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Richard Shafer Autobiography:   toc  |  previous chapter  |   next chapter
The Life of Richard Shafer
©1988 Glenn Shafer


The way we farmed in the late '40s was not too different from the way my parents farmed twenty years earlier. Like my parents, we had a diversified farm, with milk cows, chickens, hogs, grain farming, and gardening. Like my father, I used both tractors and horses. Like my father, I went out on threshing crews.

There were differences. My father loved gardening. He would raise and peddle all kinds of garden produce. I was never interested in that. I was more interested in raising a big grain crop than in selling a little something here and a little something there. I was also interested in beef cattle. My father never had enough pasture or hay for beef cattle. I did, and by the early '50s, I managed to build up a real nurse herd.

There were changes by the early '50s. Threshing machines were replaced by moving combines, and the threshing crew became a thing of the past. Haying also became less social, as pickup balers replaced the older stationary ones. Work horses began to disappear. But I still loved farming.

I have never lost my love for the farm. I still enjoy working with cattle and hay. I still feel the temptation, when things are pretty in the spring, to put in a crop and watch it grow.


We had brought three milk cows from Cotton Valley. Two of them, Betty and Red, I had raised from calves before the war. The other, Bertha, was my Dad's cow. I bought another milk cow, Shy, at the Sanders' sale. I got the four cows tested and got a license to sell milk retail. I delivered to about 20 customers. I sold each about a quart a day.

Three of those cows, Betty, Bertha, and Shy, were part Jersey and part Hereford. Jerseys are brown milk cows, and Herefords are red and white beef cows. They have white faces, and red bodies with white markings. When you cross a Jersey and a Hereford, you usually get a red cow with a white face. That cross happened quite a bit, because the beef cattle around were mostly Herefords. People with a few milk cows seldom had a dairy bull, but either they or their neighbor would have white-faced bull. So there were a lot of part-Jersey white-faced cattle around.

I'm not sure where Bertha came from. I thought we had her at the greenhouse, but my sister Helen claims Daddy bought her at a sale during the war. She says that she loaned Daddy the money. That disturbed Mother, but Daddy told her that Helen's girls really needed the milk. It was Daddy who loved the milk the most.

Betty really could kick. She produced a lot of roan heifers for me. Red was a darker red cow. She never did have a heifer calf.

I got tired of peddling milk after about a year. I was only getting 13¢ a quart, and I was spending a lot of time and gasoline for only a few dollars a day. Anna had a lot of work with the baby, and I was tired of being tied up delivering milk. So I started selling cream and feeding the separated milk to the pigs.

In the spring of 1947, I bought a real good Ayrshire. She was the best milk cow I had ever seen. She gave six or seven gallons a day. We lost her the next year. She just got thinner and thinner and finally died, probably of "hardware." That's what we called it when a cow's intestines were ruined by old nails or other metal it picked up grazing.

In the spring of 1949, we were milking four mixed cows, mostly roans. We were producing enough milk that we could get the Page Milk truck to come from Coffeyville to pick it up. So we started selling Grade C milk instead of cream. We put the evening milk cans in tubs of water by the driveway to keep them cool overnight, and then we got the morning milking done early, before the truck came. After it came, we would use the water to feed chickens and to water the cedar trees we had planted along the driveway for a windbreak.

We wanted to build the dairy herd up, so we bought five dairy heifers that year. In the spring Elton and I went to a sale up at Independence where a fellow was selling Wisconsin dairy stock, and I spent $140 for four week-old Guernsey heifers. I had to borrow the money. I also bought a week-old Holstein in the fall. They all came fresh in the spring of 1952.

At the same time, I was trying to build up a beef herd. I had been keeping a white-faced bull since 1946, so the herd was getting beefier. In 1948, I had about twelve cows, and my dad had four or five. Unfortunately, bangs (brucellosis) got into the herd that year, and only four of my twelve cows had calves. I sold off most of the ones who lost their calves. After that, I always had my calves vaccinated for bangs.

In the early '50s, about the time the Guernseys started milking, I finally did get a white-faced herd built up. That herd was by far my best money maker on the farm.

