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   Chapter 5 No.5

Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 16026

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Hay-harvest-?Timothy-grass-?Permanent pasture-?Hay-making by express-? The mower and reaper-?Hay-stacks as novelties-?Wheat-harvest-?Thrashing -?The "thrashing crowd"-?"Headers" and "self-binders"-?Twine-binders and home-grown flax-?Green food for cows-?Indian corn, vetches-?Wild-oats in wheat-?Tar-weed the new enemy-?Cost of harvesting-?By hired machines -?By purchased machines-?Cost of wheat-growing in the Willamette Valley.

Neither the first nor the second year did hay-harvest begin with us till after the first week in July. We did not shut the cattle off the hay-fields till the end of February, so that there was a great growth of grass to be made in four months and a half.

How different our hay-fields are from those in the old country! I should dearly like to show to some of these farmers a good old-fashioned Devonshire or Worcestershire field, with its thick, solid undergrowth and waving heads. I should like them to see how much feed there was after the crop was cut.

Here timothy-grass is everything to the farmer. Certainly, the old-country man would open his eyes to see a crop waist-high, the heavy heads four to seven inches long, and giving two tons to the acre. And he would revel in laying aside for good and all that anxiety as to weather which has burdened his life ever since he took scythe and pitchfork in hand. We expect nothing else but dewy nights and brilliant sunshine, so that the habit is to cut one day, pile the grass into huge cocks the same day, and carry it to the barn the next. Hay-stacks are unknown; the whole crop is stored away in the barn; and you may see sixty, eighty, or a hundred tons under the one great roof, and no fear of heating or burning before the farmer's eyes.

THE MOWER AND REAPER.The glory of the scythe has departed. Every little farmer has his mower, or mower and reaper combined; or else, if he can not afford to pay two hundred dollars or thereabout for his machine, he hires one from his more fortunate neighbor, and pays him "six bits"-that is, seventy-five cents-per acre for cutting his crop. Wood's, McCormick's, or the Buckeye, are the favorites here.

Our own machine, with one pair of stout horses, cuts from nine to twelve acres a day, according to the thickness of the crop and the level or hilly nature of the ground. It looks easy-just riding up and down the field all day-but try it, and you will find you have to give close attention all the time, to be ready to lift your knives over a lumpy bit of ground or round a stump, and to cut your turns and corners clean; and there are no springs to your seat, and a mower is not the easiest carriage in the world.

Nor is it light work to follow the horse hay-rake all day, lifting the teeth at every swath. Pitching hay is about the same work all the world over, I think; but at home one does not expect to make acquaintance with quite so many snakes, which come slipping down and twisting and writhing about as the hay is pitched into the wagon. It is true they are harmless, but I don't like them, all the same.

We put up a big hay-stack each year, in spite of the most dismal prophecies from our neighbors that the rain would mold the hay, that it would not be fit to use, and that even a "town-cow" would despise it (and they will eat anything from deal boards to sulphur-matches, I declare). But the event justified us, and the whole stack of 1879 was duly eaten to the last mouthful.

Wheat and oats follow close on the heels of the hay. We finished our stack on the 17th of July, and began cutting wheat on the 27th.

There is one harvest, and only one, on record in Oregon, where rain fell on the cut grain and injured it. The rule is to feel absolutely secure of cutting your grain, thrashing it in the field as soon as cut, and carrying it from the thrashing-machine straight to the warehouse.

There is lively competition to get the thrasher as soon as the grain is cut. The "thrashing crowd," of some seven or eight hands, which accompany the thrasher, have a busy time. They get good wages-from the $2.50 for the experienced "feeder" of the machine, to the $1.50 for the man who drives and loads the wagon, or pitches the sheaves. They travel from farm to farm, setting up the thrasher in a central spot, and "hauling" the sheaves to it. The quantity passed through the machine in one long day varies from one thousand to fifteen hundred bushels with horse-power; driven by steam, the quantity will run up to upward of two thousand bushels. These quantities seem very large by the side of those yielded by English machines, but they are too well authenticated to be open to doubt.

"HEADERS" AND "SELF-BINDERS."A great wheat-field of a hundred acres, with headers and thrasher going at once, is a lively scene. The "header" is a huge construction ten feet wide. Revolving frames in front bend the wheat to the knives, where it is cut and delivered in an endless stream into a great header-wagon, driven alongside the cutting-machine. Six horses propel the header in front of them, and move calmly along unterrified by the revolving frames and vibrating knives. As soon as the header-wagon is filled, it is driven off to the thrasher, whirring away in the center of the field, and an empty one takes its place.

