financial success.
The forest has returned. When the first pioneers came to the East Coast “a squirrel could run from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River without coming down from the trees.” In the period between 1900 and 1940 photos show most of the land, except near the hill tops, cleared and in use for pasture or crops. Now well over 90% has returned to forest, and logs up to two feet in diameter are being trucked out of these hills.
In my great grandfather’s day children and grandparents were an asset. There was work for everyone on the farm. There were ways to employ them that contributed to the family, and the parent’s income was likely the greatest in the childbearing years and shortly after. Today children are a liability. They are a great expense from birth to graduation from the final level of education. They make essentially no contribution to family income, and their care interferes with all adults in the family working for a wage. After retirement, older people are a liability because they cannot make a contribution and have increasing medial expenses until they die. The exception is when grandparents can take care of the children or young adults, and allow the parents to take a position in the workplace. Hence, fewer children among farm families as well as urbanites. Ours was a big family with four children.
The replacement of muscle energy with engines. From the scythe to the string trimmer and mowing machine, from the heavy wagon to the trailer truck, from carriage to car, and most recently from riding horse to all terrain vehicle, commonly called a “fourwheeler” or ATV. It is becoming painfully apparent how dependant we are on petroleum as an energy source, which informed people realize must be replaced in the foreseeable future. In the 70’s and 80’s there were very few horses around, but now there are many pleasure horses. Very few indeed are required to pull work implements.
In my father’s youth his mother would have purchased goods at a local general store or from a catalog, to be delivered by the U. S. Postal Service. In my youth mother bought most things from local stores, but some from a catalog. In my old age my wife goes to local stores, buys catalog goods from a variety of specialized catalogs, buys from programs on TV dedicated to selling goods, and some over the internet. We have delivery from the U. S. Postal Service, and from two other companies, competitors to the Postal Service. Large things may come to a freight line office in Clarksburg, where we pick them up.
Increase in use of technologies that are due to advancement of scientific theory and applied technology. This is a huge category including electrical light, gas heating of homes and water, running water and sewage disposal, sanitation including detergents, washers and dish washers, good paint, textiles, communication, home entertainment, abundant reading material, computers (with all they can do), inexpensive and comfortable transportation and medicine. All are based on scientific theory, rather than on observations of able practitioners.
Standards of sanitation have changed, in large part because of technical changes. Prior to 1920, a wealthy family might have the opportunity to wear clean clothes each day, have a great variety of dishes each meal and have them clean for the next day, take a bath each day or so, live in a house cleaned every few days, defecate and urinate in the warmth of the house, and so on, by employing a number of servants. Today every rural family has a washing machine, dish washer, a vacuum sweeper and a bathroom with shower and commode. What less-than-wealthy families did prior to 1920 was to work very hard, employ possibly one or two servants if they could, rely on help from unmarried sisters and the elderly and children and in large part simply accept lower standards.
These changes result in comfort, ease and overall efficiency, but keep farm families apart, just as it does urban and suburban families. The mother goes her way, the children go their way and the father goes his way. In fact, both the mother and the father have two occupations on most farms. The mother takes charge of the household, the father takes care of the farm, and both hold jobs. One might argue that farm life is much like suburban life, except that the father takes care of the farm, with occasional help from other members of the family, in addition to what he might do as a father in suburban life.
Generally we see less crime, better health and more sense of direction from farm families, but the stress is high, and it is no longer a relaxed lifestyle.
At one time not too long past the preferred place of residence was town. Town offered access by walking to groceries, a job, school, the doctor, church, neighbors, entertainment, and a many more advantages, not least among them city water and public sewage disposal.
Today everyone wants a country estate, or at least a cheap lot, which is most readily available in the country. And they don’t want to work in agriculture or forestry, or even have a garden They don’t really want to move away from the conveniences like schools, churches, jobs and friends, though. This exodus means water, sewage, electricity, phone, police and fire protection must be brought out in the countryside at great expense. The move to the countryside is subsidized by taxpayers who make these “improvements” available. The taste for “rural non-farm” living depends on cheap energy, too. The daily commute to work and specialized services such as medicine, education, church and shopping requires transportation beyond “shank’s mare” if you live in the countryside.
Some change must occur when petroleum becomes expensive, but what it will be is not apparent in 2004.
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Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at hughes.net)