The Ottumwa Courier

November 5, 2012

Poppin' Johnnies show how farming used to be done

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

HILLSBORO — You may be able to tell what farmers think about their job by looking at how they spend their time off.

“This is our hobby,” said David Cobbler of Ottumwa, pointing out the antique farm equipment that he and members of the Poppin’ Johnnies of Southeast Iowa club were operating Saturday.

Cobbler was on the farm purchased by his grandfather in 1917. Though lots of the Cobbler farm operation had been modernized, the original barn was here. And Cobbler had purposely left about 60 acres of corn standing, untouched, after harvest.

“This is an official harvest day with restored [farm] equipment,” he said.

Several 1940s and 1950s tractors bulled their way through the rows of brown cornstalks, spitting husked corn into the wagons they pulled.

“We do it the old way for our hobby,” he said.

In the 40s and 50s, he said, farmers would feel pretty good to get 200 bushels taken care of in an hour. 

“And it was family oriented,” he said.

These days, combines can handle 2,000 bushels an hour.

Another Cobbler, Chris, was helping a driver learn how to operate an old piece of machinery. Someone had left a part off, meaning the antique John Deere was going to need some work. As he walked across the field, Chris pointed out a man operating a steam engine near the barn.

“He loves that.  He’ll run that [engine] all day,” Chris said.

He added that though the steam engine was a 2/5 scale model, it was functional enough that with some coal and water to run it, the machine was actually operating the grain pumping “auger” for the day’s farm operation.

Around the barn were antiques not being used just then — but still functional. There was a potato digger, a cement mixer and a couple of 100-year-old hay bailers, where the wheels, big steel cogs and gears were all visible. Many of the members, David said, finish up at their day jobs during the year, then, for relaxation, work on their older equipment.

“We’re a little bit different. We restore it, but then we use it, too,” said the man, the seventh David in his family to be a farmer. “My brother and I bailed plenty of hay with that small one.”

The Poppin’ Johnnies were celebrating their seventh year doing an actual harvesting. Last year, more than 500 visitors stopped to see how it “used to be” done. The event used to be held at a park. The farm is located right after motorists leave the highway (Exit 40) to come into the north side of Ottumwa on Highway 149. Club members said they want to share their hard work with the public.

“I figured we would be more visible here,” added David.