Threshing Tales

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102 Britannia Street, Stratford, Ontario, Canada

There could have been more manufacturers of threshing machines located in sunny Southern Ontario, Canada's banana belt, where a temperature of twenty degrees below zero in winter is not uncommon. Then there were manufacturers in the whole of the U.S.A. As to the total number of machines built, I do not know. This would depend on whether International Harvester built all their machines in Hamilton, Ontario. I have seen John Deere Threshers being built by George White & Son's Co. Ltd., London, Ontario.

The machines built for Ontario had extra equipment necessary for barn threshing. The machines used for custom threshing that I had seen, had chaff blowers. They were located behind the shoe and in front of the straw blower. They collected the chaff that came off of the shoe and the farmer could blow it into a separate boarded up area off of the barn floor. This was a sort of a nuisance item. I only saw a chaff blower used twice. If you figured the value of the total digestable nutrients of the chaff and balanced this against the discomfort and extra dust created by the chaff blower, I doubt if it was worth using it.

The straw blower pipe had a hinge built into each side of it located before the telescopic extension. It was necessary to pull a hinge pin and break the blower pipe in order to extend it out the back door into the barnyard to build a stack. The same process had to be repeated if you want to blower back inside the barn to fill a mow with straw.

Some machines had spiral knife, lawn mower type straw cutters. More straw could be stored in a barn using these. Cut straw also made better bedding. They added about a ton of extra weight to the back of the machine and could use up to 15 horsepower to drive them.

These were replaced by straw shredders. There were quite a few makes of these, the most noteworthy being the one made by Lobsiinger Brothers of Miildmay. It consisted of a set of cast iron bruisers bolted to outer edge of the blower fan. These passed between serrated edged knives located in the perisphery of the blower housing. There were six rows of knives and one could use as many or as few knives as one desired as they were easily removed or placed in cutting position from outside the machine. The amount of weight added to the machine and also the horsepower requirements were insignificant.

The advantage of storing the sheaves and threshing them in the barn meant one's crop was exposed to the weather for a shorter period of time than it would be by using any other method. The disadvantage was that one had to take the discomfort of working in the dust at a barn threshing. It was good crop insurance as I have seen weather conditions here where fall wheat would sprout in the stooik. The farmers exchanged help for this job. If you required 12-14 men, it meant you would spend 15-20 days going to threshings.

The worst possible conditions occurred usually in a year of exceptionally good weather. This happened if the farmer completed his cutting and stooking in short order, and started storing the sheaves in the barn before the natural sap had dried out of the straw. In the drying out process that took place in the barn, the sheaves moulded. Ten minutes after starting to thresh, the barn would be filled with a grey mouldy dust so thick you could not recognize a man standing ten feet from you. This mouldy dust was every bit as potent as penicillin. It made many a strong man sick about getting the last possible forkful of straw stuffed into the mow you would think the straw was more valuable than the grain. Some of them would not have been satisfied unless you tramped and staffed every corner until you lifted the rafters off of the plate.

A friend of mine told of tramping the straw when they were working after 6 p.m. in an effort to finish. About two loads of sheaves remained in the bottom of the sheaf mow. He was getting closer to the peak of the barn and the space getting rapidly smaller as the blower was gaining on him. They were blowing the straw in on the grainary side of the barn and the situation was getting desperate. About five minutes later the belt slipped off of the grain elevator, it being plugged from end to end. By the time they got it cleaned out and running again, he had time to make sufficient room for the straw.

The thresherman could not understand how wet grain got into the grain pipe and plugged it.

One of the better threshermen in our area was the late Mr. Albert Seebach of Sebringville who used a George White Steam Engine and George White No. 5, 32-46 steel thresher. He was a man who could finish threshing out one barn at 12 o'clock noon, have his dinner, move a mile down the road, be moved in the next barn, set up, and threshing by one o'clock.

I heard the story that he was threshing at a barn and conditions were quite dusty. This was about the time they had started to put a water pump on a separator to pump a spray of water into the blower to settle the dust. They decided they could accomplish the same thing by running a hose from the steam engine up into the barn and into the blower. This seemed to settle the dust, but the men thought it could do better so they urged him to open the tap a little more. As the day went on they were putting on a considerable amount of moisture. One cold day the following January, he called on the farmer to collect the money he owed him for threshing. He didn't find him in the stable with the livestock so he went up into the barn loft. Here he found him cutting out a days supply of bedding out of the straw mow with the axe. He left in a hurry as the farmer threw the axe at him.

The farmer's wife, and whoever she chose to help her, provided the meals. This is where the really fine work requiring artistry and skill took place. In the area I am located in, the cooks could not only prepare the staples such as meat, potatoes, vegetables, better than is usually the case, each of them had their own gourmet speciality such as chili sauce, pickles, horse radish, salads, relishes, preserved fruit, scones, muffins and biscuits. It is impossible to describe with words, the quality of the food on the table, As an indication of the times that existed during the 1920-1930's, I remember the lady of the house where we were having supper making the remark that if she had a nickel for every cow she had milked she would be well off. Considering the quality of the food on the table, the fact of her milking cows was a waste of talent comparable to hiring a medical doctor to mow your lawn.

I think the most of us took this for granted at the time. When I left the farm and took a job necessitating living in hotels and eating in restaurants, I then realized how well we lived during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.