Threshing Day

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The busiest day on the farm each summer was threshing day.


It was a time of hard work, good food and fellowship. During threshing, neighbors gathered together to help each other bring the harvested grain from the fields and mechanically separate the edible kernels from the stems and husks.


Threshing oats was important, because horses provided the power for farm work all year long, and horses ate oats. Straw, separated from the oats, was used as bedding for the horses, cows and other farm animals.


Farmers often belonged to a group of neighbors called a threshing ring. They worked at each farm until all of the threshing was completed.


First, a farmer cut and bound the oats in his field into bundles and stacked them into shocks. This made it easier for the threshing crew to later collect the bundles, using hayracks pulled by teams of horses. The bundles were brought back to the grain separator run by a steam engine.



Before the men arrived, a large, heavy steam engine was driven into the farmyard. Powered by burning coal or wood, and using water, the engine provided the steam energy to separate the oats from the straw. The straw was blown into the loft of the barn and formed into stacks for later use.


The noise of the steam engine and the operating grain separator were so loud that it was difficult to have a conversation. All of the people, activity and noise, on a normally quiet farm, made the event an exciting time for children and adults alike.


At noon, the man operating the steam engine sounded the whistle and everyone stopped for dinner.


The host farm family had been working for days to prepare the special noon meal. Sometimes, neighbors or relatives from town, came to the farm and helped with the dinner, staying to wash the many dishes, pots and pans. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing on the farm, and there were many buckets of water to be pumped from the well, carried into the kitchen and heated in a boiler on the kitchen stove.


Food served on threshing day usually included a morning and afternoon lunch, along with the main meal at noon. The lunches were usually meat and cheese sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade or water.


These lunches were taken out to the field or given to the men as they worked in the farmyard. Lemonade was considered a very special treat, because lemons were expensive fruits and had to be shipped to the little country towns by train, far away from the area where they had been grown.


Before dinner, the dusty threshers washed their hands and faces in cool well water, using pitchers and basins set out under a shade tree.



Dinner was served to the hungry men around a long, extended table, set with china, silverware and glasses. As one group finished, more men came in to take their places until everyone had eaten.


A typical threshing day dinner included pan-fried chicken, beef and gravy, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, salads, sliced tomatoes, green beans, corn and other garden vegetables, relishes and pickles, bread or biscuits, along with pies, cakes and puddings. There were gallons of coffee, lemonade and cold water to drink. The noon hour was a time to eat, talk and rest.


After dinner was finished, the steam engine whistle blew and everyone returned to work.


Sometimes the steam engine or grain separator broke down and repairs took precious time away from threshing. Rain could also cause an unexpected delay.


Depending on the size of a farm and delays, threshing might continue for several days at the same location, with more lunches and threshing dinners prepared to keep the hungry workers going.


When threshing at a farm was finished, the heavy steam engine was slowly driven to the next location. The following day, the farmers would once again assemble, with their teams of horses and hayracks, at a different farm for another threshing. This continued until everyone in the ring had threshed all of their grain.


Pull a steam engine’s whistle for dinner