Threshing Time on the Farm
By Lloyd M. Staley (1895-1983)

      Before the time of the combine harvester, there were several operations before the grain was separated from the straw and ready for market.

      The first operation was to cut the standing grain and get it into bundles that could be handled by a man with a pitchfork. This process was done by a machine known as a grain binder. There were several companies making these machines. The first one I knew of was the Minneapolis. Whether this was the first one my father owned, I do not know. It was a heavy, cumbersome machine and took at least five horses to pull it in the field. Later he bought a newer model, McCormick, and when this was well worn, bought a newer model which was the last one owned in our farm operations.

      This machine cut the grain and elevated it to a tying mechanism that tied it into conveniently sized bundles and dropped them on the ground to be gathered into shocks of reasonable size and left to stand in the field until the next operation.

      The next process was to get a threshing machine and crew to come and set their machinery in a place convenient to the field of shocked grain and proceed to separate the grain from the straw.

      The threshing machinery consisted of a self-propelled steam engine that furnished the power to move from place to place and also to furnish the power to operate the separator which did the actual work of taking the grain from the straw. The steam engine was fired by coal and required considerable water to make the steam. This was the job of one man, the low man on the crew of three who operated the outfit. The other two were an engineer who tended the engine, and the other was the separator man who was responsible for the whole threshing operation.

The field crew
      The crew who got the grain from the field to the threshing machine was the responsibility of the owner of the grain. This was a cooperative action of the whole neighborhood. As other farmers had grain to thresh, they would help each other until all the grain of that area was harvested. It took from six to eight teams and wagons to haul the bundled grain from the field to the place where the actual threshing work was done. Then there were men in the field to toss the bundled grain onto the rack bed of the wagons where another man who ran the wagon loaded the bundles for the trip to the threshing operation. It also took at least two men to care for the threshed grain as it came from the separator to a wagon box to be hauled to the granary to be stored. It took from ten to twelve men to make up a crew besides the three who were the machine operators. Usually there was a boy to see that the grain, as it came from the separator, was properly loaded in the wagon that took the grain to the granary.

The womenfolk
      As these crews worked from daylight to dark, they needed food. This is where the women came into the operation. This usually was a cooperative task, too. Several of the neighborhood women would come to help the one on whose farm the work was being done. The one who was host for the time would furnish the food, but the others would help prepare it. It took plenty of substantial fare to satisfy a hungry threshing crew. Fare was probably a roast beef, mashed potatoes, and all the other garden produce of the summer that could be gotten together. In our neighborhood, the noon meal was the only one furnished to the whole crew, but the three who ran the machinery would be there for the evening meal, as well as breakfast the next morning. Some places the whole crew stayed for the evening meal, too.

      The threshing machines that I was acquainted with were the more modern of the times. The bundle of grain was pitched into a self-feeder at one end of the machine and the separator did the rest. The straw was blown out the rear onto a pile and left for stock feed or just to rot away, if the livestock would not eat it as was the case with most wheat straw. Oat straw sometimes made quite good feed.

To market, to market
      After the threshing job was done, the wheat was hauled to market by teams and wagons. Our nearest elevator where grain was bought was six miles away, so the trip was almost two hours one way. It was considered an easy job as all you had to do was to guide the team and ride. Oats were not usually a cash crop. It was kept on the farm for stock feed.

      It was always a relief when the threshing job was done and the grain was safely in the bin away from any possible rain damage.

School Days on the Farm
By Lloyd M. Staley (1895-1983)

      At the time in which I am writing, the county was divided into districts of three to four miles square. In each district, usually as near the center as possible, was a one-room school building. Some districts were large enough to have two rooms and only the schools in the towns had more than two rooms.

      The building had an entrance hall or room of some sort which was a cloak room and a place to leave our lunch pails. Each pupil had to bring his own lunch which was always cold. That is, no hot lunches in those days. The rest of the building was a schoolroom where classes were held. In the front of the building was the teacher's desk; usually on an elevated platform to make it easier to have an unobstructed view of the whole room. In the front and maybe on the sides of the room near the front were the blackboards where we did our arithmetic or whatever was required by the teacher to be done on the blackboard. Quite often the blackboards were used for such games as Tic-Tac-Toe or other games that could be played on days that were too cold to play out of doors.

