Threshing Bee: Early Mechanized Harvest on the Family Farm

An Iowa woman recalls the threshing bees of her youth, held during harvest time on her family farm and others nearby

| Good Old Days

Many communities today schedule old-fashioned threshing bees so the younger generation can see how oats were harvested on family farms in bygone days.

In the "good old days" of 50 or so years ago the threshing crew was called a "ring," because it made a circuit of a number of farms. Each farmer furnished labor, and in order to get the necessary number of men, those having more acres of oats to be threshed had to furnish two men, or in a few cases, three men with teams of horses and racks.

There were bundle haulers, who loaded 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 granary 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 seemed to be 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 it 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 cross the creek where the banks were shallow. It moved so slowly that it might take almost half a day to move it from one location to another and get it set up ready to work again.

There was a whistle on the old steam engine that was used to give signals, such as time to start, quitting time, etc. One of the greatest thrills was for some of the older boys to sneak out at night after all was quiet and 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.

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