Cyril G. Hopkins.

The Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, online

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so to work in the field of Thy providences, revealed in hand and
mind and heart and relationships, of school and church and state and
farm, and all the activities of this life's great work, as that good
shall be our inheritance.

"We pray Thee, Heavenly Father, to be with the officers of this
institute. Give Thy strength, Thy presence, and Thy discernment to
these who participate in the work, the membership and onlookers, and
those who come to learn. We pray Thee, give us the revelation of Thy
wisdom to replenish and build up every human family, and to Thee all
praise shall be given to-day for this blessing and for Thy continued
favor; and not only to-day but to-morrow and the day after and
through all eternity the praise shall be Thine, in the name of Him
who came into this world to give us the life of the knowledge of
God. Amen."

"It may be," said the Chairman, "that a State Farmers' Institute
sometimes exercises a little arbitrary power in selecting subjects
we want to speak of. I think county institutes might adopt the same
plan to advantage, and assign the topic they wish discussed.

"The topic assigned our speaker to-day is 'What I did and how I did
it.' It may sound egotistical, but I want to relieve the speaker of
that imputation, because the subject was selected by the Institute.

"Allow me to present Mr. Terry, who needs no introduction to an
audience of American farmers:"

Mr. Terry began to speak:

"Thirty-six years ago last fall," he said, "my wife and I bought and
moved onto the farm where we now reside. We went on there in debt
$3,700, on which we had to pay seven per cent. interest. I had one
horse, an old one, and it had the heaves, a one-horse harness, and a
one-horse wagon, three tillage implements, and nine cows that were
paid for; and a wife and two babies, but no money. Now that was the
condition in which we started on this farm, thirty-six years ago, in
debt heavily, and no money; but that is not the worst of it. If it
had been as good soil as you have in some parts of this State, we
should have been all right. How about the soil? For sixty years
farmers had been running it down until it could scarcely produce
anything. We had a tenant on the place one year, before we could
arrange to move on, after we got it. They got eight bushels of wheat
per acre, and he said to me, 'That is a pretty good yield, don't you
think, for this old farm?' Oh, friends, I didn't think so; - never
ought to have bought this farm; - didn't know any better, - born and
brought up in town, my father a minister, and I thought a farm was a
farm. But I learned some things after awhile. That tenant mowed over
probably forty acres of land. (We originally bought one hundred and
twenty-five.) He put the hay in the barn. It measured twelve tons.
Half of that was weeds. Most of the hay he cut down in a swale.
There wasn't anything worth considering on the upland. That was the
condition of the land.

"How about the buildings? The house had been used about sixty years,
an old story-and-a-half house. Dilapidated, oh, my! Every time the
rain came, we had to take every pan upstairs and set it to catch the
water. We did not have any money to put on more shingles. It was out
of the question, we couldn't do it. How about the dooryard? It was a
cow yard. They used it for a milking yard, for years and years. You
can imagine how it looked. The barn was in such condition that
cattle were just as well off outdoors as in. The roof leaked
terribly. The tenants had burned up the doors and any boards they
could take off easily. They were too lazy to take off any that came
off hard. They burned all the fences in reach.

"Now friends, that was the farm we moved onto and the condition it
was in. Some of you will know we saw some pretty hard times for a
while. Time and again I was obliged to take my team, after we got
two horses (the second I borrowed of a relative, it was the only way
I could get one), and go to town to do some little job hauling to
get some money to get something to eat. That is the way we started
farming. I remember, after three or four years, meeting Dr. W. I.
Chamberlain. Some of you know him. He said: 'Terry, if you should
get a new hat, there wouldn't anybody know you. Your clothes wear
like the children of Israel's.' They had to wear. No one knew how
hard up we were. It was not best to let them know. That money was
borrowed of a friend in Detroit, secured on a life insurance policy.
We did not let anybody know how hard up we really were. My wife rode
to town (to church when she went), in the same wagon we hauled out
manure in, for a time. Time and again she had been to town when she
said she could not do without something any longer and came back
without it. Credit was good. We could have bought it. We didn't dare

