big switch from equine horsepower to gasoline power was about over
when I became old enough to remember. I can recall as a young boy,
helping harness a team of horses to pull a feed wagon down on the
Parsell Ranch on the Canadian
River. I never had to farm with horses and I probably couldn't
harness a team today on a bet.
I do remember the changes made in early tractor wheels when we switched
from lugs to knobby tires on our tractors. Dad ordered change-over
kits from Montgomery Ward, and we had a blacksmith named "Mac" at
to cut the lug wheels off and weld on the new rims to the old spokes.
We were proud to be so progressive in this effort.
I also remember the efforts made by dad to weigh the tractors down
so the new, knobby tires wouldn't slip when pulling. First we mixed
concrete and poured the centers of the wheels around the spokes
and later added water, filling the big inner-tubes. When "bar" tread
tires were introduced most slippage stopped.
The most accurate story of why the farmers changed from horses to
tractors is best told by comparing the U.S. Census reports of 1930
and 1940. These comparison figures, best explained by Dr. Gary Nall
in the 1975 Panhandle Plains Historical Museum Review, tell about
the rapid changes made as the Great Depression and Dust Bowl wound
Farming methods had to change to stop the dust from blowing. Farm
sizes grew as the more successful farmers took over from the less
successful. Fields of marginal farm land were returned to grass
for livestock to graze in order to provide a more balanced income
potential. Increased livestock production required some former grain
crops to be converted to forage for livestock so significant changes
were made as the hard times of drought passed.
During the years from 1930 to 1940, census records show the horse
and mule population dropped from approximately 52,000 to 18,500
head. During the same time, tractor numbers grew from 8,168 to 12,110.
The Roosevelt New Deal programs began in 1934 with tractor numbers
increasing rapidly after government benefits began to arrive.
The rise in commodity prices, as a result of government programs,
made livestock feeds more costly thus making the switch to tractors
more desirable. One example cited came from tests showing horsepower
farming cost $3 per acre while tractor farming costs from $1.75
Additional benefits came as a farmer using a tractor could farm
more acreage than a horse-powered farmer, thus increasing his profits
and diversification. Sadly, one man tending more acres put a lot
of tenant farmers out of business but it did achieve more efficiency
in the operation.
This caused some 20,000 people to leave the Great
Plains farm areas during the 1930s according to the census report.
Farm size growth, plus the suffering from the Dust
Bowl and Depression, were equally responsible for the decline.
The "big switch" spawned many a hilarious episode on the farm as
long-time horse farmers had to learn how to drive their tractors.
Many a stretch of barbed wire fence suffered as tractors plowed
on through with the driver yelling, "Whoa! Whoa!."
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" February 21 ,