Thursday, December 1, 2016

Isaac Werner's Wagon

For nearly a decade after his arrival on the Kansas prairie, Isaac Werner did not go into debt.  Without a horse, he focused on planting and keeping the trees on his timber claim alive, growing a garden, and tending a peach orchard.  He managed to break some sod by trading his own labor in exchange for having a neighbor come with horse and plow, but the thick prairie sod was next to impossible for a man to break without horses or oxen.

With fewer farmers settled on the prairie and less sod broken, prices for what they raised remained high, and nature favored farmers with adequate rain.  Based on those prices and the accommodating rainfall, Isaac finally decided that he should go into debt to buy a horse, calculating that he could pay the loan back quickly with the crops he raised.

He bought his little mare Dolley Varden and borrowed what he thought would be enough extra to buy the necessary implements.  Unfortunately, Isaac was not the only settler to have decided to expand his farming operation, and as more crops were marketed, prices fell.  To make matters worse, the rainfall did not always come when it was needed.

Isaac discovered that becoming a serious farmer required more equipment than he had anticipated, and he went further into debt.  One of the most expensive purchases was a wagon that he bought from F. C. Shaler in St. John.  He focused on raising potatoes and corn, and he needed the wagon to deliver his crops to market.

Having anticipated paying off his mortgage quickly, he had not negotiated a long-term mortgage, and each renewal resulted in higher interest.  Like many other settlers, the most that Isaac could do was pay the interest owed and renew the note at ever-increasing interest rates.

At the recent Octoberfest in Stafford, Kansas, I saw a wagon which may have resembled the wagon Isaac bought from F.C. Shaler. The wagon pictured in the advertisement from the St. John County Capital is a Milburn Wagon, and the one I saw in Stafford was a Studebaker.

 The Studebaker Wagon was donated by Brian and Kathy Fischer, in memory of Wayne Dean Fischer.  Information from the donors indicates that this wagon was used in the early 1900s; however, it looks very similar to the wagon in the Shaler advertisement.


The Blog Fodder said...

Debt can work for you or against you, depending on the breaks in weather and markets. It is all about timing. Time it right and you are a genius, wrong and you are a goat. Back in the day of (relatively) small pig farms, a colleague of mine said that success or failure was a function of what day you marketed your first pig.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

As I reviewed the draft of this blog, written in early October, I had just participated a day or so before it was posted in a conversation with farmers talking about the good crops this year and the poor markets. It was just another reminder of how history can relate to the present. One of the things promoted by farmers through the People's Party of Isaac's day was a way to eliminate the cycle of borrowing to put in a crop and survive until harvest, and then selling as soon as the crop was cut because the note was due, even though prices might go up later if the crop did not have to be sold. Then, needing to borrow again the next season--an unending cycle...