About Chez-nous

Written October 2005

Uncle Vince was making good headway harvesting the soybeans when, in mid-afternoon September 28, 2005, a small bar snapped on the combine, disabling the huge machine. The broken nine inch cast piece weighing a few pounds was clearly visible.

We drove to LaMoure for the part. Replacing would be an easy task. But they had sold the last of the particular part we needed, and had to order it from Jamestown for delivery the following day. We were disabled.

Such is how it goes for the small farmer: if it's dry enough to harvest, the farmer is dependent on machinery that works. But the breakage of even a tiny part on a machine brings harvesting to a standstill. In the old days, the farmer could often improvise and cobble together some kind of replacement part, at least for temporary use. Today, the part has to be the right one.

Back at the farm, we had some time on our hands.

This particular late afternoon I asked Vince if the old single-bottom horse drawn plow from the old days was still around. I couldn't recall ever seeing such a plow.

Vince said that there were actually two such plows: one a walking plow, the other a riding plow, and he showed them to me, both well hidden in plain sight.

Perhaps it was seeing those plows that got me reminiscing about those long ago days of 100 years earlier, in 1905, when Grandma and Grandpa Busch, then young newlyweds with aspirations, became North Dakota farmers. What did they feel at the end of their first growing season on the North Dakota prairie?

That late afternoon of September 28, was cool and perfectly calm, following a chilly, windy day. I was standing in the farmyard, looking south. A few yards to my left was the only original building from that first year of 1905: the granary which had been built during the first summer. To my right was where the original farmhouse stood until it was taken down in 2000. They, and the original barn, replaced by the present barn in 1915, were likely the only farm buildings that first year of 1905.

I mused about how their domain might have looked and felt to Grandma and Grandpa, 100 years earlier, shortly after their first harvest?

As I looked south from the farmyard, across the soybean field, the countryside was nearly empty of evidence of humans, except for occasional clumps of trees marking long abandoned farmsteads, and of course, the tilled ground.

It was probably this field just south of the house that Grandpa first turned with the old horse drawn plow in the spring of 1905.

As Grandma and Grandpa came out of their house that first spring and summer, they would have looked over a landscape that was completely treeless, except for an occasional one along a creek.

There were, it is certain from viewing old photographs, no trees at all in the Busch farmyard. Those were not to come for some years.

They would have seen, probably, some neighboring farm houses at some distance. There were people living in Henrietta and other townships when the Busch's came - in fact, the population of the townships was greater than today. The families were young, then, and the bulk of the population would have been little kids, lots of them. The Busch's first child, Lucina, was a year and a half in the future.

Today a well maintained farm to market gravel route goes past the farm. 100 years ago, this would have been an unimproved trail. In fact, this road was essentially an unimproved trail during most of my growing up years, through the 1950s and maybe even beyond. Even today, 'heavy traffic' on that road is perhaps one vehicle an hour...and that is during the daylight hours.

I could see the Berlin elevators a few miles to the southwest. It is possible a new grain elevator was there by the time Busch's arrived in 1905; on the other hand, Grand Rapids was closer, and had been a settled place for 25 years, and it is most likely that their first wagon loads of grain went the five miles northeast to that tiny James River railroad town.

While I was standing there, from somewhere to the west came the sound of a small airplane of some sort. It had only been two years before the new Busch couples arrival on the farm in 1905 that Orville and Wilbur Wright, at Kitty Hawk NC, Dec 17, 1903, had demonstrated that a heavier than air machine could actually fly. That first 'flight' lasted 15 seconds and covered 200 feet. I wondered if the Busch's and Berning's in Wisconsin had heard about this astonishing new development back home in 1903. My guess is they had, since they received newspapers and journals and seem to have been fairly avid readers.

I always go in the old granary when at the farm - one of those habitual acts - and this trip it was no different. Each time is more hazardous than the time before. It has not been used for storing grain for many years. In the summer of 1905, it was brand new, apparently built in the summer, after the barn and house had been completed, and before the first harvest.

The original portion of the granary is about 18 feet long, and 15 feet wide. It is divided, as it doubtless was then, into three storage compartments.

What went into those compartments? We know for certain that flax seed was harvested that first season, and held for future sale. It apparently was the major cash crop that first year. The other crops can only be speculation. Likely some wheat, oats or barley filled the other compartments. The bins hold the secret.

The next night, September 29, we were back to harvesting again, and finishing up were treated to a brilliant North Dakota sunset.

After dark, the stars came out with a brilliance you never see in towns. There were scattered man-made 'stars': a few farmyard lights dotting the horizon.

In 1905, there would have been no farmyard lights. In fact, electricity in the present day sense did not come to the farms until the early 1950s.

But the star shine now, as then, was spectacular.

I thought back to another night in that farmyard, it must have been about Thanksgiving in 1957. About a month earlier - October 4, 1957 - the Soviet Union had launched into orbit Sputnik, a tiny orbiting satellite that 'blinked' as it tumbled through space, reflecting light from the sun. It was, of course, a major event, and I remember seeing Sputnik tracking maps in the Fargo Forum...whenever it was to cross North Dakota at night, a map in the paper would show when to look, and where. For some reason, my memory notes that it came, that night, from south-south-east to north-north-west across the night sky. It was memorable.

It is long ago that space launches were the source of any major interest to the American public. The folks on the Busch farm have witnessed it all: from pre-airplane through man on the moon. One wonders what next?

It was a pleasant end to September for me.

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