The Girl Boss of a threshing crew

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Belted up and ready to thresh at the 1962 Old Time Thresher Show.
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Here is a picture of an old Hurdy Gurdy Street Piano used on the streets of Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War. I have made appearances at celebrations through the midwest last summer and am hoping to appear at Old Threshers Meetings through Marylan
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Alphorns Hegy,67 of Calgary, retired from the CPR two years ago, but he's still a train engineer. He periodically loads a miniature train owned by a friend and chugs around the neighborhood. The three feet high wood and coal-burning steam engine is slow b

(L. K. Wood Collections)

‘Somehow I can’t help but feel that in some way the Lord
will provide for us, John,’ murmured Mrs. Martin softly,
smoothing the pillows beneath the invalid’s head and allowing
her hand to rest in loving pressure against his wan cheek ere she
lifts the tea tray and turns to leave the room. ‘I wish I had
your faith, Mary’, her husband returns, comforted despite his
stubborn self. ‘Now if Dorothy were only a boy’ he begins
musingly, then breaks off suddenly and turns his face to the window
from where he can see the two smaller children gathering in the
corn and melons. His brow knit together in a frown of distress and
a deep sigh flutters over his lips. Mrs. Martin waits a minute,
then as he makes no effort to conclude his half-spoken thought, she
quietly leaves the room.

As a second long-drawn sigh breaks from her father’s breast,
Dorothy creeps nearer to him. ‘If I were a boy, what then?’
she asks gently. Mr. Martin starts restlessly, then turns his eyes
gloomily upon her. ‘Well, you’re seventeen, aren’t you?
Now if we had a boy that age he could be a great help to us while
I’m laid up with this broken leg.’ Dorothy’s lips
quiver a little at the stress unconsciously placed upon the word
‘help’, but she tosses her brown braids defiantly.
‘Humph! Guess I’m as much help as Dan Smith’s eighteen
year old son who finds it extremely helpful to run away from home
about every other summer,’ she retorts roguishly. Mr.
Martin’s face relaxes into a broad smile. ‘Well, you’ve
been quite a help this fall, Dot, and that’s a fact I won’t
even try to deny. But, see here my girl! You’ve had Sim’s
strength at your command, remember. You’ve furnished the brains
and he the muscle and between you the fall’s work is fairly
well done. But,’ he glances anxiously toward the closed door,
and the worried lines re-appear in his thin face, ‘I’ve
tried to keep it from your mother, but that mortgage is due the
first of January and I had depended on this fall’s threshing to
pay it. I know old Raymond well enough not to expect any extended
grace so the old home will go and I am powerless to prevent it and
all on account of that confounded bridge’ he ends dismally.
Dorothy’s mouth droops a moment in keen distress; then lifting
her head with a glimmer of her mother’s confidence shining from
her clear brown eyes, she replies gratefully, ‘I am so glad you
escaped even as well as you did, papa dear. Very often in such
accidents when a threshing rig crashed through a bridge one or more
lives are lost, while great injury is done to the machine.’

‘Very true, my girl! The engine is battered up some but the
necessary repairs will  not cost such a lot as might have
been, of course, and this leg crushed and broken as it is, is
better than no leg at all, for it will mend in time no doubt. But
we needed the thresh money so bad this year.  I’ve got
about enough standing out to pay the note due on the engine. I
suppose I could make a turn someway – trade in the rig toward
paying off the mortgage but they would not allow more than half
what it is worth and besides it is about all we can depend upon for
money to live on anyway. I’m not able to farm it as I once was
and have depended on the threshing rig so long that it’s hard
for me to turn my mind to anything else. It was a sorry day for me
when I mortgaged the farm to buy a team; then one horse got killed
in the lumber woods and that put me back. After a time things
looked better, crops were good, our old house was tumbling down so
I put another $500 on the old place and built this house. I was
getting along fine and if I could have got in four or five more
weeks like the two before that infernal bridge caved in on me, I
would have come out this fall scoot free. Jim told me that bridge
was unsafe, but it saved such a long pull around that I decided to
chance it; luck was against me as you know, and I’m flat on my
back in bed to pay for it.