I still have a white-faced nurse herd. I run it the usual way. I let the bull run free with the cows. When you do that, they usually have their calves in the spring. I let the cows nurse their calves while they are on good grass during the spring and summer, and then, in the fall, I round the calves up and fatten them for a month or two on grain and prairie hay. Then I send them to market. I feed the cows prairie hay and a little protein supplement to get them through the winter.


At the Sanders' sale, Elton and I bought a bunch of pigs together. He took four, and I took four. They really did good. Just as we were ready to sell ours, at the end of September, the price controls went off, and we sold them for 27¢ a pound. The ceiling before that had been 18 or 19¢.

My dad used to tease me about not feeding my pigs anything but corn and water. I never believed in feeding them slop. Slop is what we called the soaked grain, mostly wheat shorts, that most people fed pigs in those days. It was a cheap way to fatten them, but it produced soft pork. My pork was solid. In 1947 I sold some of my pigs to Ferd Estes, a Caney grocer, to butcher for his store. Every time he saw me after that he asked me if I had any more of those pigs.

We kept hogs and raised pigs for many years in a pigpen to the north of the house. We never did butcher and cure a pig ourselves, but a locker plant was built in Caney around 1948, and we had a pig butchered there about every year.

We finally tore the pigpen down in the early '60s. Anna was glad to see it go, because the north wind sometimes brought the odor into the house. The concrete slab it sat on is still there.


May Sanders had already ordered 200 Leghorn pullets when we bought the farm in 1946, and we took them when they came. We paid her what she had paid for them, 42¢ a piece. My folks were shocked at the price, but you couldn't get that quality of laying chickens for less. We had them uptown for a while before we got possession of the place. Eggs were 50¢ a dozen that winter, which was a real good price. We had plenty of grain to feed them, and we bought mash from Cliff Jones. They made believers out of my parents, they laid so well. The next spring we bought 200 more.

The chickens ran loose, just as they had done on the farm when I was a kid. There was sometimes a problem with a hawk or dog or possum, but we didn't lose too many. We did have to be sure they were shut up in the chicken house by sunset, so the coyotes wouldn't get them. A few times when we weren't home before dark, we had to use the car lights to find them in the trees.

The Sanders had a fenced-in yard around the house, to keep the chickens out. That was nice. We didn't have to worry about chicken droppings on the back step like when I was a kid. We could also have flowers in the yard. We had flags, poppies, hollyhocks, and sweet peas. Anna also usually had a little flower bed in the spring where she would raise petunias and other little flowers for Decoration Day.

We never incubated our own eggs, but we usually kept a rooster just for fun. I remember one big red rooster that was a real terror. It took after Glenn once, when he was about two. My dad saw that, and he went straight for that rooster and had its head off in nothing flat. He gave it to Anna, and said, "We're having rooster for dinner." He didn't ask or anything.

There wasn't any problem selling all those eggs, but we didn't really have a proper place to keep the chickens. By '50 or '51, we had cut down to about a hundred new pullets a year. We used the south part of the old garage and the lean-to on the south of it as a chicken house, but we were not very satisfied with that. It was too crowded and not tight enough. The chickens' combs would freeze in the winter.

Anna and I started a new chicken house about 1949. We ran a 20' by 20' foundation by hand, but then we ran out of money and energy, and we left it set for a while. We finished the job in 1951. We ran a concrete floor in two sections. We put up the rafters in the middle of the summer, after haying. Anna and my folks put tar paper on the roof one weekend while I was gone for some farm-school activity, and my dad and I covered it with corrugated aluminum. It was a tight and roomy chicken house, and we were proud of it. We had some fine chickens in it. We kept chickens there until '58 or '59.


I had four horses when I started farming, Dan and Bonnie, the horses I had from before the war, and Queen and Beauty, the beautiful workhorses I bought from Alf Sanders.

Dan wasn't too much use to me. He had been running loose the three years I was gone, and he was pretty wild. One day I rode him out to round up the cows, and he bucked for an eighth of a mile, from the south pond down to the little field. I suppose he could have been tamed again, but I lost patience with him. I told L.B. Moreland he could have him for $50. He offered me $35, and then added, "I'll give you the rest of the fifty if you ride him for me." I settled for the thirty-five.

