by Helen Nolden
A short time ago, while having coffee at the Anamoose Café, a group of men and women were discussing the way harvesting was done way back when…. Now, I grew up in town, the daughter of a railroad man, so a lot of the terms the farmers at our table used were foreign to me. The consensus of the group was that back in the early 1900s to about 1940s, harvesting was more backbreaking than it is today.
I was told that a good team of horses pulled the binder. This piece of equipment cut the grain and kicked out a bundle that was tied with twine. Years ago, the Penitentiary at Bismarck had the prisoners make the twine. The bundles were gathered, perhaps eight to a shock, and put down rather firmly with the beards to the top. The shocks would stand in the fields for about two weeks or more before threshing. A lot depended on the weather and when the threshing machine would come to your farm.
There were about 18-20 men on a threshing crew. There were bundle haulers, spikers, and men who kept the tractor and thresher oiled and in good working condition. More men were needed on the old steam engines. Coal or water was needed, and water had to be hauled in a wooden barrel-like tanker. All this created steam for the huge steam engine that turned the belt, causing the threshing machine to shake the grain from the bundle. The thresher also separated the grain from the straw.
A grain wagon was pulled up near the threshing machine for the golden grain, and I can remember watching the straw flying out the huge spout. The straw piles looked so grand-almost like a pyramid of gold. The farmer used the straw to bed down his cattle during the winter months.
The threshers’ day began at 5:30 A.M. when the horses were fed. The men washed their faces in cold water, which they said really woke them up. Breakfast at the farmer’s house usually consisted of sausage, potatoes, eggs, bread and coffee. They they got their teams harnessed and headed out to the field.
The women took lunch out to the field about 9:30 A.M. The meals were big with meat, potatoes, veggies, salads, sauces and desserts. The men had one hour for dinner, and then lunch again at 3:30 P.M., which was taken out to the fields by the farm wife. Supper was around 7 or 8 in the evening.
The horses were fed ½ bushel of oats in the morning, at noon and in the evening. They also got some hay. After the horses were cared for, the men had their supper, and after a bit of talk, they went to bed in the hay loft in their bed rolls. I don’t imagine they were afraid of mice or spiders. I would have had a bad time dealing with that.
Some threshing rigs had their own cook car with their own cooks, which pleased the farm wife very much, thank you!
While the men traveled from farm to farm threshing, the women worked very hard too. Beside doing the coking for all the days they had the threshers at their farm, the women also milked the cows, fed the poultry, slopped the hogs, did some canning, and baked almost every day while tending to the needs of their children.
While the men were going to bed in the hay loft, the women did the supper dishes and set the table for breakfast the next morning. They spread a huge tablecloth over the table to keep out the dust and flies. The women at the café said they had an awful time with flies and were constantly chasing them with dish towels. They had a lot of those sticky fly tapes that hung from the ceiling. Those were ugly!
They said the farm women had a bit of competition in the cooking department. One was always trying to outdo the others with something new or different.
Baking on those old kitchen ranges every day in the heat of the 1930’s was terrible. In those days they couldn’t go to town every day as they can today.
Some farmers butchered a pig just before threshing time came around. One farmer used his cement mixer to scald his pig. That must have been a sight! The men said they had to watch which places had good water because some water didn’t agree with their systems and they sometimes found themselves in a ragweed patch.
I remember, some of the farmers had Mexicans help during the harvest season. One group of Mexicans took all the bundles they could gather and threw them, every which way, on one huge stack. What a dilemma for the farmer. One farmer said he had some Filipinos help with his crop, and I recall some men from Arkansas here in 1943. That was exciting!
I hope I have given a lot of old-timers a trip back in time. I hope it was a pleasant trip. I realize one can’t write of all the different things that took place back then, but sometimes, if reminded, one can reminisce. Happy memories!