Farm Bells

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A farm bell continued to be an important means of communication in rural areas at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Ringing the bell at noon, signaled that it was time for dinner.

   

The sturdy metal bell was often mounted on a post, just outside of the kitchen door. It could be rung for meals and used to sound a prearranged message to the fields. An emergency or fire alarm could also be conveyed by the loud ringing sound.

   

Farm bells were purchased at a general store in town, or ordered through a mail-order catalogue. The 1908 catalogue of Sears, Roebuck & Company sold a variety of different sizes and advertised them as the “sweetest toned, clearest ringing, loudest sounding farm bells in the world.”

                                       

    Ranging in weight, from 35 to 90 pounds, the sizes of a farm bell were designated by a number. A No. 3 farm bell weighed 70 pounds and had a base diameter of 18 inches. Such a bell, used for years on a family farm, is shown in the accompanying photograph.

    The catalogue also sold larger models for use in schoolhouses, churches, factories, or as community fire alarm bells. The heaviest one listed in the mail-order catalogue was a church bell weighing 2,314 pounds.


    A Farm Breakfast, Dinner, Supper and Lunch

   

Breakfast was the first meal of the midwestern farm day. It was eaten after early morning chores, which often had been started in the darkness by lantern light. Pancakes, eggs, oatmeal, fried potatoes, and homemade bread with jam were breakfast staples.

   

In a time without electricity, meals were made on the kitchen stove, heated by burning corncobs, wood or coal. Preparing food in this manner required time for the kitchen stove to heat to the proper temperature for cooking and baking. In the winter, the stove provided welcome warmth. In summertime, it marked the beginning of another long, hot day in the kitchen.

   

Dinner was the main meal of the day on the farm and was traditionally served at noon. The custom of having the meal at 12 o’clock was an efficient use of time, fuel, light and energy in farm life.

   

As the summer days passed, fresh vegetables from the family garden added variety to meals. A farm diet was a seasonal one, with food grown to eat when ready and also preserved for winter use. Homegrown potatoes, prepared in variety of ways, regularly appeared on a farm kitchen table.

   

Even when farm children attended a one-room country school during the week, the primary amount of cooking and baking was done this way. Students carried dinner pails to school, or walked home to join the family’s mid-day meal. Sunday dinner was a special family meal together, sometimes with relatives, or visitors to the farm.

   

Monday was traditionally wash day, when much time was needed to do household laundry, often in a hot, steamy kitchen. On this day, the noon meal might be a simple soup or stew. These dishes could be started early and cooked on the rear of the kitchen stove, or in the oven, as water was heated to wash and rinse the clothes.

   

Supper, at the end of the day, was a lighter meal. It frequently consisted of earlier prepared meats with vegetables, fried potatoes, home-baked bread or soup. A welcome variety to meals came from homemade pickles, relishes, jams and jellies. A piece of pie might be dessert for dinner or supper, as well as being served as a lunch, or as an addition to breakfast.

   

There were freshly baked fruit pies in season. Home-canned apples, cherries, peaches, blackberries, rhubarb, blueberries and strawberries provided most of the fruit for winter pies. Pies made from dried apples or raisins were popular when other fruits weren’t available. Custard pie or pudding could be created from farm milk and eggs.

   

What about lunch? This was the term used for a sandwich or something to eat between breakfast and dinner, or dinner and supper. Physical labor on the farm consumed many calories and a welcome lunch provided energy and a bit of rest, to continue working throughout the long day.

   

A lunch was also the word used to describe serving refreshments to afternoon or evening visitors at home, as well as providing something to eat after special school or church events. The beginning of school lunch programs often started with neighborhood mothers bringing a pot of homemade soup to one-room country schools for noontime. During the winter, a teacher might also bake potatoes on the top of schoolroom stove that was heating the classroom.

   

Throughout summer threshing days, neighbors helped each other harvest grain and separate it from the straw. On such occasions, preparing a large dinner and enjoying it together were traditions of neighborliness and hospitality. The dinner hour was also a time of rest for the threshermen and their horses.

   

Lunches and water were also taken out to the fields, both in mid-morning and afternoon, during threshing. A lunch usually consisted of sandwiches, cookies, lemonade or water. Children were often designated as water boys, responsible for taking jugs of water out to the fields on the hot summer days.

   

Before a threshing day dinner was served, the farm bell was rung at noon, or the whistle on the steam engine was sounded, signaling time for the midday meal. The threshers washed up and rested under the shade trees while waiting to be called for dinner. After the dinner hour, the refreshed threshermen and their rested teams of horses went back out in the fields to continue the work of summer.