Bonnie was a dependable and gentle old horse, and I kept her around until she died, in the '60s. She was so gentle that Glenn could read magazines as he rode her to get the milk cows in the evenings.

I spent a lot of time the first two summers on the farm cultivating corn with Queen and Beauty. It takes 10 one-quarter mile rows to make an acre. You think a lot about that when you are walking up and down the field all day. Two acres is a pretty good day's work. Leo McClure told me once that a good team of mules can do three acres a day. Big horses aren't quite so fast. They are better at pulling big loads than at walking in plowed ground.

Queen developed a sore on her shoulder that first summer, and for a while I cultivated with Beauty and Bonnie. Alf Sanders saw I wasn't using Queen and asked me why. He looked Queen over, wallowed around the tobacco in his mouth, and thought for a while. Then he spit the tobacco out and said, "I'd work her, that's what I'd do." So I did. I rubbed a mixture of lard and turpentine in the sore every evening, and it healed up in three or four weeks, while I worked her. I suppose he must have known what he was talking about. She must have had sores like that before.

The first summer I used Daddy's old walking cultivator, but the second summer I used a riding cultivator. I don't remember where I got it. My dad probably bought it at a sale. He loved going to sales, and he was always bringing something home we could use. The cultivator probably didn't cost too much. Most people were cultivating with tractors by that time, so there wasn't too much demand for old cultivators. About the same time, I also got a horse disk cultivator. I still have those two cultivators.

In the fall of 1948, I got a tractor I could use for cultivating, and after that I used Queen and Beauty mainly just for the buck rake in the hay field and for pulling the wagon when we shucked corn.

I loved those two horses, and I kept them long after they were of any use to me. Queen was hamstrung in both legs when I finally sold her in 1952 for $16. I kept Beauty until 1956, when I got mad and sold her. I had taken her down to Dennis Foote's and tried to get her bred, but she wasn't quite in, and I hurt my arm trying to hold her still as she was shying away from Dennis's stud. I took her out on the road, turned her loose, and yelled, "Git home." Dennis looked at me and said, "Do you suppose she will?" I said, "I don't care whether she does or not." I didn't take her back to Dennis's to try again. Some fellow came by and wanted her, and I sold her to him for $50.


I started farming with the machinery my father had from his farming days. He still had the old Case tractor with the motor that set sideways. It was something between a 1918 and a 1922 model. He also had a plow, a drill, a walking cultivator, an old sulky rake, and a really old disk.

At the Sanders' sale, I bought a wagon, a rack, and an ensilage cutter. I also bought a corn planter at a sale south of Tyro; I remember going to get it with the old Chevy pickup. The next year I bought a real good binder, for $97, at a sale on Tenth Street Road, between Coffeyville and Independence.

The old Case only lasted about a year. A rod went out of it early the next spring. We tried to replace it with a rod from another old Case just like it that we bought for parts, but we couldn't keep it tight. We figured that the crankshaft wasn't any good, and since the crankshaft in the one we had bought for parts wasn't any good either, we just abandoned the tractor. By that time we did have the spring crop in.

Late that spring, I paid $153 for an old International Harvester 10-20 at a sale up by Independence. The guy who had the sale had been drafted into World War I together with my dad. Daddy did the bidding, but I paid for it. It was another old tractor, dating from about 1936. It had rubber tires on the front and steel lugs on the back, so I drove it home on back roads. We soon found out that it needed some work. We tore the transmission out in the summer and put a lot of new bearings and gears in; we spent $215 for the parts. Then we plowed the wheat ground with it. It seemed pretty good to me, but my dad didn't think it was running very well, so we looked into the motor. The pistons were loose in the sleeves. We sent the motor over to Isham's in Coffeyville to have it overhauled. That cost another $200, but then it was in real good shape. I still have that old 10-20, though I haven't started it up in years.

