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Bindin' Wheat 2.jpeg
Bindin' Wheat.jpeg

At the end of World War I, farming remained a labor-intensive process, with many harvesting operations still carried out using horses. While not a new technological advancement, threshers made it easier to separate the grain and chaff and eliminated much of the tedious and time-consuming manual labor involved in the harvest. Before threshing machines, grain was separated by hand using flails. Many farmers pooled resources by purchasing such machinery together and shared the equipment and labor involved in its operation.


70-year-old truck that was bought in Boonville at Prigmore Chevrolet,

and found in a storage shed in Boonville after being in storage for 30 years. 

Videos by Tracy and Ashley Friedrich


The Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association was formed in the fall of 1964 by a group of 34 local men who had a passion for the farming ways of the past.  With a small amount of old farm equipment they put on threshing, sawmilling, and crop harvesting displays.  The show originally centered around Steam Traction Engines which were disappearing from the American landscape.  These engines are rare, expensive, and cumbersome pieces to care for and operate, and have therefore become very hard to find. 


Most of the original members of the organization are now deceased and many of the current generation are family members who grew up with the show.  The first show was at the old fairgrounds in Boonville. Then, for many years it was at the Cooper Co. Fairgrounds along I-70.  In 2000 it moved to its present location at the Brady Showgrounds at the Wooldridge exit on I-70. 


The club has around 150 members, with around 30 who carry the burden of putting on the show each year. The show is always the week after Labor Day. It is a four day show from Thursday to Sunday. At the show you can watch Steam Engines threshing wheat, crushing rock for lime, sawing wood at the sawmill, and numerous other activities. Antique tractors and equipment, teams of horses with horse drawn farm implements, and old hit and miss gas engines pumping water and running burr mills are in abundance. The old restored Brady farmhouse is open for tours along with the barn and other out buildings. Tractor pulls go on into the evening along with other forms of entertainment. The show features a large flea market and many old-time crafts for people to view and participate in. Civil War reenactors are often putting on demonstrations. Church services are held in the restored church on Sunday morning. In 57 years the show has grown into the biggest of its kind in Missouri.                                                


Steam Engine Show

Videos by Tracy and Ashley Friedrich

(1980-1985) Farm crisis in the Midwest reaches its peak by 1985 leading to record foreclosures. (Courtesy of Missouri Bicentennial Timeline)

“With changes to the Federal Reserve’s lending policies and grain embargoes placed on shipments to the Soviet Union, farmers faced an economic crisis greater than anything since the Great Depression. Agricultural communities suffered, with families being forced to relocate and businesses closing. Tens of thousands small independent farms were lost due to the 80s crisis, which greatly affected the Midwest region. By the mid-1980s, the crisis had reached its peak. Land prices had fallen dramatically leading to record foreclosures. The crisis sparked activism from famous celebrities and public figures, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson and singer-songwriters Willie Nelson and John Cougar Mellencamp, who would each visit Missouri to support family-owned farms. As founding members of Farm Aid in 1985, Nelson and Mellencamp raised millions of dollars for farm families through their charity concert. The first Farm Aid concert benefited the founding of Missouri Rural Crisis Center, based in Columbia, which formed a week after the concert ended, receiving a $10,000 check from Farm Aid.”


By: Bob Painter


Farmers across the nation have cooperated with Federal Agencies for many years to balance the amount of agriculture crops grown and sent to available markets. Many agriculture producers voluntarily practiced soil erosion control by developing conservation plans that would help correct problem areas on their farms. While many producers practiced soil conservation, some did not, and in December 1985 Congress passed the 1985 Food Security Act. This legislation required that any farmer participating in USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) commodity programs needed to practice a certain amount of land-saving stewardship by developing and following a conservation plan. To some farmers this wasn’t much of a change from what they were already doing. Others changed ways they were farming to meet the requirements of the law. This national effort has saved 1.2 billion tons of soil from erosion on an annual basis. Over 130,000 acres of Cooper County farmland is considered highly erodible. Conservation plans are developed on 126,000 of these acres.


Missouri made conservation history in 1983 by passing a 1/10 of 1 per cent sales tax for parks and soil conservation. One-half of this tax is reimbursed directly back to Missouri landowners to assist in applying conservation practices to their land.

Another important part of this legislation was the Conservation Reserve Program. This provision allowed farmers to retire (not use the land) which was highly erodible cropland for ten years, and plant it to a permanent cover that would greatly reduce soil erosion. In return, the farmers receive an annual payment comparable to land rental prices. Nationwide, this has been a highly successful program with 36.5 million acres enrolled saving 700 million tons of soil on an annual basis. Cooper County has approximately 20,000 acres enrolled.


Wetlands were also included in this important legislation. Wetlands add diversity and play an important role in ecosystem management. Farmers who wish to participate in commodity programs are required to not change any existing wetlands on their property.


While farms are growing larger and farming practices are changing, the role of government in farming is changing. Ideally, farming and government will work together to benefit the land in Cooper and other counties.


