Pig's Threshing Days

Memories of an Old-time Thresher man


| January/February 2004



Thresher man

A highly romanticized vision of the thresher man as depicted in a 1909 advertisement for Swift's Fertilizers.

Pig Gady was running for his life down an alley in Burlington, Kan. He clutched a broad-brimmed straw hat in one hand. It looked as if he were swatting hornets with it, he was sprinting so fast. He kept looking over his shoulder, until he was sure he had lost the Industrial Workers of the World men who were chasing him. Pig slowed to a walk, his sides aching, his heart pounding.

It was 1913, and Pig had just turned 20. Pig was not born Pig. His real name was Ernest Alvin Gady, but early on he acquired the nickname Pig, and it was too good not to stick. Pig was in Kansas to find work on a threshing crew, and there was plenty of work to do. Wheat fields with honey-colored shocks covered hundreds of miles across the Great Plains.

The problem was that Pig had run into a nest of angry I.W.W., and these Wobblies, as they were called, had demanded that Pig join their socialist order. Pig wanted nothing to do with the organization because he had heard they forced neophytes like him to hide shrapnel inside bundles so as to tear up threshing machines and bring work to a halt. 'Now why would anybody want to bust up a separator?' Pig wondered, shaking his head in consternation. Pig sympathized with the I.W.W. goal of higher wages for workers, but he considered their efforts to sabotage thresher men as one of the worst forms of criminal behavior.

'What am I gonna do?' Pig mumbled, sauntering along. Lost in thought, he barely noticed the fence beside him. The tall, rough-cut boards were plastered over with posters and handbills. Suddenly, a particularly colorful advertisement for the Barnum & Bailey Circus caught his eye. With his pocketknife, Pig cut a small red rectangle from the poster. He slipped the card into the pocket of his shirt and strode confidently along. Heading north on Third Street, he encountered two men he thought might be Wobblies. When he was close enough, he flashed the corner of the red rectangle and winked. One of the men produced an I.W.W. red membership card from his shirt pocket and smiled. The Wobblies paid Pig no further notice. He sauntered past them, whistling a merry tune.

Pig hopped a boxcar, and was soon on his way to another town farther west. The rhythmic crooning of the train lulled Pig into daydreaming about the farm where he had recently helped with the threshing. One of the men pitching bundles into the separator had suddenly flung his fork toward the cylinder. With a sharp eye, the engineer had seen what was happening, had blown the whistle, and had brought the belt to a halt in no time. Luckily, nothing was damaged.

Pig later commented, 'That separator man was mad as a hornet. He cussed that pitcher up one side and down the other for holding up the works. The pitcher claimed that a bee had stung him, and that's what made him lose his grip on the handle of the pitchfork. The pitcher said it was the engineer's fault for setting the thresher so near the beehives. By this time, the engineer had come over to join in the argument. He blamed the farmer for keeping the hives too near the barn. Just about then, everybody thought that maybe it was the farmer's fault, but he spoke up and blamed the separator man for selling him the hives. The farmer yelled, 'Why, he's the one who put 'em here beside the barn!' The pitcher turned to the separator man and shouted, 'So it's your doggone fault!' That was a case of 'what goes around comes around'!'