Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Floyd's Horse Stories: Ranch life in the 1930's

This is about life on the ranch in 1930’s.

Life was different.

My life started on the Getz Ranch back in 1931. The Getz Ranch was a 1600 acre ranch. I was the first of four boys and a sister. The ranch was owned by my grandfather, though my father and his brother were in process of buying it out when I was a kid. The ranch became known as the Getz Brothers Ranch, and remained in the family for 100 years. My grandfather, grandmother, Uncle Bill and my two maiden aunts lived in the big ranch house on the property; while my dad and our family lived there in a smaller house.

It was a big ranch, one of the bigger ranches of the time, running 1500 head of sheep and 275 head of mother cows. If that wasn’t big enough, in 1941, my uncle and dad bought out the Parma Ranch, a 3800 acre ranch that adjoined ours. The Parma had been foreclosed on during the depression, and neglected for 10 years. When my dad and uncle bought it, haying went from 20 days a year to 60. Seemed like we hayed all summer when we got that ranch…

Putting up hay on the Getz Ranch alone was a big job. We had to put up enough hay to feed 250 head of cattle and 1500 sheep through the winter. It took 15 teams, or 30 horses; and 19 men: 15 men to handle the horses, and four men to stack the hay. Then my two aunts and my mother would be busy taking care of feeding the crew, which was also a pretty big job. Every day, they’d bring a hot lunch out to the hay field: meat, potatoes, vegetables, ice tea, and then always 4-5 pies, every day. The haying operation was 6 days a week, and before they bought the Parma, it usually took about 18-22 working days to put up all the hay. It was a busy time, as you can figure.

As for the horses, well, the 15 teams consisted of 5 horse mowers, 5 sulky rakes, 4 horse buck rakes, and the stacker team. Most of the horses were heavy duty draft type horses of no particular breed. Our stud horse worked out there with the rest of them. He was a big stocky horse named Dick, and was teamed with a mare named Pearl on the mowing machine. When he wasn’t working, we ran him with the rest of the horses and there was no problem; they all got along.

Minnie & Mandy ran the buck rake. Those two were big mares, a Belgium type, though back then, nobody talked about pure breeds. It took a special horse to work the buck rake. The team was not hitched side by side, but rather one on each side of the bull rake. The back wheels of the bull rake were what are called “crazy wheels,” which means they’d come down on an angle, and could turn and go in all directions depending on which way they were pushed or pulled. That way, you could back up the team and the rake, really push or pull it in any direction you wanted to go. The driver was situated in the middle over the wheels, and had quite a job of directing the horses separately at times to move the rake just so. To turn, you’d slow up one horse, and have the outside horse speed up to pull the out side around. When they pushed hay onto the stacker, they had to back up together to pull the bull rake backwards. Sometimes they had to stop, give the pile of hay a push to get the hay onto stacker. They were pretty remarkable.

The other class of horse was the light horses that pulled the sulky rakes. The sulkies were easy to pull, so required a lighter horse. But the sulky was the most dangerous equipment on field because that rake was so light. If the horses spooked, they could take off running with the 12 foot wide rake bouncing behind them.

One time I remember, the horses did run away with the rake. My cousin was driving the team and she fell in front of teeth of the rake. For 200-300 yards, those horses ran, pulling the rake and rolling her in front of the teeth. The only reason we figured she didn’t get killed was because when they ran to the gate they hit the post with the wheel, and it stopped the teams. The gate was only 12 foot wide, and the rake was about the same. To get through, you had to be lined up just right. Fortunately, those running horses didn’t space it perfect. As you can figure, it took a lot of hide off my cousin, but she lived.

The hardest job in the hay field for the teams was the mowing machine. The cutting blade, or sickle, was six feet across, and the team had to pull this machine with enough power to run the sickle. To make matters more difficult, the blade stuck out to one side of the team, so the team had to pull against the drag off to the right from the blade. You had to really work to keep them driving straight, and hold that tongue straight between the two horses. Each night, my dad looked at the necks of the horses and inspected where the collar fit to make sure they weren’t eaten out from the pull of the mower.

I suppose I first became aware of all this around 1937. I was six, and my brother, Melvin was five. We started our first business that year. Can’t say it was much of a success. We started by buying a case of pop and a box of Hershey bars. Then we’d go out in the hay field and hang out by the stack and try to sell them to the hay men. We didn’t sell very many. You’d a thought maybe they would have bought them since we were the bosses sons, but when you’re only making a dollar a day plus room and board, which was the standard back then (2 dollars a day if you supplied your own team), there wasn’t much for pop and candy.

Well, it turned out to be my first business defeat. Our cost was about half of what we sold them for, and about the time we sold about half of our inventory, we were hanging out by the stack, and got distracted by something, which is no real surprise, considering our young age. So, we put the pop and candy on the north side of the stack to stay cool and took off to do something else. While we were gone, they moved the stacker around to the north side of the pile, and started stacking the hay on top of our goods. By the time we returned, there was a pile about 6 feet high already. In the spring when they fed the cattle out, I bet they found some old, moldy goods under there and wondered where they might have come from.

In 1941 when I was 10, my uncle Bill cut down a seat of one of the sulky rakes short enough so I could sit on it, run the rake, and drive the team. To operate the sulky, you hold the rake down with one foot, then lift your foot and step on the trip lever. All this while keeping and eye on the load and directing the team. I ran that sulky rake for two years. Then I was big enough to sit on a regular seat, so my brother Melvin got the short seat

It wasn’t until about 1943 we got our first tractor with a tractor mower. That took the place of two teams. We operated with just 3 horse mowers and that tractor mower for a couple years. Then we got a dump rake for the tractor which took the place of 3 teams. Then a couple years later, we got 2 tractor motors which took the place of all the horses. Things moved much faster with the motorized equipment: we could run the tractors as long as there was light, usually for 2 shifts a day.

We thought we were pretty first class, and I suppose the Getz Ranch was actually rather cutting edge. My Uncle Bill was mechanically inclined. He started with a 1929 Ford Coupe. That’s what he built the first buck rake out of. It wasn’t really heavy enough, so he bought some old Model A trucks and converted them by turning the seat around, moving the steering, and operating them backwards.

In any case, the horses were probably all replaced by tractors for the hay operation by 1946 or 47.
(Photos above: The cute kid in irrigation boots is Floyd standing proud with his shovel next to his dad, both ready to head to work. A field at the Getz Ranch. And the team ready to work for the day, with a foal ready to follow along and learn the ropes.)