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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

War time farming

Dateline June 12, 1943 -- During World War II the production of food had to be increased. With men working overseas and training for military action, they needed more food than ever! One crop that was important in McLean County was tomatoes. Many photos taken by the Pantagraph reporters featured tomatoes and people planting tomatoes. Part of every person's patriotic duty was to not only produce more food, but be conscious of not wasting any of the food that was produced. During the depression farmers had been urged to store grains and keep them off the market, but now they were being urged to produce more and more -- to fatten livestock, but also to feed people.

Here Mr. and Mrs. Lester Schultze of Carlock had come out of retirement and returned to farming to help out the war effort. They were planting tomatoes -- they planted six acres of tomatoes with the funny contraption that Mr. Schultze was riding on behind the tractor. They had further plans to plant asparagus on their land near Carlock.

You'll note that Mrs. Schultze is driving the tractor in this photo -- due to the rush to produce food during the war and the shortage of male farm laborers it became more common for women to help in the fields. During the 1930s it would have been extremely unusual for a woman to be photographed at the wheel of a tractor, but after 1942, women were praised for taking on this work and possibly really enjoyed getting out of the house. This was just one more way that the lives of women were changed by World War II. Prior to the war, most women could only earn money on the farm by raising chickens or processing milk from the dairy cattle. One common subject of advice columns to women was how to inveigle more money out of their husbands -- the husbands held the purse strings because it was felt they had the more important and more physical labor of bringing in crops and handling livestock. After women proved they could do the same work men did on the farm, they could be seen as equal partners. Of course, this was a novelty only among the more prosperous farmers -- poor farmers may have always required their wives and daughters to work in fields, but they did not set the standards for the value of women in society.

Here a large group of people are at a tomato picking school. Everyone had to pitch in and do their part during World War II.

When Frances Vaughn drove this Caterpillar tractor the caption was "Girl drives tractor!" Frances appears to be older than high school age and far past the time when we would call her a girl. Was this type of tractor used on the farm for field plowing? The treads seem so militaristic/industrial and would certainly flatten everything in its path!

Dora Mae Brownlee drove a tractor with yet another type of tire/wheel! The photo was taken in January of 1942 -- Her hands and legs must have been extremely cold and she was probably only on the tractor for this shot, not a full working day!

This work must have been automated long ago! Women ride on what appears to be a jerry rigged structure while caring for corn in the field.

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