Peanut digging before combines

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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Farm practices are so different today than when my generation was growing up that it’s difficult for even imagine the changes.

Back in the early 1950s, crops air-dried in the field. One and two-row corn pickers snapped the ears off corn stalks. Tractor-pulled combines harvested what grain and soybeans were grown.

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And all of those were light work compared to the annual peanut harvest.

Digging peanuts, handled today with large, efficient equipment, is still a lot of work because farmers try to complete their harvest with a minimum number of workers, but modern practices have replaced a once labor-intensive job that involved everyone in the family and as many temporary helpers as could be hired.

Slow and tedious best describe getting peanuts out of the ground with a one-row digger. And once they were on top of the ground, a group of shakers (generally women and boys still too small to be efficient shockers) walked down row after row, shaking every vine with a small pitchfork and stacking them.

Peanut poles (originally saplings that had been stripped of bark with a drawing knife, and later 2 by 2 mill-cut and sharpened oak stakes) were set in place to take 13 or 14 rows of peanut vines.

Shockers would then come behind the shakers. A good team of shockers could stack an amazing amount of vines on peanut sticks in a day, and many of them took great pride in their speed and the quality of the shocks. Races would often develop between teams.

Once completed, a field of shocked peanuts was something to behold.

Peanut digging, shaking and shocking were tough work that sometimes required missed days from school, but farm mothers of our day knew the world was changing and that completing high school was important, so they didn’t tolerate more time out of school than necessary. After school, though, we were fair game, and we were expected to work until dark or later. To give us a mid-afternoon shot of energy, our mother always had food waiting when school clothes had been exchanged for work dungarees.

My favorite was a brown sugar and homemade butter sandwich. Liberal amounts of brown sugar spread over an equally liberal spread of butter would give you a jolt of energy that could easily last until supper.

And not infrequently, the side window to the old kitchen would be raised and a squash pie, apple pie or apple jacks would be sitting on the sill cooling. You could smell one of those coming up the lane. We went through homemade squash pies and apple jacks like today’s kids go through fruit loops, and I think we had a far better deal than they do.

I don’t miss shaking peanuts. Nobody in his right mind would. But I sure do miss those after-school energy builders.