combines on the Palouse-----------------1938
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  1. #1
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    Default combines on the Palouse-----------------1938

    eastward of the Cascade Range is a 1.2 million acre geologic region
    known as the Palouse

    wheat grows there


    and in the early days of the last century fields were combed by the greatest horse drawn harversters the planet has witnessed--no chance 40 horse teams will again sweep these--or any other--slopes

    Horse Drawn Combine Harvesting Wheat 1938 - YouTube

    Wheat crop being harvested with combine harvesters pulled by horses in Washington...HD Stock Footage - YouTube
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails klh.jpg  

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    Moscow Idaho is in the Palouse.
    Yes, no horse drawn combines now. Only GPS navigated self leveling air conditioned luxury combines.
    It's amazing the farming they can do on the rolling hills. Some quite steep.
    When the wheat is being harvested the sky is a tan color.

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    The interesting thing in the youtube is the contrast in technologies present in that combine outfit. The combine is drawn by more teams than I could count. The combine itself is driven by a gasoline engine (aka: "power unit"), and the exhaust stack and elevated air cleaner are seen in the youtube. The wheat, instead of being held in a "grain tank" or on-board bin (as is the case on modern combines), is filling sacks aboard the combine. One combine hand is manually sewing the sacks closed and dropping them to the ground via a chute as the combine moves along.

    The whole outfit is quite an interesting study. I wonder why, if the combine was driven by an on-board engine, it was not being pulled along by a tractor. A lot of this style of combine were often pulled by 'Cat tractors. It would seem like an incredible amount of work and expense to have that many head of draft horses to pull the combine in an era when tractors were already a well-developed thing.

    When I was working in Wyoming as a young engineer, I got laid off as the job wound down for me. A ranching family invited me to stay on their ranch, saying they could not see why I'd want to head back east. I agreed, but only on the condition that I be put to work. They had a custom combining outfit consisting of three combines (massey Ferguson combines), along with trucks with grain dump bodies and special trailers to haul the combines, an office trailer/cook shack, and a bunkhouse truck on an old cornbinder (International Harvester) truck chassis. The combine outfit was down on the Western Slope of Colorado, and a hail storm had beaten down the wheat, so harvest was delayed. During the delay, some of the combine hands had up and quit. I was asked if I'd go down to the Western Slope and help finish out the season with the combine outfit. I said I would on condition that I would not run a combine. I did not want to learn on the job on sloping fields, nor risk tearing up or putting a combine on its side. I had a commercial driver's license for heavy trucks, and said I'd be happy to drive the grain trucks, cook for the crew and service the combines. I spent a few weeks tramping around with the combine outfit. It was quite an education for me.

    The combine operators would sleep late, while the boss and I were up early. I'd drive the mechanic truck into the town where the grain elevator was, let them know how many acres we'd be cutting, then buy a couple of hundred gallons of diesel fuel for the combines and the grain trucks. Come back to the campsite, fuel all the trucks and combines, then check fluids, belts, screens, and check for anything worked loose or out of place and fix it. After that, the boss and I would get breakfast on. We'd wake the combine hands about 9 AM. We'd start the combines while the hands were eating breakfast. By about 10 AM, the dew was evaporated off the wheat and combining could start.

    The grain trucks were once cab-over-engine truck tractors, having Detroit 8V71N (naturally aspirated, no turbos) diesels, 13 speed road ranger transmissions and "twin screw" rear ends (two rear axles, both powered). These had been used hard in fleet service, then the rancher bought them, had the chassis lengthened and aluminum dump bodies put on. No air conditioned cabs, engines in a "dog house" in the cab, keeping the cabs noisy and hot.

    We'd camp at these little places the wheat growers had set as camp sites. Nothing much there- an outhouse made of slabwood from a sawmill with gaps you could throw a cat through and a candle in a coffee can for light in the outhouse at night. Water was a hand pump on a "driven well" (shallow well with a well point driven down to water). The water was the worst part of it. It was invariably heavy with sulphur. In the mornings, when I'd brush my teeth, I'd gag on the taste of that water. That first morning, the boss was filling 1 gallon plastic jugs from that hand pump, and he put a couple up in each grain truck cab. I got my marching orders: stay in an unloaded grain truck with the engine running and keep my ears open for the 2 way radio. I'd be told where to meet a combine and would pull alongside, and the operator would "pump out" (use a screw conveyor and grain spout to fill the truck). As I'd get alongside the combine, I'd pace him, and he'd be telling me to drop back or come ahead a little to level the load. I do not recall ever tarping the load.

