Tom Tronson outfit threshing on the Ole Borgen farm east of Amherst, Wisconsin, August 1914. Engine is a 16 hp. Reeves. Separator 36x54 Huber. Ole Moen, separator man, on top of separator. The Engineer in black shirt is myself and Adolph Borgen, water mon
207 So. Edison Avenue, Tampa 6, Florida
IN MANY SECTIONS THERE seems to be the impression that most of the threshing in the east and mid west was done in the barnyard, a typical example being the caption under the picture on page 7, Nov. - Dec. IRON-MEN ALBUM which states in part: 'Threshing operations are not confined to the barnyard alone.'
Well, just to set the record straight and in thresherman's language, 'taint so, at least in Indiana where as an engine-struck kid I watched every threshing I could possibly get to, worked in it until 1918 and I have yet to see my first 'barn threshing.' But perhaps in places where they had only a shirt tailful it was the practice to store it in the barn loft where and do the threshing in the barn lot, probably running straw in the haymow. Evidently the idea was largely a carry over from the old flail days when it was necessary to store it in the barn and use the winter days in the long process of beating out the grain by hand, the crop being necessarily small for a number of reasons. In the old days a custom was hard to change, only time would do the trick. In the 'farm belt' there was plenty of clover, timothy, and redtop hay and straw was not considered very valuable, in fact often looked upon as a necessary evil in the way of other things, and used as feed only for the animals pick at the stack during the winter months.
Before the turn of the century in the eastern half of the country where grain was grown to any extent stacking in the field was general practice, usually in ricks with foundations 10x20 feet made from fence rails placed about a foot apart, borrowed from the nearest fence that could be left open until the threshing was done, at which time the fence would be replaced. The ricks were placed side by side in pairs spaced to admit the separator between them and then end to end if there were more than two ricks which necessitated resetting the machine for the second pair. Sometimes there were double rows which required an extra bundle pitcher to pass them to the stack next to the separator when it was about half threshed down, the man on it passing them on to the machine. In pulling between the big ricks 'easy did it' with all draft dampers closed. I never knew of but one stack being set on fire and it did not burn, though no doubt some may have.
The ricks were brought up to a gradual apex, topped out from a long ladder with 'cap bundles' saved back along toward the last. An old neighbor once said that my father could put up a stack that could not rot off to the bands and still be sound and dry at the heads. I never saw one that had taken water, no matter how much rain, and that goes for the other old stackers as well.
The average crew back in the 'ok1 stackin' days' consisted of the engineer, water monkey, separator man, two feeders and before the advent of the wind stacker usually a straw stacker. The farmers furnished fuel' for the engine and also the pitchers, baggers and band cutters, on a swap work basis. I very well remember cutting bands when I wore knee breeches, as all boys did then, like Dr. Shafer's picture on the Huber May-June, '52) and a feeder named Parrish who fed so fast he almost threw me through the machine along with the grain. We used special knives with wide offset blade with serrated edge. Many machines then in use did not have self-feeders, weighers and baggers or wind stackers. The rack stackers on the separators were not sufficient for a large crop so most outfits had a separate long, oscillating stacker on its own wheels, belted to the back of the separator when in use. At that time it was the universal opinion that the grain had to 'cure' and to accomplish this it had to go through a 'sweat' in the stack. Most of the threshing was done in August and September.
Wheat and rye harvest started by or before the first of June, oats a little later and eventually somebody conceived the idea of threshing from the shock, saving the hard work and time of stacking thus moving the starting date of the threshing season back to around the first of July. Some said it couldn't be done but it proved entirely satisfactory and this style of threshing remained until the next step was ushered in when the combines took over.
Threshing from the shock requires about six to eight bundle wagons to keep going steady, feeding from both sides and the farmers 'swapped work' saving the cash outlay for help. Most threshermen furnished all the other hands, including the field bundle pitchers and several operated a 'cook wagon' as well which largely did away with the time-honored 'thrashin' dinner' relieving the women folks of a lot of hard work including the dirty bed linen. It always fell the lot of the farmer at whose place they happened to be at meal time or for the night to board and bed the crew.
But in spite of the hard work most of the women enjoyed it for it provided a chance to prove their ability as cooks and while they always swapped around with two or three neighbors to help out, there was an element of competition to see who could get the most favorable comment on their meals, all to the advantage of the crew. And last but perhaps not least, it was an excellent opportunity to catch up with the latest neighborhood news and gossip. The work went on at a fast clip and so did the conversation which never stopped.
The cook wagons, gaily painted with the thresherman's name in boxcar letters on the sides, had opossum bellies underneath, caboose fashion, for storing supplies and bedding. The full length tables along each side folded down against the walls providing a dormitory for the owner and the cooks, which almost always were his wife and/or daughters. The crews slept in the barns, under the separator and around the straw stack.
Much of the food came from the farmers' gardens and smokehouses at a low price and in many cases outright gifts, especially the vegetables, of which most of them had an abundant surplus and which very few ever marketed anyway. The wagon was always parked near the house if possible where water and fuel for the cook stove were plentiful. The farmer's wives rather enjoyed the excitement and sort of looked upon it more like a visit or picnic than a business proposition.
The price per bushel for threshing with this kind of a rig ranged around seven to eight or nine cents for wheat and about five for oats. We threshed some timothy and later in the season hulled clover and shredded fodder, sometimes not finishing up the corn until after the first of the year, depending on the season and the weather. Most threshermen had a huller and husker-shredder and when the season was finally wound up many of the good old steam traction engines took their place in the sawmill announcing to the community by the whine of the big circular saw, the beat of the sturdy exhaust and the call of the whistle, noon and evening whistle, that, although it wasn't quite as romantic as threshing, they were still 'doing their stuff and serving their masters in a most efficient and satisfactory manner. May the echoes live forever!