Farm Lament


This old farmstead damp after a spring shower. Hand colored. by Don Anderson

What Condition We’re In

Some call it a North Dakota condition
Where some rivers run north and poor crops are tradition.
Its’ farmers are Commies and its’ banking’s State-owned
Please pass the hot dish, your future’s postponed!

Once filled with small farms, quarter section in size
Now tilled with tractors and global positioning is prized.
Gone are the Holsteins, a milk house and barn cats for cream
So are the children who loved playing, farming and had big dreams.

Small towns are dried up, the schools gone away
Consolidation brings busing, two hours each day.
Gone are the churches, cafes and the small stores
Wheat fields, barley, and the dog’s locked indoors.

Time keeps on moving, no room for the past
Weather is changing, drought is forecast.
Empty the farmhouse, move into town
Go shopping at Walmart, and let’s just simmer down!

                                      -CJ Holm

Lessons I Learned On A North Dakota Farm

Image ©2017 Clarence Holm

  • Never dig an outhouse hole deeper than what you can climb out of.
  • The fluffiest cats were always skunks.
  • Grabbing an electric fence in never fun, despite what your older brothers tell you.
  • The facts belong to whichever sibling is telling the story.
  • To judge a man, look into his friends eyes.
  • It is never good to take a bath in the same water as the youngest child.
  • Brakes on a John Deere only work if you can reach them.
  • The best neighbors come when you holler.
  • A man plows straightest when he looks at where he is going.
  • When your hands are full, it is harder to pick a fight.
             – Clarence Holm

Going Home

Words and Image ©2016 - Clarence Holm

Words and Image ©2016 – Clarence Holm

I miss walking along green prairie shores
Miss gazing into deep azure skies.
I yearn for the sun’s healing touch
And witnessing the killdeer’s cry

Just above the skyline, where soft clouds ride
Where wind tracked memories reside.
These harvested acres are missing small farms;
Honeysuckle and rock piles, buried and gone

Pastures and barnyards, good things now past,
Friend now just memories, under a cross.
Shackled recollections now frozen in time
Stamped in my memory, shadows on my mind

Dust on the horizon has clouded the view
My tears cleanse the vista, though heartbreaks remain.
Life is a journey, a stroll down a lane
Good things are coming, that is heaven’s refrain.

-Clarence Holm

Winter Memories

Bingham, North Dakota Prairie Country School

Bingham, North Dakota
Prairie Country School

This is a picture of the Bingham, North Dakota school. My family lived in the basement of this school during the winters of 1952 and 1953 while mom taught. During the summer we lived on our farm. In the falls we would go with mom to her teaching jobs. My father would follow as soon as harvest was done.

I was born during my mother’s Christmas vacation in 1952 and my little brother was born during her 1953 Christmas vacation. Mom had successfully hidden her pregnancies from the school board when she was teaching.

Eugene’s birth (the sixth and last in our family) was too much for this small North Dakota School Board to handle, so her teaching contract was terminated for “Morals”. Our family of eight returned to farm to wait for spring planting.

Mom went on to other teaching jobs and we would continue to spend summers on the farm and winters under the schools she taught in.

Tinning The Top

“Grab that nail, set with tap
Hammer it down, just like that.”

Prairie work song – Clarence Holm

They stood as sentries of the prairie! Tin clad collectives, towering over the glacier scraped wheat fields of Dakota. Each one decorated with a city name, reflecting a community’s pride and showcasing the prosperity of the area farms.

From the exterior you would be hard pressed to guess that thousands of board feet of lumber were used for these wood cribbed structures. Each wall was made by laying lumber flat, one atop another. The base was constructed using 2X10s and then would progressively slim the walls by switching to 2X8s, than 2X6s and finally 2X4s near the top. Above the storage line a frame building (cupola) was constructed to house the mechanical top of the elevator.

They were purpose built structures. Tall nested bins, surrounding the steel legs of a gravity driven storage system, designed to move bushels of grain from the boot to the header in the cupola. The grain was dispersed at the header by the elevator manager to designated bins. This header (looked like a giant tin octopus) was accessed by a series of vertical ladders or when working – a rope powered “man lift”. The grain was lifted up through the legs by a continuous belt, holding tin buckets which scooped the grain from the bottom of the elevator.

The elevator manager could store grain based on type, quality, moisture content or any of a more than a dozen criteria. Grain was constantly in motion throughout the system as it was moved from dryers, to cleaners and back to storage on its way to market.

Cuba, North Dakota Google Earth Image

Cuba, North Dakota
Google Earth Image

The elevator co-op that we brought our grain to was in Cuba, North Dakota and was owned by the Miller Elevator Association. It stood alone on the prairie, next to a spur line of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The town at one time boasted a mercantile, a school, a small grocery and a lumber and implement dealer. All but the elevator eventually closed due to the dwindling farm population and the competition from the bigger cities.

As a young man, my father was part of the crew hired to build that elevator (about 1940). He reported to work daily with his 16 ounce hammer and crosscut handsaw to pound the 16 penny nails holding the cribs together. My father was proud to be part of building the 125 foot tall structure, which rose high above the prairie. It was with pride that he was able to say that he “tinned the top of the elevator”. (Tinning refers to the corrugated steel used to cover the entire building.) As a young child I was in awe that my father had ever been that high in the air and couldn’t imagine anything that could have been bigger.

In 1972 I carried on the family tradition as I worked on one of the last cribbed granaries constructed in the United States at Luverne, ND. (Cribbing was later replaced with steel and concrete) The one I worked on exceeded 140 feet and took about 6 months to build. By that time hand saws were replaced by powered circular saws, but the 16lb nails were still driven by an arm powered cribbing ax. I learned to set the nail with a tap and drive it home in one single swing of the ax. It was tedious and boring work and I constantly sang a song to myself to set my nail timing. “Grab that nail, set with tap. Hammer it down, just like that.” For some reason Peter, Paul and Mary never made a recording of my work song!

Luverne, North Dakota Google Earth Image

Luverne, North Dakota
Google Earth Image

I too learned to “walk the top of the crib walls” and hung over the side to “set the tin”. When it came time to tin the top, I had a rope tied around my stomach as I went on the roof to put on the highest pieces of tin. (I still can’t believe I didn’t kill someone when I found out no one was actually holding the rope I wore around my waist. They figured they had told me to be careful!)

Over forty years later both buildings still stand, although my father is now gone. I am proud to tell both of our stories.

I very rarely get back to Luverne, ND but when I do again, I hope I have my grandchildren with me so I can point to the top of the building and say “I did that”.

Memories From A Dakota Farm

Perhaps last nights summer storm rekindled youthful memories of a simpler time on our prairie farm. When grandma’s cotton apron meant wholesome family meals.

My Grandma’s old farmyard stove,
Decorated with pitted strips of chrome.
Fueled by wood from the apple grove
That flavored our family’s home.

That old cast iron range
Moved from house to porch.
Tied with the seasons change
And temperatures that would scorch.

For a constant fire the tinder box
Was everyone’s chore to keep filled.
Splitting wood dragged home by ox
That was too small to be milled.

Those 19th century recipes
Of simple German fare
Fueled our family legacies
With bratwurst, kraut and beer.

When the wind would howl and hover
And the frost snuck in long ago
We’d wrap ourselves in patchwork covers
And watch the red embers glow.

– Clarence Holm