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Wheat Harvest with a Thresher

by Wendel Gene Ferrin

Harvest at the Schrock farm near Wilmore, Comanche County, Ks. Photo courtesy of Janet Schrock Hubbard.
Photo by John Edward ("Ed") Schrock & an assistant.
Ed Schrock is the man standing in the wagon at right in the above photo.

In the early days of Comanche County, Ks, wheat was harvested with the binder, first built by Cyrus McCormick, and with the header he invented. The header was different than any other farming implement at the time because it was pushed, not pulled, by 6 or 8 horses to cut the heads off the wheat and transfer them to the header barge. The sickle and canvas of the header were powered by the bull wheel. There were a series of chains and gears to get the correct speed for the sickle and canvas. The platform canvas ran the length of the platform and sickle and carried the heads to the elevator canvas on the left side that elevated the heads up on to the header barge being pulled alongside by another team of horses. There were 2 men on the barge, the driver and loader. The loader's job was to receive the heads and place them on the barge so as to get the greatest amount on the barge possible.

The header barge was just a glorified feed wagon. On the left side, the front and the back, it had slats similar to snow fence except closer together and higher; on the right side there were similar slats but only 18" to 2' tall to facilitate loading the barge.

In the case of wheat, oats or barley being cut with a binder, the bundles were shocked to dry the grain and the entire bundle was run through the threshing machine just as the heads gathered by the header and barge were. The threshing was done in August as I recall. It needed to be hot and dry. They set the thresher up at a central location and hired help or traded work with neighbors to thresh their wheat or other grain.

I only remember my dad (Ernest Leroy Ferrin) threshing once and I was too small to help at that time. I do remember that the thresher was set up across the creek east of the house in a small field there. One of the benefits of threshing was the fact that the cattle and horses could feed themselves on the haystacks that the thresher produced. The threshers were not as efficient as the combines later were so there was quite a bit of grain left in with the straw. I didn't help Dad thresh, but I did help several other neighbors later.

Dad never gave us kids (Helen, Delmer & Wendel) cash, but he always made it possible for us to earn money. We always had access to his horses or wagons or anything else if it would make us some money. I am not sure of the year, but I believe it was about 1940 when Don Waters needed help threshing his wheat. "Buck" (Delmer Ferrin) and I both took teams and wagons to help. We left our teams there for the duration of the threshing and drove our 1927 Model-T Ford back and forth to work. I don't recall what we were paid for each team and wagon and man, but I'm sure that at the time it was considered top wages - possibly 2 or 3 dollars a day.

The owner and man we were working for, Don Waters, was working as a spike pitcher. To describe a spike pitcher you have to say they were some of the hardest-working men of the era. They stayed in the field with pitchforks to load the wagons. The drivers did not help load the wagons, they were only responsible for unloading into the thresher. The weather was always hot and the work was hard. There was always competition between the spike pitchers, since we drivers always drove between two shocks and one spike pitcher loaded on each side. They always raced to see who could load his shock the fastest. Don overdid himself one hot afternoon and had a sunstroke. He spent the rest of that harvest in bed. He did get up and around again but could never work. He died in his early thirties as a result of that stroke.

Another incident that happened on that same job was far from funny. Another man on the job was Martin "Cap" McMillen. Cap was a young man, probably in his early or mid-twenties at the time. The people of the community had started calling him Captain at a very early age, possibly because his father had died when Cap was very young and he was the only boy among several sisters. He was slightly mentally retarded and had been since birth. Cap was one of the best workers in the area and wasn't afraid of anything except snakes. There were many rattlesnakes in this area and they loved to hole up under shocks. There had been quite a few killed by the spike pitchers on this job. There were many bull snakes in this area also, and one of the spike pitchers, John Perkey, thought it would be funny to toss a bull snake up on Cap's wagon. When Cap came upon it he was feeding the thresher. It was just fortunate that the snake was between him and the thresher. Cap jumped off the wagon on the outside, but had the snake been on the other side of him, he no doubt would have jumped into the thresher and have been killed instantly."

(Note by JF: After Dad wrote this story, I asked how the men working there that day reacted to Mr. Perkey's dangerous prank and he said: "We were mad about it, and told him 'Don't you EVER dare to do anything like that again', because Cap was very well-liked and we didn't appreciate anyone trying to have fun at his expense."

Also see:

"Lightning's Deadly Work"   Ira Hammond of Kiowa County, Kansas, was killed by lightning while taking shelter under a header barge during a hail storm.

Letter: Newell Howard to Harve & Nettie Schrock of Wilmore, Kansas.   A wheat threshing accident caused by a header-horse.

Photo of Hackney Harvest Crew, circa 1906

Pvt. Martin McMillen, US Army, DNB, September 16, 1943

John Edward "Ed" Schrock, Photographer in Wilmore, Ks.

Massey Farm Equipment   Photographs and information about harvesting with a McCormick thresher on the Massey Ranch/Farm in Barber County, Kansas.

This web page was made by Jerry Ferrin on August 28th, 2001; it was last updated 28 January 2007.

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