TRACTION ENGINES AND THRESHERS
Larry Flora, 350 PPL Road, Danville, PA 17821; (570) 437-2519, is the proud owner of the Farquhar sawmill shown in the last issue (Steam Traction, September/October 2005). If you recall, we lost the name of the writer, but ran his photos in hopes he'd contact us. Larry's wife, Virginia, called to set the record straight. Thanks.
Barry Bromley, R.R. 2, Box 33, Brandon, MAN Canada R7A 5Y2; (204) 728-7503; (http://flinflon.brandonu.ca/steam/MHSEC2005/default.htm) sends his thanks for helping make their recent steam engine conference in Canada a success. Look for more information on the conference in a future issue. Barry writes:
On behalf of the Manitoba Historical Steam Engine Conference 2005 Organizing Committee, I would like to extend our thanks for letting us use material from Steam Traction in the handout. Copies were given to the 82 delegates and presenters at the conference.
We particularly want to thank you for the copies of Steam Traction, which were distributed to delegates and presenters.
Thanks to the generosity of a lot of people, including the presenters, we were on budget.
Some time ago we received some photos from reader Dean Unruh, Route 3, Box 429, Enid, OK 73703, who put his skills to work designing and fabricating a mailbox we're sure steamers would love to have. Nice work, Dean!
Dwight Seman, 1500 Crooked Creek Road, Watkinsville, GA 30677; (706) 769-0424 (email@example.com), has come across an interesting footnote of history - a threshers' notebook with actual notes for threshing circles from 1918. Dwight has many questions regarding this notebook; hopefully some of our readers can help supply more information. Dwight writes:
I recently came into possession of a notebook used by threshermen to keep track of acres and yields of different farmers, and to track cost and who had paid. My father, Lloyd Seman of Greenville, Ohio, thought he purchased this book at an auction. Finding this book has created more questions concerning threshing circles than it has answered for me.
The book itself looks like a large receipt book. It measures about 4 inches wide and 11-1/2 inches long and is bound with a brown, hardboard cover with a cloth binding. It bears the title Threshers' Book on the cover. The Ohio State Board of Agriculture apparently printed the book because the first page states the book is for recording wheat, oats, barley and rye (Photo #1). This book appeared to have been printed in 1918, as it has an advertisement for the 1918 Ohio State Fair on the last page (Photo #2).
The second page (Photo #3) gives the purpose of the book. The first paragraph states that it was "prepared for your convenience in keeping a record of your work for the season, including the date, name of the farmer for whom you thresh, the amount of the different grains threshed, and the amount of the bill and the amount paid …" The second paragraph instructs that the thresher is to make duplicate copies by inserting a carbon paper sheet between white and yellow sheets, and if he needs more carbon sheets, just contact your friendly Secretary of Agriculture and he would mail more. Would anyone know what the Ohio State Board of Agriculture was? Did this predate the Ohio Department of Agriculture? The Secretary of Agriculture, N.E. Shaw, also appears to be the Ohio State Fair secretary.
At the conclusion of the threshing season, the thresher is instructed to mail all of the yellow sheets to the Secretary of Agriculture's office in the stamped envelope inside the back cover. Apparently the thresher did this, because there was no envelope. Due to aging, it is difficult to tell the difference between the white sheets and the yellow sheets. One question that arises from this page is why would the state of Ohio want to know how many acres and bushels of grain were threshed by each threshing circle? Was this an early attempt for the state to estimate crop yields and acreages? Did each state have a crop reporting service in 1918? What happened if the thresher did not report this information? Is there a repository at the Ohio Department of Agriculture that may still have this information?
The next two pages list the farmers who had grain threshed (Photos #4 and #5). The threshing season began on July 11 and ended on Aug. 12. The year is not given. Mr. Jas Bowers name is listed across the top of this page and he has the title "Sec'y of Threshing Circle, New Weston, Ohio, Rt. 1." The county is listed at the bottom as "Darke." There appears to have been total of 20 farmers in this threshing circle. Was this a typical size for a threshing circle?
