The following story took place on the James Borchers’s farm at 1178 South Rock City Road. James Borchers is the author’s uncle. Margaret Borchers is Roger’s aunt, and Earl Borchers is Roger’s cousin. Taletta “Lottie Hill of 634 East Stephenson Street is Roger Hill’s mother.
THE CITY KID AND THE THRESHERS
Story by Roger Hill
This story is about a city kid who went threshing to his uncle’s farm near Ridott, Illinois. My aunt called one day to ask my mother if she would help her ‘cause the threshers were coming and that meant getting a big dinner for them. When the women put on a meal it was something ‘cause those men were hungry and they could really put the grub away, and the women really out did themselves at the threshers’ dinner. It was like a 10 course meal at a fashionable restaurant only twice as good.
The day to go was here so my mom and I got on the Interurban and headed for Ridott where my cousin picked us up with a spring wagon. My mom had baked some apple pies and an angel food cake and some other goodies. We loaded it all on the wagon and headed for the farm. My cousin told us we were going to thresh barley, and my mom said, oh, not barley, she knew what that meant. All the men wore bandanna handkerchiefs around their necks and mouths and noses because the barbs on the barley were stickers, and they would get in your clothes and your nose and ears and could scratch you badly.
My cousin and I were assigned to the water wagon to supply the steam engine and that old “gal” could chuck water like a thirsty horse. This was a large tank that held 500 gallons of water. We had to drive down to a creek and fill her up. It had a big hand pump on it and a long hose. We would put it in the creek. Then we would take turns on the pump ‘till the tank was full.
My uncle had built a straw shed, and the straw was blown over the shed ‘till he had a big straw pile. This was a beautiful place for the cows and pigs to find shelter.
Now comes the interesting part, the men were waiting for the wagons to come in and were shooting the bull and gossiping and I was there listening. One great big guy pulled out a pack of chewing tobacco, Red Man, and passed it around, they all chewed tobacco. They all looked like they had a toothache. When they passed it around, it came to me, and they said, here “Snookie” (my nickname) take a chew. So, I took a big pinch of chewing tobacco, it tasted real good. I was chewing tobacco just like the big boys were. I was a big shot kid from the city, and one guy says, if you really want to enjoy it, swallow a little. I did, and a little later my mom was looking for me, and she found me in a cow manger, heaving my “guts” out— sicker than anything I can describe. I knew I was going to die and so did my mom. I turned green, then white, then purple, and I was crying all the time. My mom rushed me to the house, and they fixed me a glass of epson salt water and made me drink it. I was one sick “cookie”. I tried to work the pump the rest of the day, but I was so weak I could hardly walk.
Then came quitting time and one guy asked, what happened to “Snookie”, and one guy said you don’t suppose he got sick from the Red Man Tobacco he tried to chew. One guy said, he took the cure kinda young didn’t he and he sure was right. I have never smoked a cigarette or chewed tobacco all my life, and I can’t even stand the smell of tobacco to this day. Talk about a cure, that sure was a good one.
As I got older and met some of these old timers, they would grin at me and smile. They would ask, do you remember the day we were threshing barley at the James Borchers’s farm? Then we would relive my chewing tobacco episode, they really got a big bang out of it.
When people say we had a dull life, they better ask some of us old timers. We can tell you a lot of stories. We didn’t depend on people to entertain us, we made our own fun and experiences.