The Hard Life


Barbara Bostrom

Farm life has never been an easy life. But the rewardscan be great. The satisfaction of work well done, the pride in a bountifulcrop, and the realization of the beauty of a field of grain ready for harvest,outweigh the disappointments and hard work involved in farming. Agriculturehas become a highly competitive business. Farming started in the Red RiverValley as a livelihood for individuals who made this area into one of thebest agricultural regions in America. Through the years, and sometimes generations,they created something worthy of pride and appreciation.

Farming in the last century has changed a great deal. Earlierit was done almost entirely with horses and manual labor. It was wise fora farmer to have a large family to help him with the farm work. Farms weresmaller but required more labor to keep up.

A farmer's working day (six days a week, with Sunday atime of rest and Saturday a time for double work) began before 5:00 AM.Livestock were cared for tenderly--they were worth a lot to the farmers.After chores, the farmer had worked up enough appetite for breakfast. Thenthe days work would begin.

A great deal of time was spent clearing, land. Protectingfields against encroaching trees was an almost full-time job,even in theRed River Valley, where there aren't too many trees, Luckily, the rich earthin this area is not easily claimed by trees, and not encumbered with rocks.Although not easy work, the land here offered an easier life than any otherplace in Minnesota.

Winters were far from easy, however. Fuel for heat andcooking was scarce. Cow chips, hay, and straw were used when commercialproducts were not available. Lumber was used, but normally was very scarce.Winters in this north country were fierce, and blizzards cut into many farmerslivestock. Black snows, like those prevalent in the 1930's, also hurt thefarmers. So little snow fell some winters that the fields lost much of theirtopsoil. The dust filled ditches, and blew into houses, making life miseryfor farmers and housewives alike.

Spring brought seeding tine, but not as we know it. Allthe grain was sacked and taken to the field, in this manner. Generally,there were two bushels of wheat to a sack. It took a lot of strength tolift these sacks. The grain was treated for smut by running it through amachine which wetted it with water treated with formaldehyde. On averagedays, they could seed about twenty acres.

The most exiting time of year was harvest. Along with thelong hours of work came community and family get-togethers,and pride inwork well done.

But at all times those prairie pioneers had some very basicworries: where to get fuel, shelter, water, education for the children,and companionship.

Fuel, as mentioned, was hard to find. If a farmer purchasedcoal or lignite, he earned that much less from his farm. Any money savedcould be turned back into land purchases to provide more income. Many farmershoped to do this and many did. It was those foresighted men who built upthis area for agriculture.

Water is found in a usable form only in rivers in the RedRiver Valley. There is, unfortunately, an abundance of alkali and salinewater, which only create problems. This area has always had a water problemdue to the obstruction which lays beneath the soil at various depths, from150 to 250 feet. According to geologists, the rock bed that creates thisobstruction is in an area centered at Warroad, Minnesota.

In the summer of 1898, well drilling equipment and operatorsarrived by railroad. Work on an artesian well was planned and begun at theHill farm. After a week of drilling on this artesian well, the drill workedits way through the rock and into a salt water lake which had so much pressurethat it forced an end to the drilling. The water gushed through the 3 inchdrill hole and shot up 50 feet into the air.

Another attempt was made to drill an artesian well, butdue to the water pressure below the rock obstructions and the quality ofthe water there, this attempt was unsuccessful.

Other wells produced only alkali water, which is not desirable,or useful. Most water in this area has been pumped from the Red River orone of her tributaries.

The rivers also provide shelter, indirectly. It is onlyaround the rivers that lumber is found. For that reason, many homes werebuilt by settlers near to rivers. Otherwise, lumber had to be transportedto the building site. A lot of homes situated near St. Vincent and Humboldtwere built with lumber from the Lancaster area. The cost for these houseswas very high, and involved a large amount of work. A popular way out ofthat was a sod house. That is, it was popular with farmers, it wasn't verypopular with farmers' wives. The work was more and the comfort less, butthe cost involved only the white wash for the inside and wood braces forthe frame.

Education was provided by rural America's gift to the AmericanHeritage: the little red school house. Maybe the Valley schools were notalways red, but they were invariably little. At first, there were many oneroom school houses The districts were later combined to contain more farmersand eventually to contain more towns. As the size of school districts andschools themselves grew, the quality of education in the Valley increased.At one time, there were about a dozen schools between Humboldt and Pembina.These consolidated to form the Humboldt, Pembina and St. Vincent schooldistricts. In a few years, Humboldt and St. Vincent schools consolidated.

The schools and school sponsored activities provided muchof the community activities. Most of the rest of the community social lifecentered around the churches. At the the beginning of the 20th century,each area had many churches. Today, churches have "consolidated"much the same as schools did. There are fewer churches in the area, buttheir quality, if not their importance, has increased.

The quality of life in rural America has improved, andthe Red River Valley is a superlative example of those improvements. Farmingmay not be an easy way of life, but it provides many rewards, not the leastof which is a beautiful area in which to live, made beautiful through thehard work of thousands of persevering individuals.



Bostrom, John

Bostrom, Mabel

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