Threshing scene on the George Mass farm in 1953. One thousand bushels of oats in the pile beside his Case 28x50 separator. George is a nephew of J. F. Percival of Watertown, South Dakota, who sent us the picture.
Box 822, Watertown, South Dakota
Back in the old steam threshing days, a fall run of 35 to 50 days was quite common, but in 1912 I put in 71 days on three different threshing rigs and could have gone on for another 15 days if the snow had not made us quit with 2000 acres of wheat left in the shocks.
After putting in 4 years in Alberta, Canada, at plowing and threshing with steam engines, I returned to my home state of South Dakota and hired out to Mr. Sam Helwick, better known as 'Long Sam'. He was an old time thresherman who lived in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and this Sam was sure a character. He was 6' 4' tall and as straight as a ramrod. He had 5 long-legged hounds that he used to hunt coyotes and rabbits with. He had a spring wagon he used to haul the dogs on when they got tired as well as haul the groceries home for the cook car.
Sam's outfit was complete in every way and his cook car was the nicest I ever saw, and I have been in many of them. He had a 30hp. Advance engine and a Yellow Fellow separator with 44 inch cylinder and 72 inch rear, regular Avery feeder with 14 foot extension, Avery Dakota style weigher and wind stacker. He used a 9 inch, 6 ply Sawyer Gandy belt 160 feet long. The crew consisted of Sam, the boss; coal hauler and flunky tank man, separator man, engineer, one spike pitcher and 12 bundle wagons with 2 men on each and last but not least two women cooks. We had our coffee and cake in mid-forenoon and mid-afternoon to keep the crews steamed up. You can imagine what a crew like that could do to a field of grain in a short time. Mr. Charles Kruger and I drawed a bonus for averaging more than 4,000 bushels of grain for each of the 31 days we were on the outfit for Mr. 'Long Sam'. After completing this run I moved to North Dakota where they were just getting started with the threshing and up at Carrington I went on a 20hp. N & S engine for about 15 days, but getting an offer to take on a Minneapolis 25hp., I moved on up to Huedsfield, South Dakota. After running this outfit for about 15 days I turned it over to the owners son and for the next ten days I spike pitched. The snow came down on October 28th and altogether I had put in 71 days of threshing. That year was a big wheat crop year in the Dakotas and 1915 was another when wheat yielded 30 and 35 bushels to the acre. The farmer and the steam thresher-man made money and everybody was happy. During 1912 I saw what was left of 2 return flue Avery's that had blown up when someone got careless about keeping enough water in the boiler. The one at Brent ford, South Dakota killed the engineer and the other at Cheveme, killed the fireman. In November 1912 I went firing for the Great Northern Railroad at Breckenridge, Minnesota, but in January Transferred to Montana. After a year of railroading I went back to North Dakota and in 1914 I was back with the old threshing gang. With the exception of 1918 when I was in the U. S. Army, I put in each fall pulling a throttle until 1928 when the Ness Brothers discarded the steam outfit which I had run for them for several years.
'Long Sam' and many others have gone to their reward and final rest but as long as I live I will never forget any of them. They were all good guys with good machines for a man to work with and work for. They were the 'salt of the earth'. I hope the readers of the ALBUM will like these articles about the old steam days and would be pleased to have some comments or a letter from some of our readers.