Old Time Threshing (UK)

Contributed Article
Old Time Threshing
By Anthony West

A lovely harvest evening late September 1947, I was a school boy, like all school boys I loved harvest time. The golden corn ripens well and early, the stoking, stacking,.... the drawing in with the tractors and trailers and a few buck rakes thrown in, and possibly a heavy horse. It would be a great day for the collies and the terrier dogs, rats and mice would be at the bottom of the stacks so the dogs, would have a busy time hunting and killing, all the corn was gathered and ricked in what we called in the olden days "the haggart". That would be an area around the hay barns. In a dry harvest the ground would be firm and dry, like the harvest Ill tell you about.

In those days, we all used to chip in together. Not just as a family but as a community, not like towns folk who have a trend to become selfish and un-neighborly...busy with getting on with life instead of being part of it. The milking of the cows was left to me, I had finished just in time to meet my father, who was returning from our neighbors threshing, as we walked he told us that "Mickie" who owned the threshing gear and his helper Pete would be on their way over to our place.

It was common practice to set on contractors at harvest. Small places like ours couldn't afford the rigs just after the war. Those who had a bit of cash bought out the war ag tractors and machines and went round places earning a living.

So after tea I was on the look out for the "threshing set" as it was called locally. In those days there were virtually no motor vehicles or planes so the noise of a combustion engine would echo for miles off, and the distant mechanical sounds of the threshing set would drift on the breeze. Mickie and Pete had a garvie thresher which was hauled and driven by an Allis Chalmers tractor. Both machines though not very good looking could do a good job.

From my look out post, Sat on the hay barn roof I could here the distant exhaust note of the Allis long before they came over the hill. I raced down and shouted to dad as I ran the lane out towards the road. I remember that we had had a light shower of rain which was enough to leave small puddles on the road, here and there, as I met the tractor, Mickie waived and as it passed on its way to the haggard where the picks stood, it left colors in the pools of water. I stood back listening to the growl of the engine letting the hot TVO fumes wash over me filling me up with that sweet smell like ice cream, and there was always plenty of it with an oil burning tractor.

It hauled the big thresher to the haggart ricks, where the boys unhitched the elevator leaving the thresher where it was, the boys got the tractor round to the elevator and with everybody helping we managed to get it onto the draw bar.

Having done that, with the assistance of ropes and a pulley we raised the elevator to the height needed to put the threshed straw into the hay barn, which was partly empty. Mickie then got the tractor round the front of the thresher and hitched on a tubular bar with holes at both ends. This was fitted to the rear axle of the thresher and with my dad at the front and holding the threshers draw bar he kept it as straight as he could between the ricks, while Mickie reversed the whole gear as far as was needed.

The elevator was then pushed up to the thresher so as it caught the straw that fell from the shakers. The straw and grain was divided in the drum. The beater bars on the drum which is like a "Barrel" with steel bars in lines across it, these are called beaters.

When the "feeder" as he is called puts the the twine cut sheaves into the drum the "beaters" knock the grain off the straw, the grain drops down onto the cleaning screen area while the straw is taken out along the shakers which are four in number, and are fitted on to crank shafts which give then forward and backwards movement.

Any grain left after the drum and concave, is shaken from the straw and go back into the lower "winower". The straw drops down onto the elevator, which is engine driven. It has chains on each side with bars across, attached to each chain. The bars have spikes which are about 6" long, the revolving chains take the straw up to the elevator which is about 8 to 10 feet high and to the shed or barn.

The following morning was bright and sunny. Boys of 12 like me were out extra early, the cows were being milked...but there were no bulk tanks like today everything was churned and it had to be on the road to be collected from the "stillage". We used the Fordson and a trailer to do this, and it was heavy work as the churns were heavy.

