Winter wheat is planted in the fall, grows through the spring and is ready for harvest in the middle of summer. So, harvesting wheat is hot, dusty labor. In the 1920’s the harvest took several steps, lots of neighbors and all their wives and daughters to feed and support the threshers. The process began with a horse-drawn — and later, tractor-drawn — binder that would cut the wheat stalks and gather them into bundles. The bundles would be stacked into WindrowsWindrows - A long row of cut hay or grain left to dry in a field before being bundled. to dry. Then later all the neighbors would gather with a huge threshing machine that would separate the wheat kernels from the straw stalks. The women and girls would cook huge meals for the crew. Today, the work can be done by one person on a combine, another to drive the truck to the elevator and another to cook.
“When the wheat is ripe … you would cut it [and] run it through another part of the binder and put it into bundles and tie a string around it. And it would be kicked off into WindrowsWindrows - A long row of cut hay or grain left to dry in a field before being bundled.. Then in the evenings, you would go out … and put these bundles up in piles so they could dry out, maybe eight, ten, or a dozen [bundles] in…what they call a shuck. …Later on, you would go out in the fields with your bundle rack and pick these up and then run them through a threshing machine … and that separated the wheat from the straw.” — Darrell Ronne
While the men and boys worked in the field, farm women and girls faced long hours in a steamy hot kitchen, preparing meals for hungry field hands.
With no microwave oven, refrigerator, or frozen foods to ease the work, the women cooked and baked for several days in a row, fixing huge meals for the threshing crews. As with field work, neighbor women shared the cooking and kitchen work. At threshing time, even children helped. Older boys loaded bundles of wheat into the threshing cylinder and piled up straw that was used later for livestock bedding and to stuff mattresses. Older girls worked in the kitchen, helping cook platters of fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, beans and squash, homemade bread and butter, pies and cakes and much more to feed the hungry workers. Little girls ran back and forth to the field, carrying sandwiches and snacks to workers, and little boys hauled jugs of cool water to workers in the hot, dusty fields.
Harvey Pickrel lived on a farm his whole life and remembers threshing season.
“A big huge, threshing machine…it was a huge old steam engine that run it. The man that run that, if you happened to be threshing at your place, he’d come before breakfast, and he would fire up that steam engine so he’d get enough steam so he could run that day. And then you had to, the ladies had to feed him and the man that run the separator breakfast. And then of course, they had to feed all them hungry men at noon, and there would be, well there’d be twelve running the racks and there would be some that hauling the grain away and the one doing the separator … and the poor ladies, they sure had to work hard to feed all those.” —
Written by Claudia Reinhardt.