Threshing Time on the Family Farm

A Missouri woman discusses the way that threshing and harvesting grain was done in the late 1930s

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The methods of harvesting grain on the family farm have changed completely since I became a farmer's wife in the late 1930s. Nearly all the farmers raised a patch of oats and a patch of wheat. In June, usually, the crops were ready to cut with a grain binder, a piece of machinery that was pulled by a team of horses. Besides cutting the grain, it tied it into bundles. Then the older boys or a hired man would stack the bundles – each the same size – in shocks in the field.

The bundles were stood on end, with the grain at the top, and then a bundle or two laid flat across the top. This was to protect the grain from the weather, as it had to stay in this position for a month or more until it was ready to thresh.

Then came Threshing Day. The owner of the threshing machine went to each farm. The different farmers went along too, trading work, as it took several people to do all of this. The owner could usually tell how long he would be at a certain farm, which allowed him to tell the next farmer when to be ready. The weather was a factor too, because everything stopped in case of rain.

Several men with horses and hay wagons came and hauled big loads of the cured bundles of grain into the threshing machine, where they would pitch it into the machine with pitchforks. Another wagon would be waiting to unload just as soon as one was empty. On the other side the straw came out a spout and made a huge straw stack, which the farmer used for many purposes: livestock bedding, mulch for gardening, feed, and sometimes, often in fact during the Depression, the oat straw was used in straw ticks for the beds. Some people had feather ticks but few had mattresses.

Usually the threshing could be finished in a day or a day and a half, depending on the size of the crop. Then they went on to the next farm. The farm boys usually were available to keep a supply of drinking water to all the men. This threshing work was very hard and hot work.

Della Whitesell
EI Dorado Springs, Missouri


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.