Making Connections

Pierce Old Time Threshing Bee links past to present

| January 2005

"It takes teamwork," Ron Lange says with a wink as he hitches Kate and Susan, a couple of Belgian horses, to a vintage McCormick-Deering ground-driven corn binder. Within minutes, the trio has cut and tied a row of corn stalks and dropped them in the field, ready for shocking. This Hoskins, Neb., man has farmed with horse power for more than 65 years, and enjoys demonstrating his team's versatility at the threshing bee held each September in Pierce, Neb.

Pierce's Old Time Threshing Bee has it roots firmly planted in the 200th birthday of this country. When Governor J. James Exon put out the call to small towns across the state to commemorate the bicentennial, folks from Pierce got really steamed up, and fired the boiler for a celebration that is ongoing. "The Threshing Bee wasn't official until 1977, but it came out of the bicentennial activities," explains Marilyn Meier. "In 1976, the town had a machinery parade and museum (Pierce Historical Society) dedication, and that got things moving."

The Pierce event is all about family fun and education. "Our goal is to bring forward the past to better see the future," says Sophie Eldhart, 28-year show veteran and threshing bee matriarch. The show, which began principally as a steam threshing bee on local enthusiast Jute Hoffman's farm, now offers something for just about everyone's old-time interests. "Our program usually includes horse, steam, petroleum and human-powered demonstrations," says board member Ellwood Meier.

The 2004 event, held Sept. 18-19, featured Cockshutt and Case equipment, antique vehicle parades, horse demonstrations, power threshing and shelling, yarn spinning, rug weaving, quilting and corn shuck doll making, to name but a few of the old-time delights.

Burning a little hay

At the Pierce Old Time Threshing Bee, horses were hitched to wagons, ground-driven implements and even stationary machines in powerful demonstrations of their versatility. Kate and Susan, Ron Lange's mother-daughter team of Belgians, pulled a single-bottom John Deere riding plow in addition to the corn binder, and later powered a grain elevator through an ingenious device called a "sweep power." The sweep power converts a horse's easy, circular pace to PTO power though a planetary gearbox.

In another demonstration, Dale Duncan hitched Bob, a Haflinger gelding, to a sweep gristmill. In this case, the horse circled the mill, directly turning the grindstone as he walked. According to Ron Lange, the sweep method of powering stationary devices was very common compared to the more expensive treadmill. With the sweep, operators also had flexibility in the number of horses that could be called upon to do the work. Sweep powers were even used to run threshing machines before the ready availability of tractors with belt pulleys.