Southern Illinois University
A ‘Power Progress Show’ of farm machinery was held at
the Perry County fairgrounds in Pinckneyville recently. At the same
time and place the American Thresher man Association, an
organization formed to memorialize olden methods of farming,
particularly the harvesting and threshing of grain, held its annual
meeting. With these two appeals, no further reason was sought to
justify spending a couple of hot but enjoyable days at the combined
Any inquisitive visitor soon learned that trucks, trailers, and
low-boys had been arriving with strange cargos for several days.
Evidence of that fact was distributed widely over the fairgrounds.
He was also told that these carriers had come from many states and
from long distances. Some were from as far away as Texas, Colorado,
Minnesota, and Nebraska.
In addition to these arrivals from more distant places, there
was a large area of the exhibit grounds covered with the most
modern farm power tools, much like those seen on implement
dealers’ lots. Somehow, these were not so interesting to this
old timer as those tools that were ‘modern’ a few
After a preliminary look at random exhibits of the earlier
planting and harvesting devices, the visitor came upon the very
solid exhibit of threshing equipment. The most attention compelling
part of this was the score or so of steam traction engines. These
engines had come from widely separated places. One 70 years old,
had come on a lowboy directly from Lincoln, Neb. where it had taken
part in the centennial observance of steam traction engines moved
by their own power on the roadways and over the fields of the
Many of the men exhibiting engines at Pinckneyville were as
interesting as their charges. Except for a few young men who
apparently are determined to keep the romance of threshing days
alive, none were youngsters. Their dress and mannerisms were those
of the men following threshers 50 years ago. Come to think of it,
one difference was noted, none was a tobacco chewer. One and all
appeared to be doing well at reliving the pleasantly remembered
days. All in all it was an old men and boys day. A listener often
could overhear such remarks as: ‘Do you remember?’ ‘As
I recall.’ Many of these lookers once were the band cutters,
sack holders, or straw stackers, before the blower (cyclone)
Some had driven bundle wagons. Others had pitched bundles of
helped man the pump on the wooden box tank of the wagon that
brought water to a constantly thirsty engine. This water generally
hard, would cause scale in the boilers.
Some had been Water boys and trudged barefoot to carry jugs of
water to workmen in the field. A lucky one of these boys sometimes
went a field on a gentle nag with his jug hung to the saddle horn
with a hamstring.
While the old men looked and reveled in memories, the present
day boys were doing as boys have always done about threshing
outfits. They were clambering over the habitable parts of engines
and separators, that is so far as the men in charge permitted.
Old time threshing methods were demonstrated and described by a
narrator. An elderly man using a hickory flail, jointed with a
rawhide thong and having a polish that only long use could give,
deftly and rhythmically flailed a bundle of wheat, just as men were
doing 5000 years ago. Good flailers were skilled men. Since no
place had been prepared, the ancient threshing floor was described
by a narrator using a portable loudspeaker, quite a contrast.
Then came the first thresher as we know it, a rapidly whirling
cylinder set with iron teeth and turned madly by men at its cranks.
The one used to demonstrate is like the one used by George
Washington on his Virginia plantation about 200 years ago. Wheat
stalks by handfuls were held against the whirring teeth until the
grain was beaten out and the straw laid carefully aside. Grain and
chaff were separated by being poured from elevated baskets at some
breezy place. Large hand fans sometimes were used. This thresher
was the ‘Groundhog.’
Other exhibits traced the evolution of the ‘Groundhog’
through the bulky separator which now has practically disappeared,
in favor of the self-propelled combine.
Threshing was a great time in any community. It had its social
values. Men swapped work, women and children visited. Threshing
dinners are tradition and women vied in their preparation . The
names of threshing operators became household words. In the
Broughton area the names of Charley Johnson, the Essareys, Thomas
Allen, Ali Shriver, and Riley Bishop will bring memories to many
older persons, just as other names will to those in other
vicinities. Many will recall the names of engines and separators,
like Advance, Case, Jumbo, Avery, Keck-Gonnerman, Aultmen-Taylor,
Russell, and others coming less readily to mind.
No one was heard expressing a wish to have the old days return.
To a man, however, all wanted to remember those hot, dusty days of
hard work and the great threshing dinners that went with them.
Anyone interested in the way of farm life fifty years or more ago
should note the next meeting of the American Thresher man
Association and plan to attend.