Observations of life on a farm in 1946

1895: Rachel Josephine (left) and Lydia Johanna Venn – daughters of Jens & Randi Venn. Copyright has long since expired. Photo courtesy of Sonia Strand Pooch.

Life was hard after my grandfather passed from this vale of tears. Any way you look at the income and expenses it is obvious life was hard. Must have been really difficult for my dear paternal grandmother to raise the four kids still at home.

The narratives from my aunts and uncles make that very obvious and the dollar transactions prove it.

Farm was essentially self-contained

It is amazing how self-contained the farm was.

From the transaction detail and the other research I have done the outside inputs to the farm were gas and oil.  Rain and sun provided by God. That’s it. Update: I’m guessing seed was purchased from a cooperative on credit.

The oats and hay raised were used to feed the horses. Gas powered the tractors. The horses and tractors were used to work the field to raise the oats and hay and corn.

The corn was used to feed the cows and pigs.

Some of the animals would have been eaten.

Other animals were sold to pay the cost of operating the farm.

Sure looks to me like some of the animals were sold to pay off the loan and pay the substantial cost of settling the estate.

Low productivity

The productivity would have been low. This is a time that farmers were transitioning from horses to tractors. My grandparent’s farm was in the midst of that transition. Reread the narratives from the siblings and you’ll see several references to the “milk sickness” that killed many of the horses and forced the transition to tractors.

There is no indication of fertilizer.

No specialized seed. No purchase of any seed is visible.

Update: Possibly fertilizer and likely seed were purchased on credit. See the loan payment of $2,104 on 9/1/145 to Yankton Production Credit.

There were no high productivity tractors and none of the astoundingly high-tech equipment that is on every farm today

Cash was tight

Take a look at the detail of the costs for household expenses. I will include the coal since it would have been used to heat the house and not the barn. Here are the expenses:

date description  amount
 —–  —–  —–
9/22/1945 household furniture         79.95
10/2/1945 insurance assessment          3.00
10/9/1945 Montgomery Ward, clothing          2.46
10/12/1945 Montgomery Ward, clothing, repairs         12.87
1/23/1946 groceries          9.60
2/25/1946 linoleum         46.12
3/9/1946 life insurance assessment          3.00
3/27/1946 exchange on checks          0.72
household expenses       157.72
2/8/1946 coal         14.00
2/9/1946 coal         23.70
coal         37.70
total       195.42


Purchase of coal cost $38, and that was in February or January, well into the winter.

Living expenses were $158.

Of that, $126 was for furniture for the house and new linoleum for the floor.

Of the remaining $32, notice there is under $10 of groceries purchased in a year.

The only clothes purchased were in the fall and that was under $16.

Take a look at expenses in December. There is nothing.

There were no purchased gifts for Christmas. There were not even clothes purchased for gifts. With grandma running the farm, four children at home, and two grown married daughters living in Sioux City there is no visible cost at all to buy anything in the Christmas time frame.

Yes, times were hard.

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