Threshing Days

The Hetland brothers, Krist, Rasmus, and Alfred acquired a threshing rig run by a steam engine.  During the threshing season, they took the machine and threshed for neighbors.  These brothers could spend hours talking of this adventure.

A cook car, drawn by horses, accompanied the rig.  In this small room on wheels, a woman or two cooked meals for the entire crew, at least 20 men.  They often moved at night so one person had to walk ahead with a lantern to guide the way.  In later years, the cook car was abandoned and the farmers had to feed the crew.  When this change took place, the farmers' wives tried to outdo each other by making the biggest and best meals.  The men enjoyed these wonderful meals with much talk and laughter.  The children of these families, of course loved everything about threshing time.  It was an exciting time and also one of neighborhood sociability - Both the men and women worked hard.  The women usually did the milking after the men took the horses from the barn in the morning.  They also tried to make sure the cows were milked before the men came home in the evening, as these many teams of horses took all the barn room.  Sometimes if the cows were left until the men came, the milking would have to be done out in the yard.  If the cow decided she wanted to graze while being milked, the person milking would just have to follow her around the yard until the milking was done!

During threshing time, a typical schedule was this: breakfast, 6 a.m.; Morning coffee, 9:30 a.m.; dinner, 12 noon; afternoon lunch 4 p.m. and supper, 7:30 p.m.  The women carried the lunches to the fields and served the men.  Some dinners were carried out to the fields to the part of the crew that kept the machines going.  These men kept the work going while the others went back to the house to eat, as they didn't want to shut down the machines.

One man was kept busy by hauling water for the steam engines.  At 5 a.m. this engine sounded off as a signal to the crew to get up and start the day of work.

The work in the field was exciting.  The men would take great pride in being able to make a straw pile that would stand graceful and shed the rain and snow.  It became a great art in accomplishing this piling up of straw as the machine separated the grain from the straw.  The grain would fall into horse-drawn wagons, pulled from the field and stored on the farm.  Every kernel of grain would have to be handled by a scoop shovel.

Before the grain could be put through the threshing rig, it had been cut by binders.  As it was cut, the grain stalks had fallen to the ground in bundles tied with twine.  These bundles were picked off the ground by hand and made into shocks, 10 to 12 bundles per shock.  The shocking was done by the family or men who drifted in on boxcars.  These men would come up from the south looking for work.  They were usually found hanging around the streets or stockyards, where they slept and cooked their meals.  The farmer or boss of the machine would make a trip into town and secure as many workers as needed.

Many times the same men would come back to the same area year after year.  At night the workers would sleep in the haymows.  A washbasin and clean towels were placed in a shed or outside for the men to clean up.  Later, bunkhouses were built for the men.

When it rained, the whole crew stayed at the farm where they were threshing.  This would really deplete the potato patch and the oats and hay for the horses.  Incidentally, it was the oats they usually threshed first so they would have feed for their horses.

It was so exciting to see the men pitching the shocks of grain into the separator.  When the horse-drawn hayracks were emptied, they would dash back to the field to get another load.  There was usually competition for the largest load.  These loads would have to be loaded evenly or they would tip.  Sometimes the horses would decide that they were not going up to the separator and then there would be a runaway.

Alfred's son, Charles, continued threshing until the combines, which were far superior in efficiency, took over.  To those of us who remember this exciting time of threshing, a great deal has been lost. It now seems to be an operation that is nothing more than getting the grain harvested in the shortest possible time.  All the tense, exhilarating excitement of threshing is a thing of the past.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 105

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