Early harvesting and threshing

Methods of farming have changed considerably since our early pioneers first came to the Elk Point district in 1907. During the early years our settlers needed very little in the way of machinery other than a plow and a team  of good horses. Their first big undertaking was to clear their land. Trees had to be cut down and the roots had to be dug out by hand or by using a stump puller. The brush then had to be cut, left to dry and later burned before the land was ready for the plow. It was a slow process and took a long time before the settler had a field big enough to cultivate.

During the early years the settler's small acreage produced only enough grain to supply his own needs. In many cases his entire crop of wheat was taken to a mill and ground into flour. Very few crops were marketed during the early years, if there was a surplus if was usually, bought by other settlers in the district.  Later when more grain was grown than what was needed  it was freighted to Vermilion or later in  years to St. Paul.  Elk  Point had no grain elevators until late in 1927.

One of the earliest methods of harvesting required both a cradle  and  a flail. The cradle was used to cut the grain and the flail was used to separate the grain from the straw. The cradle was actually a scythe with a number of fingers attached to it. The flail was made up of two hinged poles that were used to pound the grain until the kernels broke free from the heads.  As acreages increased our settlers had to buy additional horse drawn machinery such as binders, mowers and rakes. Others purchased a tractor, a. small steam engine or a threshing machine. Two well known machinery companies that supplied machinery to our early settlers were the J. I. Case Co. and the International Harvester Co. Some well known tractors and steam engines sold at the time were the Case 50 horsepower steam engine, the 10-20 Titan, the  Rumley Oil Pull, the Waterloo Boy and the Hart Parr 18-36.  Many of our early settlers owned their own binders but few had threshing machines they depended on others to do their threshing for them.

The first binders and threshing machines which were introduced to our dis­trict differed somewhat to the models  used in  later  years.  The bundle carrier on the first binder was located on the left side instead of the right side. This binder had to be driven in the opposite direction to the later models which released their bundles on the right side. The first threshing machine didn't have a blower, it had an elevator that carried the straw to the edge of the threshing machine where it was dropped off and had to be pitched away by someone with a fork. Later threshing machines came out with a straw blower.

Once the grain  was ripe, it was cut with a binder, then stooked or set upright to dry for a few days before the threshing machine was moved in to complete the harvesting operations. Usually a crew of about 10 men was needed - 6 or 8 manned the hay racks and one usually looked after the threshing machine and tractor. Sometimes a field pitcher was hired to help in the field. The owner of the threshing machine supplied the help and charged the farmer for each bushel that went through the machine. During the 1930s, men were usually paid $2 a day if they owned their hay rack and team, $1 a day if they didn't. Sometimes these workers would go 35 to 40 days without a break. There were many crops to take off and once they started they didn't stop for anything.

This method of harvesting and threshing existed up to the outbreak of World War II. After that farm labor was almost impossible to find because the majority of men were serving in the armed forces. This labor shortage forced many farmers to purchase combines. They were expensive but they helped solved the manpower problem. Once the war ended very few farmers went back to the horse binder and threshing machine and eventually these machines became relics of the past. Methods in haying also changed during the period. The old horse mower and rake was replaced with  a modern mower and baler. These new machines took a lot of hard work out of haying. The neat rectangular and round bales were much easier to stack and were more readily moved whenever bales of hay or straw were required. These new improvement in machinery practically eliminated the work horse which was so important on the farm during the early years. Today, on many farms, horses are no longer used except for recreational purposes. There have been many changes in farming equipment since the settler first came to our district and many more changes can be expected in the years ahead.