Farm Collector

Threshing in the Corn Belt

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

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

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.

  • Published on Sep 1, 1960
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