Letters: Memories of Threshing Grain with Horses

An article revives boyhood memories of cutting oats on the farm.

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The July issue of Farm Collector arrived today at Northridge Retirement Community in Kearney, Neb., my home for almost a year. I am 80 years old. June 6, my wife and I celebrated 60 years of marriage. For many years I farmed but tired of working for the banker, so I pursued other more profitable interests. Health conditions prevailed so a care facility became a necessity. I enjoy reading your quality-produced magazine and attempt to learn something from each issue.

On page 38, a well-written article about threshing, written by Loretta Sorensen and photographed by Bonita Davidson, brought back many memories of the time I was able to manage a bundle rack powered by a team of horses in sometimes 100-degree heat (prior to the days of sunscreen). As I recall the challenge was given to me by my father when I was about 12 years old. Dad was the operator of the 1936 F-30 Farmall tractor and 28-inch Case thresher that threshed for the community. The 28-inch machine required eight racks to adequately keep this hungry steel brute satisfied. The smaller 22-inch made use of six racks.

When it came to cutting oats, Dad always started when the oats were a bit green. The bundles came from the binder well formed and expertly tied. About a dozen bundles would make up a shock that stood tall and erect for the wind and sun to dry the grain. When these bundles were placed on the rack, they were done with precision, that is, heads in and butts out. Bundles were placed in a straight perpendicular line up the side of the load and rounded at the top. The load was a thing of beauty and loaded as high as the farmer could place the bundles with his three-tine pitchfork.

When the threshing season started, the noise from an operating thresher was unfamiliar to horses, and time was necessary to adapt them to these conditions. By the time the team would come in with the third load, the fear had usually subsided. I always accustomed my team of dapple-gray mares to work from either side of the machine. Dad and I raised my team, and they were full sisters. When I got the load placed, I would turn the team away from the machine to avoid the possibility of injury. I remember Dad telling about a horse getting its tail caught in a belt on a thresher: The horse not only lost its tail but also died from the injury. After placement, I wrapped the reins around the ridgepole, retrieved my fork and began to unload. If the team was properly broke and trained, they never moved from that set position.

One day when my dad was raking hay with this same team, he misplaced his foot and part of the rake hit him between his legs, knocking him from the seat. I had gone to town on business and was to relieve Dad when I got home. I drove down to the hay field and found Dad badly injured. I immediately loaded him in the car, stopped by the house, got Mom and we headed for the hospital some 12 miles away. It took 56 stitches to close Dad's injuries and, needless to say, he did not stack hay for quite a few days. About 4 p.m. it suddenly dawned on me that in all this haste I had not unhooked the horses. I returned home and went to the hay field. That team of grays had not moved 1 inch. They were still hooked to the rake but had stomped holes in the dirt with their feet to shoo away the flies.

Enough from me. I will look forward to the next issue and search for something new to me. Keep up the good work with an excellent publication.

James Walker
5410 N. 17th Ave. Apt. 261
Kearney, NE 68845
 

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