Back in the day, bluegrass stripper helped put cash in farmers' pockets

Letters to the Editor

| April 2010

Editor’s note: The letter from M.F. Moulzolf-Heinen in the February 2010 issue of Farm Collector (“Could this be a spreader?”) generated a large response from readers who unanimously answered “no” to that question. The piece in question is in fact a bluegrass stripper. Many readers have vivid memories of personal experience with just such a piece.

“The bluegrass stripper was used in June when bluegrass heads out in the Sandhills,” explains Paul Poessnecker, Adkins, Neb. “We’d put two or three together and go until the box was full of seed. Then we’d load gunny sacks with seed and at the end of the day, we’d load up the pickup and drive into Stuart, Neb. We’d get there as late as 10 p.m. or midnight, but for those two weeks, that little town was still going strong at midnight.

“I was probably 8 or 9,” he recalls. “Dad ran a tractor and a set of strippers, and he put me on a tractor with a set of strippers. It was a way for farmers to make a little money in June. You could always tell where the strippers had been because the heads turned white. We didn’t take the heads, just the seed.”

The first strippers Paul remembers were wooden drums with spikes. Later models were made of steel. “Some people put one on the front of an old truck so it was self-propelled. They always made a terrible whining noise from the gears.” In his area of Nebraska, the harvest ended in the mid- to late 1950s. “There’s a lot of people in this area today who have no idea that we used to strip bluegrass,” he says.

Stripping bluegrass offered a summer job for young men and girls, recalls Wayne Hardenbergh, Lone Wolf, Okla. “In the spring the bluegrass seed companies would send their representatives into the area to contract with ranchers for their seed and hire operators to run the strippers,” he says. “The ranchers (or their kids, if dad had a spare tractor) would sign on for the seed harvest for a little extra spending money.”

“The strippers’ cylinders, with protruding nails, were turned by a gear and chain from one of the wheels in a forward motion, throwing the seed back into the collector box,” adds Bill Combs, Colchester, Ill. “My brothers and I used them in the 1940s and ’50s to make extra money during the summer. Local buyers usually loaned out the headers and then bought the seed. I remember getting about a nickel a pound for seed in the ’50s. We usually took in one or two wagonloads to sell. I learned later that the seed was not sold primarily for reseeding bluegrass, but was used to make blue dye. As chemical dyes were perfected, the market for the seed collapsed.”