A Threshing Machine Tragedy


| March/April 1984



P.O. Box 256 Mayville, North Dakota 58257

There were many accidents around steam threshing engines before gas tractors took over the job of driving the separators. Perhaps the worst of these disasters to occur any place was the one on the Grandin Farm, No. 4, north of Mayville, North Dakota on October 21st, 1891.

The Grandin Farms were first started by the two Grandin Brothers, E.B. and J.L., bankers in Tidioute, Pennsylvania. They had bought many bonds of the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1873 the railroad went bankrupt, so the bonds were valueless. However, the railroad had got a land grant from the government to build its tracks from Duluth, Minnesota to the west coast. So every other section for forty miles on each side of the track was railroad land. The Grandins and other owners of these bonds could exchange them legally for this railroad land. This is how they became the largest landowners in the Red River Valley of North Dakota. At the peak of their farming operations, they owned 75,000 acres. But they also bought some of this land, as they were wealthy oil men. One of the brothers had drilled the second oil well in Pennsylvania.

This large acreage was split up into different farms, like No. 1,2,3,4, and so on. They came to be called bonanza wheat farms, as this was the main crop on the new land of the valley. This huge operation required many horses and mules, and employed many men, especially during harvest and threshing in the fall. More than one threshing machine was needed to thresh all the grain that these bonanza farms produced before the snow came down on the fields.

There was a good wheat crop with much straw in 1891. So the threshing machines were behind with their work, keeping on much later than in a normal crop year.

On this October day, there had been a lot of bad luck with the machine. Some of the belts had got tangled up in the pulleys and shaft resulting in one cracked pulley and a sprung shaft. To get repairs, the foreman had to go over to farm No. 2 for a pulley to replace the cracked one. So much time was lost getting the separator fixed.