Reflections of a Young Thresherman

A Young Steamer Reflects on Lessons Learned and the Value of Tradition and History


| July/August 2003



McCormick binder and thresher

A very young Jeff Detwiler (left), his grandfather, Frank Gorrell, and Jeff's brother, Chad, on the machine that introduced Jeff to threshing and steam.

Some of you may find this hard to believe, but not so long ago this 35-year-old man was deeply involved with the now legendary annual harvest, much as our heralded Iron Men were party to the glorious threshing days of old.

At the tender age of 6, I was my grandfather's right hand man, helping him keep !track of what I thought at the time was a huge machine. That machine was a 12-foot McCormick 'combination' binder and thresher. I didn't know how they came up with the term 'combine' until four or five years ago when I finally started paying attention to one of Chady Attebury's threshing lectures.

My grandfather, a very wise man, worked his land until the day he passed away, and I remember the days of harvest as though they were yesterday. I spent every minute on the platform of that old McCormick with my grandfather, chewing on dust, watching the golden wheat as it was laid down, augered to the feeder and taken to the threshing cylinder. What came out in the grain bin amazed me! Not much payoff for all the stuff that was blowing out of the back of the combine, but I knew that this was what put food on my grandfather's table, and I respected him greatly for his commitment to the land. The harvest times were some of my fondest memories, and every summer spent at my grandfather's is now a time capsule that I open frequently, hoping to glean one more bit of wisdom from my time spent with him.

And oh, how we did eat. As all the old threshermen know so well, the food and the fellowship were as much a part of the entire threshing experience as spiking bundles, firing an engine or fetching water. The sight of grandma and my aunts pulling up in the wheat field meant that I would be sitting and listening I to my grandfather's stories, dining on some of the best tasting food ever created by any woman anywhere. I remember drinking milk from quart mason jars and fried chicken that would melt in your mouth, along with mashed potatoes, fresh green beans and hot buttered rolls. Even the fresh well water in wet, gunny sack-wrapped cider jugs was like pure gold.

It was amazing how simple foods could taste so incredible out under God's blue sky. I would soak it all in, laying in the fresh wheat in the back of the old grain truck. It was as close to heaven as you could get. Not a care in the world, just good, honest hard work and a nice cool shower at the end of the day out in the homemade wash pit attached to grandfather's old machine shop. This fancy shower consisted of a 55-gallon barrel mounted up in the rafters, with the top cut off so the sun could heat the water and a faucet and an old showerhead attached to the bottom to provide the refreshment. My, how we could get clean in a hurry on a cloudy day! That clean smell is something I will never forget.