Friday, September 10, 2010

Countryside 1950

The shows I've been doing for kids and adults for 10 years focus on activities and events with a small family farm in 1950. Since people in my audiences range in ages  from 1 to 100, the images they have of what the countryside was like in 1950 vary greatly.

Older folks have specific memories, but since elementary school kids and teens do not, I use some pictures at the beginning of my show to try to characterize the countryside during the 1940's and 1950's.
I cover just 6 categories:

1. HORSES--In 1950, most small farms in this area had at least one team of horses for several reasons:
 a) For one reason or another, they may not have owned a dependable tractor, and even if they were able to afford a good tractor, much of their equipment was set up for horses. To buy all new equipment or convert what you had to be pulled by a tractor took time and money.

b) The roads were so poor that they would easily drift shut in the winter and remain closed for days or weeks. To get to town farmers used a team of horses to pull a sleigh over the snow-covered high ground, not the roads. Also, the milk truck couldn't get to the farms to pick up the milk and the farmer had to use the horses and sleigh to get the milk to a main highway where the hauler could pick it up.
In the spring the roads were even worse and remained too muddy to use for weeks.

c) For some farmers, the horses had become like old friends and they were reluctant to part with them. The picture above is from 1954 when my parents decided to sell Bill and Daisy.  Dad and I posed for a picture before we loaded them on the truck. There were no pictures taken of events like my first day of school or any number of other occasions, but parting with Bill and Daisy warranted a photo.


a) Although some farm houses were quite nice, especially on larger farms where the land had been passed on to the next generation, farm houses on really small farms that had been left to deteriorate through the hard times of the 1920's and 1930's were not in good shape, and these were the only farms new farmers could afford to buy. 
The above picture is the house on my parents' farm when they moved into it in 1940. They fixed it up some in the 1940's but were not able to remodel until 1952. Indoor plumbing came in 1958, though the barn had running water in the mid-1940's.

b) Another thing about housing in the country is that there were no housing developments. The only buildings in the country were buildings connected with a farm. No one would think of living in the country unless they farmed.


a) Small farms did not usually have a lot of sheds for machinery or tools.
Granaries, hay barns and chicken coops often doubled as tool sheds. Many farms had no garage or shed for a tractor or car.

The above picture is my parents' farm about 1957. Note the house has been remodeled. When my folks moved onto the place in 1940, there was no barn, no silo, no milk house, no chicken coop, no granary and no well.
b) In 1950 there were no pole sheds, or at least very, very few. Note the milk truck box on the cow yard ground on the right side of the photo. I think Dad bought it for about $25 to house young stock.  The pole building boom started a few years later.

c) Sheds made from railroad cars were fairly popular because the well built cars were heavy and great for storing grain.  The picture of the one below was taken recently, but you can imagine when the roof was first erected over the two cars, the structure looked pretty nice.


Country stores like this one in St. Patrick dotted the countryside near lakes or crossroads. Note the feed mill nearby where farmers could bring their corn and oats to be ground and mixed.

Peddlers were often seen in the countryside.
The peddler's name in the picture below is Jaffe and he traveled the area in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's.
Note the wagon had steel front wheels and rear rubber tires. I don't know much about what he had in the wagon, but I know he carried socks and other clothes and some kitchen utensils, but no electrical utensils because most weren't invented yet or just not used in a 1950 farm kitchen.  He also sharpened tools and scissors, etc. and would trade his stuff for eggs or chickens if the farmer had no cash.

When I show this picture to audiences at senior centers, many remember Jaffe.

Farmers did chores by hand. Few farmers had anything automatic. Most dairy farmers in this area milked by hand, too.

I'll just name a few more of the many other difference between 1950 and the present.
There were no shopping centers or chain stores, but small towns had general stores that carried groceries and clothing. Small towns had movie theaters, shoe stores, car dealers, tractor dealers, and ice cream shops.
There were no fast food "restaurants", but small towns had soda fountains, cafes, family-owned restaurants, and taverns that sold hamburgers.

Anything else you can thin of?

1 comment:

  1. Hardware stores! Bins of nails...rolls of perforated caps for our cap guns...scoop shovels... I remember those days when my hometown of Vesta was lined with businesses, bustling with activity. We even had a little popcorn stand. Now Main Street is anchored by a bank, a post office, a liquor store and a cafe. That's it. Other businesses exist in the town, but not downtown. And long closed is the elementary school I attended. So, so sad.