The fall of the next year, 1948, I paid $1,680 for a 1947 Case VAC tractor, with mounted plow, cultivator, corn planter, and mowing machine. It was a little tractor, really handy. I used it for everything. I still use it for mowing, raking, and hauling hay.

That little tractor has run pretty well for me over the years, but of course, it does have a problem now and then. The oil pump went out on it while I was combining wheat on the Jackson place the summer of 1952, and I just ruined the motor. It cost me $430 to get it rebuilt by Whorl Implement in Independence. They did it pretty quick. I will never forget Anna driving it out to the field for me when they brought it back. I was out there trying to finish the job with the old 10-20.


I always enjoyed grain farming, especially in the spring, when everything looks so pretty. After I gave up farming, it was always in the spring that I felt so tempted to go back into it.

I always planted corn in the spring, and sometimes oats. I tried soybeans a couple of years, but I never succeeded with them. In the fall I planted wheat.

I did real well with grain the first two years. The wheat, oats, and corn Alf sold me with the place did real well, and the next year I had a nice oat crop, some wheat, and a little corn.

Alf had the small field by the barn (two or three acres), the first field below the hill (15 acres), and the small field in the back forty (six acres) all in wheat. It was a nice crop, between 20 and 25 bushels to the acre. It was a smooth, tall-growing, soft wheat called Clarkan. We sold some and kept some for the cows and chickens. Wheat makes good chicken feed. You can't really afford to feed it to cows, but I always gave them a little.

Alf had the big field, east of the first field, divided between oats and corn, about eleven acres of oats and thirteen acres of corn. The oats were fair. We used them mostly for the cows. The corn probably made 20 to 25 bushels to the acre, which also was not bad for me. It all went to the cows and pigs.

Most of the grain I grew in those years went to feed livestock. When I started farming I had the two mills my father had used when he was farming. I only needed one, so I sold the other one to L.B. Moreland.

I did sometimes sell a little grain. Once, about 1950, Moreland wanted to buy some corn from me. I sold him 200 bushels for $1 a bushel. He was willing to pay cash right then - he always carried a lot of cash - but he said it would be a couple of days before he picked it up. I said, no, pay me when you pick it up. He left it there for three months. In the meantime, the price of corn on the market went up to $1.35. On top of that, I was taking the shrinkage. I finally went down to his house and told him that he had three more days to pick it up. He got right out for it.

The grain crops weren't always so good in later years. It was wet late in the spring in 1948, and the wheat and the oats rotted in the shocks. I only got about 100 bushel of half-rotted wheat from 20 acres. I fed the oats to the cows in the bundles.

I had some fair corn in 1948 and 1949, and I made a little money feeding it and the separated milk to the pigs. The stand wasn't too good in 1949. When Floyd Schwanebeck visited late in August, he asked me why there were big skips in the field. I had to tell him that it just hadn't all come up.

I never did manage to harvest a good crop of soybeans. In 1949, I rented eighteen acres from Wink Edwards's son Glenn. Edwards's wife had died, and he was living in town, then, and his son was managing the place. I planted about six acres of soybeans there, but I didn't get the rest of it planted. There was so much shattering that I barely got enough soybeans to cover the combine bill.

I did get a good grain crop now and then, but there were a lot of failures, and my yields were never as good as other people in the country were getting. I never wanted to borrow money to invest in fertilizer like a lot of people did. And I'm not sure it would have paid off. I was working with sloping land that had been farmed and eroded for a long time. It wasn't river-bottom land.

I always enjoyed crops, but looking back, I can't say that I did very well with them. I used to say that my cattle always paid for my farming.


When I started farming, wheat and oats were still harvested with binders and threshing machines. The binder was a horse drawn implement from early in the century. You used it to bind the grain plants into little bundles. It took two people to operate it, one person to direct the horses, and another to sit in the back and tie the binder twine around the bundles as they came out. After that you walked through the field tying the bundles into shocks, which set in the field until the threshing crew got there with the threshing machine. It was a big machine that set in one place and was usually powered by a belt from the power-take-off of a big tractor. The threshers would bring the bundles to it from the field on wagons.

