Remembering Threshing Days

The work of threshing days brought communities together.


| July 2014



Threshing days on the family farm

The McCormick-Deering 8-foot grain binder was a marvelous and complex machine for its time. All moving parts got their marching orders from the big bull wheel. A team of three horses was needed to pull it in the hill country of southwestern Wisconsin.

Illustration by Fred Weiner

The 238-acre Scheckel family farm lies smack dab in the heart of Crawford County, near Seneca in southwestern Wisconsin. This is hill country, untouched by glaciers. The roads are so crooked, the local saying goes, that they could run for Congress.

Threshing crews operated there in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Our Oak Grove Ridge had about 15 farmers on a threshing circuit. Frank Fradette owned the threshing machine. The sole purpose of a thresher was to separate the golden kernels of oats from their stalks. The stalks went out a big pipe by a powerful blower and those stalks built a straw stack. The oat kernels were hauled to a granary for storage. Frank pulled the threshing machine with a big orange Minneapolis-Moline tractor. His father, Louis Fradette, lived over on Shortcut Road. He owned the blower (or elevator) that took the grain and put it in the granary. 

Earliest memory of farm life

The most exciting day of the whole year, with the possible exception of Christmas Day, was the day the threshing machine and crew came to the Scheckel farm. As little kids, 4 to 6 years old, our main job was to “stay out of the way.”

That threshing machine was a behemoth. Threshing machines of that era were about 30 feet long, 8 to 10 feet tall and about 5 feet wide. No other machine on the farm was that big. When you’re a kid, everything is big!

Phillip, Bob and I watched it come up the road from the Bernier farm. It couldn’t have been moving faster than 5 mph. Threshing machines had steel wheels and the roadway was gravel. The feeder apron, where the grain bundles were fed, was hinged and tucked under to shorten its length.

I was 4 years old. This is one of my earliest memories of life on the farm: The belching Minneapolis-Moline tractor pulled the huge thresher. My dad walked between the tractor and thresher talking to Frank, who was turned sideways in the tractor seat, alternately looking at my dad and the path ahead.