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Agriculture chores done the old-fashioned way

By Staff | Jul 30, 2010

Feeding oats into a McCormick-Deering thresher is Wayne Taylor, foreground, assisted by Ed Olson, both men are from Jefferson.

JEFFERSON – With hot weather holding off until midafternoon Saturday, a few hundred visitors ventured to see the annual threshing bee north of this central Greene County community.

They were rewarded with a look into what today is old-fashioned farming, but in its day it was the leading technology of the times. Steam traction engines, antique gas engine tractors, threshing machines, a corn sheller and farming implements of all types dating back seven decades were displayed for those who strolled the grounds of the Pleasant Prairie Threshing Bee.

The focus was on three oat-threshing demonstrations, with a 1914 Case steam traction engine powering a McCormick-Deering threshing machine. Old-timers recalled the days they hauled bundles for their fathers at threshing time and the youth watched entranced as the larger-than-life machines separated the oats and blew the straw into growing piles on the ground.

The Nick Foster family is hosting the event on their Century Farm just two miles northwest of Jefferson. Foster said this is the 10th year for the threshing bee.

“We want to show people how things have been done,” Foster said of what he hoped visitors would take with them at the end of the day. “Everything out here is free.” That included the meals and a band concert Saturday night.

This 1914 Case steam traction engine is powering a McCormick-Deering threshing machine. There were three threshing demonstrations during Saturday's events. Two more are scheduled for Sunday.

Noon and evening meals are preceded by prayers, Foster explained, “because that’s the way this family has always been.”

In preparing for the bee, he said volunteers assisted last week in shocking five acres of oats in just 40 minutes. Anyone who has shocked oats can be duly impressed with the speed of the chore, Foster said.

He said volunteers come from members of the two sponsoring organizations – Greene County Historical Society and Four County Tractor Club. Foster is on the board of directors of both organizations. Foster also assists steam schools in both Forest City and Mount Pleasant.

“We also want to show how rural communities come together,” Foster said. “Threshing was done as a community.

“And we have a lot of friends out here who are doing their things.”

In the wagon box is is Joe Gleason, of Des Moines, a native of Scranton in Greene County. He is shoveling corn onto the conveyor of his Minneapolis-Moline E corn sheller, which was powered by an Oliver 770 gas tractor.

One of those friends is Cory Hinders, of Osage, who was driving one of Foster’s four steam tractors around the grounds Saturday. His 2-year-old son, Tucker, was hitching a ride in the wood box, handing split wood to his father as needed.

Joe Gleason, of Des Moines, a Greene County native from Scranton, was shoveling ear corn into his Minneapolis Moline E corn sheller. His Oliver 770 gas tractor was powering the unit.

Under an awning in the farmyard was Monte Topp, of Fertile, ladling ice shavings into cups for snow cones. “You’ll never see one of these anywhere else,” Topp said about the ice shaver.

The device was originally hand cranked, but it had been converted to be run off a belt. That belt was connected to a 10 horsepower Case steam tractor, which, in turn, was being operated by 11-year-old Scott Evans of Iowa Falls.

Although a small machine, compared to the six full-sized Case, Avery and Wood Brothers steam engines, Evans said, “It’ll do the job.”

One of host farmer Nick Foster's pets worked its way into the food line during Saturday's lunch hoping that someone would drop a hot dog.

Sitting by the fire box can be a hot job on most summer days, he said, “but right now, with this breeze, it’s not too bad.”

Along a half-dozen rows of antique tractors, Walter Light, of Grand Junction, hit the ignition of a Thieman gas tractor that was successfully marketed during the Great Depression. The tractor is no frills and looks striped down compared to the dozens of Farmalls, John Deeres, Fords and Allis-Chalmers in the display.

Light said the machines were purchased by mail order and arrived as kits and assembled on the farm.

“If you had a Model A (with a working engine),” Light said, “you could get a tractor pretty cheap. That’s why they were popular.”

At the 2 p.m. threshing demonstration, Wayne Taylor and Ed Olson, both of Jefferson, were forking oats heads first onto the conveyor belt that fed the thresher.

“We want to show people how things have been done. ... Threshing was done as a community.” —Nick Foster, Threshing Bee host, co-organizer

Suddenly, the McCormick-Deering broke down, a true representation of life on the farm. Part of the quick repairs was Taylor and James Duff, of Boone, struggling to get a belt back onto the machine.

As they strained at the task, Foster noted, “That’s what it’s all about, people coming together to get the job done.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453 or at kersh@farm-news.com

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