Tenure of Henry Langer 1901-1933

© 2017 by Edward G. Langer. All rights reserved.

On November 26, 1901, Henry Langer married Amelia Pitterle. As the eldest surviving son, Henry would take over the farm from his then 71-year-old father. As noted above, Johann and Barbara were originally going to live in the newly-built apartment, but instead they moved to town. On November 18, 1905, his parents transferred the farm to Henry on the condition that upon Johann’s death Henry would pay his four surviving siblings $1500.00 each and provide his mother with firewood, one fat dressed hog and $300.00 each year until her death. Since Johann died the next spring, on April 28, 1906, it is likely that Johann transferred the farm in contemplation of his death.

Henry and Amelia had six children: Gertrude (June 22, 1904 – October 1, 1910); Francis James (April 5, 1909 – January 10, 1989); Leo (September 28, 1910 – March 26, 1984); Marcella (April 22, 1915 – died at birth); Jeanette Mary (March 3, 1917 – living); and Henry Ferdinand (February 6, 1919 – living).

During the early decades of the 20th century, the Langers continued to grow grains, such as barley and wheat, as a cash crop. However, corn was only infrequently grown during this period. Milk production was a vital part of the farming operation. Oats was raised and marsh hay for horses was cut from the wetter portion of the farm and from a 20-acre parcel of marshlands near the dump north of Clyman that the Langers owned in the late 1920s. Timothy hay was grown for the cows. Silage was introduced in the 1920s. The cows also ate straw from the grain crops.

There was much material progress on the farm during Henry’s tenure. It is believed that Henry is the person who added the permanent kitchen to the house.6 This addition was structured much different from the present kitchen. On the north end of the kitchen was a long closet which included a trapdoor to the basement. Off the kitchen was a pantry.

In 1910, an addition was built to the north end of the barn. It was then 36 by 94 feet and had 32 stanchions and 4 free stalls. Between 1913 and 1919, a telephone was installed. The first car, an Overland, was purchased in 1916, and the first tractor, a McCormick Deering, was purchased in 1921. Around 1920, the carriage shed was extended to accommodate the new automobiles. The first silo was built in 1918; the second, in 1924. Also in 1924, a grain thresher was purchased and a shed built for it west of the main farm buildings.

The farm was powered by a small electric generator until 1936, when the first power lines were strung to the farm. Up until that year, the house and barn had gas globes for lighting. Some tiling for drainage was done by Henry Langer, and Francis Langer tiled the west side.

The First World War did not adversely affect the Langer family. Henry did receive a draft notice which greatly upset his wife Amelia. Amelia insisted on traveling with Henry and their three children, Francis, Leo, and Jeanette (later Sister Grace), to the draft board. Amelia asked the board how she was supposed to run a farm by herself and care for three small children. Apparently, the argument was persuasive, since Henry escaped the draft.

In 1919, Henry was kicked by a cow and he broke his arm when it struck a pole. Henry rented the farm for the next year. At first they lived with Henry’s mother in Watertown. They then took a train to California where they lived with Amelia’s sister, Dora, for about four months.•During this stay in California, Henry and Amelia took Francis and Leo to see some ostriches. (There are pictures recording this). When they returned, they rented a house in Watertown.

During the 1920s, Henry prospered on the farm. Farm prices were high and with two young sons to help, he did not have to rely on outside labor. Henry’s eldest son, Francis, was forced to quit school in 1923, after finishing 8th grade. Neither of the younger boys, Leo or Henry attended high school. For their labor on the farm, both Francis and Leo received new cars in the late 20s. Leo stayed on the farm until 1933, when he married Alta Plasil and moved to the old Caughlin place, kitty-corner from Henry’s farm. At the time of Leo’s marriage, Francis was still single, though he was dating Gertrud Hofmann, his future bride.

Henry Langer’s tenure ended on August 16, 1933, when he was killed in a farm accident. Sister Grace recalls that over breakfast that morning, the family talked about the need to dig a grave in the Holy Assumption Cemetery due to Pat Stanton’s death. Ironically, her father would be buried there first.