    As soon as I had a load on the truck bed, my orders were to get to the elevator in town as fast as I could. Coming out of the wheat strips, I had to take it real easy to avoid capsizing the truck, but when I hit the hard paved road, it was balls to the wall. The altitude there was something like 7000 feet above sea level, and the Detroit diesel had a fairly narrow power band as it were. I'd get through the gears and keep those Detroits wound up around 1800 rpm, running at about 60 mph when I could. At the elevator, I'd get in a line of trucks, and sooner or later, inch up to the scales. I'd get weighed in, loaded, and a grain sample was taken for moisture content. I'd be directed to back over a grating and told to dump my load. As soon as I'd dumped, a couple of guys with scoops shovels would get in the truck bed to clean out the corners. After that, back to the scales to weight out light and get the printed ticket. I'd go screaming back to the wheat strips, and the radio was already telling me another loaded truck was waiting for me, or to pull alongside a combine.

    By about noon, after a couple of hours of this, the truck cabs were sweat boxes, and the ambient air temperature had crept up. The dust in the air was choking. All of a sudden, the plastic jug of that well water tasted so good, even warmed as it was from sitting in the truck cab by the engine doghouse. No one stopped for lunch or breaks, we all worked straight through. While the dew was off the wheat, it had to be harvested.

    This went on without letup until somewhere around 10 PM when the dew started to fall. The combines worked with lights on top of their cabs and I kept on driving trucks. My night vision was never really good, but the dust and unfamiliar terrain and surreal nature of the wheat strips made it a real challenge. It was near midnight before we wound things down. I'd have shared cooking supper with the boss, and gave the boss all the tickets from the grain elevator. I got off to sleep. The boss sat up with the paperwork for the day.

    Every few days, after we'd "cut" in one area, we'd break down the combines, load them up on the trailers and move the whole circus to the next location. We followed the grain crop, and eventually, came back into Wyoming. We tied up the combines for winter on the ranch, and I did repairs on them and on the heavy trucks, and checked fences and livestock until hunting season. It was an education, and to this day, when I look at a sack of flour or a loaf of bread, I wonder and remember the combining and the wheat strips and elevators.

    Anyone who thinks farming is any easier because of air conditioned cabs or much else has another guess coming. Any kind of farming is one of the biggest gambles a person can take. Weather, commodities prices, world politics, and the economy all are factors in determining if a farmer or someone like the custom combine outfits are successful. Another friend in Wyoming had a machine shop and sold welding gases. One of their biggest customer bases was for home delivery of medical oxygen. I was told this was for men who had "brown lung" or "farmer's lung", from breathing the endless dust whether from plowing and working dry soils, or from the wheat harvest. In the era before home oxygen "generators", the town machine shop used to have a regular business in picking up and delivering oxygen cylinders to homes. There is good reason for air conditioned cabs on farm equipment.

    With what little time I spent amongst the combine outfit, I learned a lot. Seeing the youtube here, I think we had it easy with the combine outfit I tramped around with. I can't imagine the additional work in the care of that many draft horses, let alone the feed and water for them. Infinitely easier to stick a fuel nozzle into a tank on a combine, and more than infinitely easier to startup and shut down a diesel driven combine than curry, harness and hitch that many teams, and have to walk them out and care for them at day's end before putting them up for the night. But, the guys on the combine outfit in this youtube certainly came up during the era of reapers and binders, and loading the shocks onto a wagon, then feeding it into the "separator" to be "thrashed". I am sure to those guys, this combine with a gasoline engine, doing it all in one pass thru the fields, was a major step up. I saw the combines used when I was with the combine outfit, and I rode around with the boss in the cab of a combine. In those days, there was no GPS to guide the combines. The fields were sometimes irregularly shaped due to contour plowing or soil conservation practices. The result was a combine operator had to constantly be on his toes, following the rows as well as handling the controls to raise and lower the "header" (or "reel").
    It took what seemed to me to be a good deal of skill to handle a combine.

    I've since learned that most large scale farming field work is done using GPS guided tractors and combines. There is also software the farmers can use to determine the optimal ways to plow or sow a field. In speaking with a farmer using the modern equipment, I learned that it has become something like maintaining the tractors and implements, driving them to the field and a starting point determined by the software, locking in on GPS, starting the operation (plowing, planting, etc), and letting GPS and the software do the rest. The farmer or equipment operator is then along for the ride and to take over if something should happen.

    The mention of GPS and these modern methods has me thinking of the old method of planting corn using a knotted steel wire stretched across the field. A forked lever on the planter drill followed along this wire, and at each knot, the lever was tripped, causing seed to be released and fed down into the soil. The knots were at regular intervals. A farmer had to handle a team of horses pulling the planter drill, keep the team and implement following close along the wire, and would then wind up with regularly spaced corn stalks in even and straight rows. Of course, the knotted wire would break and have to be spliced, and the wire had to be rolled up and unrolled when needed. Stakes were pushed into the soil at the edges of the fields to stretch the knotted wire between. Oldtimers have told me about this whole process, and said that there was a kind of informal competition between local farmers as to who had the straightest rows and best laid out fields. Some guys would wind up stretching the wire out of square to the edges of the fields, and this was a source of joking and kidding. Hearing about the knotted wire to space out the planting of corn, it was a precursor to the GPS and software of today, but so much more work. Even back then, the thought was to be more efficient in planting to allow for easier cultivation and better crop yields. At the same time, I keep thinking of having to deal with a reel of enough knotted steel wire to stretch across a field, as well as handling a team of horses to keep a planter drill straight and following that wire. It gives a real meaning to "fly by wire".

