“Pride of Ownership”

A Merigold farmer tends to his stock in November of 1939

Books Bygone: “Pride of Ownership”
Marica Bernstein

Shopwork on the Farm by Mack M. Jones (1945) “should be valuable to farmers” concerned about the upkeep of machinery and equipment, but it is a textbook “intended primarily for the use of vocational agriculture students and other farm youth, who will be the farmers of tomorrow, and for college students taking their first course in shopwork.”

Mack M. Jones. Shopwork on the Farm. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. 1945.

Jones’ premise is that because farms have become increasingly mechanized, every farmer needs to be an “unspecialized” mechanic. A complete overhaul of your tractor can be left to the experts, but as a farmer, you should be able to keep your farm and home in good shape. Skimming the chapter titles reveals what this entailed in 1945.

The first chapter addresses building and equipping your workshop. Plans are included for two combination garage-workshops, and for a combination shop and machine shed. The shop and machine shed measures 52ft x 26ft overall. Its plan includes space for, among other implements, a grinder, post drill and forge. There’s room for a heat stove made from a discarded oil drum. If the shop has both a forge and a stove, Jones cautions to install a separate flue for each. As you customize these plans to suit your needs, remember that,

if electricity is available on the farm, the shop should, of course, be wired for it. Good lights will encourage and facilitate work on dark, rainy days when outside work cannot be done.

The remaining thirteen chapters cover everything from sketching and drawing plans, carpentry and woodworking, painting and glazing, sharpening and fitting hand tools to soldering, cold metal work, forging and welding (“the a.c. transformer type of electrical welder is the type most commonly used in farm workshop”– good thing your farm has electricity), simple plumbing, and maintaining electrical equipment.

There are some real gems in this book, gems of bygone days when all three kinds of paint were lead-based, when a search for the word “safety” in the index returned just five results and none of them said anything about federal law, and this:

Although the farmer needs to be an unspecialized mechanic, rather than a specialized mechanic, he should be nevertheless a good one. He should be thorough and systematic. Slovenly or slipshod methods have no more place on the farm than in other businesses of occupations. Machinery that works well, gates that open and shut easily, and buildings and fences that are orderly and in good repair not only save time and money for the farmer, but contribute to morale and pride of ownership.

That’s one of my favorite paragraphs, ever. “Slovenly” and “slipshod” are words you don’t hear too often anymore. In Jones’ way of thinking, the lowly farm is on par with any other business or occupation. The age-old idea, if you’re going to do something, do it right, shines through. And, at least in the way I read it, he’s talking about his own– my own– morale and pride in the things we work hard to claim as ours. Nothing wrong with that, I think.

The name Mack M. Jones will not go down in history as one of the great literary talents of our time. His writing is clear, concise and unimaginative. But if you need to tie a miller’s or grain-sack knot, sharpen a non-electric circular saw, or check the proportions of cement, sand and gravel for your milk cooling tanks, that’s what you need: clear, concise and unimaginative. You don’t need fancy words to reflect your “pride of ownership.”

Mack M. Jones. Shopwork on the Farm. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. 1945.

Originally published in my little weekly newspaper, December 6, 2013.

2 thoughts on ““Pride of Ownership””

  1. I wonder if “the book” indicates that a workshop stove should be set up to be able to heat a pot of coffee.

    I’m building a garage and the outside temperatures are around 32F/0C degrees. After about 20 minutes on the first day of work, my work priority switched to modifying my kerosene heater so that it would heat a coffee pot.

    1. It’s not that cold here but it’s cold. And to check to see if the book mentions anything about a coffee pot, I’d have to go outside to the bunkhouse to get the book. Maybe after it’s warmed up a bit! Stay warm!

Comments are closed.