Monday, August 3, 2015

Mondays With Mary #10 (Walking Beans)

As a  teenager in the early 1960's, I "walked beans". Walking beans was a way of life for farm kids back then.  Today the soybean crops are sprayed with herbicides that keep the weeds at bay.  There is not a more beautiful sight than acres and acres of green soybean rows with not one stock of corn or other invasive weed sticking up above the tops of the leaves. Years ago this sight also reflected hours and hours turned into days and weeks of hot, dirty work. We would start very early in the morning. Sometimes the dew was still on the bean leaves and we would get soaking wet.  We would walk down the rows from one end of the field to the other end; then, turn around and walk back on a different set of rows.  Sometimes the field would be one half mile long.  Each walker was responsible for the two rows to the left and the two rows to the right. We would be looking for cockleburrs, milk weed, and volunteer corn that had seeded itself from the year before when these acres had been planted to corn. If there were too many weeds, we would just take two rows. This would then take us FOREVER to get a field done.

My primary bean walking buddy was my second cousin and dear friend, Kathy. Our first customers were our dads, but eventually we were hired by other neighbors or family friends.  Sometimes, our crew grew to Lynn, Nancy, and maybe Margo. At first we made 75 cents per hour.  We were really excited as the summers went on and we made $1.00 per hour. Kathy and I both have bean walking scars on our legs and arms. Sometimes we pulled by hand, sometimes we used a corn knife which looked a little like a machete, and sometimes we used a bean hook. It was that bean hook that occasionally did the damage.

I wish Mom's journals went back to those days, but they don't. Instead, I found some entries from 1966 that give a little idea of how the beans were walked when I was a college student.
Sunday, July 10, 1966
hot again
rested all day  went to
beanfield for two rounds in evening
Monday, July 11, 1966
canned 9 pts beans
                                     (This would be green beans not soy beans)
cleaned 3 chickens
Vern raked hay       hot
1 round in bean field
drove up to Scranton to cool off
(in the margin it says "bought a fan")
                                      (remember, no air-conditioning)
Tuesday, July 12, 1966
hot-hot-hot  Dorothy A came & picked beans (Again, green beans)
Vern baled 243 bales of hay
watered down hogs all day
Wednesday, July 13, 1966
hot yet
went to bean field
drove over to Carl's & Bert's
in evening   McLaughlin losing cattle from heat
Thursday, July 14, 1966
got well fixed
washed in p.m.
started to cool off
Carl's over in evening
3/10 of rain

Friday, July 15, 1966
cleaned 3 chickens
went to bean field
for a round-stopped at Carl's

Saturday, July 16, 1966
worked in bean
field all day
Jane & Sharon Tolsdorf &
Margie to help
Sunday, July 17, 1966
Vern & Margie did
2 more rounds in beans
Took Margie to Ames in
evening-Stopped in Boone on way back
Here I must interrupt and say that I undoubtedly was thrilled to go back to summer classes in Ames.

These daily entries continue until July 31 when she writes that Imlers finished the beans. I don't know who Imlers were, but my guess is someone who walked beans for pay like Kathy and I used to do.
I wanted to add just a couple more abbreviated entries for a few special readers.
Tuesday, July 19, 1966
Dave and Mary came
went 2 rounds in beanfield
Wednesday, July 20, 1966
Dave to beanfield

Thursday, July 21, 1966
Vickies & Tolsdorf girls
in beans in morning

and on and on and on and on..........

I am hot and tired just from reading about it.


  1. Catching up on your blog posts and was moved to comment on your post about walking beans. What a lost art - thank God! Your closing was so appropriate, I was hot and tired thinking about the days of walking beans. Now the beans are scatter planted. Finding a row to walk would be next to impossible, not to mention that the farmers too are enjoying a better life through chemistry. Thanks so much for the memories, Margie!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Jenni. You made my day.