Danielson family

Pictured is the Danielson family at the Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Old Threshers Reunion in 1957.

Content Tools

221 10th Street, Burlington, Iowa 52601

Here is an account of my threshing career of 18 years, although my father was in the business for 40 years. His name was J. J. Danielson of Macomb, Illinois, where he lived most of his life.

I started threshing when I was 16 years of age. That was in 1918 when World War I was on. It was hard for dad to get help, so dad put me to hauling water for the steam engine. I hauled water for two years, then dad put me to running the engine. I ran the steam engine for 8 years, then dad went to tractors as steam was on its way out, much to our regret.

We had what was called the Rumely Oil Pull. It was a two cylinder type, rated 20 horsepower on the draw bar and 40 on the belt. After the second year dad asked me if I thought I could run the engine. I told him I thought I could, boy that was what I wanted! I had watched my uncle Bob, so I thought I could. I told dad I was willing to give it a try.

Dad had two rigs running that year so I had to run back and forth to get anything they might need. I remember one place we pulled into, the man was hard run, so he thought to save money he bought some cheap coal. Well, what happened was it melted and ran through the grates, and shut off the air. Mind you this was my first year on the engine. Well, my steam began to drop, and of course, the water was dropping too. I got my poker out and crawled underneath to work on the fire. All the time I had my injector on, as it wouldn't work under 80 lbs. pressure. All the time we were still running, Jack McSpirit was my separator man, and I knew the way he kept looking my way he knew what was wrong, as he could tell by the speed the machine was running. There I was sweating,, and maybe saying a few words about that poor coal. The water dropped down until I could just see it in the glass. The steam gauge said 90 lbs. when it should have said 175 lbs. But, I kept at it. I was getting ready to whistle down when the steam began to rise boy was I relieved! I fought that coal for an hour and a half. And, did I get a lecture when dad came that evening. 'Ernie,' he said, 'when in trouble like that whistle down.' I told him I didn't want to hold up things.

At that time we had a 22 horse Advance Rumely on a 36-60 separator. This was also a Rumely. In a good days' run we would thresh around 3,000 to 3,500 bushels of wheat. On oats we would get 5,000 to 6,000 bushels.

The steam began to go out in our part of the country in 1928, then we went to 20 by 40 Rumely Oil Pull tractors on a 32 by 54 separator. We threshed with this for about six years when the combines took over. We didn't bother with them, but went to sawmilling. I say you can't beat steam for power. I know because I have tried all kinds of gas and electric.

The days from 1920 to the break in 1929 was the best time this country has ever seen or ever will see. That time your dollar went some place. What caused the crash everyone went on buying on credit. When it came to pay, they didn't have the money, they were living beyond their means just like they are today. Me, I wish the times were like they were in those days. Everyone who wanted to work could.

At that time the farmer fed the threshing crew, and boy what a feed. The women had to plan a week ahead in order to have everything run smoothly. The machine crew always made the first table, so they could get everything oiled up ready to go. We were very seldom down more than 45 minutes. Everyone wondered how the machine crew got the first table. I said we rated with the cooks. It seemed like the girls always favored the engineer, maybe it was because he was good looking.

By the way, I married a farm girl. I always had to roll out at 3:30 a.m. in order to have up steam so to start at 6:00 a.m. If I was short of kindling, off would come some boards from the fence. Most of the boards were bad anyway. I bet many a farmer missed boards, but they never said anything.

Our run always had from 12 to 16 jobs, and that took lots of help. We ran 12 to 15 bundle racks 8 to 9 pitchers, and 6 to 10 grain wagons. We had 35 to 40 men all the time. The run, as we called it, lasted from four to six weeks. We would have two runs, maybe three. My dad was the best thresher in those parts barring none.

I know the men would get together and vote whether to wait or not it always turned out they would wait. Many a day we would thresh from 6:00 a.m. till noon without a stop. About every Saturday night the boys would go to town and have their fling, but they always showed up Monday morning. Every Sunday morning we had to get out early and wash the boiler in time to go to Sunday School or church. Boy, how I liked to sit there and watch that black smoke go to the sky. Black smoke meant you had a clean fire and everything was working fine. Back in the those days the women didn't work like they do now, I mean take a man's place. They put in long hours, and I still say the farm is the best place to be and bring up kids.

Well, I guess this is enough for now, but hope to write about my sawmill career which I had 28 years of. When threshing we most always slept with the machine, that is under the stars with maybe a blanket if it turned cool.

Here's hats off to the old timers they are the ones who made the country what it is today, but I do think they would be better off going back to steam, and I do think they will someday, as there is not nearly the pollution as there is with that smoking diesel. I say it is hurting the health of the nation.

This is from an old thresher who has been around.