Fanning Oats

“And other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4.8

Oats was the first crop planted in the springtime. The Scheckel family had to “fan oats.” That meant taking “oats right out of the bin” and shoveling the grains into a fanning machine. It was no fun turning the metal hand crank on the machine. We stored the reddish wooden fanning mill in the east wing of the granary, the same wing that housed the grain binder and tractor. Every year in March, that brutish machine was carried out of the east wing and placed in the aisle of the granary.

These days fanning mills are found in farming museums, or serve as decorations in restaurants such as The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and the The Machine Shed. Most fanning machines used on a farm got scuffed up badly, covered with dust and grime. But they look quite eloquent in museums and restaurants, with their colors restored. Some had painting on the side and sported lathe-turned knobs on top. Almost like a piece of furniture.

Fanning machines got rid of chaff, straw, small stones, dirt, weed seeds, and light immature seeds from the oats or wheat seed you wished to plant. In short, the machine separated the wheat from the chaff.

A fanning machine used an air-blowing fan and two screens to clean the grain. Fanning mills were highly prized, and farmers took good care of them. Two common brand names were Cargill and Clipper. Some of those machines were used for a hundred years to clean oats and wheat used for spring planting.

It took at least two people to run a fanning mill, but three or more was better. One of us would scoop grain from the bin into the hopper of the red fanning machine. A shovel or five-gallon pail was used. Another one of us would turn the crank and the old machine would vibrate and shake as it came alive. Seeds passed over the scalping screen and removed large material. Then the seed moved over the sifting screen, which separated out the small debris.

The oats passed over two screens, one on top of the other. The smaller pieces fell through the holes of the top sieve. Bits of straw and larger chaffy oats didn’t get through the top sieve and collected on the fall. Bits of soil and rock fell through the bottom sieve, and were also discarded. The seeds fell past an adjustable blower that removed very light trash such as chaff.

The good oats seed was shoveled into gunny sacks. One of us would hold the sack, while the other scooped up the good grain and placed it in the bag. The top of the bag was twisted and fastened with binder twine. The seed oats were then ready to be planted.


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