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    Texas | Column | Stories of the Ark-La-Tex

    Food for the family
    in tough times...............
    And the tools to use

    by Nolan Maxie
    Nolan Maxie

    “Son, put a ‘wide sweep’ on the Georgia Stock and take ‘old Dixie’ over to the back forty and bust out them corn middles today. Make sure that mule has been fed and watered. She’ll have a hard day today”

    “Okay Pop! Anything else?”

    “Oh yeah!.... If you happen to finish up early, just come on back over here and help me in the melon patch. I’ll probably be out there hoeing ’til sundown”, he said.

    “I’ll do my best, Pop. Mom, would you fix me some lunch to take to the back forty? I may be working over there in that cornfield all day. Looks like its going to be a hot one today, doesn’t it? I’ll run out and get me some water from the well for my water jug. I'll let Old Dixie drink from the mill creek.”

    Papa would be working very near the house for the day. That’s where we always planted watermelons each year for as long as I can remember. Being grown not far from the house would discourage folks from stealing the melons. And working close by, Papa would be back to the house for lunch.

    We grew many various kinds of vegetables in the garden; onions; cabage; lettuce; carrots; radishes; turnips; beans; peas; squash; orka; cellery and others. You can do it yourself, too! But this particular day I would be out in the large fields with acres and acres of corn.

    Conversation like this occurred over an early morning breakfast as my family and I planned our routine workday. We lived on a large NE Texas spread near McLeod known as the Maxie Family Working Farm. The farm was in Cass County, the Ark-La-Tex area, south of Atlanta and very near Moss’s Mill Pond. It was just off of the old McLeod-Atlanta Road about three miles north of McLeod. My family had lived there for four generations. As a young man, I was born right there, pre-WWIl, on that farm and raised there during the tail-end of the Great Depression.

    What Papa was saying meant for me to put a large “sweep” blade on the farm plow commonly known as a Georgia Stock. Then go out to the barn and harness up Dixie to pull the plow. Taking them to the far backside of our place to a large forty-acre cornfield, I would work there all day long. At least I would try to make the job last all day. I sure didn’t want to come in and have to finish my day hoeing in the garden and melon patch.

    In the back forty, as Dixie pulled, I ran the sweep up and down every corn-row, sweeping out the middles, covering the grass and loosening up the soil. This procedure was usually done after the corn crop had been “laid by”, using the turning plow. Today’s sweeping action swept the soil up around the half grown corn plants covering any exposed roots and killing the unwanted grass. At the same time, dressing up the middles to make it look smooth and neat. A corn crop of which to be proud.

    The “middle” is middle ground between each row of corn. The “dressing” was the last plowing job the crop would get before it grew larger, matured and later became ready for harvest. Harvest was known as “corn pulling” time, usually in the late fall season.

    THE WALKING PLOW (plows doesn't really walk)
    The plow—the basic tool of the farmer and large-scale gardener—breaks and pulverizes the ground and adds humus and fertility by covering the vegetation and manure. Plowing helps the soil to hold its precious moisture and circulates the air. (Did you know the earth has to "breathe" to be productive? Although I didn't realize it until recently, the land is very much alive and teeming with organisms that can't be seen with the naked eye.)

    The Georgia Stock is basically an all-wooden plow built on a light metal frame. It was not a heavy plow and was mostly used for light work like dressing a crop, busting out the middles and very often, garden work.

    The sweep blade was just that; a full sweep. It was a narrow sweeping blade about two feet wide that swept back on each side at somewhat less than a 45-degree angle. It swept the middles smooth and clean while moving soil closer to the corn plants. As an added plus, working the soil would also help keep the moisture level up near the top of the ground for the corn plants. This better utilized the chemical fertilizer we had applied a few days earlier.

    There were other interchangeable and adaptable blades (plows) for the Georgia Stock. Some had names like; the shovel, the half shovel, the drill, the double shovel, the half sweep, the auger; plus several other names. And the full “sweep” came in different widths, too. It was adaptable to different plowing jobs, depending on the kind of crop and the width of the middles.

    Other frequently used groundbreaking plows on the farm were the turning plow (a biggy) and the middle buster, both of which were pretty heavy plows. Each one would turn over a lot more dirt than the Georgia Stock, turning up the soil to break the heavy sod so well. We also had the much-used “Cole Planter” for planting row crops. (See below)

    The ground disk was used very often, as was the harrow or section harrow. Both were used for breaking and leveling ground or covering broadcast seed. They each were a heavy drag, pulled along on top of the ground. Plus, operating a large, heavy disk often required the use of two strong draft animals. We had to know how to properly harness these animals and control them at all times while working in the fields.

    Growing up on the farm, we “plow boys” also had to know how and on what occasion to properly use each of these tools. In addition to assembling the proper configuration of sweeps and plow points, the right application for any given job was important in order to get the desired result. Often times it was trial and error. But then, nothing takes the place of OJT (on-the-job-training) experience. Does it?

    Many times older farm women did all these laborious tasks too. Often having to take over after their husbands had become disabled or died. But I never knew any woman of my generation that plowed or worked farm animals. Women later left their home and farm life behind to work in the bomb factories and airplane plants during WWIl. There they served well since most men had gone off to war. Those women became known as “Rosy the Riveter.”

    Although, as a youth I did know several older, hard working country women that would plow, tend their animals and do heavy farm work just as a man would. Those were a generation or two before me. They were a rare breed, in time becoming few and far between. The hard manual labor eventually gave way to farm mechanism and soft ‘public’ jobs in large cities. Very hard labor became terribly unpopular with most of the less adapted feminine gender. To which I say, “Amen and rightly so.”

    THE GEORGIA STOCK: This versatile plow is the one you work your crops and garden with. It has interchangeable "sweeps" and shares for cultivating different sizes and kinds of vegetables.
    THE TURNING PLOW: If we could have but one plow, this is the one it would be. It breaks open and mixes the sod and turns the earth up to greet the warm sun.
    THE MIDDLEBREAKER: Also known as "middlebuster" or "lister", this plow is designed to turn a furrow of dirt each way, bust out a ridge or bed up a new row for planting in one operation.
    THE PLANTER: The Cole Planter is for row crops. You just fill its hopper with seed (any kind that aren't so very tiny) and they're dispersed to the ground and covered with soil all in one smooth operation.
    Maybe I should slow down a little right here and now and quickly tell you this. I would never, ever trade my formative years and valuable experiences growing up on our sandy land farm for any other lifestyle on this earth; bar-none. Just don’t ask! You see, those were life-shaping experiences of back-breaking character.

    If you ever get the chance to see the movie, or pick up the DVD titled “The Trip to Bountiful”, by Horton Foote, 1985, do it! You'll love it! I did!

    © Nolan Maxie
    "Nolan Maxie"
    March 1, 2011 Column
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