Saturday, October 25, 2008

Before Cars, The Importance of Hay

Horse power requires fuel.

A century ago, thousands of tons of prairie hay were sold out of wild meadows each year. Railroads carried the hay to distant markets.

Hay was an important income source for homesteaders who were trying to get ahead. A 1908 New York Times article (pdf) states that hay was the second most important cash crop of Nebraska.

The 1919 Encyclopedia Americana reported that Nebraska was the biggest producer of prairie hay in the nation (2,544,000 tons in 1917). It also notes that the largest hay-shipping station in the world was located at Newport, Nebraska.

The following short description of the best of Nebraska's fine hay prairies was written in the late 1930, after the hay-shipping market had begun to decline:

West of O'Neill, the highway [Highway 20] passes through the great hay-producing country, which extends as far as Valentine in an almost unbroken stretch of prairie, dotted in the fall with large haystacks.

Source: Nebraska, a Guide to the Cornhusker State (page 310), by The Federal Writers Project, Nebraska. Published in 1939 by US History Publishers.

And where did the railroads carry all this hay? Some of it went to the horses of the U.S. Army, but much of it went to cities, to feed the millions of horses that labored in the streets.

If one assumes an urban horse population of approximately 3 million in 1900, then 7,200,000 tons of hay and 4,200,000 tons of oats were consumed by city horses per year. To grow this amount of fodder may have required as many as 15,000,000 acres.

Source: The Making of Urban America (page 120) by Raymond Mohl. Published by Rowman & Littlefield in 1997.

The production of hay for the urban horses was an important part of the economy. In the early 1930s, the Horse Association of America (HAA) issued several statements that blamed the depression in the agricultural sector on the automobile. They claimed that the ag depression would never have happened if automobiles, etc., had not largely replaced horses in city streets, and they provided a set of figures to prove it.

The authors of The Horse in the City think that the HAA may have underestimated the amount of hay needed, had horses and mules still been powering all city vehicles in 1930. However,
[t]here can be little dispute that the amount of land needed to feed urban horses and mules was vast. In short, horses had to eat in order to produce energy, and the food they consumed absorbed the output of large amounts of agricultural land, required massive capital and labor inputs for production and transportation, and necessitated an extensive regional and urban distribution system.

Source: The Horse in the City (p. 129) by Clay McShane and Joel Arthur Tarr. Published by JHU Press in 2007

The importance of hay in the economy helps to explain why the New York Times archives from the era of horses contain many reports of prairie fires. An example is the article, A Disastrous Prairie Fire (pdf), which burned a portion of the hay crop in the Newport, Nebraska area.

Besides the interest that the public always has in disasters, such fires were matters of concern to business people. Just as we watch the price of gasoline today, people watched the price of hay then.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Renovation Underway

Handsome old home rejuvenated

I've wished for years that someone would give this house a bit of tender, loving care. It looked so shabby that I feared it was doomed. I've been expecting to pass by and see a demolition in progress.

I was delighted when I drove by today and saw that new windows had been installed and new siding was being applied. It looks so nice.

This home is located on Virginia Street in Hopkinsville, just south of the stoplight at 21st Street. I took this photo from the car window as I sat in a line of cars, waiting for the light to change.

In the past, it looked to me like the house might have been split into apartments. If so, I hope that it's going to be restored to a single-family dwelling, again.

If this house does not set within the official historic district, it is certainly a near neighbor to it. Virginia and Main Streets (and the streets that run between them) have some lovely old homes

Another renovation has been completed recently. In downtown Hopkinsville, the old First City Bank building has resumed a commercial life. Photos from the open house appear on Eric Brake's blog.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday Monday, Can't Trust That Day

Some Mondays should be spent in bed

Before the alarm went off this morning, I dreamed about sleeping. It seemed that I had gone to work but I was tired. I had no customers, so I lay down on a sofa and went to sleep.

In my dream, as I was sleeping on the sofa, I woke a few times and wondered if anyone noticed or cared that I was lying down. Finally, I felt rested enough to resume my usual work duties. I rose from my nap and noticed I'd been sleeping for 3 hours (in dream time, that is.)

