Back in the old days

By Jim Suber

As Memorial Day weekend activities fade into…memory…it just so happens that a good friend found some old newspaper clippings used 63 years ago as backings for quilt squares. The newspaper squares happened to be from farm-related classified ads pertaining to the Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas region.

It is helpful to recall that in those days major newspapers were the main way of putting out news and other information, including marrying buyers with sellers in long columns of classified ads. Newspapers had huge newsrooms with clacking typewriters and teletype machines and grouchy old male editors with narrow visions, bad eyes, drinking and smoking habits often indulged at their desks selecting stories and complaining about bad writing and reporting. Guys in the backshops were melting lead to cast type and breathing fumes while mentally preparing speeches for their union meetings. People loved their newspapers—loved the comics, the sports, the opinion pages, the ads, puzzles, feature articles and so forth—almost as much as they loved to cuss them when irritated. .

Memory lane for a lot of folks who grew up in a nation then much more agricultural and much more based in small rural towns that real farm people often regarded as decidedly not farm-minded in the 1940s and 1950s is probably littered with these mental and emotional images the ads evoke. The prices, of course, are in 1950 dollars, so don’t get too excited when you see some examples here.

There were lots of mechanical corn pickers then, old and new, one row or two. A Wamego, Kans., farmer was asking $2,750 for a new Massey-Harris self-propelled two-row picker; a grower in Kimble, Mo., wanted $700 for a 1949 one-row Woods (not self-propelled) picker he said was like new and had been shedded. There were many more, old and new, most of them well under $2,000. Corn pickers had nearly replaced human cornhuskers by then. But soon pickers would give way to combines, so-named because they combined in one seamless operation the pulling, husking, shelling and off-loading. Most people truly hated corn picker machines, which were as a group among the most dangerous devices ever on our farms. They had plenty of competition, though, for lives, limbs and general maiming. Farm safety was a leading issue for decades.

Little farms seemed cheap, looking at the ads 63 years later. Here’s a 100-acre farm with 40 acres for crops, a spring in the pasture near Moberly, Mo., on a graveled mail and school bus route, a smokehouse, a 26-by-30-foot barn, a five-room house with electricity, a new chicken house and an aged owner who “is forced to sell” for $5,500. The place generated $3,000 in sales the previous year.

That one is similar to several others in the clips. It should be remembered while we are remembering that people didn’t on average live as long as they do now, or least up to now. When a man went down, he was either moving to town or cemetery. Working hard in the elements for years could cause folks suddenly to “hit a wall” and go no more.

There were ads for married men to come work on farms and ranches and herdsmen who specialized in various dairy breeds. Often the ads included housing and garden space. High pay is never mentioned.

Maybe the old days are better in our memories.

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