Threshing in the Corn Belt


| September/October 1960



The only major break-down that we ever had with the Avery outfits we operated was a broken sill on a front straw rack. That breakdown laid the crew up for two days while we were getting a new straw rack from the Avery branch in Des Moines and installing it. We had to pull the straw racks out from back to front of the separator and it was slow work because my brother, the slenderest one on the crew, had to lay on his back on the grain pan to remove the bolts from the rocker arms and do the same thing to install the new one.

One fall I ran an Avery 20 hp return flue engine on a silo filling run. We were pulling a 14 inch cutter in heavy Iowa corn but the engine handled it nicely and was a very fine engine. One morning I was moving the engine to the next job and the road, a township road, with little upkeep, led for a short distance along a creek that had undermined part of the road at one point during a heavy rain. I did not know this there was no fence or barrier to warn me so the road caved in and before I knew what was happening the 20 hp Avery was lying bottom side up in the bed of the creek. I jumped clear as it rolled over so was not injured in any way. I pulled the fire immediately so the boiler was not damaged. The whistle was broken off so steam was escaping and it sounded louder than any pop-off valve ever did. The top over the engine was smashed and the smoke stack was also crushed, so both had to be replaced. We got the engine back on four wheels by means of stump pullers and found that no damage had resulted to the crankshaft or gears.

In all of my years as a thresher I was never unfortunate enough to fall through a bridge but there were several in that part of the country that would not hold a threshing rig so I know what it is to make moves of two to five miles to avoid taking any risk of falling through one of those bridges. I have done some stack threshing and some barn threshing. Nearly all sets were in feed lots because the farmers used the straw for feed and wanted the straw stack near their barns. Only once did I experience a fire and that one was not from the engine. The farmer for whom we were threshing had burned some brush in the lot where we were to set two or three days before we pulled into the job. Unknown to any of us a small chunk of wood had not completely burned out and when the first two loads were about half run off the blower had swung through its part-circle enough times to rekindle a spark in that chunk of wood. Several of the crew saw the smoke and the blaze about the same time. I gave the whistle cord a quick pull and shut her down, ran around in front and threw the drive belt, and was back on the platform of the engine to reverse it and throw in the clutch before the engine stopped. I took the customary swing right, reversed the engine and was backing in to couple onto the separator by the time the bundle wagons had driven out from the feeder and before the feeder was folded ready to couple on. The blower showed a little scorched paint around the hood but no other damage was done. We set again and were soon turning but that was one time when the farmer didn't have his straw stack in the exact spot that he had planned.

Changes in land ownership and the introduction of combines by the new land owners gradually made it more difficult for the company of farmers to furnish enough help to continue the operation of so large an outfit. As a result the company dissolved in 1937. The outfit was shedded on my farm where it stood for over a year until a party bought the separator. Later the engine and tank wagon were sold. I have kicked myself many times forever letting that Minneapolis 20 hp engine get away for it was in excellent running condition and it sold for a song. My spirits were as low as a snake's belly the day I steamed that engine up and delivered it to the buyer about twenty-five miles away. I've seen that Minneapolis engine two years at the Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Reunion when it was on exhibit. It looked like a queen to me and I enjoyed climbing on the platform to 'play around' with it.

So ended the era of threshing with big rigs and a friendly cooperative crew of neighbors in the Corn Belt, but I long for the smell of steam and oil every year at threshing time.

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