Within a few years after I started farming, binders and threshing machines were replaced by combines, machines that combine the cutting and threshing. They do it all as they are pulled through the field by tractor. The straw and chaff is discarded out the back of the combine as it is pulled along.

The binding and threshing was a lot less efficient, but I really enjoyed it more. It was a social affair. Combining is a one-man operation. You only see other people when someone comes with a truck for you to dump the grain in.

The Carter brothers threshed for me the first summer, and the second summer I joined their crew. The Carters had a threshing machine and a tractor to run it, and they also supplied a couple of bundle wagons. There were usually eight bundle wagons altogether, most of them supplied by people like me, who were trading work. Each bundle wagon was pulled by a team of two horses, except that the Carters used mules the year I was on the crew. Two men worked with each bundle wagon. One pitched, and one loaded; and then when they got to the threshing machine they both pitched. Curt Carter kept the machine oiled and running, and his brother Tom sat in the truck. In that outfit, Curt was the crew boss, and Tom was the money manager.

I used my hay rack for a bundle wagon, and I hired my cousin Charles Scott as my pitcher. We had a lot of fun that year. Charles was a slow and easy fellow, and we had a lot of time to talk. I remember once when we spilled a load of Ray Jack's oat shocks on the road on Glatfelder hill. We got most of it loaded back up, but an old Model A without any brakes came over the hill, caught the last four or five bundles, and threshed them on the way down. There wasn't a grain left. Ray Jack didn't think it was very funny.

There were 21 men on the crew. I remember the count, because they were at our place over noontime, and we had to furnish dinner. We worked every day for more than two weeks. We were trading work, but we counted the time we spent on different places, and paid the difference in money. We took care of my wheat and oats in about half a day, but of course we spent a lot of time on the Carter ranch. We also spent a lot of time on the Canary ranch for Bill Kirby.

I didn't go out with the crew the next year. That was the year my grain rotted in the shocks, and I didn't need much threshing. The Carters' crew took care of what I had in about an hour and half.

The next summer, 1949, I heard that Bill Rogers wanted to sell his threshing machine. He already had about five people lined up wanting to thresh, but he wanted to get out of the business. I borrowed $200 to buy his machine. I ran it, and we made enough threshing for the people Rogers had lined up to pay for the machine. I suppose that wasn't too bad for a week to ten days of work, but it wasn't a very good machine. It wasn't very good to start with, and it really wasn't very good when I got through with it.

Daddy didn't help me thresh, because he was already working at Ottawa then. But the last day he and my mother showed up while I was finishing up at Frank Friedline's. When he got there, the machine had gotten stopped up because they were throwing the bundles in too fast. "Just put them in one at a time," he told them. When Daddy said that, Frank started cussing at him. That made me mad, and I started to shut the machine down to go home. "No, don't do it. Finish," Daddy said. But no one was going to talk to my dad that way. Finally Frank apologized, and we finished the job.

I used that threshing machine again in the spring of 1950, and then I used it in the fall to thresh some kafir corn for Barton over at the Old Swede's place. I must have used it in the spring of '51, too. That was about the end of it. Everybody was getting their own combine, and nobody wanted to join a threshing crew. In the fall of '51, Garold had a bunch of maize to cut, and we went together to buy a combine, for $250 each.


I have always enjoyed haying, even as it has changed over the years. On our farm, we have always harvested native prairie hay from the 53-acre virgin meadow down the road south of our house, just across the state line into Oklahoma.

The first summer we were on the farm the hay crop was poor - only 19 ton. By that I mean 19x30, or 570 bales. You count 30 bales as a ton of hay, though often the bales may be lighter than that.

Elton baled my hay that first summer. I ran the sulky rake and hauled with Queen and Beauty. In those days we used two rakes in the hay field. We used a sulky rake, or a dump rake, to put the hay in windrows. Then we used a buck rake, or a go-devil, to pick up enough hay for four to six bales and push it over to the hay baler.

