Bourbon Sesquicentennial


The Changing Face of Agriculture

Early settler's of Bourbon township all had farming skills to varying degrees simply as a tool for survival. They couldn't have selected a better site for farming -- once the trees were cleared and the swamps were drained. Under all of that cover they discovered some of the richest, most fertile soil in the county.

The farms were very general in nature and self-sustaining. Each farm family planted a variety of crops, milked at least one cow, fed livestock, raised chickens and gathered eggs. Many had orchards, grape arbors, gardens and herb patches. The grain grown on the farm would feed the animals and the family. Seeds were saved at harvest to plant the fields and gardens the following year.

As the farms grew and the farmers produced more than needed by the family, excess farm products were used for trade. Cash was seldom needed. Businesses kept records of work provided or goods purchased. Farmers would go to town when possible and make a payment on their bill with a bag of oats, rye or wheat, five pounds of butter, basket of eggs, bushel of apples, etc. (Even into the 1970's, Uncle Dan Zimmerman would often pay Dr. Connell for a home visit with a large jar of sauerkraut or a bottle of his best dandelion wine.) Once the railroad came to town, better roadways were built, and the farmers were able to get the needed tools to work more land, they began to produce additional crops and farm products in a quantity to sell to outside markets.

Around 1900, the size of the average farm was 80 acres but 40 acres was enough to provide a living for a family of 10 or more. Up to this time land was cheap and abundant and little attention was given to maintaining the fertility of the soil. Purdue University, the state's land grant college, had begun field tests with fertilizers in the 1870's but it wasn't until the early 1900's that simple commercial fertilizers were put to general use on local farms. Improved equipment and well tiled fields made it possible for farmers to increase the size of their farms and, using better farming methods, to increase the productivity of the acres they farmed.

Horse-drawn equipment was gradually replaced with steam operated and eventually gas powered machinery which, again, made it possible for the farmer to handle more acres of field crops. Grain harvesting using steam-powered equipment was part of agriculture life around 1880 and into the 1920's. The Hart-Parr #1 in 1906 became the first machine to be identified by the word "tractor" which was actually short for "gasoline traction engine". That term became common in reference to any self-propelled gasoline tractor. In the 1920's there were 196 tractor manufacturers; among them were Fordson, Waterloo Boy, International Harvester, Rumley, John Deere, J. I. Case, etc. Only about half of that number was able to weather the Depression and by 1993 there were only 7 major American farm machinery companies left, those being often conglomerations of former companies. The availability of motorized equipment also caused the variety of crops to change slightly as less oats were needed for the horses. It became easier to raise corn and soybeans which were more profitable, but it wasn't until the 1950's that farmers finally got away from forty inch rows that were originally required when farming with horses.

The livestock owned by early settlers ran loose and foraged for food. As more land was cleared and farms grew in size, barns were built and fencing was put up that would (usually) keep farm animals confined. Animals still grazed but they did it on land owned by the farmer. In 1842 livestock prices were low ..... steers & cows, $6 to $10, sheep, $1.25 to $1.70 each. Improved breeds of hogs sold for $1 to $1.75 per hundred weight, and chickens could not be sold singly because there was no silver coin small enough to express their value. Wheat was bringing 60 cents per bushel: corn, 21 cents; and oats, 19 cents.

By 1918, the prices were a bit higher but getting animals to market sometimes presented challenges that would be hard to picture today. There were stock yards located in Bourbon and Inwood where animals could be penned until loaded onto train cars headed for market. Harry McCollough described driving cattle to the Majors Packing Plant in Mishawaka. He and sister, Faye, would start early in the morning walking a group of cattle on the road headed north. Their father, Charlie McCollough, would ride ahead in a buggy and trade with farmers along the route. Because most farm fields were fenced, the kids didn't have to worry about keeping the cattle together. Families along the way knew they were coming and would often meet them with a glass of water and either add an animal to the drive or cut one out, depending on the trade agreement made by Charlie. When they reached Mishawaka and delivered the cattle to the plant, they would climb into the buggy for the ride back home, the kids usually falling asleep before they were out of Mishawaka.

With the guidance of the local Extension Service and Purdue University, many technological changes in farm practices have resulted in major increases in output per acre, per animal and per farm worker. There is a record of increased efficiency on the farm that can seldom be matched in any other place in America's economy. This has resulted in a better life for farm-families and cheaper, more abundant and nutritious food for all people.

The roaring 20's and the dismal 30's can be remembered by a few of our readers. Farm prices had been good for farmers during World War I and encouraged the purchase of more land, machinery and farm improvements. By the early 20's the farm economy began to worsen and living conditions for farmers (even with the high war time prices) were not all that great. Fewer than 22% of farm families had running water. Most were still reading by kerosene lamps, heating with wood or coal stoves and washing clothes by hand. In 1935, the state legislature passed the R.E.M.C. Act, just the beginning of a brighter future for farm families.

