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Steam Threshing in 1875

A look at steam threshing in 1875, from the Pacific Rural Press

| November 2011

  • A California threshing scene with a Heald steam engine, probably taken in the early 1880s.
    A California threshing scene with a Heald steam engine, probably taken in the early 1880s.

  • A California threshing scene with a Heald steam engine, probably taken in the early 1880s.

“Then the separator, engine and all the teams move forward up the lane and into the circle. The first comes to a halt in the center, the second takes up its position in the rear, and the headers at once attack the wheat; the first taking the first swath of the encircling grain, the next the second, a little in the rear, and so on. The belting between the engine and separator is adjusted, and the engineer starts his fires. The chutes that are to convey the grain from the canvas on the ground upon which it is pitched from the header-wagons are attached, and the bag-fillers bring up their sacks. All the lids that cover the inner works of the great machine are drawn over, and all is made fast. The wheels are locked, as are those of the engine. Great care is taken to keep all things on as perfect level as may be, to insure the proper economy of force.

“The scene even at this time is one of great animation. The men are all fresh and are working with ardor; the stimulus of the noise, the movement and the bright sun is great. It is impossible not to feel the pulse quicken even at this early stage of the play, and one recalls his old-time ideal of a harvest-field, with its beribboned reapers and their long, curved sickles, with a little doubt of its superior grace.

“They try the engine. It is all right. The separator clatters in tune and nothing is amiss. Now, then, for the grain! In a moment the wagons begin to unload. Huge forkfuls are pitched upon the ground from which it is borne into the recesses of the separator. Then there ensues a strange combination of tremendous noises – a sound of grinding, a sound of brushing, a sound of thumping and a sound of roaring. The entire fabric shivers from top to bottom and from out every crevice there pours a thin sheet of dust. The upper part belches out the waste, hundreds of pounds and tons of chaff, and a stifling cloud follows it. In a second everything is on springs. The men who fill the bags hang them at the edges of the troughs. The brown flood comes pouring down – a stream of clean kernels of wheat – and the day’s work fairly begins. From the largest separator in the field there run out six sacks (or 800 pounds) of grain, fit for market, each minute. This machine, one day in August 1874, thrashed 5,779 bushels. Its owner calls it the Monitor.” –Excerpted from an 1875 article in the Pacific Rural Press.


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