The Art of Loading and Feeding Bundles

| March/April 1996

3982 Bollard Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45209

At threshing reunions, my dad is not always inclined to compliment the men feeding the threshing machine. Occasionally, he expresses to me his criticisms of the job they are doing. His remarks convey no animosity and are not the complaints of a crotchety old-timer. Instead, his valid assessments are based on his experience and are intended to help me to understand how threshing was done. My father, Joseph C. Rhode, pitched bundles, hauled bundles, and fed bundles during the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties. His bundles seldom went sideways or backwards into the cylinder of the threshing machine although, as he would say, 'anybody can make a mistake now and again.

'There was considerable competition and pride,' Dad once explained, 'in who could make the nicest-looking load, or who could pack the biggest load that is, thresh off the most bushels from his wagon or who could pitch bundles the fastest and still be accurate.' Threshing was hard, serious work. Efficiency and precision mattered.

Today, a faded photograph of a threshing scene evokes nostalgia for the simple grandeur of the past when farmers collaborated in a landscape of pristine beauty. Such cooperation did not preclude amicable rivalry. The crew competed partly from a love of sport but mostly to do the best possible job of harvesting the crop. On the threshing rings of my home town, each farmer wanted to save the highest percentage of the other farmer's grain so that he would do the same for him.

The fact that the fanners drove their teams across beautiful stubble fields was merely another bonus to a glorious but demanding task. There truly were 'amber waves 'Michigan Amber, a smooth wheat lacking the itchy beards found on older varieties like Turkey Red. 'Michigan Amber is about my earliest memory of a particular type of wheat,' Dad said. 'It was much darker than many of the varieties you see today and beautiful to look at as it stood in the field.' Michigan Amber also constituted a true soft wheat, unlike Perkhoff, a semi-soft hybrid having some hard wheat in its immediate ancestry. 'They grew hard wheat out in the Great Plains, but we grew soft wheat here in northwest Indiana,' Dad explained. Perkhoff gradually replaced Michigan Amber, and bleached-tan stubble supplanted the bronze straw of my father's first recollections of threshing.

By the time my father was old enough to heft a pitchfork, bundle wagons had improved, having racks on front and back for stability. When he was a boy, farmers still were using wagons with only two upright stakes at one end and two stakes at the other endand with plenty of room for bundles to fall off the corners. 'When I was just starting out, old-timers would tell me, 'You young guys don't know how to load bundles until you've loaded a wagon with only stakes!'


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