Threshing Time in North Central Montana

Rancher recalls harvest and threshing time of yesteryear


| April 1999



A straw-burning threshing machine and crew

A straw-burning threshing machine and crew – including engineer, separator man, water hauler and others – at Kibby, Mont., in 1900. Emiel Miller was the steam engine's operator.

W–oo–oo-oo-oo! 

The whistle blew a long blast to let the threshing crew know it was time for dinner. The men who operated the bundle wagons, which hauled the shocked grain to the threshing machine, stopped their work. They wiped their foreheads with big bandanna handkerchiefs, slapped the dust from their overalls, dusted off their hats and caps, and headed for the farm house. They were joined there by those who operated the steam engine and separator, all of them looking forward to the bountiful dinner they knew would be waiting. "Grandpa, I really like to blow that whistle," said 10-year-old Francis. He had been given the job of pumping the water out of the water wagon into the boiler of the steam engine. In return, his reward was blowing the engine whistle three times a day: when work began in the morning, and at noon and night to call the men to dinner and supper.

"I like that big steam engine, Grandpa," Francis said as they went up to the house.

"Yes, it's a dandy. I like steam engines, too," his grandfather agreed. "I wish you could have seen an interesting one I operated a long time ago – long before you were born. Our steam engines now burn coal or wood, but that one burned straw. I have a picture of it in the house, and I'll show it to you after dinner."

Before the men went into the house for dinner, they lined up at the washbasin outside the house. The farm wife had put out a bar of homemade soap and a pail of water, as well as towels often made from coarse cement sacks. Threshing was dirty, itchy work, and the cool water felt good as each man washed up.

And what a dinner awaited! Fried chicken, roasts, mounds of potatoes, bowls of vegetables from the farm wife's garden, homemade bread and butter, pies, cakes, pickles and jellies awaited. Each housewife wanted to be sure she served as good a "table" – or even better – than her neighbor.