It was a hot, muggy day and some of the neighbors had arrived to help with the threshing. Around 10:00 a.m., Henry stepped up on the thresher wheel to make an adjustment to the governor. John Schultz was pitching grain bundles into the threshing machine on that side and saw him slip off the machine and fall backwards, striking the ground with his head and shoulders. John Schultz said he was dead before he hit the ground. I believe it was a heart attack. He was pronounced dead of a broken neck at the age of 58.

A good glimpse of how farming had evolved from 1880 to the 1930s is shown by contrasting the estate inventory of Hugh Dervin with the estate inventory of Henry Langer.

ItemValue $
14 Cows at $30.00 ea.420.00
1 Bull30.00
6 Yearlings or younger75.00
1 yearling20.00
1 Team (10 & 11 Yrs)250.00
1 Horse (16 yrs.)40.00
1 Team (13 & 12)150.00
23 Hogs30.00
1 Tractor (McDeering 15-30)100.00
1 Threshing machine125.00
1 Enselage Cutter10.00
3 Drags25.00
1 Manure Spreader10.00
2 Bottom plow15.00
1 Hay Loader)
1 Mower)
1 Side Delivery)70.00
1 Hay Teader)
1 Dumprake)
2 Wagons & Racks50.00
1 Trick Wagon & Box15.00
1 Manure Spreader60.00
1 Bob Sleigh10.00
1 Walking Plow5.00
1 Grain Seeder15.00
2 Corn Cultivators25.00
1 Minn. Grain Harvester100.00
1 Fanning Mill1.00
1 Feed Grinder5.00
1-6 ft. Horse Drawn Disc.1.00
1 Corn Planter15.00
1 Corn Binder and Loader15.00
1 Truck (Chev. 1927)50.00
1 Oakland Auto50.00
Oil in drums20.00
Barley 200 bu.50.00
Oats 1450 bu.290.00
Corn 125 bu.37.50
Alfalfa 33 tons225.00
Marsh Hay 8 Tons25.00
Miscellaneous Tools10.00
Milk cans 7 equip.15.00
Corn Sheller1.00
Work harnesses25.00

Clearly, by 1933, farming had changed from being labor intensive with few tools to one where much of labor was provided by horses and machinery. Although clearly an arduous life, Henry was engaging in a sizeable commercial farming operation which had made him a relatively rich man. In addition to the farm equipment, the estate valued the real property at $11,925.00, bonds at $1920.14, Open Accounts at $52.66, stock at $333.32, mortgages at $3590.50, and notes at $47.15. Since this was the Great Depression, these investments were valued at a fraction of their original value. The face value of the bonds alone was in excess of $9,000.00. Clearly Henry had prospered on the farm. Unfortunately, he lost much of this wealth in the Depression.

Henry Ferdinand Langer’s Description of Farm Life

(The following is Henry’s written description of farm life. Certain minor changes were made for purposes of clarification and flow. In addition, Henry provided the attached map which he refers to in his narrative.)

The crops grown were oats, corn, barley and hay. I don’t know how much plowland there was, but I will estimate 30 acres of oats, which was ground and used as hog and cow feed, 10 acres of barley, which was either sold or ground and fed to the hogs, 5 acres of wheat and oats mixed for chicken feed, 30-35 acres of corn (about 20 acres for silage and the rest picked by hand) and 30 acres of alfalfa or red clover, seeded with a mixture of timothy, for hay. These crops were rotated, except field number 3 was always in hay, and field numbers 7 and 9 were pasture most of the years I can remember. The marsh was always cut for horse hay. (We always had five horses).

The first tractor, a McCormick Deering 15-30, was purchased in 1921.


