Cutting Oats on the Scheckel Farm

We’ve been looking back to the 1940s and 1950s days of cutting and shocking oats and wheat on the Scheckel 238-acre farm, in the heart of Crawford County, two miles northwest of Seneca.

We’re ready to take the binder to the field. I loved the smell of binder twine.  Binder twine came from sisal, a plant from Mexico.  We’ve seen those big round rolls of used binder twine, some standing taller than a man.  Somebody is always trying to get into the McGinniss World Records with the “World’s Largest Roll of Binder Twine.”

I was particularly intrigued to learn of an annual Binder Twine Festival held in Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada. Kleinburg is a bit north of Toronto.  It started when farmers in the late 1800’s, would come to town to buy binder twine for binding sheaves of wheat. One enterprising merchant offered food and drink on Binder Twine Night, and that was the beginning of the Festival.

Kleinburg, population 5,000, has a Binder Twine parade, Binder Twine Queen contest and a quilt raffle. The Queen contest requires contestants to demonstrate their abilities in cow milking, hog calling, and log sawing.  Right off, I knew this was the kind of festival I could support!  An additional event is always planned and kept secret so the ladies cannot practice ahead of time. Held right after Labor Day, the Binder Twine Festival draws about 25,000 people a year.

The binder, as it was used in the field, was too wide to pass through farm gates and narrow lanes.  There was the binder machine plus an eight foot cutting platform deck.  So the field-ready machine was about 15 feet wide.  That was certainly too wide to travel on the gravel road running through the Scheckel farm on Oak Grove Ridge.

The binder was mSK 10 Getting a drinkounted on two removable transport wheels permitting it to be pulled lengthwise out to the field.  The two steel trolley wheels were used only to get the binder to the field.  I didn’t realize this as a kid.

Out to the field we would go, Dad driving the horses hitched to the tongue that extended out from under the outer edge of the cutting platform.  The Scheckel boys, Phillip, Bob, and I tagging along.  Sometimes we begged to drive the horses. Our sisters Catherine, Rita and later Diane, would bring a quart canning jar filled with cold water and ice cubes. Near the farm buildings we would take a drink from the windmill that brought cold water from several hundred feet down.

The trio of faithful work horses, Dolly, Prince, and Sam, were unhitched from the tongue. The platform had to be raised up so that the tongue could be unlatched.  The big bull wheel, about four feet in diameter and one foot wide, was cranked down.  The large bull wheel supported the main part of the binder, which contained the heavy metal working parts.  It was the bull wheel that powered the entire machine, the cutting bar, the big reel in front, the rollers that moved the canvas, the knotter and the mechanism that kicked out the bundles.  All moving parts got their marching orders from the bull wheel.

The bull wheel was cranked up sufficiently to raise the two smaller transport wheels off the ground so that they could be disconnected.  The two wheels were rolled off to the side and parked along the fence row or under a shade tree.  The next time they would be used was to transport the grain binder to another field.  The front transport wheel was positioned up and off the ground.

Next, a tongue was latched into position on the front of the binder.  A short tongue if the Massey Harris ’44 was used, or a long tongue if Dolly, Prince, and Sam were the chosen three.  Then the McCormick Deering eight-foot grain binder was ready to go to work.

Cutting oats could now begin.

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