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Tips that (mostly) stand the test of time

Read our advice to readers from the early 20th century.

In the early 1900s, Successful Farming magazine published brochures full of tips for farmers and homemakers. While some seem odd or even funny now, more often than not, they have stood the test of time.

Successful Farming’s Manual of Handy Devices for the Busy Farmer was printed in 1907 and featured all kinds of homemade gadgets to make life on the farm easier. This was likely the predecessor to today’s popular All Around the Farm feature. Here are a few examples of those handy devices:

Walk-through gate: Where it becomes necessary to pass daily through a field occupied by stock, we have found that the following description of a gate is a most excellent one. Such a gate is open all the time to pedestrians and closed to animals. It is more serviceable in the eastern states than it is in the west. This is an ordinary small gate which swings between two posts set far enough apart to permit the passage of a person. These two spots are at the two ends of a V-shaped end in the fence. The cut shows the construction of the end of the fence with the two posts between which the gate swings. The gate should be hung so it will fall against either one of the two posts at the end of the V in the fence. (See image above.)

Homemade washing machine: Take a 3-pound tomato can and make holes in the bottom and sides with spikes, then fit a pole into the end about 1½ inches and nail securely. Dress the pole down to a suitable handle and you have a washing machine. Put clothes in pail or can and use the stomper on them. The air and water rushing out of the holes washes the clothes.

Fruit-collecting bag: The cut shows how to fit a bag to the rounds of a ladder so that one may pick from the trees into the bag, with small danger of bruising the fruit. The curved hooks can be bent from an iron strap, with holes punched in one end so they can be sewed to the bag. One instead of two may be found to answer for the upper side. A bag can be emptied into a barrel with less bruising of the fruit than a basket, since the bag can be lowered even to the bottom of the barrel and the fruit gently rolled out.

520 timeless tips

520 proven ways to save time, save money, make profits in farming and home making was printed by Successful Farming and Meredith Publishing in 1931. It features ideas submitted by readers for our All Around the Farm section, which is still one of the most popular pages in the magazine. It’s amazing how many of the ideas still work on modern farms.

  • To mend a water tank, find a bolt that is approximately the size of the hole to be mended. Cut a good-size leather washer. Fit it on the bolt and place in the hole. Fit on another leather washer and screw the nut down good and tight. This is usually good for years. —O.K., Oklahoma
  • I save spring rains for summer flowers in this manner: Tin cans are sunk in the flower beds so that the tops are 8 or 9 inches below the level of the soil. They are covered with straw to prevent them from filling with dirt. Spring rains will fill the cans with water which the plants will use during the heat of summer. —Mrs. A.H., Missouri
  • To prevent windows getting streaked while washing, add just a little kerosene to the warm water. —L.N., Minnesota
  • To keep salt blocks clean for livestock, bolt it to the top of a post. Use a short post set about a foot and a half out of the ground and with a bolt or small pipe in the top of it. Bore a hole in the block of salt just the size of the bolt and set the block of salt on it. —T.N.J., Iowa
  • When painting window frames, we rubbed a little petroleum jelly on the glass. Paint was then easily removed where it had smeared the glass. —Mrs. R.S., Iowa
  • If you are bothered with hens scratching their nests and breaking eggs, insert a piece of 1-inch wire netting in the nest. Then put a little chaff or straw over the netting. They will quit. —S.E.P., Michigan
  • A sagging clothesline will try the patience of any housewife. The sketch shows how we settled this problem for good. Every farm has waste material for such a job. —J.C.G., Kansas


  • Frost does not gather on our car windows in cold weather because we rub them lightly with onion juice. —H.D.H., Kansas
  • A piece of charcoal placed in the refrigerator is very useful in absorbing any odors and in keeping it sweet smelling. —Mrs. G.A., Michigan
  • Quarrelsome roosters may be prevented from injuring each other by tying a loop at each end of a strong cord. One loop is put over the rooster’s head and the other one is allowed to hang. When he tries to fight he gets his feet in the second loop and soon gives up in disgust. —F.H., Michigan

  • A plank 3 feet long and a rope or chain attached to the spoke of the car will usually take a car out of the mud in a hurry. Put the plank far enough under the wheel so that it will have good traction. —W.H.S., Nebraska 


  • We put a small dish of water in the oven when bread is baking. This helps to keep the crust from getting too hard. —W.W., Wisconsin
  • Horses that eat too rapidly or throw their feed out of the box are easily controlled by placing a large smooth stone in the middle of their feed box. —J.K., Missouri
  • Early in the spring I cover the flower beds with old woven or chicken wire fencing. After the plants are up this does not show and it does prevent the chickens from scratching the flower beds. —M.P., Wisconsin
  • Hinging the top of the bottom step of our back porch has given us an excellent place for the children’s toys. We keep it fastened down with an ordinary screen hook which is not noticeable. It is easily accessible and makes a very convenient place in which to keep their croquet set, baseball bats, and similar material. —Mrs. A.M.H., Ohio
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