"Now, friends, a dozen years from the time we started on that farm,
under these circumstances, we were getting from one hundred and
fifty to two hundred and fifty bushels of merchantable potatoes per
acre right along - not a single year, but on the average - varying, of
course, somewhat with the season. We were getting from four to five
tons of clover hay in a season, from two cuttings, of course, per
acre. We were getting from thirty-three to thirty-eight bushels of
wheat per acre, not one year, but for five years we averaged
thirty-five bushels per acre, and right on that same farm. No
fertility had been brought on to it, practically, from the outside.
A man without any money, in debt for the land $3,700, was able to do
this. Now, how did he do it? That is the question I have been asked
to talk upon. I have told you briefly something like what we have
accomplished. I might say, further, the old house I told you that we
lived in for fourteen years while we were building up the fertility
of this soil, we sold for $10, after we got through with it. It is
now a horse barn on the farm of our next neighbor and has been
covered over.

"Eleven years from the time we started we paid the last $500 of our
debt, all dug out of that farm, not $25 from any other source.
Thirteen years from the time we started, we carried off the first
prize of $50 offered by the State Board of Agriculture of Ohio, for
the best detailed report of the best and most profitably managed
small farm in the state, - only thirteen years from the time we
started on that rundown land, and no fertility brought from the
outside; without any money; and meanwhile we had to live.

"Now I had arranged with the tenant the first year, before we went
on there, to seed down a certain field. It had been under the plow
for some time. I wanted it seeded so I could have some land to mow
and he seeded half of it. It was only a little lot, about five
acres. He seeded half with timothy and left the other half. That was
his way of doing things, anyway. When we moved onto the farm later I
naturally wanted to finish that seeding and get that field in some
sort of shape for mowing. I went to my next neighbor, who lives
there yet, and asked him what I had better use. I didn't know
anything, practitically, about farming, and he advised me to try
some clover seed. He said: 'So far as I know, none was ever sown on
that farm. They have sowed timothy everlastingly, everybody, because
it is cheap. I knew timothy wouldn't grow there to amount to
anything If I were in your place I would try some clover.'

"I got the land prepared and sowed that clover alone, so as to give
it a chance. I did have sense enough to mow off the weeds when they
got six or eight or ten inches high perhaps, so that the clover
could have a little better chance to grow. It happened to be a very
wet season. I remember that distinctly. This was a lot near to the
barn. I suppose what little manure they had hauled out had been
mostly put on this land. With these favoring conditions the result
was fairly good. Of course not half what we got later, but we got
quite a little clover and when I came to mow it, and to mow that
timothy at the other end, I could see I could draw the rake two or
three times as far in the timothy as in the clover. There was more
clover on an acre. A load of timothy would go in and a load of
clover. When I fed it to the cows in winter I noticed when feeding
clover for a number of days they gave more milk. I didn't know why.
I don't know as anybody knew why then. There wasn't an experiment
station in the land. We were following our own notions. But the cows
gave more milk; I could see that plainly.

"A little later I had an experiment forced on me by accident. I tell
you just how it came about. It resulted in putting a good many
thousands in our pockets and I hope millions in the pockets of the
farmers of America. Later I wanted to plant corn on this field, and,
as I wanted to grow just as good corn as I could, I got out what
manure we saved and put it on the land preparing for plowing. I knew
there wouldn't be more than half enough to go over the field. I said
to myself, if there was any good corn, I would like it next to the
road where people would see it. Wouldn't any of you do it? I didn't
have a dollar to hire any help. I paid one dollar that year for
help, and it was awful hard to get that dollar. I began spreading
that manure next to the road. The back half of the field was nearly
out of sight. When I got half way back there wasn't any manure left
and the back half didn't get any. Now it so happened that the
timothy was on the front end of the field, and it got the manure.
The clover on the back half didn't get any. It came about in the
simple way I told you of. Naturally I didn't expect much corn where
I hadn't put any manure, but what was my surprise to find it was
just about as good on that clover end of the field without any
dressing as on the timothy end with what I had been able to put on.
It is only right I should say there wasn't much of the manure It was
poor in quality because we couldn't get grain for the cows when we
couldn't get enough for ourselves to eat. There wasn't much manure
and it was pretty poor, but such as it was that was the result. More
hay to the acre, better hay, increased fertility, some way, by
growing this clover!

