How We Lived
On A McLennan County Farm
Former Mayor of Hewitt, Successful Dairyman, Banker, Community Leader
We were fairly self-sufficient here on our 200 acre farm, a little after the turn of the century. We always had a big garden; we had most of our own meat, always all the dairy products we wanted and could use, and produced our own energy (corn and oats) for plowing and cultivating our own crops.
My mother and father moved here on the farm in 1895, one mile southeast of Hewitt.
My brother, Cleon, was 2 years old at the time. After two sisters were born here on
the farm, Helen and Annabel, I came along. Then when I was 4 years old, my youngest
sister was born, Maebeth. My first recollection of Maebeth was hearing her cry, just
after being born. I remember I knew just her problem-she was hungry! I rushed out
to the kitchen and got 2 cold biscuits to give her. They told me she wasn't quite
up to eating cold biscuits yet!
We were all born here on the farm. That was the time doctors were making house calls. If you were too sick to go to him, the doctor would come to your house. This occurred in cases of severe illness, delivering babies, etc. Before cars, this meant hitching up a horse to a buggy. We didn't know about hospitals at this time, or couldn't get to one over often impassable roads.
In cases of severe illness, neighbors would organize "sitting up" teams; two people would come in the evening and "sit up" with the patient. Then, if the illness ended in death, some of the strong young men of the community would prepare a grave at the Stanford Chapel Cemetery.
Of course there were some necessities we had to buy. My mother made our own bread, but we had to buy a few groceries. We bought cloth for clothes. My mother was an expert seamstress, and, of course we had to buy some tools to farm with. We had our work mules and horses, and would raise colts to make future work animals.
Our main cash crop was cotton. Raising cotton at this time in Central Texas was a very high labor crop. A seed bed had to be prepared with horses and mules, cotton planted with a one-row planter, and when it was a few inches high, it had to be cultivated with a one-row cultivator. Ten acres a day was nearly an impossible task to plow with a one-row cultivator. Then cotton had to be chopped with hoes, leaving a plant about every 12 inches. After one or two more cultivations, the crop was "laid by" till cotton-picking time came in the fall. Real cotton pickers would have a 6 or 7 foot canvas sack with a strap over the shoulder so they could drag the sack behind them as they picked the cotton. We amateur cotton pickers would have a small feed or flour sack with a strap across our shoulder to do our cotton picking with. Our cotton picking would usually end about ten o'clock, and we would get in the shade of the wagon.
Cotton picking amounts would vary, some could pick 300 to 400 Lbs. while others-seeming to work just as hard, would pick only 100 or 200 Lbs. Pickers were paid on the amount of cotton they picked. Cotton had to be picked clean-gins could not take out the trash like they do now. Nearly every small town had two or more gins-Hewitt had two. We usually kept our cotton seed from the gin-it's an excellent cow feed. When I was growing up, my dad usually had two families here on the farm that would farm the cotton crop on the "halves." On "halves" meant that the land owner would furnish everything involved in raising a cotton crop except the labor-mules, tools, seed, everything. Of course that meant that the land owner had to stand good for some groceries until the crop was harvested and sold. If there was a crop failure, the land owner was the one that usually had to pay the bills.
We tried to raise enough corn and oats for our horses and mules and to have some to sell. Growing corn and oats was also a fairly large labor problem. Corn had to be planted and cultivated much like cotton-but the big job was in the harvesting. A wagon would be drawn through the field and several men would follow behind picking the ears from the corn stalks, one-by-one, and pitching them in the wagon. When the wagon was full it was unloaded in a "corn crib." In order to unload the wagon, boards known as "scoop boards" had to be placed in the wagon, leaning against the front wall. These boards gave the unloader a smooth surface to run his scoop down as he unloaded the ears of corn.
