Courtesy of E. R. Dugan, 436 N, Library, Waterloo, III. 62298 (see story) Threshing in North Dakota in the early twenties with the I.W.W.'s.
Sr. 436 N. Library, Waterloo, Illinois
Northwest of Jamestown, North Dakota, I got a job running a 25 H.P. Reeves straw burning engine and a 44' Avery Yellow Fellow. Oh, how this separator would swallow up the bundles! The boss told me and the separator man to get the outfit out of the shed and get it ready, as we had a big crop to thresh that year. I had a little Russian fellow for a fireman; he was a good one! He always kept the steam gauge on the peg and a gallon of white whiskey in the straw rack. The separator man had one in the tool box of the separator. You could get oiled up at either end. Well, we had our outfit ready to go. This was on Friday morning and the boss said to me, 'Drive the Ford truck. I will take the car and we will go to Carrington to get a crew of men.' We needed fourteen men to drive the bundle wagons. There was an employment agency there where all the I.W.W.'s, harvest hands and hoboes registered for work. We went to this employment agency, told the agent we needed fourteen men, and he gave us a list of names. He told us we would find them jingled up out in the park, so we went out and had roll call. One by one, as we called their names and looked them over, the boss asked them if they were I.W.W.'s. They all swore they didn't belong to them. When we had fourteen men picked, they all needed something before leaving town some tobacco, some gloves, and so forth. When we got home with them, I could see they didn't like the big separator, for they knew it could eat too much straw. Since this was Friday afternoon, they ate with us until Monday morning. We started threshing at 7 o'clock and everything was going good. The boss and I both thought they were pretty good workers. At 10 o'clock they all drove their wagons to the machine, got off their wagons, and got in a huddle, (like you see in the picture.) Then they took out their little red song books and started to sing. The boss asked, 'What's the matter, boys?' Then they all showed their red cards as members of the I.W.W.'s and said they wanted fifty cents an hour raise or they would quit. The boss said, 'You will have to quit, for I am paying the top wages now in this area.' The boss took his Model-T, drove home, got his checkbook and ten gauge shot gun, and came back. He said to me, 'Here, take care of my gun while I pay the ones who have money coming.' When the pay roll was over, down the road they started on foot. It was eleven miles to the closest point to the railroad where they could get on a freight train. Well, we were laid up the rest of the day. The boss and separator man went back to Carrington to hire another crew. The little Russian and I stayed with the threshing outfit to guard it just in case one of the discharged workers might try to slip back and burn the thresher. This often happened in that country. We also took care of the teams and the whiskey. When the boss and separator man returned with another crew, they only had two I.W.W's in the bunch, which wasn't bad. These two finally quit, as they were out- numbered. They griped about every thing sleeping in the straw piles, too many beards, cold wash water (they seldom washed), or the fork handle didn't fit their hands. Anyway, we finished the run by the middle of September. I left then for Moose Jaw, Canada, and got a job running a straw burner up there. That was a great wheat country as far as your eyes could carry. That year I almost got snowed in up there. I left for my home in Illinois to run Dad's Gaar Scott on the saw mill until the next spring.
Little did I think in those days I carried a steam engineers license that later I would hold a pilots license and fly my own plane. There are some of my buddies at Mt. Pleasant that like to kid me because I am a Flying Farmer Member. Here's to all my old steam buddies! If you want to rid yourself of all your aches and pains and feel a little younger, come to Mt. Pleasant to the Old Threshers Reunion where hospitality can't be matched. Listen to stories, I am sure you have never heard before by such fellows from Meadville, Pennsylvania, Kansas City, McLouth, Kansas, and you name it.
If the Good Lord willet and Skunk River doesn't rise, I will see you at Mt. Pleasant next September.