Technology has provided many improvements to life on the farm, in the home, in the barn, in the field, and in the community. One of the best things that happened to farm children was the consolidation of schools, bringing farm and city kids together in the classroom. For dad, it was the ability to raise better crops with higher yields on more acres. Farm wives and children still had to help with the chores but it took less time to tend more animals and when it came time to sell the livestock, there was always a place nearby to market them.

The farm community supported many businesses in Bourbon township. Seeds and fertilizers were sold and delivered in the Spring by many farmer-dealers as a sideline to provide added income. Fertilizers, herbicides & insecticides could be purchased at the Bourbon, Etna Green, Inwood, or Metheny elevators as well as from farm fertilizer dealers such as Otis Thacker. When Jim Sommer and Roland Wagoner purchased the Floyd Hines Equipment Co. on Center street in 1953, the mechanics at the new Bourbon Farm & Home Supply, could either fix the machinery or sell the farmer a new International Harvester machine. If the farmer preferred John Deere, he could go see Howard "Pick" Dillingham in 1953. Faulkner's Machine Shop could make repairs or, if the farmer needed something built, they could build it. Other reliable businesses making repairs were Cal Grosvenor, Ed Wiley, and in more recent years, Klingerman Welding has taken on the tasks. The Amish community and area farmers were served by Walter Burkholder.

When it came time to sell the livestock, there were a number of farmers with straight trucks who could be hired to haul a few head to the sale barn. For larger loads and longer hauls, Ecker, Everly, Gochenour or Reichert had semi trucks ready to handle the task. Early hog markets included one in Inwood run by Charles 0. McCollough and Brady Brothers in Bourbon. In later years, there were local hog markets at Bourbon, Clunefte, and Plymouth, where the daily price was known, and farmers could try to pick the best time to sell. The Etna-Bourbon Community Sale barn was opened in 1954 by Loren "Dutch" Lemert & K. P. Wright. Every Thursday, order buyers lined the ring to select and bid on the animals they thought would return the best price at the packing plant & farmers could buy animals to "finish out". Farmers could sell their grain at market prices or feed it to livestock hoping to realize a higher profit when the finished animals were sold.

Ecker Truck Service, founded by Ed Ecker, was basically known for its fleet of livestock trucks. Ed also owned a moving van which had a colorful history. During World War 11, Harry McCollough bought his wife a refrigerator by making room on the truck for "just one more" when hauling a limited load from Chicago to Clem Volpert in Plymouth. The van moved Benny Scheider's household goods to California. It hauled frozen chickens to the east coast and, on one return trip, carried a load of one-cent post cards from Philadelphia to Chicago (Harry had to clean the van between those loads). Culver Military Academy contracted with Eckers to transport the horses for the Black Horse Troop to Washington, D.C. for several inaugural parades. The numbers of livestock on local farms declined and many of the sale barns closed. When Jim Wenino and Jerry Greenlee purchased the business from Faith Shearer in 1972, they turned to tanker trucks hauling fuel but eventually sold the business and Ecker Truck Service was no more.

At one time, no self-respecting farm would be without good fences around each field. Strong fences were needed to keep the livestock on the farm and just about every farm had at least a few head of beef cattle, hogs, sheep, dairy cows, or goats and/or a coop full of poultry. Ollie Hanes, Howard Brock and Leonard Miller probably installed most of the fences that now stand in the township. Few remain. Those that do, just as likely are there to contain buffalo, emus, ostrich, or llamas. Pot-bellied pigs have become house pets and wouldn't recognize a fence if they saw it.

Most of the fences have been removed as farms now focus on large fields and grain farming. If there are livestock, they are usually housed in confinement units. Where farms were once family owned or worked by tenant farmers, many farmers today are likely to be renting as much or more land than they own and some of those may work part time in off-the-farm jobs. Equipment is large and expensive. It is needed to cover the number of acres necessary to provide a decent living. Few small farms remain. Many have been incorporated into larger farms, paved over for super highways or converted to building sites for urban development.

Today, the Bourbon Elevator is gone. Bourbon Silo Company is gone. There are no more local feed dealers in Bourbon township. The sale barn and the hog buying station closed years ago. There are no more trucking companies (UPS will not deliver livestock). There are no machinery dealers, only small engine equipment can be purchased in the township. It is ironic that while we still have some of the best farm ground in the county and are still primarily an agricultural township, the only things that can be purchased here are items for a suburban culture. We have one bright spot, Custom Farm Services is still in business east of town.

The face of agriculture has indeed changed. In 1853 everyone had the skills needed to be a farmer. In 2003, the typical farmer is management, labor, a plant and soil scientist, financial expert, engineer, environmentalist, conservationist, vet tech, but most of all an optimist.

Judy McCollough for the Sesquicentennial History Commiftee


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