THRESHING MACHINES RECALL OLDEN TIMES ON ILLINOIS FARMS

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Southern Illinois University

A 'Power Progress Show' of farm machinery was held at the Perry County fairgrounds in Pinckneyville recently. At the same time and place the American Thresher man Association, an organization formed to memorialize olden methods of farming, particularly the harvesting and threshing of grain, held its annual meeting. With these two appeals, no further reason was sought to justify spending a couple of hot but enjoyable days at the combined meetings.

Any inquisitive visitor soon learned that trucks, trailers, and low-boys had been arriving with strange cargos for several days. Evidence of that fact was distributed widely over the fairgrounds. He was also told that these carriers had come from many states and from long distances. Some were from as far away as Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, and Nebraska.

In addition to these arrivals from more distant places, there was a large area of the exhibit grounds covered with the most modern farm power tools, much like those seen on implement dealers' lots. Somehow, these were not so interesting to this old timer as those tools that were 'modern' a few generations ago.

After a preliminary look at random exhibits of the earlier planting and harvesting devices, the visitor came upon the very solid exhibit of threshing equipment. The most attention compelling part of this was the score or so of steam traction engines. These engines had come from widely separated places. One 70 years old, had come on a lowboy directly from Lincoln, Neb. where it had taken part in the centennial observance of steam traction engines moved by their own power on the roadways and over the fields of the United States.

Many of the men exhibiting engines at Pinckneyville were as interesting as their charges. Except for a few young men who apparently are determined to keep the romance of threshing days alive, none were youngsters. Their dress and mannerisms were those of the men following threshers 50 years ago. Come to think of it, one difference was noted, none was a tobacco chewer. One and all appeared to be doing well at reliving the pleasantly remembered days. All in all it was an old men and boys day. A listener often could overhear such remarks as: 'Do you remember?' 'As I recall.' Many of these lookers once were the band cutters, sack holders, or straw stackers, before the blower (cyclone) thresher came.

Some had driven bundle wagons. Others had pitched bundles of helped man the pump on the wooden box tank of the wagon that brought water to a constantly thirsty engine. This water generally hard, would cause scale in the boilers.

Some had been Water boys and trudged barefoot to carry jugs of water to workmen in the field. A lucky one of these boys sometimes went a field on a gentle nag with his jug hung to the saddle horn with a hamstring.

While the old men looked and reveled in memories, the present day boys were doing as boys have always done about threshing outfits. They were clambering over the habitable parts of engines and separators, that is so far as the men in charge permitted.

Old time threshing methods were demonstrated and described by a narrator. An elderly man using a hickory flail, jointed with a rawhide thong and having a polish that only long use could give, deftly and rhythmically flailed a bundle of wheat, just as men were doing 5000 years ago. Good flailers were skilled men. Since no place had been prepared, the ancient threshing floor was described by a narrator using a portable loudspeaker, quite a contrast.

Then came the first thresher as we know it, a rapidly whirling cylinder set with iron teeth and turned madly by men at its cranks. The one used to demonstrate is like the one used by George Washington on his Virginia plantation about 200 years ago. Wheat stalks by handfuls were held against the whirring teeth until the grain was beaten out and the straw laid carefully aside. Grain and chaff were separated by being poured from elevated baskets at some breezy place. Large hand fans sometimes were used. This thresher was the 'Groundhog.'

Other exhibits traced the evolution of the 'Groundhog' through the bulky separator which now has practically disappeared, in favor of the self-propelled combine.

Threshing was a great time in any community. It had its social values. Men swapped work, women and children visited. Threshing dinners are tradition and women vied in their preparation . The names of threshing operators became household words. In the Broughton area the names of Charley Johnson, the Essareys, Thomas Allen, Ali Shriver, and Riley Bishop will bring memories to many older persons, just as other names will to those in other vicinities. Many will recall the names of engines and separators, like Advance, Case, Jumbo, Avery, Keck-Gonnerman, Aultmen-Taylor, Russell, and others coming less readily to mind.

No one was heard expressing a wish to have the old days return. To a man, however, all wanted to remember those hot, dusty days of hard work and the great threshing dinners that went with them. Anyone interested in the way of farm life fifty years or more ago should note the next meeting of the American Thresher man Association and plan to attend.