Experiences Of A French Threshing Show

Thresher

Thresher powered by steam engine. Note attachment to bundle straw at rear.

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Last July, while in France on business, a small group of us decided to spend a Saturday afternoon and evening touring a chateau and attending an outdoor pageant in a small town approximately 120 miles south of Paris. Since I do not speak French, 1 was not sure how much I would enjoy the pageant, however I was very interested in seeing as many different things in France as possible. As it turned out, the Chateau of Saint Fargeau was being restored and the local people put on the pageant to raise money. I did not gain much from the French tour guide, but it was interesting to see how the chateau was constructed, especially the unusual arrangement of beams in the large round roof.

The pageant was called 'Spectacle Historique' and it was indeed spectacular. Six hundred actors, 50 on horseback, along with a number of sheep, goats, geese, hogs and cattle reenacted events from French history, from 'day one' to the present. Even without understanding the words, it was easy to pick out Joan of Arc, the French Revolution, and the Nazi occupation. The two hours of action spread out across several acres with the chateau integrated into the plot. It was fast paced, exciting, and ended with the American liberation complete with several jeeps and other WWII military vehicles. (I learned later that there are clubs all over France devoted to the restoration of American WWII vehicles.)

While in St. Fargeau, we noticed a sign with a picture of a steam engine. It turned out that a threshing show was being held that weekend in the near-by town of Champillon. Reed Turner and I decided that we would try to go. Reed, who is also interested in this sort of thing, had the advantage of being able to speak some French. The next day we drove some 80 miles back to Campillon. Reed asked directions to the show located in a hilltop field outside of town.

We found an enthusiastic crowd ranging in age from toddlers to grandparents and from those who appeared to be lifetime farmers to townfolk all out to experience the friendly country atmosphere. Booths were set to sell various types of cheese, grilled meat, beer and wine. Other booths displayed crafts including a cooper, flour making with a grist mill, a toy model maker, and a man hewing a tongue and groove beam from a log. Kids were being given rides in a one horse, high wheel cart. Three women in period costume were washing clothes on stones by a small pond that had been dug for the purpose. (The plastic that lined the pond detracted only slightly.) A group of folk dancers also in costume including wooden shoes performed on a portable stage. The demonstration that got everyones attention was when volunteer firemen, also dressed for the time period, used a hand pumper to spray water into the air and out over the crowd.

The show centered around four threshing machines of different sizes. All were wooden, and appeared to be of the same make. The largest was powered by a SFV tractor, the second by a small portable steam engine, the third by a small one-cylinder diesel engine, and the smallest by a built-in one-horse treadmill. The largest machine also had an attached straw baler and the second a low density 'bundler'. Straw has always been of high value in Europe.

In the adjoining field, they were binding wheat with both a tractor drawn binder and one pulled by three horses. The one horse cart was now being used to pick up bundles as well as a very old four wheel wagon pulled by a yoke of oxen. As the bundles were brought in from the field, each threshing rig was demonstrated. There seemed to be plenty of people willing to help pitch bundles, sack and tie the bags of grain, and stack the bales or bundles of straw. All went well until they got to the thresher powered by the horse treadmill. The horse was not large and obviously had spent very little time on a treadmill. The horse could get the machine going, but no matter how slowly they fed the bundles it would plug.

There were also a half dozen older tractors with names like Renault, Kramer, Austin, SFV, and Deering. The latter was a diesel and looked very much like a McCormick-Deering 1020, complete with pneumatic rubber tires, headlights, and license plates. The Kramer was a one-cylinder diesel with a large flywheel on each side. The Renault was very nicely restored and the only one on steel. The brass nameplate on the SFVs was inscribed with 'Societe Francaise de Materiel Agricole et Industriel Vierzon'. One had a three point hitch and hydraulics. A few pieces of horse equipment completed the display. The latter included one horse mower and a small reaper.

Reed and I left just before dark after a very delightful afternoon. If any of you ever find yourselves with a similar opportunity, do not let a language problem keep you from going. You do not need words to get the feeling of friendship and pride from the people who restore and display antique farm equipment.