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horse drawn plow

Farming in the Brinkman Community from 1890-2000

by Kennith Kirby

When the early settlers came to the area in Greer County that was later the Brinkman Community, most came by horse and wagon, and they brought a few farm implements with them. The land was in grass and had to be plowed before a crop could be raised. The land was "sodded out," which consisted of plowing the land a few inches deep with a ten or twelve-inch plow that turned the land over. The moldboard had two handles that the farmer held as he walked behind the plow. Two horses could pull this plow. After plowing three rounds around a field, a planter would go one round in the last furrow. Then he would plow three more rounds. The planter was a hand held implement and pulled by one horse. Cane, a forage sorghum, was a popular crop to plant in the newly plowed sod. Later, cotton became the most popular crop grown because it made a good monitory return and did not require very much equipment to grow. Since cotton required much labor, the farmer could utilize the large number of family members. The new land was very productive, and when rainfall was sufficient, good crops were raised. The first few years, many of the settlers were required to return to Texas to pull cotton so they would have money to live on.

Growing cotton remained about the same for over thirty years. The equipment that you walked behind was replaced with equipment that had wheels and a seat on it so the farmer could ride. The one-row equipment was replaced by two-row as the farmer broke-out more land and had more horses to farm with. After usually listing up the land in the early spring, which was making ridges about three feet apart; the cotton was planted and later cultivated. The farmer and his family was required to go down each row with a hoe and chop out the weeds, and some of the cotton also if the stand was too thick. This was hard, hot work and the family spent much of the summer at this task. After the cotton was cultivated for the last time, which was usually late July, the crop was considered "laid-by", and no more work was required until the harvesting was started which was usually the first part of September.

"Cotton pulling" consisted of pulling a twelve-foot duck sack between the rows and pulling the open bolls off of the stalk and placing them in the sack. The person was required to bend over nearly to the ground to get the bottom bolls, which made it a "back-breaking" job. The cotton-pullers would crawl on their knees some to rest their backs. Some wore kneepads to keep the puncture vine seed, which we called goat heads, from sticking in their knees. Canvas gloves were worn to keep the points of the burs from sticking the hands. The sacks were weighed when full and emptied into a wagon. When about two thousand pounds was accumulated, the wagon was taken to Brinkman to the gin. The gin separated the lint from the seed and put the lint into a bale, which weighed about five hundred pounds. The farmer could sell the seed to the gin which helped defray the cost of ginning, or he could take it home with him for seed the next year or livestock feed. Most seed were sold to the gin. After the cotton was processed into a bale, a cotton buyer would determine the quality and offer a price. The farmer could sell or wait for a better offer.

Cotton harvest was a job for the entire family. School would be out for a six-week or two-month period so the school children could help with the harvest. Some of the families in Brinkman were dependent on the cotton harvest to live on during the year. The farmers with a large amount of acres would have a place on his farm so a family could move into and help with the harvest. The cotton fields wold have to be gone over three or four times as the cotton bolls opened. Pulling six hundred pounds of cotton was a good days work for a grown person. Thirty-five cents a hundred was as cheap as cotton pulling ever was. At the height of the depression, a person could make about twice as much pulling cotton as they could at other manual labor jobs. Cotton pulling was hard work, and those that experienced it would no like to go back to that kind of work. When the people left the Brinkman area at the start of WWII, cotton acres declined. After 1942, there was no longer a gin operating in Brinkman.

Mechanical cotton strippers were developed in the mid-fifties, but their success was dependent on cotton varieties where all the bolls would open near the same time and the lint would not "string out." This was accomplished by the late fifties, and pulling cotton by hand was a thing of the past. The stripper fit on a tractor and removed the cotton bolls from two rows and blew it into a trailer pulled behind the stripper. A person would ride in the trailer and pitch the cotton to the back of the trailer. Later strippers were developed that blowed the cotton into a basket at the top of the trailer. This basket could be dumped into a trailer, which further eliminated the work involved in harvesting cotton. With mechanical harvesting and herbicides to eliminate much of the hoeing, cotton acres increased, but never to the amount that was planted before the WWII.

