This is a digital re-publication of the interview found in Voices from the Land, A Caroline County Memoir, by Mary Anne Fleetwood.

The text was digitized, edited, and prepared for re-publication by CCHS volunteers Dave Ellis and Don Barker.  Copyright for the original text and photos, and this digital publication, is held by the Caroline County Historical Society.

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​Wheat threshing runs and bird dogs were part of the farmer’s life on many old Caroline County farms. Both were sources of pleasure and excitement. Wheat threshing days meant working in cooperation with other farmers—often from dawn to dusk—and eating wheat threshing dinners in the open air at noontime. Some farmers raised and hunted bird dogs, highly valued for their natural ability to hunt game and their responsiveness to training.

          …. In conversation with Henry Lister.

“Whoa now . . . ho now . . . hold it now, Joe.” Henry Lister of Ridgely spoke softly to his bird dogs, training them to stand like statues before a covey of birds. A retired farmer and thresherman, Henry remembers bird hunting, walking plows, and a team that could make a straight furrow across a fifty-acre field.

Henry, was bird hunting popular on old Caroline County farms?

There used to be a lot more bird hunting than there is today. Cause then practically everybody would be birding and liked hunting dogs. They had the Irish setter, the English setter, the Gordon setter, and several breeds. I’ve heard the Irish setter was hard to train, but I’ve never found it that way. Yes, quite a few had hunting dogs and fox hounds.

What were the characteristics of a good dog?

You take your bird dog. They have a very good nose on em. If they get the scent of the birds . . . birds in coveys’ll run from six to fifteen birds . . . they’ll stand and raise one foot. Then you want to break em so they’ll hold that stance until you get there ready to shoot. Now some dogs’ll flush the birds, or jump in on em. Scare em up before you get there. When you get there, you tell the dog to flush. Then the birds get up, and if you’re lucky to knock any birds down, that dog’11 pick those birds up and give them to you.

How do you train the dog to bring the bird in without harming it?

It’s more the nature of the dog. He instinctively knows this. You’ve got to hunt a dog and work with the dog to get his attention. If you see they smell something, you wanna talk to em . . . whoa now . . . ho now . . . hold it now, Joe.” Talk to that dog to get his attention.

Do you remember a favorite experience with a bird dog?

Roland Higgins and I were hunting over at Holsinger’s Lane one day, and we were near a big stream close to Wayne Cawley’s farm. This quail was shot, and it fell right in the middle of the stream. This dog swam out there just as pretty and got the quail in his teeth. There’s nothin prettier than watchin bird dogs work, in my opinion.

Did some farmers also raise fox hounds?

I know several fellas . . . they raise these dogs. They get two or three fox hunters together, and they’ll bring their dogs. The hounds go into the woods and try to pick up the trail of the fox. And if they do, you can tell when the hounds start runnin. They’ll run that fox several miles, and then the fox will make a circle and come back.

How are fox hounds trained?

They generally get their training by watching each other. I once heard this joke on this city slicker who came down to visit the foxhunter. They went out and the dogs struck a trail. They all ran and barked. So the foxhunter said, “Isn’t that pretty music?” And the city slicker said, “I can’t hear it for them d— dogs barkin.”

Your father purchased the first tractor in the county?

About 1916, my father got interested in tractors enough to try one of em. So we bought one and liked it very much.

What did your neighbors say when they saw the tractor?

They told us we would shake the wheat binder, which cut wheat and tied it up in bundles. Then we shocked it. Before the tractor, we used to have five horses hitched to that binder. We had “three in the breech” and two in the lead. I used to ride the lead horse. The “breech” is the portion of the plowing mechanism where the horses in the rear are hitched, and that’s called “three horses in the breech.” When the people came over to look at the new tractor, they told us  we were going to shake the binder to pieces pulling with the tractor. But the tractor carried it smooth and even.

You didn’t pay any attention to what they told you?

Oh no. (laughs)

Your father, Richard Lister, also purchased a riding plow?

He liked the 98 Oliver walking plow so much. You could let go of the handles and just walk behind it. Those walking plows were purchased about 1908. Now the riding plows had seats, and you could sit up there without having to walk behind the plow.

