Homestead Slow to Embrace Machinery and Chemical Fertilizers in Mid-Century Kansas

As machinery and chemical fertilizers gained widespread use in mid-century America, the Wipprecht farm continued its reliance on traditional methods.


| October 8, 2013



tractor

Harold Skeet brings in the last load of corn he grew, on rented land, in the 1960s.


Courtesy Joy Lominska

Small-scale modern homesteaders can learn many lessons and skills from homesteaders of the past. In The Old Home Place, author Joy Lominska looks into the history of the farm she and her family currently live on and operate as organic vegetable market farmers. Through interviews and letter-writing, Lominska pieces together a history of the farm's evolution through time. This excerpt comes from Chapter 9, "The Old Wipprecht Place," which discusses farming as a whole in the mid-1900s, including the farm's development under the ownership of the Wipprecht family.

You can purchase this book online: The Old Home Place 

The 1940s brought some major changes to the area, if not always to the Wipprecht farm. During the war, Harold Skeet asked the county to provide a rock crusher to make gravel for the dirt roads. The county complied, and local farmers dismantled many of the original stone fences to crush for the roads. Harold asked Henry Wipprecht if he would come to work on the road in front of the Skeet farm (the former Ousdahl farm), hauling and crushing rock in exchange for a modest pay. Henry agreed, and most days walked the mile or so west to Harold’s farm, worked several hours lifting rocks, then walked home. One day when Harold’s wife, Julia, called Henry in to the house to get his pay, Henry said that he appreciated the money, it was helpful, but what really kept him coming back each day was his desire to see how far Harold would go in rocking the road past his house. Together they rocked all the way to Wellman Road, about a mile. It must have been back-breaking work, and many of the local stone walls disappeared during this time. Other farmers followed suit, and soon many of the roads were graveled and more passable after a rain.

In 1948, electricity began spreading into the neighborhood. Harold Skeet canvassed from house to house, trying to persuade neighbors to sign up for electric service. Henry Wipprecht declined to sign up, saying they were fine as they had always been and did not need a monthly bill to worry about. Those who got electricity in 1949 remember the excitement of radios and the convenience of refrigerators. The Wipprechts finally got electricity in 1954.

As farms changed from horses to tractors, fences changed. Fewer small pastures were needed when the farm did not have work horses, so old fences were pulled out to make larger fields. Without the horse manure, the farms did not produce enough fertilizer. By the 1950s, brome grass was being planted for pasture and hay. Although its taste was appealing to livestock, it required more fertilizer than other grasses, just when farms had less. Chemical fertilizers increased in use to maintain brome fields. With technical advances, work on many farms began to change.





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