The early settlers had oats for a crop. The grain was used to feed the horses when they were being worked. Volunteer oat plants made good winter pasture because they would not come up until fall. The straw, after the oats were thrashed, furnished forage for the farm animals. Maize, a grain sorghum, was grown and headed and stored in the barn for hog feed. Forage sorghums were grown and bundled and placed in shocks. It was hauled in from the field and placed in ricks and used for forage for the animals during the winter months. The early settlers came from areas that could grow corn, and corn was planted. Before long, the farmers discovered that could could not be grown successfully in the hot dry summers of this area. Wheat was not an important crop to the early settlers, but it gained in popularity, and today it accounts for most of the acres grown in crops in the Brinkman Community. According to the W.P. A. Guide, which was published in the late thirties, "more wheat was shipped from Brinkman than from all other markets in Greer County combined, and from three to five thousand bales of cotton are ginned yearly."

Growing wheat required farm equipment that the early settlers could not afford. The farmer needed to won a grain drill. He also needed a binder or he had to hire someone to bundle his grain. A binder required four horses or mules to pull. After the binder cut the grain and tied it into bundles it was placed into shocks to "cure-out."

After the fourth of July each year, the threshing would start. The thresher was a large expensive machine that was powered by a steam engine. In the 1920's tractors with internal combustion engines began to replace the steam engine. Very few farmers had sufficient acres of grain to justify owning a thresher and the tractor to power it. Custom operators who went from farm to farm threshed most of the grain. Most of the thresher operations had a cook shack and a cook who provided meals for a crew of about twenty people. A few of the smaller operations depended on the farm wives to provide the meals. The farm wives would help each other prepare the meals. Several bundle wagons were required to haul the wheat from the shocks to the thresher. There were two people for each wagon. One would pitch the bundles onto the wagon and the other would stack them. Each used a three-pronged bundle fork. Teenage boys furnished the labor for this task.

In the twenties, some farmers had machines that cut the grain and elevated it onto wagons where it was stacked and hauled to the edge of the field and placed into ricks. The grain would later be threshed from these ricks. Threshing consisted of separating the grain from the straw. The straw was blown into a stack and the grain was elevated into a wagon and hauled to a bin or the elevator. Oats was always hauled to the bin where it was used for horse or mule feed. The horses, mules and cattle would forge on the straw during the winter. Oat straw was better for forage than wheat straw.

Sam Berry had a thresher and he threshed a lot of the wheat east of Brinkman. Jim Reeves, Ernest Fite, Claud Clark and Luther Clark owned a thresher together, and they worked together in threshing each others grain. Jeff Kirby, south of Brinkman, had his own thresher. He threshed his own grain and a few of his neighbor's grain. By 1930, Jim Reeves had bought out his partners. John Wharton owned a thresher in the early thirties. By then tractors had been improved to power the thresher that were not as cumbersome as the ones used in the teens and twenties.

The first combines that cut and threshed the grain in one operation begin to appear in the early thirties. They were powered by a gasoline engine and pulled through the field with a tractor. International Harvester Company and John Deere built the first ones used around Brinkman. Later, Baldwin Company introduced their Gleaner combine which was lighter in weight than the other makes. It had a twelve-foot cut and was powered by the same engine that was in a Model A Ford car. This was a very popular combine and it was used into the 1950's when it was replaced by the self-propelled combine. In the mid-thirties, Allis Chalmers introduced their All Crop Harvester, which was a six-foot cut combine powered by a drive shaft from the tractor. This was called the PTO, which stood for the power take off. It had many applications in farm machinery use. There were a few of these combines in the Brinkman area.

