1920's farming

Courtesy of Wm. Strayer, R. D. 1, Dillsburg, Pa. 17019.

William S. Strayer

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R. 1, Dillsburg, Pa.

In the early 1920's farming was quite different from today, and as a young man of 17, yours truly thought the threshing trade was an ideal occupation. After an entire year's persuasion, my Dad decided, against his better judgment, to help me purchase an outfit.

By scouting around and attending all public sales where a thresher or heavy gas tractor was sold, a contact was made with a farmer who had a Case steamer and a 24' X 42' thresher for sale. The thresher had a short bagger, a Kinzer telescoping stacker, and was hand fed. The thresher was finally bought and pulled home, about 12 miles with 4 mules, losing the bagger along the way, but was later found.

Now anyone having experience with this type of stacker will agree that for our Pennsylvania barn threshing, they were hard to beat if plenty of help was available.

At that time all the grain was placed in the barn after being cut and tied into sheaves. Most of the barns were filled to capacity and a straw stack in front of the barn had to be built first in order to get an open space in the barn for straw.

This was followed by taking one block of sheaves out at a time, then replacing it with straw from the next block.

It so happened that the only thresher-man in our territory had a very large run often lasting until Christmas, and farmers were complaining of hauling coal and water for his steam engine, also for the delay caused by his large run.

Another reason for complaint was the fact that the farmers always filled their barns with corn fodder, then stacked the surplus as close to the barn as possible. This work could not be completed until the threshing was completed.

The gas tractor was the coming power so a new 15-30 McCormick Deering was selected for my rig. The rig proved to be very popular and Yours Truly was the new thresherman, although very inexperienced.

It was customary for the farmers to exchange help in each group or ring as they were called, consisting of about 8 to 12 farmers.

Now these straw stacks were something to behold, even called works of art, and were the farmers trade mark as each one tried to out-stack his neighbor. A large beautiful stack meant a good crop and hence a good farmer, which was beneficial when a farmer went shopping for a better farm and landlord for the next year.

Here is where the old Kinzer stacker was in its glory. By placing the thresher as near as possible to the front doors of the barn, the stacker would reach about 20 feet or near the center of the stack and while finishing the stack, it could reach the same distance above the floor. This added to the height of the stable floor, gave about 30 feet to the end of stacker, and by very little effort a stack of 35 to 40 feet in height was possible.

We were threshing among one of these rings or groups about 4 miles from my home and had moved to this particular farm. About noon we began threshing on the stack. Most of the rings had one man who was designated as the stacker for the entire group.

This man was proud of his ability to build a nice stack and judge the size needed to hold a given block of sheaves. He also would pick his helpers (2 to 4 men) from the men available, although he himself always laid out the dimensions of the stack and worked the outside edge of the stack as well as topped it out.

This ring had such a man as chief stacker weighing over 200 lbs. and all muscle. During the afternoon the farmer made several inspection trips around the barn to look at the stack, and after one trip he looked at the remaining sheaves in the block, shaking his head.

It now became apparent the stacker had misjudged somewhat and had to build a very straight-sided tall stack. At the proper time we were told to stop and let the men down off the stack by climbing down over the Kinzer stackers. They all came down to the thresher floor including the stack boss, and after a round of water for each man, the stack builder proceeded to give the feeder instructions (in no uncertain language) concerning feeding while he was on the stack himself topping it out. This did not go down too well with the feeder, but no one became cross and what happened later seemed to square things.

Every farmer at that time had a small dairy herd including a bull, which after several years was hard to keep in a pasture because these animals were large and strong. They were usually kept tied in the barn with feed and water carried to them, and if in some way they became loose, they were hard to handle, especially if there were strangers present. This farmer had a real large animal like this tied in the barn which would weigh over one ton, also was reputed to be a mean one.

While we were stopped a girl and boy of about 14 came home from school and went directly to the house. After the stack boss had climbed to the top of the stack, we were threshing along slowly when the boy came out to the barn to attend his evening chores which included carrying water to the bull.

A few minutes later the belt driving the old stacker jumped off and looking up the stacker, I saw it was swinging like a tree top in a storm with the top of the stack swinging with it.

The stack boss had lost his book and was hanging to the end of the stacker yelling something about a boy and bull, as well as other language not suitable for Sunday school lessons.

After we stopped to let the stack boss down, both he and the farmer went around the barn looking for the boy. It took quite a lot of persuasion to convince the boy's dad and the stacker that he did not let the bull loose on purpose, but that the bull was already loose, and when he opened the door, he came charging out into the stack with the idea of upsetting it.

Knowing the boy as I did, later I sometimes wonder. I will never forget this little event because you see the boy worked for me 21 years driving a truck and operating a rig until my retirement. He is my brother-in-law and one of his older sisters has been my good wife for over 40 years.