Farm Collector

The Groundhog Thresher

2404 B 12th Ave., Sterling, IL 61081

The earliest form of threshing machine, first after the flail
and threshing floor, known as the groundhog thresher, was invented
in 1788 by a Scottish millright named Andrew Meickel. It is a
simple machine consisting of only a spiked cylinder and fixed
concave, cranked by hand, one man on each side. A third man fed the
machine while a fourth was required to rake away the straw. The
groundhog simply beat the grain from the heads, dropping the grain,
chaff and straw to the ground. The grain still had to be basket
winnowed to remove the chaff. Even though quite primitive, it
eliminated the tiresome and somewhat dangerous job of flailing.
However, many felt that cranking the machine was actually more work
than flailing. Later it was belted to a treadmill worked by a dog,
goat or sheep, then a larger one worked by a horse, then a sweep
power.

Fifty years after its invention, a U.S. patent was issued in
1837 on a ‘combination thresher’ mating the fanning mill to
the ground hog, and the true threshing machine was born. With this
combination, threshers got bigger and so did sweeps until they
employed 12 or 14 horses, with countless other additions we know
today. For anyone wanting more information on the development of
threshing machines, I suggest ‘The Grain Harvesters’ by
Graeme Quick and Wesley Buchele. This book gives a comprehensive
story of threshing from the flail and scythe to today’s
machines.

This particular groundhog is circa 1830. And what about its
strange name? It comes from the dark maw into which the stalks were
fed resembling a groundhog’s hole.

I purchased this machine August 4, 1984 at the dispersal sale of
Milo Mathews in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. It was billed as one of only
two in existence. While I do not question this claim , I would like
to know if it is accurate. I would like to hear from anyone who
knows the whereabouts of any other hand-cranked groundhog
threshers, or has other information such as known manufacturers. I
plan to return this machine to the museum in Mt. Pleasant as a
permanent exhibit for all to enjoy.

  • Published on Mar 1, 1985
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