The book appears to record a complete threshing season. According to my father, threshing would begin in July and most farmers wanted to be finished by the time of the county fair, which usually began about the third week of August. (The Great Darke County Fair is still one of the largest county fairs in Ohio. Businesses arrange their schedules to accommodate it.)
What kind of structure did threshing circles have? This circle had a secretary. Was it an informal relationship among several individuals, or was it more of a legal entity with officers? Was there a president or chairman of a circle? How did they agree on who would provide the equipment to do the threshing? Did one of the circle members own the threshing machine? Unfortunately, this book did not mention to whom the fees were paid.
The average yields were 16.9 bushels wheat per acre, 37.7 bushels oats per acre, 19.3 bushels barley per acre, and 12.4 bushels rye per acre. More oats were harvested, 11,431 bushels from 295 acres, than wheat, with 2,393 bushels harvested from 142 acres, or barley, with 1,606 bushels from 82 acres or rye, with 263 bushels from 21 acres. Presumably, oats were a major horse feed and farmers grew lots of it.
Compare these yields to present day observations. The 2002 Census of Agriculture reports yields of 54 bushels of wheat per acre and 49 bushels of oats per acre for Darke County. These are 3.2 and 2.9 times, respectively, greater than the yields reported in 1918. Farmers probably did not use much fertilizer back then. Plus, the fact that we have improved varieties of crops and greater planting densities now than in 1918. It demonstrates the great increase in productivity of the American farmer during the last century.
After examining the costs associated with threshing, it appears that it cost 6 cents per bushel to thresh wheat, barley and rye, and only 4 cents per bushel to thresh oats. Possibly the difference in cost is due to a bushel of oats weighing 32 pounds while wheat weighs 60 pounds. The cost of threshing for the entire season totaled $720.34 for all the farmers. I assume this would be the cost of the threshing outfit, probably the engineer and his employees, fuel, oil, repairs, etc. Presumably, labor for gathering bundles and feeding the separator was supplied by members of the threshing circle. Were all members of the circle expected to work for each farmer? I wonder if they had a big party at the end of the threshing season?
The next to the last page of the book (Photo #6) contains a table of weights and measures that lists the bushel weight of a variety of crops and even coal.
There were some records in this book dated 1941; however, they seemed to be incomplete. One page listed threshing charges at 85 cents per hour instead of by the bushel in 1941.
This book provides only a glimpse of the financial side of threshing. My 1912 J.I. Case catalog lists a 45 HP steam engine costing $1,450, a water wagon costing $110 and a 28-inch separator at $390 for a total $1,950. I am not sure what the operating costs were back then, but it probably took three or more seasons to pay off the threshing equipment if it were used only in the summer months. Most of the labor was free. Wives and other family members were indispensable in feeding threshing crews. Did each of these 20 farmers have a big spread of food on their threshing day? Hopefully, other readers can furnish more information on how these circles were organized.
Stuart L. Faber, 5512 Evergreen Ridge Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45215-5754; (513) 821-0943 (firstname.lastname@example.org), sends us a joke to share with the readers. We should all get a good laugh out of this one. Stuart writes:
I suppose some readers have heard this joke: A collector emailed a government office asking whether hydrochloric acid could be used to clean the tubes of his steam engine boiler.
He received this answer: "Uncertainties of reactive processes make use of hydrochloric acid undesirable where alkalinity is involved."
He e-mailed this thanks: "Thanks for the advice. I'll use the acid next week."
Back came the urgent message: "Regrettable decision involves uncertainties. Hydrochloric acid will produce sublimate invalidating reactions."
He e-mailed back: "Thanks again. Glad to know it's okay."
He quickly received this email: "Don't use hydrochloric acid! It will eat the h@!! out of your tubes."
Good ol' John Ross, P.O. Box 751, Hebron, IN 46341, sent us a photocopy of an advertisement from a July 1904 American Lumberman. As it turns out, we found the same photo in an advertisement in the February 1904 issue of The American Thresherman (turn to page 20). John writes:
The photo is of a Star undermounted. I sent a copy to Alan New, since I have known him and his dad for 40 years plus. Here is a chance (maybe) to find an original copy for future use in somebody's archives.
If you have a comment, question or reminiscence for Past and Present, please send it along to: Steam Traction, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265; email@example.com