The Girl Boss of a threshing crew

Belted up and ready to thresh

Belted up and ready to thresh at the 1962 Old Time Thresher Show.

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(L. K. Wood Collections)

'Somehow I can't help but feel that in some way the Lord will provide for us, John,' murmured Mrs. Martin softly, smoothing the pillows beneath the invalid's head and allowing her hand to rest in loving pressure against his wan cheek ere she lifts the tea tray and turns to leave the room. 'I wish I had your faith, Mary', her husband returns, comforted despite his stubborn self. 'Now if Dorothy were only a boy' he begins musingly, then breaks off suddenly and turns his face to the window from where he can see the two smaller children gathering in the corn and melons. His brow knit together in a frown of distress and a deep sigh flutters over his lips. Mrs. Martin waits a minute, then as he makes no effort to conclude his half-spoken thought, she quietly leaves the room.

As a second long-drawn sigh breaks from her father's breast, Dorothy creeps nearer to him. 'If I were a boy, what then?' she asks gently. Mr. Martin starts restlessly, then turns his eyes gloomily upon her. 'Well, you're seventeen, aren't you? Now if we had a boy that age he could be a great help to us while I'm laid up with this broken leg.' Dorothy's lips quiver a little at the stress unconsciously placed upon the word 'help', but she tosses her brown braids defiantly. 'Humph! Guess I'm as much help as Dan Smith's eighteen year old son who finds it extremely helpful to run away from home about every other summer,' she retorts roguishly. Mr. Martin's face relaxes into a broad smile. 'Well, you've been quite a help this fall, Dot, and that's a fact I won't even try to deny. But, see here my girl! You've had Sim's strength at your command, remember. You've furnished the brains and he the muscle and between you the fall's work is fairly well done. But,' he glances anxiously toward the closed door, and the worried lines re-appear in his thin face, 'I've tried to keep it from your mother, but that mortgage is due the first of January and I had depended on this fall's threshing to pay it. I know old Raymond well enough not to expect any extended grace so the old home will go and I am powerless to prevent it and all on account of that confounded bridge' he ends dismally. Dorothy's mouth droops a moment in keen distress; then lifting her head with a glimmer of her mother's confidence shining from her clear brown eyes, she replies gratefully, 'I am so glad you escaped even as well as you did, papa dear. Very often in such accidents when a threshing rig crashed through a bridge one or more lives are lost, while great injury is done to the machine.'

'Very true, my girl! The engine is battered up some but the necessary repairs will  not cost such a lot as might have been, of course, and this leg crushed and broken as it is, is better than no leg at all, for it will mend in time no doubt. But we needed the thresh money so bad this year.  I've got about enough standing out to pay the note due on the engine. I suppose I could make a turn someway - trade in the rig toward paying off the mortgage but they would not allow more than half what it is worth and besides it is about all we can depend upon for money to live on anyway. I'm not able to farm it as I once was and have depended on the threshing rig so long that it's hard for me to turn my mind to anything else. It was a sorry day for me when I mortgaged the farm to buy a team; then one horse got killed in the lumber woods and that put me back. After a time things looked better, crops were good, our old house was tumbling down so I put another $500 on the old place and built this house. I was getting along fine and if I could have got in four or five more weeks like the two before that infernal bridge caved in on me, I would have come out this fall scoot free. Jim told me that bridge was unsafe, but it saved such a long pull around that I decided to chance it; luck was against me as you know, and I'm flat on my back in bed to pay for it.

