Threshing Bee 1919

Pitching bundles

Pitching bundles on the left, machine tenders, center, and the grain bag tender on the right.

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It was the year 1919 and the big day of the threshing bee. If you are old enough it could be a sentimental journey, but if you can't remember the days before television and radio why not come along just out of curiosity.

To the eight year old, that I were on that day in late summer when the threshers were to come, it promised to be as festive as celebrating the fourth of July. The preparations in the barnyard and the granary and in mothers' kitchen had started days before. There were grain sacks to get ready, fences had to be moved to make room for the big tractor and the threshing machine, and most of the live stock herded into pens to be out of the way of the men and machines and the horse drawn wagons that would swarm all over the farm. That must have been why it was called a threshing bee.

The first to arrive was my Uncle Frank Englehardt with his tractor pulling the Advance Rumley threshing machine. The double gates to the barnyard were flung open and the equipment moved in, chugging and snorting and rumbling like a monster, to the area where the straw stack would be. His oldest son, Wendell, followed along behind in a horse drawn buggy. He was in his teens and his fathers' right hand man, so he had to help run that big machine on wheels and the rest of the equipment, even hooking the belts on the pulleys. He had brought Aunt Ella along to help mother, and my older sister, Edna, in the kitchen, but best of all there was cousin Ivey, my age, and her younger brother Alonzo to share in the excitement.

The weather was ideal. The sun was shinning, the wind was just a soft breeze and the temperature was made to order. The place soon came alive with, activity as the men with horse drawn hayracks began to arrive. They were calling back and forth, greeting each other and urging their horses to get going as they headed for the fields where Dad had cut the ripe oats and barley with the binder just a few days before. He had set the bundles up in shocks in rows, just far enough apart for the wide wagons to move through. The men pitched the bundles of grain up into the hayracks as the horses responded to whoa and giddyap, stopping and going, between the rows until the wagons were loaded. They had to be ready to move in along side of the hopper of the threshing machine as soon as it was all ready to go.

There were a few waiting in line when, with a wave and a shout, Uncle Frank gave the signal to start tossing in the bundles. The tractor was running smoothly with the belts in place and every man at his station. It was a lot noisier than any bee hive. Men were shouting to each other above the roar of the tractor and the rumbling of the thresher. From our perch on the fence by the big barn we were watching eagerly for the straw to start coming out of the blower. First a few wisps, than it came faster like a dragon huffing and puffing. Sometimes little puffs and sometimes big ones so the man on the stack wasn't always visible. He was called the stacker and it was his job to mow and stomp the straw into place to build a sturdy, even stack.

The man standing on top of the machine kept turning the blower, that pivoted in a semicircle, to guide the flow of straw where the stacker would motion he wanted it. He had to elevate it higher and higher as the pile grew. The air filled with chaff that escaped as the straw came flying out of the blower creating a haze and then settling, like fine dust, over everything and everybody.

The bagger was the fellow on the ground by the grain chute. He'd open up the end of it, hook on an empty sack to fill it, close off the flow of grain, quickly tie the bag shut with a loop of twine and place it ready for the grain hauler. His job was to load them in a wagon box and haul them to be emptied into the bin in the granary. I always thought those two men had the toughest jobs. They had to move fast and lift the sacks around which they kept constantly refilling and emptying to keep ahead of the flow of oats and barley. No matter how fast they worked the bagger would end up almost knee deep in grain.

Pitching the bundles onto the track that feeds into the threshing machine and blows the straw onto the stack and the grain runs down the chute into sacks.

At exactly noon the whole operation was shut down for dinner. Uncle Frank stopped the tractor to signal it was time to eat. The men all came from their places slapping their clothes with their straw hats trying to beat off some of the dust. They headed for the benches in the shade by the house where mother had put out pails of water with dippers, some wash basins, homemade soap and there were towels hanging on the fence.

There was lots of splashing of water mingled with good natured conversation. They were not only neighbors, but good friends. They had grown up together, worked together often and had shared many threshing bees. They worked like a well trained team of experts, which is exactly what they were.

They took turns at washing up and with no waiting on formalities sat down to eat the food mother and her kitchen crew had prepared. The table was set up under the shade trees by the kitchen door with the big farm house between it and the barnyard away from the dust. Instead the air was filled with the smell of good food and strong coffee. The table had been made by placing heavy planks on sawhorses and covered with a red and white checkered cloth. It literally groaned under the heaps of fried chicken and baked ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, cole slaw and corn on the cob. There was home made bread and butter and pickles, and mothers' famous gooseberry pies and devils' food cake. Along with pitchers of thick cream, fresh milk, lemonade and big pots of Arbuckle coffee.

The ate the same way they worked, with no time and few words wasted, eager to get back to finish their job. The way the food disappeared gave proof to why the expression 'They ate like threshers' was given to hearty eaters. Uncle Frank was the first at the table and the first to head back to start the tractor to be ready when the rest of the crew took their places.

The straw stack kept mounting, the grain bins were filling fast and soon the last load of bundles was brought up. We barely had time to eat we might miss something. The last of the bundles of grain were tossed in and the stream of straw coming from the blower started to slow down, dwindling to a last few spurts, as Uncle Frank shut off the tractor. The bundle haulers left as soon as their loads were emptied. The rest of the men gathered around to help with loosening the belts off of the pulleys, and taking down the blower and the grain chute which they fastened along the length of the machine. The timbers used as shims, by the big wheels, were pulled away. Then the tractor was started up again and moved to the front of the threshing machine where a heavy tongue was attached between the two rigs and it slowly moved off down the road to the next farm where the next day, weather permitting, the whole operation would be repeated. They buggy with my Aunt and Cousins was following close behind as we waved our good-byes till next year.

The farm belonged to my father, Ed Kurth, in Wagner Township, Clayton County, Iowa. It was about four miles south of Monona, two and one-half miles north of St Olaf and a little over a mile west of Farmersburg.