During WWII the Massey Harris Company convinced the government to allocate them enough steel to build self-propelled combines with the understanding that they would sell the combines to operators that would harvest wheat from Texas into Canada. Massey Harris agreed to furnish the technical help to keep the combines running. This gave Massey Harris an advantage over the other farm machinery companies in developing the self-propelled combine. These combines had a fourteen cut and sold for around five thousand dollars.

The size of combines increased over the years, and now a thirty-foot cut is the normal size. By the early seventies, a cab with an air conditioner was placed on the combine. This added greatly to the comfort of the combine operator. John Deere is the most popular make of combines today. Modern combines cost about $150,000.00. Custom operators who start in Texas and harvest into Canada now harvest most of the wheat.

The farmers with threshers owned steam engine tractors until the twenties. By then, internal combustion engines powered the tractors. They were large cumbersome machines. By the mid-twenties tractor developed and improved, and tractors that could be used successfully in field work appeared on the market. Very few of these were used in the Brinkman area. By the late thirties, International Harvester Company came out with their Farmall tractor. This tractor could be used for row crops or other fieldwork. This was a very popular tractor, and farmers in the Brinkman Community purchased a large number of these tractors. The drought and depression of the thirties halted these sales.

With the help of the government farm program, which was started in 1933, conditions improved somewhat, and the farmers could again purchase tractors. Farmall had improved their tractors, and their F 20 and F 30 tractors were the most popular brand. There were a few J.I. Case, John Deere and Fordson tractors in use. By the mid-thirties, Allis Chalmers introduced a tractor with rubber tires, an electric starter and lights. When rubber tires for tractors became available, most of the tractors were converted to use them. This was a great improvement to the rough ride of the steel-wheeled tractors.

In 1939, International Harvester introduced their H and M model tractors. These tractors had styled fuel tanks and engine and radiator covers. This enhanced the looks of the tractors. These tractors had rubber tires as well as electric starters and lights. With the rubber tires, a road gear was added to the tractor, which allowed the tractor to go about 15 miles an hour on the roads. These tractors were also equipped with a hydraulic system that lifted the tool out of the ground. These were very popular tractors and the cost of an H was about a thousand dollars. Row crop equipment that could attach to these tractors made the cost greater. The other farm machinery companies made the same improvements.

Ford introduced a small tractor in the early forties. It was only suitable for row crop using their attached equipment. The war effort stopped the manufacturing of these tractors. After the greenbugs destroyed much of the wheat in the early fifties, these tractors became popular in the Brinkman area for row crop use.

Most of the tractors purchased could operate two-row equipment, or they could pull a five-foot one-way disc plow that was used to till the wheat land. These tractors could pull as much or more than six horses. An F30 could pull an eight-foot one-way. Pete Byrom used this tractor to farm several hundred acres of wheat. Shorty Lampert used an F30 to do custom tillage work for farmers who did not own a tractor. Tractors like combines increased in size over the years. Propane gas could be delivered to the farm at a cost of seven cents a gallon in the late forties. Tanks were developed that fit on the tractors, and most tractors were converted to burn this fuel. Tractor manufacturers started equipping their tractors at the factory to burn this fuel by the mid-fifties. By the mid-sixties, the price of propane had increased so that diesel was the perferred fuel for farm use. Today's tractors can pull tillage tools with widths of forty feet. The modern tractor is equipped with a cab and air conditioner. John Deere is the most popular tractor in the Brinkman Community. These large tractors cost in excess of $100,000.00.

The early settler's livestock consisted of horses and mules that were used for farming and transportation. Milk cows along with chickens and hogs were a necessity for their food supply. The hogs furnished the family with meat as well as shortening and soap. The chickens not only furnished eggs, but fried chicken was the meat used during the summer months. Vegetables and fruit that the farmers raised in their gardens were used fresh and also canned for use when they were out of season. For the most part, farmers were self-sufficient for their food supply. Beef was not used much for meat because it could not be preserved as well as pork. It had to be used fresh or canned.

