Fremont County, Iowa

"Benson Family Farm"
by Lynn Benson

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of 25 August 2008

Evelyn Birkby, and I, were recently discussing the importance of recording, either with a recording or in writing, some of our personal experiences growing up in rural Iowa. Everyone has something worth passing on to future generations, and without an effort to preserve these memories they will be lost forever. One of my personal attempts was a chapter, I wrote for the book “Glimpses” published by the Iowa Farm Business Association Foundation in 2004. The following are some excerpts:

Our family’s farm, near Sidney, was purchased by my great grandfather G. S. Benson, in 1881. He was born, and educated, in New York and originally settled in Hamburg, Iowa, where he taught school and owned a soap factory. The farm provided a comfortable living to two generations of Bensons. My father, Gilbert Benson, was a junior in high school when his father, Duward, was killed in a tragic farm accident. Grandfather was breaking in a young colt with the team pulling a stalk cutter when the colt bolted, causing a run away. After Dad graduated from high school he took over the farm operation. By this time life in small town, rural America was beginning to change.

My father began farming, before the great mechanical revolution, in American agriculture. Horsepower of that day was truly “horse” power and my father’s early farming was done in much the same way as by his father and grandfather. It was hard, physical work. Eventually, machine power began to take over. Dad purchased his first tractor in the year of my birth (1939) and always took great pride in the fact that it was the first Ford Ferguson tractor in his local community. From then on, farm life as my parents and grandparents knew it, was to change rapidly and forever.

While the mechanical revolution had begun, we still had several horses, and still did a lot of work ourselves. I often used horses to carry cold water in a jug (wrapped in wet burlap that hung over the saddle horn) to the men in the hayfield. I drove the horse that pulled the hay fork from the hayrack into the barn. I rode and operated the oat binder (now pulled by the Ford tractor and driven by my father), and I shocked the oat bundles so they could cure before the thresher came by our neighborhood. I helped Dad butcher hogs and grandmother dress chickens. I milked cows, by hand, and cranked the cream separator; the latter I couldn’t wait to grow old enough do, but soon wished I hadn't.

One of the real losses to the mechanical revolution was the “neighboring” that went on in several of the family operations. In our neighborhood, several families would work together when it came threshing time or haying time. The Bensons, Hattens, Zachs, and Chapmans did a lot of this “neighboring” every summer. I first remember putting up “loose” hay pitched on the hay wagons by hand. In later years, however, balers did the work and the young boys of the neighborhood threw the bales on the wagon. Dad, now graduated to driving the tractor, drove slowly down the rows of baled hay. The food prepared by my mother for these crews was such a treat; our friends always liked to work on the “haying crew” because of Mom’s cooking. It was hard work, but we felt pride in a job well done, of working together to help each other, of community and being good neighbors. All these were good life lessons that sadly are now gone for much of rural America.

I bet a lot of my generation have similar recollections. It is to be hoped you will write them down to share with your children and friends.

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau