Dad also owned a threshing machine, and did threshing for most of the farmers in the area. The years I remember the power for the threshing machine was supplied by the big 15-30 tractor. In the earlier years they had used a steam engine. The abandoned steam engine stood in our pasture where we kids spent many hours playing pretend games. Dad told us when he and the steam engine operator used to be on the threshing run they would move from farm to farm with the rig, only coming home when jobs were finished. Usually the families would house them for the night. However, one evening as he was ending his day by cleaning and oiling his machine, the house lights went out and no arrangement had been made for where they would sleep. They spent the night inside the threshing machine with grain sacks for bedding.

Another story Dad enjoyed telling about was the time the threshing crew was due at the farm where the farmer’s wife was very ill. She knew she would not be able to cook the meals for the crew, but her generous city cousin promised her that she’d gladly come and prepare the meals. She assured the farmer’s wife that she was an able cook and would handle everything. Promptly at twelve o’clock the threshing crew, probably 12 or 15 hungry men came into the farm kitchen. There they found a beautiful set table, centerpiece and all, supplied with trays of dainty tea sandwiches and cakes. Their eyes must have pooped and their jaws dropped, but with sincere neighborly understanding, they ate sparingly then went back to work. During the rest of the day, however, the men were all chewing handfuls of freshly threshed grain to satisfy their hunger pains.

I find it hard to believe the story because I remember well the preparation we made for the threshing crew when I was a young girl helping my mother. When we knew our time was coming up next we made sure we had a good supply of meat, sometimes butchering chickens, a calf or even a hog. We baked loaves and loaves of bread, kuchen, doughnuts, cookies, and cakes. The kuchens, a German kind of coffee cake made from sweetened bread dough, would have a peach or apple topping, because those were the fruits in season. What a dilemma this presented if the weather turned rainy and the threshing had to be postponed. Without refrigeration nothing kept very long during summer months. We prayed the weather would clear up quickly or we knew we’d be repeating the process later.

Next time – More About Threshing Day

Bernice Hellwig has been a lifetime resident of the Coon Valley area. Growing up at her parent’s farm in Chipmunk Coulee, Bernice developed a love of learning. Over the years Bernice has written the story of their lives. It is an account of cherished memories of farming, teaching and family. In her own words, this is her story.

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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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