From: "Nancee\(McMurtrey\)Seifert" <iggy29(a)scican.net>
Subject: [IADECATU] 'A CENTURY OF MEMORIES OF VAN WERT, IOWA --
l880-l980'. (Part 4)
'A CENTURY OF MEMORIES'
OF VAN WERT, IOWA
l880 - l980
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
All Roads Lead to Van Wert
Prior to the year l854, the territory on which the town of Van Wert
now stands was in the midst of an almost limitless expanse of gently
rolling prairie with a small amount of timber. Prior to the coming
of the settlers, this section was claimed by the red man. In l854,
several emigrants began a settlement here in Long Creek Township.
Lambert Taylor and Mr. J. Irving conceived the idea of adding
materially to their wealth by locating a town on their lands. Thus,
the first road running north and south between their lands was
established. This has always been called Main Street.
There was an early post office called Patriot that was located in a
private home two miles east of Van Wert. We can only presume that
what is now a black top road No. 258, that goes to Highway 69, began
as a wagon trail. On an automobile map of l9l4, this road was called
the Corn Belt Highway. It was marked on telephone poles with two
yellow stripes painted with a black stribe between, later metal signs.
Records show that Highway 69 was once called "From Palm to Pines" but
the l9l4 map lists it as two highways. One was Jefferson Highway -
marked telephone poles with two blue stripes and a white stripe
between with a JH symbol on the white. At this same time this
highway also had sign posts that read "St. Paul, Des Moines, St. Joe
and Kansas City" Interstate Trail. This same highway was changed to
number 65 and 69 running together at a later date. This road was
graded in the l920's with teams of horses and lots of hard work. It
is now known as Highway 69.
Mud roads - how well many of us remember them! Soon after the
paving of Highway 69, just east of Van Wert in l930, Van Wert was
given an all weather road. The first graveled road in Long Creek
Township was along the south side in l935. Just south of Van Wert, l
l/2 miles of road was graded up by hand by the WPA workers and
graveled in l936. By the early l950's, most all of our roads were
graveled. December l7, l969, marked the opening of Interstate 35
from Osceola on No. 34 and to Decatur on No. 2.
Interstate 35 runs through the west section of Van Wert's city
limits. Interstate 35 gave Van Wert, formerly an end-of-the-road
town, a "back-door" entrance.
Van Wert Farmers and Agri-Business
It all started on the land. Where the sod was broken, other commerce
and industry followed. Some would say that in southern Iowa, the
railroads paved the way, and this is true. In fact most early
homestead purchases in Decatur County were from tracts of land owned
by the railroad or the government.
In the Van Wert area 100 years ago, the Keokuk-Western and the Des
Moines-Kansas City lines made up the rail service (including the
Humeston-Shenandoah). But looking at our nation at that early date,
we see that a main function of railroads was to carry people, goods,
and produce, and without the farmers, railroads and towns which
sprang up along the way, would have had little to serve. conversely,
farmers relied on the towns for tools, implements, seeds, and other
goods to carry on their enterprises, and they relied on the railroads
to bring these goods in. Without a big argument concerning the
"chicken and egg" theory, it would suffice to say that to the coming
of railroads and homesteading, towns owe their beginning. The same
is true of Van Wert.
Of course, steam engines were well in use before the turn of the
century. Owners of threshing rigs in the Van Wert area at an early
date that people have mentioned were: Showers and Liggitt, Horney
Bros., Jack Lee, Vern and Clair Parmer, Delbert and Bill Ramsey, Alva
Foland, Sharon Twombley, Charley Davis, John Bill Bahr, Fred and Bill
Jack Lee worked with a Rumley separator threshing machine powered by
a Russell engine. He had different partners in this enterprise.
Jack later changed to a Case tractor. Sharon Twombley had a 22' Red
River special threshing machine powered by a l5-30 International
Alva Foland had a Rumley oil pull tractor on his threshing rig. Fred
Beers had a Case separator pulled by a steam engine. Bill Beers and
Fred also sawed wood with a Hart-Parr tractor at one time.
