Running the Blower

A farm boy's start on the threshing ring

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One of the jobs for young kids on a threshing ring in the 1940s was running the blower.

A housing at the back of the threshing rig enclosed a fan that developed enough wind power to blow the straw and chaff up a long pipe and onto the straw stack. Some farmers just let the straw blow out into a pile with no particular interest in how it fell. Others wanted a good straw stack that would shed rain. In that case, someone was needed to turn the blower. A job for a kid, usually me.

The blower could be cranked left and right, raised up and down, all controlled by handles on cogged wheels at the base of the blower pipe. Two men – stackers – directed with hand signals where to blow the straw to build a nice, square stack. As the pile grew, another cog wheel extended the blower pipe to reach higher.

Running the blower was not hard work but it was hot and dirty and boring. The kid on the blower had better stay alert long enough not to forget about the rope that changed the spout at the end of the blower. In normal position, a flexible hood directed the straw downward onto the stack. Pulling the rope opened that hood and let the straw shoot off in space. A daydreaming kid could absentmindedly follow the pointing finger of the stackers and move the spout left to right, directly over their heads, without pulling the rope. In that case, a cyclone of straw, dirt and chaff enveloped the stackers until the remarks directed at the kid could hardly be heard. When the stackers climbed down off the stack at lunch break or quitting time, however, it was easier to hear their comments.

The blower kid sat on the galvanized metal of the thresher within reach of all the blower controls. The tin seat slowly heated up until, at mid-afternoon, it seemed to scorch thin overalls and sweat soaked through, while a haze of oat dust slowly floated down.

At times, the blower kid looked like a mummy wrapped in oat hulls instead of rags. Eyes rimmed red with grit and hair became matted with refuse. If the wind changed and blew back on the big machine, it brought a rain of suffocating straw and chaff.

The end of the day was a critical time. Nobody really got paid on a threshing crew. It was strictly a “help your neighbor and get helped back” kind of deal. The blower kid was the exception. Once in a while, a kind-hearted farmer felt sorry for this pile of chaff that crawled down from the hot tin at chore time.

A quarter made it interesting and 50 cents was big pay. Sometimes the farmer just gave the blower kid a pat on the back and said, “Tell your dad thanks.” FC

© Good Old Days magazine, published by House of White Birches; reprinted with permission.