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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Friday, May 20, 2016

Lessons on the Farm

Binder similar to the one used on the Doc Hunt place.

Farm children learn early to respect the equipment used on the farm.  While safety has improved over the last hundred years, children (and adults) still get hurt farming.

I learned a very hard lesson about machinery there on the Doc Hunt place and picked up a permanent scar from it.  One day in late summer, Dad was running the mule-drawn binder cutting oats.  A binder was a big machine with a sickle bar in front to cut grain and a big wooden reel that pushed the rain stalks onto the belt.  The belt carried the grain into the clattering machinery where it was automatically tied in bundles to be gathered up into “shocks” until time to haul them to the threshing machine.  (Nowadays the whole process is done with combines so you never see a binder any more outside of a museum.)
Dad had a very mismatched team of mules hooked to that binder.  One was a sorrel we called “Red” and he was fat and lazy.  The other was a tall, raw-boned, hard-working old mule that was sort of black with a bluish tint.  Inevitably, his name was “Old Blue.”
Before modern farm equipment, mules, a cross between horse and donkey, were ubiquitous on the Missouri landscape

Those mules were as different as day and night.  Old Blue would pull his heart out all day, but not that lazy Red.  He would always sag back pulling only what he had to until his end of the doubletree would rest against the front of the binder, plow, wagon, or whatever the team was hooked to.  Dad would get so mad that he would yell words at that red mule that I was not supposed to know (I knew them anyway only never used them around my mother or grandparents else I would get my mouth washed out with a soapy rag).  Dad would whip that red mule wither with the reins or with a whip made out of plaited strips of green elder bark.
You never had to cuss or whip Old Blue.  When you shook the reins and yelled, “Giddup!”, Old Blue would dig in his hooves and pull for all he was worth until you pulled him up again.
Well, anyway, on this particular day Dad was cutting a field of oats with the binder.  The seat on a binder was up real high so the driver could see over the machinery.  I was coming across the field from the creek and decided I would hitch a ride on the back of the binder, which I had done before.
My intention was to run up behind the binder and jump onto a bar down low while I grabbed the curved seat support to hand on.  It would have worked just fine except as I lunged for the seat my food slipped.  My hand missed the seat bracket and went right into one of those big gears, then between it and the chain.
My father pulled up the mules as soon as he heard me yell—and I expect they probably heard me clear over to Polk County—but my hand had already gone in far enough that it threw off that big square-linked chain.  It did not break any bones, but one of the big gear teeth gashed my palm so deep that you could have put a quarter in there—well, a nickel at least.  Of course I was bleeding like a stuck hog.
1925 Model T Ford, similar to the one Ernest Frieze drove from Washington to Missouri

Dad jumped down, wound his red bandana around my hand and hustled me off to the house.  Mother was quite upset, of course.  She bundled me into our old Model T Ford and we went flying down that dusty dirt road to the doctor in Fair Play.  He fixed up my hand and gave me a tetanus shot, which I did not like much.  The hand healed pretty quick, but forever I have had an inch-long scar in the palm of my right hand.