COLUMN: Rock picking a common memory
A group of older “farm boys” were gathered and talking about growing up on a South Dakota farm and the topic got around to the most unsavory jobs. It was nearly unanimous that picking rocks was one of the least favorable farm jobs.
Back in the day before mechanical rock pickers, it rested upon the shoulders of the youngsters to take part in picking up rocks from the grain fields. This was usually done in the spring, when the ground was quite bare and those pesky rocks could be easily noticed.
So, Grampa and Pa would hook up a tractor or a team of horses to a device commonly known as a “stone boat.”
It was just a large piece of metal or wood that we could throw the rocks on as we walked alongside. Picking rocks involved lots of bending over and cradling rocks in our arms to avoid too many trips to the stone boat. When the platform was full we pulled up to an existing rock pile and unloaded each rock one at a time. This drudgery of a task was usually performed in the hottest time of day, and lots and lots of water was consumed as the day went on.
This task continued to that time when this old writer was the farmer who had his own children. These youngsters were recruited rather cruelly into becoming rock pickers of the day. My children rued the day when Dad would announce: “Today we pick rock,” and they would all scatter in every direction. There were times when even cousins were enlisted to help pick rocks.
To these loved and cherished then-young girls I offer my most humble apologies. These able-bodied girls who are now grown women shared the lineage to be cousins to our own kids and had the bad luck to be at the K-farm on the day the old guy announced: “Today will be rock-picking day.” So, Debbie, Cindy, Kristie and Sandy, my apologies for making you pick rocks at the K-farm. I can still remember one of you raring back to throw a rock onto the pile and accidentally hitting one of your sisters in the mouth.
Picking rocks had some associated poor environmental conditions. Dust was a constant enemy. The old South Dakota gumbo soil was usually very dry in the spring, and sliding the old stone boat along behind the tractor raised all kinds of dust.
Rocks seemed to grow. We would pick them off a field one year and the next year the ground would be covered again. However, it was pretty evident that those rocks grew because the plows would dig them out each time we passed over the field.
To this day, rock picking still holds an unsavory place in farming. There are farming areas in South Dakota that are free of rock, and we always envied them.
Gerald “Jerry” Krueger is a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column publishes Mondays.