Air conditioning battle stems back to early days on the farm

Dad, who endured the oven that was the Dust Bowl years, insisted that air conditioning caused laziness and a reluctance on the part of the young to work outside.

Agriculture — and the way hay and straw are baled — has evolved over the decades. (Pixabay photo)

Kathy and I often engage in verbal combat over the air conditioner’s thermostat on sultry summer days when humidity nearly matches the day’s temperature high.

With visions of the coming electric bill in mind, I set the thermostat at 72 F and shut down the unit at night. Kathy claims that my actions are borderline inhumane and backs up her opinion by reminding me about when our son was an infant struggling with asthma. Air conditioning would help him, but I foolishly said no to installing a unit until my mother-in-law put her foot down. Air conditioning was installed followed by an apology.

My wrong-headed position on air was ingrained in me via prior experience.

Dad, who endured the oven that was the Dust Bowl years, insisted that air conditioning caused laziness and a reluctance on the part of the young to work outside. He had grain shocking and hay baling in mind when he said it. Shocking grain and capping the shock is a skill mastered by experience. Often, when a rainy spell followed the grain binder, it was necessary to tear shocks apart and reset to enhance drying.

Baling hay in July and August seemed perfectly timed to match the hottest summer days. Fresh air was impossible to find in the hayloft, which caused us to drench ourselves in the milk house’s garden hose from head to soles. We remained caked in chafe throughout the day and in the night, emerging in the morning with caked eyes and bone —tiredness.


There was little time for self-pity since the straw stack left by the threshing machine awaited baling. Dad, though he felt winter wheat straw made better bedding when it was rained on once, was determined to get it baled. Bathed in light from a full moon and reinvigorated by night’s coolness, the straw stack was eliminated after the baler and tractor went round and round.

Our collective hay and straw baling experience are long gone. The threshing machine was replaced by an Allis Chalmers All Crop 60 combine, a machine our elders said did not work as well as the Case threshing machine. The All Crop 60, produced from the mid-1930s through the early 1960s, was so-named because it was equipped with a 60-inch sickle-bar cutting head.

Case, International Harvester, Oliver and John Deere also manufactured pull-behind combines. Gleaner Baldwin pull-behind combines entered the market in 1925 and production continued until the mid-1950s.

Deere, at the urging of its president who wanted a machine that farmers in the Midwest could afford, was a pioneer in the pull-behind combine field. Its No. 2 combine was introduced in 1926 and smaller models soon followed. Deere purchased the Caterpillar combine line in 1936 and more innovations followed.

The last pull-behind combine — the Case IH 1682 — was introduced in 1987 and the line continued until 1991.

The New Holland baler that served so well was replaced with a throw-type John Deere, which made it unnecessary to stack behind the baler.

In the decades since, air conditioning in the house has evolved into a necessity. However, the quibbling over setting the thermostat remains. When the outside temperature is pegged to reach 90 degrees, garden and lawn work is done before 9 a.m. In retirement it is unnecessary to awake at 4:30 a.m., but I still do.

It is a habit that remains from dairying days.


Morning silence reigns until birds begin to chirp, cottontails emerge from hiding, and cars begin to move. By mid-afternoon, mourning doves are heard in the heavy air. It is a sound that causes me to pause and reflect on time’s rapid passage.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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