Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back In Time - Cutting Silage

Mom mugs for the camera getting an "earful" of secrets from the cornfield
approximately 1981
Usually by mid-September the field corn was ready for harvest. My brother, Rich chopped it into silage for the dairy herd's Winter feed. Rich grew corn on both farms: on the Home Place, the silage was packed into a deep pit (silo) dug into the side of a hill; on the farm Over North, it was packed on top of the ground.

The silage was best if the corn had not been frosted, but cutting continued until all the corn was in the silo, whether it had been frosted or not. 

Driving to meet the chopper for another load of silage
Over North - approx. 1981
I have fond memories of the corn-cutting time: the smells, the sounds, the activity, and the temporary workers who came to help get the corn in the pit. To me, Fall began the day my brother began cutting corn. As soon as the school bus dropped me off at the road, I was anxious to change clothes and catch a ride to the field in one of the trucks. The sweet and green smell of the freshly-cut corn was delightful. 

In the early days, the corn was cut with a single-row chopper, and the trucks had to follow behind the chopper as it was pulled through the field. The drivers of the trucks kept the dust flying on the road and in the fields. Their trips were well choreographed so that the chopper was seldom waiting for the next truck to arrive. Of course, sometimes a truck got stuck in the silo, which slowed things down. I don't know how many trips they made from the field to the pit every day, but it was considerable. 

Dumping a load of silage from "Kindra" on Over North farm
unknown truck driver - nephew, Larry assisting with the tailgate
approx. 1981
Over the years, I remember four trucks being used during the harvests: the red Diamond T, a yellow Chevy that had no windshield or windows (my brother enjoyed blowing the silage into the cab and on the unsuspecting driver), a red truck that was purchased at the Erhard Schamber farm sale (my brother named that truck "Mary" after Erhard's wife), and a red and white truck purchased from my cousin Bob (this truck was named "Kindra" after Bob's wife). These four trucks all had dump boxes and either a single tailgate secured by a chain at the bottom and then hinged at the top to dump its load in the pit (see the photo above) or two side-by-side doors secured by a swinging latch: these doors were then secured on the sides of the truck so the load could be dumped. 

Larry packs the silage Over North
approx. 1981
Probably the most important job during the harvest fell on the guy at the silage pit. His job was to pack the pit by driving over and over the silage. Packing the silage not only allowed the trucks to drive in the pit without getting stuck, but also preserved the silage. Some years, two tractors were used to pack the silo: I think it depended on how many trucks were being used. 

The original silage pit on the Home Place was north of the dairy barn, but as the diary herd grew, the need for more silage necessitated a bigger pit. This larger silo was located on the hill adjacent to Gabe's Road and east of the barn and corrals.

Over the years, a lot of family members were involved in the harvest: 
  • Father, Art packed the pit (he never lived down tipping over the tractor one year)
  • Brother, Rich ran the chopper in the field
  • Brother, John drove truck, packed the pit, repaired the equipment
  • Nephews, Larry and Terry, drove truck and/or packed the pit
  • Sister, Evelyn drove truck
  • Brothers-in-law, Paul and Harold drove truck and/or packed the pit
  • Mother, Rosa prepared countless meals and treats for the crew and ran to town for parts
Larry begins packing the silage pile Over North
corn field to the left
photo taken from stack yard on the top of the hill, facing south
Teacher's Road ran along the butte in the distance
approx. 1981
The corn-cutting crew consisted of my brother (running the chopper in the field), two or three truck drivers, one or two pit packers, and my mother (the cook and parts runner). 

Case tractor, John Deere two-row chopper, and dump trailer
Over North - approx. 1981
Eventually, the need for two trucks was eliminated by the use of a collecting trailer that was pulled behind the chopper, see photo above. 

Rich cuts corn south of the house on the Home Place
approx. 1979
A load of silage is dumped into "Mary"
Home Place - approx. 1979
field south of the house, just visible in the trees
Pepper shown at right
When this trailer was used, one truck could be loaded from the trailer, driven to the pit, unloaded, and returned to the field in time to get another load.

Mom capturing the harvest
with a Bell and Howell, Super 8 movie camera
Over North farm
approx. 1981
My sisters and I drove by the farm this July and discovered that much has changed: the barn, corrals, silage pit, and house are gone. Only two items of our childhood farm seem to have remained the same: the chicken house, which my brother converted into a game room, and the yard-light pole.

Now even more than ever, I am grateful that the harvest was preserved in photos, movies, and in my memories.


  1. Loved reading about this, Nancy. Thanks for sharing your memories and photos.

  2. My (female) cousin is keeping the family farming tradition alive. I'm glad too you have visual reminders to trigger the memories you share here. The world is changing, and it makes me nostalgic.

  3. What a legacy you share with your well-written posts! I enjoy reading them; I'm sure your relatives appreciate the family story being preserved, too.

  4. I can feel the autumn in the air and smell the harvest smells...what wonderful memories those are!!.... and time marches on...

  5. What wonderful memories you have. I have never smelled corn being cut but can just imagine...I love corn.

  6. How fantastic that you have these images. I Loved hearing about the harvest. It is all new to me..the city suburb kid. Fun post Nancy!

  7. Great tribute to your family !
    Loved it!

  8. I love this time of year and seeing the farmers harvesting their crops. I love that last shot of your mom.

  9. As a city girl, I find this post particularly fascinating. I love the photos from 1981 and the spirit of family, farm and community you convey.

  10. Very nice post! Glad you have these photos. It's fun to see the cute pics of your mom.

  11. What a great post! I so enjoyed reading it! Some farmers are making silage this year..poor year for corn:(


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