'But you're alive and will soon be well again, his daughter chimes in bravely, pressing her warm cheek against his hand. 'Yes, I will be well again, but the season will be over and what else I can turn to I don't know, and the first of January isn't far off.' 'This is the third of October,' Dorothy replies absently. She sits for a moment with her chin resting in the palms of her hands and her thoughts in a brown study. 'Don't you suppose the men could go on with the work without you?' she ventures at last. 'They are accustomed to --.' 'Yes, yes,' interrupted Mr. Martin irritably, 'they are used to the work and all that, but would hardly make expenses without someone everlastingly after them to hustle them up. They are good men, but must have a boss, I tell you. Just as sure as I leave the machine even for a day everything all goes at sixes and sevens. No Sir! Some claim to make money without over-seeing their business themselves, but I never could and I doubt if much of a stake in that way.' 'Well then,' Dorothy continues with flushing cheeks,' you were wishing I was a boy just now perhaps I can help you in some way if I am a girl; I could try at least, I could -.' 'Nonsense!' breaks in her father sharply. 'Now how could you see after a threshing rig and crew and manage affairs I'd like to know! If you were a boy, though, I'd be tempted to try you anyway _ the need is so great, even if you didn't make so much.' Dorothy's eyes dance with the light of a fixed purpose, as smoothing the coverlet, she replies soothingly: 'There now, Mamma will be scolding me for allowing you to talk so much, so you must go to sleep while I play for you.' And seating herself before the organ she evokes such comforting melodies that the weary man, his mind a little relieved of its burden, soon sinks into a deep refreshing slumber.

The next day, after a long and spirited debate with her mother, Dorothy emerges from the house, prepared for a long drive. Sim, the feeble-minded chore-man, stands at the gate, holding by the bit a long legged horse of the Hamiltonian type. As the girl climbs into the light road-wagon, he tosses her the reins while his wide mouth expands in a cavernous grin. Dorothy looks back, waves her whip aloft in answer to her mother's anxious signal, then shaking the lines loose over the roans back, she is off. 'We must make haste, Jerry Boy,' she calls cheerfully to the horse, 'Its but a first venture, much depends on speed and diplomacy, for you know we have a reputation for ourselves to make, but we don't come of good stock for nothing, do we Jerry Boy?' and her laugh rings out with all the joyous hopefulness of youth. Her first stop is at the home of her father's old engineer, Jim Walters. There are many long drawn whistles to complete astonishment, a few dubious questions, then Jim slaps his knee with sudden energy. 'We'll do it, by Jingo. The engine is in the shop now and we will be already to pull it out next Monday. I was down to see her today. But who are you going to get for water-boy? Your Dad used to tend to the tank, you know, after he got so the dust hurt him to feed anymore.' 'Sim will do alright, don't you think. You know he is used to handling papa's team and will be delighted to go with the crew.' 'Just the thing! Well, you go and hunt up Joe and Tom and rustle them out and I'll run down to Brown's again and tell 'em we want that engine done sure right away.' So Dorothy speeds on. Joe Peters is found roosting on a dry-goods box in the village store and was well nigh thunder struck at the news the little gal bring me. 'Howsinever, if she's got the grit, here's a paw as will help her every time--but I'll be the totally charved up! Just think one will you?' and he breaks into an uproarious 'Haw, Haw' in which the whole store joins sympathetically.

Tom Jones is not found 'Guess he's off somewhere sleeping off the effects of a big spree' one of his friends informs her; so with a quailing heart, Dorothy leaves her message with his mother and then drives homeward over the route her father's threshing outfit had been taking at the time of the accident. The farmers were apprized of the fact that Martin's rig will complete its run per agreement. Then the girl hastens home to begin her personal preparation for her unique tour. 'We won't tell papa until we are obliged to' she warns her mother. 'After I am really off his objections will not signify and I mean to prove to him that I can be just as helpful as any boy that ever lived perhaps he won't be wishing I were a boy anymore after that,' she adds with a little break in her voice.

There were numerous Hurdy Gurdy Street Pianos working the larger cities up until the turn of the century. Only two others working today, Boston, Mass. and New Orleans, Louisiana. Others have gone their way like the grind organ man and his monkey. At one time 39 worked the streets of New York City but they were outlawed by Mayor LaGuardia in 1939 because of sidewalk traffic jams. Today there are only 5 monkey stick organs in the United States.

