After that tentative start, dry farming spread into both Cache Valley and points south and northward into Idaho -- grain crops being the most suited to such a system. By the middle of the twentieth century, almost half of the total cropland in Utah was comprised of dry farms. And in Idaho during the boom in dry farming during World War I, it was said that American Falls shipped more grain than any other station on the Union Pacific Railroad.
But dry farming requires a lot of land. Yields are lower than on irrigated land and so a decent profit requires more area on which to grow. The system also requires half the land to lie fallow while storing up water for the next year's crop.
And it demanded a high level of mechanization and a fair amount of workers, especially during the late nineteenth century and on into the first few decades of the twentieth. Early on, the big dry farms took advantage of mechanized harvesters. These harvesters were big, and they were heavy. Eighteen mules were required to pull an early McCormick combine in the late 1880s, and threshing machines were at first powered by teams of 12 horses, walking in a circle, harnessed in pairs. There were always work crews of a dozen or more, depending upon the size of the farm, and on the Jennie and James Harris Gilbert's place they were mostly family. Young Emma and Ina Gilbert are shown above as the small figures in the grain bin of the Gilbert's McCormick-Deering Combine behind a six-horse team of horses.
So picture yourself a girl of eight or nine years old, living on a 1,600-acre dry farm in the mountains of southeastern Idaho with nine siblings, only one of which is younger than yourself, and the place is overrun with horses and ponies. Idyllic, wouldn't you say? When I was young, a city girl, I dreamed of living on just such a farm and used to fantasize about it for hours. Imagine getting to ride horses and ponies whenever you felt like it! "Yes," replies LuDean Gilbert Maughan, the adult version of said little girl. "And imagine doing it when you could never get on the same frequency as the horse!"
The Bancroft Years
ittle LuDean could not relate to horses, no. But nevertheless she lived with the beasts intimately for the first ten years of her life. The Gilbert's family farm was situated in Bancroft, Idaho, a town lying at an elevation of 5,400 feet and containing a population of 450. The town is about 10 miles south of historic Chesterfield, and something like thirty miles southeast of Pocatello. It was a wonderful place to grow up. LuDean remembers wandering those acres, watching for coyotes. "With a little luck we would often see them," she said. "And I loved to listen at night as their howls echoed over the quiet countryside." She loved seeing the delicate blooms of the Camassia, too, called locally "Rock Lilies," that appeared during wet springs. She remembers working in the fields with her siblings, all nine of them. And as her big brother, Harris, is shown doing above, LuDean remembers driving a team of horses the two or three miles to the elevator in town, pulling a wagon-load of grain from the field -- that is, she remembers it, but not with a great deal of fondness. It was a family operation up there, you see. The family was the crew. And a crew was what was needed to handle an operation as big as a dry farm.
By the time Jennie and James Harris Gilbert were farming their 1,600-acre dry farm in Bancroft, McCormick had merged with Deering and their combines were lighter, were powered by gasoline or kerosene, and were pulled by horses. Shown below is the elder Gilbert dumping grain from the bin of the McCormick-Deering Combine into the waiting wagon. It seems that not only Harris and LuDean, but all the Gilbert siblings had their turns driving the team and wagon full of grain to the elevator in town. LuDean remembers a cinch breaking on one of these horses while she was in the driver's role just far enough from both field and town that she couldn't yell for help. A commensensical girl, but no less terrified of the horses' bellies and hooves, she clambered underneath and made the necessary repair with the only thing available to her at the time -- a twisted piece of fence wire. She was eight or nine years old at the time. To me that shows at least some closeness to the horses' frequency, but no. LuDean insists she had no special love for horses.
A Horse to remember
ne shining example of horsedom could illustrate the basis for LuDean's enduring dislike of horses. It was embodied in a little Indian pony that had originally come from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation by way of a friend of her dad's named Johnny Call in Chesterfield. The pony's name was Dime and like so many ponies of family legends, he was neat, small, smart, stubborn and, as LuDean puts it, "possessed of an evil streak."
Wily and quick, Dime was near impossible to catch in the corral -- an explosion, one could say, of energy. But after he was caught, bridled, and saddled, he'd sag as though ready for the grave. LuDean and her little brother, Sid, would be standing by warily as Dime was led, hooves dragging, toward them. "Dad would put Sid and me on this creature," relates LuDean, "and send us on an errand." The sigh following this declaration was almost palpable. And does this story sound familiar? No sooner did Dime get far enough away from the elder Gilbert than he would edge over to the nearest fence, hang his head over, and stay there, deaf to all entreaties of the young riders helplessly sitting on his back. Inevitably, the elder Gilbert would show up, hoist himself into the saddle, and as LuDean put it, "give that ornery cuss a good 'tuning.'" Off the children would go once more on the ostensibly humbled Dime and perhaps they'd manage to reach their destination if it wasn't too far away. Or if it was, Dime would edge over to another fence.
Given enough of these antics, it's no wonder a little girl would learn to be wary of horses, though Dime appeared to be the worst of the lot -- taking off for parts unknown with regularity, saved from foundering on pillaged grain many times over by the elder Gilbert, kicking holes in the granary wall for a midnight feed until rousted out by a rifle shot over the building's roof. He was finally passed on to LuDean's brother-in-law who, in turn, traded him off for a cow. At his last home, alas, Old Dime found a new granary to kick in, and with no one to stop him this time, he managed to eat himself to death.
The great change
to the internal combustion engine
n 1937, the Gilbert family got their first tractor, an Allis-Chalmers, shown at left -- a huge thing with metal wheels, the two in the back equipped with metal cleats. The driving position, as you can see in the photo, was offset to the right -- Mother Gilbert is standing behind the wheel. This configuration was designed to afford better visibility of the land ahead. After this, the Gilbert horses were a part of history, a situation LuDean viewed with mixed emotions. She was around ten years old at the time, and with all the frustations they caused, still the beasts took them places after their fashion. "With the horses gone and the vehicles off limits for us," declares LuDean, "our mode of transportation became shanks' pony." Her Dad, however, was pretty happy, LuDean reports. "Machinery and he," she said, "were much more compatible."
A few years later the elder Gilbert acquired a deisel-powered RD-4 crawler tractor, a model introduced by the Caterpillar company in 1936. The low center of gravity and the wide tracked wheels were a godsend to Idaho farmers working on steep slopes. The tracked wheels also distributed the machine's weight over a much wider area, decreasing its effect on delicate soils. With the RD-4 Caterpillar, Mr. Gilbert acquired a larger combine, this time a model introduced by the J.I.Case Company, seen in the photo following.
LuDean Gilbert Maughan , now of Logan, is working on her memoirs of growing up in Bancroft and reports she's now past her high school years in terms of time covered. The pages have some hilarious stories of horses she has known -- many more than could be recounted here -- and we're looking forward to seeing it available to Cache Valley readers.
LuDean Gilbert at eleven, red haired, freckled, and happy that all those
horses are gone!