| March/April 1989

1408 N. Van Buren, Ottumwa, Iowa 52501.

In 1914 a group of 14 farmers purchased a new Rumely Ideal threshing separator and an Oil Pull tractor. For some reason the Oil Pull was only used one year and then traded in for a Rumely steam engine. This unit was used until 1937 when the small combines came into use dealing a death blow to the threshing machines. All of the farmers here in southeast Iowa raised oats and a few would have wheat, rye and barley. In the late summer they would thresh red clover which required the rethreshing of the stack of clover straw. Soybeans were not threshed until in the 1920's.

In order to keep everyone happy they would start on one end of the run one year and then start on the other end the next year. This machine was a 32x52 inch machine which required eight wagons and four or five pitchers in the field. I started carrying water for the workers. As I grew older I had a bundle wagon along with six or seven young men. These were times of hard work and a lot of fun. About this time I learned to stack the straw. This was a very dirty job and it was hard to get anyone to work up there on the stack in the dirt. I would look at the oats field and determine the size of the stack. Then as the stack was about completed I would have to finish it or 'top it out'. This was in the days when help was paid $1.00 per day, but I was paid $2.00 for stacking straw. I ate a lot of oats chaff, but $2.00 was a lot of money in those days. My father was the manager of the company and operated the separator. He kept the accounts of the company. They charged two or three cents per bushel for threshing. They hired an engineer to operate the steam engine and dad was paid for operating the separator. About 1930 I started to haul water for the steam engine. With this promotion I learned to fire the steam engine mixing the fire and water to maintain the correct steam pressure. In those days I was a lank skinny kid and when the soft plug in the top of the fire box would blow out when someone got careless without enough water in the boiler I was the one to crawl into the firebox and replace the soft plug. We would have to let the firebox cool down, but sometimes we would put boards in for me to lay on while I screwed in the new soft plug. One of the other things I learned was to stand about five inches from the engine flywheel while it was running and whistle a tune. The spokes of the wheel would make wonderful music when I whistled.

The threshing dinners were one of the highlights of this time of the year. Every housewife tried to outdo their neighbor. It was always roast beef or chicken dinners with all the trimmings. There was always pies and I will always remember Mrs. Fetters lemon pies. They were the best.

One of the near tragedies was the time one of the bundle haulers upset his wagon as he was pulling into the feeder on the belt side while the belt was running. He went down under the load next to the belt. The engineer shut the engine down, but the cylinder ran for a short time. Everyone ran to get the fellow out as we were afraid the belt could cut him. He came crawling out from under the oats bundles without a scratch.

One of the interesting things about this threshing was the fact that no one was ever injured in these twenty three years. Dad would skin his knuckle, put a chew of tobacco on the injury, tie it up with a piece of his red handkerchief. It was a sure cure because he was ninety three years old when he died.


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