The wheat field had turned from the green of the growing season to a golden color as the wheat ripened.
Grandad Rogers retrieved the cradle from the barn where it had been stored since this time last year. This was not the cradle that was used to rock a baby to sleep. This cradle was used to cut the stalks of wheat and gather the wheat after each time the cradle was swung through the standing wheat. There was a blade almost 3 feet long with a rack behind it to catch the wheat.
The cradle had a long handle and it was heavy. One stroke at a time taking down perhaps two feet of wheat stalks with each swing left a stubble a few inches from the ground. It took a lot of stamina and many strokes with the cradle to harvest a large field of wheat.
Grandad kept a file in his hip pocket and he would stop from time to time to sharpen the blade. A dull blade would make the cutting task even more difficult. A sharp edge on the blade was a necessity.
Someone must follow the man with the cradle to gather the wheat stalks into bundles with the golden grains of wheat at the end of each stalk. The bundles, or sheaves, were tied and stacked into structures called shocks, which were left standing in the wheat field until the threshers came.
Threshing day was a big event. There must be preparations, such as gathering all of the shocks of wheat and hauling them on a horse-drawn wagon to the site of the threshing.
The threshing machine was large and heavy and took a crew to operate. The sheaves of wheat were fed into the machine which separated the grains of wheat from the chaff and the straw. The straw was hauled to the barn to be used as bedding for the animals.
In pioneer days, the straw was put into heavy cloth bags and used as bedding, or mattresses, by our sturdy ancestors. Of course, feather beds were preferred but harder to come by.
Threshing time came during the heat of summer and was a hot and sweaty job. However, today the harvesting of wheat is much easier with much improved heavy machinery.
The men that came to my grandparents’ farm on threshing day had to be fed. Tables for food were set up under the maple shade trees in the front yard of the farm house. There was a table in the backyard with buckets of water where the men could wash the dust and chaff from their arms and sweaty faces before being seated for a hearty dinner.
Grandmother, along with helpful neighbor women, would put a delicious meal before these hard-working men. They would move from farm to farm until all of the wheat in Crabtree community had been threshed and the grain had been stored in heavy sacks waiting to be carried to the grist mill as flour was needed in the kitchen at the farm house.
Threshing day was a bit similar to Hog Killing day, or maybe even a barn raising. It was a cooperative effort with many strong backs and willing hands needed. In those days, neighbors had to be real neighbors to make the culture operate successfully and not just neighbors in name only.
Threshing day did not put biscuits on the table (see the story titled “Piping Hot Whole Wheat Biscuits” in Depression Baby). There was other work to be done.
The sacks of grain had to be taken to the grist mill, the chaff had to be sifted from the flour and a skilled cook had to know how much baking powder or buttermilk to add to the mixture before a pan of biscuit dough was shoved into the oven. And oh yes, a rolling pin was needed to roll out the big lump of biscuit dough before the biscuit cutter did its job.
In grandad Roger’s day preparing the soil to sow the wheat field was just the beginning of a process which involved threshing day, a grist mill, and a skilled cook to put biscuits on the table with sourwood honey or real sorghum syrup.
Today, when we reach into the frozen food cabinet for a package of biscuits at the local grocery store, let us remember and appreciate the multiple skills and the hard work of our ancestors and the knowledge they accumulated. Threshing day was important, but it was only a part of the farming process that I witnessed as a ten-year-old boy down on the farm.