‘But you’re alive and will soon be well again, his
daughter chimes in bravely, pressing her warm cheek against his
hand. ‘Yes, I will be well again, but the season will be over
and what else I can turn to I don’t know, and the first of
January isn’t far off.’ ‘This is the third of
October,’ Dorothy replies absently. She sits for a moment with
her chin resting in the palms of her hands and her thoughts in a
brown study. ‘Don’t you suppose the men could go on with
the work without you?’ she ventures at last. ‘They are
accustomed to –.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ interrupted Mr. Martin
irritably, ‘they are used to the work and all that, but would
hardly make expenses without someone everlastingly after them to
hustle them up. They are good men, but must have a boss, I tell
you. Just as sure as I leave the machine even for a day everything
all goes at sixes and sevens. No Sir! Some claim to make money
without over-seeing their business themselves, but I never could
and I doubt if much of a stake in that way.’ ‘Well
then,’ Dorothy continues with flushing cheeks,’ you were
wishing I was a boy just now perhaps I can help you in some way if
I am a girl; I could try at least, I could -.’
‘Nonsense!’ breaks in her father sharply. ‘Now how
could you see after a threshing rig and crew and manage affairs
I’d like to know! If you were a boy, though, I’d be tempted
to try you anyway _ the need is so great, even if you didn’t
make so much.’ Dorothy’s eyes dance with the light of a
fixed purpose, as smoothing the coverlet, she replies soothingly:
‘There now, Mamma will be scolding me for allowing you to talk
so much, so you must go to sleep while I play for you.’ And
seating herself before the organ she evokes such comforting
melodies that the weary man, his mind a little relieved of its
burden, soon sinks into a deep refreshing slumber.

The next day, after a long and spirited debate with her mother,
Dorothy emerges from the house, prepared for a long drive. Sim, the
feeble-minded chore-man, stands at the gate, holding by the bit a
long legged horse of the Hamiltonian type. As the girl climbs into
the light road-wagon, he tosses her the reins while his wide mouth
expands in a cavernous grin. Dorothy looks back, waves her whip
aloft in answer to her mother’s anxious signal, then shaking
the lines loose over the roans back, she is off. ‘We must make
haste, Jerry Boy,’ she calls cheerfully to the horse, ‘Its
but a first venture, much depends on speed and diplomacy, for you
know we have a reputation for ourselves to make, but we don’t
come of good stock for nothing, do we Jerry Boy?’ and her laugh
rings out with all the joyous hopefulness of youth. Her first stop
is at the home of her father’s old engineer, Jim Walters. There
are many long drawn whistles to complete astonishment, a few
dubious questions, then Jim slaps his knee with sudden energy.
‘We’ll do it, by Jingo. The engine is in the shop now and
we will be already to pull it out next Monday. I was down to see
her today. But who are you going to get for water-boy? Your Dad
used to tend to the tank, you know, after he got so the dust hurt
him to feed anymore.’ ‘Sim will do alright, don’t you
think. You know he is used to handling papa’s team and will be
delighted to go with the crew.’ ‘Just the thing! Well, you
go and hunt up Joe and Tom and rustle them out and I’ll run
down to Brown’s again and tell ’em we want that engine done
sure right away.’ So Dorothy speeds on. Joe Peters is found
roosting on a dry-goods box in the village store and was well nigh
thunder struck at the news the little gal bring me.
‘Howsinever, if she’s got the grit, here’s a paw as
will help her every time–but I’ll be the totally charved up!
Just think one will you?’ and he breaks into an uproarious
‘Haw, Haw’ in which the whole store joins
sympathetically.

Tom Jones is not found ‘Guess he’s off somewhere
sleeping off the effects of a big spree’ one of his friends
informs her; so with a quailing heart, Dorothy leaves her message
with his mother and then drives homeward over the route her
father’s threshing outfit had been taking at the time of the
accident. The farmers were apprized of the fact that Martin’s
rig will complete its run per agreement. Then the girl hastens home
to begin her personal preparation for her unique tour. ‘We
won’t tell papa until we are obliged to’ she warns her
mother. ‘After I am really off his objections will not signify
and I mean to prove to him that I can be just as helpful as any boy
that ever lived perhaps he won’t be wishing I were a boy
anymore after that,’ she adds with a little break in her
voice.

There were numerous Hurdy Gurdy Street Pianos working the larger
cities up until the turn of the century. Only two others working
today, Boston, Mass. and New Orleans, Louisiana. Others have gone
their way like the grind organ man and his monkey. At one time 39
worked the streets of New York City but they were outlawed by Mayor
LaGuardia in 1939 because of sidewalk traffic jams. Today there are
only 5 monkey stick organs in the United States.

