Threshing Days

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3988 Mason Dixon Drive, Chantilly, VA 22021 sent us the following article. It was written a few years ago by his late aunt, Gladys Johnson (1906-1990). Gladys grew up with her 12 brothers and sisters on a large farm in southeastern Minnesota.

On the prairies of North Dakota, you can still see the threshing separators silhouetted against the skyline to remind you of yesteryear. I saw quite a number of the weary relics while traveling through the countryside.

My first memories of threshing days meant waking up in the wee morning hours to the sound of a rooster crowing and the chugging of an approaching engine as it came closer and closer. With a feeling of excitement, I knew the threshing rig was pulling into our barnyard.

In those days, the crew stayed right at your place until the work was done, sometimes it would take weeks.

Preparations for feeding the threshers were begun days in advance. Morning and afternoon, lunch plus three big meals were the order of the day. Potatoes, meat, gravy, pickles, vegetables, pies, cakes, donuts, Jello, and cookies were on the main menu daily. No salads, however, as I recall.

I always thought the threshing crew must be the happiest people in the whole world, always laughing, joking, and eating (often all at one time).

Washing facilities for such a bunch was no problem at all; they just dipped their hands in a basin of water and wiped them on a towel which we laundered via the washboard on the following Monday.

In later years, the threshing men would have their own cook car and work crew consisting of 15 or 20 men. They would travel from place to place with their broad flanked work horses, sleeping in hay barns and straw stacks (barring a few chicken lice, maybe a little wiggling snake, a lonesome toad or a family of field mice). There was never a need for Sominex at the end of the day, in spite of the lack of fresh linen and curious bed partners.

The fresh straw was also used to fill our mattresses about twice a year. It was used for bedding for the cattle and chickens, even fed into the engine for fuel, not to mention all the fun we had sliding down its soft, golden sides and digging tunnels underneath. Nowadays the straw is chopped up and plowed under for fertilizer. What a sad state of affairs!

Pole barns were often built and the straw was blown right over the top of the structure making a snug place for cattle to winter. To make the threshing easier, the grain was sometimes stacked. Otherwise it was left in shocks. The grain was caught in sacks coming out of the separator and hauled away to be stored in large bins in the granary.

I'll always remember the whistle on the threshing rig. It was so loud it sent the younger children scurrying under the beds!

I think the threshers enjoyed the rainy days best of all. A mass exodus to town was made on foot, by horse-back, Model T, or hitching a ride with anything moving in that general direction. Often a man would come back leading his horse he walking at its side looking a bit more weary than when he left. Obviously too much 'R & R.' Thank heavens, no law enforcement around in those days to ask a lot of silly questions but then how much would a loyal horse divulge anyway?