Thresherman Cider Jess

HC 69, Box 2 Fort Seybert, West Virginia 26806

This true story is dedicated to all of the old time thresher men
of Pendleton County, West Virginia. These thresher men were people
who did custom threshing from farm to farm. Nearly every farm
raised some small grains, wheat, oats, barley or rye which needed
to be threshed after the growing season was over. These men would
move the threshing machine from farm to farm thereby doing the
threshing service for the farmer and at the same time making a few
dollars for their services.

In earlier times these threshing machines, commonly called
‘thresh boxes,’ were pulled with a steam engine. Fire
danger was always to be contended with from these wood fired
engines, and especially so during the early ’30s when some
extremely dry summers occurred. At this time the gasoline powered
tractor had come on the scene and most of these thresher men went
to this type of power because of convenience and fire safety.

Many stories of the experiences of these men have been told and
retold. Experiences of broken down bridges, river crossings,
treacherous narrow mountain roads, ‘bad’ boiler water, low
boiler water, ‘dry crown sheet,’ soft roads, and many
others. Most of these stories have faded into the past along with
these men, some of whom were very colorful characters. The true
story that follows concerns a person of this description.

This story was related to me some years ago by a long time
friend, the late Mr. Glen Bodkin Sr. whose farm was in the Totten
Chappell area of the Upper Back Thorn of Pendleton County. As Mr.
Bodkin related the story to me, we walked over the area where it
took place.

The thresher man and the star of our story was ‘Cider’
Jess Moyers who lived in the upper Thorn area. The name
‘Cider’ Jess was used to identify him from at least one,
maybe more, of the county’s persons with the same name. There
were several reasons why the term ‘Cider’ was tacked on his
name. One reason was that he owned and operated a cider mill and
custom made cider for other people and also for himself. But I
think probably the main reason for the term ‘Cider Jess’
was because of his thirst and love for the fermented product of his
cider mill.

Cider Jess had discarded his steam engine, for reasons before
mentioned, in favor of a McCormick Deering 10-20 tractor. This
tractor was an industrial type tractor with a drawbar rating of 10
horsepower and 20 HP on the belt, thus the name 10-20. The old
10-20 was a good dependable tractor, but was too light for pulling
a thresh rig, as Jess was to later find out.

The old 10-20 tractor always started very easily with a hand
crank which was permanently attached to the front. The secret to
the easy starting was the type of ignition system it had. It had a
high tension magneto which was attached to the driving mechanism
with an ‘impulse coupler.’ This was a spring loaded device
which caused the magneto to deliver a hot starting spark at a very
slow cranking speed. The early couplers had to manually reset each
time the crank was used, but the later couplers automatically reset
themselves, which was evidently the case with this tractor, or the
event which follows probably would not have taken place. This
detailed, and perhaps uninteresting description of the ignition
system of the old 10-20 will help set the stage for the events
which follow.

This day Cider Jess came proudly chugging into the Bodkin farm
pulling the thresh box with his recently acquired 10-20 McCormick
Deering tractor. The field where the grain was to be threshed was
on top of the hill, a distance of several hundred yards up. The
road leading up to the field was very steep and going straight up
the shallow hollow between two hills with the smooth pasture
sloping into the road from both sides.

Mr. Glen said he had serious reservations about the power of the
tractor for that steep pull. Glen said he suggested that maybe he
should hook onto the front of the tractor (with his team of horses
or tractor I don’t remember which), and help with the pull.
Cider Jess let him know right away that he didn’t intend to be
insulted or have his tractor put down like that.

With that Jess put the 10-20 in low gear and pulled the throttle
wide open and went roaring up the hill. All went well at first, but
the farther up the hill he went the slower it pulled down. Finally
after going some distance, but not to the top, ‘Mama
McCormick’ completely ran out of power and stalled. The thresh
box began pulling the tractor backward down the road. The braking
mechanism on the 10-20 was not too great, with only one small
external drum and a narrow brake hand. It was primarily used as a
setting brake when using the tractor for belt power, and not too
effective for that, and now going backwards, it was of not much
use, as Jess soon found out.

When the backward speed of the rig began to pick up, Jess
decided it was time to ‘bail out,’ so he jumped off the
tractor over against the bank. The rig continued on a straight
course back down the road. By the time it had neared the foot of
the hill the speed had increased and the thresher began to lead out
of the road and up against the bank pulling the tractor after it.
At this point the hitch pin dropped out of the tongue to the
thresher broke, completely disconnecting the tractor from the
thresh box. At this point the tractor had been pulled up the side
bank of the road, and was heading slightly downhill. Being headed
downhill, the tractor rolled forward slightly, and you must
remember that it was still in low gear and the throttle wide

The forward rolling motion caused the engine to turn over a bit.
This in turn tripped the impulse one time. That was all it took.
‘Mama McCormick’ roared to life and took off back up the
road from where it had just come, holding a straight course all the

While all this was taking place, Jess had gathered himself up
and was standing in the road. As the roaring tractor, minus driver,
came nearer, he moved to one side, and as it went by he jumped on
and brought things under control.

Needless to say, he did not again refuse the offer of some
pulling help.

Because of this unusual and humorous performance, I hereby
nominate ‘Cider’ Jess Moyer’s for membership in the
Pendleton County Hall of Fame.

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