Seeds of time

| January 2004

Editor's note: This is the last story in a three-part series chronicling the 67-year career of a California thresherman.

Despite immeasurable odds and a responsibility to support Mother, Father, and little brother, Carl, I turned 20 years old and finally owned a threshing outfit by 1933. I successfully threshed farms around my own Gerber, Calif., homestead, but I made plans to extend the run northward. I was a legitimate thresherman in the eyes of the old-timers as well as my community, but my abilities were still scrutinized as I moved northward on my threshing run. My outfit workers and I usually toiled from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with an hour off for lunch. I threshed by the sack, charging 11 cents for oats, 13 cents for barley and 16 cents for wheat.

After the northern run, I returned home to thresh my own grain. All told, the run lasted 20 days. I don't remember how much money I earned that first year, but I do remember I was happy. I had some trouble collecting some money at one farm, but that's an old story among many threshermen.

Gone are the days

My run with the stationary thresher was much larger in 1934. I spent 34 days for hire - even after losing five days from sickness when I inhaled too much dust while threshing smutty wheat. That fall I also established a small run threshing headed milo. Milo was dirty and itchy, but I earned more money per hour charging 10 cents a sack. Not as much grain was harvested that year because many farmers were converting open fields into orchards, but I still had a 26-day run, which I thought was relatively good.

In 1936, my luck again turned bad. Small combines flooded the market, and my threshing run dwindled to 10 days. I bought a 12-foot John Deere 5A pull-type combine to stay competitive, but in doing so I encountered another problem. Threshing help was becoming harder to find and hire, which further added to the stationary thresher's demise. In the years that followed, my stationary threshing jobs fell to just two or three days each year. In 1946, I shut the stationary thresher down for good. I was sad to see those days end, but today I enjoy remembering the times I spent on a swaying thresher, the large crews, the banter at the dinner tables, the togetherness of neighbors and the adventure of a time long since passed.

Adapting to the times

My reputation on the stationary thresher helped me make the career transition to combines, and calls for work came in from the south. The jobs weren't as numerous as they once were for the stationary thresher, but they brought in extra income. Combining required three men: a cat skinner, a sack sewer and a header man - I usually operated the header so I could supervise the outfit. The charge was $2 an acre, and we averaged 15 acres a day.