"Now let us go back a little. I think it was the second spring after
we moved onto the place that I happened to be crossing the farm of
my next neighbor, Mr. Holcombe, now dead. I found him plowing. He
had been around a piece of land, I should judge five acres, half a
dozen times. He was sitting on the plow, tired out, - too old to work
anyway. He said, 'I wish you would take this land and put in some
crop on the shares; I want to get rid of the work; I can't do it,
and would like to let you have it in some way. All I want is that it
should be left so I can seed it down in the fall again.'

"It was an old piece of sod he had mowed in the old eastern way
until it wouldn't grow anything any longer. I don't suppose he got a
quarter of a ton of hay to the acre. He wanted it plowed so he could
re-seed it. I didn't know the value of the land, but, foolishly
perhaps, as most people thought, offered him five dollars an acre
for the use of it. I hadn't enough to do at home. I didn't have my
land in shape so I could do much. We were working along as fast as
we could. I thought I could do well if I had this job, and could
perhaps make something off it. He agreed to it.

"I went home and got my team and plow, and finished the plowing. I
remember making those furrows narrow and turning the ground well, a
little deeper than it had been plowed before. I didn't realize what
I was doing, then. I simply had been brought up to do my work well.
I thought I was doing a good job, that was all. When I was through
plowing I got my old harrow, a spike-tooth, and harrowed the ground.
I had a roller. They were manufactured in our town. The firm bursted
and I had a chance to buy one very cheap. I had a roller, harrow,
and plow. That was all the tillage implements. The harrow had moved
the lumps around a little. I ran the roller over the lumps; then
harrowed, rolled, and harrowed. When the harrow would not take hold,
I put a plank across and rode on it. I worked that land alternately
until I had the surface as fine and nice as I could make it, two or
three inches deep. The harrow would not take hold any longer and I
had to quit. By and by a rain came. I didn't know anything about how
to till land, - this spring fallow business - but I happened to hit it
right. After it rained, I said that harrow will take hold better
now. I loaded the harrow and got on it, and tore that ground up
three or four inches deep.

"The harrow teeth were sharp. I harrowed and rolled it and my
neighbor said, 'Terry, you are ruining that land, it will never grow
anything any more, it will all blow away.' I reminded him of his
bargain; I should raise what I pleased and take the crop home. Every
little while, I can't remember how often, I would go over and harrow
and roll that land. I probably plowed it the first week in April.
For two months that was a sort of savings bank for my work. I would
run over and work that land, occasionally, until, about the first
week in June, I had it prepared just as mellow and fine and nice as
it was possible to make it. It was nice enough for flower seeds."

"I builded better then than I knew. I had no idea what the result
was going to be. When it was all ready, I sowed Hungarian grass
seed. I wish you could have seen the crop. It grew four and a half
or five feet high, as thick as it could stand on the land. I believe
if I had thrown my straw hat, it would have staid on the top. It was
enormous for that land. I had four big loads to the acre. You know
what you can put on a load of Hungarian. When I went by the owner's
house with those loads and took them to our barn, he was out there
and he looked awfully sour. That man, to my knowledge, had never
grown half as much to the acre since I had known of his being on the
land, probably never more than one-third as much. Old run-out
timothy sod; no manure, no fertilizer, nothing but the work, - this
spring fallowing. I enjoyed the matter more, because he had told
some of the neighbors he had got the start of that town fellow; I
would never see five dollars an acre back, out of the land. That was
his opinion of what I could raise.

"Hay was hay that fall, after a dry season. We live in a dairy
section. The cows were there and had to be fed. I got $18 a ton for
that hay in our barn, something like $70 per acre. I think the laugh
was on the other side. That was my first awakening, along this line
of tillage. Didn't know how it came about, didn't know anything
about the fertility locked up in the soil, just the plain facts. I
did so and so, and got such and such results. The next year Charlie
Harlow, still living there, said, 'I wish you would put in some
Hungarian for me this spring.' I said, 'What part of the crop? - I
should want two-thirds.' He said he had an offer for half. I said,
'Then let him have it.' He replied, 'One-third of what you will
raise is more than half of what he will raise.' He saw what I did on
his brother-in-law's farm.

