Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Process of Harvesting the Grain

The picture below is a picture of a threshing crew on Grandpa Hymas' Farm.  It is identical to the ones used on our farm in Lanark.  The thresher we used was owned by Irwin Parker who lived South of the old church.  When the grain (usually barley) was ready for harvest, we would notify Irwin Parker and he would put us on his schedule.  Scheduling was critical since when the grain heads were fully formed they would start to fall on the ground.  It was quite a sight to see the thresher  coming down the road.  It was pulled by an old iron wheeled tractor that was huge.  It was very noisy and traveled very slowly.  After the tractor had pulled the thresher into position a large belt, probably 8 inches wide and thirty feet long would be connected between the tractor and the thresher and that is what powered the thresher.  It was a noisy dusty job.  It took a large crew to handle this task because the grain had to be cut and immediately taken to the thresher where it was feed into the thresher.  It was common to have between 20-30 people on a thresher crew,  thus the old saying "that's enough food for the threshers" had a real meaning

The grain was cut by a "header grain harvester" powered by four horses.   A wagon was pulled along side of the header and the grain would be cut and fed into wagon which was covered on all four sides by a netting which kept the grain, which was cut about 4 inches from the ground,  from falling out of the wagon.  I was 11 years old when I started to drive one of these wagon.  It was very important that I kept up with the header or the grain would go on the ground.  Uncle Virgil usually drove the header and he got a kick out of trying to bury me with the grain as it came into the wagon.  I also got yelled at plenty of times for not keeping up.   There was usually 3 or 4 wagons necessary to keep everything moving.

On occasion we grew some oats.  When we did the oats were harvested by a machine called a binder.  It would cut the grain near the ground and bind it into bundles about a foot in diameter and 5 feet long.  We would then have to go out into the field and stand them up in a teepee type arrangement until the grain had dried at which time the grain would be harvested and stored for the Winter.  Oats were usually grown for feed as was the barley on our farm.  If we had an abundance some might be sold.  

Threshing time was a time when the community came together with man power and equipment to get this job done.   It was actually a kind-of fun time.  When one grain field was harvested they moved on to another farm and another field--all working together.

I'm still looking for more photos of the equipment and will post if I can find some.
By Ellis


  1. I remember those days. In retrospect it amazes me how all of the men in the community worked together, going from farm to farm until the grain had been harvested from each farmers fields. It was a case of cooperation. Not one of those farmers could have harvested their grain alone, but working all together everyone got a harvest. That's one thing I miss about small towns and old times, the sense of all being in it together. It was sort of like the Three Musketeers motto, "All for One, and One for All". And it was not all men's work. I remember Mom making huge meals for those hardworking threshers, who ate with gusto and didn't hold back on saying thanks.

  2. Another thing I just remembered about this was the huge old tractor that powered the thresher. It was actually a steam powered tractor. Irwin would fire it up every year for a liitle while even after they quit using it for the act of threshing the grain. It came to be quite a novelty and people from far and near came to see the old tractor blowing smoke and steam. I wonder what eventually happened to it. I suppose it went to scrap metal. Our Great Grandfather, Robert Price, had a similar steam engine tractor, which was used to run a saw mill up Worm Creek near Bloomington. Justin and I saw it one time while on a mountain bike ride to Worm Lake. We didn't know whose it was at the time, but later read about it in the biography of Robert Price. It had to be a monumntal task to even get it up that canyon. There is no road into that area even today, but if you're good for about a ten mile hike up Worm Creek, it's still there to see. These men didn't seem to understand the word "cann't" and did some of the most amazing things with very limited resources.