Threshing same today as yesteryear

This field is near the Granger turn-off, on the back road from Lime Springs to Cresco.

This field is near the Granger turn-off, on the back road from Lime Springs to Cresco.

By Marcie Klomp
Years ago, this time of year the countryside was littered with shocks of oats, barley and timothy. Each farm grew their own grain to feed their animals. If anyone has driven the back way to Cresco since mid-July they have seen that same landscape—six sheaves of oats with another laid across the top, standing a few yards apart.

Thanks to the Amish community, the old-timers can remember how farming was done—when a hard day’s work earned them a half dollar. The youngsters wonder in amazement, “What are those stacks in the middle of the fields?”
Former Amish farmer, and now businessman, Joe Beachy explained how oats are planted in the first couple weeks of April so they are ready to cut toward the end of July. When the oats are ready to be reaped, the grain binder is taken out to the field and the oats are cut. “Many work way into the night to shock the oats. There are seven bundles to a shock.” Then it is a waiting game. Normally seven to 10 days is the opportune time to let the grain dry and ripen.
The shocks are then loaded onto wagons and taken to the hopper. The oats are separated into another wagon, to later be sent to the grainery. The straw goes into a “dust collector” and gets put into square bales. The farmers use most of the bales themselves, but sometimes sell them.

Mervin Troyer said the average farmer has about 20 acres in oats. “There are five to eight farmers in a threshing ring.” They share labor, but most have their own machinery, so that doesn’t have to be moved from farm to farm as was the practice 60-100 years ago.

Much of how the Amish do it today is how some locals remember “thrashing,” as they all pronounced it. Ed Walter said about eight neighbors got together.

Shocking and threshing was, and is, hard work. The men need lots of nourishment. Beachy said the women don’t get out of the hard work either. “They get to do the cooking and bring the drinks. The workers have to stay hydrated.”

Percy Hendrickson remembers having four big meals a day, besides breakfast—morning lunch, noon lunch, afternoon lunch and sometimes supper.

Walter added, “The women all tried to out-do each other!”

George Schmitt always liked helping some neighbors over others. Usually around 3:30-4 there was a break with ice cold water. One neighbor always had pop as well, which was a real treat to the kids back then!

The growing season was about the same as the Amish have today, but one year was especially bad. Hendrickson recalls, “We were threshing all the way into September. My birthday is the 24th of September, and I know we threshed on my birthday!” That year was especially wet. The shocks ended up having oats growing on top of the shocks.

When the shocks got wet, the guys remember tipping them over to dry them out, as they do today.

Now, the English windrow (lay them in a long line of sheaves, to dry in the wind) the oats and let them cure for two to three days before combining them.

Hendrickson said they used oats for calves, since it helped them grow well. They also mixed water, salt and minerals with the oats and fed it to their hogs the next day.

The Amish mostly use oats for their horses. Beachy said he feels it is better for horses than corn.

Hendrickson said, “It was a lot of work, but we were in good shape.”
Walter laughed, “We didn’t need a recreational center back then!” And neither do the Amish of today. Perhaps doing it the old way is the better way?


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