Monday dawns at last and Dorothy and Sim start out threshing bent. There is some necessary delay in getting the outfit and crew in running order once more and Dorothy is obliged to drive into town for oil, etc.; but by ten o'clock the rig steams into Farmer Crown's yard and soon the hands are busy 'setting up.' 'Empty what water there remains in the tank into those barrels over by the engine Sim, and go to the Silver for more,' commands the youthful boss.

'Ya-as and do you think I sorter pump the tub plum full, Miss Dort?' 'Certainly, you dough-head,' roars Jim, the sooty engineer. 'Haven't you got eyes to see there are no steep grades to pull up betwixt here and the Silver? We'll need all the water you can get, go off now with you and don't be stopping to watch every bird and chipmunk you see or I'll tan your thick hide for you when you get back and don't you forget it. That's the way to boss them, Miss Dorothy, and every mother's son of them as don't mind what you say have to answer to me for it afterwards.' Dorothy smiles her thanks and moves toward the separator. 'I don't understand tending separator, you know,' she laughs as she pauses a moment beside Joe. 'But papa has often spoken of what a capable hand you are about a machine so I leave it to your care and management and rest assured that everything will be all right,' she adds sweetly. 'Yes sire, you can depend on me, Miss Dot,' exclaims Joe staunchly, squaring his broad shoulders with a new feeling of responsibility. 'I'll see that the machine does good work, you bet!' 'Thank you. We have a reputation to keep as well as one to make,' she smiles as she passes on.

Soon the hum and whir begin and Dorothy looks on, a feeling of exultation in her heart. There are long accounts to be kept, jobs to be sought after, some hindrances to overcome, many annoyances to conquer, but she presses pluckily on. The neighbors, realizing the girl's brave fright, extend helping hands on every side. Her father's promised jobs are kept for her, despite the sneers of other threshermen and Dorothy's continued promises to be a great success. 'What are you up to, Dot?' her father questions one Saturday afternoon as she enters the room. 'Say, what do you think you're doing, anyway?' he repeats, evidently trying to be severe. 'Only trying to help a little almost as much as if I were indeed the desired boy, ' she nods roguishly. 'But see here madcap! I had ought to box your ears someday and I would, too, only Jones tells me you are a howling success as a thresher.' 'So you'll kiss me instead,' she coos, bending over his couch.

But the unusual care tells on the strength of the young girl and the skies are not always bright. One day Sim overturns the water tank in a ditch, and frightened out of his few remaining wits, is half way toward home before Dorothy can overtake and persuade him to come back. There are other mishaps, but the whole crew as a whole work with a will and gusto that could not be excelled even under the management of a skillful 'Boss.' Each one deeply respecting the trust and confidence bestowed upon them by this slender strip of a girl. Six weeks from the time of Dorothy's starting the entire rig pulls homeward. Mr. Martin watches its advance from the window of his room and a tear of thankfulness rolls down his cheek. 'I told you the Lord would provide, John, and He did,' sobs his wife. 'Let us thank Him now for our most precious gift our Dorothy.' 'Amen,' responds the old thresherman, frequently. 'She's just as good as a boy,' he adds mischievously as his daughter enters the room. In the weeks that follow, Dorothy's frequently seen upon the highway driving hither and thither collecting her outstanding thresh bills.

The day before Christmas she enters their pleasant living room where her father now sits in his arm chair, a pair of crutches lying on the floor near him, and tosses a folded paper into his lap. ' The mortgage release!' he cries joyfully. 'Now, Mary, we'll have a Christmas in spirit and in truth. You rig up a tree and we'll get this tomboy of ours to masquerade as Santa Claus she's quite equal to any role you can think of and we'll have a regular old-fashioned Christmas celebration. Now young ones, scamper after a tree while your mother gets the things ready. My, how good that turkey smells!'

That evening as the Christmas bells ring out from the old Church steeple, Thresherman Martin turns to his wife. 'Seems as though the old bell has a different tune this year, Mary; it seems to say over and over again, the old home's ours, the old home's ours, until my old heart fills with joy and I could sing with the Heavenly Host, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace and good will to men.'