Threshing in the Corn Belt

| September/October 1960

Earl ham, Iowa

I am a regular reader of the Iron-Men Album and look forward to the arrival of each copy. I enjoy the pictures of old threshing rigs and engines manufactured before the turn of the century as well as reading the letters that you publish in each issue.

I thought you might be interested in an historical sketch of threshing in the 'Corn Belt' that shows quite conclusively that Iowa, and the other corn producing states of the middle west, was at one time the scene for many threshing crews where large acreages of wheat, oats and barley were grown and some of of the largest crews operated the largest separators manufactured by any of the companies in business during the first half of the twentieth century. Steam predominated through the nineteen twenties and then the gas tractor began to appear. These rigs compared in size with those pictured so often in the plains states of Nebraska, Kansas, Montana and the Dakotas.

Gradually custom threshing was replaced by rigs owned and operated by a 'company of farmers'. Later smaller separators were purchased by individual farmers who pulled them with their small tractors that were becoming useful for plowing and to pull binders and other equipment on the farms. Still later the combine became a part of the equipment needed on almost every farm. Today one can drive for miles through this same corn belt and seldom see the cloud of dust and chaff coming from the blower of even a small separator -- so universal has become the combine of today.

My interest in engines dates back to about 1907 when a neighbor who owned a 12 hp Gaar Scott engine and a 32 x 54 Gaar Scott separator would pull his rig out of the shed and begin to make repairs and preparations for the run in our neighborhood and a second run that consisted largely of stack threshing.

My brother, who is two years younger, and I would spend every minute of the day that our parents would permit watching him work and were more than thrilled when he would start the engine to try an adjustment on either the engine or the separator. The great thrill was when he asked me if I would shut her down when he signaled from the separator. I was about twelve years old then. Prom that day to this I have never lost interest in steam outfits and, frankly, I would like to be firing one today instead of using the combines that are in our country.