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Riding a Set of Drag Harrows More fun than a Carnival Ride
Horse drawn harrows
Learning to plow and use farm implements
When I was a boy I spent much of my spare time on my grandfathers farm. My parents were cotton mill workers and we lived in a mill village where there was little in the way of excitement. Going to the mountain where my grandparents lived was another story, always something to do and new things to capture my imagination.
Grandpa only had a small farm but was able to sustain and rear 14 children on the rocky fields where he grew a variety of vegetables. My grandparents were hardy people and in his almost 90 years never owned a gasoline powered farm tractor to cultivate or tend his crops.
My first recollections were as a boy when grandpa had a mule. Kate was her name and grandpa loved his mule. Of course by the time I was old enough to begin learning how to put a bridle on and take Kate to the spring branch for water, grandpa was getting long in years. I would always tag along to the barn with him and every now an again, grandpa would pull his plug of tobacco from his pocket, take out his Case knife and cut Kate a big chew. He said she liked it and watching her chew the Brown and Williams that had a good bit of molasses as an additive, I really believe Kate surely enjoyed her tobacco but I can honestly say, I never saw her spit, not once!
One Saturday when I was about six daddy said we were going to the mountain and a group of the men folks had agreed to meet for a graveyard cleaning. They would have these efforts at least once a year. Most of the grave in Mount Olivet Baptist at that time were mounded plots, some having those grave yard flowers, you know the purple and white thrift and occasionally a lily of some kind put there by a loving family member.
The grave yard would have to be harrowed and if anyone had a good horse to pull the harrows, the job was completed in short order. Most of the mountain folks referred to these farm implements as "hars."When we arrived my dad's cousin had his horse and had already begun harrowing the grave yard. He looked t me and my uncle who was about a year older than me and said,"How about you two boys riding on top of these harrows, you look just heavy enough to make them go into the hard ground." We looked at one another and smiled, this is going to be fun!
As we rode around the first time, it was like what we might have expected a carnival ride to be like even though neither one of us had ever been to carnival. Making a turn and going up the sloped graveyard, I fell off and got the wind knocked out of me but as soon as I caught my breath I got back on for more. Riding those harrows was rough and bumpy but at the same time a certain amount of fun for boys.
Graves in those days would be covered sand. The sand was white on the mountain and harvested from the banks of the road which was gravel. Lime, fertilize and grass seed were added before the day was over and all the work was done by hand.
As I grew older, I learned about more of the horse drawn farm implements. How many has ever heard of a gee whiz? Grandpa had one and his was made of wood and used to pull dry weeds in the fall from the potato field. The foliage which consisted mostly of rag weeds that had grown in the middle of the rows after the potatoes has been laid by and were ready to be plowed out. As a boy, I used a gee whiz, plowing out the "taters" was a job for a more experience adult but we all enjoyed picking up those spuds putting them into burlap bags and stored in the root cellar to be eaten the rest of the year with hopes some would be left for seed in the early Spring.
A double shovel was another plow commonly used after seeds had terminated and grown to a healthy plant. Grandpa had one but I never used this plow. Instead, I most often used a four or five footed cultivator which did a couple of things. If a crop had been side dressed with fertilize or bull dog soda, the cultivator was used. The small footed plows softened the soil around the roots as well as mixing the fertilize or soda into the soil. Using the cultivator also served as controlling weeds. Sometime a sweep, a wide footed plow was used to run through the balks, mainly to control weeds. Nothing looks as good as a freshly plowed crop that is weed free.
Finally, I would also like to mention a plow called a hillside plow. This plow was commonly used where a field might be steep and the plow foot could be flipped alternately as the field was turned for planting. A laying off allow required skill to get furrows straight. There were planters with seed plates suitable for each type seed. The planter also required the watchful eye and experience of adults.
For farmers before the advent of tractors, combines, and modern machinery, the work was hard, from sun to sun. It was a way of life for most and the ones I knew never grumbled or complained. I treasure the memories of those summers on my grandpas farm. Working in the fields, sweating and smelling the good earth. The rewards outweighed the difficulties and for tht I am grateful.