It was a straight tractor, not a farm-all. The tractor was used for plowing, though some plowing was done with the horses. The tractor was also used to work up the land before planting. A spring tooth harrow (like a field cultivator without wheels) and a spike tooth harrow were pulled behind the tractor to loosen up the ground that had been plowed in the fall to make a seed bed to plant the grain in. The tractor had a power take-off (a shaft direct from the engine crankshaft that protruded out the back of the tractor). At first, there was no field machinery that was set up to be driven that way. About 1930, combines and machines that chopped hay and corn in the field were driven by power take-off. As these machine sizes got larger, an engine was mounted on these machines to drive them and the tractor just pulled them. The tractor also had a belt pulley that shifted in gear with the same lever that shifted the power take-off. The tractor was connected with an endless belt to stationary machines with a pulley on them for driving such as the circle saw, silo filler, grain thrasher, feed grainer and corn shredder.


Grain was seeded with a horse-drawn seeder, which broadcast the seed and had a double row of small shoes behind to cover the grain. Then the field was gone over with a spike tooth harrow (a drag). If the field was seeded to alfalfa, red clover and timothy, a wooden roller was used to cover the hay seed. The roller was also used if the ground was lumpy to break up the lumps.

Hay was seeded with a broadcast seeder which hung around your neck and had a handle you turned as you walked across the field.

Planting corn was done with a horse-drawn planter, and a spike tooth harrow was used on the field after the corn was planted to fill the planter tracks and to allow for easy cultivating. (The use of cultivator was necessary because there was no spraying of poisons during these years). •

Fertilization and Cultivation

Much of the field work done after planting was done by hand since there were no commercial fertilizer or weed killers in those days. Thistles in the grain were cut with a corn knife as they headed out and thistles in the corn were hoed by hand. Francis and Leo did all the corn cultivating which was done with a team of horses drawing the cultivator. One man sat on the cultivator. There were foot pedals to steer it to keep it on the row. I remember them finding arrow heads or pieces of them.

The manure was hauled out of the barn, hog stable and hen house and spread with a manure spreader on the fields that were to be planted to corn. When the ground was frozen, the manure was hauled out on a wagon and dumped on small piles a distance apart. When the ground thawed in spring, they could be spread by hand and get equal coverage of the ground — hard work.


Dad had a route of 9-10 neighbors he thrashed for. They all exchanged help with teams of horses and wagons as needed. I think Dad got 3 cents a bushel to cover his expenses and for the use of the tractor and thrashing machine. The grain was cut with a grain-binder. The grain-binder was drawn by three horses. A steel wheel, about 8 inches wide and 30 inches in diameter with lugs on it, drove the moving parts and the canvas apron through a series of chains, gears, etc. The sickle, which cut the grain, was about five feet long. After the grain was cut, a reel, turning at the same ground speed the machine was moving, pushed the grain onto a platform. A canvas conveyor apron, about 3 feet wide, carried the grain up to an area where it was held till the required amount of grain pushed a trip. Then a large 1/2 circle needle with the twine in the eye in the front end traveled around the bundle to where three fingers grabbed the twine, tied the ends in a knots and a knife cut the twine. Two arms came around and pushed the bundle out on six long rods curved up on the end. These were dumped in rows by the man driving the horses when there were 3 or 4 bundles on them. Workers set these bundles up in shocks of 8 to 10 bundles. This way they did not have to walk all over the field to gather them.

Six of the farmers thrashed for would come with a team of horses and hay wagon. Farmers with more grain to be thrashed than the smaller farmers would come with two men. There would be two men who stayed in the field to help the man with the team and load the bundles onto the wagon. When the wagon was loaded, it would go to the thrashing machine. A man would pitch the bundles into the thrasher, one at a time. The bundles first encountered a revolving shaft with sharp knives on it that would cut the twine that held the bundle together. Then another high speed drum with teeth 1/2 in wide, 3 inches long and 3/8 inch thick would drag the straw through plates that had the same teeth spaced so those on the drum went between them. This broke up the straw and knocked the grain out of the heads. The grain and straw then went over some sieves which could be adjusted to leave different size material through. There was a fan below that blew straw and chaff out of the grain. Dad’s job was to make these adjustments, grease and oil the machinery so the bearings would not run hot, etc. The straw and chaff went into a blower in the back of the thrasher and was blown onto a stack. The man being thrashed for stayed on the stack and shaped it. The grain was elevated to the top of the machine to a small hopper that weighed it and dumped it into a pipe that branched to two places where bags were hung. One man watched these while three men with a team of horses and wagon with a double box on it hauled these bags of grain to the farmer’s granary where they were dumped in bins.

