Threshing Memories

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An idealized rendering of a threshing scene from the cover of the July 1933 issue of Successful Farming Magazine.

An idealized rendering of a threshing scene from the cover of the July 1933 issue of Successful Farming Magazine.

Successful Farming Magazine, July 1933

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Well, I celebrated (if “celebrate” is the proper word) another birthday in August (OK, I attained the ripe old age of 76), and I’m waxing nostalgic about the good old days.

In case you hadn’t noticed, that’s a common failing among us “old geezers.”

When I was a kid on the farm during the 1940s, we grew corn, oats, wheat and hay. That was the standard order of crop rotation and Dad taught me how to remember it by using the word cow followed by hay (cows eat hay, right?). The hay was mostly a clover and timothy mixture and was put into my uncle’s barn with the hayfork.

The grain harvest was the big deal of the harvest season. First wheat and then oats were cut with a McCormick-Deering ground-driven grain binder pulled by the Farmall F-30 tractor. My grandfather Moore, who we all called “Nandad,” usually rode the binder to adjust the levers and dump the sheaves in rows so they could be shocked by my father and uncle and, sometimes, a hired man.

The grain was left in the field in the shocks to “sweat” for about a week, and then the sheaves were pitched onto the old Chevy flatbed truck and hauled into our barn. The big log crib haymows, and usually the barn floor as well, were stacked to the rafters with sheaves of grain to await the coming of the thresher around the middle of August.

Threshing was an exciting event for me. The first threshing rig I can recall was a Huber tractor and a Huber separator owned by Floyd Bowers from near New Waterford, Ohio. I don’t know what became of Mr. Bowers, because Lorain Foulk, Calcutta, Ohio, then threshed for us for many years. I believe Mr. Foulk originally had a Case LA tractor but later got a big Minneapolis-Moline G with which he ran his Belle City threshing machine. Mr. Foulk also brought along a John Deere stationary baler to bale the straw.

Filling the haymow

On the east side of our barn was a large door off the barn floor that overlooked the barnyard. Dad and Uncle Chuck built a platform outside this door and the thresher was positioned so it could be fed from this platform. Two men stood on the platform and pitched the sheaves into the separator’s self-feeder, which was a fairly easy job since the feeder was just below the level of the platform. Men were stationed in the mows and on the barn floor to relay sheaves to the feeder men.

The clean grain was discharged into sacks, which several men carried on their shoulders to the nearby granary where it was dumped into the bins. The entrance to each bin had a double wooden track on either side into which boards could be slid. As the grain built up inside the bin, successive boards were added until the bin was full. We kids had a great time playing in the grain bins as they were filled and no one gave a thought to the danger of being suffocated. On some years, probably when the yield was exceptionally good, some of the wheat was hauled to a feed mill and sold.

The dirtiest job

Mr. Foulk had built a large sheet metal funnel-like affair around the feed chamber of his baler and the straw was blown directly from the thresher into the baler. It still took a man to keep the straw fed properly, as well as a man on either side of the bale chamber to poke and tie the wires with which the bales were bound. The men on the baler had probably the dirtiest jobs and always ended up with black faces and lots of chaff down their necks.

Each completed bale was weighed on a platform scale and the weight was recorded in pencil on a small square of pasteboard slipped under one of the wires at the end of the bale. Mom and us kids cut all those squares ahead of time out of empty cereal boxes. The bales weighed about 100 to 120 pounds and it took several men to stack them in the barnyard. Much of the straw was sold on the spot to a hay and straw dealer, who hauled it away on his truck.

The last two or three years we threshed, the grain wasn’t first hauled into the barn. The separator was set up in a central field and shocks were gathered up by tractor buck rakes and brought to the thresher. This eliminated all the time and labor involved in loading, hauling, unloading and stacking sheaves in the barn, as well as saving the grain that was inevitably knocked out of the heads by multiple handling.

Help and help alike

I don’t know how many men it took to do the threshing but I’d estimate 20 or 25. Most of these were neighboring farmers who came to help us, just as we helped them with their threshing. Dad hired some help as well. One year I found one of them, a teenage neighbor boy, sleeping during the afternoon when he should have been working. Full of my own importance, I ran to tell Dad and ask him what he was going to do. I guess I expected an angry scene with the guy getting fired, but Dad just said he wouldn’t ask the offender back again next year and, as far as I know, he was paid off as though nothing had happened.

Most years it took two days to complete the threshing, and my mother and aunt had a tremendous job feeding all those hungry men. I know they spent several days getting ready for the ordeal, but I didn’t pay much attention to these preparations and don’t recall the details. I’m sure the womenfolk were mighty thankful when a custom combine operator showed up in the summer of 1948 and threshing days were a thing of the past.

Even though threshing was hard, hot, dirty work, I still look back on those days with fondness and wish I could relive them. Well, maybe just once. FC