An old thresher on display at Agricultural Heritage Center, Boerne, TX.
While growing up on the old family home place in the 1940's there was a 100 acre
oat field just across the lane from our house. Every year at harvest time it was
interesting to watch them harvest the grain. Today the farmers have combines that
will cut the grain, thresh it, throw the straw out on the ground and put the grain in a bin
ready to be dumped into a waiting truck when the bin is full, all done in one operation
with one operator.
When I was growing up not many farmers had combines. Most of the farmers at that
time cut their grain with a binder and threshed their grain with a stationary thresher.
The following is a description of the workings of a “Threshing Crew.”
Binder harvesting oats. Reece White on tractor, Sam Watson on binder.
The binder cut the grain and tied it into bundles and was pulled behind the tractor. The
binder had a seperate operator riding on whose job it was to see that all the bundles were
tied properly. If the binder got to tying the bundles too tight and breaking the twine, or
not tying them tight enough the operator would have to reset the tension on the tying
mechanism until he got the binder tying the size bundles he wanted with the proper
tension on the twine.
As each bundle was tied it was dropped onto a tray on the side of the binder. Whenever
5 or 6 bundles got on the holding tray the operator would flip it over and dump them out
on the ground. They usually had 4 men working in pairs following the binder who would
stand the bundles up together in shocks.. When the first two men got to the first bundle
drop, one of them would pick up two bundles of grain, stand them on end and hold them
up while the other man got the rest of the bundles and stood them up around the first two
bundles. The other two men would go on to the second bundle drop and do the same
thing. They would hop scotch around each other and follow the binder al around the field.
After all the grain was cut, which usually took two or three days, it was left to stand in
the shocks for several days to dry some more. After it was determined the grain was
sufficiently dry to thresh good, the thresher was brought in. It was stationed in a corner
of the field near a fenced in area where the straw stack would be. The chute that the
straw was blown through could be moved from side to side slightly, allowing the straw
stack to be spread out somewhat.
The thresher had no power supply of its own and to supply power to it, a tractor was
parked in front of the thresher with a large belt running from the flywheel on the side
of the tractor to a pulley on the thresher. The tractor would set and run all day supplying
power to the thresher.
Now that the thresher is set up the wagoneers go to work. There may be as many as 5 or
wagons hauling the bundles of grain to the thresher and a couple more wagons hauling
the bagged oats to the grainery at the main ranch house. Each wagon will have a two
man team working it. One man will be on the ground with a pitch fork with which he
will stab one of the bundles in a shock and pitch it onto the wagon, thus the name
‘pitchfork’. The other man would be on the wagon with another pitchfork and stab the
bundles as the first man throws them on and places them in rows in the bed of the
wagon. With a little experience the stacker can criss cross the bundles, thus tying them
together so they can be stacked pretty high above the sideboards without falling off.
As I stated earlier, there was a two man team to each wagon, one on the ground throwing
the bundles of grain onto the wagon and the other on the wagon stacking the bundles, so
who drove the team? A well trained team of mules really didn’t need a driver.
Whenever they got to where they were going to start loading the grain the reins were tied
off to the brake handle, leaving just a little slack in them.
The first day out, the man on the wagon would have to take the reins and drive the
mules to the next shock of grain, but after four or five times of this the mules knew where
to go and as the man on the ground tossed the last bundle of grain from a shock he would
just whistle to the team and they would pull the wagon on to the next shock of grain and stop.
This job wasn’t without its dangers. One morning as I was watching, at about the third
shock they came to, as the second bundle was thrown on the wagon, the man on the
wagon took one step backward and jumped to the ground.
“Why did you get down? there are still several bundles of grain left in this shock,” said
the man working on the ground.
“I know,” said the other one. “But the last bundle you tossed up had a rattle snake in it.”
In the summertime the shocks of grain in the field made a shade that was inviting to the
field mice and the snakes came to feed on the mice. It was usually the person on the
ground who had to look out for the snakes. A pitchfork, besides being used to toss bundles
of grain onto the wagon, were also handy to kill snakes with.