Oats were less of a labor crop-until harvesting time came. We sowed our oats with a "drill," usually on land that had been in cotton the year before. When the grain was ripe we would cut it with a binder. We used 6 horses and mules to pull the binder. This tool would cut the oats and bind them in a bundle. The bundles would fall in a rack that would hold 5 or 6 bundles. These were dumped in a row across the field, then men would come behind and "shock" them up. This meant standing two bundles with the grain end up, then putting a dozen or more bundles around them. In this way, oats would take a lot of rain, and still not have grain damage. This was all we would do until threshing time. Threshing was a big community event. Sometimes neighbors would help neighbors and meals for the entire crew would be fixed at whichever house they would be working at that day. It would take about 6 bundle wagons and 4 or 5 men pitching the bundles to the wagons. When the grain was threshed, the grain coming out one spout and the straw going into a straw stack, it would take several more men to bag the oats and haul them to the "oat grainery," or load them on a railroad car to sell. A lot of labor involved, but it only lasted a couple days for our size oat crop.
We stored enough grain to feed our horses and mules until the next crop year. If we had extra, we took wagon loads to the "square" in Waco to sell. Most any given Saturday, the Waco square would be full of farmers' wagons selling their produce.
Hay baling always came in the hottest part of the summer. Hay had to be mowed, raked into winrows when cured, and when ready to be baled, bucked up to the hay press with a two-mule buck rake. The hay press required 5 men to operate it-each bale had to be wire tied by hand. Then the bales had to be loaded onto wagons to be stored under shelter.
Another source of cash income was the sale of butter from our 7 or 8 Jersey dairy cows. These cows were hand milked twice a day, the milk carried to the milk house where it was "separated." This meant a cream separator, hand driven, that would separate the skim milk from the cream. The skim milk would be fed to our calves and hogs. The cream would be allowed to "sour", and then it was made into butter to sell. The handling of the cream to make good butter was quite an art- which my dad had mastered. When the cream was just right, it would be put into a "churn." This churn was barrel-shaped and would hold 25 or 30 gallons if full, but only about 5 to 8 gallons of cream was put in it to churn. The churn had handles on either side, attached about the middle of the churn. The churn was on a little frame, so the churn could be turned over and over by means of the handles. My dad would enlist anyone he could for the second handle, but we were usually somewhere else, if we could be! It would be a half hour or more of the cream splashing around in the churn before the butter would "come". That means the separating of the butter from the butter milk. The butter milk was drained off-to be used for home consumption or hog fed. The butter after being rinsed with cool water, was molded into pounds and wrapped with "butter paper."
The J. A. Early Grocery Co. in Waco would buy all the butter my dad could make, but delivering it once a week sometimes became a problem. There was only a dirt road to Waco, and in bad weather, it would nearly become impassable. The last resort was to take only the two front wheels of a wagon, with two horses, and, sitting on the front axle, try to get through mud-sometimes a foot deep. Passenger trains also helped a great deal.
Most of the groceries in Waco at this time were sold by means of a customer calling by phone to the store, giving a list of the groceries wanted. The grocerman would put up the order, then deliver it in a small wagon. The supermarkets soon came in, "Clarence Sanders, Sole Owner of My Good Name" was among the first.
We were a two-buggy family. We had a one horse buggy and a two-horse surrey. The surrey had the fringe on top and kerosene lamps on the sides-quite fancy. Our buggy trips were mostly to church on Sunday and to school in bad weather. Getting to school was the student's responsibility at this time. If it was too far to walk to school, students would come in a horse and cart. The horse would be kept in a shed on the school ground until it was time to go home in the afternoon.
We bought our first Model T Ford car in 1914. It was about this time that a hard-surface road was being built from Waco to Temple. Our Model T was a 4 door with a cloth top that could be folded down in the back. It came with side curtains that could be put up, but they didn't keep out much cold air. There was no battery, just a magneto for ignition. There was no starter except for a crank in front. Anyone cranking a Model T at this time, sooner or later, would have a broken arm! This was caused by the car "kicking back!" The headlights consisted of a can of gas carried on the fender, and when the valve was opened, the headlights had to be lighted with matches.
