Tuesday, November 13, 2007



It was a bright summer day and farmers were in their fields harvesting the wheat.
Roger Hefflin was in the barn yard at his home. He was oiling the chain of the upside down bicycle, and just getting it ready to go for a long ride.

Three bicycle riders came speeding into the driveway and slid to a stop near him, spraying gravel. It was his good friends, John and his brothers, Marshall and Ronald.

"Hey! Roger! Let's go see the threshers! They're over at the Campbell farm today."

"Sure! I want to see that steam engine run! I'll be ready in a minute." Roger wiped his hands and then set the bicycle up on its wheels. He ran into the house.

"Grandmother, we're going over to the Campbell farm to see the threshers. I'll be back by supper time."

"All right, Roger. Have a good time. Be careful around all that machinery. Machinery is very dangerous, you know."

It was two miles to the Campbell farm. This was farming country. The roads were gravel and there was very little traffic. Everyone knew everyone else and people didn't need to lock their doors. The boys were allowed to roam freely with few restrictions. They had already done their chores, and this was Saturday. Time to have some fun.

It was half a mile to Brice, a tiny crossroads settlement. The riders slid to a stop in front of Oscar Ware's General Store to get some hard candy for their trip.

"Who's got money," John asked. They searched their pockets and came up with 25¢. That would buy a lot of candy in those days.

Then they went on up the slight hill toward Campbell's. As they passed Hempy's Grove, a picnic park on the bank of Black Lick Creek, they could see the cars of the city people who came out here for weekend picnics and general good fun. The boys could not imagine paying for things they had all the time.

They went across the Covered Bridge which spanned the Creek, and on the other side was the Campbell farm. They could see Mr. Cherry's big steam tractor and the threshing machine in the field beyond the barn.

Joey Campbell came out of the barn. "Hi guys!" he yelled, and came running over to them.

"Joey!" they all chorused. "We're here to see the threshers!"

"Follow me," Joey said. Joey felt very important as he led the way. They ran out into the field.

The steam tractor was huge, towering above them. It was shiny black, and a smokestack stuck up out of the boiler. The rear wheels were higher than their heads. The boys circled around it, looking at everything and reaching out to touch it. They came around to the rear of the tractor where Mr. Cherry was building the fire in the boiler of his engine. The children stood as close as they thought they dared, and watched with wide eyes.

The fire had started to burn, and he was putting pieces of wood into it, and finally some small lumps of coal.

"Mr. Cherry," Joey said, "we're here to see your steam tractor!"

Mr. Cherry looked up to see them. "Hey, you kids! Keep your distance. I don't want you caught up in the belts or something."

"We'll be careful," Roger said. "We just want to see everything. We want to hear the noise and see your steam engine run. This is exciting to us. We hardly ever get to see such things."

Mr. Cherry got his oil-can and began oiling things around the engine. There were so many places to be oiled. The boys watched with interest and followed Mr. Cherry around the tractor as he worked.

"Mr. Cherry," asked John, "how much steam do you need to move your tractor?"

"I can move it with 25 pounds pressure. But it needs a full head of steam to have any real power, about 100 pounds."

He turned a valve to blow a jet of steam up the smokestack. This made the air whoosh through the firebox to make the fire burn hotter to raise the steam pressure more quickly.

"Mr. Cherry," asked Ronald, "how much horsepower does your engine make?"

"Eighteen horsepower."

"Wow!" chorused the boys. "Eighteen horsepower!" They were thinking of the power of eighteen horses.

It was now time to begin operation. The big thresher had been pulled in position and the men blocked the wheels with bricks so that it couldn't roll or move. The boys turned to watch the wagons which were now coming through the fields toward the threshing machine.

Mr. Cherry blew a blast on the steam whistle, then pulled the throttle handle to let steam into the motor. He needed power to back his tractor into position. He moved it back and forth to get it into just the right position to power the thresher.

Two of the men struggled with the heavy drive belt. It was at least a foot wide and probably an inch think. The men dragged it to the steam engine and lifted it up to hook it around the big drive pulley. Then Mr. Cherry backed the tractor just enough to tighten the belt. He pulled the throttle handle again, and with a chuff-chuff the engine began powering the threshing machine.

On the tractor the piston rod moved in and out and the big flywheel turned. The flywheel turned the pulley mounted to it and this moved the belt. The belt then turned the pulley on the threshing machine and things began to whir and clatter. It was exciting to see the belt moving and slapping as it took the power to the thresher.

"Hey! You boys! Don’t get too close to that drive belt!"

The boys moved back just a little.

Out in the fields the wheat had been cut and tied into bundles by a machine called a Binder. As it was pulled through the wheat, it both cut the stalks and tied them in bundles using heavy string called binder-twine. Men took pitchforks and jabbed them into the wheat to load the sheaves (as the bundles were called) on wagons to bring them in to the threshing machine. Nowadays, of course, a machine called a Combine goes out in the field and cuts and threshes the wheat in one operation.

When the first wagons arrived at the thresher, the men climbed up on the wagons, again using pitchforks. They began throwing the sheaves into the mouth of the feeder machinery of the thresher.

The feeder pulled the sheaves into the machine where rotary knives chopped them up. Things inside beat the wheat stalks. A huge fan blew air through the threshing machine. The air separated the grains of wheat from the straw, and blew the straw out into a pile on the ground. The grains of wheat came out another pipe into a wagon that was waiting beside the thresher. When that wagon became full, another wagon would take its place.

The full wagons were taken to the Mill in Brice. The Mill bought and sold grain; ground grain for the farmers to feed their animals; and sold all sorts of supplies the farmers would need.

"Hey, you boys! Want to ride along to the Mill?"

All five boys came running!

"Here, two of you can ride on the tractor with me. The rest of you get on the wagon."

"Thanks, Paul," they said. "We're ready to go!"

Paul drove the wagon full of wheat down the road to the Mill at Brice. The Mill had huge scales that would hold both tractor and wagon. This made it possible to weigh everything and then calculate the weight of the wheat so Mr. Campbell could be paid for it.

Paul drove on the scales and the boys jumped off and stood out of the way. Mr. Cook, who owned the Mill, came out of his office.

"Good morning, Mr. Cook," Paul said. "Just look at this wheat! Isn't it beautiful!"

"It's a good year," said Mr. Cook. Then he went back into the building to read the weight of the wheat on the scale. After the wagon had emptied the wheat into the bin, Mr. Cook would weigh the tractor and empty wagon again and subtract to find the exact weight of the wheat itself.

"I've got it, Paul. Here's a receipt for the load. I'll settle up with Mr. Campbell when the wheat's all in. Keep it coming!"

The boys jumped into the wagon and Paul headed back to the Campbell farm. He would hitch the tractor to one of the other wagons, to bring another load of wheat to the Mill.

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