Editor’s note: This is the first part of Jerry Rolefson’s reflections on harvest time. See next week’s The Country Today for the second part.
As the oat fields again turn from a light green to a golden yellow there are fond memories of harvest times.
It started with Dad hitching three horses to the grain binder. This was the only machine that still required a three horse hitch. A tractor was now used to do the heavy pulling for most of the field work. Dad was very proud of his horses and seamed to enjoy the challenge working with a three horse hitch. He would talk about those times long after he stopped farming.
In the evening, after milking chores were finished Mother and Dad would shock the grain that had been cut and bundled. Dad would start the grain shock by grabbing two bundles, one in each hand. He would then stand each bundle on the ground with the oat heads on top leaning against each other — like a small Indian tepee. Mother would then place two bundles on each side of the two standing bundles. Dad and mother would continue to add bundles until the shock contained eight or 10 bundles. Finally, a bundle was spread over the shock to provide a cap that could shed the rain.
I would often add a bundle or two. It felt good helping, but one had to be careful of finding a thistle.
But the most exciting and memorable time at harvest was going with Dad on the threshing route. Dad and Uncle Tony ran the threshing route. They would travel from farm to farm threshing the farmer’s oats and barley. The threshing route had been run for many years before by Grandpa Ellingson. When Grandpa retired, Uncle Tony and Dad took over. Dad’s tractor, an Allis Chalmers Model U, furnished the belt power for the Belle City threshing machine — it was called a separator.
When Dad would take me along, my job as a member of the threshing crew, was to help build the straw stack by tending the separator blower-also called a stacker. The key idea when building a straw stack was to create a dome like mound with near vertical sides with a rounded cap that would shed rain and snow. Determining and creating the stack base size was an important first step. If the base was too large, the finished stack would be a flat dome with more straw exposed to the weather. If the base were too small, the finished stack would get too high for the separator stacker to create the best cap.
Dad, Uncle Tony or the farmer they were threshing for would make a judgment on the amount of straw there would be and layout the base. Once the base had been laid, my job was to build the stack by moving the stacker pipe as the straw and chaff was discharged. There were three small wheels with a crank handle that moved the stacker. One wheel raised and lowered the stacker. Another wheel rotated the stacker to the right or left. And the third wheel lengthened or shortened the stacker pipe. In addition, there were ropes attached to the stacker cap that could direct the straw to the right, left, down or straight out.
There was a ladder at the back of the separator that one could climb to work the wheels and ropes. A man could make the stacker adjustments from the ladder. An 8-year-old boy would climb the ladder and sit on top of the separator to work the wheels and ropes. Sitting on the separator was fun because there was a slight continuous back and forth rocking motion and the sounds of a hard working machine.
Sitting on the separator could also be very dirty. At the time that seemed just fine, as it made one truly a member of the threshing crew.
The separator was always cleaned of dust and chaff before moving to the next farm. I often helped with this task. One time the cleaning job was carried a bit too far. Noticing dirt in the bearing oil wells, I proceeded to remove the dirt and the wool patch that filtered out the dirt from the oil. The task was almost completed when Uncle Tony asked what I was doing. It was obvious he wasn’t very happy, but I wasn’t scolded.
As I grew older and went more frequently on the threshing route, my job changed to tractor driver. Tractors were replacing horses on the wagons that hauled the grain bundles from the field to the separator. Tractors had the advantage of speed traveling to and from the field, but had a disadvantage in the field. Horses could often be moved from shock to shock with a remote command.
Moving the tractor from shock to shock required some one to mount the tractor and move it. Enter a small boy who loved tractors. There were John Deere, Case and Farmall tractors to drive. It was a “dream job.”
As one grew older and stronger pitching grain bundles and unloading grain wagons were the usual jobs.