Heading and Threshing of Wheat in Kansas
By Arthur E. Flegel, Menlo Park, California
I read wih considerable interest the articles on
the binding, shocking, heading and threshing of wheat.
As a boy of the ages five to nine, from 1922 to 1927,
my family lived in Kansas from where in 1927 on account
of my mother's health, we were obliged to return to
Colorado where we worked sugar beets until 1929 when
my father died of an embolism following a gall stone
operation. Then my farming days ceased.
I vividly recall, helping my mother, sister, Hulda,
and brother, Emanuel, drag the heavy bundles of bound
wheat that were being dropped in rows as the grain
was mowed by my father sitting on a McCormick Deering
binder drawn by four horses. We would carefully position
the bundles into stable shock with a perpendicular
one in the center and four or five leaning against
it to withstand the elements and to await the arrival
of the threshing crew.
Similarly, in the years when the wheat did not grow
to its full height we harvested with a header drawn
by six or eight horses driven by my brother, Emanuel.
At such times, I drove the header-barge drawn by a
team of old geldings, Pete and Tom, and heaven help
me from the tongue-lashing I might receive from my
brother if the barge were not consistently maintained
at the proper position for the conveyor, which carried
the wheat from the header to the header-barge to properly
discharge the grain along tits about 30" in height
lowerside. The opposite or upper side of the wagon
(barge) was about six feet in height against which
the hired hand would stack the cut grain as it piled
into the barge.
While the shocks of wheat were normally left in the
field, the wheat when headed was stacked in a manner
similar to hay stacks. To avoid its being blown or
otherwise damaged by the elements, the stacks were
usually covered with huge tarps that were securely
fastened to the ground.
The day the threshing crew arrived with the immense
steam engine dragging the huge grain separator was
a time of excitement as everyone gathered to watch
them position these huge pieces of equipment and attach
the heavy belt to the fly wheels connecting the engine
to the separator. Standing near the steam engine was
the "water monkey," a small wagon, carrying
a fifty gallon tank of water. Everyone enjoyed the
whistles produced by the engine to announce its need
of additional water or other notices, including lunch
breaks and quitting time. Each whistle, for example,
one long and two shorts, had a special meaning that
all the workers understood.
Having been positioned adjacent to the wheat stack,
two men would pitchfork the grain into the operating
separator that would extract the grain from the stalks
which with the chaff were blown out of one large tube
while the clean wheat kernels came out of another
and were simultaneously loaded into a grain wagon
that was headed for the farmyard granary or a nearby
grain elevator from where it would be shipped to different
parts of the country.
One year lightning struck a shock in our field with
only a brown spot left to reveal where the shock had
been. Another year, the steam engine exploded during
the night causing considerable excitement but doing
very limited damage to the wheat in the threshing
process. These are my memories of harvesting wheat
in Kansas from the years 1923 through 1927.
Arthur E. Flegel