Many of the farmers raised their horse or mule replacements. Some raised colts, broke them to work and sold them. On the first Monday of each month, the farmer could take the horses or mules he wanted to sell to Mangum and their would be buyers there to purchase them. During the height of the depression, a good young horse or mule that was broke to work would bring close to a hundred dollars.

Dairying was never a very large enterprise in the Brinkman Community. It was rare for a farmer to milk more than a dozen cows. As the tractors replaced the horses and mules, more grassland was "freed up" for beef production. There was land in the community that was marginal for crop production. This land was utilized for production of beef. Prior to the mid-thirties, cattle buyers would come around to the farms and see if he had cattle for sale. When he would accumulate a truckload, he would take them to Oklahoma City to the stockyard. Later a sale barn was established at Mangum where the farmer could haul his cattle, and several buyers could bid on them. Elmer Roach, who was raised at Brinkman, was an early auctioneer at the Mangum sale barn. Today there are not any chickens or hogs raised in the Brinkman Community, nor are their any cows milked. Beef cattle are an important enterprise. Some of the beef operations consist of the farmer buying stockers, young cattle of about 400 pounds, and grazing them on wheat pasture during the winter months.

Most of the land in the Brinkman Community had a high clay content, which made it slow for water to infiltrate during rains. When a heavy rain would fall, much of the water would run off. The water would melt the soil and it would be removed with the water. If the slope were sufficient, gullies would appear. By the thirties, a lot of the topsoil had eroded away which made the land less productive. Cotton crops did not leave any residue on the soil, and left it unprotected to water and wind erosion. Wheat helped some, especially with the combine that left the straw on the land, so when wheat replaced cotton on most of the acres, erosion was reduced.

The Soil Conservation Service was established in the mid-thirties. They encouraged the farmers to build terraces and farm on the contour. These programs were slow to "catch on", as the farmers wanted to farm as they always had. A few shelterbelts, which were row sof trees planted in an east to west direction, were established in the Brinkman Community. They did little good on the soils in the Brinkman area.

The farmers around Brinkman had both good and bad times economically. The panic of 1907 triggered a drop in commodity prices, but by the time Brinkman was established, in 1910, good times had returned. The time from 1910 to 1914 is considered the "Golden Age" of agriculture. During that period, the farmers received the best price for their products in relation to the cost than they ever had. WWI caused good prices to continue, especially for wheat. Following the war, farm prices plummeted, but recovered in a few years. The twenties were good years. A large number of farmers built new houses of the bungalow style during that period. Many people in the area upgraded their cars from the Model T Ford.

The thirties were difficult years for the farmers with both production and prices. A government farm program was implemented by 1933. It limited the acres planted to wheat and cotton and furnished some price support for these crops. These programs were of help to the farmers, and allowed many to stay in farming that could not without this help. The low prices and dry weather forced many people to leave the farm and seek employment in towns. This was also true for those living in Brinkman that depended on farm employment for their livelihood.

With the start of WWII that increased farm prices and and increase in rainfall, the farmers prospered in the forties. The drought returned in the fifties. The dry weather along with the greenbugs that destroyed much of the wheat forced some of the young farmers that returned from the war to seek employment elsewhere. They did not return to the farm

1960 saw a return of "good times" for the farmers. From that time until the present, we have not had any prolonged droughts. As the size of farm machinery increased, farm operations consolidated and farm population decreased. When the Federal Reserve tightened the money supply to decrease inflation in the early eighties, interest rates "shot up" as commodity prices plummeted. Farmers with high indebtedness were forced into bankruptcy or inflation. Land was selling in 1986 for one-third of what it was in 1982. Farm prices have not recovered, but the cost of living and farming have increased each year. The farmers in the Brinkman Community face a precarious financial future.

Thanks to Kennith Kirby for Brinkman history.
Greer County map
Brinkman School

Transportation in Brinkman Community

Utilities in Brinkman Area

Brinkman Cemetery