We were moving into the machine age at this time. Our first tractor was a steel-wheeled Fordson. We were expanding our dairy herd at this time, and hand milking was getting to be more of a problem. We became very interested in a new tool called a milking machine that was being talked about at this time. Of course it wasn't long before we had bought and installed a milking machine. The idea was so new-cows being milked with a machine-that it created a good deal of interest as well as visitors. I remember one visitor in particular, Dr. Scott of the Scott & White Hospital in Temple. At this time Dr. Scott had a dairy in Temple that furnished milk for his hospital, and he was looking for a better way to milk his cows.
Most of the social activities centered around the two churches in Hewitt, the Methodist and Baptist. The Methodist had two church services a month and the Baptist had two. When there was no church service at their own church, each would attend the other's church service. Of course there were church suppers and other social affairs. Everyone was interested in keeping the church influence strong in the Hewitt community. Here is an example: A man installed a pool hall in Hewitt. After he had his pool tables in place, some of the citizens of Hewitt decided a pool hall in Hewitt would be a bad influence. After a little trading, the Hewitt citizens bought his equipment, piled it out in the street, poured 5 gallons of kerosene on it and burned it up!
News was slower getting around than it is now-we had not even thought of something
called television or radio. Most of our news came through newspapers or magazines.
But people were just as interested in what was happening as they are now. Big issues
about this time were:
- Were women going to get the right to vote?
- Would liquor be declared illegal?
My mother was quite a crusader, and she was out front on both issues. I remember we put up speakers overnight-speakers that would be traveling through the country speaking on these issues.
My mother and my father resembled the early pioneers quite a bit. My mother would have strong opinions, and would usually push them through. She decided quite early that all five of her children should have a college education and all five did! When asked how a 200-acre farm could get 5 through college, the answer was that colleges were cheaper then! My father was always ready to look at anything that would make farming more profitable or easier. He was also a community man-vice president of the Hewitt Bank when we had one in Hewitt, and trustee of the Hewitt Methodist Church. It was always a concern of his when we didn't have the proper attitude toward the church.
We spent a good many years in the kerosene lamp age. These lamps furnished the only light we would have. By being quite close to them at night, it was possible to read by their light. Before dark, it was always someone's job to see if the lamp chimneys were clean. If they had been smoked from the previous night, they had to be washed so the lamp would give off the proper light. We had a kerosene cook stove for awhile-we had moved up from a coal-burning cook stove-but we were a little apprehensive with this stove-it had caused many house fires-ours included.
Our home heating was with coal burning stoves. We would haul 1 or 2 wagon loads of coal from the Lacy Coal Yard in Waco, and this would last the winter.
When the Cement Plant was built at South Bosque, a natural gas line was built across our farm, to the Cement Plant. This changed things for us. We still had no electricity, so we put gas lights in our home, and started cooking and heating with gas. The gas lights were a little better than kerosene lamps-but not much.
When the REA Bill was passed in Congress, the power company in Waco built power lines to the rural areas, and we finally had electricity. At first it was just lights, but soon it was electric appliances in the home and small motors on the farm.
We at last would have refrigeration, and not have to depend on ice-which we had to do for so many years. And even before ice, many rural homes had used an even older method of cooling. This cooling method-maybe a bucket of milk-would be let down into there cool well water until it was used. Of course care had to be taken that water didn't get in the milk, or milk in the water!
Because of lack of refrigeration "hog killin" time was always in the coldest part of the winter. After the hog carcass was allowed to "cool out" it was cut up into hams and bacon and ground into sausage. The year's supply of meat was cured in various ways-some not too successful.
This describes one Central Texas farm from the turn of the century for the next 2 or 3 decades. It has been said that the most sure thing that is going to happen is that we will have change. That is true here on this farm.