I should have taken the hint that it was a very good day for sleeping. Instead I got out of bed when the alarm rang. Soon after that, I compared the dentist's postcard and the calendar and discovered that I would be going to the dentist in a couple of hours.

I went straight to work after seeing the dentist. I'll summarize the events of my very bad day there by saying I had many customers who just couldn't make up their minds about what they wanted. The ambivalence was airborne and infectious.

As my customers made mad dashes down dead-end paths, they left a lot of opened-up, messed-up merchandise behind them. Helping them find the way back and cleaning up behind them made me tired. I could have used a nice 3-hour nap!

I drove Dennis's car to work today. When I got home, I backed it into his usual parking spot as he always does, and I missed the tree by at least a foot. (Thank goodness!) I was quite shocked to see how close I was to it. Like the dentist appointment, I thought it was farther away.

I checked to see if there's a full moon, but it's not even close to being full. So, I can only blame this day's craziness on Monday.

Monday Monday, can't trust that day,
Monday Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way
Oh Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be
Oh Monday Monday, how could you leave and not take me.

(Complete lyrics as sung by The Mamas and The Papas)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Audubon State Park

Camping at Henderson, KY

Another pleasant outing in the faithful Coleman tent

John James Audubon, noted American ornithologist, lived at Henderson, KY, from 1810-1819. Today, the Audubon State Park preserves some of the old-growth forest where Audubon roamed along the Ohio River, observing the birds and collecting specimens to paint.

Isaac and I camped two nights at Audubon State Park, while we were sightseeing at Henderson, KY, and Evansville, IN, last week. Isaac had just three days free from both work and school. Dennis was still obligated at his job for part of that time, so Isaac and I went by ourselves.

The Audubon State Park campground is near the Ohio River, just off Highway 41 at Henderson. In fact, the traffic on the busy highway is clearly heard at the campground. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful site with tall trees and many squirrels. We were the only tent-campers there, and there were only about half a dozen RVs.

Isaac really likes camping, and Boy Scouts deserves the credit for it. I'm glad that he has a wholesome hobby that he can pursue all his life. When I camp with him, we don't rough it too much. We get a site with electricity so we can hang the "trouble light" in the tent for reading after dark.

This time, I also brought along a tiny television set, so I could see the McCain vs. Obama debate. To my surprise, half a dozen stations came in clearly with the small antenna. I watched most of the debate while reclining on my air mattress in the tent. Near the end, rain began falling, so it seemed prudent to unplug the extension cord and listen to my little radio instead.

Our campsite was under several black walnut trees. We set up the tent at the edge of the walnut area, but we still had to clear a spot by kicking dozens of black walnuts out of the way.

Whenever the squirrels ran through the treetops, the walnuts rained down. We weren't hit by any of them, but one did fall on my car's hood so hard that it made a little chip in the paint. Oh, well. That's a hazard of parking near walnut trees this time of the year.

The museum in the park has some of the Audubon sketch books, original paintings, and early prints. It's quite interesting. I didn't take any photos because there's a sign at the museum entrance that says, "No Cameras."

One interesting thing I learned at the museum was that Audubon set very high standards for himself. He went through his work every year on his birthday and destroyed everything that was not up to his current level of painting skill.

Like every other Kentucky state park I've visited, much of the infrastructure at Audubon State Park was put in place by CCC and WPA workers. The museum (photo below) was built in 1938 as a WPA project.

Next time we camp at Audubon, I want to hike some of the trails to see more of the forest. This park deserves more time than we were able to give it on this trip.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sunset over the Ohio River

A mighty river

Isaac and I enjoyed seeing the Ohio River at Henderson, KY, and again at Evansville, Indiana. We saw this beautiful sunset from a nice park on the riverfront in Henderson.  It has many inviting benches, where you can rest and enjoy the view.

Several of the benches were occupied by groups of men who were chatting and watching the river. A few other people sat alone in the park.

A few blocks east of here, a wide, long, steep street leads right down into the water. It's a public access area to the river where anyone can put a boat into the water. It has parking spaces on both sides of it, so we drove about halfway down to the water and parked. It felt strange; we discussed whether cars ever tipped over sideways and rolled into the river. (Probably not.)