What kinds of animals pulled these plows?

We mixed mules and horses together. You had to match your horses and mules according to temperament and speed. Mules were just as good as horses. A mule’s a little funny . . . he’s pretty stubborn sometimes. You know the difference between a mule and a horse, do you? They bred the jackass (male) to a horse, and that’d give you the mule. The mules made a good work team. No better than horses, but they were good. They used mules for everything. When I went to school, they had a team of mules that pulled logs. I’ve seen eight head of mules hooked together to a log wagon. Fella by the name of George Minner used to drive these log wagon teams. I know I used to plant corn with a mule and a horse. They were so well-mated you could make a straight row across a fifty-acre field . . . that mare and mule were just that sensitive.

How did farmers use the log wagon?

You’d go into the woods and cut down . . . whatever length you wanted it . . . ten or twelve or fourteen or sixteen feet. Then they’d get this man with the log wagon and team, and he’d come load the logs on the wagon and haul them to the sawmill. The sawmill would furnish the log wagon. The farmers would sometimes supplement their incomes by cutting trees. If they needed lumber for fence board, they’d take it to the sawmill and have it cut into boards at specified lengths.

Henry, I believe at one time you were a thresherman?

I bought a wheat thresher and a large McCormick Deering tractor. I operated with it. The wheat was cut with a binder and tied in bundles. Then it was shocked in the field. After the wheat cured out for awhile in the field, the farmers got together . . . maybe four or five, maybe ten farmers. Then each farmer sent a wagon and horses to the threshing. They would throw the shocks of wheat on the wagons and drive up to the wheat thresher. Then the shocks of wheat ran through the threshing machine. The machine took the wheat out of the straw, and the straw was thrown into a big straw rick. Then they had a bagger who caught the threshed grain. There’s two men that held the bag and caught the wheat as it ran out of the machine. They put a bushel to a bag. The bags of wheat were loaded on a wagon, hauled to the barn, and unloaded. If they had ten wagons haulin wheat, they’d have five wheat catchers . . . men with three-pronged pitchforks who’d pitch these bundles of wheat onto the wagons. You had two wagons to each pitcher. That’s the way it used to be.

How many men did it take to operate the old threshing machine?

They would have at least twenty to twenty-five men. When they used the steam engine to power the wheat thresher, it take em about two wagons and four or five men just to haul water for the steam engine. The threshing machine would go from one farm to the other. The thresher would have so many farmers he’d thresh wheat for, and that was called his “wheat threshin run.”

Can you recall any unusual experiences at threshing time?

I was threshing for Mr. Jim Pippin once. The fella on the wagon . . . he drove his horse too close to the wheat thresher. And here’s this belt a-runnin. And this horse switched its tail, and it got caught around that pulley and pulled the horse’s tail off. All was left was bone.’



  1. In the earlier decades of the twentieth century, transient young men would sometimes turn up on rural farms, stay a couple of years, and move on. Many of these men picked peaches and were called “peach plucks.” Most peach plucks were also adept at making country furniture, such as chests, washstands, and beaten biscuit blocks. (Source: Gordon Adams, Greensboro.)

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Voices from the Land:  A Caroline County Memoir 

Text by Mary Anne Fleetwood 

Photographs by Hal Rummel 

Edited by Betty Carroll Callahan 

Sponsored by Caroline County Historical Society 

Published by The Queen Anne Press, Queenstown, Maryland 

Since Voices from the Land as an oral history is a book about what people believed happened and is accordingly in large part quoting the words of the interviewees, the Caroline County Historical Society, Inc., the Caroline County Commissioners, The Queen Anne Press of Wye Institute, Inc. and Mary Anne Fleetwood are not responsible for any statements of the interviewees which may be inaccurate or false. 

Historical photographs courtesy of the Caroline County Visual History project. 

ISBN 0-937692-02-6 (cloth) 

0-937692-03-4 (paper) 

Library of Congress Card Catalog No. 83-062826 


Copyright © 1983 Mary Anne Fleetwood and the Caroline County Historical Society, Inc.