In the 1930s, a mighty workhorse helped this family survive.
Grandpa’s beloved workhorse helped our family survive the first year on the farm.
In the summer of 1935, my grandparents Fred and Emma Ross bought an 80-acre farm 5 miles west of Shelbyville, Illinois. My father, Julian, was 12 years old. The land came with a two-story white clapboard house and a red barn. A dilapidated corncrib stood to the east of the barn. The 1935-’36 winter was brutally cold in central Illinois, but it gave way to one of the hottest summers on record. By the end of May, the soil had warmed up for planting so Grandpa and Dad hitched their only workhorse, Lindy, to a onebottom plow. After readying the soil, Lindy pulled the planter to finish the job of sowing corn. While workhorses were not pets, Dad loved Lindy. That summer, Grandpa began fixing up the old corncrib. The building had shifted a bit off its rock foundation and was missing many wooden slats. Grandpa was frugal, so he and Dad dug rocks out of the fields, and under Lindy’s horsepower hauled them to the building to reinforce the stone foundation. Dad said that as they filled in the holes, they noticed bits of iron and other metal objects under the corncrib. Harvesttime arrived after a long, hot, dry summer. Grandpa and Dad took the corn out of the field by hand. Grandpa wore a shucking peg on his hand to cut each ear of corn from the stalk. Dad simply wore gloves and broke off the ears. In an almost synchronized movement, father and son cut the corn with their right hands and tossed the ears into the wagon with their left hands. The small ears of corn hit the high side of the wagon before sliding to the bottom. It didn’t take long for them to finish. As Grandpa had feared, that first harvest barely filled the bottom of the wagon. Grandpa and Dad drove Lindy and the wagon to the corncrib. While they may have felt blue over their diminished harvest, the weather on that early fall day was spectacular. The sky was crystal clear. Dad opened the back gate of the wagon and was in the process of scooping a shovelful of corn into the crib when he felt the wagon lurch to one side. He was knocked off balance and fell, sliding out of the wagon and onto a pile of corn. Grandpa hollered, “Lindy’s down!” Dad pulled himself up and scrambled to the front of the wagon. On the ground, lying on her side, was his beloved horse. She was dead. Grandpa called the veterinarian to check her out because Lindy had never shown any signs of illness. The vet suggested that lightning could have caused her death. Dad hadn’t heard any thunderclaps nor seen any lightning flashes, but lightning can travel miles from a thunderstorm. Maybe all that the iron under the building attracted the bolt that struck Lindy. Until the corncrib was torn down in 1956, my family witnessed several more lightning strikes around it.
Lila’s dad (Julian, left, with siblings Richard and Eloise) adored Lindy, the farm’s workhorse.