The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Beulah S. Fox © 1986

Issue: July, 1986

When summer had ended and the wheat fields were waving with ripe golden grain, along come the old fashioned threshing machine.

This large steel machine was one of the most important pieces of farm equipment. Not every farmer had a threshing machine. There were only two in the valley where I grew up. The farmers gathered with suntanned faces covered with chaff to work with the threshing machine, in a community, until all the wheat was threshed, about 12 to 15 men, plus an extra one or two who tagged along for the meal. Then that crew rested and another crew took over.

Farmers used the machine at harvest time to separate wheat from the stalks and hulls. It was driven by a tractor motor connected to it by a belt. The bundles of grain were thrown onto a huge belt and carried into the threshing machine part of the machine. Through a carriage or pipe, the straw traveled on the belt to a stacker. Here it was blown out to the stack or rick nearby. There might be a long train of teams coming in from the fields, four men on the stack, one throwing bundles to the man doing the feeding, one cutting bands and two measuring grain. Finally the clean golden grain went into sacks and two or three men hauled it into the granary.

We children stood at a distance and watched with awe, and carried zinc buckets of spring water for the big threshing crew. While all of this was happening, down at the house the women folks were busy as could be. The day before word had come, "The threshers will be at your house for dinner." There was probably never a housewife but what dreaded to hear those words. First she went to the springhouse for plenty of water, milk and butter. Pies were made the day before and placed in the springhouse. My father's favorite pie was custard. My grandfather's favorite pie was raspberry with butter and honey on top. So at our house, we made custard and raspberry pies.

I still remember the recipe:

1 pint of rich milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon flavoring

All were mixed together and poured into a half baked crust and baked in a hot oven.

My father always had to have lemon flavoring. Then came piles of potatoes. Mother usually quartered and baked them in a shallow pan with strips of country bacon on top. Then there were greens, green beans, tomatoes, apples, hot biscuits and country butter with milk and coffee.

A basin of water, soap and towels were placed on the porch where the hungry crew washed and marched into the kitchen. Eight people could eat at a time around the long oil cloth covered table with chairs around three sides and a bench at the back side. This meant there would be two tables of threshers.

How they ate, and ate, and ate, until the table was bare except for the pears and apples on the tablecloth! All the time they were seeing who could tell the biggest tales. One that I remember was telling about the day when the machine broke down. One of the men took the piece to be fixed. Meanwhile dinner time came around. The men began talking about going to eat. One of the boys who lived there said, "No work, no eat."

It didn't matter where they started, how much they were delayed by rain, they seemed to manage to eat at the same places every year. Word got around where the food was best.

They might finish by middle evening and move the machine to its next place so as to be ready to begin again next morning. But first they would send a messenger to the next place saying, "Threshers will be at your place tomorrow for dinner."

Modern day combines can do more in a short span of time than a dozen men could do in a day with the threshing machine, but somehow I miss the neighborly scene of neighbor helping neighbor using the old fashioned threshing machine.