Thrashin’ Day

1 / 10
A strip of grain was left to be cut with the binder on Threshing Day. Everyone pitched in to set the bundles into shocks.
2 / 10
Mrs. Clara Freeland brings materials to demonstrate the old-time art of quilting. Churning, knitting, cider making and sheep shearing were also demonstrated.
3 / 10
Merritt Mathews half-scale steam engine really worked to power the smaller separator. Old-timers were in their glory, recalling the old days. There was no lack of help for the threshing.
4 / 10
Mark McCarty's engine, in perfect working order, brings back memories for visitors in 1967.
5 / 10
The patient horses quickly adjusted to the accustomed noises of the machinery and the crowd.
6 / 10
The man who builds the stack has a painstaking, itchy, dirty but very necessary job!
7 / 10
Wood, to use in the old range for cooking the threshers dinner, was buzzed up on Clayton Uhl's antique rig.
8 / 10
An antique fork did an excellent job of forking straw.
9 / 10
A second separator an antique model, with a conveyor table instead of the blower was brought and used.
10 / 10
Something new has been added! Clinton Manwell has been working his ox team for months, preparing them for duty on Threshing Day.

417 Brown Road, Mayville, Michigan 48744

Ruth Uhl demonstrates carding and spinning wool on her antique
spinning wheel.

Since our eldest son subscribed to The Iron Men Magazine for my
husband, and the first issue arrived about three weeks ago, I have
had no peace! Clinton insists that I must write to you about the
annual ‘happening’ here on our old-fashioned 40-acre farm.
So being a dutiful wife (at least part of the time) I’ll try to
get everything in that my husband will expect me to tell.

First, I must explain that everything that has happened was
accidental. We don’t live from the farm. Clinton is an
attendant nurse at a nearby State Hospital to provide a living for
our large family. But he was born and raised on the farm, and his
first love is farming – in the old fashioned way. He just could not
see going into debt to have a few acres of grain combined by a
neighbor. And when a friend, who was moving into town, offered him
the old grain separator that he used to thresh with years ago, he
accepted it gratefully. Then very shortly, our
daughter-in-law’s father had a grain binder in almost perfect
condition which he offered for sale. Of course, Clinton bought it!
Going through our small village on the way home with it, our
funeral director, Lloyd Black-more (also an ex-farm boy) followed
him home.

‘What’, demanded Lloyd, ‘are you going to do with
that?’

‘Thresh my oats’, Clinton answered logically.

‘Mind if you have some help?’. Lloyd asked next.

‘More the merrier’, agreed Clinton.

And that – five years ago this August was how it started.

Before we realized what was going on, Lloyd had contacted
Mayville’s Fire Marshall, Merritt Mathews, who had built a half
scale model steam engine and water wagon. Merritt belonged to the
Eastern Michigan Steam Association, and was most interested in
using his little engine in a real Threshing Bee. Old time farmers
were visited or phoned by Lloyd and invited to bring horses (if
they owned teams) or forks to pitch bundles with, and come to the
Thrashin’ The day was set for August 5th – only two weeks from
when Lloyd first came out to the farm. And more than 500 neighbors
and friends showed up to help us thresh! We found ourselves in all
the newspapers. And throughout the next year people asked if we
were going to have the ‘Thrashin” again. Because of TV
and news publicity, we couldn’t have got out of it if we’d
wanted to -which we didn’t. And in the three following years,
it has grown until we are astounded at what has developed. Parents
bring their children because they want them to see what they
remembered ‘on grandpa’s farm’. Old farmers pitch into
a job with gusto, when it used to be hard, tiring work. That first
year, one old farmer came up to me with tears in his eyes and said
huskily, ‘You know, I never thought I’d see this
again’.

Each year more ‘interests’ are added, due to Lloyd
Blackmore’s enthusiasm for finding participants. The second
year, Mark McCarty and Robert Deo from Ubly brought in their big
steam engines to do duty on three separators -one, an antique with
a conveyor table instead of the blower. One of the engines had an
upright boiler, and looked something like a teapot. Our young twin
sons were absolutely enthralled with it! Steve (one of the twins)
had any boy’s dream of a lifetime come true when he was allowed
to ride at the head of the parade on the huge Advance Rumely
engine. Oh, yes! Threshing Day always begins now with a parade of
all the old time machinery and displays. They come out of town and
down the hill to the farm – about two miles. And you’d be
surprised at the crowd which gathers just to see the rig pull into
the yard, ‘like it used to do when I was a kid’, they
say.

