Threshing As It Used To Be, As I Saw It!

Rolland E. Maxwell

Content Tools

Route 4, Huntington, Indiana 46750

I think that the average farmer does not realize the tremendous size . that the Threshing Machinery Business attained at the peak of its production. From 1900 to 1915 threshing machines, steam engines and large tractors were shipped by the train loads to customers through the middle west and to Canada. For instance in 1900 The Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company shipped 174 carloads. In 1915 they shipped to Lincoln, Nebraska only one train load of fifty cars. Other companies did likewise. In 1911 Hart Parr shipped three train loads of tractors to western Canada. In 1912 two train loads of Oil Pulls went to Canada. I will not go into the output of the different companies. Case made the most steam engines, not necessarily the best though. They all made good engines. Much of an engines success depended upon the skill of the operator.

The Threshing Machine Companies all did a superb job of advertising. Hundreds of thousand dollars were spent annually in advertising in one form or another. I will never forget going to the State Fair and, of course, we spent most of our time on Machinery Row. Case was there with its incline. A man by the name of MacMillen from Kansas used to run a 40 HP Case steam engine up the incline part way up and stop and hold it there with nothing but steam, and then proceed on up to the top. Huber would put their engine on the teeter totter and balance it. Frick ran one rear wheel up on a wooden block about 25' high or square and then let it down until the wheel was within four inches of the ground and hold it there to show the sensitivity of their throttle, etc. Avery threshed planks and men shaved with sharpened teeth to show the stuff they were made of.

In the midst of all of this, B. B. Clark had a tent where he sold subscriptions to the American Threshermen and related books.

Along side of the tent was a steam calliope that played music all day long. Oh, it was something to behold!

Now about this time the automobile was coming into its own. Because of the demand for cars they were more expert in getting cash for them, and strangely enough a farmer in his eagerness for a car would pay cash for one, but never had cash for a threshing machine. In their eagerness to sell threshing outfits they sold on the flimsiest terms. A little down, and the balance as they could get it, and often times that was a few years or not at all. The usual terms were all the cash they could get and a promissory note on the balance with little or no collateral. I remember one case in which a salesman in his eagerness to beat the other fellow to the deal had taken as collateral a team of mules and two cows without even looking at them. When no further payment was made the company sent a collector to investigate. He found the mules were just old plugs over twenty years old, and one of them blind. One of the cows had been sold and the other butchered. Often the collateral was put in at exorbitant value, and was often non-existent. All companies had terrible amounts of money outstanding on the books. One rather large company went bankrupt in 1884 and had $1,300,000 outstanding. They sold a lot of machinery but had nothing to show for it. The president of The Minneapolis Machine Company said they did not make money on sales but on foreclosures. The companies all had an army of collectors in the field and they could all tell of some interesting experiences. If they had revamped their methods, they would have fared better.

Now the following companies had their trade names for their lines of threshing separators. Avery featured the Bulldog line and the Yellow Fellow, Garr Scott the Tiger, Case Ole Abe the Eagle, Aultman Taylor the Starved Rooster, Robinson Conqueror and Bonanza, Frick was Eclipse, Ellis Keystone had

A threshing scene, sent to us by Rolland. It is a complete Nichols & Shepard outfit. Picture was taken some place in the Middle West.

The Champion, Geiser was The Peerless, Port Huron, The Rusher, Russell had The Cyclone, Harrison had The Jumbo, Minneapolis the Victory, Northwest the Little Giant, and Nichols and Shephard the Red River Special.

Now threshers had their troubles. In the Northwest, water was the big problem. Much of the water was alkali, and caused foaming and priming. Water was scarce and sometimes it took two teams to haul it over four miles. Bad water was hard on boilers and flues. One man in North Dakota said the life of an engine in his community was only seven years. Fires were also a hazard. Most, if not all, the engineers kept screens on their stacks, but sometimes that did not keep a fire from starting.

During World War I prices of threshing went up. Smaller tractors were coming in. Labor was both scarce and highly priced. Farmers would get together and form company rings. Companies were formed and the farmer bought shares according to his acreage. At first steam was used or maybe an extra large tractor. Gradually the rings got smaller and five or six farmers would buy a 24' separator and pull it with one of their three bottom tractors. Of course, this

caused the older big custom outfits no end of trouble, and in some cases they had it coming. Of course the little rigs with less experienced operators were a subject of criticism and sarcasm for the big operator who dubbed them Coffee Grinders, etc. After a few years of experience the small machines usually did a nice job and were popular. It might take a little longer at home but they could thresh when they wanted to and when it was ready.

The big argument was that they were not away from home so long and there wasn't so much cooking for the ladies. In the early thirties here in Indiana, at least in this part, we took to carrying our own dinners. This caused a lot of comment among the older farmers, but it was finally accepted. It was a relief for the housewife, but a let-down for those of us who looked forward to good food out of season. At the end of the season most of the rings had a picnic with watermelons and ice cream. At one time the man who had the highest yield of oats furnished half the melons and the one with the highest yield of wheat the other half. This was neighborliness at its best.

When threshing went out, along with it went a part of our lives that will never be recaptured. Along with it went friendships, willingness to help each other, a willingness to share labor and the joys and sorrows of every day life. We may have progressed in some ways, but we've lost in other ways that will never be regained. 'Enuf Sed.'