Making hay

Dad, Francis and Leo always worked together during haying. The hay was cut with a mower drawn by two horses. It had a sickle about five feet long driven by the steel wheels on the mower. A side delivery rake, drawn by two horse, rolled the hay into windrows and, if it rained, turned the windrows.

Two horses pulled a hay loader and the hay wagon. The loader straddled the windrows of hay, picked up the hay and carried it up on the wagon with a series of ropes and slats. One or two men rode on the wagon and leveled the hay until the wagon was fully loaded with loose hay.

Unloading the hay was a three person operation. A fork and track system was used. Running the length of the barn roof was a track. A fork was suspended by rope from this track with the other end of the rope hooked to a team of horses. During unloading, one of the workers set the fork into the hay. I then drove the horses away from the barn which lifted the hay up to the track. There the fork locked into a set of wheels on the track. The hay was then rolled to the appropriate mow and dumped by pulling on a rope. The other two workers spread the hay in the mow.

Harvesting Corn and Making Silage

A corn binder, drawn by three horses, was used for both harvesting corn and for making silage. The corn binder had two snouts about five feet long to pick up stalks that were lying on the ground. A chain with inch and a half cleats protruding from it ran along the inside of the snout and fed the corn into the area where the corn was cut by a sickle a couple inches above the ground and tied into a bundle. These bundles were pitched by hand on a wagon.

If the corn was to be used for silage, the wagon was hauled to the silo filler. The silo filler was a machine with a feeder about six feet long, eighteen inches wide and about six inches deep. Inside the feeder ran a conveyor consisting of steel strips about one and a half inches high. The silo filler was driven by a belt connected to the tractor. Corn bundles were pitched into the conveyor which carried them into a drum with one quarter inch cleats. Strong springs compressed the bundles down. A heavy steel flywheel, forty inches in diameter and one inch thick, with three knives attached, cut the corn into one half inch lengths. Fan plates attached to this high speed flywheel threw and blew the cut corn up the pipe into the silo.

If the ripe corn was to be harvested, the cut corn was shocked and left to dry in the field for a couple weeks. Then it was loaded on a wagon and hauled to the shredder. There the shocks were pitched into the feeder where a man standing on a platform cut the strings. Closely spaced rollers in the shredder popped the corn ears off the stalks. In the process, the stalks were torn up and blown out onto a stack. The ears continued over a series of rollers with short pins in them which took off the husks. The husked ears were elevated out on a wagon and hauled to a crib.

Cutting Wood

We made wood in the winter. There were two wooded area on the farm: one woods southwest of the buildings and one woods east of the road by the cemetery. The wood was cut primarily by hand, using an ax, wedges, a maul to drive the wedges and a crosscut saw. The tree was cut by the crosscut saw which was from five to eight feet in length with a handle on each end. A man on each end of the saw would pull the saw toward him till the tree was cut. The small branches were cut with the ax. The tree was then sawed into lengths that one man could handle. If the logs were too heavy, the log was split with the wedges into quarters or whatever until one man could lift the pieces. When all the dead trees were cut, a team of horses were hitched to a wagon and the wood loaded on it and hauled to the sawing area which was southeast of the thrasher barn. There they were stacked standing on end so that rain and snow would drain off. Later they were cut into smaller pieces by the circle saw. The circle saw had a heavy square frame about three feet high and a platform on rollers. A three inch shaft connected the thirty to thirty six inch circular saw on one end of the frame and the drive pulley on the other end. A belt connected the drive shaft with the tractor. One piece of wood was laid on the platform and pushed into the saw and cut into whatever length was needed. Three men carried wood from the pile to the saw, one man ran the saw table and one man caught the pieces after they were sawed and threw them on a pile. Later they were split to the needed size for the cook stove. We let the wood dry all summer. In fall, it was hauled to the woodshed which was on the east end of the garage where the freezer house now stands.