While the teams and wagons head for the field to get their loads
(with enough ‘helpers’ to have a load with one bundle
each!), the engines are jockied into place and the belts fastened.
You can actually hear the huge sigh when the engines start puffing
and snorting with the effort of separating. The straw belches out
of the blowers and the stack begins to grow. This is what the
thousands of visitors come to see and the sound of their
satisfaction is just wonderful.

Along with the steam engines at work on the threshing, we have
friends who bring such items as a cider mill, an old wood buzzing
rig, a spinning wheel (these were brought and demonstrated by Ruth
and Clayton Uhl), an old grain cradle – which was used, along with
our binder to show spectators how grain used to be cut – and this
last year, a portable saw mill to which the large engine was
attached to saw logs into boards. Beneath the huge canopies in the
yard, antiques of all types are displayed. I have a number of
family keepsakes (including a set of R & S Prussian china -a
chocolate set) which we show in our front window. One man, Joseph
Ernst from Pontiac, brings a display of his hand carved miniature
engines. Harry Monroe from Lapeer, brings cases of tiny scale model
tools and implements of years past. Lloyd Finch brings a pick-up
truck of antiques of all kinds, from horse collars to cylinder-type
phonographs.

At noon, the rigs shut down while the men all wash up in the tub
set on a crate under the tree, and then come to the long tables
where dinner is waiting. The women always help me prepare the real
‘threshers’ dinner’, and we serve it on red and white
checked tablecloths while cameras click by the dozens. While the
men eat, long lines of hungry visitors are served barbecued chicken
dinners, or lunches of hot dogs or other snacks. The barbecued
chicken is prepared by the Firemen and their Women’s Auxiliary
at a very modest charge. Other Mayville organizations provide tea
and homemade cookies, etc. to help solve the problem of lunch for
families. There’s plenty of picnic space for those who bring
basket lunches.

During the lunch hour, an area minister speaks briefly, bringing
a spiritual overtone to the day’s efforts.

Very soon the engines are fired up and the loads of grain
continue their journeys from fields to separator to bins. It makes
a full day – and a busy one. People continue to come well into the
evening and even into the next day. Last year, it was decided to
have the threshing later in August so that there would be no doubt
that the grain was ready. So on August 16th again this year we will
be planning for thousands of guests again.

I was not raised on a farm. I was a minister’s daughter, but
many of my vacations were spent on the farms of my uncles or my
grandparents, and somehow – after preparing meals for eight
children of my own, and their friends – it wasn’t too much more
work to fix dinner once a year for three or four dozen hard-working
threshers! Women come dressed in long, old-fashioned dresses and
sun-bonnets (as the girls and I always do, too), and ask to be put
to work helping with dinner. We have three old wood ranges. One is
permanently installed in our dining room, and is used regularly in
cold weather for preparing meals. The other two are used on
threshing day – set up out in the yard to cook scalloped potatoes,
ham, baked beans, coffee, etc. The first year, a woman with a
camera watched me lift the lid of the range and put in several
pieces of wood, replace the lid, and set the old coffee pot back to
continue to boil. She walked around behind the stove (sitting out
in our yard for service during the day) with an odd expression on
her face, and suddenly she exclaimed, ‘Why … it does really
work!’ We tried to serve all comers, bean soup and coffee – but
when we suddenly found ourselves with thousands of visitors, that
had to end. Now we just serve the Threshers’ Dinner. We do not
charge to see the threshing. With eight children, we know only too
well what it is to have to miss good times because we can’t
afford them. So our threshing is free, so that large families can
come and enjoy themselves. We ask a small parking fee (in the hay
fields) to cover the cost of transporting the steam engines, and
the few other bills. But this day is for fun – and we enjoy meeting
the families who come from every corner of the country, yes, and
Canada, too, to help us with our threshing.

It takes some time to get back to normal after that day. Cars
stop all day Sunday, and people visit with us while looking at the
new, golden straw stack, or prowling around the huge engines. We
invariably find guests in the yard when we come from church. But we
love talking with them, because we have found that there are
thousands and thousands of people just like us, who like the
old-fashioned way of living – even if it’s only for a day.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment