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Put your plow in the ground

Susan Davis
Inman, Kan.

My husband Ben is a machinist at a production facility. Recently, he told me that his boss used to tell him, “Put your plow in the ground.” Although his supervisor has not motivated him with those words for years, Ben hasn’t forgotten them.

I liked the picturesque words his boss used to drive his employees with to accomplish all they could. The expression was one I had never heard before. Come to find out, Ben’s supervisor had heard those words a lot from his dad when he was growing up.

His saying reminded me of days gone by. Dad always did his plowing during the first part of September. Mom recalls after hay had been growing in a field for seven or eight years, the stand was no longer very good. Dad would spread manure on the field and plow it under. Since hay built up the soil, he would be planting sugar beets in that field the next spring after disking and harrowing it. He also liked to plow under barley stubble and dried pinto bean stalks. Mom remembers it took Dad a good, long day to work a ten-acre field with his two-bottom plow.

I recall one day in particular when Dad was plowing the field behind our house. It was my turn to take out his mid-afternoon snack. Since he started working on the northern end of the field, I was able to walk across stubble, which was much easier than going across the furrows.

As I got closer, I was amazed at how many big, white birds had landed on the freshly overturned soil. They were birds we never saw at our farm except when Dad was plowing.

I waited as the tractor approached me. One side of his tractor’s wheels was on unbroken ground and the other set in the overturned ground. Dad appeared to be driving a lop-sided tractor. It never looked very comfortable to me.

After coming to a stop, my father reached down for the jar of water. He quenched his thirst before taking the apple I had brought him. “What kind of birds are these?” I asked.

“I’d call them sea gulls, but I don’t know if that’s their right name,” Dad replied. “They probably fly in here from the river. They’re after fish worms.”

I knew the South Plate River was about two miles from our farm. I was amazed at how quickly the sea gulls could discover an easy, free meal. Perhaps, they could smell the overturned soil as much as I could.

Dad’s short break was over. It was time for me to walk back home, carrying the empty jar.

The other day, I was at an antique tractor pull. I was seated beside an older farmer, who reminded me of my father. He told me that pulling the weighted sled was about as hard on the tractor’s engine as plowing used to be. “Why don’t farmers plow much anymore?” I asked out of curiosity. “Because the implements they use to till the land nowadays are much heavier,” he said matter-of-factly.

Based upon what I observed years ago, the plow was definitely a “workhorse.” It wasn’t easy for the sharp, steel blades to cut under the ground’s surface, uprooting what had previously grown there. In the process, it brought fresh nutrients to the surface, buried weeds and the remains of the crop. The soil was also aerated so that it would hold moisture better. All these benefits happened because the farmer “put his plow in the ground.”


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