Owens Bean and Pea Threshers

Owens bean and pea threshers hint at once-significant harvests in Minnesota.

| November 2018

  • bean and pea thresher
    The Almelund Owens bean and pea thresher employs a trio of fans. One blows the chaff into a pile outside the thresher. A feeder fan is positioned in front, and a third fan separates the peas from the vine.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • bean and pea thresher
    A board in the front of the Owens drops down, providing a platform from which bean stalks can be fed into the thresher.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • bean and pea thresher
    Minnesota farmers must have once produced a significant crop of beans and peas, Jim Sodergren muses, to justify production of an entire line of threshers in Minneapolis.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • bean and pea thresher
    Dating to the 1890s, the Owens bean and pea thresher at the Almelund, Minnesota, threshing show retains much of its original paint and stenciling
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • sorting beans by hand
    Before the Sodergrens bought their thresher, they sorted beans by hand, as shown here.
    Photo courtesy Jim Sodergren
  • thresher
    The chaff comes out of the back of the Owens, shown here operated by Glen Sodergren. The Owens was run by a flat belt, Jim says, on relatively little power. “We ran ours with a 3 hp Hercules gas engine,” he says. “It had plenty of power for that.”
    Photo courtesy Jim Sodergren
  • Sodergren Owens thresher
    The Sodergren Owens thresher, shown here next to a Novo gas engine, retains its original stenciling.
    Photo courtesy Jim Sodergren

  • bean and pea thresher
  • bean and pea thresher
  • bean and pea thresher
  • bean and pea thresher
  • sorting beans by hand
  • thresher
  • Sodergren Owens thresher

Jim Sodergren of Scandia, Minnesota, grew up on a small farm where beans were harvested by hand for many years. When local demand increased, his father bought an Owens bean and pea thresher to help boost production.

"At the time, we grew white beans, called Great Northerns, that were used for pork and beans, bean soup and just about anything you can make with beans," Jim recalls. "We ate a lot of beans back then. Though we never grew a large amount of them, we planted and harvested the ones we had by hand."

Raising beans the old-fashioned way is hard work. Beans needed to be planted in May, and could be ripe by late September or early October. "They had to be planted when there was no chance of frost," Jim says, "because frost would kill them entirely."

The beans were planted in rows of hills. In late fall, they were pulled out by hand and put on stakes in the field. When they were dry, the poles were pulled out, stacked on the hay wagon and taken to the site where they'd be harvested. And it was all done by hand.



Second find bails out auction buy

Looking for a way to reduce the labor associated with the bean harvest, Jim's father, Glen, bought an Owens thresher at an auction. "The Swedes in the area kept asking for Swedish brown beans for their traditional Swedish 'bruna bönor' served at church lutefisk dinners," Jim says. "So the local stores wanted the Swedish brown beans for the Christmas season, starting just after Thanksgiving, and they sold out of them quickly."

But the Sodergrens' Owens thresher was not all it was cracked up to be. "My dad had never seen — or even operated — a bean thresher, so it didn't turn out to be too promising," Jim says. "It was in poor shape, with heavily worn bearings and cylinder, and it was missing a lot of parts. After seeing all the rotten wood everywhere in the frame, he knew it just wasn't going to work out." That meant a return to threshing by hand.



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