Threshing 'bee'

| September 2002

My encounter with the bumblebee, still a vivid memory nearly 60 years hence, taught me a healthy respect for flying, stinging insects - especially their single-minded-ness once they zero in on a target.

It was in late summer, probably August, and it was wheat-threshing time. Weeks before, the tall golden grain had been cut and bundled in the field by grain binders pulled by teams of horses. The bundles had been shocked quickly in neat rows across the field to cure. Likewise, the oats, which usually matured just after the wheat.

Not many farmers owned one of the big grain threshers for separating the wheat from the straw; those who did hauled them from farm to farm. The threshers would rumble slowly down the road, their steel wheels, and those of the tractors pulling them, leaving behind a strange pattern as the cleats dug into the gravel.

It was a favorite time for me. I was 5 or 6 that year, so it was 1945 or 1946. I was old enough to appreciate all that was going on around me but too young to actively take a part in the hard physical labor involved. By the time I was big enough to help, modern combines pulled through the fields had replaced the threshers.

My grandfather owned the thresher that sat on the barn hill of our farm that long ago day. A long, wide belt ran down to the tractor, which powered it. The back of the thresher sat inside the barn with its front wheels up on planks to level it from end to end. Having the machine level was an important factor in effectively separating the grain from the chaff as it shook and shimmied from several sheaves to the screens below. A built-in fan blew the light husks from the kernels of grain. Dust and debris constantly floated in, around, above and below the pulsating, vibrating monster. 

A long, round blower pipe, big enough for me to crawl through if I'd had the nerve, extended out the back door of the loft. The bent and broken stems of the once-tall wheat exited at the end of the pipe. Two men below, with three-tined pitchforks, moved and stacked the straw as it cascaded down to the ground. The golden stack, carefully squared at each corner, rose foot by foot. A wooden ladder soon was carried out and leaned against the stack so the men could descend and get a much-needed drink while a new wagonload of bundles was pulled forward to the threshing machine.