Farm Collector

Operation Barnstorm

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 10×20 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!

  • Published on Jul 1, 1959
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