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 32×52 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.
This threshing would bring neighbors together that made for a
deeper understanding of the community, it’s needs and the
enjoyment of fellowshipping together. With the coming of the small
combine, or harvester as they were called, we did not have these
close ties with our next door neighbor. Our first combine was an
Allis-Chalmers All-Corp Harvestor. The first three years with this
small machine I cut 1800 acres of grain. That took a lot of driving
with a machine with only a five foot cut. The coming of the small
combines changed the way of farming, but this was the progress that
agriculture has enjoyed down through the years. We have come from
the giant steam engines to the modern farm tractors and self
I am very happy that I lived to see these changes in agriculture
in the past seventy years.