Reinhardt Family History
Memories of Eggs and Chickens
Stories from Neil Reinhardt
The Last Threshing
In 1943 we lived on a small farm on State Highway 175 a few miles south of Fond du Lac. This was to be the last year I would work with a threshing crew in the dirty dusty job of threshing grain. After this year I could no longer look forward to the dinners a busy housewife had prepared for the hungry men of the crew. About this time combines were taking over the job of the threshing crews. The combine cut, threshed and separated the grain from the straw all in one operation with only two men, one to operate the machine and the other to haul the grain to the granary.
This year four neighbors got together for threshing before the combine would take over, and a new era of farming begin. They were Bill McCullough, Pete Fox, Fritz Merton and myself. Bill owned the separator. It was a 28 inch Advance Rumely wooden machine. ( 28 inches is the measurement of the cylinder that threshes the grain from the straw) Grain then passes over a series of racks and sieves where this job is completed. A day was spent greasing and oiling all moving parts. Next came putting the many belts on the correct pulleys. Bill asked me to run the machine, as his arthritis was bothering him. He could not climb around on the machine easily, and might get caught in one of the many belts. His tractor was small, so he borrowed a larger one from Brown Brothers. This tractor was used as a stationary engine to operate a stone crusher at the Hamilton Quarry. It was a 18-36 Hart-Parr over 25 years old; the 18 meant that it had 18 drawbar horse power, enough to run a larger separator. This tractor, having stood for a number of years in one spot, as it operated the crusher, was very hard to steer, even after oiling and greasing the mechanism. Bill owned the machine so his job was first to place the separator so the straw would be blown where he wanted the stack to be. The separator was leveled by digging holes for the wheels or putting planks under them. The tractor was backed into place about 50 feet away and the long drive belt attached. The clutch was engaged and the separator slowly came to life. With everything in working order, the tractor throttle was opened, the cylinder whirred, the straw stacks and shakers made chuck-a-chuck-a sounds as they moved the straw to the back of the machine where a fan grabbed it with a roar and blew it out onto the stack.
The first two jobs went very well. When we moved to Pete Foxes, the separator had to be placed on a hill so the straw could be blown into the barn. With a lot of digging and blocking, the separator was finally made level, the tractor was backed into place, and the threshing began. Each time a new job was started a few adjustments must be made, depending on the dampness or dryness of the straw, and whether the grain is light or heavy. This is done with the separator in operation. When everything is going well, it was time to check the tractor. The tractor suddenly developed a clanking sound. Everything was shut down to find the trouble. It was discovered that a connecting rod was burned out, caused by it not getting enough oil to keep the bearing cool. One side of the tractor was lower than the other, as a result the oil missed the bearing as it came from the pump. It took a day to replace the bearing. I realized it was just as important to have this tractor level as it was to have the separator level, especially this old one. Any tractor I had driven before, did not matter if it was level or not. I had always plowed with two wheels in the furrow. This is like driving a car with two side wheels in the ditch, the operator always had a very uncomfortable seat. After this experience I always checked to make sure the tractor was level. Fritz Mertons was the last job we threshed.
Today I see a giant combine moving slowly through a field of grain. There is only one man sitting high above everything, in an air-conditioned cab, listening to a radio to keep him company. I think of the many days spent in the dusty work of threshing, the camaraderie of the many men I worked with. This man alone in his cab is missing all of that.
Recently, as I traveled down County Trunk B east of Eden, I came upon a scene that brought back memories. There in a field of shocked oats was a small gathering of farmers with a threshing machine and a few old tractors. They were busy hauling the bundles of shocked oats and running them through the old thresher to thresh the oats and separate the grain from the straw. As I had done the same thing over 55 years earlier, I had to stop and watch the operation.
This idea had all started when a few of the old timers were at one of the several beer dispensing establishments in the Garden of Eden. The subject of old tractors and which was the best, entered into their conversations. Someone had an old grain binder that was in a shed and hadn't been used for 40 years. Another had a threshing machine, and many had old tractors. These were tractors that had been replaced by the giants of today with electric start and lights, cabs, radios and air-conditioning. At their gathering, the Empire Old Time Threshing Association was founded.
It was decided that Jim O'Brien would plant a field of oats in the spring and when it was time to harvest it, they would gather and try out their old machinery to see if they could bring back the scenes of yesteryear. Several years later, as word spread of the Thresheree, it became an annual event and a much larger gathering. Many old timers pulled some old machinery from their sheds, dusted them off, and brought them to the O'Brien farm so people would see how things were done on the farm with the old tractors and horses.
The Eden Lions Club had a tent so the many visitors could get food and refreshments, as it was an all day affair.
Several years later, I again stopped to see the old machinery and visit old friends. There were tractors over 50 years old that were in running condition, even a tractor made from a kit that could be bought in the twenties, to convert a Model T Ford into a tractor of 71 years ago. There were many tractors over 50 years old and still being used on the farms in the rush of spring planting and at harvesting time. When I got to the end of the line of old machinery, I came to the real action - a large tractor was at the end of a 50 ft. Belt. At the other end of the belt was an old threshing machine. It had many smaller belts on the outside to run the mechanism inside, that separated the straw and chaff from the grain. The machine was shaking and groaning as bundles of grain were fed in one end and the straw was blown out the other. The golden grain came into bags on one side to be hauled to the granary.
It was then I remembered what a dirty job it was working around a threshing machine. When I made the remark "I would like to pitch bundles again", my friend said 'You're too old for that." I thought 'I'll show them'.
With some help from someone I got on the wagon load of bundles, and was ready to go. With a three-tined fork in my hand, I started walking across the load of bundles. I took a step, and sank in up to my belly-button. I don't remember that there was that much space between the bundles in the old days. Another thing - the bundles were heavier that any I ever pitched before. They must be making bigger bundles. Then the wagon was too far away from the machine, or the machine was not close enough to the wagon, so the bundles had to be thrown. Then the wind caught them and they went crossways into the machine. It made the old tractor labor when the bundles got to the cylinder. Never feed bundles into a machine crosswise.
Who said I couldn't pitch bundles - I soon found out it would take 5 more men like me to keep the machine running. As I was helped from the wagon my friend remarked "the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak!" I now know that whoever said 'you're too old for that' was right. Now I'm just one of the lookers, thinking of days gone by.