Six horses to the header, two each to three header-wagons, eight to the horse-power on the thrasher, and one to the straw-rake, are all going at once. One man driving the header, one each to the three wagons, two feeding and tending the thrasher, one fitting and tying up the wheat-bags as the cleaned and finished grain comes pouring from the machine, and one hand at the straw-rake, are all busily at work. Very speedily the field is cleared, and the just now waving grain lies piled in a stack of wheat-bags in the center, waiting the departure of the "thrashing crowd," to be hauled by the farmer to the warehouse.

A little of the straw is taken to the farmhouse, for use as litter in stable and pig-sty; the rest is set fire to as soon as the wheat is gone, and a great, unsightly, black patch is the last record in the field of the year's crop.

The worst features of the "header" are that the wheat has to be much riper than for the reaper or self-binder, and consequently more is strewed about the field and lost; the machine cuts the wheat higher up also, and consequently leaves more weeds to ripen and leave their seed. Its advantage is the greater breadth of its cut and more rapid rate of work. In more general use is the reaper or self-binder.

Several of our farmers' wives and daughters can take their turns on these machines, and give no despicable help to the hardly-worked men. This year it is expected that twine will be substituted for wire, thus removing one great objection. A twine-binder was exhibited at the State Fair at Salem, in full operation, and worked well. Besides getting rid of the damage and danger of the wire getting into the thrashing-machines, an additional advantage will be the fostering the growth of flax in the State, and its working up into the harvest-twine. Be it known that these counties of the Willamette Valley produce the finest and best of flax, samples of which secured the highest premium at the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876.

The culture of flax and its manufacture afford, as far as I can judge, one of the very best of the various openings at present attracting both labor and capital to the State. As a mere experiment I had twenty-two acres of flax sown on the 17th of June, on some land about three miles from Corvallis which unexpectedly came under my control. In seven weeks from that day I gathered a handful, indiscriminately, from an average spot in the field; the fiber of this was seventeen inches long.

The flax that was grown in Linn County, ten miles from here, and used in the twine-factory there, produced fiber from two feet and a half to three feet in length. In January last we saw it hackled, and the workman, a northern

Irishman of long experience, told us, as he gave the hank he held in his hand a dexterous and affectionate twist, that he had never handled better in ould Ireland.

I should dearly like to see linen-works established here; not only are linen goods unreasonably dear on the Pacific coast, but it goes against the grain to see a splendid raw material produced and not turned to the best account. Flax is not found here to be an exhausting crop. The farmers who have grown it say, on the contrary, that their best wheat-crop has followed flax; while to neither one crop nor the other is any fertilizing agent used.

GREEN FOOD FOR COWS.One of the great difficulties the farmer finds here is to keep green food going for his cows during the harvest months. One successful expedient is to grow a patch of Indian corn or maize. Well cultivated, and the ground kept stirred and free from weeds, the absence of rain does not prevent its growth, and its succulent green leaves are eagerly munched at milking-time by the sweet-breathed cows.

Another crop just introduced here is the vetch, better known as tares, for the same purpose. Two friends of mine in Marion County, forty miles north of this place, have found the experiment a very successful one; the appearance of the two or three acres I put in this last winter goes far to justify them. Sown in December, about two bushels to the acre, the growth is very vigorous and the produce heavy.

Continuous cropping in wheat for many years has fostered the growth of the wild-oats, now a great disfigurement and drawback to the wheat-crop in this valley. Traveling north to Portland by train, this last harvest, it was sometimes even hard to say whether wheat or wild-oats were intended to be grown. Nothing but summer fallowing, thoroughly applied and regularly followed, can remedy this. I have known a farmer to send his wheat to the mill, and get back half the quantity in wild-oats.

To the timothy-hay fields a noxious plant called "tar-weed" is the great enemy on all damp or low-lying spots. The plant was new to us, but, once seen, is never forgotten. Fortunately, it matures later than the timothy, and so does not get its seeds transferred; but it is almost disgusting to see the skins and noses of the horses and cattle turned into the field when the hay is off, coated with a glutinous, viscid gum, to which every speck of dust, every flying seed of weeds, sticks all too tightly. Plowing up the field, and summer fallowing, are the only remedies when the tar-weed gets too bad to endure. Tar-weed is an annual which grows some eight or ten inches high, one stalk from each seed; short, narrow, hairy leaves of a dingy green and a tiny colorless flower offer no compensation in beauty for the annoyance it occasions as you pass through the field, and find boots and trousers coated with the sticky gum. It is a relief to know that it affects the valley only, and does not mount even the lower hills of the Cascade and Coast Ranges.

