When I was growing up on the farm my Dad and family raised a lot of tobacco and hay. To handle the volume properly it was very necessary to hire a lot of help. Along with Web the hired hand there was my brother Ben, sister Peg, Mom and myself that worked with Dad in roles where we could help the best, but at heavy crop times more men were needed.
Just like today, good farm hands are hard to find, if they can be found at all. Dad wouldn’t hire just anyone that came along. He wanted men who tried and gave effort to the task. Along with the prevailing wages at the time, which weren’t that great, Dad used what today would be called a perk. At about ten in the morning he would stop us all and open the truck and say “come on boys let’s take a break.” With that he would reach in the truck and pull out a large thermos of coffee and a two gallon jar of home brewed ice tea and an applesauce cake. The men quickly gathered around and got coffee, tea and a piece of cake and found some shade to rest in.
I have to feel my dad was the first farmer to offer a coffee break to farm field hands. He might not have been, but to this day I have yet to be told of another who offered it. So Dad wins. He had a couple of reasons to do this. First, he hired boys from town. Dad felt that they were raised on pop and potato chips and would run out of steam before lunch. He said it was better to refuel their engines and thought he would be repaid many times over by the regenerated energy they got from a few minutes of rest and some nutrition. Second, our family was not typical in the big bacon and egg type breakfasts. We normally had coffee, cereal or oatmeal. So about 10a.m., Dad always took that break whether we had help there or not.
My Mom prepared the break food. She brewed sweet ice tea that had a tasty unique flavor to it. She made strong coffee that went over well with the men and she would bake a spice cake and add applesauce to it to moisten it. She also would add raisins and if she ran out of those she substituted another ingredient, and in my mom’s case that could be good or very scary since a person never really knew what the substitute was.
I recall the breaks a lot when we cut tobacco but they were there also for setting tobacco or baling hay and straw. As we were in the stripping room for what seemed like most of the winter, a coffee break definitely was a daily necessity. Imagine my surprise when I became old enough to work for other farmers and learned a morning break didn’t exist except at our farm? I was in shock and quite disappointed. It made working for your Dad much more desirable. This small perk seemed to always get Dad the hired hands he needed when he needed them. Men weren’t afraid of hard work, but being treated with a little concern for them had to help the cause.
Dada always tried to have safe working conditions to prevent injuries. He paid weekly and paid the going rate. He asked that he receive a hard days labor for a decent pay (minimum wage) and added a home cooked lunch and the morning coffee break. Maybe all that sugar kept the men’s minds off of the wages. By the way, if all was not consumed in the morning, we would stop around 3 p.m. and finish off the rest. A two break day on a farm! Unheard of, but enjoyed.
I feel I must mention that there was a by product with the break. That was the conversation. Those could be the latest local or world news. Sometimes it could be a few whopper stories or just some plain old gossip. No matter what the topic I found it to be entertaining to say the least. Today they are just good old stories from a good old time.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.