The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 14, 2013

Working draft horses highlight farm days


The Daily Southerner

TARBORO — “The transition to a tractor was a good idea,” said Clifton Earl Wilson of Belvoir, as he watched a team of nine Percheron horses pulling three 12-inch plows across the field at Eddie Dail Farms between Tarboro and Conetoe Saturday. “It’s a whole lot more efficient to use the tractor than them horses.”

Dail invited the North Carolina Work Horse and Mule Association to his 4th annual Old Time Farm Show to give the crowd a first-hand glimpse of farm life in the old days.

“Our motto is to roll the past forward. This is the way our forefathers tended the land and we don’t want to lose our heritage,” said Spot Rouse, member of the association’s board of directors.

Today’s technology has changed a day in the life of a farmer, requiring a lot less manpower, and horsepower.

“If you were walking behind a two-horse plow, you’d have to walk approximately eight miles to plow an acre of land,” Rouse said. At least one spectator at Saturday’s show remembered those days.

“We had a plow and one or two mules. You’d get up in the morning and plow all day, get up the next morning and do the same thing — peanuts, cotton, tobacco, all of that, the horse flies biting you,” said Samuel Hall, 66, of Ahoskie. “Nowadays, they got these big John Deere tractors, air-conditioned, with radios … You get out here in the field and you’ll be out here maybe an hour and you’re done.”

This is the first year that Eddie Dail has had horses and mules as part of his farm show, and he believes the addition contributed to Saturday’s large crowd estimated at between 900 to 1,000 people.

“We had a fantastic turnout,” said Dail. “It’s getting bigger every year.”

Carolina Grass entertained the lunchtime crowd with bluegrass and old-time music, while antique tractor enthusiasts plowed the fields. Wilson’s son Clifton Earl Wilson III plowed with his 1952 Farmall M tractor at Saturday’s show, which took the place of two-to-three horses pulling a one-row plow. The transition from using horses and mules to using tractors to plow began in the 1940’s and continued into the 1950’s and 1960’s, said Wilson, and fueling the tractors was a lot cheaper than feeding the horses.

Other aspects of farm life that have changed in the past 50 years are the processes of preparing tobacco and peanuts for market. Ernest Cutler grew up on a tobacco farm in Beaufort County, and he had a collard-tying demonstration to show spectators at the farm show how tobacco was tied on a hand-made stick cut out of pine prior to curing.

“You had to take this stick and get it all the way to the top of the barn [for curing],” Cutler said. “About 40-some years ago, they converted over to bulk barns and didn’t have individual sticks anymore.”

Janice Knox of Tarboro demonstrated the tobacco-tying skill she acquired as a child in front of a small crowd at Cutler’s booth.

“I started handing tobacco when I was 4 years old, standing on a five-gallon bucket,” Knox said. “From the mule days to technology days, farming has come a long ways. It [technology] has taken a lot of work off the physical body, but some of the old days are still good to remember.”

Feeding the 1926 peanut-thrashing machine on Dail Farms Saturday afternoon brought back memories for 77-year-old Donnie Roberson of Martin County.

“I did this a long time ago,” he said. “I got the peanut picker and the [hay] baler, too.”

Stacks of dried peanuts grown on Dail Farms were thrown into the picker with pitchforks, while the picker removed the vines from the peanuts. Wayne Wilson of Oak City sat on the tractor that powered the machine.

“The tractor here is running the belt, which is running the peanut thrasher,” Wilson said. He said tractors were commonly used as power units for industries such as saw mills years ago.