Vintage Osky postcard

This historical article is courtesy Mahaska County Historical Society President John Jacobs

Oskaloosa Daily Herald

July 10, 1936


Iowa seems definitely turning to mechanized farming if the increased use of tractors on farms is a safe indication. The Weather and Crop Bureau of the State Department of Agriculture has just completed returns from assessors showing that in 1935 farmers used 69,835 tractors which is 11,482 more than in 1934, and the largest number in the history of the state.

This means that 33.7 per cent or nearly one-third of the farms now have tractors, if it be assumed that the number of farms having two or more tractors is negligible. As might be expected, the flat, uneroded surplus grain areas of the upper Raccoon and upper Des Moines valleys lead in the number of tractors, with slightly more than half of the farms so equipped. Kossuth County leads with 52.8 per cent, and Pocahontas and Humboldt close seconds with 52.4 per cent. Also as might be expected, the rough, eroded and comparatively unproductive south central counties have less than 20 per cent of the farms equipped with tractors, the least being 7.4 per cent in Appanoose County, while Monroe County, with 7.8 per cent, is a close second. Mahaska is credited with 610 tractors, or 22.1 per cent of the farms; Marion has 530 tractors, Keokuk 606 and Poweshiek 906.

The first statistics available showed 4,363 tractors on Iowa farms in 1917, since when there has been a steady increase except 1931 when there was a slight decrease and 1932 when there was a considerable decrease. Several factors entered to cause the large increase in 1935. the abnormal heat of 1934 reduced the oats and hay crops which constitute the build of the horse feed. The average age of horses has been gradually increasing because of the small production of colts for replacements for several years. Heat took great toll of the aged horses in 1934. The cost of the required horse power in animals and feed in the spring of 1935 was considerably greater than the cost of tractors, gasoline and oil. Also this is a machine age. It is in the atmosphere and the the mechanical ability of the average Iowa farmer is surprising to a white-collared city dweller who trusts all mechanical matters to his garage man and bothers himself with little more than the impluse to 'step on the gas."

Frequent heavy rains in the spring of 1935 kept the farmers out of the fields, particularly in the south central and southeast counties. the soil was waterlogged and when it finally became dry enough to work there were but a few days till it baked and turned up in huge clods. There was only one best day to plow. An army of aged horses could not have done a while spring season's work that was all crying to be done at once. Farmers turned to the tractors. New ones were purchased, most were equipped with headlights and they never stopped day nor night except for gas, oil and water till the job was done. The tractors did not get tired or overheated. Corn plowing, haying, harvest, threshing and other things were pushed through in one of the shortest work seasons ever known in Iowa. Even in the south central and southeast counties tractors increased 35 to 45 per county. The greatest increase was 218 in Buena Vista county while Palo Alto, Webster and Hamilton counties increased 200 or more.

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