By July the grain fields were turning yellow, first the wheat and barley, then the oats. Dad used to check the heads of grain, rolling out the kernels in the palm of his hand, then biting on several. He knew when conditions were just right for harvest. The grain binder was pulled out of the shed, oiled, greased, and fitted with the necessary belts, chains, and apron. It was a heavy machine with one major drive wheel that drove the sickle, moved the apron that formed the grain into a bundle, and drove the mechanism that wrapped it in twine and tied the knot. Three horses were required to pull the grain binder. On hot July days they were soon lathered with sweat and rested often. From the binder the bundles of grain were dropped on the ground. The rest of us gathered on the ground. The rest of us gathered the bundles and set them in shocks, seven bundles to a shock. Six were set on end leaning against each other, the seventh was spread out and laid on top to shed rain should there be a wet spell before threshing time. If the knotter missed tying a bundle we twisted a sheaf of grain for a binding as our ancestors had done before us. Often we found a nest of baby rabbits hidden away in the grain stubble. Knowing the mother would probably not come back for them, we’d take them home and try to hand raise them. These projects were never successful. Snakes were plentiful and the challenge was to see who could discover the biggest one. A six to eight foot bull snake was not uncommon. We’d tease it for a while with a stick, then leave it for the dog to worry about. I have never feared snakes, probably because of those experiences.

On these hot summer days the grinding action of the floods of our creek brought some pleasures, too. The whirling waters gouged out deep holes on the bottom which left good swimming holes when fair weather returned. On hot Sunday afternoons all the neighborhood boys gathered there to swim and frolic. None owned a swim suit so naturally I was denied that pleasure. Consequently, I never learned to swim until I enrolled in a swimming course in College. I enjoyed the creek though, playing by myself in the more shallow areas, building dams, catching crayfish, and locating pretty rocks. I designed a huge rock garden near the house with the decorative stones I carried home.

Next time – Threshing Time in Chipmunk Coulee

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Westby Times editor

Dorothy Robson is editor of the Westby Times. Contact her at 608-637-5625.

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