The Dietz Family
Of Rock Falls
Written by LaVerne Dietz Montgomery.
From the Sterling Gazette July 1, 1976
Before the days of the modern combines, grain threshing was done by a threshing rig owner. And, in the 1920's and 1930's in our neighborhood it was Ray Scott who owned the machine. He had the steam engine, later a large tractor and the thresher.
The rig would move from farm to farm with each of the farmers also going from farm to farm to haul the grain shocks to the threshing machine. The huge thresher would spew out the straw into a large stack which the farmer then used as bedding for his livestock during the winter months.
The grain was hauled to the granary and unloaded by hand with a scoop shovel. Sometimes the grain was hauled directly to town to be sold at the eleevator. Threshing was a time of worry, hard work, excitement with almost a party atmosphere at each of the farms. The wives in the "threshing ring" also shared the work by preparing sumptious feasts for the men each noon along with a morning and afternoon lunch. The kids also found jobs to do, such as hauling water to the washing bench where the men would wash for dinner. If it was close to the pump, it was an easier job. Installing the old roller towel for use by everyone was also done. The kids usually hauled the lunch to the fields for the men loading the shocks. They might even help in hauling the water for the steam rig.
But there was also time for play with all the children who came along with their mothers. Mothers worked hard in a hot, steamy kitchen preparing the mountains of food necessary to feed a "threshing crew" of perhaps as many as 20 men and boys.
The day before the threshing rig was to come was also a busy time and it meant preparing cakes, pies and cookies. The cookstoves required a lot of cobs, wood or coal, and that too, was a job for the kids. Also shooing off flies was left to the children when the men came in to eat the dinneer meal. And, many a bawling out they got for dashing in and out too often and letting the screen door stay open and allowing the flies in.
Usually the same group of men cooperated in "filling the soil" and in "haying time". There would be one group in the field to pitch up the ya or the corn shocks while there were others who brought their hayracks and teams and hauled the hay to the farm yard. Here in the farm yard, power to lift the hay to the hayloft was usually a team of horses and a pulley. When raised to the loft, a couple of farmers would place or stack the hay in the right place. Sometimes one of the younger boys drove the horses to the pulley.
The green corn for the silage was very heavy and required a lot of strength to handle the large bundles. The machine blew the silage into the top of the silo and a man inside helped to level it as it was blown in and it proved to be a very dirty job.
Corn harvesting was a busy and extended time with each farmer picking his own corn by hand with the help of the wives or older children. Boys sometimes had to stay out of school until the corn was in. Here too, the children had a job when they were home and that was to drive the horses in the endless circle that powered the elevator which lifted the corn into the corn crib. Many m iles were walked by both horse and driver using this type of power. And, some well-trained horses would not require a driver. It too many weeks to harvest the corn in those days and a farmer felt fortunate if he was through corn harvesting by Thanksgiving.
With every harvesting season there was the worry about the weather. Would it rain for days on end and spoil the grain shocks, or the hay? Would the fields be too muddy to haul in the corn for the silage? Would the snow come too early and hinder the corn harvest? And when all these harvest seasons were extended over several weeks there was more chance for adverse effects from the weather.
Farming in those days before modern machinery was hard work for both men and the horses. Also for the wives who had no running water from the tap, no modern stoves or equipment. Hauling water from the pump, carrying in the cobs for fuel, or the wood or coal, emptying the ashes and maybe carrying water back out from the slop bucket under the sink was often the job for the children in the family. And woe to you if let the slop bucket run over, or forgot to fill the reservoir on the stove, or neglected to bring in the cobs (and sometimes a mouse along with the cobs), to start a quick fire in the morning. When electricity came to the rural areas in the late 1930's, some of the farm tasks became easier. No more lamps to fill and dirty chimneys to wash! Electric washing machines and stoves were a possibility, although many still could not afford them. Also electric refrigeration. But "Oh, Gee!" no more ice man to give you a cool chip of ice or so. And, ice cream could be kept for awhile and you did not have to make your own and eat it immediately after before it melted.
My Grandmother Jurgens kept a couple of Jersey cows on the farmette and separated milk and churned butter. She also made schmercase from some of the curds. She had a route of regular customers to whom she delivered butter, cottage cheese, buttermilk, the schmercase and any surplus garden produce she might have had at the time, including eggs.
She and my grandfather never had a car and she always drove her one horse buggy to deliver her farm products. They had a large grape arbor and made a good supply of grape wine from their harvest. My grandmother continued her produce delivering route into her late 60's. She passed away at the age of 73 in 1929.
Peter J. Dietz and his wife, the former Clara Jurgens of Rock Falls are shown in the trim buggy they drove during the early 1900's.
When my parents, Peter J. and Clara Dietz moved to the farm in 1929 after the death of my grandmother, my step-mother continued to some extent with the delivering of eggs, butter, rabbits, which we raised and the cakes she loved to bake. We lived there three years as my grandfather died in 1932 and the farm was sold for $5,000 and this included the house, barn and outbuildings and the 10 acre land tract upon which the farm operated.
Apparently the "moonshiners" had a still somewhere out on the Prophetstown Road as we used to see some of them go by countless times a day, apparently to pick up a bottle or two. Those were the "good old days" which are well remembered by many, but to which few would be willing to return.
Hans Peter Dietz was the originator of the Dietz farm in Rock Falls. He came to the US in 1880 from Germany. He was already married and the couple had a daughter, Anna when they migrated here and settled near Harmon in Lee County and they spent some eight years there. The Dietz family then moved to Hume Township and later to Monmorency Township.
In 1894, Dietz purchased the home farm on Buell Road. Five of the 13 Dietz children were born on this farm. In 1910 Hans Dietz moved to a 10 acre farm near Rock Falls on the Buell Road. His son, Peter J. later took over the operation of the farm and it remains today on Buell Road.
In 1924, Peter J. Dietz purchased the next farm north and another son, John J. moved to the old home farm and operated the farm until his death in 1943. The farm was then sold to William Keenan. Henry J. Dietz farmed the next farm south and this farm still belongs to his estate.
Peter J. Dietz was born in Lee County as were his brothers William and Henry. Louise Dietz Cunniff was born in Hume Township and Lena Dietz McCarthy and Fred were born on the farm owned by John Block. Louis, Edward, John, Hannah Dietz Oncken and Mabel Dietz Gerken were all born at the home farm.
Mrs. LaVerne Dietz Montgomery of Rock Falls was born (1915) to Peter J. and Clara (Jurgens) Dietz at the home along with a sister, Fern Dietz McCall. Two sons died in infancy. Fred Dietz resides in Nashville Tenn., while Edward, Hannah, Mabel, Louise and Lena all reside in the Sterling and Rock Falls vicinity.
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