A Miracle In The Wheat Field


| September/October 1986

2200 Fairmount Road Hampstead, MD 21074

I am not sure whether it is a stage in life that one gets to reflections on one's younger days or maybe it's just because I started spending so much time at local weekly auctions that some of that old stuff started looking good to me. One way or another, I have accumulated a lot of what some people call junk. Some people call it by other names especially if they have to clean around it occasionally. However, in 'better' circles, it has many other names, such as memorabilia, Americana, or just antiques. Most of what I have is older tools and machinery that I identify with in my line of work or with my childhood. For example, my 1924 Dodge touring car is almost identical to the one my dad had.

These antiques are fascinating to me, not only as interesting objects of my past, but also because they represent an era in this country that changed the course of history and the way people live both here and around the world. Those of us living now or during a large portion of the past one hundred years have witnessed the greatest miracle on earth since the parting of the Red Sea. One antique tool that I have is a flail, used to beat the grains of wheat from the heads. I will use it to illustrate the point I am trying to make because it represents the beginning of that one hundred year era. When my grandfather was a boy, this was the accepted method of threshing. I have seen older men demonstrate the system at some of the shows. The rhythmic motion with which they handled the flail convinced me that they did not learn it just for exhibition, but that at some time it was very much a part of their lives.

Before the grain could be threshed, it had to be cut with a cradle, a tool I can remember my grandfather using to cut the wheat around the edges of a field so that the binder on the first time around did not mash it into the ground. The cradle was only a slightly improved version of the sickle used in Egypt in the days of Joseph. The point I am trying to make here is that you could take the workers from the threshing floor of At ad in the Book of Genesis, Boaz, who owned the threshing floor in the Book of Ruth, or a farmer from the United States during the Revolutionary War and bring them to a wheat field today and place this tool in their hands and they would know exactly how to use it with exactly the same rhythmic motion of the persons that I saw demonstrating at the show. All of them would be equally puzzled, however, by how a modern combine harvests grain.

In the January 1920 issue of the Maryland Farmer magazine, there was an article called 'The Evolution in Farm Equipment', by J. M. Bell. Mr. Bell said:

If a farmer who died fifty years ago came to life in 1920 about the time of year when the wheat crop was being harvested, he would think he had come back to a new planet instead of the good old United States. Picture his surprise as he viewed the binders at work, making their rounds, cutting and binding the heavy golden grain. Each binder would be cutting about fifteen acres per day whereas in the olden days it would have taken six or seven cradlers to do the same work. Let him go to another field and watch the riding cultivator working the corn. Maybe a tractor would be breaking up a surface for some such crop as cowpeas or soybeans.