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Denton Community
Historical Society

Tales & Trails
Combines & Threshing


Dwayne and Joan Wittstruck have graciously given permission to reprint excerpts from a book “Farm Boy” which details the memories of Dwayne growing up in Lancaster County. 

Joan has edited these memories and a copy of the book was presented to DCHS recently. Since this is the summer edition of “Tales and Trails” it seems quite fitting to recall those hot July days when the neighborhood men and boys ran the machinery and the women and girls cooked those big noon meals and served the lemonade and kool-aid to thirsty men in the fields in the afternoon.

My first memories of threshing were watching Grandpa, Dad and Uncle Harlan with Grandpa’s 24” Huber threshing machine. They threshed for Carl Zimmerman, Chester Moore, Hubert Frohn, and Grandpa’s and our family.

First, the wheat and oats, and sometimes barley, was cut with a binder. It cut it and tied it into bundles. Then the binder carried the bundles and dumped them in windrows where they were ‘shocked’ — set up by hand —to get the grain off the ground to dry out so it wouldn’t spoil. During the drought years it was sometimes so dry we didn’t need to. Then with a team and hayrack you picked up the shocks, hauled them to the thresher, and pitched them in with a pitchfork. The thresher separated the grain from the straw. That’s why thresh machines were sometimes called ‘separators’. The grain went into trucks or wagons and the straw into a big straw pile.

I was nine when I started running the binder and 11 when I started hauling bundles, jobs I had until we quit threshing. Before then, our binder was pulled by four horses and Dad ran it. When we used a tractor Mom ran it for the first couple of years until 1934 when I took over the job. It was a McCormick-Deering 7 foot binder. I ran it until ‘36 when I also started running the bundle wagon.

We’d started threshing ourselves that year and they needed an extra rack. Dad looked at me and said “I guess you’re going to have to take over.” Uncle Harlan had a team of neat old horses that would never hurt you so I hitched them up to his hayrack. Harlan and Dad ran the thresher and hauled the grain - most of the time with Grandpa’s ‘29 Ford truck — and horses and wagons.

We stored it in our bins and granaries. Didn’t have time to haul it to market. We ran four racks — Chester Moore ran one, Carl Zimmerman, Hubert Frohn’s hired man Gus Schmutte and me. Gus was a character. He wore a denim jacket buttoned to the neck which was always drenched in sweat. Said it kept him cool.

1938 was the last year we threshed with our own machinery. In 1939 we joined Ed Willman’s crew with Ralph Drake, Ernie Freye, Ted Quathamer and Bill Kurtzer. I ran our rack with our broncs, Jim and Dan. Dad hauled the grain in trucks. We did our first combining in 1940 along with some threshing. 1943 was the first year we harvested entirely with a combine.

Some of the threshing crews around were Obed Sittler’s, Carl Brandt’s, Ed Willman’s and Bill Miller’s. I don’t remember who Harlan and Hubert Frohn ended up threshing with. Probably with neighbors who lived closer than we did.

Melvin Sittler bought a 1939 five foot Allis combine. You had to go like hell to cut 20 acres a day. He hired me, at age 13, to run the combine while he hauled and did his other work. I combined my folks’ fields, Art Reddish’s and Fred Miller’s, along with Melvin’s. Worked for him until ’41 when we bought our own combine — a used six foot IHC which always broke down. It had a motor, not a power take-off.

The Two John Deere’s
We decided to buy two combines since we were farming a lot of ground — the Reeder Place, Lou’s, Grandpa Fischer’s and some of John Sullivan’s as well as our own We thought the I 2A John Deere was simple to run and pulled easy. So Mom and Dad went to Kansas to scout around — machinery was hard to find. It was after the war and they hadn’t tooled up for Ag yet. 

They found two 12A John Deere’s somewhere in central Kansas, a ‘42 and a ‘43, and bought them both. We went back with our pickup and my 1934 Ford V8 to bring them home. My car didn’t have a hitch. We didn’t know how we were going to pull it. But the dealer made a hitch and welded and bolted it to the bumper. Kind of funny, seeing a car going down the road pulling a combine. I had more guts in those days than 1 do now. It was a two lane road — some places even gravel. We got those John Deere’s home. But we never used them.

Walt Becker, the IHC dealer in Emerald, got hold of Melvin and us and said “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll sell you this combine with the stipulation that when you’re done with it I’ll buy it back and send it to South Dakota.”

It was a 1947 self-propelled 12 foot IHC Model 123. It was a good deal. We ran the hell out of it. Cut all over and sold it back to Walt. (We sold the John Deere's to Lloyd Zimmerman and Ed Sullivan.)

The next year Walt had another deal for us. “I’ll sell you a truck and combine both. After you’re done with them I’ll load the combine on the truck and send them to South Dakota.”
So we got to use another brand new 12 foot combine, a 1948 model 123 and a brand new IHC KB5 truck. 

We combined for Art Reddish and others, not as many as the year before because there were more combines around (including those two John Deere’s). But we really used the truck. Whenever it rained and we couldn’t combine we hauled grain from the Martell Elevator to Gooch’s Mill in Lincoln and the Crete Mills.

The next year, 1949, the deal was off because almost everybody had their own combines and Walt had no place to resell them. So Dad, Melvin and I bought another 12 footer, a ‘49 self propelled 125 IHC and Melvin bought himself a new IHC truck. (We’d bought a ‘48 IHC K3 the year before.) We continued to combine with Melvin until 1953 when we bought his share of the combine out. Dad and I used that combine until 1959 when we traded it in at Wielage’s of Crete for a new 12 foot IHC model 101.

We added another combine in 1970— a used 303 13 footer at Beckler's in Lincoln. Dad ran the 101 while I ran the 303. My boys, Craig and Marc, ran both of them. I ran the 303 until I quit farming. The last time I ran it was to combine milo north of the dairy barn in 1987. Sold it to the Pester brothers for $400 and the 101 to a farmer from Unadilla for $200.

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Webmaster - Kathie Harrison
Denton Community Historical Society of Nebraska