Country Ballad IV The Summer Threshing Run


| September/October 1983


Auburn University, Alabama

It was in summer after I was ten
That I was big enough to work with men
As they went through the July threshing run,
And for a boy like me, it seemed all fun.
Each year the season was begun in June.
To get the old steam engine all 'in tune'
Elijah Hall repaired each boiler plate
And checked the hinges on the firebox gate.
Then with a rag and squirt can full of oil
Prepared the thresher for the summer's toil.
He tightened all the bolts, set the scale,
Then checked each belt down to the last detail.

At last, one day I saw the big machine
Majestically come down the road between
The border fences. Ponderous it moved
So like a monster in a friendly mood.
It panted chug-a-chug-a-chug to breathe
In air, while clouds of smoke and steam would seethe
And billow from black front smoke stack,
As Lige sat tall and steered it from the back.
The engine rolled into the feeding lot
And pulled the thresher over toward the spot
Where Dad had said the straw stack would be built,
And Lige was soon all set to go full tilt.

He pulled the whistle cord to give a toot,
Then yelled and pointed toward the feeder chute,
And men on bundle-wagons tossed the grain
Onto the belt turned by a sprocket chain
The straw and chaff came out the blowers mouth
To be stacked up by winds out of the south.
With men out in the field my work began.
I took the water jug from man to man.
And watched them as in turn they tipped it high,
Heard water gurgle down throats so hot and dry.
'Hey Bud, you know that tasted good and wet.
Now get back soon for water helps us sweat.'



As wagons moved from shock to shock of grain
Each driver stopped his team and tied his rein
Around the frame up front. He built a load
Of bundles square and high that he then rode
Back to the thresher where he is stopped his team
Beside the chute in the unloading scheme.
I smelled the heat that rose in dusty clouds
Around the feeder chute and watched as crowds
Of beetles scurried to escape their fate
Back where the thresher worked to separate
The straw and chaff from golden grains of wheat
That men could taste and say, 'This crop is sweet.'

The day wore on, and as I moved around,
I listened to the men express profound
Ideas, thoughts of life they based upon
The School of hard knocks from all hell and gone
Heard Elmo Teller say, 'The preacher said
Last Sunday, just as soon as I am dead
Then I will leave this vale of tears and strife,
Go where I will enjoy eternal life.'
But Steven Grayson stopped and scratched his head
Then told about a poem that he had read
Some years before when he had been in school
That life is freedom, not a rigid rule.














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