On The Farm

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Reprint from Burnsville 1976 Some additions/changes).

by Betty Sodomka (1976)

Making hay in old Burnsville

Farming was hard hard work

The field work was done by hand or horse-drawn machinery.[1] One of the least popular tasks was making hay in the meadow overlooking the Minnesota River, which was cut with a hand scythe. Two flexible poplar trees were trimmed of branches and pointed at the ends to make poles to slip under the loose hay. Two men carried this "stretcher fashion" to the haystack and another man stacked it with a pitchfork.[2]

A "hired man" in Burnsville
The springs and marshy nature of the land required the horses to be shod with "bog shoes"
Bog shoes, from an old Dutch drawing.
to help them through the soggy ground. At noon the women would bring a huge dinner of meat, potatoes, cabbage, fresh baked rolls and pies to the meadows for the workers. Hauling the high-stacked hay loads home through the slippery ravines and up to high ground was a real challenge to any farmer. Being satisfied that there was enough for their own live- stock, extra hay was often hauled to Bloomington over the frozen river and sold to the truck farmers for their animals. Some farmers hauled over 50 loads in a winter and made about $15.00 for a 1½ ton load.
Taking produce from Burnsville to market. Likely potatoes, and likely to St. Paul.

Farmers hauling potatoes to market was a familiar sight on the route between Burnsville and St. Paul. Enous Gallagher recalls the stop at "Halfway House" on the way to and from St. Paul. A glass of beer was five cents and they gave away free ham sandwiches. Bill Lannon recalls "the longest day of his life." He left home at 3:15 a.m. with a wagon loaded with potatoes, journeyed to St. Paul over the High Bridge and because of a wagon breakdown didn't get home until 8:15 at night. (Potatoes sold for 3.5 cents a bushel at that time.)

Jim Connelly tells about the hard times. As a young man, he remembers thinking about "hard cash" in his pocket as he was hauling potatoes to market for his father. To his disappointment the merchants would pay only in groceries in exchange for produce. At the height of the Depression Johnny Connelly was unable to find buyers for his potatoes. Rather than haul his full load home he pulled out the tailgate of his wagon as he drove his team up the hill at 6th Street and Exchange near downtown St. Paul. The "spuds" rolled out and the housewive scrambled to pick them up in their aprons.


  1. According to Merrill Jarchow, there were 10,000 more oxen than horses in Minnesota in 1860. By 1870 horses outnumbered oxen by 50,000. The Minnesota Historical Society published an excellent survey of farm development in Minnesota (link) http://www.dot.state.mn.us/culturalresources/docs/crunit/devperiods.pdf
  2. This could have a "hired man." This was a common job description well into modern times, before titles became more sophisticated. Often the "hired man" would live on the farm with the family. Similarly, across farmland, the local grain elevators similarly had a manager and a "second man."