Keeping Time Down On The Farm

As everyone was “springing forward” recently, our state legislature was debating whether or not to take Tennessee out of the Daylight Saving Time routine, and come this fall, let us just stay “sprung forward” forever. We would become one of maybe three other states in the nation that would make changes in that national time change, and as I write this column, the legislation was still locked up in committee debate, with the possibility of it not seeing daylight at all this go around in the capital city of our state.  
I’m not getting in on this discussion where it seems everyone has an opinion. I did hear on the NBC Today show one morning, now being retired I can watch things like that, where they were discussing this piece of lawmaking from our Volunteer State and quoted someone down this way saying that it would help the farmers. I’m still trying to figure out that one, due to the fact that most real farmers I know work from sunup to sunset, and with most of them having tractors equipped with GPS along with some powerful lighting systems, most don’t even come in the house now when it gets dark.  
I did hear Jack Compose, who does a lot of truck crops, say he was concerned that the extra hour being added may burn up his crops come summer, but Jack never has been one you wanted on your side in a trivia contest. Of course, you may look at DST like the Native-American chief who said when someone told him about the first time Washington made the time change, “Just like government men. They think by cutting foot off top of blanket and adding to bottom makes blanket longer.”  
In the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., there is a new agriculture exhibit being worked on, and one thing in it that has caught my attention, is a display that shows children what has been in farmers’ pockets over years. Of course, every generation of farmers has had the pocketknife, string, nails and seed. Today, you have the smart phone along with a hand held calculator.  
One item that was around for many years, up until modern day, was the windup pocket watch. I can still see my grandfather pull his out and wind the stem around noontime when we were working in the fields. He carried it in the bib of his overalls and he only pulled it out at that time of day, because most of the time he operated by the sun or the dinner bell at the house. I still have the dinner bell on our farm and it was only rung at noontime or in an emergency.  
We have so many things today that keep us on time compared to about 50 years ago in rural Tennessee. In those days, it was the dinner bells, the clocks at the courthouses around our county seats, the mailman, the passing of the school bus and the position of the sun in the sky. And it seemed like we were on time a lot more often back then.  
John Rickman from the Normandy community who grew up in Chapel Hill, Tenn., is a good friend of mine. He is an accomplished songwriter, as well as a composer about events of days gone by, and recently sent me something he had written about how folks around the Chapel Hill area kept up with time in that small community many years ago. Located on the railroad tracks that the town once depended on for commerce and travel, it also was the farmer’s answer to the atomic clock. I would like to share with you John’s poem titled “Eleven-Seventeen.”  
I remember long ago when smoke clouds filled the sky
It was a sign to us the old Pan-Am was passing by.
We would drop what we were doin’ when we heard the whistle scream
And we’d all set our watches, ELEVEN-SEVENTEEN.  
Not much in life was certain then or at least it seemed that way
But that old train from Nashville told us the time of day
Just as sure as there’s a sunrise or when you hear the rooster crow
We knew it was “dinner-time” when we heard the whistle blow  
I remember in the fields, plowing with the team
And in the distance we could hear the whistle and the steam
Those mules would stop right in their tracks once they heard the whistle blow
And you’d nearly have to whip’em to finish out the row.  
I remember long ago when smoke clouds filled the sky
It was a sign to us the old Pan-Am was passing by.
We drop what we were doin’ when we heard the whistle scream
And we’d all set our watches, ELEVEN-SEVENTEEN.  
John’s words bring back a lot of memories to a few, but also a lot of wishes to many who would want a chance to live back in those times. Who needs a smartphone or daylight saving time anyway? What I would give just to hear a dinner bell ring or the whistle blow from the ELEVEN-SEVENTEEN.      
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at