Summer – Threshing Season

One of the major tasks on Midwest farms each summer was the harvesting of small grains. Farmers cut the wheat or oats and tied the grain into bundles. When the wheat dried, farmers loaded the bundles onto a horse-drawn rack and brought them to the threshing machine Threshing Machine - A big, noisy machine that separated the dried wheat bundles into the head of the grain and the straw stalk. Wheat stalks (straw) blew out the back of the machine where it was collected and used for livestock bedding. The wheat or oat grains were collected, stored, sold, and processed into food.. (You can see how the machines worked here.) Threshing crews traveled from farm to farm with huge machines that would “thresh” the wheat and oats, separating the grain from the straw. Crews spent several days at each farm, working long hours in the summer heat. Threshing season was a time of hard work, socializing with neighbors, fun for children, and lots of wonderful food.

We now have a special movie about what a threshing day was like. It’s fascinating to compare threshing with a modern corn harvest, presented here in a 30-second time lapse movie.

Merna Bailey said she used to sit by the side of the road waiting for the huge threshing engine to come to their farm. As a child, her job during threshing season was to put a bench in the yard and haul pails of water, towels and soap for the field workers to wash before meals.

Threshing was long, hard, dirty work.

Hollis Miller said when he was young, his job was to fill the water jugs with cold well water, wrap them in burlap to keep them cool, and take them to the workers.

“When I got to be older, at 13, why I helped spike pitch…where you had somebody run the…hayrack. You’d help that guy load his rack so he could take it back to the threshing machine. And they usually had two hayracks, one on each side of the feeder housing…And they kept that baby going..” — Hollis Miller Quicktime Logo (Quicktime required)

Women teamed up with neighbors to feed threshers a huge noon meal ususally of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, bread and biscuits with homemade butter and jam, green beans, lettuce, peas, onions, tomatoes, ham or roast beef, pies and cakes of all kinds, iced tea, lemonade. Dean Buller remembers the desserts. Caramel pie and chocolate pie were his favorites.

“Threshing years ago was a lot of fun, especially for the kids. Cause there was lots going on, lots to eat…We’d get started early in the morning, and I started pitching bundles when I was about 14, 15 years old…And then you thrashed, and then if you were the last one in the evening sometimes you didn’t get home until just about dark…But you always had a lot of company and you had a lot of food. 9:00 [a.m.] you would eat lunch; at 10:00 [a.m.] or noon you’d have a big dinner, and 4:00 [p.m.] you’d eat lunch again and then that would last until you got home. But the food in those days…there was no refrigeration. A lot of times, the ladies would have…extra help, and they would butcher chickens in the morning, and they’d have fried chicken by noon.” — Dean Buller Quicktime Logo (Quicktime required)

“Us young kids were bundle haulers. Our dads supplied us with a hayrack and a team of horses, and we’d go out and pick up shocks and load our wagons as high as our pitchfork could reach and go in and then one hayrack on each side of the feederhouse, the one side was the belt, so you were right up against that belt…while you pitched off one bundle at a time into this feeder…The women then would always bring out tea and maybe sandwiches mid-afternoon and maybe iced tea or lemonade…it was kind of a contest from all the women putting up a big meal at noon…but they worked together too.” — Clyde Ehlers Quicktime Logo (Quicktime required)

Written by Claudia Reinhardt.

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