A Golden Stream of Wheat Flows From the Thresher to the Elevator

"A Golden Stream of Wheat Flows From the Thresher to the Elevator." Life 3, no. 5: 2 August 1937, 16.

Since Jacob Meyers lives in the winter-wheat belt, he sows his seed in the early fall. In late September the sprouts are up and remain green throughout the winter. During the balmy Kansas May and the blistering Kansas June, it grows 42 inches tall, heads out and ripens into swaying gold. June is the danger month. Drought may wither its kernels in their ripening stage. Rain may blight it with black stem rust.

But 1937 has been Jabob Meyers' lucky year. Late June found him reaping his planted rows, binding and shocking them. Then he called in the threshing crew: members of the wheat army that three months each year roam the mid-continent wheatlands. Sometimes the Jacob Meyers have threshers of their own; more often they hire them. Harvest hands, ready to haul and pitch for 15 hr. a day, work from sunup to sundown for $1.50. They move fast, in heat, dust, and sweat, for now the kernels are ripe and must be winnowed before it rains. Into the clattering thresher goes bundle after bundle. Out of it, from one end, comes a wind-borne storm of chaff; from the other stream of grain which Farmer Meyers trucks to his local grain elevator. Soon it will be swelling the mighty rivers of wheat that are now flowing to Kansas City, Minneapolis and Chicago mills and markets in one of the greatest freight movements of all time.

Pitching wheat bundles into the thresher requires two men on Jacob Meyers' Kansas farm. The thresher (in centre) runs on tractor power, moves the bundles on conveyer belts to the separator, where the grain is winnowed. Chaff is blown out of the pipe (top) to form the straw pile seen near every farmer's barn, used by every farmer to bed down his cattle.
The grain truck groans with a load of wheat just poured from the spout of the threshing machine. When it is completely filled and shoveled level, Jacob Meyers will drive it down to his local grain elevator. There it will be reloaded into freight cars for Kansas City. At well over $1 a bushel, this truck signifies hard cash in Jacob Meyers' pocket.
The 30 bushel bin of a harvesting combine is here being dumped into a grain truck by Vincent Miller near Garnett, Kan. Combines are seldom used on wheat fields smaller than 300 acres. They reap and thrash all in one process while moving down the field.
Out of the spout of a Kansas thresher comes this gush of golden grain, primary food crop of man. Kansas produces one-fifth of the nation's wheat. So heavy is this year's harvest that, for the first time in four years, the U.S. may once more export wheat abroad.
Dunes of wheat pile up outside grain elevators in the Texas Panhandle after a sudden reversal of the nature cycle converts what threatened to become a desert into an abundant wheat basket. Here are 10,000 bushels, awaiting their turn to go into the Hereford elevator.
An empty store was bought as an emergency elevator by C.A. Gordon, Prairie Center, Kan. farmer, who harvested so much grain this year from his 105 acres of prairie wheatland that he did not know where to put it. Here are 700 of his bushels in temporary storage.
The wheat army follows seasonal rhythm of harvesting up from the Texas Panhandle to the Canadian boarder. Mid- June saw them in northern Texas squatting around the chuck wagon during their noon meal, while the cook beats the bottom of a washtub for stragglers.
Day's end finds weary harvest hands, rolled in blankets, sleeping in the fields on bundles of wheat. This week they will be harvesting the Dakota prairies. Soon they will finish their annual trek over 2,000 miles of U.S. wheat belt in fields along the Canadian boarder.


Every Carload of Wheat is Tested

Key wheat market of the U.S. is the wheat pit of the Chicago Board of Trade. This big square room where, with frantic gestures and grimaces, brokers buy and sell a dozen times over the grain. The nation's bread is made of, has gone imperishably into U.S. literature in such classics as Frank Norris' The Pit. But before it is sold, every carload of grain must be tested. For this purpose the state of Illinois maintains in Chicago a scrumpulously scientific laboratory where wheat is sifted, sorted, graded, and marked. No boxcar that rolls into the Chicago yards escapes the sharp eye of the State. Testers climb into it, take samples, bag them, lable them, and turn them over to the testing machines. Here the kernels are run through a moisture meter (dry wheat is best), are measured and weighed, tested for protein content, scrutinized with tweezers for dockage (weeds, wild garlic, weevils), smelled for mustiness. No. 1 grade weighs 60 lb. per bushel, brings a premium.

A carload of wheat is hefted into the air by a mammoth machine at the Santa Fe elevator, Turner, Kan., tilted sideways and in 10 min. emptied into a hopper. Boxcar and grain weigh 150,000 lb. Grain shipments at Turner on July 6 broke all known records (3,366 cars).
A torrent of wheat (left) is streaming out of the door of this tilted boxcar. An average boxcar holds 1,500 bushels. At the current price of $1.15, this flow is worth $1,725. From here the wheat goes to a weighing machine, then into 100- ft. elevator pits (right) for the miller.
The wheat tester climbs over the door guards into a grain car (1) in the Chicago yards to take testing samples. Inside he sinks his grain probe into the heap (2 and 3) and twists the handle to close its 11 openings. Then he withdraws it and with another twist, empties it into a strip of canvas (4). He makes five such probes in each part of the car to fill the four- quart sample bag with which he climbs out (5). At the testing laboratory the samples are smelled by a grader to detect sour or musty sprouting odor (6).


Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller