Threshing Bee Acts as Time Machine

Threshing bee recreates harvest of the past

| January 2000

I didn't believe in time machines until Sept. 18, 1999. On that day I was transported for a wonderful two hours and twelve minutes more than 60 years back to when I was a young lad living on my father's farm near Idaho Falls, Idaho. 

My time transporter was a threshing machine. It took me to a time when the late summer magic was shattered by the spine-chilling screech of steel wheels on rocks as a huge black tractor bearing the name "OilPull" shrieked its way into our yard, its noisy engine blowing giant blue smoke rings as it dragged a threshing machine. The thresher was unfolded from its travel position and a long, wide belt unrolled from its side and looped over the belt pulley on the tractor. After a few adjustments, the operator moved a lever and the tractor chugged harder as the belt began to move. Knobs, wheels, pulleys, belts, chains, arms, rockers and other things began to turn, wiggle, roll, snap, bounce and whine as that wondrous monster came to life right before my eyes. I watched, open-mouthed, enchanted out of my wits.

That was during the 1930s. Last September, I stood enthralled again as a machine from my past chewed its way through loads of grain separating its golden seeds from the chaff and straw blown in a yellow flurry onto an ever growing stack. The John Deere tractor providing the power belched its exhaust with a different sound from the OilPull, but other than that, things hadn't changed a whit except that it was 1999 and I wasn't a kid any more.

The threshing bee on Sept. 18, jointly sponsored by Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Association and Intermountain Draft Horse and Mule Association, was coordinated by the host, Stan Brighton. I arrived at Stan's place just outside Idaho Falls a few days earlier and took pictures of the fields of stubble with shocks of tied bundles. The oat field had been cut with an old-fashioned binder drawn by a tractor instead of several horses. Even so, the field resembled the ones I remembered on my father's farm.

The show began about 10 a.m. At first, people stood around, unsure of what to do. But as the horse-drawn wagons moved between the shocks of grain, and pitchforks magically appeared, it took just seconds for eager helpers to load bundles of grain, more or less hit-or-miss, onto them. Although the drivers tried to keep order in their loads, it was a far cry from the days I knew, when the pitchers knew where to put the bundles and the driver knew how to load his wagon so he could haul the most with the least chance of it falling off if he hit an uneven spot on the way to the thresher. The drivers in 1999 either hadn't had that experience, or had forgotten it, so some of the loads were pretty haphazard. Nevertheless, the field was cleared in time for the midday meal.

Actually there were two 28-inch threshing machines. One was a Case owned by Stan Brighton; the other, a John Deere, was owned by Lynn McCord. Both were driven by John Deere tractors. The wagons took an empty position at either machine and unloaded onto the feeder leading to the gaping, tooth-filled maw of the thresher.