The last forty years have seen many advances, and also continued problems in agriculture. Improvements have been made in seed stock as well as the introduction of new crops such as soy beans. Soil conservation measures, such as terracing and contour farming, have become widely accepted in the county. The modern farmer has become better educated in scientific farming practices. Farm machinery has become bigger and better and livestock production has shown an increase.


There are many improvements in agriculture; however, farmers face many problems. The rising costs of farm items such as chemicals, seeds, fuel, fertilizers, and farm machinery have brought about rising operational expenses. Market prices change a lot. The emphasis on larger and larger farming operations has forced many farmers to sell out.


Overuse of fertilizers and chemicals have created bad soil conditions and have made the soil more easily erodible during wet years. This overuse has also created water quality problems in streams and rivers.


Farmers are bothered with high interest rates, changing of market prices and uncertain weather. The floods of 1993 and 2019 brought disastrous results to some county farmers. Some have lost the ability to produce a crop for two years, plus the loss of land, home, etc. The many rains of the year helped other farmers have unusually good yields. The wet winter and spring caused livestock producers to experience a loss of calves.


Even with all the problems and concerns, we realize how important farming is to the county’s economy. Farming is still Cooper County’s biggest business.


In 1987, farms occupied 86% of the land area in the county, with 73% of the farm land under cultivation. The county ranked 25th in agriculture receipts, 66% of which came from the sale of livestock.


Cooper County began registering for a $1.00 fee the names of farms registered by farm owners. The first farm registered was Skylight Farm, owned by D.C. Groves, on June 15, 1907. Crestmead was registered by W.A. Betteridge on April 20, 1909.


(Courtesy of Cooper County Extension Service)


The U.S. Department of Agriculture partnered with a nationwide network of “land grant” universities to create a system of “extension” services. The goal of these services is to improve life across the country with advice from local experts regarding all things agriculture and farming and much more.

The Smith-Lever Act, which authorized establishment of Cooperative Extension Work, was passed by Congress and approved by President Wilson on May 8, 1914. The Missouri Extension Services had actually begun working off campus a few years prior to that date.

Beginning in September 1913, a "farm adviser" from the University of Missouri College of Agriculture was appointed to Cooper County. His name was J.D. Wilson and he served until September 1916. One of his main activities during that period was to assist farmers with an epidemic of hog cholera, which threatened to destroy swine herds throughout Missouri.

The first county farm tour to showcase new production practices was held in July of 1916. A large group of farmers, Farm Bureau representatives and University of Missouri staff traveled to Pilot Grove, Bunceton and Prairie Home.

From September 1916 to 1929, there was no formal Extension program in Cooper County, although there is some evidence that programs were conducted by temporary staff during and shortly after World War I. No formal record of those activities has been located.

In March of 1930, the Extension office was reopened and John P. Johnson was appointed as county agent for Cooper County. A group of advisers for the Missouri Farmers Association, farmers from throughout the county, and representatives of the University of Missouri worked together to determine the major programming efforts that Extension would be involved in. The Extension office was located in the hallway of the Cooper County Courthouse when it was first reopened. This was during the Depression and much of the activity of the office included assisting with government relief programs.

Another major area of concern at that time was the loss of topsoil that was occurring throughout the county. Mortan Tuttle, a prominent young farmer near Prairie Home was one of the first farmers to work with the Extension service in terracing his land. The practice quickly caught on and Cooper County soon was one of the leading counties in the state and nation in installing terraces and conservation practices. This tradition of conservation is still prevalent today.

Other major activities during the early thirties included livestock breeding and animal health. In addition, many farmers became certified seed producers at that time. Farmers also learned about the importance of liming their soils, using crop rotation and legumes to maintain and improve productivity of their farms.

4-H clubs were officially organized for the first time in Cooper County in 1937, although other youth activities had been conducted since 1924 through the public-school systems. First year membership included 136 boys and 13 girls. First year activities included: attendance at a nine-county camp in Fayette, organization of the county 4-H Leaders Council, County Achievement Day, Cooper County 4-H News, demonstration and judging tours, state 4-H Roundup and a trip to the state fair.  Through the efforts of Paul N. Doll, county agent, and numerous leaders the 4-H program grew quickly in the late 1930's and early '40s.

Cooper County Fair
















Video by Tracy and Ashley Friedrich

Extension Homemaker Clubs were also organized in 1937. A total of eleven clubs were formed within two years. These clubs worked with Margaret Van Orsdol, county home demonstration agent. The main activities that the clubs initially engaged in included home economics, food preservation, sewing, quilting, home grounds improvement and managing family resources.

The Extension Service was very active during World War II in helping farm families maintain the agricultural production needed for the war effort. In addition, veterans were assisted as they returned to agricultural production. The home economics agents assisted families dealing with the many hardships and scarcities that the war brought on.

100 year old steam tractor

100 year old kerosene tractor

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