An article in the Robinson Argus "I Remember When" series by Don Catt.

When we want some corn meal today, we just reach up in the cabinet and get a box.

When I was a boy, it wasn't like that. When we were out of corn meal and I wasn't in the field, I usually went out east about a mile and a half to Ernest "Gib" Gibson's house to have some ground. Gib was a middle-aged man who worked as a carpenter sometimes.

He also had the only set of rollers I knew of, so he moved houses with them when some-one needed him, and ground corn for people when he had time. Gib had a small mill,powered by a one cylinder gasoline engine which he used to grind corn for people in the area.

When we needed some corn meal, we sacked up some corn and when I finally got on whichever horse was not in the field, someone handed the sack up to me to lay across the horse. It wasn't too hard to hold it on the horse if we didn't fill it too full. Those horses were so tall that without a saddle, I couldn't get on them unless I led them up to a wagon or something I could climb up on and then climb over on the horse.

After the horse plodded out to Gib's, he cranked the mill engine and shelled the corn.

After that, he ground the corn into meal. Gib knew we rarely had any money, so he'd always ask if it was cash or "toll". I think that's what we called it. It meant that if we wanted him to, he'd take a share of the meal for his pay. He probably sold what he didn't want to someone who didn't have any corn. In the "cashless" Depression days, the toll system made it a lot easier when we needed meal, or have some sorghum molasses made.

Unless Gib was too busy, he ground the meal while I waited so I wouldn't have to make another trip. He handed it to me when I was on the horse and we plodded back home. The horse didn't seem to be in any hurry and I knew I wasn't. The sooner we got home, the sooner we'd have to start another job.

Gib's mill wasn't the best in the world, and a lot of the meal was too coarse for cornbread. Mom sifted the meal through a flour sifter, and we fed the coarse meal to the little chickens. We usually had some chicks or some goslings around most of the summer, so it was no problem to find something to feed it to. When times got better,

Mom often bought a sack of rolled oats to feed to the little chicks, or goslings, and for a few years, ducklings. The first week or two, the ducklings were cute as a button - little yellow balls of fuzz.

The mother duck would build her nest on the ground and hatch her clutch of eggs, but coons, foxes, dogs, and other animals liked duck eggs, so we had better luck putting the eggs under a hen to hatch. We ate a few duck eggs at times, but they were rubber and tough and not very good. What we didn't want to hatch, we just put in the crate with the hen eggs. The store always bought them the same as hen eggs and I suppose, sold them the same way.

We had an incubator for a few years to hatch our eggs. It would hold about a hundred [or maybe more] eggs. I think it had tubes for water to circulate around the eggs. We kept the water warm by setting a coal oil lamp under it. It was quite a bit of work to hatch eggs. Mom checked the temperature about every hour during the day and every time she was awake during the night. If the lamp got too hot and raised the temperature a little too much, none of the eggs would hatch. She marked the eggs with an "X" on one side and an "O" on the other. Every day she had to turn the eggs over until they hatched. The marks made it easy to see at a glance if all the eggs had been turned.

After about a week, she "candled" them. She cut a hole in a piece of cardboard slightly smaller than an egg. By holding the egg over the hole between her and a coal oil lamp, she could see if had a tiny chicken in it or not. All the infertile eggs were removed and disposed of. That was just that many eggs that didn't have to be turned every day. If she had some little chicks, she usually boiled the bad eggs and fed them to the chicks. They loved crumbled up boiled eggs -- shells and all.

If you're wondering how I got from corn meal to chicks, in those days the two just went together. We never bought mixed feed back then, so the chicks ate mostly cornmeal and all the bugs they could catch. It wasn't the best way to raise chickens and it took the roosters longer to get to frying size, but it did work. Those young roosters that Mom fried just right beat KFC all to pieces!