THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF STEAM BUNDLE THRESHING

417 N. 100 E., Tremonton, Utah 84336.

That was the most wonderful way in the world to harvest. To bind
and thresh and haul the sacks with grain teams to the sack
warehouses beside the steam railroads.

It looked so good to see that threshing outfit, in the setting
out, in that big field of grain shocks. I always thought a shocked
field of grain was one of the most magnificent and thrilling sights
there was with those rows upon rows of shocks marching in beauty
and dignity over rolling hills, golden in the sunlight.

To see that grand steam engine laying back in the long one
hundred and seventy-five foot drive belt turning the many wheels
and pulleys and belts of the magnificent grain separator with its
extended feeder and high-flung blower building a great golden,
fragrant straw stack while the steam engine was melodiously
huffing, chuffing the most beautifully thrilling music amid the
pleasant hum of the separator (alternatingly we would hear the
sounds of these two great grand machines as we approached them on
our saddle horses as we rode over the golden stubble fields ‘to
watch the thresher run’), and cascading a column of
sweet-scented straw smoke high in the summer sky, while teams and
pitchers and bundle wagons moved along the rows of shocks in the
field, bringing the grain-laden bundles into the ever-hungry
thresher and its singing engine, while the water buck strung out
across the field with six or eight head of horses snaking out in
front of his water wagon with leather lines to bridles of his
horses glittering in the sun. The cookhouse wagon setting up on the
sidehill some place, smoke pouring from its cookstove and
smoke-pipe, while busy cooks inside were getting meals ready for
thirty or forty hungry harvesters.

The roustabout and hack and team would be off for groceries,
fresh meat at the village store and the separate butcher shop. Axle
grease, thresher oil, cup grease and crank-pin grease and steam
cylinder oil, new pitch forks (three-tined bundle forks), harness
rivets, harness leather, rubber packing for the hand-holes of the
engine’s boiler, or spiral packing for its tireless piston rod,
or a new water gauge glass perhaps. Whatever it was, he, the
roustabout, that indispensible man, and his team and buggy got
it.

The busy sack sewers in the ‘dog house’ alongside the
threshing machine, flashing their sharp needles and with fragrant
linen twine dropping double half-hitches over the ears of fragrant
new grain sacks faster than the eye could follow, then sewing up
tight, even, neatly spaced stitches across the top of the jigged
sacks of grain, pouring from the separator at a tremendous rate,
smoothly and evenly done and flipped up to the knee and carried
(135 pounds) to the five-high sack pile faster than it takes to
tell it, by wonderful bib-over-alled men in blue shirts and red or
blue bandanas around their necks and wearing gunny sacks laced
around their overall legs to keep them from wearing out by all the
rubbing of the heavy grain sacks on their knees; around two
thousand sacks in a twelve hour day being put out by some of the
big, efficiently run outfits of the Palouse.

There were usually a few men and visiting children lounging on
the luxurious comfort of the sack pile resting a few minutes,
joking, laughing and talking so cheerfully and well as only happy
harvesters could so well do. While, there might be a few lady
visitors, mothers, or awed town curious people come to see the
great threshers run.

Up on the vibrant high steel deck of the great thresher,
watching and caring expertly for it was the separator tender,
watching the feeding of the machine as the bundle drivers and
spike-pitchers flipped a steady stream of grain bundles, be they
heavyfall wheat, or lighter spring wheat, or barley, or oats, or
rarely a little rye or flax, from wagons on either side of the
evenly and slowly moving chain-slatted feeder to the devouring
whirling or oscillating knives cutting fragrant binder twine and
spreading out the grain in an even layer before it disappeared
inside to be separated, grain from chaff and straw, between
stationary concaves and whirling cylinder teeth, then flowing out
onto internal oscillating, vibrating, shaking straw racks, sifting
the flow of kernels down onto the series of oscillating sieves
where the fan housing blew away the chaff and the clean grain
flowed into the spiraling augers to be carried up the high Dakota
elevators and down-spouted to the bagger and the sack sewers, while
the beautiful undulating hum of the blower poured a splendid
arching golden stream of straw onto the stack!

Occasionally the separator tender would adjust the blower at the
control wheels, moving it to right or left, or telescoping, or
raising or lowering it to make a well-formed, rain resistant straw
stack of good symmetrical form for any rancher or thresherman to
take pride in! He’d also be watching boxing for possible
‘hot boxes’ on that laboring, mighty machine. The oiler
would be down below, walking around, carefully attending to oil
holes on pulley shafting and grease cups on heavy, rapidly
revolving journals. Should a belt be slipping a little, the
separator tender could be seen ‘putting on a little belt
dressing’, or maybe he would be pouring a cooling stream of
water on a ‘hot box’, or brushing chaff and dust from some
separator sill. At noon shut-down, or quartering time when men
stopped a few minutes to eat a sandwich brought out by the cooks,
or at closing down after the day’s run, the separator tender
could be seen loosening belts for the night or lacing them expertly
as needed, and looking after the machine.

A little white plume of steam from the engine’s safety valve
near the whirling governor balls and very little smoke from the
stack, showed the fireman was an expert on firing with straw and
keeping up steam, holding his water level in the boiler. He met
continuously the demands of that racing, pulsing steam cylinder
piston, cross-head, cranking connecting arm and flashing crank disc
and smoothly rolling flywheel for Power-Power-Power to meet demands
of that ever-hungry, humming, laboring thresher at the other end of
that long, swaying, sawing, graceful drive belt!

Yes, those were the grand and glorious harvest days of yore we
knew so well, thrilled to their pagentry and loved with all our
hearts and souls; and sorrowed forever after at their passing,
attacked and driven out by the usurping, smelly, clattering, ugly,
unromantic, ubiquitous, ‘pip-squeak’ gas engine. Which, had
it never been invented, we would not have lost that
best-of-all-ways of lifethe age of horses and steam power. They
were made for each other the harmony of draft horses and steam
engines and happy, lusty crews of men working together to bring all
that joy we used to know.

Oh, give us the days of steam, of horses, of binding and
threshing, grain hauling once again; and plowing with big plow
teams of seven to twenty head of horses, depending on the location.
Horses pulling harrows, discs, grain drills, mowers, rakes, corn
planters, corn cultivators, wagons, buggies, road graders, road
drags, garden cultivators and lawn-mowers.

Yes, our farm life, the way Dad and Mom and Uncles and Aunts,
Grandparents and neighbors ran their farms in those days was most
wonderful and good; and I’m so grateful and glad we grew up in
that true rural way of life and in that most beautiful of all
natural landsno thing like nature and farming on those canyon
ridges and high rolling plains amid pleasant small canyons and deep
awesome canyons and sheltering, surrounding evergreen mountains of
unspoiled nature, coursed by great rivers and smaller creeks and
streams and springs everywhere. The best of climates and the rich
loamy Palouse silt loam soil that can’t be equalled. The most
desirable country on all the earth, extending roughly from
Pendleton, Oregon eastward to the Lolo Pass, northward from
Spokane, Washington and south to about Cascade, Idaho. The mighty
Inland Empireto me!

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