Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In Honor of My Mom

This is the sixth anniversary of the day my Mother left this life at the age of 89. I will always miss her. To this day, there are times when I’m trying to remember things that she would know that my first thought is to ask her. My second thought is that she is no longer here to ask and I sigh. She loved to learn though she was compelled to drop out of school after the eighth grade. My Grandfather didn’t believe in education, especially for girls. I sometimes wonder what my Mother could have achieved had she had the opportunity to go on with her formal education. I always admired her zest for life, her curiosity, her willingness to stand up for what was right, and for all that she taught me.

She loved to write and express herself. In honor of her considerable talent, I am going to post her writings about the day the thrashers came. I enjoyed it and I hope you do as well.

The Day the Thrashers Came

My father had a fair sized wheat field that he planted each year. In due time the heads of wheat filled, out waving to and fro in the warm summer sun. Then at last the time came when it was mature, then Dad would cut it and it would be bound by the binding machine into sheaves. These sheaves were then placed two or three together, with the wheat heads on top and resting on their cut ends.

The sheaves were left a few days like this. Dad would then hitch up his beloved horses, May and Doll, to the wagon, and he and my brothers would drive to the field. The sheaves were loaded, and hauled to the barn yard. It took many trips before all was gathered. There was a real art to the building of the stack. The sheaves had to be placed just so to build a good, even pile. Some men developed a real knack for this and were well known for this ability. I guess my dad was pretty good at every phase of the operation, for he had been doing work like this all his life. His father had taught him as a young lad to work at his side.

Other farmers in Pleasant View had wheat also, as did men in Lake View, Orem, and Grand View. Each had to get his order in, well in advance, for the thrasher. Dad would be assigned a certain date, so we all knew well ahead of time when the great day would be.

Dad's neighbors would come to help, and my dad would go help them when it was their turn. Mother would start her food preparation, days ahead, for it was customary for the women to serve a huge dinner to the men who worked on the threshing of the wheat. This dinner always seemed even better than Christmas, for the men worked hard and needed plenty of good food. There was also a bit of friendly competition among the wives concerning these dinners. There would be huge plates of meat, mounds of mashed potatoes, all kinds of pickles, preserves, and vegetables; then there were pies piled high with whipped cream, and delicious cakes! And don't forget the biscuits with sweet yellow butter. We children could hardly wait, for sugar was a scarce item at our home and we didn't often get desserts.

But, oh! The wonder of the operation of the huge machine! It would be drawn into our yard fairly early on the big day; the men would tighten a big wide belt, and make other mysterious and necessary adjustments and connections. There was always a contingent of young people, (and some older!) who showed up from round about, to watch the fascinating procedure. My little sister, Zora, and I would hang on the fence, wondering if they ever would get started. Then there would be a great roaring; the engine had been started! A chugging, grinding sound would fill the air and the huge belt would start to move. From a wheel at the engine, the belt made its trip to connect somewhere in the body of the giant, then back again to the engine. It made a huge loop that was continuous, though it crossed at the center for a reason unknown to us, but no doubt was necessary.

Up near the top and at the front of the wondrous machine, some sharp pointed spikes moved. Now a man on the top of our stack of wheat would spear a sheaf of wheat on the tines of a pitch fork. He would throw the bundle onto a wide canvas that moved continuously on a slant upwards to where the spikes were. They caught the sheaves and they were drawn inexorably into the maw of the voracious machine.

photo by Violet Christenson c1949, copyright Elroy Christenson 1999

Somewhere inside the body of this marvelous monster, a process of chewing and separation took place. A pipe-like appendage stuck out low from one side, where a man standing on the ground could reach it. A burlap gunny sack was attached to its mouth. The golden kernels of wheat poured in a stream into the sack.

photo by Violet Christenson c1949, copyright Elroy Christenson 1999
When it was almost full, the sack was removed by a worker who immediately attached another sack to the spout. The full one was then tied firmly with twine, then set in a growing pile of other sacks each bearing its precious burden.

photo by Violet Christenson c1949, copyright Elroy Christenson 1999

As this process went on here at the side, another part of the machine's digestion was being taken care of from the top and back. Another pipe, larger by far, grew out of about the center top. It curved and extended some distance rearward; it was hinged in some fashion so as to be swung back and forth, enabling the man tending this part of the operation to control the stream of chaff spewing from it. A wind mill effect was somehow achieved from inside, blowing the straw with considerable force. The huge pipe swung in a manner that allowed the man operating it, to build a uniform stack of straw, which slowly grew higher and higher. Particles of chaff filled the air, laying a clean, fragrant dusting over everything and everyone in the vicinity.

What a thrill for two wide eyed little girls, who kept well out of the way because of a healthy fear, but would run to watch in turn each fascinating operation of the marvelous monster.

At last, about noon the engine was shut off. The belt stopped moving and the roaring noise came to a stop. The men wiped their dusty faces and washed up where mother had provided a pan and lots of warm water, soap, and towels. Several neighbor women came to help set the plates, silver, and cups on the table, which consisted of long boards, supported by saw horses and covered with table cloths, sheets, or whatever would serve. The seats were devised by propping more boards on stumps or boxes. We children ate in a separate place but we got our share of the good food.

After lunch the men would go back to the job. The noise would start, the blowing chaff commenced and continued until the stack of wheat was gone, being replaced with more sacks of grain and another high pile of shiny straw. The women cleared away all the food and did the dishes. I suppose my mother was glad when it was over, but we children could hardly wait for the next time the thrashers would come. Dean Ekins, Harry Zobell, and Sylven Zobell operated this fabulous machine.

One of the rewards of the day, was when our mattress ticks were filled with the fragrant, new straw. For awhile we almost needed a ladder to climb into bed, but as the days and weeks went by they became flatter and flatter. We were quite ready for the new straw by the following year.

No more do we see the huge machine or hear the roaring noise. Gone are the sights and sounds and smells that made such a memorable experience. But as long as we do have our memories, we can resurrect if only faintly, the wonders and glories of the marvelous thrashing machine.


I am grateful that my Mother took the time to write these precious memories down, so that we can visualize the industry, the unity, and the productivity of bygone days. I also feel a flavor of the camaraderie and love these people seemed to have for each other and for their lives. I want to give my thanks to Elroy Christensen who gave me permission to use his family’s pictures of the thrashers. Though the year these pictures were taken was 1949, it seems to be about the same type of operation that my Mom describes of the thrasher’s operation of the 1920’s.


Annemarie Allen said...

I think Grandma Hortt had a gift for writing as do you mom. I'm glad we are all starting to blog because for me it helps me to write down events in our families lives and to keep connected.

I also have wonderful memories of Grandma and how whenever we went to go visit, no matter what time it was she would strike the griddle on and make some sour dough pancakes (but she called them hot cakes) for us.

I loved going to visit her in St. George, I remember she helped me make my first loaves of bread.

I'm grateful that she is my Grandy and I'm forever grateful for you mom. I treasure all of those times that we talk and "fix the world"

Love you,

elaine said...

Thanks for sharing your blog and your Mom with us on the mb! Cool story about the thrasher.
I have a son leaving for a mission in Brazil on November 19th. Are you there now?

Gloria said...


We returned from Brazil Dec 7, 2005. What a sweet thrill it was to be upon American soil again. I never realized how precious and dear the freedoms and liberties we have that we take quite for granted.

Where in Brazil will your son be serving? We were in the city of Sao Paulo--a huge city. He will love the people--they are wonderful.


The Paper Plates said...

Good story mom keep them coming. I would like to hear about your childhood memories as well. Love Dana