We got out and walked around briefly, but didn't loiter. We felt much safer on the high bank, above the river where the buildings sit, than on a steep downhill slope ending in water. Landlubbers like us have great respect for big rivers like this.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall Break

A few days of vacation

Dennis and Isaac are both on fall break -- Dennis from his school job, and Isaac from college. Dennis still has to go in to work a few days, and Isaac has to work at his job a few days. I don't go back to work until Saturday, so I have more days off than either of them, for once. This is my R&R before the craziness of November and December at my workplace.

My goal tomorrow is to stack the firewood that Dennis has been hauling home and pitching into a big pile. He's been cutting wood a few hours each afternoon, and he's hoping to cut a lot more this week. A friend is having three dying or dead old trees removed, and Dennis is cutting up the branches as they are dropped. Two of the trees are white oaks and the other is a hickory. It's going to be excellent firewood.

Isaac and I are going to take a small trip to Henderson, KY, and Evansville, IN, during his time off. Evansville and Henderson are across the Ohio River from each other, or nearly so.

A lot of people go to Evansville to gamble on the riverboat, but we're just planning to go to the mall.  We also want to visit the World War II ship that is docked at Evansville. It is the USS LST-325 which was manufactured at the Evansville Shipyard in the early 1940's.

UPDATE 10/14/08: A reader has written to tell me that the USS LST-325 was actually manufactured in Mississippi, but it is like those manufactured at Evansville.

UPDATE 10/16/08: We learned during the tour that the LST-325 was manufactured in Pennsylvania.  Evansville was selected as its permanent docking site because of the enthusiastic support when it visited there on tour.

In Henderson, we want to go to the Audubon Museum at the state park, and I want to do the walking tour of the historic district. Henderson was once a major shipping port for dark tobacco, and it has some beautiful old homes that were built with the money that flowed through town from the tobacco trade.

A couple of my other projects for the week involve paint. I still haven't finished painting the baseboard in the bathroom, so I'm hoping to get that done.

I also want to spray-paint an old file cabinet. I'll do a little sanding to take off the loose rust, wash it good with soapy water, and then use Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer, followed up by Rustoleum Hammered paint. These are both spray products. I used them on a similar old file cabinet recently, and the finish looks like it was done in the factory. I was very pleased.

The other thing that I really need to work on is a trench coat that I've promised to sew for Isaac for a Halloween party. It's supposed to be an easy pattern, so maybe I can get it done in one day of dedicated sewing.

I'm looking forward to doing all these things, except for stacking the firewood. However, there is a certain satisfaction in admiring a big, tidy stack of firewood, securely tarped to keep it dry until the cold days of winter when it's needed. It's a worthwhile chore.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Seen at Wickliffe, KY

River town on the Mississippi

When I drive out to southwest Missouri to see my sister, I always go through Wickliffe, KY, a small town in extreme northwestern Kentucky. Wickliffe sets just south of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. About four miles north of Wickliffe, I cross the Ohio River. Then I drive through Illinois for maybe a mile before I cross the Mississippi River into Missouri.  It's an interesting bit of geography.

I've always thought Wickliffe is a pretty little town, so I stopped to stretch my legs and take a few photos when I went through there last week.

Five (or more) highways come into Wickliffe from various directions. Several of them go through Wickliffe's business district on the town's main street, 4th Street.

The courthouse is the most imposing structure in Wickliffe. It borders 4th Street on its west side. The only stoplight in downtown Wickliffe is at the southwest corner of the courthouse block, where Highways 62/51 and 286 intersect.

The courthouse doors on the west (photo above) and south sides of the courthouse aren't used anymore. Signs direct visitors to a door on another side. I figured those doors were closed to discourage people from walking across the busy highway like I did.

Wickliffe became the county seat after the original Ballard County courthouse, located in Blandville, burned in 1880. The election results were appealed by Blandville, but Wickliffe prevailed. A second election favored Wickliffe as well, and the courthouse was built. Amazingly, the population of Ballard County at that time was over 14,000, roughly double the current population.

The Mississippi River runs along the west side of Wickliffe. At the riverside, big transport trucks were waiting to pick up loads from barges. Train tracks run along the river as well. The river, the highways, and the trains have been an important influence on Wickliffe's economy through the years.