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    Man, That was a cool story Joe. "Those were the days my friend"
    When I see those combines in the fields you can't even see the combine. Just the cloud of dust that surrounds it. Those air conditioned cabs are a godsend to the farmers.

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    The "old" fashioned way.

    wheat.jpg

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fabworks View Post
    The "old" fashioned way.

    wheat.jpg
    I'd take this over a damn horse!

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    Reap and fertilize at the same time.
    Why the segregated horses?

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    After watching the first two videos this one was suggested...

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    Today's machinery can run 1000 acres a day with just one man.
    Trucking takes the labor during harvest. One out, one back, and one in the field.
    Sometimes you just sit and wait for an empty trailer.

    Times changed from when I drove both field and to the elevator, starting at age 12. Couldn't barely see over the dash of the 1940 dodge dump body. The men at the elevator took over once I got in the lot. I just watched as the truck went up on the tilt.

    'Hit the auger on the combine bin once with the truck sides. That dent cost my uncle (and me) a half day to pull out before the auger would turn again. I was red faced for the week.

    Wheat was $4 a bushel then. Some things don't change much. The sun and heat are the same.

    Corn went 30-40 bpa. Now it's pushing 200. I guess the bankers are happy on the good years.

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    Timely subject, I just finished harvest and just got back from visiting the vintage harvest they do in Davenport, WA each year, where there's a half dozen or so combines from the 1910 to 1960s vintage back at work for the day. It was very cool to see them at work instead of just junk or yard art in some old forgotten corner.

    How I wish I could've went with my grandfather, the memories it would have brought back. The first harvest he was old enough to work in was with a team of horses pulling the combine. The next harvest they had traded them in on a tractor. They just cut the tongue off shorter on the combine to pull with the tractor since they didn't need the length anymore for all those teams. We're nostalgic about horses these days, but he described having to roll out extra early to feed the team, so they had time to eat while the men rose, breakfasted and then harnessed 30-some animals. Horses were a burden when they weren't being used. A lot of land went into their feed and keeping that could have otherwise been growing crops, and in our dry country that kept farming from being a viable thing in many areas until mechanization progressed.

    The hilly country required some truly massive teams to pull the combines, up to 36 horses or mules. It wasn't just for motive power, but the early combines had a ground power drive wheel that ran the threshing mechanism as well. So the horses had to make all that power too. The Walla Walla museum has a great example of this with a restored combine and fully harnessed team of plastic mules. The driver had multiple sets of reins and sat perched on a seat on the end of a long pole jutting out over the team, about 10 feet off the ground. He had to watch for malingers in the team also, as a savvy horse would learn to not pull his share of the load, but to keep the traces tight enough that it looked like he was. To deal with that there was a little box beside his seat that he could keep loaded with rocks

    The sacked wheat is another interesting detail. It added a whole layer of additional work to harvest. You'll note that in the video the sacks stack up on a chute. It's set up so after about 5 sacks are filled they are dumped together in the field by tripping a door. This made things easier when they were picked up after harvest. My grandma always remarked about how muscular my grandfather was after picking up a harvest's worth of 90 lb sacks. This was one job that went better with a horse team than a truck, as a good team could be commanded by voice and would quickly learn where to stop and start. The sack sewer was the most skilled and best paid man on the crew, as the speed of the harvest often hung on his ability to keep up. The combines had a work area with a V-diverter, so one sack was always filling while he sewed the other.

    The needle used is a very specialized tool. It is a large, heavy needle, but crucially altered in several ways for speed. It is flattened into a spear shape to make it easier to grip with sweaty fingers and to allow the sewer to know it's orientation at all times. Next, the eye is elongated, and it is slit through on one side of the it. Normally this slit is closed, but by holding a bight of twine in one hand and sliding it along the needle the slit springs open and allows the twine to enter the eye for sewing. This was much faster than threading the eye each time. The other detail is that the eye is sharpened on the front end, so when a sack is complete it can be cut loose with no other tool needed.

    needle1.jpgneedle2.jpg


    In spite of the advances of modern equipment, much of the harvest experience remains the same now as it's ever been. The heat, dust and smell of the wheat in the air will always be the same. The smell of diesel pumping in the cool of the morning always takes me instantly back to harvest as a kid, just as I'm sure the smell of horses and leather harnesses did for another generation of men.

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    Been trying to find clip of last year (or was it the year before?) when you folks had a go with a team pulling a harvester, would love to be able to watch one working on those hills.....
    I know a few machines came here in the 30's which could have been tractor or horse hitched but I think they all went behind a tractor from new.
    Richard.


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