R.D. 1, West Chicago, Illinois
Mr. Henry Harbecke sends us this article taken from the Sept-Oct 1910 issue of the Kansas Magazine. We assume he is the author of the article. It surely is a good one, as you will agree when you read it. We hope the pictures (copied from the magazine) turn out good enough to reproduce.
In Mr. Harbecke's letter accompanying the article he says '. . I ran steam traction engines in the Kansas wheat fields seven seasons with Frick, Gaar-Scott, Avery Under-mounted and Advance Tandem compounds with plows.
'I and other hoboes helped Marcus Leonard unload an Advance rig after dark at Hays, Kansas, in 1908. He got me out of the Hobo Class later after he asked me two questions. One was 'Do you use the clutch when you back the engine into the belt?' The other was 'Do you poke your fire?' From then on it was Advance tandem compounds for me. The last, a rear mounted.'
By the word 'thresherman,' I do not mean the naughty boy's father, nor the schoolmaster who daily pounds the dust out of the pupils' clothing, but the men of whom the city poet speaks as being among the fortunate that see the dew sparkle in the beams of the rising sun and see the golden grain sway gracefully back and forth like the waves on the ocean; that hear the animating song of the birds and the busy hum of the bees; that breathe air that is pure and sweet with the fragrance of the flowers; in short, that are surrounded on all sides by the magnificence of Nature. The men that are by many people considered the hardest workers, the loudest swearers and among the toughest, both physically and morally. The men whose coming the farmer hails with delight and whose departure he always endeavors to bring about as soon as possible. The men that feed the Avery bull-dog, the Gaar-Scott tiger, the Aultman-Taylor starved rooster, the Wood Bros. humming-bird, or whatever the make of separator may be.
In their ranks are found men from all walks of life; from the so-called hobo clown to the senior college student; from the city laborer, who wants to strike it rich, to the country boy who wants to earn enough to buy a horse and buggy. A certain class of hoboes usually get tired of counting the railroad ties during the threshing season and in order to get a little change in their mode of living, as well as in their pockets, enlist in a threshing crew. The hobo is, as a rule, a very uncertain hand. He may be the best pitcher in a threshing crew in Kansas one day and the next day ask for a hand-out in Illinois. The college students, or bookworms, as they are called, that are found in threshing crews are usually those that look too able-bodied to arouse sympathy on the part of their victims to make a success of peddling views, cook-books, guide-books and other bric-a-brac. As pitchers in a crew they soon see that it is easier to sit on a separator or rock on an engine than to lug rations to the hungry separator and they soon make it a point to get all the information necessary to enable them to take care of an engine or separator themselves. The city laborer is usually lured out by newspaper articles that describe harvesting and threshing as being a kind of picnic where they work a little while and then sit down behind piles of fresh boiled and fried country eggs, and buckets of nice sweet milk and stacks of fruit and slabs of pork chops and beefsteaks and ham, and barrels of sweet cider and wine, and there drink and drink, and eat and eat, and then work a little while again. Arriving on the scene, however, he soon finds that he has to work two eight-hour days every twenty-four hours. The country boy, on the other hand, knows the game from start to finish. His chief aim is to earn enough money to buy a real fast bronco, and a buggy from a mail-order house and take his best girl out for a spin on a fine moonlight evening.
The thresherman, as a rule, is satisfied with fewer luxuries than any other laboring man; he leads, indeed, a very simple life. The wide and airy outside is his bedroom; a little slope of ground is his bedstead; a few bundles of wheat serve as his mattress; a quilt performs the three-fold office of bed sheet, pillow and c over. To them he retires without fear of burglars or thieves, save the wind which might spring up and carry off his hat, but after placing a rock in his hat, he feels secure from Mr. Wind. A dog might consider his shoes a tempting morsel to chew on, but should he take one he would soon drop it and walk off with a sneeze and a whimper.
There are two factors that often mar a thresherman's rest at night. The one keeps him from going to dreamland and the other one disturbs him when he is there. The one factor is the mosquito. If the aforementioned sloping ground is in a bottom close to a creek and the night is warm and sultry, the mosquitoes are out in large numbers trying to entertain the thresherman and the moment they notice that he does not applaud their furious humming by slapping and kicking around they at once land on him by the thousands and spur him on to renewed efforts. About the only thing that will persuade them to hold their concert elsewhere is a smoke-fire.