A couple blocks above the river, a large old store building is mouldering away. The doors on the left side of the storefront seem to have been for loading in and out.

Across the street nearby, a little fish market was open for business. Farther down, a boat store serves brave mariners of the mighty rivers. At the river's edge, a tugboat was pulled into something that I thought might be a "dry dock" (a term I've heard in association with boat repair.)

In the image below, the bridge across the Mississippi River (from Illinois to Missouri) is visible in the distance. The shoreline at right in the distance is the extreme southern tip of Illinois, and the water flowing in front of it is the Ohio River. This is literally a photo of the Ohio River joining the Mississippi River.

I didn't stop at the Wickliffe Mounds on the north side of town. It is a state historic site where an Indian village was once located. We've visited it before, but a return visit would be nice. I didn't have time for it on this trip, though -- I needed to move on down the road.

Pembroke (KY) High School

Needed: Old photos of the Pembroke area

I received the following note from Chuck and Dean Norfleet. The Norfleets are nice people who both grew up in the Pembroke area and attended Pembroke High School. They have done a lot of research on Pembroke High School history and also have researched the St. Elmo rural elementary school.

If you can contribute to this project, please e-mail them at

We are working on a photo DVD about former Pembroke High School, the town, the area and the students. This will not be for sale but will be a gift from us to the former PHS students who attend the school reunion on 17 October 2009. The first section will be composed of old pictures of anything in and around Pembroke before 1959 (that was the year the last class graduated). If you have access to any photos that fall into that category, we sure would like you to email them to us. You may find our website interesting.

Chuck and Dean Norfleet

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Computer Shenanigans

Acccckkk, blarg, and bleccchhh!

We've been having some strange computer problems lately. The so-called "good" computer thinks that the connector cable for some disk is missing. I've taken it to Keely's boyfriend Taurus to see if he can figure out what's wrong.

That leaves us with the little Linux computer in the back hallway. I use it often anyway, because Isaac ties up the other computer. Usually, it works fine, but not lately.

First, it could barely connect to the internet. I finally discovered that the network cable plug-in on the back of the computer was missing some of its little wires. I don't know why. Maybe they just got old and fell off!

While crawling around on the floor and fumbling with computer cords, I knocked the goose-neck lamp off the desk. Later when I turned it off, a big, loud spark popped, and the computer lost power. This electrical event fried the surge protector.

Meanwhile, I couldn't log onto Blogger or access any Blogspot sites, including my own blog! I kept getting a "Server not found" message. This was making me crazy!

The new network card had no effect at all on the Blogger/Blogspot problem. I finally changed the DNS (Dynamic Name Server) numbers, and that was the necessary magic. Here I am at last, happy to see with my own eyes that my blogs still exist.

The little computer is plugging along valiantly again and doing the best it can (much like its owner.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Visit with My Sister and Brother

A pleasant get-together

Last Friday, I drove out to southwest Missouri where my sister Charlotte lives. My brother Dwight also arrived from south-central Kansas on Friday, after attending the Farm Show in Springfield, MO.

We had a nice weekend at Charlotte's house. This was the first time we'd all been together since the Sees reunion at Osage Beach, MO, which was six or seven years ago. (I've visited them and they've visited me, but separately.)

This morning, Dwight and I headed for our respective home when Charlotte left for work. I got back about 6 p.m. tonight.

I had no problems of any sort on the road, so I'm grateful for that. I took lots of pictures and I will post more of them later.

I was amazed to find that gasoline in southern Missouri is a lot cheaper than Hopkinsville gas -- at least 50 cents per gallon cheaper at every gas station!

The sumac is red on the road banks and the soybeans are yellow in the fields, all across southern Missouri.

It was interesting to see cotton ready for harvest around Sikeston, MO. Now I can imagine why "Blues for Dixie" says, "...those old cotton fields were white in pale moon light..."

Most memorable thing I heard on the radio during the trip:
It was time for the "Are You Smarter Than Your Kids" segment on a morning show. The question was "Which state is known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes?" The caller's answer was "India."

Here's a photo of me (left), my sister Charlotte, and my brother Dwight. This is for all who haven't seen us for a while. We thought you might be worried that we weren't getting older -- haha! We are now (left to right) 57, 52, and 62.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.