ARCHIVES: Threshing Season in Gnadenhutten

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John Steel, 2705 Steel Rd. NW, Dover, Ohio 44622, writes, ‘I
ran across this old photo in our local newspaper, the New
Philadelphia Times-Reporter, dated Sunday, December 7, 1997, and
thought of the Album right away. This photo and story was taken
some ten-twelve miles from my home here in the County of
Tuscarawas, Ohio. I have tried to make an educated guess as to what
make of engine and separator but can’t come up with anything.
In my opinion it possibly resembles a Cooper. I invite your input.
Anyway, the picture captures the work that went into making us the
best fed nation in the world. Keep the fire hot, lots of steam
makes the work easier!’

The year 1901 in Tuscarawas County history could be called
somewhat of a chaotic 12 months by the casual historical

That was the year of the record April snowfall which started
April 18 and dropped more than three feet of snow in four days on
the county. Building roofs collapsed, sheds were flattened, trains
were stalled, farm houses were isolated for days, electrical and
mail service stopped and street lights went out. The snow did melt
rather rapidly, and of course, local flooding occurred.

In July a single lightning flash killed a grandmother, her
daughter, and two children, causing historian Henry Haglock to say
it was the worst lightning bolt in county history.

A steel strike in September resulted in one man killed, another
wounded in Dover riots. There was a widespread smallpox epidemic in
the county resulting in deaths, but this also led to the first
mandated vaccinations in the area.

President William McKinley died after being shot in Buffalo, and
it was said hundreds from the county witnessed his funeral
procession in Canton.

But all was not bad news for Tuscarawas County residents. A
business merger was announced between Tuscarawas Railroad Co. and
the Tuscarawas Electric Co. and plans were made to begin
construction of a trolley line to Cleveland. Plans were also
announced to bring Rural Free Delivery of mail to the county, and
this became a reality in 1902.

But little heralded at the time was the growing evidence of the
industrial revolution which was being made available to county
residents for more trial revolution was not only evident in the
urban iron and steel industry, and the coal mining boom, but in
agriculture on the farm.

The accompanying photograph (1901) shows what was at the time
one of the greatest advances in agriculture being made available to
local farmers.

It shows Pete Zimmerman of Gnadenhutten and his crew (five
sons?) on an early threshing machine getting ready for the season.
Farming is a hard, difficult task today, filled with physical
labor, but it is extremely difficult to conceive of how hard and
slow the work was before the threshing machine, which has now been
succeeded by the even more efficient combine.

Before the threshing machine came along farmers had to separate
grain from stalks by hand and blow the chaff away. This was done by
tramping the fields and working the grain, literally one stalk at a

A Scottish farmer has been credited with inventing a stationary
water-powered thresher as early as 1788, but it was hardly a
labor-saving device. Two Maryland brothers patented a thresher in
1837 which could be taken to the fields, and two horses walking on
a treadmill produced power, but this was cumbersome and slow.

By the late 1850s, steam engines came along to power most
threshing machines before the advent of tractors. A close
inspection of the accompanying 1901 ‘Zimmerman model’ shows
how far methods advanced to the turn of the century and also how
far advancements have come since then. Today combines will actually
cut the grain from the field and then thresh it hence the combine
or ‘combination’ of work.

But like modern combines, the 1901 model was very expensive for
its day. Very few individual producers could afford one. It was
left to men like Zimmerman to solve the problem by either group
purchase or contracting the work.

Zimmerman (1858-1943) was the eldest son of Nicholas Zimmerman
who emigrated here in 1850 to work on the Ohio-Erie Canal. Peter
also operated a hardware store as well as farmed for 20 years. He
not only contracted out his threshing business but also saw mill
and planning mill services.

Peter was a long-time member of the Moravian Church and was a
member of the building committee for the John Heckewelder Memorial
Moravian Church in Gnadenhutten. Married to Emma Litchy, the couple
had five sons, Peter, Joseph, Karl, Allen and Sidney, and one
daughter, Elma.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Times
Reporter, a daily newspaper in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.
‘Archives’ is a monthly historical feature written by
agriculture editor/columnist Ed DeGraw. The photograph and
essential information was furnished by the Archives room of
Tuscarawas Kent State University campus with Earl Olmstead as
curator. Olmstead is president of the Tuscarawas County Historical
Society, and that organization annually publishes a pictorial
calendar from which this picture was taken. The original photograph
is now property of Kent State University.

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