A History of Harvesting

I had the best coffee break in a long while with Alex MacKenzie and Barry W. We chatted a long time about the threshing bees past, present and future.

Part of the gold was Alex gave me a copy of a page he had written about the history of harvesting. I've taken Alex's writing and added bits gleaned from our conversation and some stuff I found on the internet.

The Sickle, the Scythe and the Reaper

Early crops were cut with sickle or scythe and laid in bunches to be tied later.

Alex told me that the scythes were modified with a gizmo that collected the bunches into sheaves. I am thinking it might be sort of like the scythe shown in this video.

There was no string or twine so bunches were tied with some of the crop material as you can see in the photo below. The sheaves in this picture have been stooked, set up so that they dry and cure before threshing.

The sheaves were then brought in and spread on a hard surface and threshed with sticks, horses or flail.

Sheaves Tied with Stems and Stooked

In 1831 Cyrus McCormick demonstrated the first successful reaper taking a step to mechanized harvesting. Reapers are ground driven cutting systems that drop the crop in bunches to be tied by hand into sheaves then stooked.

The Binder Innovation

The first binders were built around 1850 and were wire-tie as there were no twine mills. On 1864 Jacob Behel invented the knotter bill hook, a device for holding twine. Some of the names of early binder inventors starting in the 1850's include McCormick, Marsh, Wood, Locke, Emerson, Gordon, and Deering.

Binders cut on the left side. There were also binders that cut on the right side. There was an outfit west of High River in the early teens that had both. You had to pull out on the corner to let one of the binders pass.

Our Reaper Binder Harvesting Oats

There seemed to be some confusion as to which side the cutter head should be. When combines came along there were some machines with cutting attachments on the left side or the right side. Binders were also used as swathers. All one had to do was remove the knotter trip and bundle or sheave carrier. In later years all were switched to the left hand side as they are today.

Threshers and Combines

Pull type harvesters, later called combines, came into production around late 1800's early 1900's.

Stationary threshers, also called separators by some pioneers, were invented and operated by stationary engines, steam engines or tractors. A lot of early threshers were made out of wood. They were hand fed and straw was piled by hand.

As time went on they improved to include a long feeder, a blower to stack straw and recorded the number of bushels that went into the bin or grain wagon. Al Dickie has put together a 1/6 scale model of a thresher and made a short video showing how it works

We'll have a similar threshing machine only full size in action at the threshing bee. Don't miss it, it's a great event.

The 28 inch thresher you'll see in action at Sheppard Family Park, in its hay day, would handle seven teams of horses with racks. Larger outfits of early days would be operated by steam engine along with 10 to 12 teams and racks. Also needed teams to haul water for the steamer and teams to haul grain.

With a rack on each side of the feeder and in some crops 4 men would be pitching in along with extra help in the field loading the racks.

Threshing Extras... Cooks... True Love...

The cook car and bunk car were moved with the outfit. The mattresses in the bunk car were made from the straw pile.

Many a cook hired for the cook car found their future husband through the fall run.

Thanks to N. Alex MacKenzie for most of the writing here on this page.

Back to The Threshing Bee page.