Milking was done by hand. Normally the three of us boys did the milking. Most of the time when one of us wasn’t home for milking, Mother would help with the milking. Milking was always at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Field work was always stopped in time for us to eat supper before starting milking at 6:00 p.m.

During the years 1930 to 1933, we milked about 25 cows. Five or six, maybe more, heifer calves were raised a year. The milk went to the cheese factory and whey was brought back. Whey is what was left of the milk after cheese was made. The hogs liked it much better than water. We took milk every day for use in the house. I don’t remember at what age I started milking. I was maybe 9 when Dad finally let me milk one cow after begging for some time to be able to help. I would set up the strainer. The 200 pound milk cans were too big for me to handle empty. Cooling milk was my job. The full milk cans were set in a tank of cold water. To circulate the milk, we placed a six inch round plate connected by a 3/8 inch rod to a handle into the milk can and raised and lowered the plate.


We had 4-5 brood sows and so possibly 20 to 30 hogs were fattened twice a year. The brood sows were kept in the west end of the basement of the granary. The fattening hogs were under the long machine shed west of the house. Straw was hauled to the stall in the middle and it was used for bedding as needed.

One fat calf, weighing about 200 to 250 pounds, was butchered every year before Easter. Three fat hogs were butchered in the early winter of each year to make sausage, ham, headcheese and Groutenwurst (a blood sausage). The fat was trimmed off the meat and used to make lard. The sausage and ham were smoked in the smoke house. The Groutenwurst was kept frozen in ice in a 50 gallon steel barrel in the corn crib. If the weather got too warm and the sausage thawed the sausage was lost. Some meat was canned. Other meat was fried and placed with its juice in earthen jars and with 3 to 4 inches of lard on the top. The jars were kept in the cellar until the meat was eaten. There were no refrigerators or freezers.

The Chickens

The chickens were kept in the east side of the basement of the granary. The henhouse was cold and usually very damp and so we kept one of the heavy breeds such as Plymouth Rock, Barred Rock or Wyandotte. They did not lay many eggs when it got cold. In the summer, they were allowed to run outside. At night or during heavy rains they had to be gotten into the henhouse. The door always had to be closed at night to keep predators out. One of my jobs was to find the nests that they would make outside of the henhouse. If you didn’t find them before they had 10 to 15 eggs in them, they would hatch them and the mother hen would parade them for you to see. Mother would set the incubator in spring with 100 eggs. She would also set a few hens at the same time so that when the incubator hatched she could put the incubator chicks with the other hens. We had no brooder or brooder house. As the chicks got older they were harder to manage. By summer, there weren’t many old hens left as they were culled out. Those that weren’t laying were sold or eaten. The eggs that weren’t used in the house were sold to the grocery store in Clyman where we bought our groceries.

The Bees

On the south side of the woodshed was the bee house, where Dad had anywhere from 6-8 beehives. We used to get supplies from a place in Watertown. We made the boxes for the hives. The bottom section of the hive was for their winter feed. When the bottom section was filled, we would place another section on top which the bees would fill. Dad used to take them off with no gloves or screen over his face. He would just take the boxes apart and shake the bees off. The bees wouldn’t bother him. I would watch from the distance and the bees would come and chase me. After Dad died, I took care of the bees for a couple years. The grocery store in Clyman sold the honey for me. I gave some to Mother, Francis and Gertrude and Leo and Alta.

Farm Chores

In those days farming was hard work, not just sitting on a tractor. Dad, Francis and Leo did all the work; no labor was hired. Generally, Dad, Francis and Leo worked together on the chores: feeding the hogs and cows, milking the cows, cleaning the barn, bedding the cows and hogs. Mother helped milk if someone wasn’t home, was sick or was missing for some other reason. Otherwise she did all of the housework: cooking, canning, taking care of the garden, washing and patching clothes and making soap from the lard left over from butchering. Sister Grace helped her. Although the care of the chickens and the gathering of their eggs was my job, Mother did this when I was at school or gone.

