VII

 

In 1881 the first railroad was built to San Diego. Before that everything that was raised on the ranches, such as hay and grain, had to be hauled to that place on wagons. There was no other market place and San Diego was then only a very small town.

 

In those days when a farmer living away back in the mountains raised a crop of grain of any kind, it must all be loaded on a wagon and hauled over miserable roads to San Diego. Twenty-five miles per day was a hard day’s trip with a load. So a rancher who lived forty miles from town had at least a two days trip with a load, to market.

 

And in those days if anyone spoke of going to town everyone knew that he went to San Diego – for there was no other town in the county.

 

Most all the ranchers or farmers had a wagon that would carry from one to four tons. They would hitch four or six horses or mules to this wagon, load it with sacks of grain, as many sacks as they thought their team could possibly pull. Tie a camp box, containing a few cooking utensils, and enough provisions to last them for the trip, and also a roll of bedding, on top of the load and start out.

The roads were always bad, for in those days, when a part of the road got so bad that teamsters could not pull a load over it, instead of the road being repaired, they usually broke out a new track, and traveled that until it too got impossible. Then, after the next winter’s rains had come and settled the dust, they would go back over the old road, “straddling the ruts” – (that is, putting a wheel on each side of the old ruts), and thus got along the best way they could.

 

A four-horse load was usually from three to four thousand pounds, but teamsters never talked of tons or thousands of pounds. It was “thirty hundred”, “fifty hundred”, “sixty hundred,” etc. 1

Most boys who lived on ranches learned, when quite young, to drive a team, that is, a four or six-horse team. For if they did not drive a team on the road, they had to drive a plow team. The crops were all put in by means of gang plows, which plows were usually drawn by six or eight horses or mules. These teams were expected to be in the field, ready for work, as soon as it was light enough to see in the morning. And they were not expected to leave the field until it was too dark to see the furrow.

The teams had to be fed at least an hour before starting for the field, and the driver must not only feed his team, but he must curry and harness them before breakfast, too.

 

These long hours during the planting season, which in this country is from about December first to February first, was made necessary on account of the large amount of plowing that must be done in that short time. One good six-animal team was expected to plow at least two hundred acres during the planting season. And as this is the rainy season here, they must expect to lose a good many days on account of rain.

 

Those who had to hire drivers for their plow teams never seemed to have any trouble to get men willing to put in these long hours. The men seemed to realize that the time for such work was limited and that the work must be rushed. And the early planted crops were usually the best.

 

1 2000 lbs. = a short ton or 2240 lbs. = a long ton.

If sacks weighed 100 lbs each, then 30 sacks would weigh 3000 lbs. or over one ton.

 

Of course I am writing of the good old days before the war in Europe caused the laboring people to lose their heads and to demand an eight-hour day. And with only about half the amount of work done in those eight hours that an ordinary man could do in that length of time.

 

As soon as the planting was done there was always lots of work in fixing roads and fences, etc. until harvest was on. First came the haying, cutting, raking, shocking and then stacking.

 

After that came the grain harvest. The grain was cut with a header. With this machine the horses push the header before them. It usually cuts a swath about twelve feet wide and is ordinarily pushed by six horses. It is steered by a tiller like a boat. The driver stood away back on a small platform behind the horses, and astride the tiller. He has a long lever by which he can raise and lower the cutter bar. He can vary the height of the cutter bar from six inches to three feet. The cut grain falls on a running canvas draper and is carried up through a drapered spout and into the header wagons which are driven alongside and under the spout.

 

One man drives the header, another man drives each wagon – (there are two or three wagons) -- and one man loads or places the grain in the wagons. Loading header wagons is very hard work. A header will sometimes cut thirty acres per day, and where one man has to load it all, changing from one wagon to another as the wagons are filled, it surely takes a man who knows his business to handle this job.

The writer has done most every kind of work that there is to do on a ranch and on most occasions has been able to fill a man’s place at any kind of a job. But I never tried loading header wagons but part of one day. And I decided right then – like the elephant that tried to climb the tree – that “it couldn’t be did.” At least that I couldn’t do it. The grain was very heavy, and came up the spout in such volume that I was snowed under, and had to put in all my time in digging myself out. A man who understands loading, however, will seemingly have little trouble, no matter how fast it comes up the spout.

 

Of course, after the grain is cut and stacked, it must be threshed. In my boyhood days the threshers were always what were known as “horse powers”. That is, instead of having an engine of some kind to drive the machinery a number of horses – usually twelve to sixteen – were hitched to a series of sweeps, and the power driver stood on a platform in the center, and kept them going around and around all day. The power thus generated was transmitted to a wheel called the “Jack” by means of a series of tumbling rods. A long belt ran from the “Jack” to a pulley on the threshing machine, thus driving it. There were so many horses with one of those old fashioned threshing outfits, and they got so little done in a day, that they almost would clean out a farmers crops before they got it threshed. Then there were from twelve to twenty men went with such an outfit, and they had to be fed by the farmer. And such appetites as these fellows would have! To see the threshing machine coming was enough to give the farmer’s wife a nightmare.

 

Of course in later years these old horse power machines gave place to big steam-driven threshers, that did not have more than half as many horses with them as the old-timers had, and which would thresh two or three times as much in a day as they did. These big outfits also brought a cook wagon with them and boarded their own men. So that was a great relief, especially to the women of the ranch.

But in the early days before the railroad came the hauling of the crops to market was surely a long tiresome job. Most boys however after they were big enough to handle grain sacks, considered it a fine job. To be sent with a four- or six-animal team and a big load of grain to San Diego, and to be gone from home at least three or four days – they thought was quite a lark. But before the crop was all hauled the fun had long since departed from it.

 

There were always a good many teams on the road in those days and there was naturally a lot of rivalry amongst the teamsters as to whose team could pull the biggest load. Of course some farmers had much better teams than others. But there was almost as much in the driver as there was in the team. Some drivers could take a very ordinary team and haul a bigger load than others could who had very good teams.

 

In early days there were too, a good many of what were known as “long teams”, that is, teams of eight, ten, twelve, or even sixteen animals, and these teamsters would have two, and sometimes three, big wagons to each such team. These “long teams” were always driven with a single line, which was called a jerk line.

 

There are many auto drivers now that boast of their skill as drivers. But it took a hundred times more skill to handle one of those “long teams” hauling loads over mountain grades than any auto driver ever dreamed of. The old mountain roads were very steep and very crooked. And anyone going over such roads now would never think that a long team of six or eight span of mules or horses, with two big heavily loaded wagons, could ever be gotten around the short turns in such roads, without getting at least one of the wagons off the road. But those old-time teamsters were really skilled drivers. And they rarely had any trouble even if the roads were bad.

 

Now I am well aware that this rather long description of farming and teaming as I have written it is rather uninteresting, but I started in to write an account of life on a ranch and every ranch had to have some of that sort of thing. And we boys all had to do some of the disagreeable work, as well as some other kinds that were more to our liking. The ranch on which I was brought up was devoted principally to stock raising. But we had to do quite a lot of farming too.