Thresherman Cider Jess

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HC 69, Box 2 Fort Seybert, West Virginia 26806

This true story is dedicated to all of the old time thresher men of Pendleton County, West Virginia. These thresher men were people who did custom threshing from farm to farm. Nearly every farm raised some small grains, wheat, oats, barley or rye which needed to be threshed after the growing season was over. These men would move the threshing machine from farm to farm thereby doing the threshing service for the farmer and at the same time making a few dollars for their services.

In earlier times these threshing machines, commonly called 'thresh boxes,' were pulled with a steam engine. Fire danger was always to be contended with from these wood fired engines, and especially so during the early '30s when some extremely dry summers occurred. At this time the gasoline powered tractor had come on the scene and most of these thresher men went to this type of power because of convenience and fire safety.

Many stories of the experiences of these men have been told and retold. Experiences of broken down bridges, river crossings, treacherous narrow mountain roads, 'bad' boiler water, low boiler water, 'dry crown sheet,' soft roads, and many others. Most of these stories have faded into the past along with these men, some of whom were very colorful characters. The true story that follows concerns a person of this description.

This story was related to me some years ago by a long time friend, the late Mr. Glen Bodkin Sr. whose farm was in the Totten Chappell area of the Upper Back Thorn of Pendleton County. As Mr. Bodkin related the story to me, we walked over the area where it took place.

The thresher man and the star of our story was 'Cider' Jess Moyers who lived in the upper Thorn area. The name 'Cider' Jess was used to identify him from at least one, maybe more, of the county's persons with the same name. There were several reasons why the term 'Cider' was tacked on his name. One reason was that he owned and operated a cider mill and custom made cider for other people and also for himself. But I think probably the main reason for the term 'Cider Jess' was because of his thirst and love for the fermented product of his cider mill.

Cider Jess had discarded his steam engine, for reasons before mentioned, in favor of a McCormick Deering 10-20 tractor. This tractor was an industrial type tractor with a drawbar rating of 10 horsepower and 20 HP on the belt, thus the name 10-20. The old 10-20 was a good dependable tractor, but was too light for pulling a thresh rig, as Jess was to later find out.

The old 10-20 tractor always started very easily with a hand crank which was permanently attached to the front. The secret to the easy starting was the type of ignition system it had. It had a high tension magneto which was attached to the driving mechanism with an 'impulse coupler.' This was a spring loaded device which caused the magneto to deliver a hot starting spark at a very slow cranking speed. The early couplers had to manually reset each time the crank was used, but the later couplers automatically reset themselves, which was evidently the case with this tractor, or the event which follows probably would not have taken place. This detailed, and perhaps uninteresting description of the ignition system of the old 10-20 will help set the stage for the events which follow.

This day Cider Jess came proudly chugging into the Bodkin farm pulling the thresh box with his recently acquired 10-20 McCormick Deering tractor. The field where the grain was to be threshed was on top of the hill, a distance of several hundred yards up. The road leading up to the field was very steep and going straight up the shallow hollow between two hills with the smooth pasture sloping into the road from both sides.

Mr. Glen said he had serious reservations about the power of the tractor for that steep pull. Glen said he suggested that maybe he should hook onto the front of the tractor (with his team of horses or tractor I don't remember which), and help with the pull. Cider Jess let him know right away that he didn't intend to be insulted or have his tractor put down like that.

With that Jess put the 10-20 in low gear and pulled the throttle wide open and went roaring up the hill. All went well at first, but the farther up the hill he went the slower it pulled down. Finally after going some distance, but not to the top, 'Mama McCormick' completely ran out of power and stalled. The thresh box began pulling the tractor backward down the road. The braking mechanism on the 10-20 was not too great, with only one small external drum and a narrow brake hand. It was primarily used as a setting brake when using the tractor for belt power, and not too effective for that, and now going backwards, it was of not much use, as Jess soon found out.

When the backward speed of the rig began to pick up, Jess decided it was time to 'bail out,' so he jumped off the tractor over against the bank. The rig continued on a straight course back down the road. By the time it had neared the foot of the hill the speed had increased and the thresher began to lead out of the road and up against the bank pulling the tractor after it. At this point the hitch pin dropped out of the tongue to the thresher broke, completely disconnecting the tractor from the thresh box. At this point the tractor had been pulled up the side bank of the road, and was heading slightly downhill. Being headed downhill, the tractor rolled forward slightly, and you must remember that it was still in low gear and the throttle wide open.

The forward rolling motion caused the engine to turn over a bit. This in turn tripped the impulse one time. That was all it took. 'Mama McCormick' roared to life and took off back up the road from where it had just come, holding a straight course all the while.

While all this was taking place, Jess had gathered himself up and was standing in the road. As the roaring tractor, minus driver, came nearer, he moved to one side, and as it went by he jumped on and brought things under control.

Needless to say, he did not again refuse the offer of some pulling help.

Because of this unusual and humorous performance, I hereby nominate 'Cider' Jess Moyer's for membership in the Pendleton County Hall of Fame.