Monday dawns at last and Dorothy and Sim start out threshing
bent. There is some necessary delay in getting the outfit and crew
in running order once more and Dorothy is obliged to drive into
town for oil, etc.; but by ten o’clock the rig steams into
Farmer Crown’s yard and soon the hands are busy ‘setting
up.’ ‘Empty what water there remains in the tank into those
barrels over by the engine Sim, and go to the Silver for more,’
commands the youthful boss.

‘Ya-as and do you think I sorter pump the tub plum full,
Miss Dort?’ ‘Certainly, you dough-head,’ roars Jim, the
sooty engineer. ‘Haven’t you got eyes to see there are no
steep grades to pull up betwixt here and the Silver? We’ll need
all the water you can get, go off now with you and don’t be
stopping to watch every bird and chipmunk you see or I’ll tan
your thick hide for you when you get back and don’t you forget
it. That’s the way to boss them, Miss Dorothy, and every
mother’s son of them as don’t mind what you say have to
answer to me for it afterwards.’ Dorothy smiles her thanks and
moves toward the separator. ‘I don’t understand tending
separator, you know,’ she laughs as she pauses a moment beside
Joe. ‘But papa has often spoken of what a capable hand you are
about a machine so I leave it to your care and management and rest
assured that everything will be all right,’ she adds sweetly.
‘Yes sire, you can depend on me, Miss Dot,’ exclaims Joe
staunchly, squaring his broad shoulders with a new feeling of
responsibility. ‘I’ll see that the machine does good work,
you bet!’ ‘Thank you. We have a reputation to keep as well
as one to make,’ she smiles as she passes on.

Soon the hum and whir begin and Dorothy looks on, a feeling of
exultation in her heart. There are long accounts to be kept, jobs
to be sought after, some hindrances to overcome, many annoyances to
conquer, but she presses pluckily on. The neighbors, realizing the
girl’s brave fright, extend helping hands on every side. Her
father’s promised jobs are kept for her, despite the sneers of
other threshermen and Dorothy’s continued promises to be a
great success. ‘What are you up to, Dot?’ her father
questions one Saturday afternoon as she enters the room. ‘Say,
what do you think you’re doing, anyway?’ he repeats,
evidently trying to be severe. ‘Only trying to help a little
almost as much as if I were indeed the desired boy, ‘ she nods
roguishly. ‘But see here madcap! I had ought to box your ears
someday and I would, too, only Jones tells me you are a howling
success as a thresher.’ ‘So you’ll kiss me
instead,’ she coos, bending over his couch.

But the unusual care tells on the strength of the young girl and
the skies are not always bright. One day Sim overturns the water
tank in a ditch, and frightened out of his few remaining wits, is
half way toward home before Dorothy can overtake and persuade him
to come back. There are other mishaps, but the whole crew as a
whole work with a will and gusto that could not be excelled even
under the management of a skillful ‘Boss.’ Each one deeply
respecting the trust and confidence bestowed upon them by this
slender strip of a girl. Six weeks from the time of Dorothy’s
starting the entire rig pulls homeward. Mr. Martin watches its
advance from the window of his room and a tear of thankfulness
rolls down his cheek. ‘I told you the Lord would provide, John,
and He did,’ sobs his wife. ‘Let us thank Him now for our
most precious gift our Dorothy.’ ‘Amen,’ responds the
old thresherman, frequently. ‘She’s just as good as a
boy,’ he adds mischievously as his daughter enters the room. In
the weeks that follow, Dorothy’s frequently seen upon the
highway driving hither and thither collecting her outstanding
thresh bills.

The day before Christmas she enters their pleasant living room
where her father now sits in his arm chair, a pair of crutches
lying on the floor near him, and tosses a folded paper into his
lap. ‘ The mortgage release!’ he cries joyfully. ‘Now,
Mary, we’ll have a Christmas in spirit and in truth. You rig up
a tree and we’ll get this tomboy of ours to masquerade as Santa
Claus she’s quite equal to any role you can think of and
we’ll have a regular old-fashioned Christmas celebration. Now
young ones, scamper after a tree while your mother gets the things
ready. My, how good that turkey smells!’

That evening as the Christmas bells ring out from the old Church
steeple, Thresherman Martin turns to his wife. ‘Seems as though
the old bell has a different tune this year, Mary; it seems to say
over and over again, the old home’s ours, the old home’s
ours, until my old heart fills with joy and I could sing with the
Heavenly Host, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace and
good will to men.’

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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