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Pathways Through Our Past

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Then and now

As we ride around the countryside we can see the change in the fields from day to day. We see the first green sprouts of grain break through the soil and hay fields stretching out for what seems like miles.

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Wouldn't our ancestors be in for a shock if they could see farming as it is done today? Those hay fields were much smaller years ago. The first homesteaders cut slough grass to feed to their animals. The grass was cut with a scythe, put on a wagon and hauled to a barn if they had one or piled up to be used as feed for the livestock until the next summer.

Even after the fields were cleared and hand-sown, the hay was cut by hand and stored the same way. Then along came horse drawn mowers, buck or sweep rakes and hay slings. Farming was made a lot easier.

Grain was also hand sown. When ripe, it was cut by hand and tied into bunches or stocks, stood with four or five other stocks and allowed to dry. These stocks, when dry, were placed on a wagon and carried to a threshing machine, where the grain was separated from the straw.

Our forefathers formed thrashing crews that went from farm to farm helping the farmers with their grain and then moved on to the next farm. They slept in barns, washed at the pump and ate very well. This helped members of the crew earn some cash money to buy additional seed, another cow or maybe glass for a window.

Early farmers could raise most of what was needed for the family but cash was always in short supply. While the fathers were away with the thrashing crew, the mothers and children did all the work on the farm to make ready for the winter season, only to start the cycle over again the next year.

Maybe there would be enough grain to sell some and purchase additional land. If they could open another field they could grow more grain to sell and not have to work away from the family. More fields meant more machinery which meant the need for more money and the early farmers would have found it hard to believe that so much grain could be grown that we could send it to other countries or that farmers could be paid not to grow grain.

The small family farm is slowly becoming a thing of the past just as the hand-sowing and the thrashing crews disappeared. Everything is done on a larger scale -- larger farms, larger balers able to put up bales 1,000 pounds each, larger buildings to store everything. But the farmers are still at the mercy of grasshoppers and Army worms.

We can spray them but they can do a lot of damage before they are completely removed. And for all our advanced technology, we cannot change the weather. Since the first farmer planted the first seed, the weather can be and is the deciding factor for the farmer.

"Going once, going twice, going, going, gone. Sold to the man in the red suspenders." Auctions have been around for a long, long time.

At an auction, everything sells, even the junk. A person buys a whole box of junk for one special thing only after getting the box, they find that the item had been moved to another box and they go home with the junk.

Early auctions were usually the result of banks having foreclosed on a farm or some other kind of business. It must have been awfully sad to see your belongings picked over and sold to the highest bidder.

Years ago, if someone wanted your land, they could pick up your place for back taxes and force you to move off the land. Sometimes the friends of the one having to sell would get together and keep strangers out and then they would buy all the items for sale and after everything was gone, the friends would give the items back to the person forced to sell. I would hope that if a friend was in that kind of trouble that their friends would do the same.

In the 1950s and '60s, rummage sales came along. We have always heard the saying, "One man's junk is another man's treasure." People from all walks of life go rummaging. Maybe you are looking for a chair that matches your set or trying to find old jewelry or quilts.

The next time you are out for a ride and you see a sign directing you to an auction, remember that this sale might mean the end of one way of life and the beginning of another for the person living there. So stop, get yourself a number and visit with other auction-goers. And if it's a sign for a rummage sale, drive on in, it only takes a minute to stop and look. You might just find something you have always wanted.

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Pioneer staff reports
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