The school day
      The school day was divided into four periods as follows: about an hour and a half of study, followed by a fifteen minute recess. Then another study and recitation time for an hour until noon. School convened again at one o'clock. The afternoon was divided the same way with a recess in the middle, then we were dismissed at four o'clock.

      In the first period in the morning, we usually had our Reading classes. The second was for Arithmetic. The one right after our noon lunch was for Grammar, now called English. The last one was Geography and Spelling.

      One teacher had all eight grades if there were pupils for each of the grades. In an enrollment of thirty to thirty-five students, that was usually the case. The teacher would begin recitation time for each class by starting with the first grade, then going on up through all the grades; the eighth being the last one to recite. We recited by going to the front of the room and sitting on recitation seats placed there for that purpose. Sometimes this required going to the blackboard for doing sums or such problems as needed working that way. Diagraming sentences was done on the blackboard.

The school board
      The school was governed by a board elected by the voters of the district at a school meeting held in the spring. It consisted of three members who did the business of the district school. This included hiring the teacher and keeping the building in repair, seeing there was plenty of fuel for the winter and, of course, spending the money that was raised by a tax levy decided upon at the annual school meeting.

      There was a county superintendent elected every two years by all the voters of the county. His duty was to coordinate the functions of all the schools of the county. One of his or her duties was to visit every school in the county once a year. We usually knew about when he would be at our school and were put on our good behavior for that special occasion. He gave the school pep talk and maybe asked some questions. We always liked to see him come as it was a diversion from our usual routine.

      At our recess breaks we always had some game going. Our play was most times segregated as the girls played on one side of the building and the boys on the other. The boys had the largest playground. I suppose because our games were often rather rough. One was especially rough: a game we called "shinny." The object was to knock a puck to your goal and anything was legal if you could get away with it. The puck was often a beat up tin can which could be quite lethal if you were hit in the side of your head. We used clubs of our own design, selected from a "hedge" tree. This tree grew in rows all over that area to make fences dividing fields and pastures. It was a cheap way of making a fence in the early days but eventually became a hazard and a problem. These "shinny" clubs were very tough and would withstand the hard use we put them to.

      Other games were "blackman" and, of course, baseball. The latter game we modified to a special kind called "move up." We had the usual players of baseball plus as many as wanted to play in the outfield. This was the lowest position of the game and, when an out was made, everyone moved up to the next higher position until eventually everyone got to bat. If a player was very good, he might just stay at bat all the recess period.

      Other times we would play "Fox & Hare" and "Fox & Geese." These games were similar in a way, but Fox & Geese was played in the snow. A circle was tramped off in the snow and spokes as of a wheel were made to a center hub called "home." When in this home base, the Fox, whoever he was, could not tag you and then, if tagged, you were the fox and had to tag someone else, who then would become the fox. Needless to say, these were running games and were best done in cold weather.

      Then there was the usual "Hide & Seek" and one similar to it called "Run Sheep Run." In this game, the one who was "It" had a base and near the base was a stick leaning against some object. To start, everyone ran and hid somewhere. The one keeping the base would try to "catch" the ones who had gone to hide. If he saw someone, he would call out "one, two, three, four..." The one caught had to wait until all were caught unless some other player could sneak in and throw the stick away. Then all were free to go and hide again. This was repeated until all were caught without the stick being thrown from its base. When all were caught, a new game was started.

Advanced education
      High schools were beginning to be popular at the time I graduated from the eighth grade. Most of the ones graduating at my time did go on to high school. It was quite a problem for country children to get to high school. It required either living in the town where the high school was located, or driving in every day by horse and buggy. Those very far away could not do this, so some arrangement had to be made to live in town. I was fortunate in that my grandmother lived in Ottawa and I lived with her, going home only on weekends if the weather was favorable. I might add I rode a bicycle the ten miles to town quite often -- weather and roads permitting.

      In order to graduate from the eighth grade, it was necessary to pass a county examination. Questions were sent out to some central location and several schools' candidates would come to this central location and take the exams. Papers were graded by some examining group and you would be notified if you passed and were eligible to go on to high school. There might be one or more taking the county exam from each school, depending on whether that school had an eighth grade that year. I might add a little bragging here as I was in the top ten in our county for that year, 1910.

