Harvesting Wheat

By Staff
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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

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

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.

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