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15 Poppin' Johnny ... There appeared a chariot offire, and horses offire ... and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 2 Kings 2:11 Mr. Ford's car no doubt had eased the depression's impact on Corbett and Fannie, but it had also planted the seeds ofa vague unrest. Walking no longer felt fast enough. Old Queenie began to seem inadequate . Corbett took to leafing through all the farm magazines he could get his hands on and looking at the tractors. Then, in the early 1940S, the depression's bonds loosened, and the desire generated by the advertisements escalated. Mechanization of farming in America had accelerated dramatically between the start of the twentieth century and the beginning ofthe depression . Internal combustion engines fueled by cheap oil could operate more cost-effectively than animal power. Farmers during this period rapidly increased their use of machines and consequently their crop production. Because fewer horses and mules had to be kept and fed, more acreage became available for growing human food. In the 1920S large 140 Poppin' Johnny surpluses in farm production caused the unit value of crops to drop. Many people dependent on farming for an income felt driven to buy a tractor and plow more land. After the depression hit, farmers really felt the impact of growing too much wheat, corn, and cotton. Not only did they continue to suffer because of surplus crop production, food exports plummeted, and Americans in cities cut back on their consumption of farm products. Rayon fibers made from oil replaced cotton for many uses. But the costs for buying and maintaining tractors and other farm machinery did not fall accordingly. The exodus from farm to urban areas that had started earlier accelerated as the sizes of tractors increased and the price of food dropped. In eastern Texas, cities burgeoned as the children of backwoods farmers flocked to jobs in lumber mills, oil refineries, and retail stores. Corbett's brothers moved to town. Corbett and Fannie, like most farmers, endured the depression by cutting their consumption ofthings that cost money. But, unlike many, they had options other than selling crops - the timber industry still needed flatheads and saw filers, fish still could be caught from the Angelina River, and acorns still fed hogs and game that could be hunted in the hinterlands. A diversity of resources in a thinly settled region insulated them from the breakdown in the farm economy. Their family circumstances helped to keep expenses down. My mother, Versie, was their only child; other couples of their generation found themselves obliged to feed and clothe broods of six, eight, or even ten. Custom also made it normal for extended families to share the same roof. Thus, when in 1940 Versie married, she and my father lived at first with Corbett and Fannie, helping run the farm and bring mmoney. In late 1941 Pearl Harbor and World War II galvanized the country into action. The war brought a change in the fortunes of the farmer. Food exports escalated to feed American soldiers and Allied countries , and jobs proliferated to feed the war machine. Things looked so good by 1944 that Corbett bought a tractor. Alas, it was not a Ford. Henry Ford had experimented at building farm tractors as early as 1905, and the Fordson tractor had first appeared on the market in 1917, in response to demands created by World War I. These tractors had flooded the market in the 1920S, but cars ultimately proved more profitable to Henry Ford than tractors. The last of his Fordson tractors to be made in North America came off the line in 1928. Other tractors took their place in the thirtiesFarmall , McCormick-Deering, Massey-Harris, John Deere. The Deere Company in 1933 had tested a tractor unique in motor design - it had two large cylinders instead of the four smaller ones commonly in use. This allowed it to operate on fuel oil, kerosene, cheap gasoline, or other low-grade fuels. By World War II the John Deere tractor, or Poppin' Johnny, so-called because of the distinctive "pop-pop" of the engine, had, like Ford's Model T, built a reputation for simplicity and easy maintenance. The farm dealer from San Augustine, fifty miles north ofJasper, hauled Corbett's new tractor to Peachtree. He unloaded it at a cutbank by the road about halfWay up the hill between the Old Kirby Main Line and Pa Graham's sandhill farm. Corbett's hands trembled as he climbed...


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