The speech
      Our county graduation was held in the First Baptist Church in Ottawa, the county seat. As I was one of the first ten in scholastic standing in the county, I was expected, or maybe required, to have some part in the program. My mother decided that I should have some training in elocution. I was sent to a teacher in Wellsville for some lessons. A selection was made on what I would deliver as my part of the program. I memorized the selection and was taught how to deliver it. I remember the name for my piece was "The Slow Race." I suspect my delivery was pretty boring to the audience. Delivering it surely was to me. One thing I do remember was several of those graduates were classmates in high school and became especial friends, graduating from high school together. We have since met at several class reunions and kept our friendship alive through the years.

      This will end my account of school days I experienced down on the farm.

Spring Planting Time
By Lloyd M. Staley (1895-1983)

      After the cold dreary days of winter, the farmer welcomed the warming days of late February. For at that time, he prepared to plant the first crop of the new year. The first thing to be planted was the oat crop. Oats were not a cash crop but were used for animal feed almost entirely. They were especially used for horses, but were sometimes mixed with ground corn for cattle feed. The crop was usually planted on ground which had been planted in corn the previous season, for there would be cornstalks still standing. They had to be cut down.

      There was a farm tool we referred to as a "stalk-cutter." It had revolving knives like the old push lawn mowers. Some could take two corn rows at a time, and some only one. This machine would shred the stalks of corn so they would be no problem in later operations.

      After the stalks were cut, the ground was disked by a disk harrow. Better results were obtained if we "double-disked" -- went over the ground twice. Now the field was ready for sowing.

      In my day, sowing was done with a small grain drill. A hopper filled with grain ran down some tubes in front of disk-like wheels. The grain fell in front of these disks so was quite covered as it fell before the disks. This was the last operation. When the field was completely planted, it was left for nature to complete the development of the crop.

      Harvest usually was done the last of June or early July. Oats matured before the wheat, so this gave a little time spread for the farmer since he did not have both crops to harvest at the same time. Harvesting was done by the grain binder which bound the grain into convenient bundles for shocking and threshing.

      After the oats were planted, attention was given to more personal planting for the farm family. The next crop to be planted was potatoes. We plowed and harrowed the ground well then made furrows about four feet apart in which to drop the potato pieces. Potatoes must be cut into pieces containing at least one "eye" per piece. This had to be done by hand and was a tedious, messy job. When everything was cut and ready to plant, these pieces were dropped into the furrows and covered well with five or six inches of soil. This covering was done by a team of horses pulling a corn cultivator adapted with large shovels especially designed for the operation. The covering completed the operation and again the crop was left for nature to bring forth abundantly, we hoped.

      When the potato crop was in, the family garden received our next attention. The ground had to be well worked and the soil pulverized for easy planting of small seeds. The first things planted were lettuce, radishes, onions and plants that were not easily frosted. Beans, tomatoes and more tender plants were not placed in the ground until we thought all danger of frost was past. Even then we sometimes planted too early and the garden was nipped by frost.

      Now came the bigger job of corn planting. Sometimes the ground was plowed in the fall or winter months when the ground could be worked. When the ground was plowed and well-smoothed, the corn would be planted. We liked to plant by the first of May. The planting was done by a "corn planter" planting two rows at a time. The seed dropped from storage boxes into the ground. After this, a device covered the seed and pressed it into the ground as the planter wheels ran over the seed in the rows. These were the principal plantings of the spring. Now we hoped for a bountiful harvest. The farmer was always hoping for good returns for his labor, but unfortunately this did not always happen.

      The corn crop was one that needed attention as it was growing. This was done by a cultivator pulled by a team of horses. This was operated in my day from a seat straddling the corn row. Before the riding cultivators were used, the farmer had to walk behind the implement, controlling the shovels by handles; one in each hand, while driving the team at the same time. This took a little maneuvering and some skill. However, a good team knew very well what was expected and made the job much easier.

      This is all the early planting but there were other crops to be planted throughout the summer months, like kaffir corn or soy beans. The last named was just coming into general use when I left the farm. Now soybeans are one of the cash crops of the Midwest.

      So this pretty well describes what the farmer did in the spring of the year at the start of a new crop season.

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