Chapter 3-You too can Participate in Our Future

Why has the physical footprint of this farmstead changed so little over the past 100yrs? Obviously there have been some building removals and replacements, but seven structures that remain effectively outline the original concept. The house, chicken house, two equipment storage sheds and barn still form the perimeter of the internal farmstead working zone. Originally, there was additional space further to the east. This included several hog shelters, orchard, hay stacks and straw stacks as well as storage for weather-resistant farm equipment.

Among new structures are the corncrib and the cattle shed, built by the Tweedt brothers of Madrid in the 1940s plus the hog farrowing house, built soon thereafter. The existing tall crib was a technological step forward in the sense that it replaced back-breaking manual crop handling work with labor-saving electrically-powered conveyor chains and buckets for moving corn and other grain to the top of the tall cribs which then utilized gravity to direct the grain to storage chambers below. But such cribs, with all their work saving merits were short-lived. By the 1960s agricultural technology provided new, usually round steel storage bins outfitted with dryers that filtered drying air through the storage unit became the mode. Almost immediately the old slotted earcorn storage crib with its open-air ventilation became an out-of-use or limited use fixture. Screw conveyors were employed to elevate small grain into storage bins and blowers forced drying air through the bin lowering moisture content to an acceptable range within days as opposed to months, in the natural slatted crib drying process. The farmer had customarily moved small-grain with a hand-powered scoop shovel. Typically this occurred several times in the course of planting, harvesting and storage. Then came more handling in the process of grinding, mixing and feeding unless of course he loaded it for direct hauling to a commercial elevator for sale purposes. In the case of feeding the grain to livestock, he had yet to load out the manure and return it to the land for fertilizer. Each of these operations required heavy muscular labor.

The existing idle Helms crib now stands in testimony to ever-changing technology and mechanization. With the advent of combines (of ever-increasing size) the use of ventilated cribs had little further functional value on most farms. In older times corn was delivered to the crib on the ear from which it had grown. The combine shells (separates) corn kernels from their cob which is then left in the field. Earlier the corn was shelled from the cob at the crib site, after it became dry in storage.

In most farm communities neighbors traded help with each other on jobs which involved crew-type efforts. Threshing was one activity that demanded that several men cooperate on hauling oats, wheat or barley bundles from the field to the threshing machine after each horse-drawn bundle rack had been loaded by a team of pitchers in the field. Other men were at work hauling grain from the thresher and scooping it into storage bins, or taking it to market or stacking the straw. Putting up hay or silo filling were equally crew oriented jobs. On the Helms farm a silo of 40 foot height had been built to supplement the grain and hay diet of cattle with silage. The red-tile wall silo of this farm was built during the original construction program.

In the 1950s the silo was struck by lightning, destroying a partial ring of peripheral tiles in the circular walls, just above the ground surface, also just below the conical concrete cap. A masonry crew later was reluctant to attempt repairs to the silo since they had found that circumferential reinforcing hoops embedded in the circular walls of the silo were badly corroded, making repairs impractical. Later after living with the silo's failing condition, it was finally decided to have it safely knocked down (felled) away from the barn. Then it was learned, in the course of demolition, that despite its deeply corroded steel, the masonry tile structure was still extremely sturdy. After breaking the tile base well more than half way around its circumference, we found it necessary to give several sharp blows to the silo with the bucket of a large backhoe applied at 15 or 20 ft. above ground surface. This caused it to tip southward into the 18ft. deep pit already prepared for its burial.

The hog farrowing house now stands where a barn had once housed equipment, straw and livestock. The north ¼ of the barn had been given slotted siding to provide space for corn on the ear. The new tall and mechanized crib was meant to replace storage once provided by the barn. Then in two decades the new crib became obsolete. Two concrete tanks held water necessary for livestock usage. Both were fed from one well, located not far east of the house. Water was pumped via underground piping by the reciprocating action of a 35ft. tall windmill topped by an aermotor rotary wheel and gear system. The pump kept the tanks near to full to meet needs of the animals. During hot dry weather the stored water supply sometimes ran low and water availability was at the mercy of the windmill which was the only source of energy for pumping purposes. The water supply system here never failed. Eventually, the reciprocating (up and down) windmill pump rod was replaced by an electrically-powered pump jack which removed threat of water shortage for a water-sensitive livestock operation.

This farm is now owned by the Madrid Historical Society for display of equipment and methods which have made possible, the advancement of agriculture to its present highly-mechanized level. Russell and Patricia Helms continue to occupy the farm as provided in life estate terms of their conveyance of the land to the Society. Russell Helms left the farm in 1942 to join the Navy. After World War II ended he earned two engineering degrees at Iowa State. Thereafter he worked as a civil/highway engineer in several mid-western states returning to Iowa and the Helms farm in 1985.