At first, wheat, corn, and potatoes were the principal crops we raised; wheat especially. But in four or five years the soil was so exhausted that only five or six bushels an acre, even in the better fields, were obtained, although when first ploughed twenty and twenty-five bushels were about the ordinary yield. More attention was then paid to corn, but without fertilizers the corn crop also became very meagre. At last it was discovered that English clover would grow on even the exhausted fields, and that when ploughed under and planted with corn, or even wheat, wonderful crops were raised. This caused a complete change in farming methods: the farmers raised fertilizing clover, planted corn, and fed the crop to cattle and hogs.
In summer the chores were grinding scythes, feeding the animals, chopping stove-wood, and carrying water up the hill from the spring on the edge of the meadow, and so forth. Then breakfast, and to the harvest or hayfield. I was foolishly ambitious to be first in mowing and cradling, and, by the time I was sixteen, led all the hired men. I was sixteen, led all the hired men. An hour was allowed at noon, and then more chores. We stayed in the field until dark; then supper, and still more chores, family worship, and to bed; making altogether a hard, sweaty day of about sixteen or seventeen hours. Think of that, ye blessed eight-hour-day laborers!
In winter, father came to the foot of the stairs and called us at six o’clock to feed the horses and cattle, grind axes, bring in wood, and do any other chores required; then breakfast, and out to work in the mealy, frosty snow by daybreak, chopping, fencing, and so forth. So in general our winter work was about as restless and trying as that of the long-day summer. No matter what the weather, there was always something to do. During heavy rain or snow-storms we worked in the barn, shelling corn, fanning wheat, thrashing with the flail, making axe-handles, ox-yokes, mending things, or sorting sprouting potatoes in the cellar.
No pains were taken to diminish or in any way soften the natural hardships of this pioneer farm-life; nor did any of the Europeans seem to know how to find reasonable ease and comfort if they would. The very best oak and hickory fuel was embarrassingly abundant and cost nothing but cutting and common sense; but instead of hauling great heart-cheering loads of it for wide, open, all-welcoming, climate-changing, beauty-making, God-like ingle-fires, it was hauled with weary, heart-breaking industry into fences and waste places, to get it out of the way of the plough, and out of the way of doing good.
The only fire for the whole house was the kitchen stove, with a fire-box about eighteen inches long and eight inches wide and deep, — scant space for three or four small sticks, around which, in hard zero weather, all the family of ten persons shivered, and beneath which, in the morning, we found our socks and coarse soggy boots frozen solid. We were not allowed to start even this despicable little fire in its black box to thaw them. No, we had to squeeze our throbbing, aching, chilblained feet into them, causing greater pain than toothache, and hurry out to chores. Fortunately the miserable chilblain pain began to abate as soon as the temperature of our feet approached the freezing-point, enabling us, in spite of hard work and hard frost, to enjoy the winter beauty, — the wonderful radiance of the snow when it was starry with crystals, and the dawns and the sunsets and white noons, and the cheery enlivening company of the brave chickadees and nut-hatches.