Route 1, Assaria, Kansas 67416
When one looks at the magnificent machines and implements the American farmer uses today, he cannot help but think that there must have been some geniuses to create and design this equipment. Obviously, these men were the engineer graduates of universities, now working for implement companies in huge laboratories and test fields. Well, this may be especially true of developments in agriculture technology during the last fifty years or so. But in looking over the past two hundred years, the American farmer has done more to better his lot by inventions, than all of the college educated agricultural engineers have ever created. Cyrus McCormick and his reaper, the Pitts Brothers and their thrashing machine, the Marsh Brothers and their special wheat binder, were all farmers and came up with some of the more notable inventions. But many farmers have come up with ideas and devices over the years. Many of these ideas were never heard of by outsiders, sometimes just helping the farmer with his own work, others important enough to be patented, adding to the development of various machines which make up important agricultural machines of today.
I have been lucky enough to meet up with one of these inventor-farmers and have procured his invention. His name is Ralph E. C. Yockers of Smolan, Kansas, and his brain-child is a sorghum threshing machine. It all began one fall about 1920. Mr. Yockers had bundled and shocked his sorghum crop and decided to have it thrashed, because he needed the grain. Note - the sorghum raised during this time was only of the tall variety such as cane, Kafir corn, Siberian wheat, and Sudan grass. Short sorghum, milo, wasn't around until the middle 1930's, when it became popular. So Mr. Yockers hired a thresherman to thrash the crop, but the results were disasterous. As expected, the cane stalks came out chopped and mangled and would have to be fed loose. But what really peeved Mr. Yockers was that the grain came out cracked and smashed. The thrasherman made adjustments on his machine, but the results were still the same.
Mr. Yockers, being a young enterprising man of about twenty-five years, thought surely he could come up with a better way to thresh sorghum. He schemed and planned, finally devising a machine that would thresh sorghum without the need to top it and would not crack the grain. About 1922 a machine was built that worked so well that a second machine was built about a year later. Equal success with a second machine prompted Mr. Yockers to think that he had invented something new and different. So he filed for a patent on December 30, 1925, and after a couple of years, he was awarded patent no. 1702146 on February 12, 1929, for a new and useful improvement in sorghum-threshing machines. But unfortunately, small combines had been in use for a couple of years and milo was being introduced at this time. As a result, there was no demand for an invention of this kind, so the patent was never sold.
Well, even though Mr. Yockers wasn't able to sell his invention, it was a financial success. In case you haven't figured it out by looking at the pictures, here is how the contraption works. At the back, the end opposite the engine is a 28 inch threshing-machine cylinder. One grabs a bundle of cane and inserts the end with the heads into the cylinder, inserting no more than the heads. The bundle is rotated once or twice, whatever it takes to knock off all of the grain in the bundle. Then the bundle is pulled out and another one inserted. The grain and pieces of heads removed by the cylinder are then elevated into a cleaning section which separates the chaff and grain. So after threshing, one is left with both grain and intact bundles which can be shocked again and later fed as fodder. The farmers in the area liked the arrangement and for the next twenty-five years or so, Mr. Yockers custom threshed sorghum all over Saline County, the eastern part of Ellsworth County, the southern parts of Lincoln and Ottawa Counties, and made himself quite a
Mr. Yockers used his two original machines and never built any more. One machine was kept at his farm which he threshed with in the area, and the other was kept at Beverly, Kansas where an employer of Mr. Yockers cared for the machine and threshed for farmers in that area.
Figure 2 is a detailed drawing showing the means for vibrating the frame with the screens, being operated from a crank when on the fan shaft.
1. Hinged door
2. Rotary cylinder
4. Conveyor chain
6. Top screen
7. Middle screen
8. Bottom screen
10. Crank wheel on fan shaft
11. Connecting rod
15. Discharge auger
16. Grain elevator
18. Conveyor tightner
19. Suspending strap for housing
Threshing started as soon as the first shocks were put up in the fall, until mid-winter. Days would start early with Mr. Yockers leaving his farm before sunrise with members of his crew, pulling the machine with his truck to the designated field. At the field, the machine would be set up and serviced, then the threshing would begin. The machine would be pulled from shock to shock by the truck, the grain elevated into a wagon or truck supplied by the farmer. The crew of about five, sometimes helped by the farmer or his workers, would form a line, each grab a bundle, and feed the machine, then carry the bundle back and start building a shock of the threshed bundles. So a circle would form, constantly moving, tearing down a shock and building another. When one shock was finished, the machine would be moved and another shock thrashed, continuing in this fashion until the whole field was done. Mr. Yockers, being thresherman, just watched over the machine and moved it from shock to shock, but mostly just stood and watched. This being Kansas, with its freaky winter weather, some days would be warm to bitter cold. On cold days, the line moved a little faster than usual and the crew kept reasonably warm, while Mr. Yockers would have to stamp his feet and wave his arms to keep warm. Of course, depending upon the neighborhood, there was usually warmth in liquid form in a jug, supplied by the farmer and kept hidden in a shock. But on the warm days, feeding the machine could be rather miserable, not only the heat, but the dust the machine produced irritated the men. One old farmer who used to help Mr. Yockers told me that work went all through the day, stopping shortly at noon. In mid-afternoon, on warm miserable days, one of the crew would 'accidently' let one of the bundles slip and go on through the machine. It usually took about a half an hour to unclog the machine, providing a much-needed rest and an excellent opportunity to cuss the machine, the work, and everything in general.
Mr. Yockers continued this sorghum threshing until the early 1950's, keeping always with his two original machines. About the time he quit, he pulled the second machine he made, into his farm, and tore it apart. Nobody seems to know why he did it, the machine was in good shape, it just seems to be a spur of the moment thing he did. He kept the original machine until his farm sale a couple of years ago when I bought it. So it looks tike I have the only animal like it in captivity. Mr. Yockers and his wife are still living and well. I visited them a month or so ago when I was compiling this article. Mr. Yockers, a little past eighty years, is as spry as ever and Mrs. Yockers as talkative as ever. They were glad to know where the machine had gone to and that it was being cared for. They also gave me quite a bit of information about the machine.