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Threshing Machines


David Weir


No farmer could operate very long without a combine. Hecould operate a threshing machine but it would not be economical nor wouldit accomplish very much. Here is the story of how men have harvested theircrops in the Red River Valley, from flails to combines.

The flail was the first thing used in the Red River Valley. It was a must for the very, very earliest pioneers around here. On oneend was a small handle to hold it by. On one end of it was a small hingeof some kind or another. On the hinge was about two feet or maybe moreof leather strap. The farmer spread his grain on the barn floor. Thenhe took hold of the handle and beat the kernels out of the shells with theleather strap. This work was very hard labor.

Some of the earliest pioneers did it a slightly differentway. They spread the grain on the barn floor but instead of beating itwith a flail, they drove the horses or oxen over it until it was threshedout. This wasn't nearly as hard on the man.

Another advancement was the threshing machine. The veryfirst threshing machine in the whole world was made in 1788. But littleeffort was made to perfect it until about 1840 when Americans first begantinkering with it. When it finally was perfected, it quickly spread throughoutthe United States. Most of the threshing machines were powered by beltpulleys off the tractor or steam tractor. There are three main parts ofharvesting grain. They are threshing, separating, and cleaning. But separatingand cleaning are just slightly different so they can be explained in roughlythe same way.

Separating is accomplished by the cleaning fan blowingair. The air blows the chaff away from the grain. Then the chaff may bechopped with the straw or may go out the back and on the shakers. The chaffertakes out all the rough stuff, such as, straw or sticks, or the woody stalksof weeds. The sieves also shake off the refuse.

Threshing is accomplished by a high speed rotating cylinder. The grain is beaten out by the cylinder whirling as rows of metal teethcomb the grain. Still further threshing is accomplished by the cylinderbeating the grain against the concave. This sounds very rough on the grainbut it isn't very harmful to the grain as long as you keep the cylinderset at the right speed. Few kernels, if any at all, are split.

A far more efficient advance was an early form of the combine. It was developed by 1836 but it didn't appear on the big bonanza farmsof the Red River Valley until 1880, and then only a few of those huge farmshad any. This soon ended as the owners of the farms soon found out thatthey could get a much quicker and better quality job done by those machines.

The first combine had to get their power from a tractoror some other source. They ranged from 3 to 5 feet wide in front. Today,the smallest combine is 5 feet wide where the grain swath enters the machine. The large ones are up to 18 feet wide.

Also, today you can do your harvesting "in the frontroom" with such options as cabs, air conditioning, and power steering. Another option you can buy is a straw chopper. This is very useful becauseit makes the ground much easier to plow after threshing, because the strawwon't plug the plow.

Today, some people hire custom combining to help with theharvesting. These people start in Texas early in the summer and work theirway up to around here. Depending on the size of the combines they haveto work with, they charge anywhere from about ten dollars to about thirty-fivedollars an hour and six cents a bushel for hauling the grain to the bins. Some of the bigger combines can harvest up to around forty-five acres ona good long day.

Threshing has made a giant step in the Red River Valleyfrom the flail of the old days to the huge combines of today. The combinesare much more faster and economical than any of the other methods seen inthe history of threshing.


Interview: John Weir, January 7, 1974, St. Vincent, Minnesota

The Day of the Bonanza, p. 109, North Dakota Institutefor Regional Studies, 1964

Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia, p. 86, F. E. Compton'sand Company, 1939

Encyclopedia Americana, pp. 37b and 37c, Americana Corporation,1963

World Book, p. 208, Field Enterprises Incorporated, 1971

Comptons, pp. 168-169, F.E. Comptons and Company, 1967


Comptons, pp. 168-169, F.E. Comptons and Company, 1967