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Threshing on the Farm

August 27, 2011

One of the most memorable times for visitors to the 1900 Farms seems to be the days when threshing happens.  We get older visitors who remember running water out to the fields or over to the hands working on the big threshing machine.  There were always extra hands to help out those days.  Those hot, hard, but very important days.

The essence of threshing is separation of a cereal grain from the shaft.  I posted about binding the oats earlier in July, that being the first step of the threshing process.  After the oats have sat in the fields for a bit to cure, they are ready to be put through the separator.  To run the separator on the 1900 farm, we hired a steam engine and crew of engineers, much like they would have at the turn of the century.

The steam engine is not generally considered a small machine, but the one that the engineers brought this year was tiny compared to others.  This one was made by Wood Brothers and is stamped “Des Moines, Iowa” across the nose, attesting to it’s local origin.  It is 18 horsepower and was made circa 1913.  In order to move the machine you have to build up a large fire and give it a chance to build steam.  After that, it maneuvers like any other tractor:

Or not quite.  Founded in Minnesota in 1886, and moved to Des Moines by 1900, Wood Brothers made threshing machines and other kinds of farm implements.  In later years, the plant was used for wartime production (WWII) and eventually because Wood Brothers, Inc. a subsidiary of Dearborn Motors Corporation of Detroit. It would eventually become an implement plant for Ford Motor Company in 1955.  While the plant does not exist anymore, we celebrated the heritage of the company in Des Moines with this steam engine.

More commonly thought of as railroad engines, machines that used steam power were utilized across the farmed acres of the Midwest for different purposes, such as powering the large separator using a single belt.  The belt that connected the two machines during our threshing days was 60 feet long. This a bigger version of the stationary engine that I talked about earlier, but instead of using gasoline, water would be added to the tanks and a fire maintained in the hold to create steam.  This video shows you the fire inside the engine, some of the “bells and whistles” that would be used to regulate and drive it, and the gauge where steam is measured.

If you follow the large belt it is connected to another machine, the one that the bundles are pitched into called a separator.  Bundles of oats are “eaten” by the machine, only to come back completely separated.  Stalks of straw are blown with a fan into a barn or a stack outside to be used for bedding.  The machine uses vibration to shake the seed free and a blower to remove the straw.  The oats gather at the bottom where an auger transport them to a scale, weighs them, and deposits them into a wagon.  You can see part of the process through one of the access panels:

This would be hard work on the farm.  Everyone would pitch in, from the kids that would run water, to the ladies in the kitchen preparing a meal for the threshers.  This year we had turkey and three different types of pie (apple, cherry, and raspberry) on the 1900 farm!

Take one more look at all the machines that are used to do what one machine today does.  The combine had been invented already but was not yet in widespread use.  Today, it is a vital piece of machinery to have in working condition for the fall harvest.  Imagine what it would be like harvesting oats, wheat, and other cereal grains without it.

Threshing happens the first weekend in August on the 1900 farm, make plans to stop by and see our machines in person.  At the end of August there is a big reunion for threshers in Mt. Pleasant, IA.  If you are coming for that, take a quick jaunt up to Des Moines and see some of the other cool implements we have here on the farm.

Read more posts on the LHF Blog


1900 Farm   Farm Implements   Then and Now


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