Richard Bishop   

© Copyright 2012 by Richard Bishop 

Harvesting Trilogy:

Part One - Threshing: Wheat 
Part Two - Siloing: Corn 
Part Three - Haying: Alfalfa


Photo of an Avance-Rumely threshing machine.

The June-July Issue of Farm and Ranch Living Magazine was a “mind-bender” for me (from Michigan) and my Brother-In-Law, who lives next door (from Wisconsin). One of the features of this particular issue was the cover story: "Threshing Day" and the related Palouse Empire Threshing Bee in the “far North-West” in Washington State shown on pages 20-23.

The most astonishing picture was the one of "a swather pushed by six very large mules." The swather was a new one on us. We checked up on it in the Wikipedia on-line encyclopedia and found out that it was a rather late invention to serve as a transition from reaper-binders to the Combine and was used very often to lay down a wind-row ( by cutting a swath; hence the name "swather" ) for early Combines. It was a further clever innovation to directly load wagons with it. Thus the magazine text indicates: "The swather has a conveyor that dumps loose wheat into a relay of horse-drawn wagons that load on the go. . . . . which are then unloaded with the net and pulley."

Back in the mid-West, we were raised on farms that used implements from the McCormack-Deering line of innovations and a binder or “reaper-binder” was the norm for cutting grain. This process involved a bull-wheel to drive the binder and was pulled by horses or a tractor (after just one easy modification -- by shortening the wooden “wagon-tongue” by sawing it off and installing a “hitch”).

The most amazing thing on the reaper-binder (to most onlookers) was the “knotter” (invented by a John Appleby, circa 1858) that looked like an upside down “chicken’s-head” and used binder-twine to produce tied bundles or “Sheaves. These were thrown onto a “fingers-like” carrier at the rear; accumulated to an amount of 6 or 10 bundles and then with a foot-lever near the one-passenger seat, were dropped into a small pile while on the move. The passenger/attendant was there: (1) to watch how many bundles went onto the carrier before “dropping, (2) to stop everything and re-load when it ran out of binder-twine, or (3) to holler when the “knotter” stopped tying.

Then, later, the field-hands gathered these little piles together and put the grain-bundles into teepee-like “shocks” to dry for a while until the local Custom-thresher came around. During threshing time, wagons moved around the fields and were loaded using pitchforks. When off-loading, only one field-hand was needed to insure a steady flow of bundles onto the threshing machine's conveyer (or sometimes, from opposite sides, two persons alternately and synchronously fed the threshing machine conveyer using pitchforks). The threshing machine was an Advance-Rumely. This company was purchased by Allis-Chalmers in 1931 but they manufactured such machines with their own brand name continuously from 1904 to 1936 ( Allis-Chalmers went out of business in 1985).

The CASE steam "traction-engine" shown in the magazine article is the smallest and most compact one that I’ve ever seen . . . really cute! I don’t know the Brand-name, but the ones that came around to our farm were really gigantic and stood as high as a train Locomotive. We neighborhood farm children used to gather and chase alongside it when it “came to town” (it moved at all of 4 MPH). This was always a big “happening” for us.

For those of you on the Internet, try the following addresses to see some really fascinating steam "traction-engines:" Engine Tractor (the small CASE is shown here)

There were also other reasons for this excitement. “Threshing time” was always a welcome diversion. Later, when I was a teen-ager and old enough to work with a crew of field-hands, we found that the neighborhood farm housewives would really turn out their best efforts to feed us. Ah, such meals -- but a 30-minute nap under a shade tree after such a repast hardly put us back in shape for the afternoon’s work.

Wikipedia seemingly captured the essence of community "Threshing Days:"

  1. "On a ' threshing day ', all the neighbors would gather at that day's
  2. farmstead to complete a massive job in one day through
  3. cooperation. The women and older girls were in charge of
  4. cooking the noon meal and bringing water to the men. The
  5. children had various jobs based upon their age and sex. These
  6. jobs included driving the bundle racks, pitching bundles into
  7. the threshing machine, supplying water for the steam engine,
  8. hauling away the freshly threshed grain and scooping it into the
  9. granary. Steam traction engines were often too expensive for a
  10. single farmer to purchase, so ' threshing rings ' were often formed."
Further information can be obtained from the same Internet address as cited above, namely: Tractor

I clearly remember, on occasion, two wagons pulling up; one on each side of the loading conveyer and two stout men with pitchforks laughingly feeding the bundles to the threshing-machine as fast as they could and still that steam traction-engine would be making a loud “pung-pung-pung” sound under load - and could not be stopped - it would have thrown off the drive-belt, first! The owner of the steam-engine took great pride in that.

Much later, our neighborhood Custom-thresher came around with a giant HUBER 6-cylinder Tractor (that used Gasoline) to drive the Thresher. This was a sturdy arrangement but it was never as dramatic as the steam-engine. Besides, it could be stopped with moderately fast loading. Even the Tractor owner admitted that this was a "wimp" operation compared to his past rigs !

With the passing of Steam technology as the "preferred" engine of progress and with the advent of the Combine, a lot of the romance went out of the procedure called "threshing" although the object remained the same.

The labor-saving aspects were obvious; there were no more field-hand crews which had been recruited from around the area (by trading-off" help between farms) on a "threshing ring." Such teams for arranging the tied bundles of wheat onto “shocks” or for later loading the wagons were no longer necessary.

And the big, heavy 10 inch rolls of binder-twine, which were used for tying the "Sheaves" as well as for tying-up the 100 lb. sacks of grain coming out of the threshing machine, were no longer in demand.

The camaraderie regained by seeing neighbors on this occasion whom you hadn't seen for weeks or even months was now a thing of the past. And the dining tables were no longer groaning under the weight of the food for the field-hand crews ---- which had been offered with bashful pride by the best neighborhood cooks around.

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