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Threshing Watermelons for Seed

Subscriber Calvin Whitaker, Anderson, Indiana, shared the following article from a 1926 issue of The American Thresherman:

“An unusual threshing scene was observed 30 years ago (in 1896) in southern Missouri by Fred Feiker, foreman of Case’s thresher factory at Racine, Wisconsin, who described the affair of one hot August day while he gave some feeders their final tests.

“‘I had ridden the old Cotton Belt railroad from St. Louis southward,’ said Mr. Feiker, ‘and got off the train close to the Arkansas line. I started out into the country to see our customer. Soon I noticed the biggest watermelon field I had ever seen. In the middle of it was a threshing outfit surrounded by hogs.

“‘Fred crossed the field, which appeared to enclose hundreds of acres and was covered with watermelons. As he approached the machine he saw that the feeder had been removed. Pitchers were using their hands to toss melons so that these would break open, then be crushed to a pulp while the machine extracted the seeds.

“‘On the thresher was nailed a sign, “Eat all the melons you want but save the seeds.” Apparently this good news had been passed along to the hogs, which were fighting for vantage points where the pulp had dropped from the machine.

“‘Juice was standing almost knee-deep in spots around that machine,’ declared Mr. Feiker. ‘The rust must later have done a lot of damage to it. Water splattered in every direction. That was the first and last time I ever heard of watermelons being threshed for their seeds.’ He expressed hope that any reader who knows how this crop is now handled will write the editors a letter on the subject. He added that these melon seeds were dried on trays in the field, taken to laboratories and later used for medical purposes. Watermelons today are probably too valuable to be threshed in this manner.”

Editor’s note: Mechanical harvest of watermelons was not uncommon a century ago. From the St. Louis Glove-Democrat of Oct. 12, 1899: “This is the banner watermelon year of the West. The Sandhills of the prairies, and even the plains of the short-grass country, are producing the most magnificent, luscious melons ever known there. The farmers are at a loss how to dispose of them, as the shippers cannot find a market for the abundant supply. To utilize them, there has been constructed a novel machine for threshing the melons and securing from them the seeds, which bring a high price at the various seed houses. The machine has a large cylinder, from which strong spikes project. The melons have been cut open the previous day, so that they are soft, and as they are thrown into the hopper they break into pieces. The cylinder grinds them into a pulp, and as this substance is worked along a sieve the seeds fall through, with a little pulp attached to them. They are then shoveled into a large vat, water added, and the whole ferments. When this has taken place, the seeds are found at the bottom of the vat and are taken out and dried for shipment. As it is easy to get $100 worth of seeds from an acre of melons, this promises to open into a very profitable industry for the settlers of the plains.”