Threshing Day

Childhood Memories from the Days of Steam


| January 2005



Threshing Day

Above: Young boys on the thresher proudly stand for the camera with a threshing crew, date and place unknown. The engine is a Huber. (Photo from the collection of John Davidson.)

The month was July; the year was 1938. Dad and I hitched the team, Maud and Pearl, matched Belgian mares, to the grain binder and pulled it out of the storage shed. The humped-back machine needed some repairs. The canvas conveyor belts needed slats riveted, both on the platform where the cut grain would fall and the elevator canvas that carried the cut grain over the hump, and dumped it into the bundle gathering arms where it was collected and tied. The tying mechanism was metal fingers. They tied the bundle knot and cut the twine. This was the only precision unit on the binder and the most finicky. We oiled the machine, sharpened the sickle sections and examined the guards. Then the team pulled the binder to the wheat field where we removed the tongue from the end of the binder and positioned it on the side for operation. Finally, we lowered the bull wheel, a large drive wheel that powered the binder.

Dad sat in the operator's seat and drove the team while I shocked the bundles. I'd grab two bundles, and holding the tops together, jam the straw ends into the ground so they would stand. Then I'd collect a few more bundles to prop up the original two. Taking another bundle, holding the cut ends against my waist, I'd bend the grain heads down. This bundle would be placed on the top to shed rain, if it came.

Day after day I would shock wheat until they dotted the field. Later we would bring a wagon equipped with a hay frame, pick up the bundles and haul them to the place where the threshing machine was to be located. There we made two stacks about 20 feet high and 8 feet between them. The threshing separator would be pulled into this space.

Some shocks were left in the field. These would be picked up on threshing day by neighbors with their wagons. We announced to our neighbors that the threshing machine would come on a certain day late in July. About a half dozen of them showed up with their wagons and families.

THRESHING DAY

I rose early on threshing day, while the dew was still on the grass. Dressed in my homemade denim overalls and shirt, I went outside and sat on a large tree root, wiggling my toes in the dirt, waiting for the shrill whistle of the old steam engine. It was too wide for our country roads and too high for the tree limbs, so the neighbors had to take down a section of their barbed wire fences in the pasture fields and lay them flat. Then the engine and threshing machine could move across the valley.

By this time some neighboring families began to arrive, walking or riding wagons with hay frames. The men carried pitchforks, and the women hustled baskets of food - fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, ham, fresh garden radishes, onions, peas and lettuce. There were desserts of wild blackberry pies, chocolate cakes and other sweets. Each woman had her mouthwatering specialties, and they expected compliments.