Neighboring Farmers Join as Threshing Crews for the Hay Harvest

Neighboring farmers join together for the hay harvest. Before combines, threshing crews traveled and work was shared by everyone.
By Maxine A. Steele
September/October 2006

Hay stacking was hot, dirty work and a good hay stacker was always in demand.
PHOTO: GRIT MAGAZINE STAFF
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Threshing crews from adjoining farms work together during the hay harvest. 

In the "good old days" of my childhood, the threshing crew was called a "ring," because it made a circuit of a number of farms. Each farmer furnished labor, and to get the necessary number of men for threshing crews, those having more acres of grain to be threshed had to furnish two men, or in a few cases, three men with racks and teams of horses.

As I remember threshing season on our farm, there were bundle haulers, who added the oat shocks onto a rack, hauled them to the threshing machine, then pitched them into the machine. The grain haulers had to take care of the threshed grain. Some farmers had elevators to unload the grain; others did not, so the oats had to be put into the grainary with the scoop shovel method. Many nights after the chores were done (and darkness had descended) my dad would scoop off at least one load of grain.

Some of the farmers stacked the straw, so a good stacker was always in demand. His job was extremely dirty and hot. All day he worked in the straw stack, arranging it neatly so it would stay in place. At other farms the straw was left in a pile as it came from the blower. There always was a bit of prestige involved if you had a straw stack instead of just a straw pile.

The big, old steam engine used to power the thresher was a wondrous machine. My earliest memories are of a steam engine — was it a Hart Parr? — so large the machine was deemed unsafe to cross the old wooden road bridge. My dad had to take down the fence so it could be moved across the pasture and through the creek where the banks were shallow. It moved so slowly that it might take half a day to move it from one location to another and get it set up to work again.

A whistle on the old steam engine was used to give signals, such as time to start and quitting time. One of the greatest thrills was for some of the older boys to sneak out at night after all was quiet and to use that last bit of steam to blow the whistle. The engine operator always seemed displeased about the prank, but surely it was all part of the game.

Harvest was hot, hard work for the men. But consider the women: Large crews would have 20 or more men to feed, plus the women and children. There was no electricity, hence no refrigeration. Neighbor women and relatives would band together to prepare food as there were lunches, dinners and sometimes late suppers to be served. Each lady had her specialty and the cooks would vie with each other to serve the best, tastiest meals. A timekeeper was appointed who kept track of the hours worked at each place. At the end of the season there was a threshers’ meeting, when all the families involved got together. The hours were figured and payment was made accordingly. It was customary for the man who owned the threshing rig to furnish ice cream for all. What a delight that was! Remember, this was long before most farmers had electricity, so ice cream was a rare summer treat.

One could almost hear a collective sigh from the farmers and their families when this job was finished for another year. They knew that there would be a breather before the hard labor of corn picking began. It’s hard to imagine the energy, muscle power and stamina necessary to accomplish this annual task.

E-mail your questions or suggestions for our Looking Back department to LookingBack @ Grit.com. 


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