THE OLD FARMER AND 'OLD BETSY' CONVERSE

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Living Again the Days of Long Ago - Early-Day Threshing

The Dakota Farmer way back in 1937 had this article which we thought you will enjoy. When we asked the Dakota Farmer for permission to use this article and we had promised to give credit, the Editor replied, 'Credit or no credit use it if you wish.' If you knew how persnipperty these editors are about the material they coddle as well as I do you would enjoy this refreshing statement as much as I. The Editor.

That was not the first time that summer that Mother and I had talked about threshing. Only a few days before, we were on our way to town driving a span of ponies hitched to a light wagon. All the fields along the road had shocks standing so thick that off at a distance it looked like there wasn't room to drive a team and wagon in among them. 'What a wonderful crop!' Mother said: 'How in the world will they ever get it all threshed?' It was then I told her I intended buying a new steam threshing machine. 'Land sakes! No, Johnnie, not a steamer. It will blow you to Kingdom Come.' I told her 'No, I learned much about a steam engine the fall I fired for uncle Jack down in Minnesota,' and that I felt sure I could handle it all right.

Starting Up the New Outfit

It was on a Friday we pulled the rig out from town. Monday morning had been set for starting the shock run, and we planned on trying the rig out Saturday afternoon, threshing feed for anyone who cared to bring in a load. Old Mr. Johnson, who had promised to help me feed and tend separator that fall, came over early Saturday morning to help get ready. I wanted very much to thresh before anyone came, but there was work yet to do when Mother called us in to dinner.

Soon after that, neighbors came driving in with loads of oat bundles to be threshed, not only men and boys, but women and girls came along; they, too, wanted to see the new rig start. Each family brought a basket of good things to eat, planning on a big supper at our place that night after the threshing was done.

About 2:00 o'clock, Mr. Johnson said, 'Well Johnnie, as far as I can see she is ready to go; line up your engine and let's see what she will do.' I thought a great deal of our old neighbor, Mr. Johnson; he had helped me many times, and given me much good advice since my father had died. He came up close to me and said: 'Johnnie, my boy, don't let this bunch of men and women bother you; drive in slow and straight.' As good luck would have it, I have never made a truer lineup since.

We put on the belt and were ready to go; the horses were all very much afraid of the machine and it took much coaxing and petting to get them up near enough to unload the bundles. At last we were threshing; straw was coming out over the carrier, and nice plump oats into the bags.

'Not a Thing Going Over'

Those days, the farmers didn't wait until winter, when they were hauling straw, to find out what kind of a job the thresher had done; every now and then the separator man or someone went back to the strawpile to make sure there was no grain going over. Now, there were half a dozen men and boys back there looking in the straw for oats. Jerry, a young man of the neighborhood who nearly always worked in the strawpile, came back with a handful of chaff that had in it a few oats. After a few slight adjustments, someone called back, 'She is doing fine now, not a thing going over.'

We finished the last load late in the afternoon, pulled the separator out away from the strawpile and, after washing up, we were all ready for the big feed. What a jolly time we had! So many talking and laughing at the same time. When they were ready to go home, Ben said, 'Folks, if I have good luck, you will hear that whistle tooting at half past three Monday morning.'

A Long Bun of Threshing

That was a nice dry fall for threshing. We put in long days, worked early and late-and, tell about long runs: our shock threshing lasted from the middle of August up into October, and we finished the last setting of stacks way after dark only two days before Christmas.

That night, at the supper table, we talked it over and decided rather than to fire up again the next morning we would pull home as soon as we could get ready. Mr. Olson, the man we had threshed for, said: 'Yes John, unless you want the old rattletrap snowed in, you better be making tracks for home.' Someone spoke up laughing, 'I guess he will have plenty of time, we haven't seen a cloud for weeks.'

Then we hurried around, packed the tender with straw and were soon on our way. We had moved after dark many times that fall, but this trip was different; it was one of those kind of night like we have only now and then, when one can hear everything so plain; the exhaust of the engine was unusually loud; we boys were happy to know that the threshing was done, and the engine puffing and snorting up the little hills that winter night made us all glad we were alive.

Tooted the Horn

When we got home, Ben, whose fingers were always itching to get hold of the whistle string, wanted to know, 'Shall I blow the horn?' I told him, 'Go to it, Boy, the threshing is done!' He sure did wake the echo's back in the hills with that whistle; I guess everyone in the neighborhood heard it and knew we were through threshing. We seldom used the whistle, only when necessary, like calling for water or empty bags, and a good long whistle at quitting time to let the women folks know we were coming. Ben always wasted more or less steam with that whistle every morning before daylight; he said that was to wake up the late sleepers. Ben was learning to be an engineer and was a rattling good fireman; unless the straw was real damp, we never had to wait for steam.

(Continued next issue)