Friday, September 4, 2009

Thrashin' Machine

If you’re younger than 75, you might not know what is a “Thrashin’ Machine”.

Of course, that’s not the correct name. It was a

thresh·ing ma·chine

(plural thresh·ing ma·chines)
farm machine for threshing plants: a static power-driven agricultural machine formerly used to beat or rub harvested plants in order to separate the seeds from the rest of the plant

Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Got it?

We just “freely” pronounced it.

Here’s how it worked - at least in the 20’s and 30’s:

A farmer would plant his wheat crop in the spring (sometimes in the fall, providing “winter wheat”), then, in late June, when the wheat was properly ripe, he would hook up his team of horses to his “binder”

and go around the field, mowing the wheat as you would mow your yard.

Except, rather than just cutting it, the “binder” gathers the wheat stems onto the conveyor belt (assisted by 5 or 6 rotating “paddles”),

conveying the wheat into the binder, which automatically wraps a portion of it with binder twine, providing a mangeable “sheaf” of wheat, which is then dropped to the ground.

Walking somewhat behind the binder was a helper - maybe the farmer’s son or other family member - who picked up maybe 8 or 10 “sheafs”, stacking them upright on the ground, in a circle, leaning them against each other. Finally, one more sheaf was laid flat on the top, ostensibly to ward off rain from the sheafs.

This was then called a “shock” of wheat.

Not every farmer had the means to get the grain out of the sheafs, and into a bin for storage. The answer to that was that one of his neighbors had a “thrashin’ machine”, and at harvest time, several of the farmer’s neighbors joined together with him to procure the grain.

On a certain schedule, the man who owned the “Threshing Machine”, moved from farm to farm, setting up his machine, along with a “steam engine” tractor to pull it.

The “thresher”, called a “separator” by the farmers, was connected to the steam engine tractor, by means of a long closed loop belt, probably 6 or 8 inches wide.

The distance between the engine and the separator was probably twenty feet or so, spanned by that belt. The engine turned a large fly wheel that turned the belt, and in turn the separator. The belt was always turned a half turn - ostensibly to help keep the belt ON the fly wheel and separator wheel.

Once the belt was positioned over the two wheels, the engine was “backed up” enough to provide tension on the belt, thus providing the friction needed to get the separator started.

Now, the REAL key to the whole operation was the assistance of several of the farmer’s neighbors, who brought horse-drawn flat wagons and pitch forks to load up the sheafs, and bring them to the separator. When available, there were other farmers or helpers, to help load the wagons with the sheafs. Each farmer knew that after he had helped with THIS farmer’s crop, he would get the same help when his turn came.

How they decided who was next was beyond me.

Now, before we discuss the operation of the Separator, we need to discuss how the wheat got TO it.

In the wheat field, some other farmers (and/or their sons) would stand ready with pitch forks, alongside the shocks of wheat.

When one of the wagons came into the field, the “wagon farmer’ moved his wagon right alongside the several shocks, so the farmers in the field could use their pitch forks to put each sheaf on the wagon. The wagon operator stood on the wagon, and properly aligned the sheafs to they would stay in place, and would provide room for as many sheafs as possible. The “stocks” of the sheafs were set outside, and on either side of the wagon, with the “head” facing inside. This would lean the load toward the center, thus permitting more wheat to be loaded, without falling off.

So, who drove the horses while the wagon farmer was loading?

Many times, it was the man’s wife, or maybe a son, but quite frequently, the farmer’s horses didn’t need a “driver”. The farmer had them trained so he could say, “Giddyup”, and they would move ahead. When the wagon reached the next shock of wheat, the farmer would say, “Whoa”, and the horses would stop.

I’ve often thought, sometimes that’s kinda what God would want us to do - GO when He says “Giddyup”, and stop when He says “Whoa”. The striking thing to me is, that many times the horses seemed to have more sense that we sometimes do. They didn’t question the farmer when he spoke. At times, we don’t want to “giddy up”, nor even “whoa” - even if God is the One speaking.

I wonder - Is this where we get the expression “Horse sense”? Probably.

As usual, I digress.

The first thing you knew, one of the “wheat wagons” was loaded with sheafs of wheat, and the farmer then headed for the separator.

There was an extension on the front of the separator, that had a continuous flat bed belt, constantly running into the machine.

The wagon farmer then “pulled” his wagon up next to the separator, and began unloading the sheafs, one at a time, onto that belt - heads first.

When one wagon was unloaded, there was always another ready to move in to “feed” the separator - so there was no “down time” for the operation.

I have not the slightest idea what went on inside that machine, but there were two results:

1. The thresher separated the grains from the stems, and dropped them into a bin.

2. The “straw” - the actual stem of the wheat - was then “blown” through a stove-pipe-like thing, next to the machine, gradually building a “Straw Stack” on the ground. As the stack gradually grew in size, the operator lifte the pipe to accommodate the size of the stack.

This operation went along, until all the wheat shocks had been broken down, and the sheafs brought to the “thresher” (notice how I use the terms interchangeably?), to be “separated”.

Here’s a threshing operation from the late 1880’s to early 1900’s.

Though I lived in the thriving metropolis of Mechanicsburg (pop. 1,800), I never failed to go to Uncle Harry and Aunt Almeda’s farm for “Thrashin’.


Well, it was a break from the hectic city life in the ‘Burg; was an interesting pastime; and, of course, there was the “Thrashin’ Dinner”!

When the dinner was ready, the Steam Engine operator sounded his steam whistle, and ALL HANDS came in to Dinner.

You talk about a feast!

Generally, a long table was set up in the dining or living rooms, and when there was no more room for the workers, some sat outside to eat. ALWAYS enough food for everyone.

The horses ate and drank then, also. There was always a water pump, driven by a Wind Mill, that filled a trough for the horses to drink.

Of course, over the course of a day of putting sheafs of wheat into the machine, and the grain going in a bin, it eventaully filled up.

That’s where truckers, like Bud Perry came in. They had fixed their trucks to hold a large load of grain, to take to the local “elevator”. Or, as I related in “Truck Driving” on this blog, sometimes the farmer wanted the grain in his “granary” on the farm.

In “Truck Driving” also, I mentioned that Bud and I always argued about whether it was a “grainery” , or a “granary”. I said the latter.

Last month, on a Sunday afternoon in Mechanicsburg, I visited Bud in his home, and he mentioned this, and then admitted that “granary” was right. He’s already in his nineties, but “sharp as a tack”.

When all the sheaves of wheat on that farm had been delivered to the separator, and all the grain loaded on to trucks, the present task was finished.

The farmer whose grain had been provided, hitched up his team of horses to his flat wagon, and he and his sons moved on to the NEXT farm, to help HIS neighbors.

These were fascinating experiences for a boy of 10 or 12, like me.

But, here’s what’s keeping the boys from this good time.

It’s the modern day Combine.

It cuts the wheat (no sheafs or shocks); separates the grain from the straw; drops the straw on the ground to be picked up later and baled; then deposits the grain into the Combine’s hopper.

The only thing still needed from the “olden days”, is the Truck Driver to take the grain to the “granary”, or the Grain Elevator in town.

Better for the adults, no doubt. But, worse for the children. Sad, but…..

C’est la vie!

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