Threshing Was a Communal Event Among Several Family Farms

An Iowa woman recalls threshing time on her family farm, and the flurry of activity that surrounded it

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"Threshing" time in July and August was an annual opportunity for the entire neighborhood to work and visit together. One threshing machine was owned by an individual or as a neighborhood group. The men traveled from family farm to family farm threshing the oats or wheat until every farmer had been served.

Usually the younger children served as "water" boy or girl-riding their pony delivering stone jugs of water to quench the thirst of the hot and weary men in the field. The jugs were wrapped in wet burlap to keep the water cool.

The women gathered in the kitchen of the host farmer to prepare the noon meal, and on occasion the evening meal. Canned pork or beef, fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, cole slaw, green beans, corn or whatever vegetables were ready from the garden, along with homemade bread and pies and cakes were served-all cooked on a wood-burning cookstove.

With no refrigerators, it was a task to prepare food and keep it safe for eating. The milk and homemade butter containers were placed in burlap sacks and hung down into the well for cooling.

Pails of water and washpans were placed on benches on the lawn for the men and boys to wash in before coming inside to eat at the heavily laden dining tables. The women and girls always waited to eat until the men had returned to the field for work, then they could sit down to rest and eat as they began planning the next day's meal to serve the 10 to 20 men and boys. The final chore for that meal was shooing the flies out the door by using dishtowels one in each hand. While one held the door open, two or three women or girls waved the dish towels vigorously to rid the kitchen of the unwelcomed insects.

Threshing time was a time of hot, hard work, but it was also a time of camaraderie for the families, one that usually ended with a homemade ice cream social at the end of the season.

Margaret Blair
Lorimor, Iowa


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.