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42 feet in width, raising its cloud of yellow dust, and leaving behind a long train of sacked grain, ready to be hauled to the warehouse, railroad, or mill. It is estimated that 3,000 combined harvesters were operated on the Pacific coast in 1903.
Threshing is the operation of separating the grain from the chaff and straw. It is perhaps an entirely safe proposition to say that this has been accomplished in every imaginable manner. Perels states that the oldest method of threshing was by utilizing animals in tramping out the grain, but the flail, according to the same author, was known in grayest antiquity in a form similar to that of the present day. Both methods have been used in modern times. It is more probable that the first grain was shelled by hand, and that the first advance was to an auxiliary implement, a staff or rod with which the heads were pounded. The heads were also whipped across sticks or poles. The flail was early invented by attaching a club to the staff. The wind was the first fanning mill, the grain being thrown up so that the chaff would be blown away. The same forces, gravity and a current of air, are still utilized. The only improvements have been in the manner in which they are applied and in the addition of the screen.
Horses were used to tramp out the grain in early times in the United States, or a great roller with large wooden pins was dragged over the grain. These methods were still used in this country in 1835 or 1840. From 23 to 30 bushels per day for three horses, a man and a boy were the usual results. This method is still often used in Russia, where, in cleaning the wheat, the “shovel and wind’’ plan is utilized for the chaff, and a sieve 3 or 4 feet in diameter is used for removing weed seeds and grading the grain. In Spain and Syria, the threshing is also frequently accomplished by driving oxen or horses over the grain. The same method is occasionally found in remote parts of Argentina. Even in New Mexico one could find grain reaped with the sickle and threshed by the trampling of goats as late as 1899.
The Flail.--Where this implement was used, threshing was the chief farm work of winter. The flail was not rare in the United States as late as 1830, was common in Great Britain until 1850, and was still used in Germany in 1872. It is used now in parts of Europe where the holdings are very small or the peasants poor, notably in Russia. From 8 to 12 bushels of wheat was considered a good average day's work. The Second Method of Applying Animal Power to threshing was by drawing over the grain an implement made rough on the bottom. It has been used in Egypt from ancient to present times, and consists of a wooden frame with three cross bars or axles on which are fixed circular iron plates. In ancient times the grain was usually at the circumference of the circle over which the machine was drawn, but now it is stacked in the center. It was called the moreg, and another form was known as the charatz. The moreg of the Hebrews was a similar device, and the old Roman devices corresponding to these inventions were the traka and tribula. Italy and some of the eastern countries still use substantially the same implement. A knifeboard construction known as the trilla is used in Spain. The Evolution of Modern Threshing Machines.—During the eighteenth century three Scotchmen made separate inventions that led up to the modern threshing machine. Michael Menzies came first (1732). He contrived to drive a large number of flails by water power. It was called a “wonderful invention,” “capable of giving 1,320 strokes per minute, as many as 33 men threshing briskly, '' and as ‘‘moved by a great water wheel and triddles.’” Its only contribution was to demonstrate the impracticability of the flail motion. About 1758 a Scotch farmer named Lackie invented a rotary machine which could thresh dry oats, but in wheat it merely knocked off the heads. Its value lay in showing the superiority of the rotary motion, and it was the first suggestion of the modern cylinder. The first machine of the modern type was invented by Andrew Meikle in 1786, patented in 1788, and completed in 1800 by the addition of a fanning mill. This was the first machine to thresh, clean, and deliver the grain in one operation. The early machines were driven by water, or worked by horses, though wind power was also used. ‘‘ Cider mill’’ horsepowers were most frequently used at first. Tread or railway powers came next, and soon afterward, the sweep powers. All of the early threshers were stationary. The first threshing by steam was in 1803. The first machines to be successfully placed upon the market were open-cylinder threshers, known under various names, as “chaff-pilers,’’ ‘‘bob-tails,’’ ‘‘groundhogs,’’ and ‘‘ bull-threshers.” They simply threshed the grain and did not clean or separate it. H. A. Pitts (1834) successfully combined the “ground-hog’’ with the common fanning mill in portable form. He and his brother patented (1837) the original of the great type of ‘‘endless apron’’ or ‘‘great belt’’ separators.
Threshing machines were first brought into general use in Great Britain. Many were introduced from 1810 to 1820. In the southern counties of England, the machines were the object of popular attack, and in many districts the farmers were obliged to abandon such as had been erected. Pusey wrote in 1851: “Open air threshing may appear visionary; but it is quite common with the new machinery.” The coal burnt by the best engines per horse power per hour was 28 pounds in 1847. Four years later it was less than one-fourth as much. Steam was soon universally used for threshing in England. The first ‘‘ bull-threshers’’ were used in the United States about 1825. They spread rapidly until 1835, when separating devices had been added. Five years later little threshing was done by other means. Horse power was used exclusively, and it was not until about 1876 that steam power began to come into use.