"The following year I had a piece of land ready to grow corn, I had
cleared out the stumps and done the best I could to get it in shape.
I plowed it just as soon as the ground was dry enough, about the
first of April, that is. I worked it every little while just as
nearly as I could as the Hungarian land had been worked, I harrowed
and rolled, let it rest a while, then harrowed and rolled. I kept it
up until my next door neighbor, Mr. Croy, had planted his corn, and
it was four inches high and growing pretty well. Ours wasn't
planted. A neighbor came and said, 'I am sorry for you, Terry, you
don't know what you are about. You are fooling away your time. Your
corn ought to have been in before this.' I was harrowing and
rolling. I was determined to see whether I could do it over again.
Some of the neighbors said it couldn't be done again.

"The fourth or fifth of June - too late, ordinarily, to plant corn
with us - I put in the crop. I wish you could have seen it grow! It
came up and grew from the word 'Go.' In four weeks it was ahead of
any corn about. It went ahead of my neighbor's corn that was three
or four inches high when ours was planted. We had a crop that, the
farm in the condition that it was, was considered as something
remarkable. They couldn't account for it, neither could I. All I
knew was I had been working the ground so and so and getting such
and such results.

"Let us go back once more. The first year that I moved onto that
farm, the first fall, we had nine cows, and I wanted to save all of
the manure. Now, there wasn't an experimental station in the land. I
didn't know anything about the potassium or nitrogen in the liquid
manure, but I had seen where it dropped on the land and how the
grass grew. I thought it was plant food, and our land was hungry. I
said, I must try and save this manure, and not have it wasted. I
hadn't a dollar. What did I do? There was an old stable there that
would hold ten cows. It was in terrible shape. It had a plank floor
that was all broken. I tore it out. I hauled some blue clay. I
filled the stable four or five inches deep with the blue clay, wet
it, pounded it down, shaped it off and got it level, fixed it up
around the sides, saucer shape, so it would hold water. Then I laid
down some old boards (I couldn't buy new ones), and put in a lot of
straw there and put my cows in. I saved all that manure the first
year, all that liquid. I had twice as much, probably more, from the
same number of cows as had been saved on that farm before, and it
was much more valuable. That was the beginning the first winter,
when I hadn't anything.

"For the horse stable I went to town and found some old billboards.
It was new lumber, but had been used for billboards. After the
circus the owner offered to sell the boards cheap, and to trust me.
He was a carpenter, and he jointed them. We put them crosswise on
the old plank floor, and when they got wet they swelled and became
practically water tight. I even crawled under and saw that there was
no liquid manure dropping down there. I drew sawdust and used for
bedding. I saved the liquid of the horse stable. I didn't know it
was worth three times as much, pound for pound, as the solid. I
didn't know it was worth two times as much in the cow stable, pound
for pound, as the solid. I found it out by experience.

"Now, when I was in town, before going on this farm, I worked for S.
Straight & Son, the then great cheese and butter kings of the
Western Reserve. I was getting over a thousand dollars a year in
their office. They didn't want me to leave at all, but my wife and I
took a notion to be independent, to work for ourselves, and we
bought this old farm. We had a chance to work for ourselves, all
right. The first year we worked from early in the morning until nine
or ten o'clock at night, and then we tumbled into bed, too tired to
think, to get up and do it over again. I worked in the field, taking
out stumps and doing something, as long as I could see, and then
helped my wife to milk. We would get our supper along about nine or
ten o'clock. At the end of the year we had not one single dollar,
after paying our interest and taxes, - not one dollar to show for our
work. Do you wonder we were pretty discouraged?

