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Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2015

Thrashing Was Hard Work -- Crews Were Well Fed

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

If you have not read Neoma Foreman's Country Connections "Shocking Oats" in last Thursday's paper, then you need to go back and read it. She has a well written column about the way farming was at one time in this area. It is a column that needs to go into the archives of the museum as it contains good historical information. Many readers have expressed that they like to read her columns, because they remind them of their country experiences.

Her column triggered some thoughts into my mind. I also grew up in approximately the same era as what she did. There are readers who may remember those days when there was a great amount of oats harvested with the binder and thrash with a thrashing machine.

Some of the things I remember was as a young boy and may have been a little different from what it was. Our family situation was different than many others.

One of the things I remember that many families moved on the first of March -- that was the date the lease ended and a new one started. We stayed at the farm where I was born and later the folks bought the farm they leased.

I once asked why families moved at that time of the year. It was because of the least and it was time to plant oats. It was good feed for the horses and also used in feed for the dairy cattle and chickens.

Nearly every farm had a straw stack composed of straw from the harvest of oats and/or wheat. If you were going to ask me if we ever had a straw stack, I most likely would say no. Still, as I give farther thought to it, we did have a straw stack until dad got his combine. That was in the early part of my life and it soon ended.

Our neighbor Gus Hellwig always had a big stack and I can remember where it was. It is possible in some years he had at least one other stack. Tom Davis also had a stack each year north of his farmstead. Red Strange and others had straw stacks.

Dad sold his horses before I was big enough to harness the horses. As result, I grew up on the farm without ever harnessing a horse. That was unheard of in that era. Many did not understand why he did not have any horses, but he did not think it was necessary with having an Allis-Chalmers tractor.

Dad purchased and used a 5-foot Allis-Chalmers combine to harvest his small grain. At that time the combine did not look small to me, but now when I see one, it looks small. Dad also did custom work, still he always made sure that he did he milked his cows at a certain time. When he was combining or baling he quit on time to milk the cows which helped with the milk production by milking at a regular time. Many could not understand why he quit so early and did not continue his working in the field.

When he combined and others trash their harvest with a thrashing machine, they could not understand how they could get along without a straw stack. Straw was not baled, as baling was done at that time with a stationary baler. Honestly, I do not know how he bedded down the dairy cattle during the bad winter weather. Later straw was baled and bales of straw were used for that purpose.

Back in the days when everyone was using the thrashing machines a person would work for one dollar a day. From that was the expression a dollar a day, million days' million dollars. Many farms had a "hard-hand" paying dollar a day with room and board -- that was before the War (World War II). Labor on the farm was intensity compared to what it is today.

With dad having a combine, the experience of shocking small grain and being involved with the thrashing was limited. I remember that I had some experience of shocking the small grain. I recall that I was still young and had a hard time getting them just right when I first started.

Generally a group of farmers followed the thrashing machine from one farm to another. That way when it came time to thrash on a farm, the other farmers made up the thrashing crews.

There were several jobs involved with the thrashing, including loading a wagon and throwing off the bundles into the machine, pitching the bundles up on the wagon and hauling and shoveling the grain into a bin. It was hard work and usually hot. Much of it was dirty. Often there was a water boy (or girl) who rode a horse, carrying a water jug around to the crew. Again, my experience of working with a thrashing crew was limited; however I did have some experience helping neighbors to thrash.

You have heard the expression that she put out enough food to feed a thrashing crew. The best part of the day was at noon when the farmers wife fed the crew dinner (the noon meal was dinner, not lunch). The wife at the place where the thrashing was taking place prepared the meal, which was abundant and good. Often the other wives were there to help, but not always.

With tractors replacing horses, the demand for oats was reduced. Oats became less profitable than other crops. Oats planting once was common, but now is a rarity. As I recall I once had a field of oats when I was in FFA and it did not make much, if anything.

"They are feeling their wild oats," once was a common expression for boys when they were rowdy. That expression is no longer used; at least seldom used.

The day of the thrashing machine and growing oats on every farm has gone, as well as many other practices of the farm. Even the expression of growing wild oats is gone and has been replaced with other expressions.

Leonard Ernsbarger
Leonard At Large