Emil’s Leading-Edge Style

How shall we describe Emil as a farmer? In Homestead, his daughter Clara is direct: “Emil was the first farmer to have a modern farm in the coulee.” Sid confirms this progressive way about his father: it was important to Emil to live and farm with the latest in modern inventions. For the son of immigrants, surely this drive was very American. In another time and place, cousin Judy muses, he may have become an engineer.

So where in the life of this Fitch Coulee family and farm do we find evidence of Emil’s desire for advanced technology?

The Delco system that provided electricity prior to rural electrification in the thirties was further back than Sid’s memory will take us! He was born in 1923. As I understand the system, a gas-powered generator stored electric power in batteries. Sid remembers 12 batteries hooked together providing power to the barn and the house. All light bulbs, he says, were 25 watt. Emil may have had electricity 20 years before the REA brought it to the whole area.

The Pinetree milking machines in the barn were powered by this Delco system, which sometimes had to be run longer to re-charge from heavy barn use. Sid remembers these double bucket milking machines which were followed in the thirties by the well-known and successful Surge milkers.

Emil bought a Ford Model T car in 1917 and later a Model T truck with rear dual wheels of two-inch solid rubber and rubber tires on the front. The ending to this latter vehicle was not a happy one. In the thirties, I suppose, several guys went fishing in Vosse Coulee with Ernest Cook when the ignition system burned out and could never be used. To start the truck, Emil would crank it, which did the trick – except one time in Whitehall. After he cranked, he wasn’t quite quick enough to the driver’s seat – and the truck got hit by a train. Sid understands that’s the last time Emil drove any vehicle.

Emil also bought a Fordson tractor in 1923 (would you call him a Ford man or what?). Apparently he himself never drove this, but Bennie did – who would have been 16 years in 1923. With this tractor Emil powered a Rowell 13″ silo filler and he would fill all the silos in Fitch Coulee. That’s probably a good indication he was a leader in the latest equipment. He also cut oats with the binder.

a typical silo filler

Two silos constructed in 1916 (featured in a June 7 post) were a key change to feeding milk cows well throughout the winter. The silo salesman apparently told Emil that he could feed from both silos at the same time. Wrong! They learned that they couldn’t feed it fast enough to avoid spoilage.

Cement floors were throughout the barn at this time, Sid says. I don’t know when Emil or his father did that, but it would make a critical difference in efficiency and cleanliness (which was increasingly valued by creameries). Perhaps cement was put in when steel stanchions and drinking cups for the cows were added in the 1915 renovations (Homestead, 35).

A McCormick Deering cream separator was Emil’s purchase from a local hardware store in 1931. Springing cows were sold to make this purchase (see the June 22 post with photo of Twin Cow and calves with Sid). The old stone milk house had a cement tank to hold milk cans and pipes to run cold water for cooling the milk and/or cream. This was no small matter for a quality product.

When the federal government instigated conservation programs following the devastating Dust Bowl,  strip cropping came to the Fitch Coulee farm, probably in mid 30s or so. “I remember some deep ditches before this,” Sid added. He thinks his brother Garven began this practice which continued after he left for his own farm.

Well, that’s a sampling of Emil’s leading-edge approach to farming. I hope to return to a few of these topics later. But don’t you wish we could have interviewed Emil ourselves? I have a new appreciation of my grandfather. I am sure there were other machines too, and even ordinary practices, which fit his progressive style. My special thanks to Sid and Irene for helping bring this topic to life.

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2 Responses to Emil’s Leading-Edge Style

  1. judy borreson caruso says:

    Fascinating post. How farming techniques/practices have changed over the years! Thanks for all your research on this, Glenn.


    • Glenn Borreson says:

      I think I read in one of Jerry Apps’ fine books about rural Wisconsin that only half of Wisconsin farms had electricity even by 1950 – which really makes Emil’s Delco system (1920, more or less) more impressive.

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