The next summer the crop was good - 47 ton. But it cost me quite a bit to get it put up. The Aggas boys baled it. I used Queen and Beauty again on the sulky rake. Bill Fecht helped pitch the hay. The bill for putting it up was $458. I had to borrow some money from Daddy to pay for it, and I liked to never have gotten it paid off. I sold some of the hay to Wallace Ward that year - 3 or 4 ton at $14 a ton.

Charles Scott hauled hay for me in those years. He would get Homer and Johnny to help him. They didn't like the heat of the day, so they would always haul at night. Once when they were coming out of the hay meadow after midnight, a highway patrolman stopped them. Somehow they convinced him they weren't stealing the hay, because he didn't come wake me up.

In 1948 I got into the baling business myself. I bought a new John Deere hay baler. It was a standard baler, not a pickup type. Dennis Foote heard that I had it, and he came to see me. He caught me cleaning the brooder house and asked me to come bale his first. I needed the money, so I did. I baled Ward's, too, and then my own. I borrowed a buck rake from Dennis, and used Queen and Beauty on it. I hired Jim Beck to run the sulky rake with his team.

Dennis Foote, Wallace Ward, and Jim Beck were all neighbors. Dennis lived on the Foote place, about three-fourths of a mile west of us on the state line. His Oklahoma hay meadow was just west of mine. Wallace lived in Bartlesville, where he had a grocery store, but he owned the quarter section just west of our house, and he had an Oklahoma hay meadow just west of Dennis's. Jim Beck lived north of Ward's place, on the road we usually take to town.

Those hay meadows were all in Oklahoma because Oklahoma was Indian territory for so long, and the prairie wasn't disturbed so much. Almost all of the land in southeastern Kansas was plowed by the turn of the century, even much that wasn't suited for crops. Wallace's quarter section, for example, was divided into four forty's at the turn of the century, with a different member of the Ward family trying to make a living from each one. Most of that property has been back in pasture for as long as I can remember, but it has only a few acres of virgin prairie.

We didn't need much hay in 1949, so we didn't bale the whole meadow. What we did bale my dad and I did by ourselves. We even hauled it in by ourselves. I think that was the year Glenn played under the hay rack and pulled out the pin. We were coming up towards the house with a load of hay, and Daddy noticed that the front and back wheels were getting farther and farther apart. We managed to wire the thing together well enough to get the hay to the house.

In 1950 we had some beautiful alfalfa from a little two-acre patch in the far northeast field. Anna and I baled it by ourselves. We have a picture of the kids playing around the baler. That was when the horses ran away with Anna. She raked up old Spot in the sulky rake, and his barking set off the horses. I kept hollering, "Jump off, jump off." Finally, after she dumped the dog out, she rolled off the seat backwards. Then the horses headed out of the field with that wide rake. They caught a wheel on the gate post, broke the tongue out of the rake, and just kept going.

I bought a new roto-baler from the Allis-Chalmers dealer in Coffeyville in 1952. The price was $1,250, which was $1,000 less than any other pickup baler. The round balers had only been out about three or four years, and I remember talking to my dad about them. He thought they were really something. I needed a down payment of $400, and the dealer agreed to carry the rest for two or three years. When I borrowed the down payment from Mr. Gibbs at the Caney Bank, he asked me who was going to carry the rest of it. When I told him the dealer was, he said, "You know, we like to loan money here, too." I had never financed anything so expensive before, and I was surprised when the dealer turned around and sold the note to a Coffeyville bank. I suppose Mr. Gibbs knew he would.

I tried to use the sulky rake with the Allis-Chalmers baler, but it just didn't make straight enough rows. So I bought an old side-delivery rake. The clutch in it was worn out, so I took it to town and had a hole drilled through it so that I could just bolt the clutch housing and the axle together. It was a real wreck, but I used it for a few years.

I still use that Allis-Chalmers baler to put up my hay every summer, about the same way I did thirty years ago, in the mid '50s. I mow the grass with the little Case and let it cure in the sun for a few hours. Then Anna, or whoever is helping me, starts raking it with a side-delivery rake and the little Case. As soon as they get a windrow started, I start baling it.

I still like those round bales. It doesn't ruin them to stay out in the field and get rained on a little. And they are easy to handle and stack.


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