It is 1948 and the threshing crew is at the Scheckel farm, a couple miles northwest of Seneca, in the middle of Crawford County. Older brother Phillip is 7 years old, I am 6, and Bob is 5.
On toward 10 o’clock, the dew has been burned off by the blazing sun. Loads of bundles started arriving from the fields. There were 6 or 7 wagons coming in, some pulled by a team of horsed, others towed behind a tractor. These were small tractors, typical for the time of the late 1940’s and 1950’s; Farmall H, Ford 8N, Allis Chalmers C., John Deere “Johnny Poppers.”
A half dozen “rigs”, or wagons, could keep the hungry threshing machine busy. Shutting it down was wasted time, and time was everything. That machine kept going, only to be stopped between loads for a quick greasing of all the zerts and at lunch time, which was usually around 12:30 PM.
Frank Fradette opens the throttle of the big Minneapolis Moline, smoke belching out the 3 foot exhaust pipe atop the machine, wafting off into the clear blue Wisconsin sky. The thresher comes to life, the big claw teeth at the end of the grain bundle tray chute starting to move, as if it were gulping for bundles. The tray chain moves, all the belts and pulleys turning. This beast of a machine is arising from the dead and coming alive.
Joe Bernier, bib overalls, straw hat, red bandana, roll-your-own cigarette, has already driven his team of Percherons and wagon into position, just inches from the feed trough. The thresher is up to speed, and Fradette signals for the first bundles to start down the feeder.
Bundles are thrown in grain heads first, stalk end last, and lengthwise. There are feeder knives attached beneath the claws that cut the binder twine. Uncut twine is bad news, grain is not separated from the stalk, and it can clog the thresher. Twine can get wrapped around shaft bearing and needs to be cut out by hand with a jack knife.
Frank Fradette was paid by the bushel for threshing grain. A few cents a bushel was the rate. Threshed oats went up an elevator on the side of the big machine and the grains dumped in a receiver cup. This receiver was counterbalanced by a weight and when full, the bucket opened and dumped the grain into an auger that took it to a waiting wagon or pick-up. At the same time, the dumping buckle operated a geared counter that kept track of the number of bushels threshed. Two dumping trips of the bucket was one bushel of oats. The counter had 3 “windows” and operated like the counters used to keep track of the amount of electricity used.
The Scheckel boys are told to “stay out of the way”, but we do carry jars of ice-cubed water to the threshing crews. A steady stream of straw arcs across the azure sky, building a straw stack.