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

By Staff
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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

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

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,

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.’

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