I got the cows out to the fields with our two dogs and on my way back to the farm I met Pete on his way to the thresher, carrying a hay fork.. I walked with him to the house where we all sat round the kitchen table and had breakfast. My sisters had taken the day off school and some of the local ladies had come to help mum. It was a big event with a lot of hard work involved but like I said every body helped each other till the harvest was in. Breakfast over, Mum gave Dad and I a large handkerchief each to tie around our necks, we went out to the haggart where a lot of helpers had gathered by now. Dad had to tow start Mickie's Allis, which after a couple of circuits and a big cloud of black smoke and some sparks, got running. My dad got the thresher leveled with some help and let the boards down, leaving Mickie to get a belt line. The belt from the thresher was held in line by one of the local boys and Mickie shunted back and forth until the belt was slipped on and he backed out the slack.

The two Dave's.. Big Dave and Little Dave, who usually cut the twines on the sheaves were on top of the thresher ready for the job. Dad got the elevator motor started , so the old haggart was a noisy place. Benny and Dan had fitted the bags to the threshers grain outlets which the bags were hooked to. We were set to thresh oats first, and the men on top of the thresher were throwing sheaves into the machine. Mickie opened up the throttle on the Allis and Dad was in the feeding box ready to put the corn in. The noisy of the thresher was now raised and the steady hum and drone of the Allis, signaled the pace...work had begun. The sheaves came down on top of the thresher, the two Dave's cut the twines binding the sheaves together and passed them to my dad, who opened up the straw and put them into where the straw and grain was separated.

This can be a dangerous job, as the drum has a fast pull ...so only the grown men could feed in, dad used to say "nobody but me will ever get hurt son, because that's my job". The straw is now up the elevator on its way to the barn where Paddy, big Jim and a few more were working hard to level it off.

The sun was shinning brightly on the whole scene. My Dad, Jim, Paddy and Pete now turned their hand to filling the bags. The golden grain flowed from the thresher like a river of gold, quickly filling up the bags. The rick was soon diminished as did the space left in the barn.

The work progressed at a steady pace. I was working hard with a rake dragging the chaff from beneath the thresher, the chaff rubbing my neck red as it clung to the sweat. As the rick of oats was finished it was dinner time. The women had been working hard too. It takes a lot of food to feed men who have worked up an appetite, they came out with plenty of fresh bread, butter and potatoes, and what was popular at that time.... pigs heads!. Mugs of porter were quickly quaffed, and the beer which had been stored in the cool house was drawn from a large timber keg which Dan and Old Pats, had the skill to tap...a trade in itself!

We all tucked in to the food, the men telling jokes and laughing and making eyes at the women. Who in return were chuckling between themselves. We all returned to the haggart, the older men "doffing" their caps to the women and saying thanks, and Dad said it was time for some "backa" before we started again. The old men lit up their pipes as this would be a rare chance for a draw before work started...it was too dangerous to smoke round the ricks and barn because of the straw!!

Mickie fired the Allis up again, and everything started to move. The posts were rotated to give everyone a change, but I stayed raking the chaff from beneath the thresher box. At about 3.00 we had a stop.. the thresher belt broke!! Mickie and Dad did a repair job, and while they did that Dan brought the lads a big bucket of beer, all the boys and the men had a drink.. but the boys had minerals a full bottle...complete with marble stopper!!

With the belt back on the thresher, my father who understood how to feed sheaves into the drum, took over again. The work went on until 6pm, by now all the wheat and oats were threshed, but the thresher kept turning slowly until all the grain had come through the machine, into the bags, and all the straw was in the barn.

Work was now nearly over, the lorry had arrived and was waiting to be loaded with the grain bags we had filled. Most of the men took to "hand balling" the bags in a line to the lorry, and kept it up till the loading was finished. Dad put his hands to his mouth like a tube and shouted...that was the signal for us all to sit down for supper.

The women had made up a bundle of plowmans lunches with an apple and a stone jar of beer for all those hands that had toiled and were now on their way. Dad, Mickie and Pete sat in the kitchen and ate their tea, they all had a few mugs of beer before they hitched up the rig and began to go. I walked up to the top meadow and watched them go along the lane, the shadows from the hedge rows getting longer in the field. I waited till they were out of sight with the "threshing rig".....the end to a perfect day .......one I will always remember.

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