In Germany there were many lever “hand threshing machines’’ in use in 1850. Two men worked the lever, and a third fed the grain, but these three laborers could thresh more grain with less labor by using the flail, while the machine also cut up the straw and wheat." By 1872 steam threshing had well begun to drive out other methods of threshing in Germany. In 1854 a steam engine of three-horse power threshed 160 bushels of wheat in a day. Similar engines up to nine-horse power existed, and they threshed more grain. An American machine threshed 25 bushels per hour in the early sixties. In 1876 a steam thresher operated by 18 hands threshed well 2,000 bushels of wheat in one day. The bulk of the grain was always quite easily threshed from the straw. The great difficulty was to save the little that was usually left. It was estimated that from 5 to 10 per cent of the wheat was left in the straw by hand threshing.
1 Perels, Bedout ung des Maschinenwesens, pp. 25–27.
Practically all threshing in the United States is now done by steam. The musical hum of the machines, which could be heard for miles, and which possessed a peculiar fascination that always charmed the threshermen, accompanied the sweep powers with gearing and tumbling rods to their oblivion. The side gear driving the cylinder of the separator made most of the noise. When this gear was cut off to give place to the belt pulley, the noise was reduced to a minimum, although the hum of the cylinder is still maintained. A few farmers own their own machines, but generally the threshing is done for a stated price per bushel by the itinerant outfit. In some sections the farmers still exchange work in the threshing, while in others the whole crew travels with the outfit. The farmer then simply takes care of the grain. On the smaller farms, 500 to 1000 bushels are threshed per day.
On the large farms, whether the grain is bound or headed, the last day of harvesting is the first day of threshing. If bound, the grain is not stacked, as it generally is on the smaller farms, but is threshed from the field. It is usually considered fit to thresh after it has cured in the shock for about ten days. When wheat is stacked, it begins to “sweat” about three days after stacking, and the process is over in about three or four weeks. It has been claimed that this is beneficial to the wheat in that it is fed from the straw, and that the berries thus become plumper and heavier and also acquire a better color. English writers seem to say nothing concerning this process of sweating. The northwestern wheat growers of the United States claimed that the wheat would sweat in the bin if this process had not taken place in the stack before threshing. When it is dried by seasonable cutting and threshing, however, it is very questionable if it can sweat or heat in the bin.'
The Modern Threshing Machine has a self-feeder, a bandcutter, and an automatic straw-stacker. There are also automatic weighing attachments. The grain is pitched upon the self-feeder, and the machine performs all the other operations. There are two forms of automatic stackers, the swinging stacker with rake to elevate the straw, and the wind stacker, in which the straw is forced through a long air-tight chute by a blast from a fan within the machine. But even with “blowers,” as the latter are called, the straw pile often becomes awkwardly high, and the machine is moved from it. Sometimes the straw is also dragged away by horses hitched to a large rack, an operation which is called “bucking the straw.” The cleaned grain is delivered from the machine through a spout. On the bonanza farms it is run into grain tanks holding about 150 bushels, which are hauled to the elevators or railroads, by four-horse teams. About 30 men are employed with each machine, and they thresh and haul away from 2,000 to 3,000 bushels per day; 1,300 acres is the minimum capacity of one machine. Ordinarily it will thresh 2,400 acres, 2,500 acres require two machines, and 6,500 acres require three. Straw is usually burned in the engine. During the season of 1903 one of the
* U. S. Dept. A gr. Spec. Rept. No. 40, p. 30; Hunt, Cereals in America (1904), p. 107.
largest threshers in Kansas turned out 3,500 bushels of wheat in 9 hours and 45 minutes. This seems to be the usual maximum. Only 4 men are required to operate this machine. It takes 18 men and 10 two-horse wagons to bring the shocked wheat to the thresher. The largest amount of wheat which the writer has found recorded as being threshed in one day is 6.183 bushels in 1879. The work was done under the most favorable circumstances by a steam thresher having a 48-inch cylinder. ' A complete threshing outfit consists of a traction engine (which also hauls the whole outfit from place to place), a separator, a straw or coal wagon, a water wagon, a “cookshack,” and a sleeping tent. The cook-shack, a product of the west, is a small house on wheels which serves as a kitchen
1 10th U. S. Census, 3:457.