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Columns

Threshing rings in the olden days

The author writes: In this picture taken in 1920, I can recognize my grandfather, Bill Lawrie, on the left, standing on a full wagon, and driving a team. On the far right is my uncle Earl, pitching shocks of grain into the threshing machine. He would have been 15 years old at the time. To the left of Earl, on the thresher and watching closely how well it is working, is my dad.
The author writes: In this picture taken in 1920, I can recognize my grandfather, Bill Lawrie, on the left, standing on a full wagon, and driving a team. On the far right is my uncle Earl, pitching shocks of grain into the threshing machine. He would have been 15 years old at the time. To the left of Earl, on the thresher and watching closely how well it is working, is my dad.

Back in Biblical times, grain had to be threshed to separate the heads from the stalks – and it wasn’t easy.

Even at age 10, hearing about the work they had to do, I was farmer enough to realize what effort they had to put into the process. And they did it for thousands of years before improvements of importance were made.

In the 1850s, the city of Plano began to see machines invented and manufactured to do the job. A number of the factories that built helpful machines were located in Plano and were the places where Planoites earned their living and fed their families by working in those factories.

By the time my father and uncle (Bob and Earl Lawrie) were young men, the marvelous improvements known collectively as “threshing” were on the farming scene.

In this picture taken in 1920, I can recognize my grandfather, Bill Lawrie, on the left, standing on a full wagon, and driving a team. On the far right is my uncle Earl, pitching shocks of grain into the threshing machine. He would have been 15 years old at the time. To the left of Earl, on the thresher and watching closely how well it is working, is my dad, Bob, who would have been 17. As a child I was sure that the three of them could handle any farming job easily and successfully.

By August of 1927 the “boys” had gone together to purchase a threshing machine. With that as the most important piece of machinery for the harvesting task, they were soon running their own threshing ring.

On the back of one old photo [not shown here] in my collection it says, in Grandma Dora’s neat handwriting, “George Dannewitz on the ‘engine,’” which was a large steam “tractor”.

The image also shows George Fritsch perched high on the top of the wagonload of bundles.

Both men have family members still living in the area.

Positioned behind the tractor was a “high wheeled coal wagon” to feed the steam engine. Grandma noted that it belonged to “Billie,” her husband.

The long leather belt, which goes from the engine to the threshing machine, is what makes things go. Belts of that sort are powerful, fast moving things. In fact, to this day if I get within about 15 feet of a working belt, my grandfather’s voice yells in my ear, that I should “get away from that belt!” They kill grown men in the snap of a finger!

At noon, the women would put on a “thresher’s dinner” – a meal of very worthy size. Whatever farm they were working on gathered a few women to cook, serve and clean up from a huge dinner for the men.

As a child (but not born yet in 1927) it was my job to set out water, soap, towels, mirrors and combs on our north porch. The men came in at noon, cleaned up, and then filled our dining room. A huge meal of meat and potatoes, with vegetables and desserts, was gone in about half an hour. The men were quickly gone and back to work.

Then, about 3:30 or so, all the women walked out to the work area carrying lemonade, water and loaf cakes. The thermos jugs and cake pans were easy to take back to the kitchen about 15 minutes later, with completely empty dishes to carry.

Among those in one photo I have are Grandpa Billie, his parents-in-law Seymour and Florence Toombs, and their daughter, my Grandma Dora Lawrie. Somehow it was always important that the ladies go out and observe how hard the men were working for a few minutes and, in some way, praise them, and then return to fix a good supper for the family.

Grandpa’s heavy Case tractor was the first tractor the family had.

And it had “lug wheels.” There were shiny metal pieces that were part of the wheel, all around the circle, and it could go through anything! It also left marks in the dirt as it passed. I still remember seeing them in our driveway when I got off the school bus, and knowing that grandpa was there working with Dad and Earl.

Grandpa eventually put rubber tires on the Case … and he used it every year up until the last summer of 1965, usually standing up the whole time, when he had to retire at age 84.

The process produced a huge straw stack that would remain there for the next year. It was not far from the barns where the straw would be used for “bedding” – placed on the floor of the horse stalls, or the hog house, to make it softer and warmer … and to make it easier for the farmer to shovel it out with the accumulated manure every so often.

Those who have not been raised on a farm often ask how one can tell the difference between hay and straw. Hay is “green” (sometimes a grayish green) and is used to feed the cows and horses. It is made by cutting down the alfalfa, timothy, clover – whatever is available – raking it into rows and letting it dry. Raking again turns it over, and it dries again.

It must be completely dry before it is put into a barn because it is far too apt to catch fire at some point … burning down the very expensive, and needed, barn and also destroying the food the animals were to have over the winter.

Hopefully, some day you will get to see a demonstration of threshing. There are several places in the state where such events are held. You may even get down to Arthur, Illinois, some time and see dad’s old Advance Rumley Thresher down there.

On Aug. 23, there will be a Day at the Farm demonstration at Dickson-Murst Farm of old-time farming techniques.

Go to the Dickson-Murst Farm on Dickson Road east of Route 47, south of Route 30 from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. and see it all. Entrance and parking are free.

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