A few months ago, I devoted my column to Dad’s farm memories. This time, I’m devoting my column to my mom, who celebrated her birthday in November.
Mary Kay Trappe was born in northeastern Iowa and grew up in and around Monona and Postville. When she was a girl, my grandfather Harold Trappe, grandmother Mildred Trappe, and she moved several times, as Grandpa rented or worked on several different farms. It was on one of these farms south of Monona that Mom said Grandpa was working when his first new tractor—a 1947 John Deere B—came to Monona on the train. Grandpa was working in the pasture near the train tracks, saw the train with his tractor go by, and couldn’t wait to get his chores done and get to town to pick it up.
Mom’s not certain, but she thinks that was probably one of the first tractors she drove by herself.
“I could push the clutch lever forward with my foot to get the tractor going, as it pulled the bundle wagon slowly across the field, and I steered the tractor,” she said. “But I was too little to pull the clutch back to stop the tractor. So whoever was throwing bundles on the wagon would have to run up to pull the clutch for me.”
On her mother’s 250-acre family farm, Meadowbrook, located between Monona and Postville, Mom remembers driving her Grandpa Brewer’s John Deere A.
“I also had to drive Keith Carlson’s old Allis-Chalmers to rake hay, and I wasn’t used to it. I didn’t like that tractor,” said my mom.
When Grandpa Brewer died in the early 1950s, Mom and her parents moved to Meadowbrook, where Grandpa Trappe and Uncle Raymond Brewer went into partnership together. While Grandma Trappe taught school, Mom helped her dad and uncle with various chores. Among the tractors Mom operated on Meadowbrook was a John Deere 530.
“My mother thought my dad should have given me the 530 as a wedding gift when I got married, because I drove it so much,” said Mom.
Other tractors on Meadowbrook included an old McCormick-Deering for belt work that was used to ground feed and run the thresher. Mom thinks it was either a 1520 or a 1530 on steel wheels.
Mom’s field work included disking plowed ground to break up the clumps for planting. She said she didn’t like a rear-mounted disk that they had, since it made the front end of the tractor too light when going uphill. The rear-mounted disk eventually was traded for a better disk that everyone enjoyed using.
In the early 1960s, Mom got a job as a teller at the bank in nearby Luana.
“One time, I had to haul manure after a shift at the bank,” she said. “I was afraid a bank customer would see me doing it, so I was glad I had to spread it on a back field away from the road.”
In the summer, she baled hay with a John Deere 14T baler that was later traded for a heavier 24T.
“Those were both light balers, compared to the John Deere 336 and 338 balers of later days,” she said. “A load of hay behind one of those lighter balers could push the tractor and baler down the hill, if you weren’t careful.”
When she married Dad in 1964, Mom quickly learned that he and his father had had a different way of making hay at Oak Hollow Farm in Wisconsin.
“At Meadowbrook, several of my dad’s brothers showed up at haymaking time, and they made hay,” Mom told me. “At Oak Hollow Farm, it was inefficient. Your grandpa Frankenhoff would drive the baler, and your dad would load behind. Then, they would switch wagons and load the second. After that, they unhooked the tractor from the baler, pulled in the load, unloaded it, and then did the same with the other one.”
Mom said she offered to help run the baler, but Grandpa Frankenhoff was sure she would get hurt, despite all her experience. He based that opinion on the problems he had had many years earlier, trying to teach Grandma Frankenhoff how to bale hay. When Dad got a Massey-Ferguson baler with a thrower, he was convinced Mom could easily run it. Though she wasn’t as convinced, she quickly learned how to do it and came to like the John Deere 336 and 338 balers better than the ones on her old farm.
Other field work at Oak Hollow Farm included disking and running the cultimulcher, which dug and rolled the dirt, breaking it into tiny pieces.
“I really liked running [the cultimulcher],” she told me, “and the neatness of the field at the end was pleasing. The faster you went, the better job you did with it. Your dad would even say my work was too good where I filled in the ‘dead furrow’—an indentation in the middle of the field—that then made it difficult to see where to start planting.”
Mom showed me how to disk cornstalks and, later, how to run the cultimulcher. She especially liked to make the ends of the field extra neat and always made two passes on the outside round of every field.
Another skill she taught me was mowing the lawn. When I began, she’d do the first couple of rounds to give me plenty of room to work along our fence. She had put in a lot of hours mowing the lawn with various John Deere riding mowers at Meadowbrook and brought that experience to Oak Hollow Farm. She convinced Grandpa Frankenhoff to buy a John Deere 110 rider, although she discovered that its steel-pan seat was uncomfortable. By the time I was big enough to run it, we had traded it for another John Deere rider.
As I got older, it was fun to know more about some of the equipment than Mom did, but there was little I could do that she couldn’t. I miss those days of working together on the farm, but we do have our memories and share them on each of my visits home.
Did your mother work in the fields with the rest of the family? Share your memories in the comment section below.