Hissing Threshing Machine Arrives

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, September 3, 1913:  An old buzz of a threshing machine is hissing away outside now. I suppose I’ll have a nice time tomorrow.

Old postcard advertising a Case threshing machine. [circa 1910]

Old postcard advertising a Case threshing machine. [circa 1910]

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Threshing day was one of the busiest days of the year on farms a hundred years ago. In the days before combines, threshing machines separated wheat (and other small grains) from the straw.  Huge steam-operated threshing machines went from farm to farm.

The threshing machine probably arrived on the Muffly farm with a hissing sound a hundred years ago today–and the actual threshing  was done the following day.

The previous day Grandma’s father was ill and fainted—I hope that he was feeling better and able to help.  (Maybe he’d overworked trying to prepare for the threshers—which somehow contributed to his fainting.)

I think Grandma was being sarcastic about having a nice time the next day.  It took lots of labor to operate the threshing machines —and the men who came to help expected a big meal. Grandma probably planned to spend the day cooking, serving food, and then washing dishes.

Grandma’s diary entries in previous years about threshing provide more information about what threshing was like:

November 18, 1912:

I’m half way out of something that I worried about before school started, and that was that I was afraid I’d have to miss school when Pa had his threshing done. They started today and well I went to school today, too. So glad I don’t have to miss, that would be too bad for me.

[Note: Of course, Grandma didn't need to worry about missing school in 1913 like she had in previous years since she'd graduated in the spring.]

September 12, 1911

Had to run around town this morning and accomplished some errands. Have to sleep with Rufus tonight as the threshers are here.

[Note: In the diary Grandma sometimes called her sister Ruth, Rufus.]

September 13, 1911

Was in such terrible trepidation this morning, lest I would have to miss school and help Ma with the work, but Besse came to my relief. So glad I was. I missed those stacks and stacks of dishes for dinner, but have to confront them tonight.

[Note: Besse was Grandma’s oldest sister. She was married and lived in nearby Watsontown.]

20 Responses

  1. She could be sarcastic or she could be really looking forward to cooking and serving the men who would be working hard but hmmm… stacks and stacks of dishes to be confronted? ;-)

  2. Another example of how our language has changed: I’ve never thought of farm machinery as “hissing”, but then our machinery is much different than that of Grandma’s day!!

  3. My great-grandparents (who lived until I was in my 30′s) told me that while threshing-time was a lot of work, it was also a time of excitement and even fun–all those people around, and often the chance for young women and men to meet (and impress) new people, because the threshers moved around from farm to farm & community to community.

    Also, my children’t great-grandfather, whose given name was Earl, had the nickname of Billy. No one seemed to know why. The mystery was solved when an older neighbor who knew him from the time he was born, told us that when he was about 4, at a threshing supper, when someone called him Earl, he said, “I’m not Earl, I’m Big Bill the Thresher!” The name stuck for his whole life–no one called him Earl after that.

  4. When I was working in a retiring home, the women would often tell of the hard work involved with threshing time but also they would giggle a lot for many of them met their husbands during this time….so maybe grandma was hoping for something in that line as well?

    • You might be right. I have several relatives who have similar stories about how they met their spouse to the one the women in the retirement home told you.

  5. Ahh the good ole days when school was better than any alternative!

  6. It must have been a busy time with work for everyone. Noisy too I guess.

  7. My great-great grandfather died from heat stroke while working on a threshing crew. It was a very tough job.

    • Whew, it’s sad that he died from a heat stroke. I knew that heat strokes were dangerous, but didn’t realize they could kill people. My father used to work really hard making hay in the summer heat when I was a child. In general nothing slowed him down–but I remember one time when he suddenly quit working and came into the house and rested for the remainder of the afternoon. He said that he’d quit sweating and thought that he was about ready to have a heat stroke.

  8. The comments from your readers are fascinating! Isn’t it amazing that so many people have stories — life changing stories — about threshing time?

  9. Have you read the “Little House on the Prairie” books? I believe she describes the threshing process in the first book. Of course, Laura was closer to your great-grandparents’ age than to Helena’s.

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