THRESHING IN MINNESOTA
by Albert Maas
These are glimpses of grain threshing through the eyes of a teenager, one who was completely immersed in the community activity of bringing grain from the field to the granary. This came about because my father, Frank Maas, and my uncle, August Maas, owned and operated the threshing rig. Other memories of the time could be described, but this one held a very vivid place in my memory.
My name is Albert Carl Werner Maas and I am the oldest child of Frank and Martha Maas. I was sponsored in baptism by my Uncle Carl Maas, by Uncle Werner Luedtke, and my grandmother, Marie Wandersee. I never got to know my Uncle Werner because he and my Aunt Ella both died during the flu epidemic of 1919.
The composite picture presented through my eyes took place from the middle nineteen twenties to the middle nineteen thirties. This seems like a long time ago, but the Maas family had lived in Johnsonville township (Redwood county) since the turn of the century. This is really quite recent in terms of history involving some of the Julius Maas branches of the Maas family tree.
Grain threshing was done within threshing rings in the community. The ring, of which I was a small part, involved farms operated by Fred Radtke, Wegner brothers, Walter Andersen, Fred Dawson and the three Maas brothers, August, Frank, and Bill. Each farm provided a bundle team with either the owner or a hired man doing the bundle hauling and pitching. An extra team was provided by August or Frank so that four teams of two were on the job.
The entire activity began and ended with a thresher meeting at the August Maas farm. This was a festive time because entire families attended. While the men made the plans, the women visited and the little ones played.
Before the evening was over, homemade ice cream was served. Serving ice cream in July was possible because Uncle August had an ice house in which blocks of ice had been stored during the winter. Sawdust kept the ice from melting so that big chunks of ice were available in July to make ice cream.
Very early recollections of the threshing rig were dominated by memories of the Mogul, a large single cylinder monster that provided the belt power. It had a large water cooling tank at the front in which the hot water from the engine was circulated for cooling. The tank had wire mesh forming an elongated dome which allowed air to move through it and cool the water.
The really prominent parts of the engine were the two flywheels. These seemed huge to me, one on each side and spinning as the engine was running with apparently nothing able to stop them.
To start the engine, the flywheels were turned over compression by one or two men who turned them forward. They did this by hanging on the rim and pulling down with all their weight. If everything was properly set, the cylinder would fire and the monster came to life. The cylinder then fired faster and faster until the flywheels reached the desired speed.
A large single cylinder engine like the Mogul was controlled by a governor. This meant that only when the speed of the flywheels dropped below a certain rate was another charge of gasoline drawn in and then the igniter fired the charge. Thisbrought the speed up to the required rate again.
Between firings the huge flywheels coasted with an open exhaust valve and only intermittently received a speed boost when the cylinder took in more gas and the igniter fired the charge.
It was said that every time the engine fired, all the rabbits in the township took a jump. This probably was an exaggeration.
My father seemed to be in charge of the engine and used it to move the separator from farm to farm, and to set it in place for threshing.
Lining up the Mogul so that the belt would drive the grain separator was quite an interesting operation. After the separator was put in place and leveled, the Mogul was put in position facing the threshing machine with the belt pulley on it lined up with the pulley on the flywheel of the Mogul. Because the direction in which the Mogul pulley turned and the way that the thresher pulley needed to turn, it was necessary to put a twist in the drive belt.
When all was lined up and the heavy belt was on the pulleys, the Mogul was backed up to tighten the belt. Large four-by-four wooden blocks were then placed in front of the Mogul drive wheels to keep the belt tight.
With the engine running, the clutch ring on the flywheel pulley was pushed in and the separator wheels began to turn.
Starting the Mogul and using it for threshing took place when I was very small. Because some of the remembrances were surely influenced by a small boy's ability to observe and comprehend, the facts may have been colored by imagination. In my teen years the thresher rings became very real.
My first part in the threshing activity was that of grain hauler. This meant having a part in setting up the grain elevator to unload grain from the wagons into a granary bin. The elevator and the single cylinder engine to drive the elevator also belonged to my father and to Uncle August. It was part of the equipment that traveled with the thresher rig.
After the grain elevator was set up, and the engine in place with the drive belt properly aligned, it was my job to get the triple box grain wagons to the grain discharge of the threshing machine. The discharge was a long pipe with an auger in it to bring the grain from the dump hopper to the grain wagon. The grain hopper held one half bushel and would trip when the correct weight was reached. It would open and drop the grain into the receiving end of the discharge auger. When it tripped it would also advance the counter and thereby give a count of the number of bushels threshed.
The discharge of grain would be very fast for oats and quite slow for flax. That made the work of the grain handler a real challenge for some grains when yields were high and quite relaxing when yields were low. If the oats were yielding high, the discharge auger would not even get one dump into the wagon before another dump was tripped.
The sight of Uncle August standing on top of the threshing machine was very firmly etched in my mind. He seemed to assume that familiar parade rest stance, hands behind his back and more on one leg than the other. From this pose he could observe if the straw blower was in the right place and if the bundle pitchers were getting the grain bundles into the machine at the right speed. Occasionally, he would check to see if the grain was being completely threshed and that not too much was being blown into the straw stack. He would check the grease cups at critical places such as the blower and the cylinder, turning them down a bit if grease was needed.
Before the grain separator was started, he would check and adjust the concaves to make sure that all the grain was knocked out of the bundles and that not too many kernels were damaged.
My father, Frank, who liked to smoke a pipe or cigars, would look after the needs of the Case tractor. He would make sure it was running at the right speed, not overheating, and in general, keeping the grain separator in operation. He made one big change during the threshing season and that was to switch from pipe or cigar to snuff. This, as he pointed out, would not start a fire but would help to put it out if one did start.
It was during one of the last threshing seasons, 1943, while working with the threshing ring, that my father suffered an attack which proved to be caused by a brain tumor. He was called home by our heavenly Father in September of that year.
The threshing day started as early in the day as possible, depending on the dew. If the grain shocks were dry, the first bundle loads were expected at the threshing machine by six o'clock in the morning. By mid-morning a lunch of sandwiches, coffee, and cake or cookies was brought by members of the family where the threshing was being done. Since it was a long time since breakfast, this lunch was truly appreciated.
At noon, Uncle August would tell the bundle haulers, one pair after another, to stop for dinner. This meant that they would go to the house, wash up at a wash stand set up for this purpose, and then take part in a big meal provided by the family where the threshing was being done.
The threshing machine was stopped only for a short time while Uncle August and the remaining part of the team had dinner. Those who had eaten first would, by that time, be on their way to the field to get another load of bundles. My father would then refuel the tractor and Uncle August would tend to the needs of the threshing machine. After this, the afternoon grain threshing would continue.
Mid-afternoon brought lunch time again, and by evening another big meal was provided. The bundle haulers who were first to quit had their evening meal and went home. They were the first to be there in the morning to start the new day.
The threshing rig would move from farm to farm until all the grain had been brought in from the fields. In some cases, the machine would be brought to a farm the second time to thresh later crops such as flax.
When all was done, the threshing season would end with another meeting at Uncle August's place. At this time the adjustments were made in the amounts owing and owed by the members of the ring.
The threshing machine was put in the shed and would stay there until taken out the next year to be readied for a new season.
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