"I met Mr. Straight one day. He said: 'Terry, things are not going
very well in the office since you left. I wish you would come back.
You are not doing much over on that farm that I can see. You are
having a hard time. I will gladly give you $1,200 a year if you will
come back into our office.' It was a great temptation. Think what it
meant. To move back to town and have $100 a month. But I said, 'No,
Mr. Straight; I can't do it.' I don't deserve any credit for it,
friends: but I wasn't built that way. I can't back out. When I
undertake anything I have got to go through. I would have been
willing enough to leave that farm, if I had made a success of it,
after I made a success of it, as I thought then; but I wasn't
willing to give up, whipped - to acknowledge that I had undertaken
that job and had to back out and go back to town to make a living.

"Some little incident sometimes will change the whole character of a
man's life. I remember, when we were in very hard conditions, we
were sitting under an apple tree in our door yard one evening. It is
there yet. Two men from town went by. One of them said to the other,
'What is Terry going to do?' The other said, 'If Terry sticks to it
he will make something out of that old farm.' Just as quick as a
flash, friends, I said, 'Terry will stick to it.'

"You see what condition we were in. I began to put all these matters
together. I had been taught how to. In college I had been trained to
study and think, of course, - not to work with my hands. When I got
onto the work at first I worked myself almost to death with my
hands, and had no time to think or study; but gradually old methods
came around again and I began to think and study. I said: 'Here,
more hay to the acre, better hay, increased fertility by growing
that clover, increased fertility by working that soil so much.' I
didn't know why, but there was the fact. 'Now, isn't it possible to
put these matters together and so work them out as to build up the
fertility of this farm and make it blossom like the rose?'

"I began to work it out. What was the first step? I sold eight or
nine cows to get a little money to start, thus cutting off
practically our whole source of income. There was no other way I
could get any money. We had to do some draining. A part of the land
we could not do anything with until it was tile-drained. It took
money to buy tile. I had to have a little help about the digging,
although I like to boast that I laid every tile on my farm with my
own hands. I buried every one and know it will stay there. They were
all sound and hard and good. In all these years not one has ever
failed, not one drain or tile. I worked day after day, in the rain,
wet to the skin, because it had to be done. It was the foundation of
our success.

"As I was coming here yesterday, and passed so much of your flat
land, in need of drainage, I thought, drainage is the foundation of
success for lots of these people, down here in southern Illinois.
You can't do much until you have the water out of the land. Then you
have a chance to do something with tillage and manure-saving and
clover. But you throw away your efforts when you try to do this work
on land that is in need of drainage.

"As fast as possible we fixed up this land. Of course, it took
years. We hadn't money, and there were many things that had to be
done, - changing fields, getting out stumps, doing drainage, - it all
took time. I had my plans made and was working as fast as I could.

"Two things I did, to keep life in our bodies until we got ready to
make some money. One was to cut off every bit of timber on the farm.
Our neighbors laughed at us and prophesied rain and all that. There
were two things in my mind. We had to have money to live on, and I
managed to get quite a little of it in that way. In the next place
we didn't have much of a farm, and I wanted the land for tillage. We
can buy wood of the neighbors to-day, cheaper than we sold ours, so
we never lost anything.

"Another way we got some money, as we went along, that helped us,
was raising forage crops. I did not attempt to put in crops that
required much hand labor. I raised Hungarian, and everything I could
to be fed to cows. In our dairying section, with feed often scarce
in the fall, farmers often had more stock than they could winter. We
could pick up cows cheaply on credit and hold them. I could winter
them for people, and the manure we used as a top dressing, to make
the clover grow. Starting with a little piece of land, we spread out
more and more, and got more and more enriched, and more and more
growing clover, and by and by we got all the cultivated land growing
it. Then we were ready for business.

"I am afraid to tell you Illinois farmers, with your great big
farms, how large our farm was. We bought one hundred and twenty-five
acres. We sold off all but fifty-five. That didn't help us, for the
man who bought it was so poor he didn't pay us for over thirty
years. Then the land went up in price and he was able to sell it for
a good price and we got our money. Fifty-five acres were selected,
the best we could for our purpose. Twenty acres were so situated as
to have no value. Thirty-five acres were fairly good, tillable land,

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Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 19 of 23)