Before leaving the subject of harvesting I ought to give the cost.

It is not now the question of the capitalist who can afford to pay from $750 to $1,200 for his thrashing-machine in addition to $320 for his self-binding harvester to cut his grain; but of the struggling farmer, who has to make both ends meet by economy and fore-thought.

We will suppose that he has seventy acres of wheat to harvest, and that it will produce twenty bushels to the acre, a moderate suggestion.

COST OF HARVESTING.The cutting and binding in sheaves of the crop by a neighbor's self-binder will cost him $1.25 per acre, the contractor supplying the wire. The machine will cut and bind nearly ten acres a day; the cost, therefore, for the seventy acres will be $87.50, or say $90, to be safe.

The thrashing will cost him six cents a bushel for his wheat, or $84 for his fourteen hundred bushels; and the farmer has to supply food for the men and horses whose services he hires. This expense will naturally vary according to the liberality and good management of the farmer and his wife. It falls heavily on the hostess to provide for seven or eight hungry men, in addition to her own family; but plentiful food, well cooked, is no bad investment, for it reacts strongly on both the quantity and the quality of the work done.

A fair average cost is fifty cents a day for each man, and the same for each horse. The expense of keep of the cutting and binding, man and three-horse team for seven days, will, therefore, be $15. On a similar basis the keep of the "thrashing crowd" and twelve horses, for a day and a half and something over, will cost just $16.

The total outlay, therefore, on harvesting a wheat-crop of twenty bushels per acre on seventy acres, when all services and all machines have to be hired, will be $205. Or an average of just fourteen and two-thirds cents per bushel.

A glance will show what a good investment the self-binding harvester is, if only well cared for when harvest is over. The farmer who has a machine of his own saves more than six cents a bushel, and, on a crop of fourteen hundred bushels only, would pay for the machine in less than four years.

Let us see, then, what wheat-growing in the Willamette Valley costs-a matter of deep interest to the intending emigrant, and to farmers in other parts of the world who have to compete with Oregon-grown wheat.

We will take the same seventy acres, as a reasonable extent for a small valley farm. Once plowing, at the rate of two acres a day with a three-horse team, or one and a half acre for a two-horse team-that is thirty-five days' labor for man and three horses. Twice harrowing, at the rate of fourteen acres a day-that is ten days' labor for a man and two horses. Sowing, at the rate of twenty-one acres a day, or three and a third days' labor for a man and four horses. The seed will cost $98, at the rate of two bushels per acre and seventy cents a bushel.

The cost, therefore, of growing the crop will be $98 in money, and the labor of one man for forty-eight days and a third, and of a pair of horses for sixty-nine and a quarter days.

Putting the farmer's labor into money at the rate of a dollar a day, and that of his team also at the rate of half a dollar a day for each horse (and these are here the regular rates of wages), the result will be $117.50; add the $98 for the seed, and you arrive at a total of $215.50; or, on seventy acres, an average of three dollars and eight cents an acre; or, on fourteen hundred bushels, of fifteen and four-tenths cents per bushel. To this add the fourteen cents and two-thirds for harvesting and thrashing, and add twelve days' labor for man and one team of horses hauling the grain to the warehouse: this represents an additional cost of one cent and seven tenths per bushel, and the total cost then is thirty-one cents and seven tenths per bushel.

COST OF WHEAT-GROWING.Remember that this wheat is grown on the farmer's own freehold, which may have cost him twenty or twenty-five dollars per acre. Do not forget also a taxation of about fifteen thousandths a year on the total value of the farmer's estate, as arranged between him and the assessor-land, stock, implements, and everything else he has beyond about three hundred dollars' worth of excepted articles. But add no rent or tithe, and recollect that in this calculation the farmer's own labor and that of his team are charged at market price against the crop.

The charge for warehousing the wheat till it is sold is four cents a bushel; and the wheat-sacks, holding two bushels each, will cost from ten to twelve cents each.

Add, therefore, still nine and a half cents a bushel for subsequent charges, and the farmer who kept accounts would find his wheat, in the warehouse and ready for market, represented to him an outlay of forty-one cents and a quarter a bushel.

If he sells at eighty-five cents a bushel, that gives him a profit of $8.75 per acre on the portion of his farm in wheat.

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