Harvesting Wheat

Large barns hauled their wheat

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12195 Rt. 99 Marriotsville, Maryland 21104

My first recollection of a wheat harvest was around 1920, when I remembered my father cutting wheat with a three horse team hitched to a six foot Piano binder. The horses labored in the hot summer sun and had to be rested often. My job that year was to keep the men who were shocking the wheat supplied with cool water, and to help collect the sheaves of wheat so that they could be shocked and capped. It was here that I learned how to shock wheat, and also to make a cap to cover the shock so it would shed the rain.

Our neighbor had a steam engine and an old wooden thresher and wanted to thresh our wheat. The wheat had been hauled in from the shocks and ricked, since we did not have a barn big enough to store the hay needed for the cattle and the wheat.

The day before the threshing was to be done, the rig was brought in and it took many hours to get it set up to do the job. Much preparation had to be done; coal, wood and water were needed. Burlap bags, to hold the grain, had to be collected.

And above all, the garden vegetables had to be gathered, the home cured ham brought in from the meat house, extra milk put in the icebox, and store supplies brought in, for Mother to prepare the meals for the threshing crew. All the cooking had to be done on a wood cook stove, as there was no electricity or gas.

The next day I hauled water to the engine with our driving horse hitched to a two-wheel barrel cart. The horse became frightened around the engine, so I was then put to the task of holding open the burlap bags as the half bushel measures were dumped by a handicapped black man, who had had the misfortune to have lost both of his legs just below his hips. This had happened in his early life and he had adjusted to it. Another job he could do was to operate the straw blower. Fellow workers lifted him to the platform.

In the years that followed, the threshermen began to use oil or gasoline traction engines which were safer, more moveable. Farm tractors were used to pull the binders, thereby relieving the horses of that burden.

I learned the first day of driving our Fordson, hitched to the binder, that one could easily wind up in a fence corner and have to be pulled backwards to get out, because the tractor had no turning brakes. The heat from the unmuffled exhaust directly under the seat and the whine of the transmission were deafening, but were willingly accepted as a price to be paid for being a little more modern than those who still used horses to pull binders.

During the twenties and early thirties, wheat had become a major cash crop in our county. Advancements in design, capacity and efficiency had been made in tractors, threshers and balers, but still it required a large crew of men to do the job.

Since most of the farmers in our area produced wheat, the local threshermen were kept busy. The weather had a big effect on the days needed to complete the harvest. At times the humidity would be high and, at that time, there were few drying facilities available, so threshing was delayed. That would set back the threshing day for the next grower in the threshing ring.

Some farmers with large barns hauled their wheat from the fields and stored it in the barn, but this meant double-handling and danger of weevil infestation.

In the early Thirties, the combine was looked upon as being impractical for this area, because of our smaller fields, plus the weather factor, etc.

Still, a few pull-type combines began to appear just before World War II. These were mostly PTOs driven with 3 ? to 6 feet cut, and bagging platforms. The filled bags were dropped on the ground to be picked up later by a flatbed truck and hauled to the grain handling facility. The wheat was priced according to its test weight, moisture, and garlic content. A sample was taken as the wheat was being unloaded.

Field threshing continued here until about 1946. Farm laborers were extremely scarce, due to the war, but farmers and their wives worked long hours to help supply food for the war effort. Soon after the war was over, large self-propelled combines began to be used by custom operators who usually worked on a per-acre fee. This did away with the need to rake the straw in larger windrows, as was the case with the smaller pull-type combines.

In 1942 we bought our farm where we still live. I decided to try to do all of the field work with a tractor. Most of the farmers in the area at that time still used horses for everything but some plowing and harrowing. I was able to buy a used 1938 F-14 Farmall, two 12 inch bottom Oliver plow, a mounted seven foot mower, and a two row cultivator. I found one could make out quite well, so more land was rented nearby.

The F-14 featured a quick detachable drawbar and implements that mounted in its place if needed. The cultivator and seven foot sickle mower both did outstanding work.

For night lighting, I used an old generator driven by the belt pulley of the F-14. Wheat was drilled with an Ontario drill and cut with a seven foot Deering binder. Corn was planted with a two row Black Hawk cornplanter. All of these implements were horse drawn with shortened tongues and tractor hitch. Soon after the war I had the wheels cut down and rubber tires put on front and back. It was a fine tractor. After eleven years of use, I traded it in on a Farmall Super C, which I still own. It too is a versatile tractor, using mounted and drawbar implements. When used with a New Holland 66 PTO baler it proved to be an ideal baling combination for small farms.

After the war, custom combining increased, and with better drying facilities and larger combines, the wheat crop harvest was handled quickly and efficiently.

Back in my younger days I never dreamed it would be possible for a 14 foot combine to go into a small field and come out with nearly every stalk of wheat harvested. With an experienced operator this is possible. However, with all of the advancements made in wheat harvesting methods, the acreage planted to wheat in this county has dwindled rapidly each year due to a residential development and low wheat prices.

I really miss seeing the many fields of ripened grain waving in the summer breezes.