A lot of things have changed through the ages, but one thing that is likely never to change is the dependence of the human race upon the contributions of farmers.
Practices and equipment have evolved, but farmers from one generation to the next have stood strong and solid in their commitment to providing food and nutrition that ensure our health, well-being and survival.
One hundred years ago, farmers in the Owensboro/Daviess County region were looking forward to a good harvest of both corn and tobacco. Wildfires among tobacco patches were a localized annoyance, as were worms. Farmers battled the latter pest with something called “paris green.” This may not have been the best idea, as a quick Google search – something not available to our agricultural ancestors of 1921 – reveals that the substance is “a vivid green, highly toxic crystalline salt of copper and arsenic, used as a rodenticide and insecticide. Whether by accident or intentional, it was discovered that less than one-eighth of a teaspoon of the powder would kill a person if ingested.”
Well, so much for that “bright outlook for good crops.”
In the meantime, Daviess County farmers looked forward to a two-day conference designed for those who either owned or were contemplating the purchase of a tractor. The lectures were to feature lantern slides and films, whose subjects featured tractor care and operation, including adjustments, carburetors, ignition and lubrication. Those attending were promised a booklet titled “Helpful Hints to Tractor Owners.”
Throughout 1921, the T.J. Turley Company – located at 223 Bolivar St. – published a series of advertisements in the local newspaper promoting various farm machines, including the Titan 10-20 kerosene tractor. One ad bragged that seven such machines had already been sold that spring. “Mr. Farmer,” the ad exhorted, “in order to make a margin of profit this year, it will be necessary for you to make radical cuts in your cost of production. This can be accomplished by a reduction in ‘men’ and ‘horse power,’ as these items are the largest in farm operating costs.”Not to be outdone, however, the Owensboro Milling Co. insisted that its Arab Horse & Mule Feed was worth “twice its price” in ensuring beasts of burden would retain their “strength, energy and pep.”
When not worrying about whether to work with mechanical or natural horsepower, local farmers could look forward to the enjoyment of the Daviess County Fair, which in 1921 offered prizes for both pigs and poultry, among other categories of competition. Ladies were invited to submit their canned goods for judging, and everyone was no doubt excited about the attractions and four – yes, four! – rides: A merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, whip and ocean waves. If that weren’t enough to lure the farmer and his family, there was the promise that “the grounds have been illuminated and the shows will be held night and day.”
Farmers got together for more than fun and festivity, however. In February 1921, the Owensboro newspapers reported that a posse of 250 farmers joined a manhunt for one of two desperados who had shot and wounded Alfred Frey, “a prosperous farmer” known to “keep considerable money in his house.” The farmers had all chipped in to collect $45 to bring in a bloodhound to track the escaped bandit, who left behind a dead partner when he made his getaway.
The year would end with a large headline announcing that tobacco factors were taking on workers, which meant “money to spend for Christmas.”
How many workers, and who were they, and how much money? The article states, “It is estimated that fully 750 persons, men and women, boys and girls, will have employment in the tobacco factories by Christmas.” Weekly wages would average “more than $15 a person,” with stemmers paid 65 cents per 100 pounds. Experienced hands could expect to make from $20 to $30 a week.
Who could resist?
A hundred years later, let us not resist the opportunity to extend sincere and heartfelt appreciation to the farmers of today, who carry on the rich agricultural heritage of our community. May these hardworking heroes continue to be honored a hundred years from now, and forever. OL