As soon as the wagon was loaded they headed to the thresher. There the bundles were
fed into a chute on one end of the thresher. As the grain was seperated from the chaff,
the straw and chaff were blown out a chute on the other end. The grain was blown down
a chute at the side. This chute was split at the end and had two openings to which you
could attach burlap bags, or tow sacks as we called them, to catch the grain. There were
two operators at the grain chute. As soon as one bag got full the grain was switched to
the other chute and the operator unclamped the bag, drug it to the side out of the way
and clamped another bag to the chute in time for the operator on the second chute to
switch back over as soon as his bag got full and unclamp and move it out of the way so
he could clamp another bag to his chute.
As each bag was drug to the side, another man with a large half moon shaped needle with
some heavy twine attached to it, would grab the top of the bag on one side and loop the
twine around it a couple of times to form an ‘ear’ and then sew the top of the sack
together, stopping far enough back to form another ‘ear’ on the other side. These ‘ears’
made good hand holds to grab the bag by to pick it up. After the bag was sewn up it was
loaded onto a wagon and carried to the grainery.
It was nothing unusual to have twenty to twenty-five men working on a thresher crew,
and most of them were unpaid. Each farmer in the area who had grain to be harvested
would furnish a wagon and crew to go with the thresher. This would probably be the
farmer and his son, or maybe two of his sons if they were old enough to do the work.
This way each farmer would only have to pay the thresher operator for the use of his
machinery, and sometimes they would trade out for a percentage of the grain threshed.
After the grain was all threshed there would be a large straw stack left. This was kept
fenced off until the start of winter, then the gate was left down so the cattle could get in
to the straw. They would always go to the sunny south side and start eating there.
It was always up to the farmer’s wife where they were working to provide the
meals. Most of the farmers at that time had large dining rooms and could
accommodate the large number of men working on a threshing crew. If the family
did not have a large enough dining room, then tables would be set up outside,
usually under a tree, for the men to eat.
Besides providing meals for the workers, a place was needed for some of them to
stay at night. Some of the ranches had what was known as a ‘bunkhouse’ where
the hired help could stay. If a bunkhouse wasn’t available they would either bunk
down in the barn or in the bed of their wagons. Everyone brought their own
bedroll with them.
Was it a hardship on the farmer having to provide the meals for all this extra help
for a week? Not really. Everyone in the country had large vegetable gardens and
always had plenty of beans, peas and corn on the cob.
As for the meat, some of the farmers might slaughter a calf just before the threshing
crew arrived to furnish meat for them. At the other places, the farmer’s wife
would go out to the chicken pen the first thing in the morning and wring the head
off half a dozen chickens, clean them and cook them for lunch. One day she
would have fried chicken, the next day chicken and dumplings and maybe the next
day would be chicken and dressing. This was known as having “Fresh” meat.
Usually a couple of the wives of the nearby farmers who were helping would come
with their husbands to help with preparing and serving the meals. The farmer’s
wife did not have an easy life.
I remember dad telling about working on a threshing crew and following them on
up into the Texas panhandle. He said that they were working on a farm near
Amarillo and everyone was in the dining room seated at a long dining table. There
were several platters of meat placed at various spots along the table along with the
vegetables. Everyone got a large helping of the meat and vegetables and the meat
reminded dad of fried squirrel, which he ate a lot of back home and enjoyed it.
After eating what was on his plate, dad asked the man nearest the meat platter to
pass him some more of the squirrel. The man looked rather funny and after a short
pause said, “Squirrel? That’s not squirrel, that’s prairie dog.” Needless to say,
dad forgot about his second helping, but did learn not to ask what kind of meat
was being served. The people then prepared whatever was handy.
Loading bundles of grain on wagon to be carried to the thresher.
|Texas Tales, Jokes & Anticdotes|
|Johns Poetry Corner|
|Over The Backfence|
This is not your typical history book. Here you will visit some of the historic sites
of Texas and meet some of the people who were a part of Texas history. I’m sure you
are familiar with places like the Alamo and the Fort Worth Stockyards, but what
about Red River Station and Old Spanish Fort. Everyone has heard of Davy Crockett
and Sam Houston, but what about Chief Bowles, the Killough family and Myra Maebell
Shirley? You will visit these places and meet these people and more as we ‘
Take a Stroll Through Texas History.’
Only $15.00 per copy, plus $3.00 postage. Send check or money order to:
1303 Phillips St.
Cleburne, Texas 76033