Merlin Oiler was well known for his ability to stack straw right as
it came out of the blower. He always wore a pair of goggles and
didn't want anyone else on the stack with him. Merlin usually went
barefooted so he really practiced his boxing ability on that straw
Nolan Foland and Jesse O'Hair were the first in the area to start
farming with tractors as well as horses. They both had a B John
Deere with steel wheels.
James A. O'Hair had a B Farmall. Floyd Boles had one of the first
F12 International tractors on steel. Charlie Johnson and Levi
Cochran had one of the first W.C. Allis Chalmers. Levi had a custom
feed grinder mounted on a Model A truck. Harold Pearcy and Ray O'Hair
did custom hay baling with the old square wire-tie balers pulled and
powered by small farm tractors.
Harley Heckathorn did custom wood sawing. He had a 6-horse Whitte
engine. He pulled it from one job to another with a team of horses.
Several sorghum mills were around the community. Some were operated
by Lonnie Cowden, Erastus Wilson, Lou Green and Homer Ramsey.
Each spring cane was planted in rows and cultivated. By the middle
of August, it was ready to be stripped. This was done by someone
walking each row with a sharpened lath to break off the leaves. When
all of the leaves were off, the tops of the cane were cut off with a
corn knife. Finally, the stalk was cut off and loaded on a hayrack
to be taken to the mill. The cane was fed into the press and the
juice put into large vats and cooked for five or six hours. It was
then skimmed and put in 5 or l0 gallon cream cans to cool. After
cooling, the sorghum was then transferred to gallon jars.
In the l970's, Lonnie and Ruby Cowden made sorghum at the Walt King
farm. (They usually made about 75 gallons a year.) In l97l, Pete
Scadden helped haul in the cane. Others helping with stripping,
topping and cutting cane were Charita Cox, Debby Fisher, Ted Cox,
Randy Cowden, Teddy Scadden, Coy Cowden.
Elmer and Uriah Ramsey owned and operated a steam engine saw mill.
Joshua West marketed his hogs, one or two at a time by supplying Van
Wert's store with fresh butchered pork every week.
Fred Wesley Gill, son of James Milton Gill and Blanche Burchett, who
were married in l9l6, lived on a farm 5 miles southwest of Van Wert,
near DeKalb until l939. The farm consisted of over 960 acres and was
called the Hepburn farm. It was farmed with horses and mules and it
was the first farm in the county to have Deer and Beavers released on
it by the Conservation Commission. It was also the first farm to use
poison bran to try to destroy the Cinch bugs. Donald Morris worked
for Fred Gill for 20 years. Fred's three girls rode on horseback the
five miles night and morning to attend school in Van Wert. Fred
helped with the homecomings and ran the dances on Saturday nights.
It's always fun to compare farms, say in the rural Van Wert area of
today, vs. l00 years ago. Think of an operation in l880: one hundred
sixty acres, l/4 section, was a big farm. Many farm units were only
eighties, forties or less. There was no electricity, no gas, no
refrigeration. Butchering had to be done in the winter time, or if
not the meat had to be readily salted away or cured. Transportation
essentially was by horse and buggy; train, if you cared to venture
far. Entertainment was simple and locally derived. Movies weren't
known yet. Kerosene or coal oil lamps made up the lighting. Wood or
coal heated the home and cooked the meals.
The farmer was basically subsistent. Some produce and livestock was
sold in trade for the basic necessities; salt, sugar, coffee, seed,
fencing, tack, hardware, and maybe some cloth goods for making
clothing. Farms were still feeding few people besides their own
families. Now 380 acres is just an average size farm. Farming is
basically big business. One tractor replaces a team of draft horses
easily, chemicals kill weeds, commercial fertilizers replace soil
nutrients, and on several farms, crops go in the ground with little
or no tillage at all. In some instances, plows are implements of the
To Be Continued . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Pages 20 - 26
Contributed, Courtesy of Larry McElwee;
Dodge City, Kansas.