Hard work on the farm in Berwick, ND

A story by Frederick Welk

  As told to his son, Frederick Jr.

The origin of the surname Welk is given in various name history sources as meaning foreigner or wanderer. For hundreds of years that has been an apt label for many members of the clan, who ranged from Alsace to Southern Russia then to Dakota always looking for a better place and better times My father lived until 2013, a few months short of his 100th birthday.  He frequently commented on having lived from the "horse and buggy days to the computer age."

After we seeded it we prayed for rain. The sun would shine and make the buffalo grass grow and we would take a grass mower with two horses on it and go round the field and cut it and we would gather it with a hay rack and make it in rows. Then we would take the rows and put it up into haystacks. That was how that was done in June when the grass would grow pretty good. From the end of July the wheat was ripe. And then we would get our binder out. We called them binders. With four horses on it we’d pull it and they would have a sickle on there and cut the wheat as we went along. And the machine would roll around as it cut it, knocked the wheat in there and make it into bundles. Then the bundle would fall off. You’d take your foot like this (demonstrates) and drop off so many bundles. We’d make rows of grain, shocks. We’d cut the wheat that way. And finally, you would cut the whole field. Those would be hard days— only so many acres you’d be able to cut.

Early in the morning you’d have to take care of the horses. Feed them, harness them, put on the collars, and water them and get it all hooked up. In the meantime—quick— you’d have an early breakfast and get out into the field and hook the team to the binder. Now after that point when the wheat was dry then you go into the threshing machine with the old steam engine. It’d have that big, long, 30 feet - 40 feet of belt that would circulate back between the threshing machine and the steam engine. The steam engine was run with straw. One little boy would have that job of gathering the straw. And the straw boss would push it into the steam engine where there was a fire which would create the steam. I would go along with this crew for about six weeks— two months —until they got all the farmers’ grain thrashed. That was the job. After this was all done farmers would settle down. They knew it was getting close to wintertime. They would get the hay they made in June in stacks. That was all carried in as much as possible into the barn. You’ve seen these big barns with a hayloft? You fill the hayloft for the cattle underneath. So that was a farmer’s job. Some farmers had a little rest, but some didn’t. Our farm didn’t have much rest. We always had something do. So, I was always milking cows or doing something else. Of course, we were talking about the good days.  

Cheating death as a teenager

There would be a certain man who would gather about 10 guys with horses and a hayrack— they called it a hay rack. They would go out into the fields and get these bundles that we made with the binder. And they would throw them onto the rack. Get a load finally and drive up next to the threshing machine. It would be running all the time. There you would take a pitchfork and throw it into the threshing machine. They would have about a five-foot feeder and the wheat would go in there. And it would cut it up and separate the straw, knock out the grain. And the wheat would fall below and then it would go up into an elevator and you’d have a wagon standing where it would fall out. Now the threshing machine would create air flow to blow out the straw. The blower on the separator, as we would call it, would be way up there about 25 feet and make a big straw pile. And then whenever a load of wheat would be ready, they would just move on to the next wagon. And the team of horses would pull — Woo! Heavy!— 60 bushels make a lot of weight, you know, in the soft ground. They would pull it and take it to the elevator like I said before where Dad was one of the wheat buyers. And that little town had five elevators! That’s how busy it was. That’s how that worked.

It was harvest time. It lasted until each farmer was done. And the crew of threshing machine boys would go from farm to farm and do all this work of hauling the bundles and throwing into the threshing machine and blowing it out and separating the wheat and the wheat he didn’t take he would put into a granary. Some of it he would keep for supplies for the next spring for seed. As we were going around threshing like that, because I was being very aggressive, I got the job that was called a spike pitcher, meaning that one guy would take his team of horses with a load of bundles come up to the separator and another on the other side. So, they’d throw back and forth. But to keep it going faster they’d have a spiker. I got the job as a spiker. So, I would help this load. and when it get’s done, I would jump over to the next load. Rather than crawl down I would jump across. Now there was a moving belt with steel claws catching these bundles, you know, taking them in to crush them. Anyway, I when I would get through with this load I would just step up and jump on to the separator and jump over it as it was going. Well one time I slipped, and everybody screamed. I could hear them screaming. Only a split second and I would have been clawed to death. But I got up and got onto the next load. And that’s how it was."

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