I carried in water from the well for drinking and cooking. There was a cistern under the kitchen with rainwater collected from the house roof. This water was used for washing hands and clothes. I also carried in wood for the cook stove.

I also used my BB gun to try to keep the birds out of the cherry trees when the fruit was ripening. The gophers on our farms and the neighbors’ farms ran for their holes when they saw me come. Sparrows were also on my list to shoot.

Other Aspects of Farm Life

In the winter there was spare time and Dad loved to play cards. We used to play two-handed pinochle. There was an ongoing contest to see who could beat whom. The Haases used to walk over quite often in the evening after milking. We would play 500. Dad and Mr. Haase would play against Milton and Leo or Francis. Mrs. Haase and Mother used to visit. Sometimes Mrs. Haase, Mother, Sister Grace and I used to play euchre. We used to go over there too.

The first car Dad bought was an Overland. (Francis said it was purchased in 1916.)


A couple years later, when I was about 6, he bought a Dort.

I told Dad that since he was old he could have the old car and since I was new I could have the new car. In 1927 he bought a Chevy truck, the first truck Chevy made in Janesville.

He went down to the factory and drove it out. The truck had a closed cab with roll-down windows. In 1929, he bought a Chevrolet sedan, the first closed car.

During the Depression I remember Dad mentioning that he still made a $1000.00 profit one year. He received 3 cents a pound for pork, $6.00 for a 200 pound hog, 12 cents a dozen for eggs and 65 cents for a hundred pounds of milk. I don’t recall Dad having a stress problem when weather affected the crops or with low prices, although I was not with him that much since I was in school. What killed Dad was when the stock market crashed and the money he had in stocks was worth 10 to 25 cents on the dollar.

In spring, 1933, the John Schultz farm was bought for Leo who was going to move there after his upcoming fall wedding. We raised more heifer calves to supply him with milk cows. I am sure that brood sows were also bred for him. Brucellosis in cows had been taking its toll for a couple years. The cows would abort their calves prematurely and they didn’t produce a lot of milk. There wasn’t much that could be done about it. If a cow didn’t give much milk, she was sold to the market as the meat was ok to eat. The testing of cows began a few years later. Dad’s plan was to take all the clean cows to Leo’s and try to clean up the herd at home.

After Henry’s Death

After Dad died, Mother, Sister Grace and I stayed on the farm with Francis. At planting time the next spring, Mother’s brother, Henry Pitterle, wasn’t working and so he came out and helped during the week. That summer after Leo married and moved on the Schultz farm, as Dad had planned, the cattle were divided so there wasn’t a lot of milking. I don’t remember if any milk cows were bought. Since less oats and corn was needed for cattle feed, Francis planted more barley, about 30 acres, since Prohibition had ended and barley had a good price. I remember bagging it up in the granary, loading it on the wagon and Francis hauling it to the Clyman mill with the horses.

Francis plowed field number 7 which was the first time that field had even been plowed. He planted hemp because there was a shortage of hemp for rope.

Francis bought a new McCormick Deering Farmall F30 tractor which had steel wheels.

Francis had them cut down and rubber tires put on it. Everyone told him he was crazy because rubber tires would not pull any machinery on plowed ground and if it was wet he would be stuck all the time.

Francis ran the threshing route in 1934 but in 1935 he bought the combine — same people — same thoughts.

When Francis and Gertrude were married, Mother and Sister Grace moved in with Grandma Pitterle in Watertown. Grandma was about 80 or 81 at the time and living alone. Her son Ed and his family lived across the street from her.

I stayed on the farm with Francis and Gertrude that winter. I remember cutting wood with their first hired man, Art Halverson, and going to town on Saturdays to visit the library while they shopped. I read every book in that library about beekeeping. It is very interesting how those bees work together. In probably early spring 1935, I moved to Leo and Alta’s and worked for them for a few years. In the late 1930s I again worked for Francis and Gertrude for a while.

(End of Henry’s Narrative)

© 2017 by Edward G. Langer. All rights reserved.